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The Berlin Airlift

Sue MacGregor brings together five people who took part in the 1948 Berlin Airlift, the largest humanitarian mission in British aviation history.

At the end of WWII, a defeated Germany was divided amongst the victors - the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France. The capital city Berlin, sitting deep in the Soviet zone, was also divided into four parts.

By 1948 it was apparent that the Western Powers' plans to rebuild Germany differed from those of the Soviet Union. Tensions came to a head on 24th June when, following a series of diplomatic spats, the Soviets closed all roads, railways and waterways into West Berlin. It seemed likely that two and a half million Berliners would starve to death or be forced to accept Soviet domination. It was one of the first incidents of the Cold War.

The Western Allies immediately took to the air, creating what Berliners called a Luftbrucke, an air-bridge, carrying food, coal, medicines and raw materials into the beleaguered city. The operation, which lasted for fifteen months was the largest humanitarian mission in Air Force history.

At the height of the operation, hundreds of planes were in the air around the clock. Their omnipresent roar became a part of daily life. Thousands of workers - Allied and German - supported the airlift effort on the ground. When two airports proved inadequate, Berliners of all walks of life came forward to speed construction of a third.

Sue MacGregor reunites British personnel involved in the operation - including RAF Dakota pilot Dick Arscott, air traffic controller Joyce Hargrave-Wright, flight engineer Alec Chambers, Fred Danckwardt who was head of security at the British airbase Gatow, and Freddie Montgomery who worked in British military intelligence in Berlin.

Producer: Emily Williams
Series Producer: David Prest
A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4.

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45 minutes