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The airlift's early days

As expected, the Berlin airlift did not get off to an easy start. The extremely complicated logistical effort, lack of aircraft, accommodation and ground crew required to implement and maintain an operation which would sustain more than two million people, was an ongoing learning experience.

Dick Arscott, an RAF Pilot who flew into Gatow throughout the entire airlift operation, described those early days and the routine for the thousands of aircrews eventually employed.

One was very aware of the fact that the Russians were unhappy with having the allies in Berlin and indeed they were very unhappy that they had got the poorer part of Germany and it was fairly obvious that they wanted us out of Berlin. Politically, one was aware that they were doing all that they could to make life difficult for us.

Our airfield was a fighter airfield, had no hard-standing and heavy aircraft were just parked on the grass and it soon became a quagmire. They posted in an Army unit of a Captain, Staff Sergeant and 20 soldiers to load 48 aircraft which was clearly impossible. They eventually brought in local civilians to help load the aircraft. It was a matter of using what facilities were available to get loaded. The accommodation was non-existent, there just weren’t enough beds, I slept on the billiard table for the first night I was there.

“There weren’t enough beds, I slept on the billiard table for the first night I was there.”

At first, there was no organisation as such, what we used to do was go down on to the flight-line to the maintenance huts to see if there was a serviceable aircraft that had a load on it and you just used to walk out and take it and then fly back and this you used to do for the rest of the day. I remember flying four in one day which meant that you were flying about a 14-hour day, that was the pattern of things for about the first fortnight or so.

By the time things became organised your day was a twenty-hour day, that is you had ten hours flying and ten hours off-duty, therefore your day came forward four hours each day. So, if you had breakfast at 8am on day one, you would have it 4am the following day and at midnight the day after that, that was the pattern you would do for seven days and then you had a day off and every fifteenth day you went home for 48 hours. It was a problem because you never knew what meal you were supposed to be eating!

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Imperial War museum Sound Archive [IWMSA], Ref: 18708, Oral History, R. Arscott (1999), extracts.

The Stories of the Berlin Blockade

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