Tokyoflash Treasure Hunt - Win a Tokyoflash Watch of Your Choice!
Going on right now: Tokyoflash Treasure Hunt #26. Win a Tokyoflash watch and neat stuff from the NeatoShop. It's fun and easy to play: Link

The Candy Bomber

During the Berlin Airlift, one pilot's sweet tooth helped defeat Communism.


In 1948, the Soviet beast was hungry. Three years into the postwar occupation of Germany, the USSR had tired of sharing Berlin, so it blockaded ground and water access to the two million residents in the American, French, and Britsh zones. The Soviet hope was to starve them into submission. In response, from June 1948 to September 1949, thousands of pilots airlifted 2.3 million tons of food and supplies to the blockaded Berliners. The code name for the American mission: Operation Vittles.

At the airlift's peak in 1949, planes landed every 90 seconds. Pilots flew three trips a day, taking just seven hours off. Despite the exhausting schedule, one airman was determined to do more. On July 19, 1948, Lt. Gail Halvorsen decided to skip sleep. Instead, he took his hand-cranked 8mm camera and stowed away on his friend's plane to Tempelhof Airport.

berlin

At the runway's edge, Halvorsen spotted a few dozen boys and girls. Chatting with them through a barbed wire fence, Halvorsen realized something. He had met children across South America, Africa, and Europe, and all of them harrassed him for candy. These kids hadn't asked for anything.

Havolsen dug into his pocket and pulled out two sticks of Doublemint that he tore into four pieces and passed through the fence. "Kids who got half a stick looked like they just got a thousand bucks," Halvorsen later recalled. Another child asked for the wrappers, which the group tore apart and began to sniff.

Moved by the scene, Halvorsen promised to drop candy to them on a future flight. How would they know which plane was his, the chidren wanted to know. "I'll wiggle my wings," the Utah farm boy replied, calling on a move he'd perfected over fields back home.

airlift

Not surprisingly, dropping candy from a military airplane was against regulation, but Halvorsen was resolute. First, he convinced his copilot and their engineer to give him their weekly candy rations. Then he tackled the problematic physics of "candy bombs": Chocolate dropped from a plane going 110 mph hurtles toward Earth at alarming speeds. Halvorsen's solution was to craft mini-parachutes from handkerchiefs and attach them to the candy with twine.

Nervous and exhausted, Halvorsen took off with his sugary cargo. He needed precise timing to drop the candy on the children's side of the fence. Even without candy bombs, landing a C-54 Skymaster at Tempelhof's narrow approach was no easy task. Just before getting to the runway, Halvorsen wiggled his plane's wings and signaled his engineer to push the packages out the emergency flare chute. Halvorsen hoped that the children would get the candy -and that he wouldn't get caught.

tempelhof

New traveled faster than expected. The next day, he was called in front of his commanding officer, who slammed down a newspaper. A candy bar had nearly hit a reporter in the head. But instead of a court martial, Halvorsen received congratulations. The operation's commander, Gen William Turner, realized the psychological value of Halvorsen's efforts and lent his full support: Operation "Little Vittles" was official!

As Halvorsen and a few dozen other pilots made daily candy drops, letters poured in. Elated children thanked Der Schokoladenflieger (The Chocolate Pilot) and Onkel Wackelflügel (Uncle Wiggly Wings) for the gifts. Nearly overnight, Halvorsen became the face of the Berlin Airlift and a symbol of American goodwill. GOT ANY SPARE HANKIES? THIS 'LIFT' PILOT COULD USE THEM, proclaimed the New York Post.

All told, Operation Little Vittles rained down 23 tons of candy from 250,000 parachutes. And though it took nearly a year, the Soviets eventually called off the blockade for one simple reason: It wasn't working. The airlift was a success, filling Berliner's stomachs and lifting their spirits, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Uncle Wiggly Wings.

________________________________________

coverThe article above, written by Greg Volk, is reprinted with permission from the Septembr 2012 issue of mental_floss magazine. Get a subscription to mental_floss and never miss an issue!

Be sure to visit mental_floss' website and blog for more fun stuff!


Newest 1
Newest 1 Comment

Commenting is closed.





Check out Twaggies' first animated clip:

Grammar Nazi's Rock? Twaggies by twaggies
Email This Post to a Friend
"The Candy Bomber"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.

 

Success! Your email has been sent!

close window