In June 1948, the Soviet high command closed all land and water communication between Allied-occupied West Germany and the now divided city of Berlin.
The blockade caught world leaders by surprise, and threatened with starvation the estimated 2 million German civilians and 8,000 plus Allied troops stationed in West Berlin.
To meet this emergency, the British and Americans collaborated in setting up and maintaining what became known as the Berlin Airlift.
For nearly 13 months, until the blockade was lifted, the U.S. Army and Air Force accomplished the stupendous task of transporting by air all of the food, clothing, fuel, and other supplies necessary to maintain the population of the isolated area. This was an unprecedented feat in world history.
Quartermaster personnel in Germany, operating under the direction of Maj. Gen. George A. Horkan, went into high gear, collecting whole warehouses full of life-sustaining goods of every kind needed to keep the beleaguered city afloat.
Enormous stockpiles of goods went from QM depots in West Germany to the two principal U.S. airfields in Rhein-Main and Wiesbaden.
There they were put on board the endless rows of C-47s and C-54s waiting to carry their precious cargo through the tiny corridor over East Germany, to Quartermaster Soldiers waiting to unpack them on the other end at West Berlin’s Tempelhof airfield.
More than 23,000 tons of Quartermaster supplies were flown into West Berlin during the course of the first 12 months of the Airlift.
Quartermasters provided the fuel – more than 600,000 gallons of gas each day – to keep the planes in the air around the clock.
Other items ranged from food to forklifts, from typewriters to millions of pounds of scrap canvas, and from office furniture to baby clothes.
On Easter Sunday, April 16, 1949, the Allies achieved a record of 1,398 flights – nearly one flight a minute for a full 24 hours – and delivered nearly 13,000 tons of goods to the Berliners.
Not long after that the Soviet Blockade was lifted. “Operation Victuals” was one of the early victories of the Cold War.
─ Information provided by Dr. Steve Anders, Fort Lee Quartermaster historian. Focus on the Fort is a bi-weekly feature highlighting some of Fort Lee and Quartermaster history. The information is compiled from the Quartermaster Museum Web site.