The Raisin Bombers of Berlin

Last week, Aviatrix linked to a gallery of photographs in in the Berliner Morgenpost of an emergency landing.

You can see all the photographs at full size at Rosinenbomber muss notlanden – Berlin Aktuell – Berliner Morgenpost.

The initial photographs in the set were taken by Frank Wandrei and Stefan Schurwanz who were taking photographs at the airport when the vintage plane lost engine power as it was coming in to land. The plane landed short on the road before the runway and then ran through a fence. There are 31 photographs in all showing the sequence of events and the after-effects. The photographs are chilling but there were no serious casualties. Only the pilot needed hospital treatment.

There’s also a video of the aftermath from the Berlin news but you are forced to watch an advertisement first.

The plane looks in a bad state although Air Service Berlin says they believe it can be made airworthy again if they can find the finance to do the repairs. Steffen Wardin told Berlin RTL, “We can not do this to history, to scrap the plane now.”

I was intrigued by the fact that the DC-3 was referred to as a “Rosinenbomber” – literally, a raisin bomber. The nickname made no sense to me, especially when I read that the plane dates from 1944 and was the last remaining flight-capable Rosinenbomber in Germany.

A raisin bomber in World War 2? What could that possibly mean?

It turned out that the nickname actually stems from 1948/49, after the war. West Berlin was under a Soviet blockade and all land routes were cut off.

The Berlin Airlift

However, British Commander Sir Brian Robertson offered an alternative: supply the city by air. A daunting task. Supplying the Occupation forces of 22,679 was easy, but the entire population? The only aircraft the Americans had available for the task were 5 year old Douglas C-47 Skytrains, which would only hold 3.5 tons each. After some consultation, the decision was made: it was worth a try. Earlier in April, US Forces airlifted in supplies to replace the ones being delayed by the Soviets. This was what became known as the “Little Lift”. West Berlin had two airports, Tempelhof, which was Berlin’s main airport and located in the American Sector, and RAF Gatow, in the British Sector. Supplies could be airlifted in by C-47 and there was nothing the Soviet Union could do about because, in 1945, someone had foresight. On November 30, 1945, it was agreed, in writing, that there would be three 20-mile wide air corridors providing access to the city. These were unarguable.

The initial planes were two-engine C-47 Dakotas, the military version of the DC3, which dropped coal, fuel and food for distribution, especially dried fruit. As a result, the inhabitants of Berlin took to referring to the planes as Raisin Bombers. The planes did not have a lot of storage space and so after a few weeks, the four-engine C-54 Skymaster was used instead but the Raisin Bomber nickname stuck and became the general reference for the friendly planes over the city, regardless of type or contents. The mission was referred to as Operation Plane Fare by the British and Operation Vittles by the Americans.

An American pilot is quoted in the German press as having said “Up until 3 years ago, I flew through night and fog with bombs for Berlin. Now I can come with raisins.”

In the US, the planes are commonly referred to as the “the Candy Bombers” as a result of Gail Halvorsen’s expansion of Operation Vittles.

According to Gail Halvorsen, a command pilot stationed in Germany at the time, it started when he met children watching the planes at the aiport in the American sector of Berlin. He was impressed with their bravery and wanted to give them treats but he had only two sticks of gum on him. He told them that he would drop something special just for them and they should watch for the plane that wiggled its wings before dropping its cargo.

In an Interview on HistoryNet, he said:

My copilot and engineer gave me their candy rations—big double handfuls of Hershey, Mounds and Baby Ruth bars and Wrigley’s gum. It was heavy, and I thought, Boy, put that in a bundle and hit ’em in the head going 110 miles an hour, it’ll make the wrong impression. So, I made three handkerchief parachutes and tied strings tight around the candy.

The next day, I came in over the field, and there were those kids in that open space. I wiggled the wings, and they just blew up—I can still see their arms. The crew chief threw the rolled-up parachutes out the flare chute behind the pilot seat. Couldn’t see what happened, of course. It took about 20 minutes to unload the flour, and I worried all the time where the candy went. As we taxied out to takeoff, there were the kids, lined up on the barbed-wire fence, three handkerchiefs waving through, their mouths going up and down like crazy.

Three weeks we did it—three parachutes each time. The crowd got big.

The commanding officer found out about the drops and Halvorsen thought he’d be in big trouble. But instead, the officer approved of their actions and Operation Little Vittles became official. In the end, there were 25 planes dropping dried fruit and sweets onto the city, all of which were referred to by the Berliners as Raisin Bombers.

The Rosinenbomber that crashed last month had been restored in 2000 and was used for aerial tours over historic Berlin. According to the Berlin newspaper, Gail Halvorsen – now 90 – has donated money towards the repairs of the Rosinenbomber. He wrote to the Berlin newpaper BZ saying that the plane must be made airworthy again as a visible memorial of the Soviet blockade of Berlin.

I hope they make it happen.

Categories: Europe, History,

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