By Tim Fanning

PALMA

MAJORCA resident George Smith CBE and his twin brother, Stan Smith OBE, took a trip down memory lane last Saturday week when they received a present of a trip in an old DC-3 Dakota from Stan's son, Quintin.

The last time George and Stan were on a DC-3 Dakota was during the Berlin Airlift - which began 60 years ago this week - when the two young men were completing their national service. “We were occupying Germany and were sent to Berlin,” George recalled yesterday. “It was a very nice posting until the blockade began.” The blockade of West Berlin by the Soviet Union was the first major confrontation of the Cold War. The Russians were attempting to drive Britain, France and the U.S. out of West Berlin in retaliation at their former allies' efforts to unify the western part of the city with the rest of West Germany, some 120 miles away, and introduce a single currency.

The Western allies had reached the view that the only way to reconstruct the devastated European economy was to rebuild the shattered German economy. The Russians, on the other hand, were happy to keep Germany weak. “The Russians wanted to get us out of Berlin,” said George. “They thought that if they cut off the roads we would pack our bags and leave.” “The Russians never thought for a minute that we would be able to lift our supplies in by air.” West Berlin was surrounded by Soviet-controlled East Berlin and East Germany and dependent on supplies that reached the city by road, rail and river. When the Russians cut off road and rail traffic into West Berlin - which was controlled by the British, the Americans and the French - a massive operation was begun to bring supplies into the city by air. This Thursday marks the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the airlift.

George and Stan who were working as clerks initially thought that they would have to move out. But the British Government decided to stay and the six twin-propellor Dakotas belonging to the RAF in Germany were pressed into service to support British troops. The Americans were also persuaded of the view that they could not evacuate Berlin. For the next 15 months, British, American, Canadian, Australian and South African pilots flew some 278'000 flights into Berlin carrying 2.3 million tonnes of food, fuel, medicine and other supplies. In just 24 hours in April 1949, over 13'000 tonnes of supplies was landed in West Berlin.

George and Stan Smith spent most of their national service in the Allied garrison in the British sector of Berlin and would travel as guards on the planes coming in from West Germany. “They weren't very comfortable,” said George. “They had a couple of bucket seats and we had parachutes in case we had to abandon ship.” The blockade was finally lifted by the Russians in May 1949 and the airlift came to an end that September.

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