Friday, 4 January 2013


The only road to Berlin from the West  in 1948 ran through the Russian Zone. When they closed it in a fit of pique there were two options. World War 3 or an airlift. Airlifts were cheaper and the Americans war plans were based on using hundreds of atomic bombs but only about 50 bombs existed in mid-1948 So on balance the airlift seemed favourite.
Berlin only had  36 days' worth of food, and 45 days' worth of coal.  The city would need seventeen hundred calories per person per day. That meant 646 tons of flour and wheat, 125 tons of cereal, 64 tons of fat, 109 tons of meat and fish, 180 tons of dehydrated potatoes, 180 tons of sugar, 11 tons of coffee, 19 tons of powdered milk, 5 tons of whole milk for children, 3 tons of fresh yeast for baking, 144 tons of dehydrated vegetables, 38 tons of salt and 10 tons of cheese. In total, 1,534 tons were needed daily to keep the over two million people alive. Additionally, the city needed to be kept heated and powered, which would require another 3,475 tons of coal and gasoline.So they had to get their fingers out. They succeeded by using  689 aircraft..
The pilots and aircrew came from America, Great Britain Australia  Canada, South Africa and New Zealand. The most popular was a Yank Lieutenant Gail Halvorson. After visiting  children in Berlin, he began dropping candy with mini-parachutes from them as he flew over the city. Soon many pilots were following suit and providing the children of Berlin with treats. There was a stack of mail in Base Ops addressed to "Uncle Wiggly Wings", "The Chocolate Uncle" and "The Chocolate Flier". His commanding officer was upset when the story appeared in the news, but when the Top Brass approved  "Operation Little Vittles".became big news In the end, over three tons of candy were dropped on Berlin, and the "operation" became a major propaganda success. The candy-dropping aircraft were christened "raisin bombers" by the German children.When I arrived at Fassberg on attachment to the 8th USAF it gave me a great story for openers.
The cost of the Airlift was approximately US$224 million (equivalent to approximately $2.19 billion now). The C-47s and C-54s together flew over 92 million miles in the process, almost the distance from Earth to the Sun. At the height of the Airlift, one plane reached West Berlin every thirty seconds. Me and “Flookie” Anderson would like to have done more but our time was taken up arranging to steal one of the C45 Skymaster planes, fly it to the Russian Zone and sell it to the Reds.
Well, I say me and Flookie. Actually we had some help from an ex-IRA man who had found his way into a Highland regiment and an American PFC called Kerr who we thought would do the flying bit, him being in the air force.
Actually that was the flaw. We had everything worked out and then Kerr ruined the whole thing by admitting he couldn’t fly. Flookie was most annoyed. He said “You can’t fly? You are in the bliddy air force, man”
Kerr said he was but he was only a  corporal and you had to be an officer before you were taught piloting. He said he could drive but Flookie said; " What was the use of that. We couldn’t drive the bloody thing. The Russians have closed the bloody road."
I didn’t like it when Flookie got upset because he had a tendency to violence. A couple of nights earlier we were walking passed the war dog compound where Doberman Pinshers were trained to bite people
“See me,Sandy” he said “ I used tae train they dugs”
Flookie was one of those imaginative men who claimed to have done everything and I expressed mild doubts
“ Ye don’t believe me” he said, opening the compound door, dropping to his hands and knees,crawled towards a dozing Doberman and bit it on the paw.
It was like a Disney cartoon. The Doberman leaped to its feet, howling. After all here he was being shown every day how to bite two legged creatures but no one had warned him they bit back.
The Corporal Dog Handler was furious.” He’s just bitten my dog” he said. “ You must put him on a charge”
I said “ Its your dog. You put him on a charge”
“You are the ranking NCO “ he said
I said I am not a real sergeant I am in Army PR and I didn’t know how to put people on charges
He said “Charge him under Section 40 of the Army Act, that covers everything”
So I did. I do not want to go into details of what happened when we appeared before Col the Lord Langford, my Commanding Officer. He was to become my best friend in the years that followed and we have laughed about it. Well he has laughed
 I remember what he said when the Orderly Sergeant read out the charge “Under Section 40 of the Army Act causing damage to WD property, in tat he did bite a Doberman Pincher.“
 I was very shocked. I didn’t know that Lords were allowed to swear like that and what he said about National Service conscripts I could not bear to repeat

Never marry for love. You will never again win an argument. A week ago I lost the biggest ever.I have given up drink.It has taken me 42 years to cure alcoholism, fortunately with a few failures on the way. But after two dry days I feel I might have been more gainfully occupied
It feels very odd to have this uncomfortable feeling of being well.
 The only consolation was to read again this piece of magic prose by my all time favourite essayist. Bill Connor, “Cassandra” of the Daily Mirror;
“A hangover is when your tongue tastes like a tram-driver's glove.
When your boots seem to be steaming and your eyes burn in their sockets like hot gooseberries.
Your stomach spins slowly on its axis and your head gently swells and contracts like a jelly in the tideway.
Voices sound far off and your hands tremble like those of a centenarian condemned to death.
Slight movements make you sweat, even as you shiver from the deadly cold that is within you.
Bright lights hurt the eyes, and jeering, gibbering people from the night before seem to whisper in your ears, and then fade with mocking horrible laughter into silence.
The finger-nails are brittle and your skin hangs on you like an old second-hand suit.
Your feet appear to be swollen, and walking is like wading through a swamp of lumpy, thick custard.
Your throat is cracked and parched like the bottom of an old saucepan that has boiled dry. The next moment the symptoms change, and your mouth is stuffed with warm cotton wool.
When you brush your hair you are certain that there is no top to your skull, and your brain stands naked and throbbing in the stabbing air.
Your back aches and feels as though someone is nailing a placard to your shoulder blades.
Knee joints have turned to dish water and eyelids are made of sheets of lead lined with sandpaper.
When you lean on a table it sways gently and you know for certain that you are at sea.
Should you step off a kerb you stumble, for it is a yard deep and the gutter yawns like a wide, quaking trench.
You have no sense of touch and your fingertips feel with all the acuteness of decayed firewood smeared with putty.
The nostrils pulsate and smell the evil air.
You believe that you are in a horrible dream but when you wake up you know that it will all be true.
Your teeth have been filed to stumps and are about to be unscrewed one by one from your aching jaw.
You want to sleep, but when you close your eyes you are dizzy, and you heel over like a waterlogged barrel crammed with old, sodden cabbage stalks in the Grand Junction Canal.
When you read your eyes follow each letter to try to spell the words, but in vain – no message reaches your empty, sullen brain.
Should you look at a simple thing like a tree, it will appear that the bark is gradually crawling upwards.
Lights flash and crackle before you and innumerable little brown dwarfs start tapping just below the base of your skull with tiny, dainty hammers made of compressed rubber”
O Death, where is thy sting?”