The year was 1948 and Germany, after suffering defeat in World War II was divided into four zones, the three western Zones controlled by the US, France and United Kingdom and the eastern Zone controlled by the Soviet Union. The German capital Berlin, still mostly in ruins, also was divided in four sectors. The three western sectors, entirely surrounded by the Soviet Zone would later become West Berlin, separated from the Rest of the Germany by the infamous Berlin Wall.|
Thirteen years before the erection of the Wall, the Soviet Union launched a first attempt to isolate the western sectors of Berlin and to force them to surrender to the East. On June 21, 1948, Soviet guards halted all passenger trains and traffic on the autobahn to Berlin, as well as all freight shipments by rail, road or river.
Only three days later, the western allies started what would become the largest air lift operation in human history. Between June 24, 1948 and April 14, 1949 (the day the Russians gave up and lifted the blockade), 278,228 flights took place between West Germany and West Berlin and a total of 2,326,406 tons of supplies (coal and food) helped a million people to survive a gruesome post-war winter.
The main airport for the deliveries was Berlin Tempelhof. Throughout the ten month of the air lift, planes landed here every 90 seconds. Runways were provisionally maintained in the seconds between landings and, of course, accidents happened.
Seventeen American and eight British aircraft crashed during the operation. In total, 101 people (40 Britons, 31 Americans and 30 Germans) lost their lives saving the city. Their names are engraved in the base of the Air Lift Monument outside Tempelhof Airport. The Monument symbolizes the three air corridors used during the air lift.
When we visited Berlin in 2007, we went to Tempelhof and checked out the Monument. Only later, we found out that there is actually a plaque at a building a mile from the airport, commemorating the first crashe during the the airlift. So, when we visited Berlin again in 2010, we actually went to Handjerystraße 2 and learned more about this plane crash.
On July 28, 1948, Lt. Charles L. King and 1st Lt. Robert W. Stuber died during the landing approach as their plane crashed into the front of a house. Seven days later, thousands of citizens met at the town-hall of Berlin Schoeneberg in remembrance of the two pilots. Written consolations and flowers were placed at a tree near the crash-side. Today, a plaque at the newly renovated building keeps the memory alive. In German, it reads:
On July 28, 1948, two American pilots died here in a plane crash during the Berlin Blockade. They gave their lives defending the freedom of our city.