Sir Freddie






Q: Tell me about GCA - because you obviously had problems landing in bad weather, particularly at Tempelhof.


A: Well Ground Control Approach Radar is a terrific instrument. It projects a glide path- a glide path, you pick up a glide path out here with the aeroplane and then and observer on the ground through radar can tell whether you're - the aeroplane is above the glide path, or below the glide path, he'd tell, calls you, and he says, "Hey, you gotta come down a little faster, you're fifty feet above the glide path, increase your rate of descent." Very calm and soothing and in bad weather and being pushed around, this soothing voice, oh boy, it just relaxes you and then you can fly better. And he observes you glide path to see if you'll hit the a hundred and fifty feet down the runway, something like that. But he also has an [azimuth], like this, so that he can tell whether you're right or left, so if you're right or left of this azimuth line, then he just says, "You're drifting to the right, change your course to half a degree left or two degrees to the left, maintain that heading, maintain that rate of descent." So he's gauging you up and down on this projected glide path, and on the longitudinal axis, right or left, and a very calm voice, and says, "Okay, you're five hundred feet from touch down, your landing gear should be down, double check it, if you're experiencing rain turn on your windshield wipers." You know, just like mother hen. Beautiful. And the cartoon, Jake Schufort was the famous cartoonist for the airlifts, the Brits and the Americans, he had a cartoon on GCA, and here, here it was: the GCA shack goes out on the field, and knocking on the door was crew and all they had was the control column and smoke coming out of their flying suits, and knocked on the door and they say, he said, "I say old chap, would you mind repeating that last instruction." And he'd crashed the bird. But it was beautiful. You'd come down, and we land below minimums with the radar off times, but we weren't supposed to, but we didn't want to take the load back. And so, at first we had to come over the buildings with it and our minimums were higher. And when they got the new runway in, between the bombed-out buildings, then we'd come right down between them, and I met several Germans, the young man who lived in one those corner apartments. He'd look out in bad weather and just see that aeroplane sometimes right outside his window, and we'd see a red light on the top just before we'd break out on the ground and we'd know that we're out there beside GCA. So the approach in Berlin was not an easy approach. And we had good pilots. When the airlift started the American pilots I'm sure were those who were very experienced at the end and we had excellent instrument, night time experience. Some people didn't realise that. Stalin didn't. Stalin says, "Boy, wait till winter comes, it'll take care of the whole problem." But we got in sophisticated radar, long range radar to space the aeroplanes in the corridor. He'd call you over the River Elbe saying you're seventy-five miles out, say, "Slow down a little bit, you're picking up too close to the man on head of you." That old boy, you know, this was like shooting fish then. You just relax the operation a lot.

Q: Tell me about the Easter Parade of April 1949.

A: Well the Easter Parade on the 16th of April 1949 was the final straw for Stalin. It was a demonstration of what could be done now that the airlift had matured. The weather was improving, and General Tanner said, "Hey, let's show 'em what we can do in one day." Requirement was roughly four thousand five hundred tons a day to give them a starvation diet or keep 'em going, and so he mounted this twenty-four hour operation, flew in just under thirteen thousand tons, compared to four thousand five hundred. Thirteen thousand tons by air. The equivalent of two hundred full size box cars of a rail system to Berlin, all the necessary food, fresh milk for kids, newspaper print, parts for budding work facilities or little small factories that keep people employed - thirteen thousand. It was a magnificent effort and the following day, the drop off wasn't - it was dropped off some but still it was a much higher level than required. It wasn't long after that that negotiations got very serious. So, General Tanner with that was the - it was the thing that broke the back, 'cos Stalin was getting a black eye. I mean, wow, and he - I didn't, that's why I didn't think the lift would last long, that's why I went to Berlin, hitch-hiked to give the picture to the kids, it was because I was sure that airlift couldn't last long. The world press was condemning him, you know, it's a barbaric act: starving women and children mostly - most of the men were gone after the war, they were in Siberia, killed or like some of the places in England where the places were bombed out or - the men were gone. And so that was the story all over the world and it put them in a real hole in the eyes of the world of what they'd really do. And that was the Stalin era, and that was Stalin's policy and politics, and that went down not very well. That went down very hard with the neutral people. Again, that was what brought the focus. That opened the minds of those in the legislatures, in the governing bodies of undecided nations, of those who were being approached to be an ally with the Soviet Union, said, "Hey, that's the way you are? That's what you do?" And that made the difference. The Berlin airlift was a major change in the world politics and shift in the Cold War era.

Q: You carried coal, you carried flour. What was the worst cargo between the two?

A: Well I think the worst cargo I ever flew was, was fifty gallon drums of gasoline, and these were miserable to handle. And we thought, "Man, if you're ever going to run off the end of the runway, don't run off with this load of, of dynamite." You know, fifty gallon drums of raw gasoline, just loaded and it's hard to - how you tie 'em down, they're slick. Boy, they're difficult to hold and so we had all kind of chains and things around 'em and in bad - and thunderstorms, we'd have a lot of thunderstorms in the summer time, not so bad in the winter, but this load was in the summer time, and we're just hoping that it would - the ropes would hold and these things wouldn't start beating out the sides of the fuselage. But that load of raw gasoline in drums was the, the biggest concern. The best load we ever had was a load of bottled milk, be fresh whole milk for the kids in Berlin, and that was great. They'd raback there when you made abad landing but didn't mind that at all. We flew everything, I mean medical supplies, newsprint, but the coal was the biggest thing and it was the biggest problem too for the control columns in the aeroplane. Of course they had it in bags. They wet it down first to cut down the dust flying around, but then they overload the aeroplane and couple of them about crashed, the extra water in the - flying the maximum take-off, so they had to quite wetting it down. The coal dust would seep in on the floors and control cables, make it difficult to control the aeroplane. And the same with flour dust. So we flew with our escape hatches out in the back, suck out the dust. But still after a while we had to send them back to have the control system completely cleaned out. But whatever happened, we'd fly it, and whatever they put on there, we gave it a whirl.