Sir Freddie






Q: What was the worst aspect of the airlift for you?

A: Well, it was an interesting occasion, really. Because first of all, every pilot, everyone that operated on the airlift, had come out of the Air Force. It was goingback to the war. Back into the service, so to speak. And none of really expected it to last, as I said, for more than three or four weeks. It would either collapse or there would be war. And we looked at it, oh well, let's go and do this and get on with the job and we'll earn a few pounds and something like that. But after a bit, like, you know, two or three months down the road, it became a crusade. It was very, very interesting to see how we reacted, because most of us - well, I would say almost all of us, had been in the war in some form or another, and of course Germany wasn't exactly the most popular place for us. You know, we'd been at war for a long time, and you know, we had grudges, obviously. I mean, we didn't like the thought of our friends and hundreds of them that we were killed and that sort of thing. So we didn't think much of it when we first went into it. But then it became like a crusade. We thought, you know, why did we do this war thing? It was all about freedom. And the freedom was for everybody, and here we were back in a worse situation than we started with. I mean, this was Hitlerism in a way, but under a different name. It was loss of freedom for people, in a different way. And it became a crusade. And everyone volunteered, everybdy wanted to do it. There was never a question of a crew member saying, 'I don't want to go today, I'm tired, or I don't feel like it.' I don't think I can ever remember where every single member of the staff was fit every day. Because there were no excuses to get out of it. The weather was appalling. The aircraft, from a operational point of view, by today's standards, were really deathtraps and junk. We had no de-icing equipment on these aeroplanes, no windscreen wipers. I mean, it was - we used to put this paste on the wings to keep the ice off them. We were flying very low. The aeroplanes were buzzed almost daily by the Russians. Every kind of obstacle was put in the way to stop it. And the boys just kept going and going and going. And they never stopped. And I think it was that attitude, I suppose, that maybe the Russians saw it and there was no war, thank god. And after the airlift I went off for just - well, I thought, well, we all made a lot of money, let's put it that way. And I thought what are we going to do now? We've made some money, what's going to happen? And I came to the conclusion that most people wanted to stay flying aeroplanes, and they would all stay in flying aeroplanes and they'd all get very competitive, which they did. And nine out of ten of them would go out of business. So I thought well, this is the time for me to stop. And I actually stopped flying for over a year. Just doing maintenance. And the money that I'd made during the airlift, I turned it into stock. I bought every single piece of government surplus equipment that I could buy at the sales. And I altogether, I must have bought over 200 aeroplanes, bombers, and I had several thousand engines that I broke up for scrap. And turned them into metal, you know, like ingots, sort of aluminum and that - oh, aluminium whatever way you want to pronounce it. And I used to sell it to a saucepan maker called John Dale, and I reckon that I made a few saucepans. And I kept going, I got my engineering business going and it went very well. And lo and behold, I think it was in 1951, the Russians did exactly the same but in reverse. Instead of stopping stuff going into Berlin, they stopped it coming out. And I got the sole contract. In fact, I got the contract because I bought a business from Don Bennett, in fact. So I had sort of two experiences of Don, seeing this masterpiece of flying, then I bought a business from him. They'd had a contract to fly cargo out of Berlin and I spent seven years on it. And I at one ti

(interruption, tape change)

Q: I want to take you back to the airlift, and you're in an airlift and what's going to happen with the Soviets, are they going to stop you? Did you have any problems from that quarter?

A: Well, the answer's really yes and no. There was plenty of provocation. They used to carry out aerial manoeuvres in the corridor or right alongside it. They'd be able to, because we had a maximum altitude. And they'd go off firing military equipment and you could see them firing on the ground and that sort of thing. Having said that, and being buzzed and all that sort of thing by their aeroplanes - having said that, I can't give you an instance that I know of, anyway, where aeroplanes ever touched each other. I don't think any of the so-called allied aircraft got a hole in them from - with a bullet or anything like that. But you don't know who the predator and the prey is of course in that sort of guessing game, until the prey's dead. Then you know who it is. So it wasn't nice. No one liked it. But of course it was all part of war games.

Q: What other aspects of flying into Berlin at this time made you nervous?

A: Well, probably the fact that I'm not particularly brave is the winter was terrible, and I mean, when you think of these airplanes, the old Halifax bombers and things with the windscreens iced up to their eyeballs and you could see the ice on the wings and on the cowlings of the eng - you know, all over the airplane, and knowing that the ability to an aeroplane flying depended on some paste that we'd hurriedly put on the wings. And I think the icing conditions were the worst. And the possibility of collisions with our own aeroplanes of course, because the whole thing went round and round and round. I mean, it was a non stop operation. But you know, sort of follow my leader. So there was that aspect, and you know, you have to remember that not many people were all that experienced. I mean, this is quite soon after the war when we weren't talking about pilots that got 15-20,000 hours, as they have today. When we're talking about people with 2,000 hours, 800-900 hours, that were flying these aeroplanes. So there is no doubt it was an incredible job that was done. By everyone.

Q: You were carrying all sorts of cargoes. What was the most unwieldy cargo to fly?

A: Well, I think the worst cargo was coal. because of the coal dust. you know, the broken bags and that sort of thing. And you know, some of the chaps'd get out of the airplane looking as if they'd just been down a coal mine. I think the coal was the worst. I suppose in a way the most dangerous could have been carrying the oil. And the easiest and the best to carry were the potatoes. That was the best I think.

Q: There were some stories about backloading, where people would fly stuff out and certain sort of - a lot of RAF planes carried sort of a lot of loot out of Berlin. Was that very common, sort of flying with sort of bits and pieces of statues and grand pianos and things like that?

A: Well, I have to tell you that to the best of my knowledge and belief, I personally never saw one shipment of any description out of Berlin on the Berlin airlift. And I don't think there was really anything to bring out. Those that were doing the airlift from a commercial point of view, I mean, they were either based in Windsdorf, as we were, at the beginning, and then into Hamburg, I mean, you just didn't have any time. I mean, those aeroplanes were unloaded in 20 minutes and you were off again. So I never saw it, and I have no knowledge of it ever going on. But having said that, before the war ended there is no doubt about it that a lot of stuff was taken out of Germany in transport aircraft. I did hear of that. But I can't -I don't have any knowledge of anything of any real value. I know on one occasion that some gliders were taken back, but I think when those gliders were taken back, I think they were taken to Boscombe Do - Down or Farnborough for the Royal Air Force Experimental Stations. I don't think there was a lot of that.