Veterans Recall End

12 May 2009

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On the 60th anniversary date of the end of the Soviet blockade of Berlin two former RAF pilots, veterans of the famous Berlin Airlift, made a commemorative visited Duxford Imperial War Museum. Geoff Boston and Zeke Hacke, both from Cambridgeshire had taken part in the Berlin Airlift, which was the Allied response, in the early days of the Cold War, when Soviet forces closed access to Berlin by rail and road in June 1948.

A veteran of the Berlina Airlift pictured at the Duxford Imperial War Museum.

The Airlift, which sustained two million Berliners with up to 2,000 tons of food and supplies per day, was supported by aircrews from the UK, USA, France, Australia and several other Commonwealth nations. So successful was the Berlin Airlift operation that the Soviet forces ended their blockade on the 12th May, 1949.

Geoff Boston, who retired from the RAF in 1969 after 24 years service, flew during the Berlin Airlift with No: 297 Squadron then based at Schleswigland in Germany. He made over one hundred flights into Berlin in his Hadley Page Hastings aeroplane, which now resides as a museum attraction in Duxford’s “Airspace” hangar. Geoff who flew mostly coal into Berlin thought the airlift vitally important but not just for the people of Berlin: “I realised that their survival depended on us and also their survival probably meant the survival of Europe as well.” Nearly 45% of the food and supplies taken into the city were flown by British aircraft. At the start of the operation no one seriously considered an airlift a realistic option to provide enough food and fuel for a city of two million over an extended period of time. Instead it was considered first as a means to buy “diplomatic time” until a counter to the blockade could be found.

A veteran of the Berlin Airlift admiring an aircraft at the Duxford Imperial War Museum.

The soviet forces allowed aircraft to fly into Berlin using just three designated air corridors. Zeke Hacke, a 25 year retired RAF veteran pilot who flew his Dakota from 30 Squadron a total of 240 round-trips into Berlin during the Airlift, found that the soviet forces were not his biggest problem: “The biggest handicap at the time was the weather, it could be quite foul. As we had to keep to a defined air corridor and a defined height there was nothing we could do to avoid the bad weather. Summing up on the airlift he added: “I think it was a job that had to be done. I think it was a very necessary job and I think it was a job that was done very well.”

Wing Commander Mark Abrahams standing in front of an aircraft.

There to greet the retired veterans of the were two serving RAF officers with some experiences of their own of helping to provide humanitarian aid: Wing Commander Mark Abrahams an Air Loadmaster with 20 years experience on Chinooks and Squadron Leader Iain Buchanan a C-17 pilot from 99 Squadron. In January 2005 S/L Buchanan and his squadron were involved in the rapid RAF relief effort to survivors of the Indonesian Tsunami, which claimed the lives of 230,000 people. Wg Cdr Abrahams was awarded an MBE for his efforts supporting the relief aid to survivors of the devastating earthquake, which struck Pakistan in 2005. Wg Cdr Abrahams reflected on the significance of the RAF’s long history of providing humanitarian aid: “The Berlin Airlift was a huge operation at the end of WWII. I guess the fact that we are still doing those sorts of operations in a contemporary environment as recently as 2005 demonstrates that the Berlin Airlift was not a one-off. Humanitarian operations are something we the RAF prepare for and when the call is made to us we can support those kinds of operations.”

Editor: Ed Marshall.

Photographer: SAC Andrew Morris, RAF.

Image 1: (Larger size) A veteran in the hangar at the Museum.

Image 2: (Larger size) A veteran admiring an aircraft within the hangar.

Image 3: (Larger size) Wing Commander Mark Abrahams MBE.

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