As a consequence of the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, Germany was divided into two global blocs, the East (occupied by the former Soviet Union) and the West (under the control of the Western Allies). The Berlin blockade that lasted from June 24, 1948, to May 12, 1949, was one of the first major international crises of the Cold War between the communist bloc and the capitalist Western bloc.
In response to the unilateral monetary reform conducted by the US, British, and French in West Germany and West Berlin (1948), the head of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, requested to block the Western Allies’ railway, road and canal access to the sectors of Berlin under Western control. Consequently, the supply of food and necessities for more than 2 million Berliners there was cut off.
In order to keep peace and overcome the blockade, the United States Air Force (USAF) and the Royal Air Force (RAF) organized a massive airlift in Berlin to provide food and other supplies to the West Berliners, also known as the Berlin airlift (26 June 1948–30 September 1949).
During the blockade, the newly formed Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force carried out more than 200,000 flights a year to deliver 13,000 tons of daily necessities and food to Berliners.
The story of West Berlin’s candy and chocolate bombs has become synonymous with love and unbridled compassion. (“The Candy Bomber” by Sydney Wada, Grade 11/ @LowellMilkenCenter/ Facebook)
The story of those challenging humanitarian flights of ‘candy’ and ‘chocolate’ bombs has now become an everlasting tale of love and unbridled compassion.
The children behind the barbed wire fences
Gail Halvorsen, one of the many Airlift pilots, by chance had a conversation with the children in the blockade area through a barbed-wire fence. The one-hour discussion that took place on that day between him and nearly 30 children on the other side of the barbed-wire, left a deep impression on him.
The children behind the barbed wire fence deeply moved Halvorsen. (Gail Halvorsen/ Facebook)
During the war, Halvorsen flew around Africa and England, where children were often aware that Americans frequently carried chocolate with them and so would often ask him for it. Familiar with this occurrence, Halvorsen was surprised when these German children, many of whom had not had chocolate for a number of years, did not ask him for a single piece for themselves. He understood, at that moment, that for them, chocolate was something too luxurious and absurd thing to ask for. And none of them even dared to ask for it. If someone had only brought something as simple as a little flour to them to fill their stomachs that would have been enough to have brought them great happiness.
This made Halvorsen relent. He reached into his pocket, took out his last two sticks of Wrigley’s Doublemint gum and gave them to the children. He was more surprised still to see that the children quickly divide up the pieces as best they could and shared them out, even passing around the wrapper for others to smell. Halvorsen saw their eyes light up when they smelled the sweet scent of peppermint that lingered on the wrapper. There was no quarrel, no scramble. This touched the young man’s heart, and he decided to do something for these children.
Operation Little Vittles rained down 23 tons of candy from the sky
Halvorsen told the children to come back the next day to witness for themselves chocolate raining down from the sky. He had come up with a fascinating idea and as promised, the next day on his approach to Berlin, he rocked the aircraft and dropped some chocolate bars attached to a handkerchief to the children waiting below at the barbed wire fence of Tempelhof Airport.
After this small success, Halvorsen promised himself to drop candy and chocolate on all his flights, and Operation Little Vittles was born.
The news quickly spread throughout the city about a USAF pilot affectionately named the “Uncle Wiggly Wings”, “The Chocolate Uncle” and “The Chocolate Flier” amongst Berlin’s children.
Halvorsen’s fellow pilots began to join in the effort. They wanted to bring hope to German children in the occupied area. Major candy manufacturers like Hershey and Wrigley also got on board by donating tons of chocolate and chewing gum to the operation.
As of December 1948, 23 tons of candy were dropped, of which 3 tons were delivered to orphanages on Christmas Day. Operation Little Vittles has become the largest humanitarian airlift operation in history.
More than 70 years have passed, but the memories of chocolate bars floating down from the sky remain uplifting stories of human love and kindness. It has surpassed all the wounds, hatred of war and lasts forever in time!