A group of 10 Squadron Staff visited the city of Berlin for an educational, yet enjoyable few days, in June 2014. An account of this, written by 10 Squadron cabin crew member SAC Leanne Wyllie, featured recently in the Brize Norton Gateway Magazine. Thanks to her for allowing us to publish it here also.
EXERCISE BERLIN ARROW : 10 SQN STAFF VISIT 6 – 10 June 2014
10 Sqn visitors to Berlin by the Brandenburg Gate
see below for a nominal role:
Those present were, from L-R: Flt Lt Dyer – ex 10 Sqn (SR), FS Newberry, Flt Lt Webb - ex 216 Sqn (SR) Flt Lts Geeson, Houston. FS Flood, OC10 - Wg Cdr Osborne, Flt Lt Gooding, Sgt Pringle, SACs Ward, Sanders, Wylie.
Missing from the photo are: Flt Lts Fox and Jones, together with FS Kenny Murray who took the photograph.
15 Members of 10 Sqn took part in Exercise Berlin Arrow, leaving RAF Brize Norton early on Friday morning, 6 June 2014 to visit the RAF Museum at Hendon. Following an introduction to ‘set the scene’ from FS Murray, our Staff Ride Facilitator, with the impressive backdrop of the Avro Lancaster, SAC Wyllie and Sgt Pringle discussed the differences between bombing employed during the bombing of Berlin during WW2, in comparison with modern day methods of delivering weaponry. Before departing for the flight from Luton, Kent Webb, ex-RAF and now one of the Sponsored Reservists from AirTanker, gave a history of the RAF Reserve. This covered the period from pre- WW2 to the present day, including the Voyager Force’s use of these fully integrated personnel.
Day Two began with a visit to the ruined Flak tower in Humbolthian Park* [see below] where FS Murray described its concept and its strengths and weaknesses. These heavily fortified buildings still exist in other European cities, but the ones in Berlin are all ruined or demolished.
The group moved onto the Tiergarten and home of the Reichstag, a central target during the bombing of Berlin because of its symbolic significance. Now a meeting place of the German Parliament after many years of reconstruction, was where Sgt Pringle discussed the German leadership during WW2 and why despite having such impressive war infrastructure were the allies still able to defeat the Third Reich. Not far from this area is one of the three Soviet War Memorials in Berlin. SAC Ward spoke of the brutal treatment given to the population of Berlin, particularly the women, by the Soviet soldiers, and how the Law of Armed Conflict has tried to change this attitude. Keith Dyer, another AirTanker Reservist, then explored the bombing of Berlin from the Soviet Union’s perspective, with differences in tactics and aircraft used. Following lunch, a brief stop at the ruined Kaiser Wilhelm Church at the top of the Kurfürstendamm was followed by a visit to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum to end a very hot day.
Checkpoint Charlie 1977
Day Three began with an extremely humbling and emotive start at the British Military Cemetery 1939-1945, home to 260 graves, many of which unknown. Here SAC Sanders spoke about RAF Brize Norton’s role in Op Pabbay duties and the importance of remembering the fallen. Wg Cdr Osborne described a mission of a crew from 10 Sqn who crashed on a raid over Berlin, 3 of which are buried in this cemetery. FS Murray then read the Ode of Remembrance followed by a minutes silence before SACs Wyllie, Sanders and Ward placed a Squadron cross on each of their graves.
The Grave of 10 Squadron Tail Air-Gunner, Sgt J.C. Smith
killed in action over Berlin 29 January 1944** [see photo of the crew at the end of this article]
Extract from 10 Sqn's Form 541 for the night of 28/29 Jan 1944
Sgt Jesse Smith on his Wedding Day
On to RAF Gatow, now home to the Luftwaffe Museum, where FS Flood spoke of the British Mission ‘BRIXMIS’, responsible for monitoring Soviet activity in East Germany. It transpired that some former 10 Sqn personnel were involved in this ‘mission’ during the 1980’s. Flt Lt Gooding then delivered his brief to the group on the dramatic changes in intelligence gathering since WW2 and the Cold War until today, with the dramatic developments in technology over this time. The journey back to the accommodation ended with a ferry ride across the Wannsee, Berlin’s famous lake, where a very poignant villa was passed, where the Nazis developed the ‘Final Solution’ which would be explored the following day.
On Day 4 the group toured Sachsenhausen, one of the first concentration camps in Germany. This was an unsettling experience for all personnel, with parts of the camp remaining virtually untouched, it was a brief insight into how prisoners lived and died during those awful years. Flt Lt Jones told the group of how some famous RAF inmates would be treated in comparison to other prisoners. Normal inmates were given tasks such as testing new boots for 16 hours a day over different terrain and obstacles, which seemed harsh to us, but was actually kinder treatment in comparison to others.
Appropriately the Holocaust memorial was the next stop. Erected to commemorate the six million murdered Jews of Europe, it is a vast 4.7 acre site with 2,711 concrete slabs all different height and size designed to confuse and disillusion. FS Newberry then delivered his stand about the Nazi War machine’s abundance of technological advances, which, had they existed, at the beginning of WW2 the outcome would have been significantly different. The day ended with a visit to Hitler’s bunker where he commited suicide on 30 April 1945; now no more than a sign in a car park, although still visited by many.
The site of the Führerbunker today ........... and a previous visitor in 1945
The last day ended with a trip to Templehof Airport. Situated near the city centre, it had been a major construction by the Nazi government intended to be the gateway to Europe as a symbol of Hitler’s “world capital” Germania. Post WW2 the airport was used during the relief operation saw commercial use for many years before its closure in 2008. Here Flt Lt Geeson discussed the RAF’s role and aircraft used during the Berlin Airlift, the most famous humanitarian use of air power in history. 10 Squadron, based at RAF Oakington at the time, was reformed especially for this task with its Dakota DC-3 aircraft. Detached to Lübeck, close to the East German border, north-east of Hamburg, the Squadron flew many flights into and out of Berlin.
A 10 Sqn Dakota during the Berlin Airlift 1948
The Berlin Air Corridors & Airlift Routes from the West
Flt Lt Houston moved on to tell the group of the importance of a nation’s ability to mount short notice national and international assistance missions as previously shown earlier in the year by the C17 providing aid to the Philippines. He also spoke of the A400M’s entry to service and its benefits over current aircraft. Flt Lt Fox rounded off the trip with his discussion on AAR and its evolvement over the years, a subject paramount to all of us as 2013 saw 10 Sqn as the first RAF Sqn to operate the Voyager in the AAR role.
As the staff ride came to a close all personnel left Berlin having learned a great deal from a variety of different subject discussions. By broadening our knowledge of the past and projecting this knowledge into the future, not just of 10 Squadron specific operations but worldwide, may benefit us all.
SAC LEANNE WYLLIE
10 Sqn Cabin Crew
* HUMBOLDTHAIN PARK
The historically listed green space bears the name of the great naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. The construction of this public park began on 14 September 1869, Humboldt's 100th birthday, and was finished in 1876.
On the 10 September 1940, as a result of a personal order from Hitler, the construction of so-called “Flakturme”, anti aircraft towers, began, which were intended to protect the city centre of Berlin from aerial bombardment. The first two towers were built in the Tiergarten and Friedrichshain parks – the third in the Humboldthain Park was built between October 1941 and April 1942. The Flak bunkers towered over their surroundings. The anti-aircraft cannons were aimed with the help of an additional tower, a so-called “Leitturm”, control tower, whose ruins still protrude from the rubble mountain on Gustav-Meyer-Allee. Inside the Flak tower, which was considered at the time to be completely bomb-proof, there was also space for 15.000 civilians.
After the war, the Berlin Flak towers were blown up as military structures. The north side of the Humboldthain Flak tower, which was blown up by French pioneers in 1948, remains only as a ruin. After the detonations, over 1.5 million cubic metres of rubble was piled up on top of the remains creating a “mountain of debris”.
In the winter, about 250 bats live in the rooms, including six different kinds of species. The anti-aircraft tower is thus the third largest bat hibernation site in Berlin.
The northern wall of the "large" bunker as well as the wall of the "small" bunker both fall under the jurisdiction of the German Alpine Club’s (DAV) Berlin Section and are used for sport climbing by advanced climbers.
On top of the Humboldthain hill, there is now a vineyard, from whose annual harvest about 200 bottles of wine are produced. The capital city thus produces its own Humboldthainer sparkling wine from the vines, but regrettably it isn’t available to buy; it is only given away by the Berlin District Office on special occasions.
After more than 50 years, the Berlin Underworlds Association has been able to make the ruins accessible. After thousands of hours of work they celebrated with a topping-out ceremony on 8 October 2003. Since April 2004 the tower has been open for visitors.
From the bunker debris resulting from the war, there emerged the toboggan-run and the Humboldthöhe hill, which now serves as a viewing platform. Through the efforts of the organisation Berliner Unterwelten e.V., parts of the destroyed turret have been made accessible. During the summer, guided tours are offered.
The Crew of JN891 - (P) lost over Berlin 28/29 January 1944
"So Young but Never Forgotten"
23 Halifax aircraft from 10 Squadron were tasked to bomb targets in Berlin on the night of 28/29 January 1944. Of these, 7 turned back for a variety of reasons and unserviceabilities, whilst 4 were shot down, leaving the remaining 12 to press on with the raid. Unfortunately the only faces above which can be identified from Halifax JN891's crew, by their brevets are the pilot, Sgt D. Ling seated mid-left and the navigator, Sgt J. Christie centre-rear. Sgt Jesse Smith, mentioned previously in this article, is 2nd from the left. Perhaps viewers can help with the others?