Berlin "Candy Bomber"
Published May 03, 2007
One of the many American pilots to fly the USAF C-54 Skymaster during the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49 ("Operation Vittles") was Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen of Provo, Utah. During the operation he became known as the "Candy Bomber" because he repeatedly dropped candy to German children from his aircraft on approach to the runways.
The idea grew out of a chance meeting between Halvorsen and several German school children at the perimeter fence of Tempelhof Airport. While waiting for his aircraft to be unloaded one day he decided to walk to the end of the runway and photograph other C-54s making their landing approach to the runway, a tricky descent over several buildings outside the Tempelhof grounds.
While standing at the barbed wire fence he struck up a conversation with the German children gathered outside to watch the giant airplanes land. The hungry children asked if Halvorsen had any gum or candy, and he eagerly gave them two pieces of gum that he happened to be carrying in his pocket. He promised to bring them more gum and candy on his next flight into the airport, saying that he would drop it to them as he passed over them while landing. When asked how they would known which of the huge airplanes was his, he said he would "wiggle his wings" as he approached their position.
True to his word, on his next mission to Tempelhof Airport, on final approach to the runway Halvorsen "wiggled his wings" and had the Flight Engineer push three bundles of sweets through the flare chute on the C-54 flightdeck. (Halvorsen had gathered the candy by talking other pilots into donating their Candy Ration Cards to the effort.) The three small parcels floated down on tiny, homemade handkerchief parachutes, but Halvorsen could not see whether the children caught the packages due to the business of landing. Later, as he taxied the empty C-54 to the end of the runway to depart the airfield, he looked to the crowd of children at the fence. Three white handkerchiefs waved back at him enthusiastically!
Over the next few weeks Halvorsen repeated the airdrops to an ever-growing audience of German children at the fence. Soon he even began to receive letters at the airport, addressed simply to "Uncle Wiggly Wings -- Tempelhof," requesting special airdrops at other locations within the city! Local newspapers picked up the story and his fame began to spread. Back at his home base Halvorsen began to receive mail from other pilots who wanted to help. Candy was donated, handkerchief parachutes were made by volunteers, and the tiny parcels began to fall all over Berlin.
On a brief trip back to the United States Halvorsen was asked by an interviewer what he needed to continue his popular "Candy Bomber" operation. He jokingly remarked "boxcars full of candy!" Sure enough, shortly after his return to Germany a traincar loaded with 3,000 pounds of chocolate bars arrived for "Uncle Wiggly Wings."
Thousands of pounds of candy continued to arrive from the United States to support the airdrops. Other pilots volunteered to drop the packages of sweets across the city. After several letters were received from East Berlin "Uncle Wiggly Wings" even made a few drops to school yards there, angering Soviet officials for the "attempted subversion of young minds." When asked about it Halvorsen commented "kids are kids everywhere." He even mailed packages of candy to disappointed children who wrote to say they had never been able to reach the "sweet gifts from the sky" before others got all the loot. No one was to be missed by Utah's "Candy Bomber."