The Berlin Airlift officially ended on 30 September 1949, after fifteen months. In total the United States Air Force, United States Navy, Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force delivered 2,334,374 tons, nearly two-thirds of which was coal, on 280,290 flights to Berlin.
At the height of the Airlift, one plane reached West Berlin every thirty seconds.
Second Lieutenant Ruth Mable Gardiner, Nurse Corps, United States Army, was born in Calgary, Alberta, Dominion of Canada, 20 May 1914. She and several family members attempted to emigrate to the United States of America. They arrived at Eastport, Idaho, on 15 March 1917, but were debarred and ordered excluded. An application for entry on bond was approved and Ruth was allowed into the United States at Noyes, Minnesota, 11 July 1917. Just 3 years, 8 months old, Ruth was unaccompanied. Her nearest relatives were listed as an uncle, Hilliard Gardiner, in Sutherland, Saskatchewan, and another uncle, John Flaherty, in Oakland, California. Ruth was described as being of Irish ancestry, with a fair complexion, blond hair and blue eyes. Her passage to America had been paid by an employee of the Calgary Street Railway Company.
Miss Gardiner lived Indianapolis, Indiana, with an older sister, Constance, a stenographer, and her husband, Clarence Smith, a salesman. She attended Sacred Heart High School in Indianapolis. After graduating, Miss Gardiner entered the Training School for Nurses at the White Haven Sanitorium, White Haven, Pennsylvania. She graduated in 1934.
Miss Gardiner later worked at St. Agnes Hospital, White Plains, New York; St. Elizabeth Hospital, Utica, New York; and the Indiana University Medical Center, at Indianapolis.
In January 1942, Miss Gardiner joined the United States Army. She was a member of the first training class for air evacuation nurses at the 349th Air Evacuation Group, Bowman Field, Kentucky,. The class of 30 graduated 18 February 1943. Lieutenant Gardiner was then assigned to the 805th Medical Air Evacuation Squadron, where she was one of only six Army nurses involved in the air evacuation of wounded soldiers from the Aleutian Islands.
On 27 July 1943, Lieutenant Gardiner was aboard a Douglas C-47 Skytrain flown by Lieutenant Carl T. Moore and his crew. They were making an instrument approach to Naknek Army Air Base:
“On 27 July 1943, Ship No. 41-38643 failed to clear the top of a ridge on the approach leg, coming in to Naknek in soupy weather.
—U.S. Army, “History of the 54th Troop Carrier Squadron” (1945). World War Regimental Histories. Book 22, at Page 17, Column 2
The C-47 was destroyed and all 11 persons on board were killed.
Second Lieutenant Ruth M. Gardiner, Nurse Corps, United States Army, was the first American nurse to die in the line of duty during World War II.
“From the day of her enrollment in the Training School for Nurses she exhibited an earnest desire to serve humanity. She was devoted, understanding and efficient in the care of the sick. She was highly regarded by her classmates and the staff. Her aptitudes and personality were further shown during her career in the Army Nurse’s Corps. On 27 July, 1943, she gave her life in the service of her country.”
—TIMES-LEADERThe Evening News, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Wednesday 15 December 1948, at Page 2, Column 2
Lieutenant Gardiner’s remains were buried at the Fort Richardson Post Cemetery, Anchorage, Alaska. They were re-interred at the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, 28 October 1948.
The 12-story Chicago Beach Hotel at 1660 E. Hyde Park Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois, was taken over by the U.S. Army and converted to a 1,061-bed hospital. Opening for patients 1 October 1943, the military hospital was named Gardiner General Hospital, in honor of Lieutenant Gardiner.
Gardiner General Hospital discharged its last patient 21 June 1946, and the building was reassigned as Headquarters, Fifth Army.
In 1948, the nurses quarters at White Haven Sanitorium, formerly known as “the lodge,” were named the Ruth M. Gardiner Pavilion. In 1963, the nurses quarters at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, were named Gardiner Hall.
In 1943, the Women’s International Bowling Congress’ Wings of Mercy Fund donated a Douglas C-47 Skytrain air ambulance to the Army Air Forces in memory of Ruth M. Gardiner.
The Flight Nurse’s Creed
I will summon every resource to prevent the triumph of death over life.
I will stand guard over the medicines and equipment entrusted to my care and ensure their proper use.
I will be untiring in the performances of my duties and I will remember that, upon my disposition and spirit, will in large measure depend the morale of my patients.
I will be faithful to my training and to the wisdom handed down to me by those who have gone before me.
I have taken a nurse’s oath, reverent in man’s mind because of the spirit and work of its creator, Florence Nightingale. She, I remember, was called the “Lady with the Lamp.”
It is now my privilege to lift this lamp of hope and faith and courage in my profession to heights not known by her in her time. Together with the help of flight surgeons and surgical technicians, I can set the very skies ablaze with life and promise for the sick, injured, and wounded who are my sacred charges.
. . . This I will do. I will not falter in war or in peace.
The airplane in which Lieutenant Gardiner and the others were killed was a Douglas C-47-DL Skytrain, U.S.A.A.F. serial number 41-38643 (c/n 4746). It was built at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant in Long Beach, California, and delivered to the U.S. Army Air Forces on 27 September 1942. The Skytrain was assigned to 54th Troop Carrier Squadron, Eleventh Air Force, in Alaska, 29 March 1943.
10 July 1943: Following the defeat of Germany and Italy by the Allies in North Africa, the next phase of the war plan was the invasion of Sicily. This began with the largest airborne assault ever attempted by U.S. and British paratroopers up to that time.
Shortly after midnight, a Regimental Combat Team (RCT) consisting of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment with the 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, under command of Colonel James M. Gavin, United States Army, dropped out of a moonlit sky around Gela on the southern shore of the island and achieved reasonable success. 226 C-47 Skytrains of the 52d Troop Carrier Wing dropped 3,405 U.S. paratroopers. A second airborne assault by the remaining 1,900 paratroopers of the 504th PIR was carried into battle by 144 C-47s from the 52d TCW.
The British Army 1st Air Landing Brigade under Brigadier Philip Hicks arrived on gliders to capture landing zones in the interior of the island.
As the Allied formation of 144 Douglas C-47 Skytrain transports approached the Sicilian shoreline, ships of the invasion force mistook them for enemy aircraft and opened fire. 22 C-47s were shot down and many others damaged. 83 men were killed and 318 wounded.
As a result of the friendly fire incident, the airborne assault was widely scattered, missing assigned drop zones and objectives. However, small groups of airborne troopers acting on their own initiative attacked targets of opportunity and kept the island’s defenders off balance.
The British glider assault, Operation Ladbroke, consisted of 8 Airspeed Horsa and 136 American Waco CG-4 transport gliders. Only 12 of these landed at their targets. At least 65 went into the sea with the loss of over 250 British soldiers.
Operation Fustian was the airborne assault by the 1st Parachute Brigade under the command of Brigadier Gerald Lathbury was carried by 105 C-47s, 11 Armstrong Whitworth Ablemarle paratroop transports, 11 Horsa and 8 Waco gliders. Approximately 40 of these were shot down by Allied and Axis anti-aircraft fire and several were lost to mid-air collisions. Many transports were badly damaged and had so many wounded paratroops that they aborted the mission and returned to North Africa.
Despite significant problems, the airborne troops kept the island’s defenders off guard and had a “positive effect” on the outcome of the invasion.
26 June 1948: 32 United States Air Force Douglas C-47 Skytrain transports flew 80 tons of supplies to Berlin, the first day of the Berlin Airlift.
At the height of the Cold War, the Union of Soviet Soviet Socialist Republics, occupying eastern Germany following World War II, blockaded the Allied portions of the city of Berlin, cutting off all transportation by land and water. This was followed by the building of the Berlin Wall. The western part of the city was now completely isolated. Josef Stalin hoped to force Britain, France and the United States to abandon Berlin, giving the communists complete control of the devastated country.
General Curtis LeMay was asked to transport the needs of the city by air. It was calculated that they would need to supply seventeen hundred calories per person per day, giving a grand total of 646 tons of flour and wheat, 125 tons of cereal, 64 tons of fat, 109 tons of meat and fish, 180 tons of dehydrated potatoes, 180 tons of sugar, 11 tons of coffee, 19 tons of powdered milk, 5 tons of whole milk for children, 3 tons of fresh yeast for baking, 144 tons of dehydrated vegetables, 38 tons of salt and 10 tons of cheese. In total, 1,534 tons were needed daily to keep the over two million people alive. Additionally, the city needed to be kept heated and powered, which would require another 3,475 tons of coal and gasoline.
At the height of the airlift, one airplane was landing every 30 seconds. By the end, more supplies were arriving by air than had previously come by rail. The airlift ended 30 September 1949.
2,326,406 tons of food, medicine and coal had been delivered.
5–6 June 1944 (D-Day -1): Beginning in the late evening, 821 Douglas C-47 Skytrain twin-engine transports, and 516 Waco CG-4A and Airspeed AS.51 Horsa gliders of the IXth Troop Carrier Command, airlifted 13,348 paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, United States Army, and another 7,900 men of the British Army 6th Airborne Division and the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.
The airplanes flew in a Vee-of Vees formation, nine airplanes abreast, 100 feet (30 meters) from wing tip to wing tip, 1,000 feet (305 meters) in trail, stretching for over 300 miles (483 kilometers). They flew in darkness at an altitude of 500 to 1,000 feet (152–305 meters).
Their mission was to drop the paratroopers behind the invasion beaches of Normandy during the hours before the amphibious assault began on D-Day.