​​A Pilot's Story

A Chesterfield Hero

Roy and crew on the front page of the Nambour Chronicle who got the number of sorties wrong

The Schloss Landestrost seen from Roy's York

Roy and W/C Sidney Charles Sutton MBE walking away from his York C1 after flying the last of his record breaking 404 sorties during Operation Plainfare

​For those who have never heard of the Berlin Airlift, the following paragraph gives a brief summary of it. For those that know all about it, please skip the next paragraph, either way, I cannot stress too much what a massive achievement this was. Massive.

The eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed a couple of well known aircraft in the list of Yorks that Roy flew in the airlift. The first is MW173 'Zipper' which was being used as VIP transport for Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park, AOC Air Command South East Asia, who was based in Singapore​ before being transferred to the airlift and the second is MW232 which is now on display at the Imperial War museum at Duxford in the colors of it´s last operator Dan Air as G-ANTK. It is one of only two complete Yorks in the UK, the other being at Cosford which was initially intended for the RAF as TS 798, but quickly passed to BOAC as G-AGNV and later to Skyways.​​

At the end of the Second World War, Germany was divided and its capital Berlin was jointly administered by the USSR (Russia), Britain, France and the United States. Berlin, one hundred and ten miles inside the Russian zone of Germany, was reached by agreed road, rail and river routes. However, in April 1948, the Russians began interfering with the Allied movement to Berlin and the Allies, fearing a block of surface routes, commenced planning for an air bridge, the RAF calling their participation, 'Operation Plainfare'. On 24 June 1948 the Russians closed all surface routes to Berlin and two days later RAF Transport Command Douglas Dakotas commenced supply runs from Wunstorf to Gatow in the British sector of Berlin. Flights had to be made along one of three narrow defined air corridors. In July, RAF Avro Yorks joined the airlift and were able to carry nine-ton loads compared with a Dakota’s three-ton load. To make way for the Yorks, the Dakotas moved north to Lubeck. Also in July, RAF Short Sunderland flying-boats began flying to Havel Lake in Berlin. The Sunderland, being designed for the sea, was the ideal transport aircraft for transporting Berlin's salt needs as previous airframes had suffered corrosion. These flights continued until fear of ice in December, caused their withdrawal from the airlift.

At the start of the Berlin Blockade, before the Airlift started, West Berlin had just thirty-five days' worth of food, and forty-five days' worth of coal. Without the involvement of the Allied Armed Forces, West Berlin would have been lost and the nature of post-war Europe would have altered significantly.
British aircraft spent more than 210,000 hours in the air, the equivalent of 24 man years, and flew more than 30 million miles, which equates to flying to the moon and back 63 times.
During the Airlift, British military and civilian aircraft lifted more than 540,000 tons. This included food, coal, liquid fuel, military equipment and other items, such as metal girders to rebuild the bridges in the city destroyed during the Second World War.
The airlift sustained the population of West Berlin, at that time estimated to be around two million. Their daily requirement for food alone was 900 tons of potatoes; 641 tons of flour; 106 tons of meat and fish, 105 tons of cereals and so on, amounting altogether to some 1,800 to 2,000 tons of food alone every day. Nearly 45 per cent of the food and supplies taken in to Berlin were flown in British aircraft.
Alongside the population of Berlin, there were also many Servicemen and women with their families stationed in the city as part of the Allied garrison for the duration of the Blockade.
British aircraft also transported more than 131,000 individuals – mainly children and the sick - out of Berlin for medical attention in West Germany. They also transported people into the city, including Service personnel and their families.
The British were the only force that sustained trade with the city, exporting nearly 360,000 tons of goods produced in Berlin out to West Germany and beyond.
The Soviet Blockade was lifted on 12 May 1949, the Airlift having prevented the starvation of the city. Flights continued for several months however, ensuring the city was well stocked in the event of further blockades.
During the Berlin Airlift British aircraft transported 542,000 tonnes of freight over 175,000 sorties. The RAF’s modern-day equivalent of the Dakota, the C17 Globemaster, is capable of transporting a maximum 73.6 tonnes of freight, and could potentially have lifted the same freight in only 7465 sorties, just over 4 per cent of the flights made during 1948 – 1949.

Roy's record breaking achievement of flying 404 sorties during the airlift came about really because of his commanding officer. It is no secret that the United States are ultra competitive in all things they undertake and the USAF was certainly no exception. When 206 squadron joined Operation Plain Fare they were only the second flight of Yorks to join it making them play catch up from the start. Roy's CO realised that the Americans were already well ahead with their flights and it became clear that one pilot in particular was being assigned more flights than the others. Anxious not to come second to the Americans, Roy's CO decided that it should be Roy who would fly the flag for Britain and started to detail him for the lion's share of flights. Roy would fly two or three trips a day from RAF Wunstorf to RAF Gatow in Berlin's British sector. On the 12th August 1948 he achieved 4 flights in the day, not a bad achievement as the flight time was an hour one way and the York would have to be unloaded taking at least an hour. During this time, Roy and his crew consisting of Flt Lt Roy Lewis Stewart Hathaway AFC (Navigator), Flt Lt Richardson (Engineer. Although the original Engineer was called Bussey) and Royston William Marshall AFM (Signaller), took very little time off. Roy told us they regularly got 'buzzed' by soviet Yak fighters trying to force them out of the narrow corridor they were confined to. This soon became a bit of a game with the Yaks, as more and more pilots started to play chicken with them by flying towards them until the Yak would veer off to avoid a collision which would be far more detrimental to the Yak.

After much deliberation on the two photos above, the fountain of all knowledge, Pete, identified the two locations:

'The little town is Neustadt am Rübenberge just north of Wunstorf and the castle is Schloss Landestrost.
The Schloss Landestrost sits at the head of the double arrow which is more gardens than earthworks.
Along side is the Kleine Leine river with its bridge carrying the Herzog Erich Alee into town.
The distinctive road that crosses the railway line at 45 degrees under the engine in the photo is the Nienburger Strasse.
The town itself is 5 miles due north of Wunstorf.
P.S. Your dad was on finals for Runway 21 at Wunstorf when the photo was taken by the way!'


'The river is the Havel on the outskirts of Berlin and the tower is the Grunewald Tower and this photo was shot either taking off or landing at RAF Gatow '

Fantastic, thanks Pete

A York C1 after a fire in the wing fuel tank

The family story says that the Americans were counting a flight to Tempelhof as one flight and their return to their base as a second whereas the British were counting their sorties from Wunstorf to Gatow and return as one trip. Even though the Americans were doubling their flights, Roy's CO was adamant that Roy should complete more than the American tally even if he had to fly over twice the number of trips so there would be no argument as to who had flown the most trips. This story has been cast into a bit of doubt now as during my research into Roy's career, I contacted the curator of the excellent Allied Museum, recently relocated at the old Tempelhof Airfield. He informed me that they were in possession of an American pilot's log sheet stating that he had flown 350 flights during the Airlift. He assured me that he believed they counted there and back as one trip however he had no record whatsoever of Roy's achievement, which as it turned out, was not unusual. It seems that Roy and his crew's achievement has seemed to go completely unnoticed by most organisations associated with the history of the Blockade including the British Berlin Airlift Association.

​The RAF must have thought it was an achievement above and beyond the call of duty as Roy was awarded the Air Force Cross for his part in it.

​One of my oldest friends, who is now a successful session musician living in Freiberg in the black forest, thought, on first hearing about Roy's part in the airlift, that it was such a remarkable effort that maybe Roy should be recognised by the people of Berlin by perhaps naming a small street after him or something of the like. And as far as I know he is still pursuing this, however I'm not sure he has thought it through as although they would be grateful as to the help in 1948/9, they would be less beholden to him for his efforts in 1944/5. 

After the Airlift, Roy was sent to the Central Flying School at No.2 Squadron, Brize Norton for Instructor training. I don't know whether he didn't qualify or was needed somewhere else because, after the course, he joined 59 Squadron and resumed his long distance flights to Africa and the far east for the next year, however this time in a York again.

The Grunewald Tower seen from Roy's York

Roy and his crew. Flt Lt Roy Lewis Stewart Hathaway AFC (Navigator), Flt Lt Richardson (Engineer) and Royston William Marshall AFM(Signaller),

Roy in the pilots seat of a York C1 during the Airlift



Roy and Flt Lt Roy Lewis Stewart Hathaway AFC after the last sortie

After a few years with Transport Command and over 3,000 hours total flying time, It would be time for Roy to return home, Bomber Command home that is!

The Nambour Chronicle weren't the only paper to get it wrong as the Glasgow Herald gave them an extra 16 sorties to their tally

Roy finally gains an 'Above the Average' rating as a Long Range Transport pilot

59 Squadron photo, Roy is front row, 4th from the left. .

A gallery of Roy's logbook pages recording the 404 flights in 'Operation Plane Fare'. Click to enlarge.