Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift's

Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift's "Chocolate Pilot"

3.3 8
by Michael O. Tunnell

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World War II was over, and Berlin was in ruins. US Air Force pilot Gail Halvorsen wanted to bring some happiness to the children of the city— but what could one man in one plane do?


World War II was over, and Berlin was in ruins. US Air Force pilot Gail Halvorsen wanted to bring some happiness to the children of the city— but what could one man in one plane do?

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Sharon Salluzzo
The Berlin Airlift began in 1948 to bring food and supplies into Russian-blockaded Berlin, Germany. One of the American pilots, Gail Halvorsen, was touring Berlin when he came upon a group of children gathered on the other side of a wire fence watching the planes land. They shared their concerns with Halvorsen, not only for their much needed food but also for freedom from Soviet rule. He was inspired to drop gum and candy. Concerned that the Air Force would not allow him to carry out his plan, he did it secretly. Soon, however, his popularity as the Candy Bomber spread. The candy drop became a symbol of hope for these young Berliners. Tunnell brings the reader up to date on Halvorsen who has met with the now grown-up children, their children and grandchildren. Halvorsen has continued to fly other humanitarian missions in the 1990s and the early 2000s. His uplifting story and unassuming demeanor emphasize how one small act of kindness can have a ripple effect. An historical note provides context. Tunnell interviewed Halvorsen for this book. Those interviews and the books and websites listed in the Selected References provided the quotes. Black and white photographs from the time of the airlift and those of present day, along with letters and drawings from grateful children provide a sense of how meaningful his candy drops were. There is an author's note and a Prologue written by Halvorsen. A fascinating story in many ways, this is a fine introduction to the beginning of the Cold War for middle school and high school students. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo
School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—Tunnell brings to life a little-known post-World War II story. What started as a single pilot's car tour of bombed-out Berlin turned into an international campaign to help lighten the suffering of the children of West Berlin. The time was 1948, and the Soviet Union had closed all land access to the isolated Free World sectors of West Berlin in an attempt to starve the people into accepting Communist rule. On an impulse, a C-54 cargo pilot, Lt. Gail S. Halvorsen, shared the only two sticks of gum he had with a group of about 30 children. What started as a somewhat clandestine candy-dropping operation by Halvorsen and his buddies eventually became a USAF-sanctioned operation. As the airlift of food and fuel continued for almost two years, tons of candy were dropped (using tiny parachutes) for the children who waited in the flight path below. The text is liberally illustrated with black-and-white photos, copies of letters, and a diagram of how the flight patterns worked. Endpapers contain color reproductions of a few of the many pieces of children's artwork that Halvorsen received as the "Chocolate Pilot," "Uncle Wiggly Wings," and "Dear Onkl of the Heaven." Vocabulary is relatively easy, but adequate for the topic, which makes the text flow easily. The book concludes with extensive biographical, historical, and author's notes. This is a real treat—a World War II title with a happy ending. Make it a first purchase.—Eldon Younce, formerly at Harper Elementary School, KS

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Read an Excerpt

Candy Bomber

The Story of the Berlin Airlift's "Chocolate Pilot"
By Michael O. Tunnell


Copyright © 2010 Michael O. Tunnell
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-58089-337-4

Chapter One

Bread from the Heavens

Nine-year-old Peter Zimmerman searched the sky for airplanes. It was 1948, and Peter stood in his uncle's yard in West Berlin, Germany. There had been a time, three or four years earlier, when the droning of American and British bombers would have sent Peter running for cover. But World War II was over, and things had changed. Now the aircraft didn't frighten him. In fact, he longed to see a particular American plane—one that would fly over and wiggle its wings.

In the same city seven-year-old Mercedes Simon was amazed that her wartime enemies—the Americans and the British—were now her friends. She peered out the window of her apartment, watching US Air Force planes swoop by to land at nearby Tempelhof Central Airport. The pounding of their mighty engines filled the air day and night. Like Peter, Mercedes was watching for a special plane—one she hoped would fly closer, rocking its wings back and forth.

West Berliners were excited to see the steady stream of great silver birds crowding their sky. Instead of bombers come to destroy, these aircraft were cargo planes that had come to save West Berliners from starvation. Each plane was filled with flour, potatoes, milk, meat, or medicine—even coal to heat homes and generate electricity for the city. Of course, there were hundreds of American and British military aviators flying into the city, but Peter and Mercedes were waiting for just one pilot. And they weren't the only ones. Every youngster in the city had an eye on the sky, waiting to spot Lt. Gail Halvorsen's plane.

But why was this pilot, along with the others, flying food into West Berlin? And why was it coming in on airplanes at all? It would have been much more efficient to transport the food with trucks and railway cars.

The answers lie in what happened to Berlin when World War II ended in 1945. The Allied powers—Great Britain, the United States, France, and the Soviet Union (Russia)—defeated Germany and then divided it into four occupation zones. The Soviets took the northeastern part of the country, which included Berlin, the capital city. Although Britain, the United States, and France (the Western Allies) each occupied a zone, they still wanted a presence in Berlin—even though it was located 110 miles (177 kilometers) inside the Soviet-controlled zone. Therefore, the Allied powers agreed to divide up the city: the eastern part of Berlin would go to the Soviets, and the western part would be split into three sectors, one each for the Western Allies.

The Soviet Union had been on Germany's side earlier in the war. When Germany unexpectedly turned against Russia, the Soviets switched their allegiance and joined Britain, the United States, and France. But Russia's Communist government was a dictatorship, and it did not trust democracies. When the war ended, the Soviets distanced themselves from the democratic governments of their former allies. Soon Russia's leaders made it clear that they wanted Britain, the United States, and France out of Berlin. When they didn't leave, the Soviets cried foul by claiming that the Western Allies were forcing their democratic, capitalistic ideals on everyone in Germany.

Finally the Russians decided to drive the Westerners out by blockading Berlin—not allowing trains, cars, trucks, or river barges to reach the city. By cutting off land and water travel across the Soviet zone, the Russians intended to stop all food shipments to West Berlin. Surely after a few miserable weeks, West Berliners—who were already suffering in their war-ravaged city—would beg the Western Allies to leave so they could be fed by the Soviets. The Russians were certain Britain, the United States, and France would have no other choice but to go. As it turned out, there was another choice.

Although the treaty dividing Berlin did not guarantee travel over land and water, it did allow for several air corridors into Berlin. With this avenue of travel still open, the Western Allies decided to fly food and fuel into West Berlin in a concerted effort called the Berlin Airlift. The task was daunting. To feed over two million people seemed difficult if not impossible—certainly the Soviets thought so.

The British Royal Air Force (RAF) launched its airlift of supplies on June 26, 1948, calling it "Operation Plainfare." The RAF flew its cargo planes into Gatow Airfield in the British sector. Besides regular aircraft, it also used flying boats named Sunderlands, which had marine fuselages resistant to their corrosive payloads of salt. They landed on lakes along the River Havel in West Berlin.

The US Air Force (USAF) began its airlift on the same day as the British and dubbed it "Operation Vittles," after the vittles, or food, it was flying into West Berlin. Douglas C-47 Skytrain and C-54 Skymaster aircraft flew into airfields in the French, British, and American sectors of West Berlin: Tegel, Gatow, and especially Tempelhof Central Airport. The cargo planes dropped out of the sky to land every few minutes, twenty-four hours a day. US pilots made as many flights as possible before fatigue required new flight crews to take over. One of these pilots was Gail Halvorsen, a young lieutenant who had just arrived in Germany.


Excerpted from Candy Bomber by Michael O. Tunnell Copyright © 2010 by Michael O. Tunnell. Excerpted by permission of Charlesbridge. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Michael has served on the Newbery Award Committee and on the selection committee for the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. He has also published many professional books, including THE STORY OF OURSELVES: TEACHING HISTORY THROUGH CHILDREN'S LITERATURE (Heinemann) and CHILDREN'S LITERATURE, BRIEFLY (Prentice Hall), and has written articles for a variety of educational journals. He and his wife, Glenna, live in Orem, Utah. They have four grown children.

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Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift's "Chocolate Pilot" 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Rainy1954 More than 1 year ago
I felt the book was very moving. It really had the human element about WWII that is often missing in the battles that are fought. This story about the Berlin airlift I had never heard before. I especially liked that the pilot found kids were kids even in a war torn country. We are all just people. I would highly recommend reading it as an adult or a child. It would be a great read aloud book for a classroom and for a family.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A captivating true story, The Candy Bomber tells of the berlin airlift and Lt. Gail Halvorsen's part in it. A must read for all ages.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In the firt chapter i couldent stop reading and its a charlemay simon book to
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Looks good
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What is this about?