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Tarrant Rushton & Berlin Airlift

Tarrant Rushton airfield played a key role in the 1948/49 Berlin Airlift. At the time, Flight Refuelling was based at Tarrant Rushton and it was Sir Alan Cobham’s company that supplied the German capital with fuel.

After the Second World War, Germany was divided into Russian, American, French & British zones. Berlin, the country’s capital was similarly divided but was located deep inside the Russian occupied sector. In June 1948, the Russians decided to block all road and rail access into the Western occupied parts of Berlin. By doing so, they hoped to starve Western Berliners of food and supplies and to force the United States, France and Britain to withdraw from the capital. The Allies responded by supplying Berlin from the air, known as the Berlin airlift.

Flight Refuelling operated twelve Lancaster & Lancastrian aircraft which had been converted to carry fuel. The company’s first aircraft, laden with fuel, left Tarrant Rushton for Berlin on 27th July 1948. The company’ twelve aircraft and 28 crew transported seven million tons of fuel and flew 1.8 million miles in a campaign known as ‘Operation Plainfare.’ At the peak of the airlift, Flight Refuelling employed 650 people at Tarrant Rushton and 230 in Hamburg, Germany. The Berlin Airlift and Flight Refuelling’s contribution was so successful that the Russians lifted the blockade in May 1949. During the Berlin Airlift, Flight Refuelling carried out around 4,500 flights.

However, the Tarrant Rushton involvement was not without tragedy. For a Flight Refuelling Lancastrian (G-AHJW) returning to its base, on 22nd November 1948, in fog crashed near Andover, Hampshire. Three crew members and four passengers were killed.

Flight Refuelling moved away from Tarrant Rushton airfield in the 1970s and the airfield closed in September 1980.

(Illustration: Flight Refuelling Lancastrian aircraft)


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