The rare Operation Plainfare Berlin Airlift 1948 to 1949 Air Force Medal and Second World War Burma group awarded to Signaller 1st Grade R.J. Le Feaver, Royal Air Force, who saw service out in India from January 1943 as an Air Gunner / Wireless Operator with 240 Squadron operating in Catalina flying boats in support of the operations in Burma. Posted was he was recalled from the reserves, and then found himself as a Signaller 1st Grade flying in Dakota C-47 transport aircraft of No.240 Operational Conversion Unit during Operation Plainfare, the Berlin Airlift on the Wunstorf-Gatow-Wunstorf route from October 1948 through the critical winter period into 1940. The Berlin Airlift was one of the first major international crises of the Cold War and lasted from June 1948 to May 1949. The original plan being to lift 3,475 tons of supplies daily. By the spring of 1949, that number was often met twofold, with the peak daily delivery totalling 12,941 tons. As a Flight Signaller with No.240 OCU, Le Feaver flew 188 sorties on the Berlin Air Lift, which in itself was an outstanding effort for the member of staff of a training unit. He displayed exceptional enthusiasm for flying and when the unit was very short of student signallers he flew many hours day and night as the signaller with student crews, to enable pilots and navigators to be passed out. A most enthusiastic flyer and an excellent instructor, His standards of operating and procedure were of the highest order, and his enthusiasm was a fine example to students passing through the unit. It was through his all-round instructional work and his fine effort on the Air Lift that Le Feaver won the Air Force Medal, one of only a handful of awards given for the Berlin Airlift.
Group of 5: Air Force Medal, GVI 2nd type bust; (578375 SIG.I R.J. LE FEAVER R.A.F.), on individual wearing pin as issued, with the extremely rare named card box of issue; 1939-1945 Star; Burma Star; Defence Medal; War Medal. Last four with the forwarding chit confirming service number.
Condition: Nearly Extremely Fine.
Together with the following:
Royal Life Saving Society Swimming Proficiency Medal in Bronze, engraved: ‘R.J. Le Feaver July 1941’.
Royal Air Force Signaller’s Brevet. Together with another enamelled version.
Together with two envelopes, both addressed to the recipient at 359a Lea Bridge Road, Leyton, London.
Royston Joseph Le Feaver was born on 27th March 1924 in West Ham, London, and with the outbreak of the Second World War, then enlisted into the Royal Air Force as an Aircraft Apprentice (No.578375) on 27th August 1940 when posted to the No.1 School of Technical Training. His service officially commenced on 27th March 1942, and he was then posted to RAF Hornchurch on 14th September 1942 and re-mustered as a Wireless Operator Mechanic. Posted to Leighton Buzzard on 8th October 1942, he was then when he was recommended for air gunner training on 30th October 1942, and was posted to No.1 Air Gunnery School on 12th December 1942. Having passed the course, he was promoted to Sergeant on 30th December 1942.
Le Feaver was posted to India on 18th January 1943, and on 18th March 1943 joined No.1 Aircrew Transit Unit, before being posted operational to join No.240 Squadron at Redhills Lake, operating in Catalina flying boats. As such he then saw service in support of the operations in Burma, and was promoted to temporary Warrant Officer on 27th April 1945. With the imminent end of the war in the Far East, he then found himself posted home on 7th July 1945, and shortly after the end of the Second World War joined No.1382 Transport Command Unit at Wymesfold on 30th September 1945, being ranked as a Signaller I (Air Crew) on 28th October 1947, and then moved with his unit to North Luffenham on 31st December 1947.
Le Feaver was discharged on 4th October 1948, but owing the Berlin Airlift was immediately recalled from the reserve and re-enlisted at North Luffenham on 12th October 1948, for service with No.240 Operational Conversion Unit for service in Dakota transport aircraft. He was then immediately detached to Wunsdorf in order to participate in the Berlin Airlift, in what was known as Operation Plainfare, in order to fly the Wunstorf-Gatow-Wunstorf route.
The Berlin Blockade (24th June 1948 to 12th May 1949) was one of the first major international crises of the Cold War. During the multinational occupation of post-war Germany, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies’ railway, road, and canal access to the sectors of Berlin under Western control. The Soviets offered to drop the blockade if the Western Allies withdrew the newly introduced Deutsche Mark from West Berlin.
The Western Allies organised the Berlin Airlift (also known as Berliner Luftbrücke, literally "Berlin Air Bridge" in German) from 26th June 1948 to 30th September 1949 to carry supplies to the people of West Berlin, a difficult feat given the size of the city's population.
The Americans and British then began a joint operation in support of the entire city. Aircrews from the American, British, French, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and South African air forces flew over 200,000 sorties in one year, providing to the West Berliners necessities such as fuel and food, with the original plan being to lift 3,475 tons of supplies daily. By the spring of 1949, that number was often met twofold, with the peak daily delivery totalling 12,941 tons.
On 12 May 1949, the USSR lifted the blockade of West Berlin, although for a time the Americans and British continued to supply the city by air anyway because they were worried that the Soviets were simply going to resume the blockade and were only trying to disrupt western supply lines. The Berlin Airlift officially ended on 30 September 1949 after fifteen months. The US Air Force had delivered 1,783,573 tons (76.40% of total) and the RAF 541,937 tons (23.30% of total), totalling 2,334,374 tons, nearly two-thirds of which was coal, on 278,228 flights to Berlin. The C-47s and C-54s together flew over 92,000,000 miles in the process, almost the distance from Earth to the Sun. At the height of the Airlift, one plane reached West Berlin every thirty seconds. Seventeen American and eight British aircraft crashed during the operation. A total of 101 fatalities were recorded as a result of the operation, including 40 Britons and 31 Americans, mostly due to non-flying accidents.
The Berlin Blockade served to highlight the competing ideological and economic visions for postwar Europe and played a major role in drawing West Germany into the NATO orbit several years later in 1955.
Le Feaver found himself flying during the key winter of 1948 to 1949. Although the early estimates were that about 4,000 to 5,000 tons per day would be needed to supply the city, this was made in the context of summer weather, when the Airlift was only expected to last a few weeks. As the operation dragged on into autumn, the situation changed considerably. The food requirements would remain the same (around 1,500 tons), but the need for additional coal to heat the city dramatically increased the total amount of cargo to be transported by an additional 6,000 tons a day.
To maintain the Airlift under these conditions, the current system would have to be greatly expanded. Aircraft were available, and the British started adding their larger Handley Page Hastings in November, but maintaining the fleet proved to be a serious problem. Tunner looked to the Germans once again, hiring (plentiful) ex-Luftwaffe ground crews. Another problem was the lack of runways in Berlin to land on: two at Tempelhof and one at Gatow—neither of which was designed to support the loads the C-54s were putting on them. All of the existing runways required hundreds of labourers, who ran onto them between landings and dumped sand into the runway's Marston Mat (pierced steel planking) to soften the surface and help the planking survive. Since this system could not endure through the winter, between July and September 1948 a 6,000 ft.-long asphalt runway was constructed at Tempelhof.
Far from ideal, with the approach being over Berlin's apartment blocks, the runway nevertheless was a major upgrade to the airport's capabilities. With it in place, the auxiliary runway was upgraded from Marston Matting to asphalt between September and October 1948. A similar upgrade program was carried out by the British at Gatow during the same period, also adding a second runway, using concrete.
The French Air Force, meanwhile, had become involved in the First Indochina War, so it could only bring up some old Junkers Ju 52s to support its own troops and they were too small and slow to be of much help. However, France agreed to build a complete, new and larger airport in its sector on the shores of Lake Tegel. French military engineers, managing German construction crews, were able to complete the construction in under 90 days. Because of a shortage of heavy equipment, the first runway was mostly built by hand, by thousands of labourers who worked day and night.
For the second runway at Tegel, heavy equipment was needed to level the ground, equipment that was too large and heavy to fly in on any existing cargo aircraft. The solution was to dismantle large machines and then re-assemble them. Using the five largest American C-82 Packet transports, it was possible to fly the machinery into West Berlin. This not only helped to build the airfield, but also demonstrated that the Soviet blockade could not keep anything out of Berlin. The Tegel airfield was subsequently developed into Berlin Tegel Airport.
To improve air traffic control, which would be critical as the number of flights grew, the newly developed ground-controlled approach radar system (GCA) was flown to Europe for installation at Tempelhof, with a second set installed at Fassberg in the British Zone in West Germany. With the installation of GCA, all-weather airlift operations were assured. None of these efforts could fix the weather, which became the biggest problem. November and December 1948 proved to be the worst months of the airlift operation. One of the longest-lasting fogs ever experienced in Berlin blanketed the entire European continent for weeks. All too often, aircraft would make the entire flight and then be unable to land in Berlin. On 20th November 1948, 42 aircraft departed for Berlin, but only one landed there. At one point, the city had only a week's supply of coal left. However, the weather eventually improved, and more than 171,000 tons were delivered in January 1949, 152,000 tons in February, and 196,223 tons in March.
It was during this period that Le Feaver flying as a Signaller 1st Grade in Dakota’s, earned his rare award of the Air Force Medal. The recommendation reads as follows: ‘Signaller I Le Feaver is employed as a Flight Signaller at No.240 Operational Conversion Unit. In addition, he has flown 188 sorties on the Berlin Air Lift, which in itself is an outstanding effort for the member of staff of a training unit. He has shown exceptional enthusiasm for flying and when the unit was very short of student signallers he flew many hours day and night as the signaller with student crews, to enable pilots and navigators to be passed out. He is a most enthusiastic flyer and an excellent instructor. His standards of operating and procedure are of the highest order, and his enthusiasm is a fine example to students passing through the unit. By his all-round instructional work and his fine effort on the Air Lift this non-commissioned officer has set an excellent example.’
Le Feaver’s award of the Air Force Medal was published in the London Gazette for 2nd January 1950.
Le Feaver had been posted to No.101 Personnel Dispersal Centre on 16th October 1949, and transferred back to the Class ‘E’ Reserve on 14th November 1949, and was promoted to Flight Sergeant on the Reserves on 1st September 1950. Posted to No.81 Reserve Centre on 3rd February 1951, he transferred to the No.61 Group Reserve Centre on 31st March 1953, and then to No.15 Reserve Flying School for fifteen days from 12th September 1953. Le Feaver transferred to the ‘G’ Reserve on termination of ‘E’ Reserve Service on 13th November 1953, and was finally discharged to the Class ‘G’ Reserve on 2nd March 1959.