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The man who helped stop World War III
9:30pm Sunday 20th October 2013 in News
WORLD War III may have been averted due to, in part, the role played by a Shrivenham man responsible for supplying fuel to Berlin natives in 1948.
Alec Chambers, now 88 and living in Fairthorne Way, was a flight engineer during the Berlin airlift, an airborne operation carried out by the Western Allies which focused on getting supplies to residents cut off from regular lines.
Following the Second World War, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies’ railway, road and canal access to the sectors of the German capital under Allied control, meaning the sky was their only option as a supply line.
And Alec is adamant that while their supplies were still getting through to Berlin via the air, all-out conflict with the Soviets remained off the table.
“I’m pretty certain we prevented World War III. The Russians were trying to cut us off from Berlin and if they had succeeded there would have almost certainly been an aggressive response,” he said.
“Initially we thought it was a bit of a joke and it wouldn’t last long and I think most of us came to terms it was something worthwhile doing.
“We were helping Berliners and it was a stand against the communists chaps who, I think had we backed out of Berlin, would have gone as far as the English Channel.”
The airlift was an unmitigated success as Soviet planes watched on as civilian aircraft, including Alec and his employers Flight Refueling Limited, flew 4,700 tonnes of daily necessities such as fuel and food.
By the spring of 1949, the airlift was delivering more cargo than had previously been transported into the city by rail.
Flying in Lancasters, modified to carry as much fuel as possible for the people of Berlin, Alec and his colleagues were sitting ducks for Soviet fighter pilots, though they never engaged.
“Our Russian allies would come up and have a look at us occasionally, but we never shot at each other,” said Alec.
“We’d wave to each other or impolitely raise two fingers.
“The majority of us, I’m sure, loved flying. It was a great excuse to fly and the great similar thing for us was the cause, especially after the great damage we’d done during the war.
“When we went to Hamburg, that was even more impressive because I’d never seen such piles of rubble.
“They must have been four stories high. How they ever got it like that I don’t know, but the devastation in Berlin was terrible.
“We all had great sympathy for the civilians who remained: the women and children.”
After the success of the airlift Alec returned to Shrivenham where he has lived for all but two months of his life.
He joined the Royal Military College of Science in the town as Head of Gun Research and retired from that position some years later.
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