The Milk Air Lift, 1947 & 1948 Aug 3, 2010 22:00:08 GMT 1
Post by viscount on Aug 3, 2010 22:00:08 GMT 1
The Milk Lift
The immediate post War period, with its many airlines, using converted former military aircraft, adapting to meet unexpected operations, is one that has always fascinated me. Parallel to the early days of the celebrated international Berlin Air Lift, another important domestic air lift brought vital foods from Northern Ireland into Liverpool and Blackpool.
This article was researched by Karl Hayes and published in 'Irish Air Letter' early 1986. With permission I used it in MAS's 'EGGP' in November 1986. I feel the operation is an important chapter in Liverpool Airport's story and deserves not to be forgotten.
Milk Air Lift, 1947 & 1948[/center]
In 1947, and again in 1948, the need for an airlift arose because of an acute shortage of fresh milk in parts in England, caused by a bad summer drought. Post-war rationing was still in force, but there wasn't even sufficient milk to fulfill the meager rations allowed to each person. This was well before the days of refrigerated road tanker transport, indeed very few homes had a fridge. Without refrigeration available, milk would last only 36-48 hours before going sour.
While fresh milk was in short supply in England, there was milk to spare in Northern Ireland, however. So the Ministry of Food got together with the Ulster Ministry of Agriculture and devised an experimental scheme to airlift the milk from Belfast to Liverpool, for onward distribution throughout the North West of England. The contract was awarded to Skyways, one of the larger British independent carriers of the time, who flew three Avro Lancastrians between Belfast's Nutt's Corner airfield and Speke Airport, Liverpool, from August to early November 1947. Each aircraft was tasked to fly four round trips a day, with a target of 14,000 gallons a day to be transported. The milk itself was carried in aluminium ten-gallon churns.
The scheme was only a partial success, and the daily target was seldom reached. The airlift was hampered by poor flying weather, which greatly reduced the number of sorties flown. Worse still, one of the Lancastrians crashed on take-off in limited visibility at Nutt's Corner, fortunately without loss of life. The Lancastrian involved was G-AHBU on Friday 3rd October. The aircraft, which was carrying one thousand gallons of milk, failed to become airborne, left the runway and tore through the boundary fence, crossed a rough field and struck the bank of a stream. The fuselage was split open and milk churns scattered about the field, fortunately the crew of three got out, suffering from shock and one with a broken ankle. The 1947 airlift continued until early November, when with the approach of even worse winter weather, coupled with demand falling as England recovered from the drought, meant that lesser quantities of milk (7,000 gallons a day) could be transported by ship to meet the demand.
Despite these setbacks, the 1947 airlift had taught the Departments concerned many lessons as to how such an airlift should be run, and these were to be put to good use the following year when the airlift had to be repeated.
The 1948 airlift was a much larger and better organised affair, involving seven airlines, with flights operating from Nutt's Corner, Belfast to both Squires Gate, Blackpool and Speke Airport, Liverpool. Scottish Airlines, who had already started flying on the Berlin Airlift, withdrew their aircraft to concentrate on the Belfast milk run, and based two Liberators and two Dakotas at Nutt's Corner for the operation. They took over the Massereene Hotel for the period of their stay, and based 100 aircrew and maintenance personnel in Belfast to support the operation. Lancashire Aircraft Corporation contributed two Halifaxes (one being G-AKEC), as did British American Air Services, while Bond Air Service provided one Halifax. These three companies based their operation at Blackpool's Squires Gate airfield, where they pooled their maintenance and other resources and took over a holiday camp for the accommodation of crews. World Air Freight with one Halifax, Air Transport Charter with two Dakotas and Ciro's Aviation with one Dakota operated out of Speke. One other company, VIP Services, was involved with its Halifax, but operated on lease to one of the other carriers.
The Liberator and Halifaxes could each carry 110 ten-gallon milk churns, the Dakotas 56. There was no palletised, mechanised loading systems in those days, each churn had to be manually lifted on board, which certainly kept the ground crews busy.
The airlift started on Tuesday 31st August 1948, and for the next six weeks, Nutt's Corner became Britain's busiest airfield. Each day, around the clock, the 13 aircraft involved were scheduled to complete 60-70 round trips in an all-out effort to maintain the two and a half pints per person, per week, milk ration. The target for each 7 day period, to the end of October was 350,000 gallons.
To improve on the previous year's operation, a GCA had been installed at Speke, and one was also installed at Nutt's Corner. Extra ATC staff were brought in to handle additional traffic. In an all-out efforts, hundreds of workers toiled ceaselessly at Belfast on the first day of the airlift to get as near as possible to their target of clearing 50,000 gallons during the first 24 hours. The weather turned bad during the night and from 3am to dawn, flights into Belfast had to be cancelled due to a 300 foot cloud-base. Two Dakotas tried to land, but had to divert back to Liverpool. For the first day, some 1,000 gallons of milk arrived late for countless Lancashire early morning cups of tea!
The bad weather continued for the next few days, with a consequent reduction in flights. On 2nd September, for example, only 30,000 of the proposed 50,000 gallons got way as during the night heavy rain meant that only 8 flights could operate instead of the planned 16. Gradually however, the operation settled down, and most of the milk reached its destination on time.
The only fatal crash of the entire operation occurred on Tuesday 28th September 1948 and involved the World Air Freight Halifax, G-AJNZ. The Halifax had taken-off from Nutt's Corner, with a pilot and 3 crew members, bound for Liverpool with 114 churns on board. Weather conditions on departure were VFR, and the pilot elected to fly at 1,500 feet. The high ground on the Isle of Man was obscured by mist, but the coastline was clearly visible. In a somewhat unfortunate accident, the Halifax collided with the mountains, just 15 feet below the summit of Cronk ny Irree Laa, near Port St.Mary, killing all on board. As the crew were aware of their position before impact, the subsequent report attributed the accident to an error of airmanship by the Captain.
Despite this accident, the operation continued and 35,000 gallons were delivered that day, on 39 flights. It had originally been intended to continue the milk lift until the end of October 1948, and this was the wish of the Ministry for Food. However, with the critical milk supply ion Northern England easing somewhat, and the the Foreign Office insisting that the Berlin Airlift take precedence, the Northern Ireland milk-run would down in mid October, thus releasing transports for use in Germany.
Unfortunately, in the closing days of the operation, Scottish Airlines lost Liberator G-AHZP which undershot landing at Speke on 13th October 1948.
The milk run had worked smoothly and had been a success, moving most of the milk required although the daily target of 50,000 gallons had proved too ambitious for several reasons. The overall cost worked out at four shillings, five and a half pence per gallon (near 23p), for milk sold to the consumer at three shillings (15p) a gallon! The operation had also brought together many of the more colourful post-war British carriers on this important task, many of whom took the experience gained onto the much larger Berlin Airlift.
Skyways with 3 Avro Lancastrians at Belfast. Drawn from: G-AGLV, G-AHBT, G-AHBU, G-AHBZ, G-AHCC. Lost G-AHBU w/o.
Scottish Airlines with 2 Liberators at Belfast. Drawn from: G-AGZH, G-AHZP & G-AHZR. Lost G-AHZP w/o.
Scottish Airlines with 2 Dakotas at Belfast. Drawn from: G-AGWS, G-AGZF, G-AGZG, G-AKNM.
Lancashire Aircraft Corporation, 2 Halifax at Blackpool. Had around 12 a/c, known to have used G-AKEC
British American Air Services, 2 Halifax at Blackpool. Likely G-AKBB & G-AKGN.
Bond Air Service, 1 Halifax at Blackpool. Drawn from: G-AIOI, G-AIWW.
World Air Freight, 1 Halifax at Liverpool. Only had one, & lost G-AJNZ w/o.
Air Transport Charter, 2 Dakotas at Liverpool. Drawn from: G-AJBH, G-AJVZ, G-AKIL.
Ciro's Aviation, 1 Dakota at Liverpool. Drawn from: G-AIJD, G-AKJN.
VIP Services, 1 Halifax used by other operators. Only had the one, G-AJPK.
Again, this article is the result of mid '80s research of Karl Hayes of 'Irish Air Letter' - to whom many thanks for the record. Final section list of aircraft available taken from 'British independent Airlines'.