In the post-war era, no Western figure was more consistently or more vehemently maligned and insulted by the Soviets as Colonel Frank Howley -- and Howley was proud of it. He earned Soviet ire and the love of the Berliners -- 'though not always his superiors -- for his words and deeds as the American Commandant of Berlin 1945-1949. Without doubt he was one of the more colorful -- and controversial -- historical figures involved in the Berlin Airlift.
Nothing in Howley's background ordained him for the role he was to play in Berlin's history. Born in Hampton, New Jersey in 1903, Howley attended Parson's School of Fine and Applied Arts. He spent time time studying business and art at the Sorbonne in Paris before obtaining a BS in Economics from New York University. He then worked as an advertising executive, establishing his own firm in Philadelphia the 1930s, which proved highly successful despite the depression. Somewhere along the line he taught himself five languages, but not notably not German.
However, he also volunteered for the Army Officer Reserve Corps in 1932 and in 1940 was called to active duty. Initially, he commanded an Air Corps ground school, but he was not interested in flying and transferred to the cavalry resulting in a transfer to a new assignment as operations officer of the cavalry school at Fort Riley, Kansas. By 1943, he had been promoted to lieutenant colonel and was serving as the Executive Officer of the Third Mechanized Cavalry, then stationed at Camp Gordon, Georgia.
It was while here that he was involved in a motorcycle accident in which he broke his back and pelvis. After five months in hospital, he was released but was not rated fit for active duty with a combat unit. He was instead given the option of retiring or taking an assignment in the Civil Affairs division, which was responsible for re-establishing civil administration in occupied territory in the wake of anticipated Allied battlefield victories. Howley chose the latter and the task before him was enormous. It has been described cogently as "...to sweep into newly liberated territories and impose order on chaos, repairing shattered infrastructure and feeding starving civilians."
After training in the U.S. and the U.K. Howley landed in Normandy four days after D-Day as head of a mixed British-U.S. unit designated A1A1. Working with French liaison officers, Howley's team got the civil administration of Cherbourg working within days of its liberation. His success here lead to him being given responsibility for the same role after the liberation of Paris, and he entered the French capital on the heels of the fighting troops now in command of a unit of 350 officers and men. Here his success not only earned him the Legion of Merit, Croix de Guerre and the Legion d'Honneur, it also drew the attention of General Dwight D. Eisenhower's staff. Howley was asked to head the U.S. military government in Berlin, nominally as deputy to a figurehead who was a more senior combat officer.
Clearly, taking control of restoring civil infrastructure in Berlin would be different from his role in the liberated French cities since the population was presumed to be hostile and Berlin was to be shared with the other Allies, including the Soviets. Decisions were to be taking jointly and unanimously. Even before entering Berlin, Howley worked hard the establish rapport between the designated British and American teams, initially facing considerable prejudice on both sides against the other. By the time both parties reached Berlin, however, the tensions had been replaced with mutual respect and friendship.
Dealing with the Soviets was another matter. First, they did not take part in the same training, and second, they made plain their disinterest in cooperating even before Howley arrived in Berlin. Having selected a team of roughly 500 men based on qualifications and after spending months training them, he was abruptly informed at the border to the Soviet Zone that he would not be allowed more than 35 officers and 175 men. Even more tellingly, this reduced force was not allowed into Berlin but led to Babelsberg just short of Berlin and interned in a compound guarded by gun-toting Soviet troops. The next day, the whole column of American retraced their steps to Halle.
On June 30, roughly two weeks after his first attempt to reach Berlin, Howley's convoy of administrators sweep into Berlin in the wake of the agreed occupation force -- which encountered no opposition from the Soviets on the route in only to discover that the Russians had so thoroughly plundered the barracks they were to occupy that not a toilet or light-fixture remained; the American troops, including Howley's detachment, had to camp in the woods. On the first reconnaissance of the American sector, Howley's men also found the evidence of Soviet industrial sabotage on unfathomable scale and brutality, using crowbars and bull-dozers to demolish rather than dismantle industrial plants producing sophisticated equipment and leaving the removed tools and machines to rot and rust in the rain. By the end of that first day, Howley knew who the enemy was -- and it wasn't the defeated, traumatized and starving population of Berlin. It was the Soviets.
From that point forward, Howley never deviated from his position that the Soviets were not to be trusted and could not be won over as friends, they were adversaries and had to be treated as such. The logical corollary of such a position was to start favoring and advocating on behalf of the Berliners under constant attack from the Soviets. Howley employed every tactic he could get away with to back the democratic elements in Berlin and to expose the machinations of the Soviet Military Administration and their puppet German Communists. He consistently reported to the press Soviet attempts to bribe and coerce voters. Wisely, he established a radio stations controlled by the U.S. military government, Radio in the American Sector or RIAS. In addition, independent newspapers were encouraged and allocated paper. Nor did Howley shy away from flooding Berlin with items desperately needed from bicycle tires to shoes and glass in an effort to demonstrate U.S. wealth and generosity in the days prior to the election. Yet, the Soviets were confident of victory and the West despondent when the Berliners went to the polls on 20 October 1946.
The Berliners, however, delivered the Soviet's a catastrophic defeat with the Soviet controlled "Socialist Unity Party" taking less than 20% of the vote. It was probably this fact that encouraged Howley to take an increasingly aggressive stance in his dealings with the Soviets. Forced to argue with them ad nauseam in Kommandatura, Howley is recorded saying things like:
"You lie. You always lie, and no matter what you are going to tell me it's not going to be the truth." [Giles Milton. Checkmate in Berlin. Holt, 2021, 136]
But then, the Soviets are recorded saying charming things like the only time to kick an old lady was when she was down -- in response to Howley's arguments that the old and infirm should receive extra rations. [Milton, 136]
In recognition of his competence, Howley was promoted to Commandant (no longer deputy to a carousel of changing official superiors). Meanwhile, the Kommandatura increasingly became a battlefield of words and exchanged insults. Howley recorded in his diary the suspicion that the Soviets were seeking to provoke a crisis. The Soviets had already walked out of the Allied Control Council on March 20. The Soviets had imposed a blockade on the Western sectors in the first four days of April, and a Soviet fighter had harrassed a British passenger aircraft on April 5, causing a collision and crash killing all on board the next day. On June 16, at 11:15 pm after thirteen hours of haggling that was going no where, Howley turned his seat over to his deputy and excused himself. Describing his behavior and "hooligan," the Soviet's used his departure as an excuse to break up the Kommandatura and stormed out.
But the more the Soviets insisted in describing Howley as a "hooligan," "terrorist," "black market knight," "dictator," "cowboy," or "rough-rider from Texas," the more the Berliners loved him. He appeared the only one who shared their outrage over Soviet bullying. To be sure, Howley's style had not won him friends in Washington and his relationship with the cool and restrained General Clay were also often testy and strained. "Howlin' Mad Howley" was a epitaph applied as much by his Western colleagues as his Eastern adversaries. Yet whether one liked his style or not, he was the American who reassured the Berliners that the Americans weren't going home when the crisis came on June 24.
Countering Soviet propaganda broadcasts depicting panic amoung the Allies, Clay to the air and declared both that his wife was NOT packing their silver and the Americans were ready for Soviets if they tried to cross into the American Sector. His tone, as usual, was belligerant -- and, also as usual, he spoke without first consulting his superiors. But his combative tone and uncompromising assurance of going no where was exactly what the Berliners needed to hear. It was perhaps his greatest moment.
Ironically, with the Soviet blockade, Howley's role was immediately diminished. Precisely because Berlin had moved from the periphery to the center of the international stage, Howley and his counterparts were overshadowed by more powerful actors. The Military Governors, above all Lucius D. Clay, became the eyes, ears, and spokesmen of their respective governments on the ground. But even they were only reporting back to -- and following instructions -- from their respective governments. When all was said and done, it was Truman and Attlee, not Clay or Robertson, much less Howley and his counterparts, who made policy for Berlin during the Blockade and Airlift.
Yet Howley remained at his post until 31 August 1949, roughly two and half months after the Soviets ended the Blockade but before the Airlift came to a close. The Soviets marked his departure by publishing a long article in the Communist news media in which Howley was portrayed as largely responsible for the entire "Berlin Crisis." He was blamed for single-handedly destroying four-power government by walking out of the Kommandatura for no reason. The article concluded that: "Howley is leaving his post at a time when western Berlin's policy of isolation discloses more and more clearly a complete bankruptcy." [Milton, 306]
On his return, Howley left the army and returned to civilian life where he was named Vice Chancellor of New York University. He died in 1993 in Warrington, Virginia.
Howley is a minor character in Cold Peace.
Cold Peace is Book I of the Bridge to Tomorrow Series.
Three years after WWII, Europe struggles with rationing, widespread unemployment and a growing Soviet threat. Hitler's former capital lies ruined under the joint control of wartime allies bitterly at odds. With the currency worthless, the population lives on hand-outs or turns to crime and prostitution. Deep inside the Soviet Zone of occupation, Berlin appears to be an ideal target for a communist take-over, putting the defenders of democracy on a collision course with Stalin's merciless aggression.
A Battle of Britain ace, a female air traffic controller, a concentration camp survivor and an ex-ATA woman pilot are just some of those trying to find their place in the post-war world. An air ambulance service offers a shimmer of hope, but when a Soviet fighter brings down a British passenger liner, Berlin becomes a flashpoint. The world stands poised on the brink of World War Three.
Find out more at: https://www.helenapschrader.com/bridge-to-tomorrow.html
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"MORAL FIBRE," which WON THE HEMINGWAY AWARD 2022 FOR 20TH CENTURY WARTIME FICTION and a MAINCREST MEDIA AWARD FOR MILITARY FICTION as well as being A FINALIST FOR THE BOOK EXCELLENCE AWARD 2023 IN THE CATEGORY HISTORICAL FICTION.Riding the icy, moonlit sky,
they took the war to Hitler.
Their chances of survival were less than fifty percent.
Their average age was 21.
This is the story of just one bomber pilot, his crew and the woman he loved.
It is intended as a tribute to them all.
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Disfiguring injuries, class prejudice and PTSD are the focus of three tales set in WWII by award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader. Find out more at: https://crossseaspress.com/grounded-eagles