Heroes From History: Frank Howley

Frank L. Howley was an American brigadier general who served during the Cold War and was crucial in saving West Germany from starvation at the hands of a communist blockade. He was born on February 3, 1903 in Hampton, New Jersey. He formed a successful advertising agency and joined the Officer Reserve Corps in 1932 before being pulled into active duty in 1940. An injury would prevent him from finding his way into a combat role. Instead, Howley would go into the U.S. Military Government and play a pivotal role in the Berlin Airlift of 1945.

Restoring France

The United States entered the events of WWII late in the conflict. Frank Howley was already injured and relegated to a non-combat role by this time, although he did take part in the D-Day invasion as military government and re-established local governments following the expulsion of the German occupiers. Howley was specifically tasked with reforming the French government in Cherboug. With the Germans already expelled by the time Howley’s unit arrived, Howley’s earlier missions were largely uncontested. He helped reconstitute and resupply the local French people during their efforts to reform a government after years of occupation by the Germans.

Howley’s unit was known as A1A1. It was a mixed unit of American, British, and French forces. France had been under German occupation and administration since 1940, and there was much work to be done in removing pro-Nazi officials and re-installing local leaders, as well as keeping them supplied. This mission was successful and took Howley to Paris and eventually Barbizon, France. Here, he prepared a mission to establish a government in Berlin after the Germans had surrendered. Given his experience in removing the fascist government in France and installing a republican government with democratic elections, Howley was trusted with doing the same for the American-administrated region of occupied Germany. However, with the threat of the Soviets looming over all of Europe and East Germany under communist control, this task would prove to be a greater challenge.

Ruins of France in 1945
Much of Europe and Asia was left in ruins following WWII, but the Allies got to work repairing the damage immediately after the surrender of the Axis.
In the Ruins of Berlin

When Howley arrived in Berlin to assist with the reconstitution of government there, he was under a mandate from the Truman administration to work closely with the Soviets and foster an alliance with them. However, the Soviets were already working to expel the Allies from Germany altogether. Howley caught onto this right away and understood that whatever alliance the Allies had with the Soviets would not continue into the post-war era. Howley had to meet regularly with the other commanders of the British, French, and Russian occupation forces. Howley’s informants notified him that General Alexander Kotikov – commander of the Russian occupation – appeared to be making moves to force out the Americans, British, and French sometime soon. For the time being, however, Howley and his unit got to work repairing infrastructure and feeding civilians.

Four Occupation Commanders
Berlin was split between British, American, Russian, and French occupation forces following Germany’s surrender in the Second World War.

Howley wrote in his journal that he came to Berlin under the impression that the Germans would be his enemy on this mission. Nevertheless, with each passing day, it became clearer and clearer to him the Russians would be his true enemy. At first, Howley’s superiors did not listen to his warnings about the Soviet plan to evict the Allies from Berlin. Many still hoped the alliance against the old Axis would last and they refused to give up on the idea, as they were all tired of fighting. Howley was outspoken about the threat from the Russians, however. He trusted his spies and they were telling him that Kotikov had orders direct from Stalin to evict the Allies.

A shadow war of sabotage and subterfuge ensued in the ruins of Berlin between Howley and Kotikov. The Russians made every attempt to undermine the German public’s confidence in the Allies. The goal of the Soviets was to trade one form of socialism for another in Germany in their quest to spread the dark shadow of Marx across the globe. Communist-sympathizing newspapers began to slander Howley, calling him a ‘brute’ and a ‘beast.’ Howley’s family back in the United States also received death threats and harassment by socialist subversives who had infested the American mainland decades prior. The Cold War was already in full swing, although many in the Allies still had not yet come to accept the reality.

The Mask Comes Off

Howley had to contend with his superiors not supporting him for over a year before they came around. Once they did, and the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe was underway, the Soviets decided to take more decisive measures themselves. On June 24, 1948, the Russians began a blockade of Berlin to try and drive the Allies out for good. They shut down the roads and railways into the city and refused any American or British access. However, Howley was determined to keep the Allied presence in the city and immediately proposed flying in supplies to circumvent the blockade. He told his troops “We’ll starve. We’ll eat rats, rather than quit Berlin!”

With the help of General William Tunner directing the airlift, Howley and his forces began the famous Berlin Airlift. Flying supplies out of Tempelhof Airport, they were initially lifting 4,500 tons of food into the city each day. They had flight rotations going around the clock and were sending in close to 500 planes each day. Stalin did not believe an airlift could save the city, so he ordered the blockade to continue through May 12 of the next year. However, the Allies increased the efficiency of their airlift to bring in 12,000 tons of food each day. Eventually, the Soviets realized the blockade was pointless and called it off. Thus, the people of Berlin were saved from communist starvation.

Frank Howley awarded the rank of general
Frank Howley would rise to the rank of general during the Berlin Airlift.
Hope for the Future

While many others around the globe would not be so lucky, the communist-induced famine in Berlin was prevented and the Cold War against socialism was able to continue. Howley’s insistence on standing firm against the evils of socialism in all its forms gave the people of Berlin a fighting chance. In spite of the pressures exerted on him and his family not only from his well-meaning superiors, but also from communist subversives, Howley stood up for what he knew to be right. Howley’s persistence saved the day back then and still serves as an inspiration for those who continue to face the evils of socialism in the modern era. From Howley’s example, we learn to be brave in the face of subversive attacks and death threats against us and our loved ones. In the end, good will triumph over evil, should we just stay true to ourselves through to the very end.

Frank Howley went on to achieve the rank of general. After retiring from military life, he worked on a farm in West Grove, Pennslyvania. He also served as vice chancellor at New York University for a time. Howley passed away at 90 years old on July 30, 1933 in Warrington, Virginia. He had four children: three sons and a daughter.


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Published by Louis

I am a freelance writer from the United States.

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