Thanks to the 19th Air Support Operations Squadron, an Air Force unit that provides Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (the guys that call the bombs in) to deployed Army units, a historic C-47 (military DC-3) that was donated to the Ft. Campbell-based BG Don Pratt Memorial Museum about 20 years ago is getting a fresh coat of paint.
The story and photo come from the post paper, the Ft. Campbell Courier, which has a lot more quotes and information about the plane and its restoration. We thought we’d pull the paragraphs about this particular airplane’s history. The high point of its career was carrying elements of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment from Upottery, England to Normandy, where they exited at “J+30” or about 0115 on D-Day.
The C-47 was built in 1942 by the Douglas Aircraft Company in Long Beach, Calif. and was later assigned to the 92nd Troop Carrier Squadron, 439th Troop Carrier Group, 53rd Troop Carrier Wing, 9th Troop Carrier Command at Baer Field, Indianapolis, Ind. In February 1944, the aircraft was flown to Europe and initially stationed in Baldertaon, England. Eventually the aircraft was moved to Upottery, England.
The 42-100828 participated in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. Piloted by 2nd Lt. Porter A Smith, the aircraft was part of a 45-plane serial and had the mission of dropping paratroopers from the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment into Drop Zone “C.” The paratroopers on board made up Chalk 53 and were likely from Headquarters Company or D Company, 506th PIR.
In September 1944, 42-100828 and her unit were relocated to Juvincourt, France. Flown by 2nd Lt. Lawrence O. Slagle, the aircraft was used in Operation DRAGOON in mid-August 1944 and towed gliders from England to Holland on Sept. 18, 1944 as part of Operation MARKET-GARDEN. The aircraft also dropped CG-4A gliders filled with medical supplies, fuel and ammunition to the 101st Airborne Division during the Defense of Bastogne, Belgium in December 1944. The aircraft also participated in the airborne invasion of Germany code-named Operation VARSITY in March 1945.
After World War II, the aircraft remained in Europe until the early 1990s. While in Europe the aircraft was stationed in France, Italy, Belgium and Germany with the U.S. Air Force. In November 1950, 42-100828 was transferred to Norway under the Mutual Defense Aid Program. In 1956 Norway transferred the plane to Denmark. While in Denmark, the aircraft was leased by the Danes to Twickenham Film Studios to use in the film “A Bridge Too Far.”
The aircraft made her last flight with the Danish Air Force in July 1982 and was taken out of service and placed in storage. The aircraft was sold into civilian service in the early 1990s and flown to Fort Campbell where it was donated to the BG Don F. Pratt Memorial Museum.
While it’s nice that this very historic airplane will be preserved (well, to the extent that an outdoor static display is preserved; most of them ultimately wind up ruined by the elements and consigned to scrapyards), it’s a pity that it was taken out of flying service.
Surprisingly, D-Day veteran C-47s are not extremely rare today, while most “warbird” aircraft have no combat record. The reasons are multiple, but include:
- the sheer number of planes used on D-Day;
- the lasting military and commercial utility of the C-47, which kept them flying in service for decades (the last ones in airline service in the USA, in Alaska, were actually shut down after 9/11 in a typically boneheaded action by the TSA). So a lot of D-Day veterans had an economic purpose, unlike most combat planes;
- the rapid obsolescence of propeller-driven bomber and fighter planes at war’s end, thanks to the emerging turbojet;
- the harder use to which combat planes were put, making them wear out with fewer airplane and engine hours than a cargo plane flown mostly on airfield-to-airfield straight-line “milk runs”; and,
- massive American warplane production which meant that there were new, fresh airframes available after the war for the smaller peacetime services, encouraging the scrapping of most combat planes.
If you want an airworthy C-47 with D-Day provenance, be prepared to pay in the neighborhood of $150,000 to $350,000, but that’s where the spending begins. Maintenance is expensive, and fuel even more so. The more authentic it is, the more difficult it will be to get the FAA to allow you to carry passengers on fund-raising hops or skydivers seeking a “vintage experience.” (This may be completely ruled out, if FAA lawyers get their way. They are currently trying to ban all passenger rides in vintage military aircraft, and will probably need to be smacked down by Congress).
The DC-3 wasn’t exactly a “weapon”. (At least, it wasn’t until the 1960s at the AC-47 gunship). But it was a very important ingredient in victory in World War II, and later in the Cold War. No other nation had a transport fully equivalent, except for Britain and Russia, which used Lend-Lease C-47s, and Japan (and Russia), which built them under license. (The German Ju53/3m served the same logistical role, but was an inferior aircraft in most practical measures except simplicity and ruggedness, where it had an edge. It too served for some years after the war in several countries, but was obsolete before the current warbird preservation movement would have ensured survival of any number. We think only three are still flying today, one in the US and two in Europe).
While the US had planes flying faster and higher, and hauling more, by war’s end, a measure of the greatness of the DC-3 is that it is the only plane to be operated by all major combatants in World War II (the Germans used captured examples for clandestine missions).
We’ll close with a quote from the same story:
“It’s a part of history,” said Staff Sgt. Sonny Bumgardner, a logistics specialist with 19th ASOS. “It’s a very big part of history; Air Force history, Army history, Army Air Corps history. It’s nice. It’s at the intersection here where everyone sees it. Thousands of people see it every day. We don’t want it to look [bad].”