In­va­sion

Air & Space Smithsonian - - Technically Speaking - —RICHARD P. HALLION

THE C-47s WERE THE FIRST to take off. Be­fore 2,200 bombers struck at Ger­man po­si­tions near the French coast, be­fore the naval bom­bard­ment of coastal bat­ter­ies and sea­walls, and be­fore land­ing craft car­ried 130,000 men to fight their way onto the beaches, nearly 1,000 U.S. Army Air Forces C-47s and Royal Air Force Dako­tas dropped para­troop­ers in the dark to cap­ture roads that would per­mit the as­sault troops to progress in­land. De­rived from the Dou­glas DC-3, the C-47 Skytrain was the most im­port- ant trans­port of the war. Its pi­lots called it “Gooney Bird,” pos­si­bly be­cause, like the gooneys once were in the south­ern hemi­sphere, C-47s could be seen ev­ery­where.

C-47s flew in ev­ery com­bat theater—on search-an­dres­cue mis­sions, on med­i­cal evac­u­a­tion flights, and on spe­cial op­er­a­tions in­sert­ing and re­cov­er­ing covert agents and sab­o­tage teams, and sup­port­ing the ac­tiv­i­ties of re­sis­tance fight­ers be­hind en­emy lines. Some even flew as rudi­men­tary bombers.

( After D-day, the C-47s sup- ported the Al­lied drive into Ger­many, in­clud­ing fly­ing crit­i­cal re­sup­ply mis­sions to sur­rounded U.S. forces at Bas­togne, Bel­gium, dur­ing the Bat­tle of the Bulge. In March 1945, to pre­pare for the fi­nal as­sault on Nazi Ger­many from the west, they trans­ported al­most 15,000 troops across the Rhine, to­gether with nearly 700 ve­hi­cles, more than 100 can­non, and other equip­ment.

C-47s kept China in the war, fly­ing sup­plies, fuel, weapons, and per­son­nel from mon­soon-washed, muddy air­fields in In­dia across the Hi­malayan range to hastily con­structed bases. More than 80 per­cent of all sup­plies reach­ing China flew across a sec­tion of the eastern Hi­malayas that Al­lied pi­lots called the Hump, and most were de­liv­ered by C-47s.

In March 1944, the trans­ports spear­headed the lib­er­a­tion of Burma, in­sert­ing spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces, the first U.S. air com­man­dos, be­hind Ja­panese lines.

After the 1945 Axis col­lapse, Gen­eral Dwight Eisen­hower cred­ited four weapons with win­ning the war: the bazooka, the Jeep, the atomic bomb— and the C-47.

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