This year (2014) Europe celebrated the 70th anniversary of D-Day, when the Allied Forces landed on the Normandy beaches on the early morning of the 6th June 1944.
Several months later, Holland celebrated the 70th anniversary of Operation Market Garden which started on the 17th of September and lasted until the 25th of September. Back in 1944 the initial goal of this assault was to force an entry through occupied Holland into Germany over the Lower Rhine river at the Dutch town of Arnhem. This operation required to capture the main bridges over the Waal at Nijmegen and the Maas river near the small town of Grave. Crossing the Lower Rhine would allow the Allied forces to encircle Germany industrial heartland in the Ruhr from the North and simultaneously allow for further liberation of Holland.
Operation Market Garden started just before midnight on Saturday 16 September 1944 when 200 Lancasters and 23 Mosquitos from RAF Bomber Command pounded four German fighter airfields in northern Holland. This was followed by 822 B-17 Flying Fortresses of the US 8th Air Force the next day bombing 117 identified anti-aircraft positions along the intended route, as well as airfields at Eindhoven, Deelen and Ede. These were backed up by another 54 Lancasters and 5 Mosquitos, while another 85 Lancasters and 15 Mosquitos attacked Walcheren Island.
The Airborne Operation (Market) consisted of the largest ever daylight parachute drop recorded in history and consisted of the newly created 'First Allied Airborne Army' which included British, Canadian, Polish and American units. Three key drop zones (DZ) where indentified by the Allied forces, first in the South at Eindhoven, then Nijmegen and last the city of Arnhem. On the 17th of September 1944 three Airborne Divisions: the 101st Screaming Eagles, the 82nd All American from the US and the 1st British Airborne Division used 1.545 transports and gliders tugs in the aerial assault and as many as 1.049 Douglas C-47 Skytrains and RAF Dakotas where in the skies over Holland that day.
The 101st Screaming Eagles, where dropped at an area just North of Eindhoven, with drop zones (DZ) at Son, Best, Sint Oedenrode and Veghel. Main objective was to capture and hold several key bridges at numerous locations on the route from Eindhoven to Nijmegen. The 82nd All American landed at Groesbeek, Overasselt and Grave all South of Nijmegen. One of the main objectives was to capture and secure the main bridges over the rivers Meuse and Waal. The British 1st Airborne Division was dropped at Wolfheze, Oosterbeek and Ede. Their job was to secure the main traffic bridge (Rijnbrug) over the Lower Rhine river at Arnhem and hold it for 48 hours until re-enforcement from the South would arrive. Some of the Polish units landed to the South of the Rhine. The 'Rijnbrug' would become the main symbol of the 1976 Hollywood motion picture a "Bridge too Far", which tells the story of Operation Market Garden.
Market Garden would be the largest airborne operation in history, delivering over 34,600 men of the 101st, 82nd and 1st Airborne Divisions and the Polish Brigade. 14,589 troops landed by glider and 20,011 by parachute. Gliders also brought in 1,736 vehicles and 263 artillery pieces. 3,342 tons of ammunition. Other supplies were brought by glider and by parachute. Several bridges between Eindhoven and Nijmegen were captured at the beginning of the operation. But the advance of the ground forces was delayed significantly by the demolition of a bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal, an extremely overstretched supply line at Son and the failure to capture the main road bridge over the river Waal before the 20th of September. At Arnhem, the British 1st Airborne Division encountered much stronger resistance than anticipated. After an ensuing battle the Allied forces could not hold the Arnhem Bridge and had to be evacuated on the 25th September.
The Allied offensive had failed to cross the Rhine in sufficient force and the river remained a barrier to their main advance north. After the Germans stopped the Allied offensive at Arnhem, the Allies retreated back to Nijmegen to establish a defensive position. Due to this event the North of Holland had to spend another cold winter under German occupation, before being liberated the next year on the 5th May 1945.
The Dutch celebrated the 70th anniversary of Market Garden with a week of numerous activities throughout the region of Arnhem and Nijmegen, ranging from re-enactment camps/tours, army parades, official ceremonies & speeches, and above all parachute jumps. The Royal Dutch Air Force was conducting local jumps from its Eindhoven AFB with mainly USAF Lockheed C-130 aircraft. Many servicemen from the US Air Force and US Army travelled to Eindhoven to participate in the ceremonies and jumps which were conducted by the 37th Airlift Squadron on the big drop on the 20th September. Some 1.000 paratroopers jumped that day over the Ginkelse Heide and Driel from German C-160D Transall and Polish C-295M aircraft. Furthermore a single C-47 Dakota from the BBMF painted in olive-drab D-Day colours participated in the aerial armada above Holland.
Additionally the 'Round Canopy Parachuting Team Inc' (RCPT) was invited to take part in the official 70th Anniversary celebrations at Arnhem and Nijmegen and were scheduled to make several parachute drops. Starting on the 13th of September with DZ's at Veghel and Heeswijk with a single C-47 from the UK. Then on the 15th, 16th and 17th of September more jumps were planned at Eerde, Overasselt and Grave, now using two C-47 Skytrains (N473DC "Drag 'em Oot"and N74598 "Placid Lassie")
My first contact with the RCPT folks was in June at this year Cherbourg-Maupertus Airport in Normandy, where Hubert Achten and Peter Braun organized the Dakotas over Normandy event which included a number of commemorative jumps. They brought together nine Dakota's and a single Li-2 at Lee-on-Solent Airport in the UK and for the very first time since 1944 crossed the English Channel with a formation of Dakota's to jump into Normandy. Founded in 2009 the RCPT is mainly active in the US and Europe, conducting parachuting activities with military style round canopy jumps from classic Douglas C-47 Skytrain Dakota aircraft. In June Peter Braun from Holland spearheaded the D-Day jumps and was now, as organiser and chief jumpmaster, in charge of the Market Garden jumps. Peter grew up with a passion for historic aviation and at a young age he started jumping out of a Cessna 130. While in the Dutch Army he jumped out of C-141 Starlifter and C-130 Hercules aircrafts. He left the Army as Major and currently has his own business as entrepreneur. I contacted Peter again and inquired about the upcoming RCPT C-47 activities. He mentioned that both a/c would be operating from Weeze airport (Flughafen Niederrhein GmbH), just across the Dutch border south/east of Nijmegen. He also told me that in addition to the international group of jumpers that would participate in the jumps there would be room for an official photographer on the last flight at Grave DZ on the 17th September. I was welcome to join in but he was not sure yet on which a/c I would be flying. It's always great to receive such gracious invitation especially so close to the author's birthday!
The 17th of September 1944 is a historic date. During that afternoon 1st Lieutenant John S Thompson and his platoon jumped out of a C-47 at Grave DZ. He and his men of the 82nd Airborne Division were able to destroy the bridge electrical demolition cables installed by the Germans and also a German flak gun post. They were able to capture the south part of the bridge and hold it until re-enforcements arrived. This heavy steel constructed bridge was constructed back in 1927 as part of a provincial driving route (N324) between 'sHertogenbosch and Nijmegen. Under the bridge a river dam & lock system was built. This bridge was re-named the "John S Thompson" bridge in honour of the men of the 82nd Airborne Division.
I decided to make the relative short drive to Weeze airport the day before my flight and hopefully catch both C-47s on the ramp. I had written to the airport and received official ramp permission from Peter Esser, the Airport Authority/Safety Manager. It turned out that he is a big aviation fan as well and that always helps. With about 2.5 million passengers in 2013, Airport Weeze is the third biggest airport in North-Rhine Westphalia. It used to be the RAF Laarbruch base until 1999 and housed a wide collection of military fighter planes like the: F-4 Phantom, Buccaneer S.2B, Jaguar, Harrier GR9 and Tornados GR4. This airport is one of the Europe's youngest airports and simultaneously one of the first privately owned airports in Germany. Weeze airport lies in the county of Kleve approx. 70 km north of Düsseldorf close to the motorway A57 near the Dutch border. The main client is currently the low-cost-airline Ryanair which has established the airport as its second largest base in Germany. Currently there are six B737 positions that can be used. When I arrived two parking positions where taken up by two vintage olive-drab C-47s Skytrains.
After meeting up with Peter the green light was given for my ramp access and I was just in time to watch the arrival of the Overasselt jump team. The Overasselt DZ, is where on 17 September 1944 504 Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) of the 82nd AB Division landed. The RCPT decided to make the drop from 2 ships flying in close formation at around 16.00 hours local. The weather was fine with plenty of sunshine and afternoon temperatures soaring up to 27/28 degrees Celsius. The jumpers where split up in two sticks, started checking each others gear and went through the jump commands. Both C-47 crew's and RCPT Jump Master Peter Braun where also discussing the flying route to Overasselt and the headings and heights over the drop zone. With the departure slightly slipping it was around 15.45 hours local that both C-47s were ready to roll out and take off for the DZ in Holland. The magical sound of 4 Pratt & Whitney R1830 radial engines soon filled the warm afternoon air. They simultaneously taxied out and taxied to the holding point of runway 27. With the power checks completed both C-47s took off in westerly direction.
N74598 is piloted by Eric Zipkin, CEO of Tradewind Aviation and James Lyle, pilot and owner of Placid Lassie. This Skytrain (c/n 9926) now affectionately called "Placid Lassie" (aka Union Jack Dak) was built in Long Beach (CA), and delivered in 1943 as a C-47A-40-DL model with tail code 42-24064 and went to the United States Army Air Corps at Baer Field near Fort Wayne, Indiana. She was assigned to the 434th Troop Carrying Group (TCG) of the 74th Troop Carrying Squadron (TCS). This unit was shipped out to England in February 1943 via the southern route: Miami, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Senegal, Morocco & around Spain to England. Based at Aldermaston in southern England, she spent her days in training for the invasion of Hitler's Fortress Europe.
Early on the morning of June 6, 1944, she and the other C-47s in her unit: towed Waco CG4A gliders over the beaches of Normandy wearing the similar colours seen today. It is likely that she also participated in dropping paratroopers during the second invasion wave. She served her unit well, performing dozens of missions supporting the invasion. She ferried fuel, ammunition, troops and other supplies to the front and evacuated the wounded back to England. During the battle of Bastogne, She dropped paratroopers and supplies to the besieged city. With so much WW-2 history it was only natural that she would cross the Atlantic and spend the summer in the UK and Europe for this special anniversary year. The current owners of Placid Lassie where extremely accommodating to the RCPT and decided to keep her in Europe a month longer in order to participate in the Market Garden festivities. (*)
Leading the 2-ship formation is the distinguished C-47 Skytrain from the UK shores N473DC "Drag 'em Oot", owned by Leeds businessman Paddy Green and piloted by Chris Goezinne, (he also flies the Dutch PBY-5 Catalina), Edwin Boshoff, who also flies the Dutch Air Force Historic flight B-25 Mitchell and DC-3 pilot Mark Edwards, CEO or Airventure Ltd. This wonderful company restores & maintains a number of Douglas DC-3's and C-47's and other wartime aircraft.
N473DC is an authentic WW-2 veteran with a long service history. Also built at the Douglas Long Beach California factory as a C-47A-75-DL model (c/n 19345). It was one of 4285 C-47s derivatives built under contract number AC-32725. She left the production plant in December 1943 and was taken up by the USAAF in February 1944 and was assigned to the 9th Air Force Troop Carrier Command and ferried to England. In the UK she was transferred again this time to the 87th Troop Carrier Squadron and ended up at Greenham Common airbase Berkshire. She was fitted with a model 80 Glider tail pick-up gear in order to tow & recover assault gliders from the D-Day landings. She was used in operation Elmira, towing assault gliders on D-Day and carrying soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division. She was transferred to RAF on the 2nd September 1944 and changed to a British type designation: Dakota Mk 3 with matching tail-number TS422. She was assigned to the No.1 Heavy Glider Servicing Unit, 38th Airborne Forces Group at Netheravon Wiltshire. She continued to work as a glider recovery a/c and was used in Operation Market Garden and later in Operation Varsity (the Rhine Crossing). At the end of the war she continued to carry out freight duties and troop movements throughout Europe, including returning Allied POW's. After the war she transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force as a Dakota MK.3 TS422 and was based at RCAF Mossbank. TS422 was used throughout Canada in numerous roles: including glider tug, parachute transport, search & rescue and as a medivac a/c fitted with skis and jet take-off rockets. Additionally she was used as a conversion trainer, military freighter and troop carrier in the far north of Canada. Her military career ended in 1966, after which she was re-classified as a Douglas DC-3C and sold off as CF-KAZ (later C-FKAZ) to Keir Air Transport Ltd based in Edmonton (1966 – 1970). She was used as a passenger airliner and commercial freighter with several companies such as: Trans-Provincial Airlines (1970- 1978) and Pacific Coastal Airlines (1978 – 1980). From 1980 there where a string of companies who operated C-FKAZ: Airwest Airlines Ltd, Superior Airways, Ontario Central Airlines, Ilford-Riverton Airways Ltd and Bearskin Lake Air Service. She was cancelled from the Canadian register in 1983 and sold to the USA in 1985 as N5831B to Air Siesta Inc based at McAllen Texas.
She was stored for awhile in Texas and then was purchased by McNeely Air Charter Service Inc, based at West Memphis, operating in the southern United States (1995 – 2002). After her lengthy cargo career N5831B retired and was sold to the Arizona Warbirds Museum and then later on to its current owners. In August 2005 she received new markings (N473DC) and was restored to 87th Squadron in olive-drab USAAF D-Day colors and flown to the UK and is based at Lincs Aviation Heritage Centre, East Kirkby.
Dakota C-47 Flight
The following day I was back at the airport and enjoyed the excellent summer weather, while waiting for the RCPT jumpers and C-47 crews to arrive. I met up with Peter Esser again and he invited me up to the pilot's lounge, where I ran into the crew of N74598, pilot James Lyle. Not long after, the small pilot lounge filled up with the Dutch "Drag 'em Oot"crew and the owner of N473DC, Mr. Paddy Green. I have met Paddy Green several times before in Holland and he was surprised to see me…again! He and Mark Edwards are instrumental in keeping his C-47 alive and well each year. As soon as the RCPT jumpers arrived we walked over to the aircraft…now basking in the late afternoon heat (27 degrees Celsius). Today the RCPT group consisted of 27 jumpers from The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Sweden and the United States. Peter Braun was quick to form two jump sticks and delegate the team inspections and drills prior to boarding. I was assigned to the N473DC which today would be in trailing position (RH side) flying over the Grave DZ. At around 16.30 hours it was time to climb aboard the C-47 and take up position. Our stick climbed onboard and settled on the C-47 bare floorboards in their respective jump sequence. With everybody settled in captain Edwin Boshoff and Chris Goezinne fired up both Pratt & Whitney R- 1830's Twin Wasp air radial engines. N74598 was first to move out and we followed him to runway 27 holding point. After a short taxi, we stopped and both pilots started the mandatory before take-off checklist. The engines were run up at 2.500 rpm which created a loud roar inside the cabin. The propeller feathering system and magneto checks were carried out, while the C-47s was shaking violently. With everything in order, the big 3 bladed Hamilton-Standard propellers were eased back to 1.800 rpm and the vibration momentarily ceased.
We received our take-off clearance and proceeded to the active runway. N74598 started its take-off run first and we immediately followed. The engine power were increased to 40 inch manifold pressure, with the props running at 3.000 rpm. The engine noise grew louder and louder and at a speed of 90 knots our C-47 got airborne. The landing gear was raised and moments later the crew called for a power reduction generally know as 'METO power' setting (maximum except take-off). The Pratt & Whitney radial engines are very sensitive and cannot hold full power at very long periods of time. Power was gradually reduced and we settled in for our cruising speed of 115 knots at an altitude of no more than 500 ft. (MSL).
Within minutes we left German airspace, entered Holland and turned slightly to the North following the Meuse River. Captain Boshoff kept the N347DC in a tight formation to the right hand aft position. We followed the meandering Meuse river for some 15 minutes until we reached the "John S Thompson" bridge. We overflew the bridge at a low level of about 300 ft. and watched the crowds on the river banks waiving at both C-47s roaring past. We followed the river LH bend and then turned south west for the Grave drop zone. Our first flyby over the DZ at 1.200 ft., was to throw out the wind drift indicators, which would tell us the exact wind direction and – speed. With that information Peter Braun decided on the exact flight heading and exit point for the jumpers. We made a wide circle to the North over the river in order to get a better approach over the DZ. Inside the C-47 the first paratroopers jump group were already 'hocked-up' on standby watching for the green light! Then Peter Braun gave the signal and the first stick started their jumps. Within seconds they where gone hurtling down towards the Grave drop zone. Both C-47's orbited the northern track once more for the second drop. I tried to capture the jump moment, but it was hard not being able to stand near the C-47 cargo door. On the final pass N74598 broke formation and orbited the field once again, waiting for all jumpers to safely land on the drop zone and they made a low pass for the energized crowd. We turned to the South for a smooth flight back to Weeze airport.
(Postscript: After the Grave flight (17 September) N74598 left for Coventry UK late in the afternoon for the installation of long range fuel tanks. She would head for the US a week later. She arrived in Goose Bay Canada on the 27th September after a safe transatlantic flight. She routed via Bangor and flew onwards to her new home at St Lucia airport Florida the next day)
Thanks to From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, historyofwar.org, DDA Logbook Magazine, Peter Esser Weeze Airport authority, Andre van loon, Peter Braun of the Round Canopy Parachuting Team Inc. and Aviation Heritage Inc.