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10th Troop Carrier Group (USAAF)

10th Troop Carrier Group (USAAF)



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10th Troop Carrier Group (USAAF)

History - Books - Aircraft - Time Line - Commanders - Main Bases - Component Units - Assigned To

History

The 10th Troop Carrier Group (USAAF) was a transport unit that was based in the United States throughout its existence.

It was formed as an inactive Transport Group in 1933 and activated for the first time on 10 May 1937. It was equipped with the Bellance C-27 and the Douglas C-33 and was assigned to the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps. Its role was to transport supplies, equipment and personnel within the United States. As the Air Force expanded the group was assigned to Air Service Command, formed in October 1941.

In April 1942 the group was assigned to the newly formed Air Transport Command (I Troop Carrier Command from July 1942). In July 1942 the group was redesignated as the 10th Troop Carrier Group. The renamed group converted to the C-47 Skytrain, and was used to train cadres that were then used to create new troop carrier groups. In 1943 the group also began to train replacement crews for existing transport units. It was disbanded on 14 April 1944.

Books

Pending

Aircraft

1937-1942: Bellanca C-27 and Douglas C-33
1942-1944: Douglas C-47 Skytrain

Timeline

1 Oct 1933Constituted as 1st Transport Group on the inactive list
20 May 1937Consolidated with 10th Observation Group, redesignated as 10th Transport Group and activated
July 1942Redesignated 10th Troop Carrier Group
14 April 1944Disbanded

Commanders (with date of appointment)

Ma j Hugh A Bevins:May 1937
Capt Lyman Whitten: Jun1938
Maj Fred Borum: 1939
Capt MurrayE Woodbury: Jan 1941
Capt Theodare QGraff: 2 Sep 1941
Capt Maurice Beach: 1 Apr 1942
Maj Loren Cornell: 1 Aug 1942
Maj Douglas M Swisher: 30 Aug 1942
LtCol Boyd R Ertwine: 25 Oct 1942
Lt ColErickson S Nichols: 28 Jan 1943
Lt ColHenry P King: 12 May 1943-14 Apr 1944

Main Bases

Patterson Field, Ohio: 20 May1937
Wright Field, Ohio: 20 Jun 1938
Patterson Field, Ohio: 17 Jan 1941
GeneralBilly Mitchell Field, Wis: 25 May1942
Pope Field, NC: 4 Oct 1942
DunnellonAAFld, Fla: 13 Feb 1943
LawsonField, Ga: 30 Nov 1943
Grenada AAFld,Miss: 21 Jan 1944
Alliance AAFld, Neb: 8Mar-14 Apr 1944

Component Units

1st: 1937-1943
2nd: 1937-1943
3rd: 1938-1940
4th: 1937-1940
5th: 1937-1944
27th: 1942-1943, 1943-44
38th: 1942-44
307th: 1943-1944
308th: 1943-1944

Assigned To

to 1941: Office of the Chief of the Air Corps
1941: Air Service Command
1942-43: 52nd Troop Carrier Wing; Air Transport Command/ I Troop Carrier Command


10th Troop Carrier Group (USAAF) - History

. please be patient.


Contents

Originally set on 500 acres (2 km²) that was purchased in 1942 by Marion County. It was opened in August 1942 as Dunnellon Army Airfield. The new base was designated as a sub-base to the Orlando Army Airbase, and assigned to the Air University Army Air Forces School of Applied Tactics (AAFSAT) tactical combat simulation school in Central and Northern Florida.

AAFSAT used the base as its Air Support School. Once sufficient construction was completed, the I Troop Carrier Command 10th Troop Carrier Group was moved from Pope Field, North Carolina, as a combat cargo training unit. Pilots and aircrew received training in advanced combat simulation based on what could be expected in the overseas combat theaters in short field landings, cargo drops and other tactics. In addition, personnel received training in towing British-designed Horsa glider and gilder pilots received training in advanced combat flying. Graduates saw duty in North Africa, Europe, and the China-Burma-India Theater in this capacity. As part of the training, Canal Air Force Auxiliary Field, ( 29°03′24″N 082°08′41″W  /  29.05667°N 82.14472°W  / 29.05667 -82.14472 ) was used for rough short field dirt landings and takeoffs.

By the end of 1943, the Troop Carrier training was ended and the 10th TCG moved to Lawson Army Airfield, Georgia to support Army airborne forces at Fort Benning.

In mid-1943, AAFSAT reassigned the 420th Night Fighter Squadron, a night fighter Operational Training Unit (OTU) to Dunnellon due to overcrowding at Kissimmee Army Airfield. It's mission to train pilots with night fighting skills for defensive missions against enemy night intruder aircraft. The squadron was equipped with modified Douglas A-20 Havocs for night fighter operations, designated P-70s.

Night fighter training was undertaken until January 1944, when the USAAF program was reassigned to IV Fighter Command, and the school was moved to Hammer Field, California.

Third Air Force [ edit | edit source ]

The Air University training mission ended in mid-1944, when Dunnellon was officially reassigned to III Fighter Command. Under Third Air Force, Dunnellon was assigned to the Commando Squadron Training School. Initially, the Liaison Squadrons of the 2d Air Commando Group were formed at the base in mid June. However, it was decided to consolidate the Liaison training at Cross City Army Airfield, where they were moved after being organized and equipped.

Instead, Dunnellon was returned to the Troop Carrier mission by forming and training Commando Troop Carrier squadrons. Two C-47 Skytrain squadrons, earmarked for Burma were trained in combat flying and techniques during the summer of 1944.

Closure [ edit | edit source ]

The Commando training was the last large-scale use of Dunnellon AAF. The 342d Airborne Squadron was assigned as a caretaker unit in September 1944 and the flying mission wound down. The number of personnel were reduced, being reassigned to other bases.

In January 1945, Third Air Force sent down orders to close the facility, and it was placed on inactive status on 1 February 1945. Jurisdiction of the airfield was transferred to Air Technical Service Command (ATSC), whose mission was the transfer of any useful military equipment to other bases around the country. Under ATSC, buildings and equipment were sold and any useful military equipment was transferred to other bases around the country. The base was declared as surplus in 1946 and was turned over to the War Assets Administration (WAA) for disposal and return to civil use.

Subsequently, the airfield was returned to civil control and the Dunnellon/Marion County Airport was re-established.

Major units assigned [ edit | edit source ]

Army Air Forces School of Applied Tactics

AAF Interceptor Command School

  • 127th Liaison Squadron (Commando), 10–21 June 1944
  • 155th Liaison Squadron (Commando), 12–21 June 1944
  • 156th Liaison Squadron (Commando), 12–21 June 1944
    , 21 June-15 August 1944 , 15 August-12 September 1944

Other units stationed at Dunnellon during the war included the 894th Airborne Engineers, 805th Medical Air Evacuation Unit, and the 898th Guard Squadron. Ώ] ΐ] Α] Β] Γ]


303rd Bomber Group

Col. James H. Wallace 13 Jul 1942 to 12 Feb 1943
Col. Charles E. Marion 13 Feb 1943 to 19 Jul 1943
Col. Kermit D. Stevens 19 Jul 1943 to 1 Sep 1944
Col. William C. Raper 29 Oct 1944 to 19 Apr 1945
Lt. Col William C. Sipes 19 Apr 1945 to 11 Jun 1945

First Mission: 17 Nov 1942
Last Mission: 25 Apr 1945
Missions: 364
Total Sorties: 10,721
Total Bomb Tonnage: 24,918 Tons
Aircraft MIA: 165

Major Awards:

Distinguished Unit Citations:
11 Jan 1944 (All 1 BD groups)
Medal of Honors:
Lt. Jack W. Mathis 18 Mar 1943
T/Sgt Forrest L. Vosler 20 Dec 1943

Claims to Fame

Early History:

Activated 3 February 1942 at Pendleton Field Oregan. Assembled at Gowen Field Idaho on the 11th of February 1942, where it trained until 12 June 1942. Advance training at Alamogordo Field NM, until 7 August 1942, when the Group moved to Biggs Field, Texas, to be readied for overseas duty. The ground unit moved to Fort Dix, NJ on 24 August 1942. They sailed on they Queen Mary on the 5th of September 1942, and arrived at Greenock on the 10th of September 1942. The aircraft flew to Kellogg Field, Michigan then to Dow Field, Maine to start its flight to England.


Welford

B-24 Liberators of the 467th Bomb Group lined up at RAF Welford. B-24 (4z-E+, serial number 42-94910) is visible in the foreground. It was taken during the first couple of days (most likely 15 or 16 Sept 1944) of the ‘Trucking Missions” that started 12 Sept 1944. The 467th had a key role in ferrying fuel to bases on the continent to support Patton’s 3rd Army. Prior to Rackheath being ready to support the transfer of fuel, the 467th (along with other bomb groups of the 2nd AD) used the RAF bases at Welford, Horsham and Beaulieu. The foremost aircraft in the front row is B-24H-20-FO "No Name” 42-94910. The aircraft immediate behind ‘910' is B-24H-15-CF "Tender Comrade” 41-29369. Next is B-24H-20-DT 'Wolves Inc.' 41-28981 and then B-24H-15-CF 'Slick Chick' 41-29388. The next is thought to be B-24J-140-CO "Old Iron Pants/The Perfect Lady” 42-110168. In the rear row, the first aircraft can’t be identified. The second aircraft is B-24H-20-FO ’No Name' 42-94963. Next is B-24H-15-CF 'Slugger Jr.' 41-29397. The next aircraft can’t be determined. The next, and last identified, is our favorite. B-24H-15-FO “Witchcraft" 42-52534. It is thought that the aircraft in the very far distance on the left are gliders (CG-4a’s?) used by the 101st Airborne that was stationed at Welford. Handwritten caption on reverse: 'Rackheath.'

Aerial photograph of Welford Park airfield looking north west, the main runway runs vertically, the bomb dump is to the lower right of the airfield, 6 May 1944. Photograph taken by 7th Photographic Reconnaissance Group, sortie number US/7GR/LOC329. English Heritage (USAAF Photography).

Aerial photograph of Welford Park airfield looking east, the technical site is on the left, 7 October 1943. Photograph taken by 7th Photographic Reconnaissance Group, sortie number US/7PH/GP/LOC62. English Heritage (USAAF Photography).

Aerial photograph of Welford Park airfield looking east, the bomb dump is at the top of the airfield, 8 March 1944. Photograph taken by 7th Photographic Reconnaissance Group, sortie number US/7PH/GP/LOC209. English Heritage (USAAF Photography).

Aerial photograph of Welford Park airfield looking east, Welford village is in the centre and Wickam is on the right, 8 March 1944. Photograph taken by 7th Photographic Reconnaissance Group, sortie number US/7PH/GP/LOC209. English Heritage (USAAF Photography).

Aerial photograph of Welford Park airfield looking south west, a T2 Hangar is at the top of the airfield, the bomb dump is on the lower left, 15 March 1944. Photograph taken by 7th Photographic Reconnaissance Group, sortie number US/7PH/GP/LOC230. English Heritage (USAAF Photography).


Contents

With the outbreak of the Cold War in the late 1940s, with the Berlin Airlift and the ongoing threat from the Soviet Union to western Europe, negotiations began in November 1950 between NATO and the United States to establish air bases and station combat wings in France to meet European defense needs.

During the negotiations for selection sites, the World War II airfield at Dreux was proposed for expansion into a modern air base. However, the French government rejected the airfield at Dreux, citing the expansion of Orly Airport near Paris presenting a conflict with airspace traffic, and plans were in the works to expand Vernouillet into a commercial site.

By the summer of 1951 another location near the village of Dampierre, about 3 miles (5 km) south of Brezolles was selected as a base to support the United States Air Force as a tactical airlift base. This location would become Dreux Air Base. Besides its active airlift and tactical reconnaissance role, Dreux Air Base also served as a Department of the Air Force High School. The school provided a residence (dormitory) high school for military family students from throughout Europe and Africa.


Paratroopers about to board an aircraft of the 10 TCS during World War II

During World War II the 10th participated in the airborne invasions of North Africa, Sicily, and Greece the support of partisans in the Balkans and transportation missions in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. The 10th took part in the Berlin Airlift from 1948–1949 and continued airlift operations in Europe until 1961. It conducted airlift tasks in connection with aircraft delivery from 1969–1970 and performed the airlift portion of the European Distribution System from 1983–1990.


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Troop Carriers of World War II

The exploits of World War II fighter pilots and bomber crew members inspired huge numbers of books, articles, and movies over the past half century, so much so that one might conclude that they were the only US airmen to face enemy fire in that epic conflict. It is a view that does not do justice to the troop carriers who faced combat danger on a regular basis.

Many transport crews flew their slow, unarmed, and highly vulnerable aircraft in formation, at low altitudes, and often at night beyond the front lines to deliver troops and supplies by parachute. In the same vein, glider pilots in fragile, motorless aircraft were towed over a battle area and cut loose to land infantrymen behind enemy lines.

The transport crew member flew through fire and flak and then returned to base through the same fire and flak. The glider pilot faced an inevitable landing that often ended in a crash. If he survived, he would then have to fight alongside the same troops he had just carried into battle.

USAAF Lt. Gen. Lewis H. Brereton, commander of the 1st Allied Airborne Army, offered highest praise. In a postwar statement, he noted that on many occasions transport crews doggedly flew their damaged or burning aircraft on to their assigned areas “in spite of the fact that [they] well understood that continuing on course destroyed any … chance of survival for themselves.”

Of the glider pilots, Brereton said: “Not only did they deliver a magnificent and well-coordinated landing-which in many cases was in the midst of hostile positions-but were immediately engaged with their airborne associates in the hottest kind of hand-to-hand fighting.”

Brereton’s view is echoed by retired Col. Charles H. Young, a 1936 graduate of the Army Air Corps flying school who was recalled to active duty in 1942 to help organize and train troop carrier forces. Young later was named commanding officer of the 439th Troop Carrier Group that took part in the Normandy invasion and airborne invasions of southern France, Holland, and Germany. In Young’s view, the troop carrier airmen who dared to enter enemy airspace unarmed to deliver troops and equipment showed virtually unparalleled courage under fire.

The First Drops

Young’s book-Into the Valley-reports that the story of air troop carrier operations dates from 1918 in World War I. French two-man demolition teams were dropped behind German lines to destroy enemy communications. Some resupply of Allied forces by aircraft was carried out during the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne campaigns of late 1918.

Development of this concept continued during the interwar years. In 1929-30 Italian paratroopers made several mass drops in North Africa, for instance. Soviet forces also experimented with airborne operations in the 1930s.

American interest in the transport of ground troops by aircraft began in 1931 when a field artillery battery was flown to Panama for maneuvers, followed by delivery, two years later, of a full division of troops for “hemispheric defense.” Later, an infantry detachment was landed behind “enemy” lines as a surprise test during maneuvers at Ft. DuPont, Del. It was led by Army Air Corps Capt. [later Gen.] George C. Kenney. In May 1937, the 10th Transport Group was activated and trained with C-27 and C-33 transports.

However, the first real employment of the airborne assault concept in wartime occurred when a regiment of German paratroops made surprise drops on several airfields in Norway and Denmark in April 1940. The following month, Nazi glider troops made the so-called “silent” surprise attack on Ft. Eben Emael near Liege, Belgium-the first use of gliders in military combat. German Ju-52 transports towed and released nine DFS-230 gliders with 78 “parachute engineers” on board. They landed on the roof of the massive fortress and planted explosive charges that penetrated the 5-foot-thick walls and killed the protecting gun crews. The surviving garrison gave up the next day.

On the day of the Eben Emael attack, approximately 500 Ju-52s delivered five parachute regiments and one infantry division to objectives in Holland. The next month, Soviet TB-3 bombers dropped two airborne brigades into Romanian targets.

The Allies attributed the success of the Eben Emael action not to the men of the German glider force but to the blitzkrieg of tanks and Stuka dive bombing attacks that followed. Thus, the potential value of a glider-borne force was lost in a fog of misinformation and little notice was taken by American and British headquarters.

Churchill’s Instinct

Britain’s newly elected prime minister, Winston Churchill, was impressed, however. He encouraged the War Office to analyze the German airborne attack in depth. As a result, the British military selected 500 men to form a glider unit and then ordered 400 Hotspur training gliders, each of which could carry 10 troops and be towed by heavy bombers.

The British Army had no enthusiasm for the idea and it stalled. However, Churchill was not to be denied. A glider pilot regiment was eventually formed. One of its initial missions was the November 1942 attack on the Vemork heavy-water plant in southern Norway, carried out by engineers who rode into the operation in British Horsa gliders. When one of the gliders crash-landed, German troops rounded up 14 airborne troopers and executed them by firing squad. The other Horsa crashed into a mountain. Eight troops died in the crash, another four died as a result of poisoning by the German captors, and five others died in a Nazi concentration camp.

On the Continent, Hitler was jubilant about the Eben Emael success and planned to make an airborne landing on British soil with paratroop and glider forces as soon as possible. He changed his mind when German aerial reconnaissance revealed that Britain had erected anti-glider poles and planted mines on prospective landing fields.

The concept seemed valid for German operations elsewhere. Paratroops and glider forces would provide increased mobility and allow vertical envelopment of the enemy’s forces. Assault by air would add another dimension to the task of winning ground areas. This view was put into operation in the Mediterranean. Hitler approved a plan to capture British-held Crete with paratroopers and glider infantry. Beginning on May 20, 1941, a force of 22,000 men was deployed onto the island by 75 DFS-230 gliders towed by Ju-52 aircraft. They arrived in phases over the island. Hundreds of paratroopers dropped onto heavily defended airfields. After a week of bitter fighting, British forces were defeated and survivors had evacuated to Egypt.

This German “success story” had a strange ending twist, however. As it turned out, Germany paid a severe price for its Crete invasion, suffering about 5,000 casualties, many from the crack 7th Airborne Division. Hitler, furious at the losses, decided then and there to abandon any further use of gliders.

In the United States military, just the opposite was happening. Col. Bonner Fellers, the US military attache in Egypt, studied the Crete operation in detail and wrote a colorful 258-page report in September 1941.

“Epic in Warfare”

“The drama of Crete marks an epic in warfare,” he wrote. “The concept of the operation was highly imaginative, daringly new. Combat elements drawn from Central Europe moved with precision into funnel-shaped Greece. Here they reformed, took shape as a balanced force, were given wings. The operation had the movement, rhythm, harmony of a master’s organ composition. For the first time in history, airborne troops, supplied and supported by air, landed in the face of an enemy, defeated him.”

In Washington, the Fellers report received a respectful hearing and was studied intently. Within months, in July 1942, the US Army Air Forces had established the First Troop Carrier Command. Its mission was the “transport of parachute troops, airborne infantry, and glider troops.” It was to coordinate its activities with the air training commands from which it drew its crews, with the four continental air forces which carried the main responsibility for unit training, and with the Army ground forces for which its training was conducted.

US troop carrier crews served in all combat theaters and were under the direct control of a separate troop carrier command answering to the theater commander. Between December 1942 and August 1945, USAAF trained more than 4,500 troop carrier crew members (pilots, navigators, radio operators, and flight engineers), along with about 5,000 glider pilots. By the end of the war, USAAF boasted 29 troop carrier groups.

The principal troop carrier aircraft was the Douglas C-47 or its C-53 variant, although Curtiss C-46s were also used later in the war. The 13-passenger, two-pilot Waco CG-4A glider made by more than a dozen companies was the most satisfactory of several competing models that were tried, and 12,700 were procured.

The USAAF troop carrier concept received its first major test in North Africa in November 1942. Thirty-nine C-47s carrying a battalion of the 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment flew nonstop 1,100 miles mostly at night and in poor weather from England over Spain to points near the Algerian city of Oran. Their mission: Release paratroops at designated drop zones to prepare airfields for an Allied invasion force.

However, intentions of the local French forces were not clear, communications were disorganized, and the units were poorly trained. Three C-47s were shot down or forced down by French fighters while others eventually assembled on a dry lake bed. Two troop carrier pilots and three airborne troopers were killed and 18 were wounded. According to Young, it was a misuse of airborne forces. Still, the US learned valuable lessons.

The next significant Allied airborne operation occurred in July 1943 when British and American troop carrier and glider pilots delivered troops during the invasion of Sicily. It was not a success. Young, after studying the operation, concluded it was undermined by “poor coordination of unit headquarters, imprudent planning, especially on the glider tow to the British sector on D-Day, inexperienced aircrews without proper training in night navigation and formation flying, and trigger-happy Allied naval and army gunners who shot down more than two dozen American troop carrier aircraft on the missions.”

These problems, he said, “combined to place the entire airborne-troop carrier program in jeopardy.”

MacArthur’s Joy

Still, the program moved forward. The first American airborne operation in the Pacific took place on New Guinea in September 1943. Eighty-four C-47s of the 54th Troop Carrier Wing dropped 1,700 paratroopers from the 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment to secure the airfield. Their landing was supplemented by C-47s and B-17s carrying supplies and some artillery. Gen. Douglas A. MacArthur witnessed the show from a B-17, “jumping up and down like a kid,” according to then­Southwest Pacific Allied Air Forces head Kenney, who also witnessed the operation from the air and called it “a magnificent spectacle.”

Between March and May 1944, another major US operation took place. Eighty CG-4A gliders and C-47s of Col. Philip G. Cochran’s 1st Air Commando Group were used to land a force of 9,000 men, 1,300 animals, and 250 tons of equipment and supplies at bases in northern Burma. Most of the operation took place at night.

By the time of the Normandy invasion in June 1944, troop carrier planners had learned many lessons, and they were put to their sternest test yet. In just two days, 27,000 troopers were dropped behind German lines by powered aircraft or put down there by one of more than 600 American and British gliders. There, they were used to help prevent German counterattacks and to open up breakout routes for following forces.

More airborne experience was gained in Operation Dragoon, the August 1944 invasion of southern France from Allied­occupied Italy. There, 9,100 American and British troops, 200 vehicles and artillery pieces, and 500 tons of supplies were air-dropped or glider-landed in CG-4As and Horsas. There were so few casualties that the American airborne soldiers dubbed it the “Champagne Campaign.”

In the Low Countries, history’s largest airborne assault, part of Operation Market Garden, began Sept. 17, 1944, and unfolded over two weeks. US and British troop carrier units mounted more than 5,000 powered and 2,200 glider sorties. Starting from various points, they delivered 24,000 troopers, 1,500 vehicles, 260 artillery pieces, and 3,000 tons of other equipment to back up the Allied invasion of German­occupied Holland. Combined losses were heavy 1,400 men died and 6,000 were taken prisoner 142 aircraft were lost and 1,200 were damaged.

The last German airborne assault-Germany’s only night parachute operation-took place in mid-December 1944 southeast of Liege in eastern Belgium. Ninety Ju-52s were dispatched with inexperienced crews to drop troopers near the Baraque Michel area south of Eupen, Belgium. Allied gunners shot down 10 with great loss of life. Most of the others got lost and never delivered their troops to the battle area.

At the Bulge

Young said the Allied operation at the French village of Bastogne in the final days of December 1944 “will live on in the minds of troop carrier personnel as one of the most critical, albeit one of the most tragic, of the war.” By Dec. 22, 1944, elements of the US 101st Airborne Division had dug themselves into fields and forests near Bastogne but found themselves surrounded by advancing German soldiers. Believing they held the advantage, German officers, under a white flag, entered the 101st camp demanding a surrender. Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe issued a one-word, morale-boosting response: “Nuts!”

Without troop carrier resupply-ammunition in particular-the Battle of the Bulge would undoubtedly have turned out much differently, and McAuliffe may not have been as confident as he appeared. When the first airborne resupply missions arrived, each US artillery position was down to about 10 rounds. McAuliffe later admitted, “Had it not been for air resupply, the situation would have become worse than desperate it would have been untenable.”

The US lost 26 percent of the troops in a 50-ship glider tow to Bastogne on Dec. 27, 1944-the highest proportion for any troop carrier mission of the war. To help iron out communication and coordination problems, USAAF trained combat control teams and pathfinder groups to mark drop and landing zones ahead of oncoming troop carrier “serials” and have pathfinder equipment and trained personnel in place on the ground when the troop carrier forces arrived. They operated on special VHF radio frequencies to assure discrete ground­air communications. In addition, intership communications were established between troop carrier forces and protecting fighters over the target areas.

The largest one-day airborne assault in history took place March 24, 1945, when troop carrier aircraft and gliders carried British and American divisions to assist the Allied crossing of the Rhine River near Wesel, Germany.

The massive formation included 1,800 C-47 and C-46 transports, 1,300 gliders, most in double tows, and 240 B-24s used for resupply drops. According to Young, it took three hours and 12 minutes for the entire formation to pass a given point. More than 17,000 troopers, 1,200 vehicles, 130 artillery pieces, and seven million pounds of equipment and supplies were air-dropped or air-landed within a 25-square-mile area.

It was the last use of great armadas of winged craft in mass formations to invade enemy airspace and speed up the capture of enemy territory. The key to the operation’s success was the improved communications and interunit coordination through the use of the combat control and pathfinder units.

As Allied troops pressed on into the German heartland between January and May 1945, the troop carrier units and gliders hauled gasoline, ammunition, and other supplies to the advancing armored columns. Statistics from this period are impressive: The units hauled 242 million pounds of freight (including gasoline, ammunition, and vehicles), 200,600 airborne and glider-borne troops on missions and training flights, 128,000 patients, 132,000 passengers, and 165,000 freed American POWs.

One testament to the troop carrier crews came from then-Lt. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway, XVIII Airborne Corps commander, who, after the debacle in Sicily, had been critical of the AAF crews for not placing parachute units within effective attack distance of a chosen drop zone at night. After the Rhine crossing, however, Ridgway changed his opinion. “In the run to the drop zone, they flew formations tighter and more precise than any of the bombers ever flew, and they did it at night,” said Ridgway. “They wouldn’t take evasive action either, no matter how hot the fire from the ground might be.”

In short, Ridgway concluded, the troop carriers were “as skilled as any aviators I ever knew, and God knows they were brave men.”


Stranded

ON DECEMBER 7, 1948, an unusual aviation drama began to unfold. A U.S. Air Force C-47 transport on a routine flight across Greenland got caught in a whiteout and ended up flying into the snow-covered terrain. The pilot sustained head injuries, but all seven men on board survived.

From This Story

The C-47 that started it all, brought down by a whiteout. (USAF) A glider lies damaged after a rescue attempt that ended in a towline breaking. (USAF) The writer’s uncle and one of the rescuers, Murl Chamberlain. (USAAF) Chamberlain was written up as a hometown hero. (Courtesy Edward J. Farmer) When his glider iced up, an anxious Chamberlain fantasized about climbing the towline to reach the safety of the C-54 pulling him. (LT. Murl Chamberlain) One of the gliders, most likely at BW-1. (USAF) After the rescue, Chamberlain learned to fly helicopters (here, in a Sikorsky H-5). (LT. Murl Chamberlain) When seven men got stuck in a grim patch of Greenland in 1948, the Air Force sent a B-17 to rescue them, but it got mired in soft snow (top of montage), only worsening the predicament. (USAF) The Air Force kept the men from starving by parachuting food and stoves. (LT. Murl Chamberlain)

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The aircraft went down in southern Greenland, about 125 miles north of its destination, the Air Force base Bluie West One (BW-1). Three days later, an Air Force B-17 attempted a rescue of the downed airmen. But the bomber landed in soft snow and began sinking. Now another aircraft and two more airmen were stranded on the ice cap.

Eventually, a total of 12 airmen ended up in Greenland without an aircraft to get them out. The Air Force turned to the world’s premier arctic rescue organization, the 10th Air Rescue Squadron. The 10th was commanded by the legendary Bernt Balchen, the first airman to fly over both of Earth’s poles and the era’s greatest contributor to arctic search and rescue. My uncle, Murl Chamberlain, a glider pilot with the 10th, was called on to help with the crisis.

When it was over, Murl wrote a longhand account of it that I eventually inherited, along with photographs of the aircraft and people who had been stranded. This article is based in large part on his memoir.

In the 1940s, militaries were starting to use gliders for rescues. Gliders, such as those made by Waco, had been used in World War II for troop insertion and removal. Because they had no engines, they were essentially empty containers that could be filled with people needing to be transported, then picked up via a tow rope by a powered aircraft and hauled up and out. Germans used gliders in 1943 to remove troops from the Kuban peninsula in Russia, and in 1945, Allied gliders evacuated wounded troops from Remagen, Germany. Equipped with either wheels or skis, gliders could be adapted to a wide range of terrain.

My uncle Murl flew the CG-15A, an improved version of the CG-4 troop-carrier gliders made famous in the Normandy D-Day invasion and Operation Market Garden in Holland. The CG-15A could carry 15 soldiers or a light vehicle.

At the time of the Greenland crash, Murl and a few other airmen were at Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, preparing to ferry a glider and its related equipment to Ladd Air Force Base in Fairbanks, Alaska. While they were on the runway, waiting for takeoff clearance, the group received a call from the Pentagon: “We were being diverted to Greenland in order to rescue a downed C-47 on the Greenland Ice Cap,” Murl writes. “[I]n a matter of minutes we were rolling down the runway heading for Westover AFB, Mass.

“Naturally, being a Lieutenant and having the shortest date of rank, I had the honor of flying the glider. I wanted to fly the C-54 [towplane] like the rest of the pilots, but in order to get flying time, the glider was my best bet.”

In the meantime, Air Force aircraft flew over the site, parachuting supplies and portable stoves to the stranded men.

On the first leg of the flight, recounts Murl, “I was the only pilot in the glider…. I had a companion though but he had had no experience in gliders or any type of flying…. All I can remember about him was that he had two stripes on his sleeve and he was very polite. He appeared to be enjoying the ride.…”