Special Report

C-47s on D-Day

★ Douglas C-47 Skytrain ★ Derived from the DC-3 airliner, the C-47 served with all the Allied air forces fighting the Axis powers during the Second World War, and it was license-produced in the Soviet Union. Known as the Dakota in British and Commonwealth service, C-47s flew in every combat theater. They carried paratroops, freight, and towed transport gliders. They also flew on search-and-rescue missions, medical evacuation flights, and on special operations inserting and recovering covert agents and sabotage teams, and supporting the activities of resistance fighters operating behind enemy lines. (NARA)
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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 Force 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 important 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-and-rescue 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 supported 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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About Richard P. Hallion

Dr. Richard P. Hallion is an aerospace historian who writes and consults widely on aviation and aerospace matters. He formerly served as a founding curator at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum and as The Air Force Historian, and is on the Board of Trustees of Florida Polytechnic University.

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