by Aubrey L. Ross
Lieutenant Colonel, USAF Retired

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Map of routes and zones
Editor's Note: After the initial, and slightly surprising, success of the landings at Normandy, the Allies hoped for a steady push across France – maybe even home by Christmas. What, sadly, happened was that the Allies bogged down in a virtual stalemate. In August, British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery pushed hard for what a later American general would call a "Hail Mary." He wanted to make an end-run around the battle through northern France, the low countries, and into the industrial heartland of Germany, the Ruhr. The largest airborne drop in history (to that date) was made to capture and hold three strategic and a few smaller bridges until the mass of land forces could arrive. All went well except for a minor little detail lost to Allied intelligence . . . the II SS Panzer Corps. Here is the story from one who was there!

In early September 1944, a decision was made by Supreme Allied Headquarters to drop an airborne force in Holland. The objective of this ill conceived debacle was to capture several key bridges, one crossing the Rhine river near Arnhem, and hold them for the advancing troops that were inching slowly toward Germany. This operation was code named MARKET GARDEN, and was not canceled, as many of us would wish later. The book A Bridge Too Far tells this story far better than any that I have read. Our mission in Operation MARKET was to transport airborne forces to the Arnhem-Nijmegan area of Holland. Once on the ground, these forces were to seize and hold vital bridges until relieved by the British Second Army driving north through Eindhoven. The routes to the drop zones were planned so as to avoid most of the heavy antiaircraft fire. However, it was known that both heavy and light antiaircraft guns were in the Arnhem and Nijmegan areas and at the landfall point at Schouwen Island.

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On Our Way to Holland

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On Our Way to Holland
We did not do any specific training for this mission nor was there a dress rehearsal. We were very happy to learn once again that our group would not have to tow gliders on this mission. This chore fell to one of the less fortunate groups.

No Troop Carrier pilot ever wanted to tow gliders especially into combat. A normal cruise speed for the C-47 was 145 to 155 MPH, but with a glider you would be slowed to 90 to 95 MPH with increased power. It was also much more work for a pilot when a glider was in tow with airspeed hovering near stalling speed.
On September 14, 1944, we, once again, had "Guests" move onto our base, the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), 82nd Airborne Division. At the first mission briefing, we learned that the 315th's first destination was Drop Zone "O," located about three miles southwest of Nijmegan and one-half mile north of the Maas River. Two serials of 45 aircraft each were to be used to transport 1240 paratroopers and 473 parapacks. Our route to the target was to the east coast of England at Aldeburg, then 94 miles across the North Sea to Schouwen Island in Holland. From Schouwen Island, it was approximately 90 miles to the drop area. On the morning of the first MARKET mission, hundreds of Allied bombers and fighters dropped more than 3000 tons of fragmentation bombs on the suspected antiaircraft sites along the troop carrier route.

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British Paratroops Ready to Load for Drop

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310 Sqd. C-47 Over England 1944
On Sunday, September 17, 1944, at 1039 hours, 90 aircraft began taking off from Spanhoe Airfield loaded with members of the 504th (PIR), 82nd Airborne Division, bound for Holland on a mission that was designed to shorten the war. The first serial of 45 planes was led by Lt. Col. Dekin and the second was led by Lt. Col. Gibbons. We formed the usual V of V's formation and joined a stream of troop carrier traffic moving toward the coast of Holland. Shortly after passing the Dutch coast, we encountered fire from antiaircraft batteries along our route. Just past the coast, the 34th Squadron's C-47 no.308, piloted by Captain R. E. Bohannan, was hit by flack. The left engine and one of the underslung parapacks (parapacks are large cylinders containing supplies slung under the belly of the airplane) began to burn and he went down near Postbahn van den Stadscherdike at Fifnaart. The crew chief along with 15 paratroopers parachuted to safety, but they were soon captured by the Germans. Most of these men were wounded. Capt. Bohannan, Lieutenants. Felber and Martinson, and S/Sgt Epperson were killed.

In a rare quiet moment, my copilot doing the flying, I stared out the windscreen and reflected . . .

Flashback to May 1943

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One of our C-47s Over Clouds
It was May 28, 1943, one of the happiest days of my life for I had successfully completed pilot training satisfying a dream from early childhood and also receiving a commission as a second lieutenant in Army Air Forces. My euphoria was short lived when I saw my assignment orders were not for a fighter squadron but read for Troop Carrier command which I had never heard of . . . I knew that the needs of the service come first so I was on my way to Bergstrom Air Base in Austin, TX.

Here we trained in the military version of the twin engine Douglas DC-3, the mainstay of most airlines during the 1930s and 1940s. The military made some modifications and designated it the C-47 (affectionately known as the "Gooney
Bird") but it was still a slow, unarmed transport with no armor plate nor self-sealing fuel tanks. This was the airplane used by Troop Carrier during the war. We did receive, during the summer of 1944, a few of the new Curtis C-46 aircraft which was faster and
carried a larger load. Also about the same time 2 B-24 Liberator bombers with all armaments removed and replaced with fuel tanks were received by each squadron. This airplane was designated the C-109 and was used primarily to supply Patton's army with gasoline during his dash through Europe. This was a flying gas tank as it was capable of carrying more than 2900 gallons of gasoline. Crews on the C-109 didn't carry matches or cigarette lighters or anything that might ignite the gasoline fumes.

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New C-46 England 1945
There were also a large number of Waco CG-4A gliders in the Troop Carrier inventory. After a few hours of training in the C-47, I received orders for overseas. I departed in September 1943 with an inexperienced crew bound for North Africa flying the C-47

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Spanhoe C-109 Tanker In Our Squadron
across the North Atlantic route. We left the US from Presque Isle, Maine. From there on to Goose Bay Labrador, then to Greenland, next to Iceland, then on to Scotland, then Southern England where we leaped off for Casablanca. From there I went to my assignment in Sicily with the 62nd Troop Carrier group. We hauled freight, carried passengers (some VIPs such as Churchill), evacuated wounded from the front as well as dropping paratroops when the need arose. We also flew supplies into Yugoslavia, Albania and Greece to Tito's troops who were giving the Germans a hard time in the Balkans.

In March 1944, volunteers were sought to transfer to England to train for the invasion of Europe, I was one of the first to volunteer because our living conditions
were so bad and I knew things had to be better in the England. Upon arrival in the United Kingdom, I became a member of the 310th Troop Carrier squadron, in 315th Troop Carrier group at Spanhoe airdrome about 80 miles north of London. Several missions were flown dropping paratroops on D-Day without significant losses, but it a different story in operation MARKET GARDEN as follows.

Back to being shot at

The ground fire increased as we neared the drop zone and seven of our aircraft were hit before we reached the drop zone even though fighters were keeping the pressure on the gun batteries all the time. Most of the planes dropped their troops on or near the drop zone. As soon as the last man cleared the plane, we would dive to the deck to provide a lesser target and avoid the heavy ground fire.

On D-Day plus one, September 18, 1944, two serials of 27 planes each left Spanhoe to drop the troops of the British 4th Parachute Brigade on Drop Zone "Y," northwest of Arnhem. On this day, eleven aircraft were damaged and two were shot down before reaching the drop zone. Lt. Tucker's plane (34th Squadron) was hit and began burning 16 miles short of the target. All bailed out and four days later Tucker and his crew of Lt. D. O. Snowden, T/Sgt. W. W. Durbin, and S/Sgt. W. E. Hewett, returned having evaded capture. The paratroopers landed near Bennekon, Holland. Lt. Spurrier's plane, flying on the right wing of 43rd Squadron Commander, Lt. Col. Peterson, began burning near Herrogenlosch. We later learned that when the crew chief, Cpl. Russell Smith saw

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Spanhoe 1944 Preparing for Drop
the fire inside the front of the aircraft and when he received no response from the pilot's compartment on the intercom, he ordered the troops to jump and he and the radio operator followed, jumping at a very low altitude. They all landed near Opheusden, between the Waal and Rhine rivers. Lt. Spurrier was unconscious and unable to jump so Lt. Edward Fulmer, the copilot, saw an open field, and crash landed the airplane in an attempt to save Lt Spurrier. The plan's wing struck a power line tower, slid along the ground, and exploded in flames. Lt. Fulmer was able to escape through a side window. Lt. Spurrier and Cpl. Hollis, radio operator, died of their injuries. Cpl. Smith was hidden by the Dutch underground for several weeks and was later turned over to an American unit. He was immediately sent back to the U. S. because the policy was to transfer any airman who had come in contact with the underground to another theater.

I experienced a close call while dropping those British troops at Arnhem on September 18. I was leading a flight. There were two planes flying formation with me, one on each wing. As we approached the drop zone, we encountered heavy ground fire. Looking out either side of the plane you could see large black explosions, some seemed just inches from the wings of the airplane. As I began dropping the paratroopers, a shell came through the open door (the rear door was removed for drops) and hit one of the British paratroopers seriously injuring his left arm. The crew chief pulled him aside and all of the others jumped. As normal procedure, just as soon as all troops had cleared the plane, I dove for the deck to make us a more difficult target for the Germans. About this time the crew chief informed me that we had a wounded paratrooper in the back. I sent my copilot back to the rear of the airplane to administer first aid. He came back a short time later and, said that he couldn't do anything; the sight of blood made him sick. I was

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This One Didnt Make It
very upset and angry with him. After a few of my favorite curse words, I asked him sarcastically if he thought he could fly the airplane for a short time without getting sick. I gave the controls over telling him what heading and altitude to maintain, and I went
back to see if I could aid the injured man. This was the first opportunity I had to practice the first aid training given us in school. The poor guy was in shock, with his left arm hanging by a thin piece of skin almost completely severed at the elbow, and blood was squirting out of the blood vessels. With the help of other crew members, I tied a tourniquet around the upper arm to slow the bleeding, administered a shot of Novocain, bandaged to keep the arm together, treated him for shock, then went back to the cockpit and headed for home on the most direct route. I wish I had followed up on the outcome of this trooper's treatment, because it appeared to me that he would lose his arm. Our airplane was only hit by this one shell that entered through the open door.

The 315th was not scheduled on September, 19, and all Troop Carrier Wing missions were canceled because of poor flying weather. We did fly on D plus 4
even though the weather was very marginal with visibility down to less than two miles and cloud layers from 200 feet to 9000 feet. The precarious position of the British troops engaged in a fierce battle at Arnhem dictated the urgency of this mission. The troops to be airlifted were those of the Polish Parachute Brigade.

The first serial of 27 aircraft left Spanhoe at 1310 hours. Because of limited visibility, instructions were issued to assemble at 1500 feet, an altitude above the haze layer. This serial was composed of planes from the 43rd and 34th squadrons. The planes were never able to form so all but two returned to the base. Two pilots broke into the clear and tacked into a formation from the 314th group Troop Carrier Group.

The second 27 planes from the 309th and 310th squadrons (The 310th was the squadron to which I was assigned), led by Lt. Col. Stark began taking off from Spanhoe at 1427 hours. Two planes from this serial came back because of weather while the rest of us climbed through the overcast to above 10,000 feet, where we were able to assemble above the clouds. Looking back now I am

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310 Sqd. C-47 forming upover London
amazed that we didn't have more midair collisions than we did with that many airplanes climbing through the overcast to form on top. The formation remained at this altitude until over the Belgian coast where the clouds began to thin, and a gradual let down was begun. We descended to 1500 feet and made our way to Driel, some two miles southwest of Arnhem. The drop zone was reached at 1700 hours and we encountered considerable flak and a number of airplanes were hit, but, in spite of the flak, all planes dropped their loads of Polish troopers. The heavily burdened Polish troops took longer to clear the airplanes than was estimated. This
prevented the formation from turning as soon as planned, and as a result, when we did complete our turn, we were over the town of Elst and severe flak. As usual, we dove to get as close to the ground as possible to avoid the German flak. Five airplanes were shot down and several others landed at nearby air strips because of severe damage.

Lt. Col. Stark was hit in the chest by shell fragments. He felt certain that the flak vest he was wearing saved his life. A friend and fellow pilot of mine from the 310th, Lt. Kenneth Wakley was shot down in plane number 612. Lt. Bruce Borth, copilot, Lt. M. C. Beerman, navigator, T/Sgt. Magnus, crew chief, and S/Sgt. Carl Javorsky, radio operator, were killed as well as Lt. Wakely.

Approaching the DZ, another 310th pilot and friend, Lt. Cecil Dawkins, was
wounded in the face and head when his plane took two flak bursts. With one of the fuel tanks in port wing burning and flames sweeping down the left side of the fuselage, Lt. Dawkins moved his plane out of formation, dropped his troops, and then ordered his crew to bail out. Lt. Cleon Worley (Moose), one of my roommates, was flying copilot on this mission with Dawkins (At the last
minute the regular copilot became ill), so Moose volunteered to go in his place. Lt. Worley, (Moose as all of us called him) was an old timer having come up with the group of us from Italy and had been a first pilot and flight leader for some time, so it was most unusual for him to be a copilot. Moose along with Lt. J. R. Wilson, navigator, S/Sgt. W. O. White, crew chief, and S/Sgt. J. Ludwig landed safely and made their escape with the assistance of the Dutch civilians. None of these crew members ever saw Lt. Dawkins leave the stricken aircraft, and everybody assumed that he had died when the airplane crashed.

Several years after the war, in a letter to a friend, Dawkins provided information about his experience. He recalled that after he gave the order for the crew to bail out and as he was attempting to leave his seat, there was an explosion under the cockpit floor. When he regained consciousness, he was aware of being on the back of a German tank rolling down a blacktop road. At the first aid station where
his wounds were being attended, a German nurse who spoke English told him that a German tank crew pulled him from the river after his plane exploded and they saw him thrown into the water with no parachute. He was interrogated for several days, then sent to Stalag Luft One (Prisoner-of-War Camp) on the Baltic Sea. After two weeks in the camp, Dawkins and two others attempted to escape, one was caught by guard dogs, one was shot and killed, and only Dawkins was successful. He made contact with advancing Russians, where he stayed until a British unit was encountered during the last days of the war. I would think that Dawkins used up a lot of his luck on this mission. He was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by his country and the Order of the Bronze Lion by the Queen of the Netherlands.

Lt. Worley (Moose), Lt. Wilson, Sergeants, White and Ludwig, were back at Spanhoe in just a few days after they bailed out. They had been walking along a canal when they met a Dutch farmer carrying a machine gun walking behind a German Soldier who had surrendered. The Dutch farmer handed the weapon to Moose and wanted him to take charge of the prisoner. They were all taken to a member of the underground who made arrangements for them to be escorted to British-American lines. Soon after they were flown back to England to join their unit. They were debriefed and sent home to the states in a matter of a few days, because it was a policy to transfer people who had been shot down and escaped through the underground to another theater. This was done to protect members of the underground because if an escapee fell into the enemy hands, they might be made to tell what he knew about the underground.

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Near Munich May 1945 Carrying Ex POWs
Moose was flying back to the States on one of the scheduled transports which meant that he was limited to the amount of baggage he could carry, and also he would not be allowed to bring back the German machine gun that was taken from the prisoner. As a result I became the new owner of a gun that was known as a "Burp" gun. It was nicknamed "burp" because it would spit out about twenty rounds so fast that it sounded like one big burp. I was able to bring this machine gun home with me because I flew my own airplane back and customs were very kind to us. It was illegal to own such an automatic weapon unless it had been rendered inoperative in some manner. I traded the gun to Dr. Walter Borg, a close friend of mine in San Antonio in 1955 when I was transferred to the far east.

Another 310th plane piloted by Lt. Jacob Boon was struck by enemy fire after the Polish jumped and later crashed in the drop area. The copilot, crew chief, and
radio operator were all wounded, but Lt. Boon was able to crash land and get all of them out before the plane exploded. For this heroic act he was awarded the Silver Star,

Our squadron commander, Lt. Col. Hamby, landed at Brussels with a severely damaged aircraft rudder and two wounded men aboard Sergeants. Harold and Combetty. A count of holes in the airplane totaled 150.

Lt. O. J. Smith, 310th squadron, had his crew chief, Cpl Doan and radio operator Sgt. James wounded and bleeding profusely, so he sat down at Eindhoven to get immediate medical attention for them. This aircraft had a damaged rudder control and a total of 600 holes were counted.

Captain F. K. Stephenson's plane was riddled by flak and was burning as he skillfully crashed landed in a wooded area. Stephenson, along with his 309th crew of Lt. Garber, Lt. Arnold, T/Sgt. Berotti, and S/Sgt. Maxwell, escaped serious injury. C-47 no. 6132, another 309th plane, crewed by Lt. Biggs, Lt. Pearce, Lt. Yenner, T/Sgt. Abendschoen, and S/Sgt. Herbst, burst into flames when hit by flak and exploded as it crashed into the ground near Elst. All were killed.

A 43rd Squadron C-47, piloted by Lt. Cook received several hits while returning along the Brussels corridor. He lost all hydraulic pressure and most of his fuel, so he made an emergency landing at one of the Brussels airports. He narrowly missed crashing into several parked airplanes and finally came to rest against a hangar. The entire crew escaped uninjured

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Our Quarters Amiens France April 1945
I was lucky again, no serious hits to my airplane. There were a lot of empty beds in the quarters at Spanhoe that night. We would wait a while hoping for some good news before we packed and stored their personnel belongings. This was a very sad thing that we had to do from time to time, and worse were the letters that the chaplain and squadron commander had to write to the families. There were only three of us in the room now, my good friends Terry Colwell, Jason Rawls, and myself.

On D+six, Sept. 23, Lt. Col. Peterson, 43rd squadron commander, led 41 aircraft to transport the 560 Polish paratroopers and 219 parapacks that did not reach their objective on D+four. They arrived over the drop zone "O" at 1643 hours and experienced very little ground fire. All planes returned without damage.

A few days after the initial assault, a good grass landing field had been located two miles west of the town of Grave. With obstacles around the field removed, there were 4200 feet of usable landing area.

The 315th sent 72 planes led by Lt. Col Lyons to transport an antiaircraft battery and units of a Forward Delivery Airfield Group. In addition to men, the cargo consisted of jeeps, trailers, antiaircraft guns, ammunition, rations, gasoline, and motorcycles. We took off from Spanhoe at 1130 hours and were escorted by Mustangs and Spitfires all of the time we were over the continent. No enemy planes got through to strike the congested landing area. We were told that several German fighters tried to intercept us but were shot down by our escort.

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Bore, France Near Amiens April 1945
After landing, the transports were unloaded and sent off as rapidly as possible to make way for succeeding serials to land. Two hundred and nine C-47s landed at Grave between 1350 and 1740 hours and brought in 657,995 pounds of combat equipment plus 882 men. Occasional ground fire was encountered on approaches and return routes, but no 315th airplanes failed to return from this airborne landing mission. As soon as an airplane landed, all crew members regardless of rank jumped in to assist with the unloading for nobody wanted to be on the ground any longer than necessary.

The constant pressure of the German forces caused the Arnhem position to be abandoned by the British on the night of September 25. An estimated 1130 British and Polish Airborne troops were killed on operation MARKET GARDEN and another 6200 were captured.

Approximately 3500 men from the American 82nd and 101st Divisions were listed as killed, wounded, or missing. All objectives but the bridge at Arnhem had been achieved, but without that key bridge over the Rhine river, the operation had failed. All troops, both Airborne and Troop Carrier had done all they could do, but in the end, it was not enough. Who was to blame for this failed mission was anybody's guess. I suspect that there was enough blame to go around and then some. The flying, the fighting, the dying was mostly done by the very young, 18 to 25 year old men who just obeyed orders from their superiors without question. Wars must be fought by the young who are immature, naive, and adventuresome.

The rest of Quesada's Crashed P-38 story (below right)

November 1, 1958 Elwood Quesada took oath as
FAA first Administrator

In 1958 Jet travel was upon us. A severe midair collision over the Grand Canyon in 1956 spurred congress to pass the Federal Aviation Act created the FAA as an independent administration. National Airlines using a B-707 leased from Pan American flew the first New York to Miami jet passenger flight, The Federal Aviation Agency became the Federal Aviation Administration. General Quesada became it's first administrator - the P-38 wasn't mentioned in the ceremony.

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General Qusadas' P-38 French Riviera 1945

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Near Amiens A C-54 1 Day After VE day Leaving forTrinidad

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Spanhoe April 1945 Preparing for Drop

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Spanhoe England Dec 1944

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Clift Adams and Jayson Rawls

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Spanoe England C-47 Formation Dec 1945

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Flying over the Eiffel Tower 1945

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Larry Bassett Jr., Aubrey Ross (the author) and Terry Colwell

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Terry Colwell My Navigator
The C-47 in the background is the remains of an airplane that was damaged very badly when it was being loaded for the D-Day drop. A paratrooper dropped a hand grenade as he climbed aboard killing several troops and injuring several others. The troops that were not injured climbed aboard other aircraft and made the drop. The airplane was so badly damaged that it declared a total loss and the fuselage you see in the picture was used for ditching practice.

Photographs by Aubrey Ross

More or Market Garden right here in Kilroy Was Here:

The Sergeant Who Captured a Division ....... Click Here
The largest airborne operation in history? (a quiz) ........ Click Here
Operation Market Garden (Dutch site translated) ........ Click Here
PFC Joe Mann (Medal of Honor winner at Market Garden)........Click Here
Hall of Heroes (PFC Alfred Nigl) Glider unit at Market Garden) ........ Click Here
Kilroy is Here at C-47 that was there too and still flying........ Click Here

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