depicting an American World War II paratroop paused beside the
C-47 Tico Bell.
A celebrated trait of the American
military is the ability to improvise in a pinch; if doctrine is good,
decisiveness is better. Four veterans who participated in the Normandy
invasion in C-47 Skytrain transport versions of the DC-3 gathered at the
Warbirds area and talked about the fog of war on Tuesday.
The fifth veteran in the Warbirds in
Review presentation was the looming C-47 nicknamed Tico Belle, operated
by Florida’s Valiant Air Command. It’s a 437th Troop Carrier Group
survivor of two round trips over Normandy, followed by Operation Varsity
to deposit troops on the German side of the Rhine River later in the
war. Also a Cold War vet, this aircraft flew in the Berlin Airlift. Tico
Belle still carries a few patches from shrapnel.
The Douglas C-47, a logical segue from
the successful DC-3 airliner, served by the thousands around the world.
C-47s traded cushioned passenger seats for utilitarian aluminum benches
with shallow depressions pressed in. Paratroopers sat with their backs
against the fuselage sides, until standing to walk to the rear of the
aircraft where they jumped from an open door in the left side of the
fuselage. Cables inside the fuselage held clips attached to a web static
line on each man’s parachute, automatically jerking the parachute open
as the jumper fell a safe distance behind and below the aircraft.
In World War II, C-47s brought the Army
Air Forces into the world of airlift in a meaningful way, carrying
troops and cargo and towing gliders. In the first 50 hours of Normandy,
C-47s were credited with delivering more than 60,000 paratroops and
their gear into the fray.
The C-47 has a wingspan of 95 feet, 6 inches, a length of 63 feet, 9
inches, and the ability to carry up to 27 troops, although heavily laden
jumpers over Normandy might number fewer than 20 per plane.
One aspect not often considered is the
need to get adequate supplies and equipment on the ground with the first
paratroops to sustain initial combat until a logistics supply line can
be established. For Normandy, some C-47s carried bundles beneath the
wing center section, to be airdropped as the troops departed.
Additionally, remembered 101st Airborne Division veteran Edward D.
Shames, the jumpers carried extra ammunition and supplies that they shed
as soon as they hit the ground. Someone—hopefully friendly—would
pick up the material and use it.
Shames, who jumped over Normandy as an
enlisted man and subsequently earned the first battlefield commission
there, told his AirVenture 2010 listeners he got rid of another piece of
baggage as soon as he hit the ground—his parachute wasn’t one of the
dark olive canopies; it was stark white and collected all the light the
night could muster.
Another piece of pragmatic, if macabre,
gear the men carried was a G.I. mattress cover wrapped around them,
Shames said. This was to serve as their own makeshift body bag if they
In Shames’ C-47, he was instructed to
be the last to jump, assisting to ensure all the others cleared the
airplane. The man ahead of him, carrying a mortar strapped to his body,
stumbled in the aircraft and fell. By the time Shames helped him to his
feet and out the door, the C-47 had traveled miles beyond the intended
Shames’ outfit fought well into France,
finally earning a three-day pass to Paris in December 1944. On trucks
bound for the City of Light, and equipped with cash and beverages,
Shames and his men were halted about 10 miles from the town of Reims by
a captain who said they must turn back. Unknown to them at that moment,
they were desperately needed to stem a German counterattack at Bastogne,
a town they had never heard of, Shames recalled. They hastily re-armed,
some of the men having turned their rifles in for repairs, and headed
At an intersection of seven roads, Shames
and his troops encountered what he described as thousands of friendly
forces withdrawing, shedding gear as they moved away from the battle.
“We picked up a lot of equipment, ammunition,” he said. Which was
vital when they reached Bastogne, which they held for 29 days against
odds a gambler would shun.
Following the Warbirds in Review event,
the veterans—men and machine—were affectionately surrounded by the