Eyewitness to History

World War II
IX Troop Carrier Command
By George "Pete" Buckley
These stories are not copyrighted unless noted but we request anyone using them for other than personal use to credit the author and the museum.

The IX Troop Carrier Command was constituted on the 11th of October 1943, and activated on the 16th of October 1943 in England, where it was assigned to the 9th Air Force. It was comprised of the 50th, 52nd, and 53rd Troop Carrier Wings. Its first commanding officer was BG Benjamin F. Giles who served from October 1943 to February 1944. He was succeeded by MG Paul L. Williams who served from February 1944 to March 1946.

The original cadre came from Headquarters 1st Troop Carrier Command (six officers only) and the 315th Troop Carrier Group. Its first temporary station was at USAAF #489 at Cottesmore, England, and on October I, 1943 it was joined by the 434th TC Group. At this time both the 315th and the 434th were assigned to the 50th TC Wing. Twelve airfields were assigned to the IX TC Command with each field to have forty gliders and tow planes. The fields were; Fulbeck, Langer, Bottesford, Wakerley, Balderton, North Witham, Barkston Heath, Cottesmore, North Luffenham, Saltby, Folkingham, and Woolfox Lodge.

In November 1943, the 435th TC Group and Welford Air Base were assigned to the 50th TC Wing, and IX TC Command Headquarters were moved to Grantham. Ramsbury, Aldermaston, and Greenham Cormmons also became available as landing areas for tactical training with the 101st Airborne Division.

In February 1944 the IX TC Command Pathfinder Group (Provisional) was formed at Cottes more under the command of Lt Col Joel E Crouch. Also in February, the 440th and 439th TC Groups were assigned to the 50th Wing.

In the ETO, the Logistic and Support units that backed up the IX TC Command were:

U.S. Army Service Command
9th A/B Aviation Engineer Btn.
9th Air Force Service Command
8th Air Force Service Command
Air Transport Operation Room
Troop Carrier Command Service
2nd Quartermaster Mobile Btn.
490th Quartermaster Depot Co.

Without these major support units and their auxiliary units, IX Troop Carrier Command and Airborne Services would not have been able to fulfill their assigned tasks.

In 1944, IX Troop Carrier Command became an important component of the First Allied Airborne Army, under the direct jurisdiction of Lt. General Lewis Brereton.

Few people at that time (and even today) are aware of the crucial role that Troop Carrier Forces played in WW II. Troop Carrier crews and glider pilots often flew sorties in their unarmed planes and gliders deep into enemy territory, under 1,000 feet, to deliver men and equipment to targets that were usually defended by enemy troops. This was accomplished through heavy flak and small arms fire, with standing orders not to take evasive action. Glider Pilots, after landing, fought with the Airborne troops to clear the enemy from landing and drop zones Theirs was a dual job pilots in the air, infantry on the ground.

The combined efforts of Troop Carrier forces in Europe and in the Pacific contributed greatly to the eventual collapse of the Axis powers in WW II. Some of these TC Groups are still flying actively today as Military Airlift Wings.

At a meeting between Generals Arnold, Spatz, Bradley, and Major General Paul Williams in April of 1944, General Bradley told General Williams that his armies could not have maintained their rapid advance across France without the supplies laid down by Troop Carrier Command.

Pass in Review

Most WW II Airborne veterans and Troop Carrier veterans have long ago hashed over the Normandy D-Day flights—but not all. There is still some lively discussion.

There are a few left who haven't satisfied themselves—enough that portions of a letter that Col. Joe Harkiewicz wrote to his squadron mates in 2001 are included here. Col. Harkiewicz served as the historian for the 29th Troop Carrier Squadron for many years before he passed away. He was an avid historian, and was extremely impatient with the unprofessional behavior of today's Commercial "Pop" historians."

At any rate, here are some passing thoughts from his notes:

"It is prudent to remind everyone that IX Troop Carrier Command had no voice in selecting the invasion date, or any choice in the kind of weather we were ordered to fly in. We assembled and took off as ordered, and flew the mission as best we could under the conditions we faced. And most surprising of all, there was no contingency plan from SHAEF for coping with the marginal weather.

Speed for Real

"There are also reports in the "pop histories" about the speed of some of the aircraft during the drops. These reports claim witness to odd altitudes and excessive speeds over the drop zones. In the ways of war, some of this may have happened, but from USAAF archives, and from readily available airborne records, it appears far from the norm.

Most Troop Carrier veterans who read the "pop histories," or who watch the "pop TV" reports, are skeptical of these claims—simply because there is no viable way for anyone in the back of a dark C-47 to read its altitude and airspeed. Not even experienced crew chiefs and radio operators could do that. It is even more difficult from the ground."

The Illusion of Speed

"This is tricky, not easy—but here is why some paratroopers may have thought their C-47 gained speed as it approached the drop zone. There are two main power settings for a C-47—the manifold pressure (a measure of the power that propels the airplane through the air)—and the revolutions per minute of the engines. And adjusting these together was a technique used during every landing to slow the airplane down before touchdown. When some C-47 pilots wanted to reduce power and slow down to lose altitude quickly during a paradrop, they reduced the manifold pressure (the driving power), and then increased the revolutions to about 2300. The windmilling effect of this faster rpm acted as an air brake. Most of us have had a plastic toy windmill blade on a stick that we waved around or held out of a car window to make it turn. The principle is the same. The airflow required to keep the plastic blade turning without applying driving power to it acted as a brake, while the toy turned faster and whizzed louder.

So it was with the engines. Our formations were briefed to fly over the coast at 1,500 ft. to stay above small arms fire—and then to descended to 700 ft. for the paradrop. The pilots reduced the manifold pressure and started to slow down—although the sound of the advancing revolutions could have been misleading. This sounded like more power, but it was just more noise that led some paratroopers to think the speed was increasing when actually it was decreasing.

Also, upon reaching drop altitude, an increase in power (throttle) was usually applied to hold and maintain drop altitude and speed. This had to be done very carefully to keep the airplanes slow and level, without flaps, and without raising the nose. At slower speeds (drop speed) it's much harder to control a C-47. It can be a fight to just hold it straight and level while being buffeted by prop Wash. This could have caused some paratroopers to believe the pilots were increasing their airspeed."

The Plus Side

"For almost every 'pop history' story that might benefit from further checking, Troop Carrier aircrews can document incidents where pilots made multiple passes at the DZs, or held burning aircraft straight and level while the troopers jumped. Several of these reports of dedication and heroism that troop carriers remember with pride, are fully supported in this publication."

The "200 mph C-47"

"In a recent (2001) History Channel report, it was claimed that a unit of the 101st Airborne Division was flown across the drop zone in a C-47 at 200 mph. This bears checking into; most C-47s just won't go that fast in level flight. This might have happened if the pilots were incapacitated (dead/wounded) and no longer in control, and the aircraft was in a power dive. There could have been such cases."

Scattering

"The Troop Carrier delivery formation of nine aircraft, V of V's like a flock of geese, was designed to put the aircraft in the closest proximity to each other and still avoid turbulence from the preceding aircraft. This is called a serial, and the only way to drop paratroopers close together is for the aircraft to fly close together and release them at nearly the same time. On D-Day when the aircraft suddenly found themselves in the clouds, the integrity of much of the formation was lost. This, not bad navigation, is the reason for some paratroopers being scattered around the Cherbourg Peninsula. It was not lack of training in night formation, or in combat experience. And the many stories of flight crews making return passes over their DZs to drop their troops must be weighed against any conjecture of cowardice among the flight crews.

Trying to orient oneself after coming out of the clouds was all but impossible. Pilotage (navigating by visual means) depends upon following landmarks, one connecting to the other. Ground vision was lost while in the clouds, thus disrupting this continuity. The darkness of night, the blackout conditions on the ground, the loss of night vision (compromised by explosions from enemy fire), and the lack of functioning radio-radar aids, made things even harder.

Purely and simply, once the formation went into the clouds, some pilots lost their way. Re-establishing themselves accurately was next to impossible, and the scattering of paratroopers was inevitable. Even today, with the most modern equipment, military paratroopers still need visual flying conditions if they are to drop their troops together."

Jostling

"Much has been said over the years by the observers and "pop historians" about dodging flak and small arms fire—and this needs to be addressed.

» "Once you see the explosion of an anti-aircraft shell (flak), it has done its potential damage, and there is no further use in trying to avoid it.
» If there was any dodging, it most likely occurred when trying to get out of a lock-on by German searchlights. The odds for survival in this situation were very low.
» Jostling the paratroopers could have been caused by nearby flak explosions, turbulence from prop wash caused by the disrupted formations, and/or abrupt maneuvering control to avoid other aircraft.
» Panic was possible, but there has been very little of this documented—either among the aircrew or among the paratroopers. That is what one would expect of Americans."

IX Troop Carrier Commands Final
and Finest Efforts

In the closing days of war in Europe, in April of 1945 Troop carrier planes flew a total of 16,387 sorties, many of them in the face of enemy flak and small arms fire. By April 20th, Troop Carrier Command had used 240 airfields Cherbourg to Leipsig for these sorties.

The first 20 days of April 1945, saw 35,962 wounded evacuated from forward battle areas by Troop Carrier Crews. For the First Time in History, general hospitals were able to stay up to 300.miles in the rear because of the speed and efficiency of the Air Corps in evacuating casualties. The most serious cases were flown directly to England.

In the same time span, IX Carrier planes during the German Campaign delivered 44,212,200 tons of freight, and 7,727,075 gallons of gasoline to our rapidly movlllg ground forces. On April 4th alone, they deliveied to the front more tonnage in thls slngle day than fhe entire tonnage for the first 3 months of 1945. From the airstrips all over Germany, they flew 451000 American, British, French Russians, Poles and Italians released prisoners of war back from the areas of their captivity in Germany. This was truly a monumental effort and successful accomplishment on the part of all those C-47 Squadrons and their supporting ground crews—and all of this activity at this point In time surpassed the activities of both the Eighth and in the Ninth Air Forces.

On the 9th of April 1945, one of Troop Carriers smoothest operations of the war was demonstrated in and around the town of Crailsheim, in Germany, A US Armored spearhead, Combat Command A, of the lOth Armored Division had advanced so far and so fast, that they were pinched off and surrounded by units of an Alpine Regiment, and a German battalion of SS training units.

Short of gasoline and ammunition, the Americans sent out an urgent SOS for aid. Twenty two supply trucks rounded up from the VI Corps that attempted to break through to them were destroyed by a determined and desperate enemy intent on wiping out thls just as a determined American group. At this point, Troop Carrier seemed to be the only answer.

Thirty four C-47s loaded with 160,00 Ibs of gasoline, 37,865 Ibs of ammunitions and 5,400 Ibs of K-rations of the 441st Group took off from Dreux, France. They hedgehopped and flew on the deck through heavy flak and small arms fire and landed in a small cow pasture just outside of Crailsheim. The enemy, only 1,500 yards away, kept the field under consent shellfire-destroyed one plane.

One other plane was lost on the way in (hitting a hill due to fog.) The remaining aircraft with 42 wounded on board made some very heavy take-offs and arrived back at base with four planes having major damage due to enemy fire.

The next day the same thing with 16 C-47s. As a direct result of this Air Corps effort by the 441st Group, the beleaguered armored unit was able to fight its way out of the pocket with over 2,O00 prisoners. This only a small part of the overall picture of Troop Carriers at the end of the war, and the time after the War.

With the ground transportation in such bad shape due to our Air Corps success in destroying it, the only way of getting around was by Air, and the ever faithful C-47.