Sunday, October 28, 2018

A Memorable Flight in a CAF Warbird – The C-47A Skytrain Military Transport

Today together with my wife, I had the unique and significant opportunity for a birthday gift flight in a restored Douglas C-47A Skytrain Military Transport belonging to the Commemorative Air Force. In the specific configuration used in the dropping of paratroops 380 aircraft were built and designated the C-53 Skytrooper. Production of the C-53 was ended due to the greater versatility of the C-47A, and both aircraft configurations were used for paratroop and glider operations. As most of you already know the C-47A, only slightly modified from the highly successful DC-3 commercial airliner, was by far and away the singularly most produced Allied military transport, paratroop carrier and glider tug of World War II. 

Starting with production in October 1941, over 10,000 were built by Douglas Aircraft Company at facilities in Long Beach and Santa Monica, California and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, during the course of the war. Also flow by the RAF, where it was designated as the Dakota. Among others, including the Willy’s Jeep, and the .30cal Garand Rifle, it’s considered one of the United States’ greatest industrial contributions to the winning of World War II.

The specific aircraft we flew in began life at the Douglas plant in Long Beach, California in 1942, with the designated tail serial of 42-23518 (shortened to 223518), and was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Corps on April 19, 1943. Its construction number is 9380. This is personally noteworthy to the author who worked at the same plant location for then McDonnell-Douglas Corporation, as a systems engineering/threat analysis manager and advanced development engineer from 1987 to 1997, on the P9D, a proposed replacement for the Lockheed P-3 series Orion ASW patrol aircraft, and the C-17A Globemaster III military transport, when I retired.

A photograph contrasting the C-47A Skytrain and the C-17A Globemaster III in flight together.

A photograph of one of the three C-47A production lines, this specific line in Oklahoma City was capable of producing 13 aircraft a day.

The following are the specifications for the Douglas C-47A Skytrain Transport:

The Douglas C-47 Skytrain is an all-metal, twin-engine, low-wing monoplane transport with retractable landing gear. It was operated by a minimum flight crew of two pilots, a navigator and a radio operator. The airplane’s control surfaces are covered with doped-fabric. The primary differences between the civil DC-3 and military C-47 airframes was the addition of a cargo door on the left side of the fuselage and a strengthened floor in the cabin.

The C-47 is 64 feet, 5½ inches (19.647 meters) long with a wingspan of 95 feet (28.956 meters) and height of 17 feet (5.182 meters). Empty weight of the C-47A is 17,257 pounds (7,828 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 29,300 pounds (13,290 kilograms).

The C-47A was powered by two 1,829.39-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) air-cooled, supercharged R-1830-92 (Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1C3-G) two-row 14-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. These were rated at 1,060 horsepower at 2,550, up to 7,500 feet (2,286 meters), maximum continuous power, and 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. at Sea Level for takeoff. Each engine drives a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed full-feathering propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters) through a 16:9 gear reduction. The R-1830-92 is 48.19 inches (1.224 meters) long, 61.67 inches (1.566 meters) in diameter, and weighs 1,465 pounds (665 kilograms).

The C-47 has a cruising speed of 185 miles per hour (298 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and service ceiling of 24,100 feet (7,346 meters).

The C-47 could carry 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms) of cargo, or 28 fully-equipped paratroopers. Alternatively, 14 patients on stretchers could be carried, along with three attendants, or as a glider tug for either the Waco CG-4A or Airspeed AS-51 Horsa Assault Glider, Mk I/II.

Although not directly associated with this flight, below is a copy of a photograph given to the author by Harry Gann when we were both working at McDonnell-Douglas in Long Beach. For those who may not know, Harry was a renowned design engineer on several of the Douglas programs, not the least of which was the U.S. Navy A-4 Skyhawk attack bomber. His main claim to fame however, was being an aircraft historian and aviation photographer. This is one of his photos (note absence of any US Army Signal Corps, or other, attribution markings) of a formation of C-47As towing Waco CG-4A gliders in the 1942-1943 time-frame. Given the background it's probably near Oklahoma City, although there is an outside chance that it could be near Troy, Ohio, the main plant for Waco production. These aircraft are of very early WWII production, the tail serial of the nearest plane being 118385.

Of the current inventory of 170 aircraft comprising the Commemorative Air Force, “Old Number 30”(attributed to classic railroad steam engine numbers) by far and away holds the record as a true combat veteran, having officially logged over 2500 actual combat hours. Its total number of combat flying hours are a bit cloudy due to the fact that for a period during WWII it flew classified missions for the OSS. It served with the US Army in North Africa and Italy in World War II. It entered the civil register as American Air Express NC53426 on June 10, 1947 and has had many operators over the years. ADA Industrial Building Corporation reregistered it as N53ST on May 4, 1980. The American Airpower Heritage Flying Museum acquired it on May 28, 1915 and registered it as N147AZ on February 5, 2016.

The following are photographs of the actual aircraft at Falcon Field, Mesa, Arizona, the Arizona base and museum of the Commemorative Air Force, and at a fly-in at Luke AFB, Arizona. A sharp eye will discern an apparent temporary inconsistency in tail numbers, subsequently corrected.

Obviously while committed to all theatres of WWII, the C-47A had a major, if not predominant role in Operation Market Garden, as both a paratroop carrier, glider tug and resupply aircraft, under IX Troop Carrier Command. Combined with Stirling/Horsa, Halifax/Hamilcar, Halifax/Horsa tug and glider combinations flown by the Glider Pilot Regiment, there were a total of 1,438 C-47/Dakota Troop Transports of which 131 C-47A Dakotas, towed Horsa gliders, all in the initial lift of the airborne assault. The 20,000 troops comprising the first lift were flown in 1,545 aircraft and 478 gliders. Of these, 1,049 C-47s dropped paratroops. Of the C-47s committed to Operation Market, over 100 pilots and aircrew were killed in the 144 transport aircraft which were lost.

For those, like myself, who might be interested in a more detailed account of the C-47As and other aircraft participating in Operation Market Garden, I'm indebted to "Carronade" on the WWIIFORUMS. Sincere thanks for the following data.

"On Day 1 there were 1,545 transport aircraft and glider tugs.
1,049 C-47s dropped paratroops:
145 - 1 Airborne Brigade, 1 Airborne Division personnel including men of the airborne reconnaissance squadron
480 - 82nd Airborne Division including all 3 Parachute Infantry Regiments (117 planes each) and a parachute artillery battalion (48)
424 - 101 Airborne Division including all 3 PIRs.

There were 478 gliders, some towed by C-47s, many of the British gliders were towed by converted Stirling or Albemarle bombers:
320 - 1 Air Landing Brigade (one battalion, 2 South Staffordshire, was only able to land 2 companies and bn headquarters on the first day), vehicles, guns, and equipment for the division and 1 A/B Bde, vehicles (mainly jeeps) for the a/b recon squadron.
32 - vehicles and equipment for 82nd Airborne and the PIRs (4 gliders each with jeeps and equipment).
38 - I Airborne Corps Headquarters, landed in 82nd sector. Many people including myself think this was unnecessary, since corps HQ had little to do while each division was operating on its own. The gliders could have been used to bring in more combat troops like the remainder of 2 South Staffs.
50 - 101st Airborne vehicles and equipment including PIRs (4 each) and most of a parachute artillery battalion (the 101st had parachuted artillery at night for D-Day in Normandy but the troops, guns, and vehicles were widely scattered, so they chose to land them by glider for M-G. As it turned out the daylight artillery drop for the 82nd went smoothly).

12 Stirlings and 6 C-47s dropped pathfinders.

For Day 2 ABTF give 1,336 C-47s and 340 bombers of which 1,205 were towing gliders. Unfortunately I have mislaid some of my information, but this included 126 planes dropping 4 Airborne Brigade in the British sector and an unspecified number, probably 12-20, dropping one parachute artillery battery to fill out the battalion in the 101st. A further 252 B-24s dropped cargo canisters.

It had been intended to land all remaining elelments by the third day, but as you probably know the weather caused operations to be spread out over several days. The only remaining parachute unit was the Polish brigade, which used 114 C-47s plus 46 gliders for vehicles and equipment.

Landing the airborne forces took approximately 1,300 planeloads of paratroops and air-dropped artillery and 2,500 gliders; I don't have figures for supply drops.

It's sometimes speculated that M-G would have benefitted from making two flights on the first day. This would probably not be possible for gliders, but it might be for paratroops. British and American paratroops, including 4 A/B Brigade, used a total of 1,175 planes. These could have been delivered by say 644 planes of which 531 would have to fly a second mission to the same drop zones as the first. This would free up about 405 planes to tow additional gliders, mainly for American glider troops. This in turn would allow some 500 plane/glider loads to come in on Day 2 which historically were delayed until Day 3 or later."

A restored British C-47A Dakota in late WWII European Theatre camouflage color scheme and invasion stripes. This is the standard color scheme of the aircraft that flew in Operation Market-Garden, with both RAF and USAAF insignia.

A brief set of comparative images of the cockpit and cargo/passenger compartment of a C-47A and a C-17A. First the C-47A:

And then the C-17A:

Quite an amazing contrast in time and technology!

One of the most intriguing parts of its operational history, paralleling the level of secrecy accompanying that of Calcutta Light Horse WWII action (See; “Creek Force” with the SOE at Mamagoa, then Portuguese Goa. This was a record setting of clandestine rescue missions conducted in Yugoslavia by the OSS in August thru December 1944, which was so politically sensitive (to Allies and enemy alike) that it remained classified well after the war. Only in 1997 (after 53 years) was the operation declassified.

Known as Operation Halyard, it was the rescue of 512 U.S. and 22 Allied downed pilots and aircrew-men from within the interior of German occupied Yugoslavia. Largely unknown and forgotten by historians, the complete operation is chronicled in a book entitled, The Forgotten 500, Freeman, Gregory A., Penguin Random House, New York, 2007 (ISBN: 978-0-451-22212-1).

Without getting into details, “Old Number 30” was the fourth aircraft in the initial flight of four C-47A aircraft to land on a literally hand-hewn improvised runway amongst the dense forests around the village of Pranjane, Central Yugoslavia, in the dead of night at 2200 (10 PM) August 9, 1944. Minimum runway length of 700 ft. was required for a trained, competent, military pilot. The first plane had to abort its first attempt to land, and the second plane used the absolute entire length of runway, only stopping at the very end of the field.

Subsequent flights would continue to the last one on December 27, 1944. Of the total 512 airmen flown out of Yugoslavia, 345 were Americans, four British, four French, seven Italian, and 12 Russians were flown out between August 9 and September 1, 1944. Another 167 Americans were rescued before the operation ended.

The half hour flight over the rocky and desert area around the metropolitan Phoenix area at 1000 ft. altitude could well have been reminiscent of some of the aircraft’s early flights over the terrain of North Africa. Depending on factors including surface wind, terrain, flak and small arms fire density, WWII combat jumps were made in the range of 800 (most common) to 1500 ft., with some jumps made as low as 300 ft. Although painted in the desert camouflage of the USAAF, the interior was still appointed in the luxuries of a 1950s corporate executive aircraft, in which it had served post-war for the Hoover Vacuum Cleaner Company. Consequently, no need for flight jackets or ear protectors. All in all, a most appropriate, memorable and enjoyable birthday present.

The following images are of a C-47A interior restored to correct WWII combat paratrooper configuration (which is what I had more or less expected), and then our accommodations.

 With full acknowledgment and gratitude to Ed Whisenant, the following is a short video of the actual aircraft we flew in, flying from the same air field.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

An Addendum to the Abridged Field Guide to Regimental Ties

Although there may be limited redundancy with the ties depicted in the original guide; , this author has observed sufficient additional regimental ties at additional other sources meriting this addendum.

With both acknowledgement and gratitude expressed to the Ben Silver Collection of Charleston, South Carolina, those ties are presented herein.  All still being available from that establishment, however like all endangered species, their value has jumped significantly.  One of particular personal interest is that of the Calcutta Light Horse Regiment ( ).

Readers with the sharp eye of a Regimental Sergeant Major or Quartermaster Sergeant Major will note a few typographical errors in the names. The Queen’s Bays (2nd Dragoon Guards), Royal Tank Regiment, and Royal Army Pay Corps are examples.

Plate 1

Plate 2

Plate 3

Plate 4

Plate 5

Plate 6

Plate 7

Plate 8

Plate 9

Plate 10

Plate 11

This additional segment of regimental ties comes from The Regimental Shop in Great Britain to whom this author expresses both acknowledgement and gratitude. With apologies, again there may be a few cases of redundancy with previously presented ties.

Plate 12

Plate 13

Plate 14

Plate 15

Thursday, June 28, 2018

WWI Royal Naval Division Cap Badges – A Continuing Saga

It never ceases to amaze of the continuing interest in the cap badges of the WWI Royal Naval Division, and the resultant efforts to exploit that interest by unscrupulous individuals with varying quality fraudulent examples. Given that this author has fortunately never acquired any interest in this specific area of badge collecting, I can hopefully maintain a complete objectivity in presenting the on-going efforts to defraud my fellow collectors. Previously this blog has presented a series of articles which the reader can refer to on the subject;

Readers should feel free to copy images contained in these articles for their future reference, and in order to make side-by-side comparisons to badges shown in this article. In order to facilitate that process, each of the six dubious battalion badges is followed by an enlarged image of a known genuine badge (red cloth background). See how many specific discernible differences you can identify. Some of the cited differences are quite subtle, truly necessitating a forensic examination. (All images can be enlarged with a mouse click).

Two additional parameters which unfortunately cannot be accurately presented in this article are the differences in the color and weight/gauge of the brass. Obviously this can only be achieved by handling an established genuine badge.

The following is the most recent endeavor known to this author, which was recently presented and discussed in the British and Commonwealth Military Badge Forum. The collection is extremely well presented in a very tasteful display, however quickly assessed by members of that forum as comprehensively fraudulent. Concurring in that evaluation is a member of the forum, acknowledged as an expert, John “Paddy” Newell. Among other things it was specifically cited that the Hood and Drake badges have sliders, which is totally incorrect.

With both acknowledgement and gratitude to "Lanners55"(Simon), John Newell, as well as the other members of the Forum, the following images are provided. It’s a jungle out there, CAVEAT EMPTOR!

It should be noted that the pandemic of fraudulent cap badges, particularly in the United Kingdom has spread from e-Bay to some of the less than discerning, i.e., vigilant, auction houses. Here is a recent pronouncement (8 July 2018) from one of the other members of the Forum;  "Looks like the Faker/Dealer who filled the Woodbridge Auction room with garbage has also decided to pollute Norfolk with his Fake rubbish. A certain Beeston establishment has also been flooded with fake rubbish. The rare unofficial Winged Royal armoured corps badge is here again as is a terrible RNAS officers cap badge and the usual Goldfish club badge, RFC wings ,Fake ww1 soft caps, MMG collars etc. For our German militaria collecting friends there is the whole spectrum of fake rubbish, badges, medals, flags, armbands all guaranteed 100% duff. It would seem from the range of crap that just a couple of seriously dubious dealers and less than careful auction houses are ruining the militaria auction scene and no doubt costing a lot of collectors a small fortune and serious grief when they finally realise they are buying garbage. CAVEAT EMPTOR. Looks like its spreading Brighton and Martlesham!!!!" Truly unfortunate!


NELSON Bn. differences
   • Tilt of “S” in "NELSON"
   • Width/shape of font in "NELSON"
   • Ripples in sails
   • Planks/hosepipes shape and positions
   • Shape of hull (difference in beam)
   • Heads of griffins in scroll


HOOD Bn. differences
   • Bird’s eye and beak
   • Shape of wing feathers
   • Ends of anchor stock
   • Strand of rope just below bird and anchor
   • Spacing and shape of letters in “STEADY”


DRAKE Bn. differences
   • Shape of crown
   • Definition of letters in “DRAKE”
   • Shape/proportions of ship’s sails
   • Ship’s hull
   • Rigging lines
   • Lat./Long. Lines in globe
   • Division between words “AUXILIO DIVINO”


ANSON Bn. differences
   • Shape of spear point
   • Irregular “NIL” lettering
   • Flat top surface in “ANSON”
   • Regularity in lines defining inside back of crown
   • Regularity of upper rope-like ring of crown


HOWE Bn. differences
   •Absence of voiding between hulls and sails
   • Flat vs ribbed surface of sails
   • Flat top surface in “HOWE”


HAWKE Bn. differences
   • Shape of bird’s head/neck
   • Shape and proportions of bird's wings
   • Lettering of word “STRIKE”
   • Talons of the bird
    Detail in bird’s tail feathers