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Invaders: The Story of the 50th Troop Carrier Wing
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[Invaders: The Story of the 50th Troop Carrier Wing]
"Invaders: The Story of the 50th Troop Carrier Wing" is a small booklet covering the history of the 50th Troop Carrier Wing. This booklet is one of the series of G.I. Stories published by the Stars & Stripes in Paris in 1944-1945.

This is one of a series of G.I. Stories of the Ground, Air and Service Forces in the European Theater of Operations, issued by the Stars and Stripes, a publication of the Information and Education Division, Special and Information Services ETOUSA... Brigadier General Julian M. Chappell, commanding the 50th Troop Carrier Wing, lent his cooperation to the preparation of the pamphlet, and basic material was supplied to the editors by his staff.

he development of Troop Carrier from a novel scheme on paper to a significant factor in Allied strategy has been in no small measure the story of the 50th Wing. The growth from a unit with but a score of non-descript aircraft to the highly-skilled, tactically-important legions of our present organization has been achieved only through the constant effort and perseverance of every man of this command—pilot or clerk, airplane mechanic or cook's helper. All are part of the team which has delivered troops and supplies defiant of flak and weather—when and where it hurt the enemy most. No matter what commitments, the future may bring, the slogan of the Fightin' Fiftieth will stand. "It will be flown by us!"

Julian M. Chappell
Brigadier General, Commanding


ORMANDY, June 6, 1944: when Serial Leader Col. Charles H. Young flipped the switch to give the green light to the 50th Wing's first paratrooper over the target north of Carentan—hours before the seaborne invasion began—he brought to culmination long months of preparation. Months of getting men and machines ready for the job ahead, months of maneuvers in the States and in England, months of endless planning, training, waiting, now were going to pay off.

Detailed plans had been laid, altered, checked and rechecked. Here, finally, was the test: to spearhead the Allied drive into the Nazis' "invasion-proof" Fortress Europe.

Shortly before midnight, D minus 1, the Wing's 200-odd C-47s waited close-packed on the longest runways of their south England bases, engines idling impatiently.

At last, zero hour. The first Skytrain, marked like the others with alternate white and black invasion stripes, loaded to capacity with smudge-faced Airborne troops bent with equipment, struggled off the runway and circled slowly as the others joined the formation.

The flight turned, outlined against the full moon, and disappeared into the cloudless night as Lt. Vincent J. Paterno, Lyndhurst, N.J., and fellow navigators took over, computing ground speeds and drift, looking eagerly ahead for check-points. Wingmen saw their first hostile fire when German batteries on the Channel Islands poured streams of tracer fire in a vain effort to reach the Troop Carrier armada.

"As we crossed the still-peaceful invasion coast, visibility dropped sharply," recalled Maj. LeRoy Stanton, McColl, S.C. "We managed to keep formation in cloud banks—flying on instruments."

Breaking out at 700 feet, now only miles from the target, the "Flying Cabbies" found the heavens alive with red and green tracers arching towards them through finger-like searchlight beams.

"There was so much flak and so many tracers flying around and so many planes in the air that it seemed impossible for any of us to be missed," spoke Lt. Forrest D. Hamm, Baraboo, Wis. "And I was scared, very scared. But I could only crouch a little lower in the cockpit and keep going. Surprising thing was that most of us came through unscathed."

Only three craft fell to enemy fire before discharging their loads of aerial soldiers.

Ground fire made check points unrecognizable, but careful and thorough route briefing combined with superb navigation, brought most of the planes in on drop zones well marked by the Airborne's own pathfinder troops. Nearly 80 percent of the troops and supply bundles landed within the pair of mile-square DZs.

Lt. Marvin Muir, Elkhart, Ind., was flying the lead in an element of the 439th Group when his ship, hit by enemy fire, burst into flames only two and a half minutes from the drop area. Although forced to leave the formation, he stuck to his post, battling the controls to accomplish his mission effectively and to drop his paratroopers in the assigned DZ. In a vain effort, he tried to crash-land the flaming plane hoping to save the trapped crew. To Lt. Muir went a posthumous Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in action. " *** His devotion to duty, heroism, and service above self reflect great credit upon himself and the armed forces of the United States."

Maj. Lloyd G. Neblett, Texarkana, Tex., nearly missed the big show when mechanical difficulty forced him to drop out at the start, but his crew chief, Sgt. Willie Brown, Asheville, N.C., did a rush job.

The Major took off again, cut corners at full speed, caught the formation just short of the objective. But his troubles weren't over—a heavy supply bundle from another ship landed squarely on his right wing. Struggling with the controls, he and Co-Pilot Lt. Thomas O'Brien, St. Paul, Minn., kept the plane from stalling while paratroopers were discharged; from 600 feet the aircraft fell out of control through a flak barrage that sheared eight feet off the wing and a third of the aileron. The plane's fall finally was checked at house-top level, and flying alone, returned safely to 441st Group base.

Hearing the bail-out bell, Crew Chief John J. O'Conner, Mosinee, Wisc., dived after the last trooper, only to watch his plane fly on, unharmed. After two weeks' fighting with the Airborne and being captured at an advanced aid station, the Sergeant returned to his squadron to learn the "abandon ship" order was just a case of the wrong switch.

Capt. Russell Hennicke (then Lt.), Las Vegas, Nev., made his run-in and return to an English base on a single engine. "He never could get more than three feet over the Channel all the way back," reported Sgt. John Brown, Ajo, Ariz., crew chief of another C-47 in the 440th Group. "His crew threw out everything and anything to keep the ship in the air." After his own plane, Ain't It Awful, wobbled in on one wheel, Brown commented, "Yeah, but it could have been a lot worse."

Lt. John Prince, Cherokee, Iowa, didn't have even one engine left in his plane; he was forced to land "deadstick" in the darkness of Normandy's tree-lined hedgerows. The Lieutenant's cool skill set the crew down safely, got them away with enough emergency supplies to return to friendly lines.

Krauts agreed with the name of Lt. Col. (then Maj.) Kenneth L. Glassburn's ship You Cawn't Miss It. They knocked out an engine and set the plane afire. Flames spread rapidly, but rather than risk capture by bailing out over enemy territory, the squadron commander from Turlock, Calif., flew the blazing aircraft to the Normandy coast, ditched in the Channel. When no report was received at the base, his first sergeant, Harold A. McGrath, Yonkers, N.Y., picked him up the third day on the morning report as missing in action, remarking to the adjutant, "I dreamed of the boss last night. He bawled the daylights out of me for doing this." Ten minutes later a phone call disclosed the safe arrival in England of the Major and his crew.

Skytrains Spearhead an Invasion

IRST traces of dawn scarcely had streaked across the dark morning sky when the lead C-47 eased the slack from the tow-rope, and the Wing's first glider destined for combat jolted, started to roll and went down the runway with a rush. This was June 7, D plus 1. Two by two, tow-ships and gliders moved off into the haze. As the last glider rose from the runway, the cavalcade of American CG-4s and British Horsas wheeled from sight.

When the three-minute warning blinked back from the astral dome of each tow-plane, glider pilots could see the flash of flooded land ahead—a flash that meant danger.

Tow-ships suddenly zoomed into fast diving turns, and tow-ropes floated down among fat Normandy cattle as glider after glider lifted and floated free. Moving into pattern, GPs for the first time saw the hedgerows of France—lines of poplars, 30 to 50 feet tall, ringing many small fields. Practice landings at Stuttgart, Lubbock and Maxton flashed back during the few seconds left to choose the best spot for landing the heavy loads of infantry, jeeps, mortars and shells.

Wheels washed out in foxholes, wings splintered against heavy stakes driven into fields, small arms fire thudded against fabric sides and tails, whining 88s zeroed in on nearby crossroads.

"Most amazing thing I saw," said 2nd Lt. (then F/O) Norman J. Thompson, San Antonio, Tex., on his return from Normandy, "was a good-looking girl nonchalantly riding a bicycle down the middle of the road as I came coasting in with my CG-4. Maybe that was Hitler's secret weapon."

Although there were several casualties during the mass landings, 100 gliders were committed and as many placed in the landing zone. Congratulations poured in from Troop Carrier Command and other headquarters. Most appreciated expression was heard in a London pub several weeks later. A stocky Airborne sergeant wearing a new Purple Heart stopped one of the Wing's GPs to say, "Lemme shake your hand. You guys got guts."

The invasion was spearheaded successfully with Troop Carrier, the 50th at the fore, but much remained to be done. Isolated airborne units still had to be supplied; even after a complete link-up, priority items would have to go by air.

On D plus 2, Lt. Edward Cullen, Mississippi City, Miss., delivered blood plasma by parachute to a 101st Airborne hospital. His crew chief claims it landed "right on the red cross."

On another aerial supply mission to the 101st, a 442nd crew chief, T/Sgt. John Nick, Passaic, N.J., earned a Distinguished Flying Cross. As supplementary "door bundles" of supplies were pushed out the opened cabin door after pararacks had been salvoed, a shroud line fouled in the glider pick-up bar and opened the 'chute. The heavy bundle started to swing violently against the tail, making control difficult, landing dangerous.

After vain attempts to shake the bundle loose, Sgt. Nick volunteered to free the entangled lines. Hanging head-down from the doorway while crew members held his ankles, he swayed in the slip-stream grasping for the shrouds. The swinging parcel threatened at any moment to knock him from the craft. Finally, reaching the fouled lines, the sergeant cut them; the bundle descended into the drop zone.

By June 20, the Wing's planes were landing vital supplies directly on temporary "tarpaper" strips built by Airborne Engineers. On the return trip that day pilots became "flying ambulance drivers," evacuating almost 300 wounded to hospitals in the U.K.

Ground called for more shells and fuses. Immediately, 50th Wing responded. On June 24, 233 aircraft carried more than 1,000,000 pounds of munitions to France.

"Fightin' 50th" Delivers Kayo Punch

HE real power of Troop Carrier in global war—ability to strike a knockout punch when and where needed—was demonstrated in the invasion of southern France. What if the Riviera coast was too far for an airborne invasion from England? Do it from Italy!

Time was mid-July; place was England. Orders came to mount cabin gas tanks in planes of three of each Group's four squadrons and to load 30-day supplies. Forty-eight hours later, 50th Wing with 200 C-47s, 400 glider pilots and a minimum of administrative personnel were setting up fields near Rome. Rank was forgotten as everyone rolled up sleeves to dig in. At advanced Wing headquarters, Lt. Col. Frank G. McCormick, former University of Minnesota athletic director, and his Intelligence section chief, T/Sgt. John Schmidlin, former Bridgeport, Conn., fire fighter, turned out fried steaks and flapjacks for the first two meals under cloudless blue Italian skies.

Ravages of war, still audible to the north, had smashed the regular communications system beyond use. A hurried call to home base brought a dozen signal men under Lt. George Perry, New York City. But telephone lines went out almost as fast as they were established. Civilian sabotage was one reason. Linemen who "borrowed" complete sections of wire for their own lines was another. At first nearly all contact between Groups was by radio. A small landing strip was constructed hastily near Wing headquarters at Orbetello, and an L-5 liaison plane was pressed into service as courier among the several units.

At the week's end, evacuation and supply flights were being flown within Italy, and all units were declared ready for paradrops. Gliders ferried in from assembly stations near Naples were maintained and repaired by pilots in the absence of crew chiefs left in England.

The King of England and high Allied army officers were given a salute at the month's end by a Wing assembly of 153 planes. Even then, remaining aircraft were on evacuation missions, flying some of the 4600 patients carried in Italy by 50th Wing planes in addition to transporting half a million pounds of freight.

AVIGATORS carried the ball during the first half of the Wing's second combat mission Aug. 15 when an overcast blotted out check points. Stick after stick of troopers were released "blind" over the target area near Le Muy to break out, in most cases, within a mile or two of the briefed area.

The plane of Crew Chief T/Sgt. Mario V. Pissaro, White Plains, N.Y., caught fire on the take-off and crash-landed at the field's edge. With a leg broken, the sergeant opened the cargo door to free paratroopers and crew from certain death. The aircraft also was carrying a heavy load of ammunition and land mines.

C-47 work-horses returned to the eternal dust cloud hanging over unsurfaced fields and reloaded to fly the second phase of the operation. Behind each trailed a cargo glider laden with jeeps and other heavy equipment to reinforce parachute troops.

A pall of dense black smoke from fires started by Navy salvoes clung above forests surrounding the target, the Argens Valley, 20 miles inland.

The "gentle, rolling terrain" of Riviera hill-country turned out to be mountains and canyons; as in Normandy, many the fields had been "staked" by the enemy. Most loads were retrieved undamaged from the crash-landed "Hadrians."

Summing up the overall operation, Lt. Gen. Ira C. Eaker, commanding the Mediterranean Air Force, said: "You Troop Carrier people put up a grand show." Maj. Gen. Paul L. Williams added his tribute to all the personnel in the drive—administrative and tactical, pilot and file clerk, all part of the team—which made the mission possible in these words:

Results ... surpass even our most optimistic expectation ... You have spearheaded another thrust at the heart of the enemy which has brought the free peoples of the world one step closer to total victory ... My congratulations and appreciation to each member of your command regardless of his role, for it has required a one hundred percent effort to achieve today's success.

One glider and tow-plane from the 440th Group made a solo trip into the southern France LZ. When the tow-rope broke, Lt. Marion L. Clem, Barnsdall, Okla., made a forced landing a few miles after take-off; a truck from the field immediately retrieved both personnel and equipment, returned them to the air-strip shortly after the tow-plane landed. With frantic effort, a spare glider was wheeled into position, loaded, hooked up with a new cable. Although the formation already was over the LZ, the glider, towed by Lt. Arthur Douglass, New Orleans, took off for France alone. When he returned hours behind the others, the Lieutenant reported the glider safely landed in the proper location.

Airborne Invasion: New Era in Warfare

ACK in England, remaining Wing planes were assembled into a Provisional Group headed by Lt. Col. Robert G. Minick, Manhasset, N.Y., veteran command pilot with 14,000 hours, and with Lt. Col. William H. Parkhill, Middletown, Pa., 441st Group Commander as Executive Officer. Double glider tows were added to training schedules as day and night practice missions with a Polish airborne unit got underway.

Plans were laid, field orders cut, gliders marshalled and loaded. Crews were pre-briefed for airborne support of Lt. Gen. George S. Patton's assault on Paris and unprecedented landings in the Rambouillet area, aimed at seizing the airport and blocking the escape of the German Seventh Army to the southeast. Gen. Patton, however, switched into high and beat Troop Carrier to the LZs, overrunning them on D-Day.

To keep Third Army rolling was a tremendous job. Seven hundred tons of gasoline, rations and 105mm ammunition were flown to advanced air-strips just behind the front. The freight haul total for August was boosted to almost 4,000,000 pounds. In addition, more than 11,000 battle casualties and 2500 other patients were flown by Wing aircraft and attended by nurses and non-coms of the 50th's two Medical Air Evacuation Squadrons.

Much credit for these startling figures goes to airstrip control parties operated under Lt. Col. Minick and Capt. Sidney Kay, Cottageville, W.Va., Wing Chemical Officer. Complete radio facilities were taken in by gliders under the supervision of M/Sgt. Frank Swiadek, Long Island City, N.Y. Lt. Karl Gantert, Rialto, Calif., went along to handle message encoding and decoding.

Radio Operator Sgt. Robert T. Hood, Glendale, Calif., has vivid memories of the assignment that took him into France by glider on the heels of advancing American armor.

I had about two hours to throw my gear together and get to the take-off field. We hardly got there when we were put on an already overloaded glider sagging at the seams. All the way over I felt like a blood brother to all the guys who made the one-way trip to the guillotine.

The German lines were about two miles from the field where we set up, and the field was lousy with shell and bomb craters. We hauled rations and other gear out of the glider so the Krauts couldn't put us completely out of business if they zeroed in on it. Then we set up an air-ground control and a long range station to England

Shifts were anything up to 24 hours a day. Booby traps and unexploded bombs were everywhere. Meals were K rations or what could be scrounged. There were constant interruptions as wounded wandered in for treatment. Still, messages got through, furnishing constant liaison between delivery parties up front and supply fields in the rear.

September found the air echelon returning from Italy to England and limbering up for another spearheading drive. Target was the Calais area. But again the target was overrun—this time by armored forces of the First Canadian Army.

This dry run finished, Wing headquarters and groups started for France, but, before they could settle, air echelons were back in British Midlands to join the initial operation of Lt. Gen. Lewis H. Brereton's new First Allied Airborne Army.

IRBORNE invasion of Holland began a new era in warfare. In Normandy and southern France, Troop Carrier helped spearhead attacks by dropping troops with enough supplies to hinder enemy moves during and after the crucial beach landings. Holland, however, saw the first direct support of an advancing army—Lt. Gen. Miles C. Dempsey's British Second—by securing major objectives along the path and linking these centers into a friendly corridor through enemy forces.

When orders came for this largest of operations, elements of the Wing and its units were in France, tents pitched, mess and communications operating, crews and supplies either on the continent or enroute, refueling units waterborne. Nevertheless, the attack began on schedule.

We carried paratroopers the first day, recalled Lt. Kenneth McKim, twin-engine pilot from Hackensack, N.J. It hardly seemed a war was going on as we crossed Belgium where farmers waved to us from fields below. Some were pitching hay while others tried to herd the cattle which ran around like mad as hundred after hundred of C-47s and pursuit escorts roared overhead.

The first I knew of enemy attack was when the lead plane of the formation ahead of us burst into flames in mid-air and spiraled downward. We could see the Drop Zone then, but it seemed as though we would never reach it. After an eternity we hit the DZ and dropped our sticks of paratroops.

Direct ack-ack hits knocked off two pararack bundles, set both gas tanks aflame as Flight Leader Capt. Melvin J. Parker, Blackwell, Okla., approached the target area. Pilots on both sides advised that the fire was spreading, suggested that he drop his troops short of the objective and abandon ship. But he held his position in formation, made the drop over the DZ. He remained at the controls while his crew bailed out, then crash-landed the burning craft. Rather than drop the men in the midst of the enemy Capt. Parker sacrificed his life to fulfill his mission.

When both engines were knocked out after dropping his troops, Lt. Albino Dell' Antonia, Allentown, Pa., was forced to land. But he was accustomed to landing without power. He had learned to fly in one of Mussolini's glider schools as a student in Italy from 1935 to 1939.

Unprecedented umbers of gliders followed into the Nijmegen and Eindhoven areas behind the 'chute soldiers, continued to reinforce the drop at Grave for several days.

Now a new enemy arose to harry the aerial thrust—fog. An unpredicted weather front over the North Sea rolled a blanket of mist across the Low Countries, at times more than 1000 feet higher than the prescribed course. Only momentary breaks permitted hasty orientation. For pilots, each day was a veritable classroom in weather.

With tight formation flying a near impossibility, individual navigators assumed a new value. One of these, Lt. Paul McPherson, Sigourney, Iowa, carried on although a piece of shrapnel had pierced his leg. The painful wound hastily dressed by emergency first aid, he continued to navigate from a prone position.

"I'm going to find that LZ if I run out of gas looking," said 2nd Lt. Vincent Ruby, Rome, N.Y., as he started for Holland, towing a glider. The glider load shifted in mid-air following take-off on schedule, and Lt. Ruby returned to the field. After the load was readjusted and secured in place, he took to the air again but couldn't catch up to his formation. Finding the landing area, he released his glider safely over the target but was wounded by intense AA fire on the return trip. Plane and crew eventually were flown to the home base.

Heroes Are Born with Each Flight

HIS was the spirit behind Troop Carrier in the Holland thrust. Lt. Thomas Mantell, Louisville Ky., completed his glider tow in spite of enemy flak that cut both rudder cables and started a fire in the ammunition-filled rear compartment.

Hostile fire knocked but one engine, hydraulic system and all the flight instruments of the plane, but Maj. (then Capt.) James Brown nursed the craft back across the Channel. After cutting the good engine, he was told to move the ship elsewhere. The engine wouldn't start again. Remarked the Montgomery, Ala., flyer, "I never saw a more beautiful runway in my life than the one we landed on."

It was the first combat flight for Co-Pilot Lt. John Alday, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, and the sight of anti-aircraft shells swimming up toward the plane was new. Suddenly, just short of the release, a burst of flak penetrated the ship. The first pilot slumped forward. There wasn't time to determine the extent of his injuries. His aircraft and glider were a hazard to the rest of the formation. Lt. Alday took over while the navigator held the limp pilot away from the controls, but they were losing altitude fast. Instruments no longer registered. The left engine began to vibrate dangerously. Skillful handling brought the glider near the assigned drop area where it made a successful landing.

Meantime, the plane staggered back to occupied Belgium with the vibration growing steadily worse. In spite of greatly reduced power, Lt. Alday made an emergency landing on a small strip without further injury to the plane or crew. When asked about the flight, the only comment of the crew chief, T/Sgt. John A. Dean, Breckenridge, Tex., who administered first aid to wounded buddies on the hazardous flight, was: "Bud, scared ain't no word!"

Same day, Lt. Edward Hufnagle, Pittsburgh, had a close call. During a run, a machine gun bullet struck his left knee but failed to pierce the skin. It fell harmlessly to the cockpit floor. He carries the bullet now as a souvenir. Said Lt. Hufnagle: "When the bullet hit, I had the co-pilot take over. I grabbed the Bible that Chaplain Bob Tindell had given me and read all the way back. I prayed all the while I was in that corridor of flak and feel our safety was a result of prayers."

This day was the worst with ceiling and visibility zero a short way out. Not all kept formation that day, nor did all hit the LZ. Some flew individually unescorted and unprotected too complete missions. Some attached themselves to other formations. Some hit the deck trying to find better visibility near the water. Others tried to fly above the overcast—but all had in mind the importance of visibility to glider navigation. As Lt. Gerald Arons, Peoria, Ill., put it, "I think most of our squadron had more sympathy and concern for the glider pilots they were tugging than for themselves. All they thought about was keeping the glider boys in the clear."

Most flew from 20 to 75 feet above water all the way across the Channel. Flying above an overcast meant glider pilots would fly blind. One pilot recalled seeing a plane and glider at house-top level skimming so low over Antwerp they actually flew between—not over—a pair of church steeples.

Many crews did not return. Others had story-book experiences of ground fighting before heading back to outfits. Col. Frank X. Krebs, Salem, Ohio, startled his unit by appearing for dinner—after a month's absence—dressed as a farmer.

On the ground the situation was bitterly contested, and Wing GPs guarded prisoners, acted as liaison officers and guides, spotted artillery fire. One glider pilot joined a mortar crew comprising a colonel, a major and a private.

Most of the Wing's "glider builders" hastily organized into a ground unit under Maj. Hugh J. Nevins, Kansas City, Mo., their senior officer, to enter the lines near Grave when an infantry company was withdrawn for use in another sector.

HE desperate German attempt to split the ever-pressing Allied armies had been stalled, December, 1944, but the valiant 101st Airborne Division was surrounded at Bastogne by a ring of Tiger tanks and mobile German guns. Ammunition and medical stocks were depleting fast. Only supply channel left open was Troop Carrier—and 50th Wing pilots were anxious to get through to ground brothers who had shared the stage with them six months before in "The Drama of D-Day."

Target was a three-mile circle obscured by the smoke of pitched battle and burning vehicles. Briefing was necessarily hurried, based on sketchy information. Enemy flak guns were constantly moving. Choice of routes was little better than a guess. Sometimes the urgency of the situation allowed no time for cover, except for stray fighter-bombers that might be in the area.

But this was an emergency, and supplies had to get through! Pararacks were fitted and loaded with precious ammunition. Door bundles were packed—to be kicked out the open doorway over the drop area. Life lines were established.

Sixty CG-4 cargo gliders, straining under loads of 155mm shells and gasoline, staggered off runways behind groaning C-47 tow-planes and turned toward beleaguered Bastogne.

Second Lt. Mack Striplin, McKinney, Tex., 439th Group glider pilot, took a load of shells "special delivery." Flak hit his ail and wing just before he reached the assigned area, necessitating immediate landing on a snow-covered slope. The brakes wouldn't hold on the slippery surface, and the glider soared off the bank into a 15-foot drop. "Landing again, I finally brought the glider to a stop after plowing through a steel fence—to find myself ten yards from the battery where the shells were to have been brought. When I landed they had only 20 shells left. Within five minutes the ammunition was being unloaded. In another minute, it was being fired."

More doctors were needed to handle heavy casualties streaming into the 101st aid station, so 2nd Lt. Charlton W. Corwin, Normandy, Mo., of the 440th, flew a lone CG into the Airborne's bastion with nine volunteer doctors, medical non-coms and more than a ton of surgical needs. His glider and its faithful tug were escorted by a welcome quartet of Thunderbolt fighters to insure safe arrival of the unarmed and unarmored Douglas Skytrain with its vital cargo. The escorting P-47s kept enemy guns in respectful silence.

Second Lt. James Hill, Abilene, Tex., was flying a glider behind a C-47 when heavy flak was encountered. A heavy burst set fire to the belly of the tug ship as it neared the landing zone. Capt. Thomas Corrigan, Kansas City, Kan., flying directly behind the crippled ship, saw four men bail out safely. The glider, however, did not release as expected but stayed on the tow until, the tug ship, running on its automatic pilot, brought it over the proper landing zone. Lt. Hill then made his release to land while the tug soon lost control and spun in. The Lieutenant probably is the only glider pilot on record who has flown over a landing zone behind a crewless tug ship.

A Fantastic Scheme Pays Off

HE saga of Troop Carrier virtually is the story of the "Fightin' 50th." In the not so distant past, when the Axis ruled the skies of Europe, invasions spearheaded by airborne troops were only fantastic schemes on paper. Much wizardry had emerged from Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, but when the 50th was activated there Jan. 4, 1941, few could believe that in three years units trained by the Wing would equal the entire Air Force then in the U.S.

Experiments with parachute troops and equipment were performed at Ft. Benning, Ga., where suitable formations and drop techniques were perfected. A new phase was added in January, 1943, with the attachment of a provisional glider echelon to one of the Troop Carrier Groups.

Bad weather washed out the first simulated invasion problem of paratroopers and gliders in Missouri, but two weeks later a double-barreled bill was presented in western and central Nebraska.

Brig. Gen. (then Col.) Julian M. Chappell, Americus, Ga., took over the unit early in 1943. Under his guidance came more realistic maneuvers with the 101st Airborne Division, with which the Wing was to work so closely during future European assaults. The mock war progressed from the sandy Carolina pinelands to the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee, new techniques constantly being added to Airborne-Troop Carrier operations.

Shots, dogtag checks, designations of beneficiary, insurance, equipment checks and markings, physicals, security lectures, mental exams, packing and re-packing, and then it was goodbye to maneuvers in the States and hello POE.

OR Act II the props are slightly different—"mild and bitter" or a spot of gin instead of keg-lined cans or bourbon. Early winter the 50th Headquarters settled at a "Mudlands" base while many Troop Carrier Groups new to the ETO were processed before being passed along to other Wings.

First overseas exercise in preparation for the initial blow took place in December and January with Maj. Gen. William Lee's 101st. Staged in southern England, these maneuvers long will remain in the memory of many a 50th Wingman as the "Misery Campaign." Reason: insufferable cold, freezing rain, inches-deep mud.

As Groups added precision to formations, constant modifications were being incorporated to make C-47 Skytrains readier for tasks ahead. At one base, M/Sgt. James Case, Chicago, improvised a complete mobile workshop from scrap metal—later augmented by additions from captured German equipment.

But the men of the 50th always were ready to do a little more than duty required, often for afield from their Army specialties. During the initial Normandy mission, the first aid of Crew Chief T/Sgt. Donovan Cavanaugh, Muskegan Heights, Mich., brought a paratrooper wounded over the DZ safely back to base. Two excellent jobs of navigation to Bastogne were turned in by F/Os Roderick MacDougall, West Acton, Mass., and Charles Long, Jr., Mule Shoe, Tex. Ire' moo glider pilots had picked up training on their own time between missions.

Sgt. Allan N. Saltzman, New York City, was a radar mechanic without air crew experience. Because of the large numbers of planes for the Holland mission, radio operators were at a premium. Sgt. Saltzman volunteered to accompany the flight as radio operator, successfully handling his ship's communications. He was awarded the Air Medal.

Superb judgment and quick thinking saved many situations. When the instrument panel was completely wrecked in the Bastogne run, Crew Chief Sgt. Hunter Lohr, Pittsburgh, made a quick estimate, recommended an immediate landing in an open area below. A check upon landing also revealed virtually no gas in riddled tanks.

"It Will Be Flown by Us"

N pace with the forward march of the Allied armies and to keep supplies rolling in spite of Channel fogs, the 50th moved to France. Col. Charles Young, 439th Group CO found hangars and buildings on his new field completely demolished, later discovered his younger brother in the 8th Air Force was operations officer of the B-17 Group that had done most of the damage.

Rain and mud added to the already sorry state of French fields. A hurry call brought an airborne engineering battalion. These veterans were old hands at keeping runways fit. The same unit had built the largest airfield then in France as well as the first strip for night fighters and medium bombers.

With the Wing also went an airborne weather unit, all its equipment transported by air to operate entirely by radio, anywhere, anytime, independent of everyone else.

Even before the Wing settled down, orders came through to move vital supplies to the front. In the four weeks alone starting Sept. 24 more than 17,000,000 pounds of freight were hauled.

But volume isn't always the best standard—ability of Troop Carrier to respond immediately to a hurry call is more often a criterion. When a sudden cold wave struck in mid-October, 50th Wing aircraft flew anti-freeze to the front.

When heavy fighting for Metz left many American wounded, overflowing front line hospitals, Troop Carrier relieved the pressing situation by rapid evacuation to England. According to ETO Chief Surgeon, Maj. Gen. Paul Hawly, the action "saved many lives and prevented an enormous amount of suffering during this emergency."

Spirit of the Wing's airmen is well demonstrated by the way they carried on when inadequate numbers of ground force troops were on hand to help unload. An army group supply officer commending the men said:

Pilots and crews, waiving all formalities regarding their place in this particular supply picture, dug in most cheerfully and furnished much of the labor of unloading planes. On two days, your air crew personnel did 90 percent of the unloading. This evidence of teamwork on the part of pilots and crews in your command is highly gratifying. May I ... thank and commend them.

This spirit isn't confined to any one class, but it moves all the way up and down the line, among file clerks and mail orderlies—the last being usually the most harried characters of their units. One squadron of the 50th says Mailman Pfc Thomas Olex, Moundsville, W. Va., stands alone. Any hour, day or night, he will cheerfully tell what letters have come in, when the last letter came, help cuss out the post office, sympathize when there is a lack of mail. He, too, is typical of the team, doing his part of any task which may fall to the "Fightin' 50th."

This is the first chapter of the 50th Troop Carrier Wing story. It is the development of a venture from the unknown to a proven weapon of modern warfare—a vital link in the choking chain Allied might has clamped around the Axis. The future of the 50th Wing is yet to be written. But the spirit of its men as recorded by their pioneering exploits has assured the future's events. Whatever the task, whatever the job, "it will be flown by us."

Printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, Paris
Photos: 9th Air Force, U.S. Troop Carrier Forces

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