by Budd Davisson
Supreme Commander-Europe, General Dwight Eisenhower, didnít hesitate when ask to list the Allied weapons that most helped end the war. In no particular order he said, ìThe bazooka, the jeep, the atom bomb and the C-47.î
The bazooka made the lowly GI into a feared tank killer. The Jeep gave his commanders incredible flexibility to move about the battlefield. The atom bomb saved many thousands of GI lives by bringing the whole thing to an end. The C-47, however, was the instant pipeline that brought the GI what he needed to fight when and where he needed it. Before there were beachheads, before there were roads, before there was any other way to move men and equipment, the Gooney Bird was there.
Although the C-47 was an adaptation of the DC-3 transport, when the military ordered the first of nearly 10,000 C-47ís in 1940, they initially saw it as a freighter and had large cargo doors and a beefed up floor added. Shortly thereafter, they realized they could load as many as 27 fully equipped paratroopers in it and drop them where needed. These aircraft not only had smaller doors and provisions for seats down the sides, but (are you ready for this?) a round hole in the middle of each passenger window allowed troops to stick their gun barrels out and fire at any fighter that may be attacking them.
The feats of the C-47 during WWII are legendary: 4,800 troopers dropped during the invasion of Sicily, an amazing 60,000 dropped at Normandy in addition to towing several thousand gliders. In the Pacific, as soon as runways were secured or hacked out of island jungles, endless streams of the old birds supplied embattled troops. The C-47 was the Huey of its day, bringing men and equipment in and leaving with the wounded.
Pilots had a real love/hate relationship with the old bird. On the one hand, it was a slow, plodding beast (170 mph on a good day), but on the other hand, pilots knew it would take care of them. Its long wing and big control surfaces let it fly easily on one engine and its crews knew it could handle whatever the weather had to throw at them.
In many ways the C-47 was an aerial jeep because it was used in so many ways for which it wasnít designed. It flew on skis and floats and, during the 1948 Yom Kippur war, Egyptians even tried using them as bombers, rolling bombs out the open door only to find they were dog meat for the Israeli-flown, Czech-built Messerschmitt 109s.
Several wars later, Gooneys armed with a trio of 7.62mm Gatling guns became Spookies or Puff the Magic Dragons over Vietnam. Troops on the ground said the sounds of the 18,000 rounds a minute hitting the jungle sounded like a gigantic bug was chewing on the trees.
Of all the different types of aircraft built during WWII, more than any other, it is the C-47 that is still alive and working for a living in far corners of the world. The old airplane will probably out last every single person reading this, which is a sobering thought. But then, thatís how legends are made.