Ten World War II cargo planes took off from an airfield in Connecticut last Sunday morning. They will fly across the Atlantic and drop several hundred parachutists over Normandy to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the 1944 landings.
D-Day Doll is almost 76 years old but purrs like she has just come out of the Douglas factory in Santa Monica, California. Its 1,200-horsepower twin engines are thundering at full capacity, and the fuselage has had a fresh coat of olive drab paint. The aircraft’s tail and wings feature three white and two black stripes, an identifying marker of Allied planes during the Normandy Landings.
During the night of June 5, 1944, D-Day Doll and 51 other C-47 cargo planes were tasked with towing gliders from Southern England to the Cotentin Peninsula, and delivering weapons, ammunition, vehicles, and other equipment to the paratroopers from the U.S. 101st Airborne Division who had been dropped shortly before. The mission was completed in less than four and a half hours, and was essential to the Allied victory.
Formation flight over Connecticut.
D-Day Doll is now a collector’s plane. After its Normandy flight, it took part in the liberation of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. Then, after a long career as a civil cargo plane, it was purchased by a group of warbirds enthusiasts based in Riverside, California. Its pilot, David Brothers, is a former United Airlines employee. “The C-47 is a practical, reliable, and robust aircraft,” he says before a demonstration flight over Connecticut. “It has basic controls, and its steering system is operated with levers, cables, and pulleys.”
An Icon of World War II
Nicknamed the “Skytrain,” the C-47 is the plane that won the war, according to General Eisenhower. There were more than 10,000 produced during WWII, and there are still around 1,400 across the world today. They now serve as cargo planes in Alaska, transport passengers in the Great Canadian North, spray insecticide in Florida and fertilizer in Iceland, and feature at airplane events.
On June 5, 2019, 14 C-47 planes will be taking off from the Duxford Imperial War Museum south of Cambridge in England, and will be flying across the English Channel to drop 220 parachutists over Sannerville, east of Caen in the Calvados département. D-Day Doll and the other aircraft based in the United States will be arriving in Europe via Connecticut, Labrador, Greenland, Iceland, and finally Scotland, a 3,100-mile journey identical to the one made by the U.S. crews 75 years ago.
“We’ll be navigating along the same route,” says Eric Zipkin, pilot of the Placid Lassie plane, director of D-Day Squadron, and U.S. coordinator of Daks Over Normandy. “But our navigation instruments are a tenth of the size!” The maps and navigator’s instruments have since been replaced by an iPad app. Each plane also has tools and spare parts, as well as life jackets, survival suits, and a life raft in case of an unplanned sea landing.
Deafening Noise and Exhaust Fumes
In the cockpit of D-Day Doll, David Brothers and his co-pilot perform the last checks before take-off, including, the radio, brakes, fuel pumps, and wing flaps. Sat at the back of the aircraft, a group of journalists and photographers check their seatbelts. The din of the engines drowns out any conversation, and the smell of exhaust fumes fills the cabin. And with that, the plane starts moving. A construction crew and a mechanical digger wait by the side of the runway, and a worker wearing a hi-vis jacket takes a photo. The plane lifts into the air and flies over houses, hills, a quarry, a highway, and a river.
Three of the reenactors who will jump over Normandy on June 5, 2019.
Steve Raccio, 27, will be jumping for the 11th time over Normandy. This electrician originally from West Haven in Connecticut is part of a historical reenactment group. He took an eight-day parachute training course in Oklahoma, and on June 5 will be playing a private from the 501st Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. From the brown leather boots to the helmet, his uniform is an exact replica of the ones worn by soldiers on D-Day. The breast pocket of his jacket holds the bible owned by his great-grandfather, a WWI veteran. “It’s my lucky charm,” he says.
Return to Sainte-Mère-Eglise
Dave Hamilton is also wearing uniform, but will be taking part in the 75th anniversary commemorations from the ground. He was 21 in 1944, and flew a C-47 to drop the first paratroopers of the invasion at twenty past midnight in the Sainte-Mère-Eglise region. A perilous task carried out under fire from the German anti-aircraft artillery that left 200 bullet holes in his cabin. “It was my first mission,” says the 96-year-old lieutenant colonel and U.S. Air Force veteran. “But we were too busy to be scared, we had the lives of 20 paratroopers in our hands.”
Lieutenant colonel Dave Hamilton (left), a veteran of D-Day.
“Veterans like Dave Hamilton accomplished their mission,” says Eric Zipkin, who will be flying the Placid Lassie C-47 for the commemorative events in Normandy. “We must now accomplish ours by paying homage to the soldiers who served during World War II, and by passing on their story to future generations.”