World War II Survivor
Still Working to Preserve The Legacy
This is the dramatic and amazingly true story of a World War II veteran who participated in some of the most important battles of the war. From the Normandy invasion to Cherbourg, to Arnhem, to Bastogne, to the Berlin Airlift and much more, this hero was there and saw it all -- over 65 years ago. Today, this venerable veteran of past battles continues to educate the public about military history and what it meant to not only serve in World War II, but to have been present, when so many sacrificed so much in the service of this Country and the freedoms that we hold dear.
Our Veteran's story begins in 1942 when "she" was born. I say "she" because our hero is an aircraft and that's how aircraft are often lovingly referred; but this is no ordinary aircraft. It is a Douglas C-47 Skytrain. When asked to name the most significant weapons of World War II, General Dwight Eisenhower supposedly listed the atomic bomb, the jeep, the bazooka and the Douglas C-47. The C-47 purchased by the US Army Air Force was the military version of the civilian DC-3 airliner.
The major differences were a bigger engine and reinforced floor in the passenger/cargo area, complete with tie down rings for securing cargo. The personnel door on the left side was made much larger to accommodate cargo loading. The main cargo door opened as a clamshell door. The door is large enough to accommodate a complete Jeep with trailer, or a 37MM anti-tank gun. The comfortable airline seating was also replaced with twenty-eight folding metal seats that were installed against the fuselage sides.
The Valiant Air Command To Offer Rides in WWII Normandy Invasion Veteran -- C-47 "TiCo Belle"The Valiant Air Command is proud to announce that one of its most venerable warbirds has returned to flight once again; the C-47 "TiCo Belle." From the Normandy invasion to Cherbourg, to Arnhem, to Bastogne, to the Berlin Airlift and much more, this aircraft was there -- over 65 years ago.
Now, YOU can experience all this history as a special and unique present for yourself, or someone you love. For only $175 you not only get a ride in our local area, but if you are not already a member of the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum, we'll give you an individual one year membership; and for only $225, we'll give you a family membership (a $100 value). These Museum memberships entitle you to free admission to the museum and to the annual 3-day Warbird Airshow, as well as other "members only" offers and opportunities.
Call or email (email@example.com) us for additional information, or to get on our reserve list and we will notify you of the flight schedule. Don't miss this exciting opportunity when the Tico Belle, returns to the skies with you aboard; complete with Normandy invasion identification stripes. You will be able to look out and truly imagine what it must have been like on that fateful June 6th, 1944. A day when the freedom of a world hung in the balance as she made her way in the pre-dawn darkness towards the beaches of Normandy; part of the largest aerial invasion armada the world has ever seen.
The Valiant Air Command Museum is located at the Space Coast Regional Airport at 6600 Tico Road in Titusville. Our website is www.vacwarbirds.org and our phone number is 321-268-1941.
For more information:
Colonel Terry Yon, USA (Ret)
Public Relations Officer
Valiant Air Command
Many C-47 aircraft had their tail cone removed and were fitted with a glider-towing hook, to facilitate towing troop carrying gliders like the Waco CG-4 used in the D-Day Invasion. As a supply plane, the C-47 could carry more than 6,000 pounds of cargo with a full fuel load. It could also hold a fully assembled jeep or a 37 mm cannon. As a troop transport, it carried 28 soldiers in full combat gear. As a medical airlift plane, it could accommodate 14 stretcher patients and three nurses. Seven basic versions were built, and the aircraft was given at least 22 designations. It was produced in greater quantities than any other World War II Army transport, and it continued to serve in both Korea and Vietnam. Ultimately, over 10,000 aircraft were made and served with some 90 different countries. Sadly, today there are fewer and fewer of these beautiful machines that can actually fly and show what they did so many years ago.
The story of our veteran aircraft, tail number 42-100591 (#591), begins when she first saw life in 1942 and was delivered to the USAAF at Mobile Depot on November 6, 1943. She departed for England in 1944 and upon arrival was assigned to the 9th Troop Carrier Command, which was part of the 9th Army Air Force. She was further assigned to the 437th Troop Carrier Group (TCG) and the 84th Troop Carrier Squadron (TCS). The 437th TCG is the ancestor of the 437th Airlift Wing, which is today based at Charleston AFB. You will see the squadron designator "Z8," of the 84th TCS, in pictures of her from WWII. The 437th TCG and our aircraft (#591) soon took up residence at RAF Ramsbury, which was a 500-acre standard Air Ministry bomber field, which had been built during 1941-1942. It was from RAF Ramsbury that our newly assigned aircraft began to see action and ultimately participated in some of the fiercest battles of WWII.
From Ramsbury the 437th TCG began preparing for the Normandy invasion. On the 437th's first operation, in support of the Normandy landings, 52 C-47s departed around 2AM with troop carrying Waco (CG-4) gliders containing elements of the 82nd airborne infantry. Our aircraft flew in position number 50 for this mission. The gliders were released south of Cherbourg with the object of isolating the western end of the invasion bridgehead, but poor weather and anti-aircraft fire disrupted the formations causing the glider landings to be somewhat scattered. Although #591 did not fly in a follow-up mission from Ramsbury later on the 6th, the 437th flew a third combat mission, on D+1, towing 17 Horsa and 33 Waco gliders carrying reinforcements of troops, antiaircraft pieces, ammunition, rations, and other supplies for 82nd Airborne Division. The 84th squadron contributed 14 aircraft and 42-100591 once again flew in formation position 50. For its work during this period, the 437th TCG was later awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation. After the successful invasion and by the last week of June, the battle for the Port of Cherbourg had begun. Troops isolated and then captured the fortified port, considered vital to the campaign in Western Europe, in a hard-fought campaign of three weeks. The 437th TCG and our aircraft supported this campaign, which would ultimately enable badly needed follow-on troops and supplies to flow into Europe.
437th TCG continued supporting the advancing ground forces in France, in desperate need of ammunition. During the airborne attack on Holland, 17-25 Sep 1944, two 437th flights, both comprising 35 C-47s towing a CG-4A each, brought up the rear of the IX Troop Carrier task force for the 101st Airborne Division. The Battle at Arnhem (sometimes referred to a "the bridge too far") was part of the Market Garden operations plan. It made use of large-scale airborne forces and its tactical objectives were to secure a series of bridges over the main rivers of the German-occupied Netherlands to allow rapid advance by armored units. The strategic purpose was to allow an Allied crossing of the Rhine river, the last major natural barrier to an advance into Germany. The enemy anti-aircraft defenses were fully alerted and shot down five C-47s and ten gliders were also lost. A total of 24 C-47s in the first flight suffered flak damage and 22 in the second. Despite these losses and damage, the group was able to dispatch a follow-up mission the next day with one flight of 40 and another of 30 aircraft, each towing a glider. This time fate was kinder as only one C-47 in each formation received flak damage and none were lost, although four gliders aborted and another ditched in the sea. Unfortunately, although initially successful, because of the heavy resistance and lack of sufficient resupply even with the tremendous efforts by the 437th, the plan was generally considered a disaster and allied forces were forced to pull out.
It was then back to hauling supplies to France and Belgium and evacuating wounded to England with a particularly hectic period during the Battle of the Bulge. As part of the Battle of the Bulge the 437th TCG and our aircraft flew desperately needed resupply missions to the besieged forces at the famous town of Bastogne. This strategic town was at the junction of seven main roads in the Ardennes mountain range. Control of the crossroads of Bastogne was vital to the Germans to speed up their advance and improve resupply to the German columns, as the poor weather conditions made cross-country travel difficult. The only thing that stood in their way was the 101st Airborne Division and they were soon completed encircled by the enemy. Because of the poor weather and the lack of air cover and adequate resupply, the battle lasted from mid-December 1944 to January 1945; while the 101st bravely held out until the weather finally cleared, reinforcements arrived and the encirclement broken.
In February 1945 the group moved to its Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) at Coulommiers/Voisins, France, when several former Luftwaffe airfields were restored to operational use for action during the air assault across the Rhine. Hitler saw the Rhine as a symbol of German resolve. No invading army had crossed the Rhine in 140 years, since Napoleon in 1805. Any commander surrendering or retreating would be shot.
Cologne's bridges were destroyed before the city was captured. The US First Army was planning to cross the Rhine without a bridge, when it unexpectedly found the Ludendorff Railway Bridge still standing on March 7 in Remagen, Germany. The Allies rushed to cross the Rhine under air and artillery attack. By March 23 the Allies had a bridgehead thirty-five mile wide and twelve miles deep. To reinforce this bridgehead, allied airborne forces, in the last operation in Europe, dropped over the Rhine on March 25, 1945 in Operation Varsity. The 437th and our aircraft #591 participated in this action towing two gliders each (double tow) full of airborne infantry. German antiaircraft units were waiting and casualties were heavy, but the paratroopers landed together and took the East bank of the Rhine to protect the bridgehead. The Rhine had been cracked. Bridges went up all over the Rhine -- more than sixty in total. Hitler was unable to stop the Allies in the west. The Red Army was advancing in the East; Berlin was their next and final target.
The group flew numerous missions in March and April to carry gasoline, food, medicine, and other supplies to ground forces pushing across Germany. When not participating in one of the major airborne operations, the organization continually transported ammunition, rations, clothing, and other supplies, and evacuated wounded personnel to rear-zone hospitals, as well as evacuated prisoners of war and displaced persons to relocation centers after V-E Day.
The group returned to Baer Field, Indiana in August 1945, and was inactivated at Marfa Army Air Field, Texas on 15 November. But, that's not the end of the story for #591. While many aircraft from WWII were being turned in and sold or scrapped, our C-47 was put into storage, only to be called out to assist in the massive Berlin Airlift. The Berlin Blockade lasted from June 24, 1948 until May 11, 1949 and was one of the first major international crises of the cold war. During the multinational occupation of post-World War II Germany, the Soviet Union blocked the three Western powers' railroad and street access to the western sectors of Berlin that they had been controlling. Their aim was to force the western powers to allow the Soviet controlled regions to start supplying Berlin with food and fuel, thereby giving them nominal control over the entire city. In response, the Western Allies formed the Berlin Airlift to supply the city over pre-arranged air corridors. The effort was initially viewed with skepticism even in the countries mounting the attempt, as this sort of logistical effort had never been mounted before. The airlift to supply the German 6th Army at Stalingrad required 300 tons per day and rarely came even close to delivering this; the Berlin effort would require at least 5,000 tons a day, well over ten times as much. In spite of this, by the spring of 1949 the effort was clearly succeeding, and by April the airlift was delivering more cargo than had previously flowed into the city via rail. The success of the Airlift was humiliating to the Soviets, who had repeatedly claimed it could never possibly work. When it became clear that it was, the blockade was lifted in May.
With the successful breaking of the Berlin Blockade our Aircraft #591 was once again expendable and no longer needed by the United States. In 1950, the Norwegian Air Force took delivery of her, as part of the lend-lease program. In 1956 she was transferred to the Royal Danish Air Force, where her duty assignment was to transport the Royal Family of Denmark. In 1982 with over 13,500 flying hours, the Royal Danish Air Force finally retired #591.
This is where the Valiant Air Command (VAC) was truly honored to have the opportunity to offer such a valuable part of history a home. VAC members with the help of Royal Danish Air Force Pilots ferried her to the United States. During the latter part of the 80s and the 90s she visited many airshows and toured around the Nation as a flying museum; educating thousands about her battle heritage and of the legacy of those who sacrificed so much in the service of their country. Along the way she acquired her WWII type nose art and became known far and wide as The Valiant Air Command's "TICO Belle;" after the Titusville/Cocoa airport where she is based.
Sadly, in 2001, returning from an airshow, her landing gear collapsed in a severe wind condition. This necessitated the replacement of the landing gear, both engines and propellers from sudden stoppage and extensive sheet metal and skin work. Because we are a volunteer organization, we knew such an undertaking would be a long, exhausting and expensive proposition and there was some initial concern over whether is it would be worth the expense and effort. However, it was quickly decided that because of her history, battle heritage and the story behind her unbelievable survival, we owed it to all of us to restore her, so that she could continue educating present and future generations about all that she had seen and done.
We are proud to say that in July of 2008, after the long effort by countless volunteers, her engines pumped to life for the first time in many years. As the smoke and sounds reverberated across the parking ramp, there were misty eyes in more than a couple of the crowd that had gathered to watch her breathe once more. We are all looking forward to the Valiant Air Command Airshow in March, where once again aircraft 42-100591, The Tico Belle, will take her rightful place in vintage warbird formations, complete with Normandy invasion identification stripes. We will be able to look up and truly imagine what it must have been like on that fateful June 6th, 1944, sixty-five years ago. A day when the freedom of a world hung in the balance as she made her way in the pre- dawn darkness towards the beaches of Normandy; part of one of the largest invasion armadas the world has ever seen.
Today, The "Tico Belle" is a proud representative of this hallowed era and an ancient ancestor of what is today the 437th Airlift Wing, Headquartered at Charleston Air Force Base. She can be seen at air shows around the country, or at her home base at the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum.
The Valiant Air Command is a 501c3 Warbird museum located at 6600 Tico Road, Titusville, Florida 32780. The phone number is 321-268-1941 and the website is www.vacwarbirds.org
Colonel Terry Yon, USA (Ret)
Public Relations Officer
Valiant Air Command
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