The Douglas C-47 Skytrain/Dakota

By Chris Thornley CHJ Business Development Manager (Photo Credit: Lisa Harding)

As we approach the 75th anniversaries of D-Day and Operation Market Garden, we feature the aircraft that played a major role in both of these airborne operations, the Douglas C-47 SkytrainorDakota.

The Douglas C-47 Skytrain or Dakota (RAF designation) is a military transport aircraft developed from the civilian Douglas DC-3 airliner. It was used extensively by the Allies during World War II and remains in front line service with various military operators.

The C-47 differed from the civilian DC-3 in numerous modifications, including being fitted with a cargo door, hoist attachment, and strengthened floor, along with a shortened tail cone for glider-towing shackles, and an astrodome in the cabin roof.

The specialized C-53 Skytrooper troop transport started production in October 1941 at Douglas Aircraft's Santa Monica, California plant. It lacked the cargo door, hoist attachment and reinforced floor of the C-47. Only a total of 380 aircraft were produced in all because the C-47 was found to be more versatile.

During World War II, the armed forces of many countries used the C-47 and modified DC-3s for the transport of troops, cargo, and wounded. The U.S. Naval designation was R4D. More than 10,000 aircraft were produced in Long Beach and Santa Monica, California and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Between March 1943 and August 1945 the Oklahoma City plant produced 5,354 C-47s.

Operational history in World War II

The C-47 was vital to the success of many Allied campaigns, in particular those at Guadalcanal and in the jungles of New Guinea and Burma, where the C-47 (and its naval version, the R4D) made it possible for Allied troops to counter the mobility of the light-travelling Japanese Army. Additionally, C-47s were used to airlift supplies to the embattled American forces during the Battle of Bastogne. Possibly its most influential role in military aviation, however, was flying "The Hump" from India into China. The expertise gained flying "The Hump" was later be used in the Berlin Airlift, in which the C-47 played a major role, until the aircraft were replaced by Douglas C-54 Skymasters.

In Europe, the C-47 and a specialised paratroop variant, the C-53 Skytrooper, were used in vast numbers in the later stages of the war, particularly to tow gliders and drop paratroops. During the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, C-47s dropped 4,381 Allied paratroops. More than 50,000 paratroops were dropped by C-47s during the first few days of the invasion of Normandy, France, in June 1944. C-47s were also the backbone of the transport aircraft used to successfully deliver over 35,000 British & American Airborne paratroops for Operation Market Garden in September 1944. In the Pacific War, with careful use of the island landing strips of the Pacific Ocean, C-47s were even used for ferrying soldiers serving in the Pacific theatre back to the United States.

About 2,000 C-47s (received under lend-lease) in British and Commonwealth service took the name "Dakota", possibly inspired by the acronym "DACoTA" for Douglas Aircraft Company Transport Aircraft.

The C-47 also earned the informal nickname "gooney bird" in the European theatre of operations. Other sources attribute this name to the first aircraft, a USMC R2D - the military version of the DC-2 - being the first aircraft to land on Midway Island, previously home to the long-winged albatross known as the gooney bird, which was native to Midway.

75th anniversary commemorations of Operation Overlord & Market Garden

During the summer of 2019, the Douglas C-47 will be playing a significant role in commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day, as an ambitious project to re-create the aerial armada which headed for Normandy in advance of the amphibious landings in the early hours of 6th June 1944 is planned. After years of meticulous planning, the Daks over Normandy project aims to gather a force of over forty DC-3 and C-47s from all over the world, all coming together to pay a historic and extremely poignant tribute to the men who gave so much in their attempt to liberate occupied Europe on D-Day. This once in a lifetime event will see the aircraft based at Duxford between 2nd and 5th June, before they re-locate to Caen Carpiquet Airport between 6th and 9th June. The highlight of the commemoration will see around 250 parachutists wearing WWII style uniforms and equipped with authentic round parachutes flying over the English Channel, before jumping into the historic drop zones in Normandy. This is already shaping up to be one of the highlights of this D-Day 75th anniversary year. Please keep an eye on the Daks over Normandy website (daksovernormanday.com) for the latest details and for ticket information for the events themselves.

In September all attention turns to the Netherlands where the Douglas C-47 will also play a significant role in commemorating the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden (A Bridge Too Far) the largest airborne operation mounted in WWII.

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) Dakota ZA947

The aircraft was adopted by Strike Command and issued to the BBMF in March 1993. In 2004, an original and authentic floor and interior was re-fitted to the Dakota, returning the cabin to the original, wartime specification. As there are now no other multi-engine tail wheel aircraft in RAF service outside the BBMF, the Dakota is an important training asset used for initial training of aircrew for the BBMF multi-engine aircraft and for renewing the currency of the Flight’s Lancaster pilots each year. In addition to this role though, the Dakota is a sought-after display aircraft in her own right and, as such, she appears regularly on the air show circuit either on her own or as part of a BBMF formation. She continues to be capable of para-dropping and is used in that role for special commemorative events.

ZA947 is now painted to represent Dakota FZ692 of No 233 Squadron, around the D-Day period in 1944. This aircraft, which was named ‘Kwicherbichen’ by her crews, was involved in Para-dropping operations on the eve of D-Day and subsequently in re-supply and casualty evacuation missions into and out of forward airfields in the combat areas. The aircraft also participated in dropping airborne forces for Operation Market Garden and the Rhine Crossing.