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DZ Europe: Operation Varsity – “The Rhine”

…It wasn’t much of a secret. The Allied armies stretched along the Rhine. ON the other side lay Victory, and at places the crossing had been made – the bridge at Remagen and a foothold by Patton. But in the North the main crossing still was to be made. Field Marshal Montgomery was poised on the West bank. At Troop Carrier fields across France men were alerted, airborne troops had moved in and the bustle of preparations could mean only one thing. Once more Troop Carrier was to spearhead a thrust into the enemy’s vitals.

Within one spring week in March, 1945, it suddenly seemed that the war in Europe was mounting to a climax and a breaking point. German’s legendary Rhine barrier had been reached all along the west bank by the Allies and had already been forced by the surprise seizure of the Remagen Bridge. Along the upper reaches of the great river, for weeks, Britain’s Montgomery had been threatening a great offensive and the Germans had advertised their anticipation of airborne drops.

For three days before the opening gun, Marshall Montgomery had stoked a sixty-six-mile smoke screen in hundreds of chemical generators strung along the river. And back at the Troop Carrier bases in France and England, sweating and nervous anticipation rose to unprecedented heights. This was it, the mission to end all missions in Europe! “One more river to cross and I’ll take me and my damn air medals home,” was in every crewman’s mind. In the Orleans compound, 440th men eagerly scanned situation maps day and night as they sensed the excitement in the air. Behind locked doors, Major Young L. Watson’s Intelligence staff sweated over the newly arrived “Top Secret” material. And down on  A-50 crews sweated over the planes, for they, too, realized that this one had to be good.

rick-atkinson-guns-at-last-light-operation-varsity-plunderPlanning for this great Airborne mission had begun as far back as November, 1944, and from that time on all training was focused on the crossing of the Rhine. Step by step, the Command plans blossomed. Photographic evidence of terrain was studied for choice of landing zones for gliders and drop zones for paratroopers. All flak threats with enemy weapons likely to be used were considered. A constant check was kept on the possible German threat from the air. Improvements were devised in methods of dropping parapacks. Gliders received new protection devices. Engineers toiled over air strips in France. Increased vigilance and security precautions were rehearsed and stressed constantly. Anti-aircraft units were assigned to Troop Carrier bases. Throughout the Allied Airborne Army, training tempo was stepped up and up … Check your angle of the job…Rehearse it…Check it again…Rehearse it again. On and on it went. The timing system was rehearsed and modified. Equipment lists were studied and changed…In short, this show was to be the most rehearsed and best planned one in the history of airborne operations.

Finally, by March 16, Troop Carrier planning had crystallized into Field Order No. 5, which outlined the forthcoming operation VARSITY in detail. D-Day would fall on Saturday, March 24, with paratroop drops slated to begin at 1000 hours and the procession of Troop Carrier and glider serials to continue streaming over the target until well beyond noon.

The objective of the great attack was clear enough. The eastern bank defenses of the Rhine were to fall victim to vertical envelopment by paratroops and glider infantry in conjunction with the waterborne assault by ground forces from the west bank.

In cold military terms, the mission of the airborne force in the Emmerich-Wesel area was to assist the advance of the U.S. Ninth Army and the British Second Army by seizing a bridgehead on the east bank of the Rhine between Rees and Bislich. Then the skyborne troops would assist in enlarging the bridgehead to the required size of five to ten miles in width and five miles in depth in order to enable bridging operations to be undertaken relatively unhindered by artillery fire. Following the lift phase, Troop Carrier was committed to its traditional role of resupplying bridgehead troops by air until adequate ground arteries were able to function.

Available for the lift were the Sixth British Airborne Division and the Seventeenth U.S. Airborne Division. Over and above the simple fact that the Rhine was to be crossed hovered the realization that seizure of the Emmerich-Wesel sector would fling open the gate to the industrially precious Ruhr and the heart of the Reich, and would bring the end of the European war within reach.

david_shepherd_painting_test_02On the ground, the Allied armies int he North were scheduled to cross the Rhine in the vicinity of Wesel eight hours before the arrival of the Airborne Army. Here was something new! The doughfoots were to get in the first lick this time. And the U.S. Navy was also to be on the Rhine. Along with the Royal Navy, the U.S. overland fleet had hundreds of vessels in action. For weeks, all kinds of landing craft had been transported overland to hiding places along the Rhine. The offensive would see a steady stream of boats ferrying men, tanks, guns, bulldozers, and gasoline to the east banks in the wake of the initial assault craft.

The Air Force had a big role to play, too, a number of roles. Big Eight Air Force bombers were to pound the enemy days in advance of the opening gun…smash their jet plane airfields, hammer at flak installations, wreck their rear communication lines. Prowling fighters would maintain a defensive screen east of the landing area. And fifteen minutes after all airborne forces were on the ground a fleet of Liberators would drop supplies to the embattled sky warriors. RAF Fighter Command would escort Troop Carrier columns coming out of the United Kingdom, and Ninth Air Force would take care of those starting from French bases. Over the target area, the Second Tactical Air Force would take over the main job of air protection.

The terse, clipped phrases of Field Order No. 5 pointed to the threefold, historic task of Major General Paul L. Williams’ IX Troop Carrier Command: to lift parachute and glider troops and equipment of the U.S. Seventeenth Airborne Division; to support the Thirty-eighth and Forty-sixth RAF Groups by carrying part of the paratroops and equipment of the Sixth British Airborne Division; and to resupply the Seventeenth by air.

1945MarchOpVarsityInside the War Room of Group Headquarters, Colonel Krebs, his Staff and Intelligence officers, weeded out the 440th job from the complicated maze of the mammoth plan. The task of the veteran 440th Troop Carrier Group in Operation VARSITY was to tow ninety gliders filled with a IX Troop Carrier Command Control Unit, a Reconnaissance Platoon of the 17th Airborne Division, together with their equipment. The CG-4A gliders were to be landed in a rectangular area designated LZ “N,” the most northerly of the two landing zones selected for the Seventeenth Airborne and lying about four miles north northwest of the city of Wesel along the northwest side of a heavily wooded area. The zone was characterized by a checkerboard arrangement of fields and meadows interspersed with patches of woodland and farmhouses. Prominent landmarks were the double-tracked Wesel-Emmerich rail line and the sing track Wesel-Bocholt line, as well as the enemy’s secondary defense, the Issel Canal, and the main power line through the area, strung on 100-foot pylons. The tow as to be made directly from the home base, Airstrip A-50 at Bricy, near Orleans, France. Simple enough – on paper.

Then, the carefully rehearsed Group security plan swung into operation. A restriction was slapped on. Special passes were given to all outstanding vehicles. Warning signs appeared all over the compound and quarters… “Home Alive in ’45, Don’t Talk!” … “Enemy Ears Are Listening!” … “What You See and Heart Here, Leave Here,” … On D minus 2 Day the ball was passed to the Squadron Staffs and throughout the day preliminary briefings were held. Questions and answers flew thick and fast inside the guarded briefing rooms… “Those orange pins represent flak positions, but they expect to clean out most of them before Saturday” (laughter) … “No, we make a flat right turn”…”You’re damn right the pattern will be crowded”…”Dont’ forget to wear GI shoes.” No one was overlooked. Everybody got his instructions. Finally, on D minus 1, at ten o’clock in the morning, a mass briefing of power and glider pilots was conducted at the Royal Theatre by the Group Staff.

In the late afternoon of March 23 aircraft and gliders were marshaled on the runway of A-50. The line-up for the following morning was as follows: The 440th tow comprised two serials (A-16 and A-17) of the entire Troop Carrier plan, each serial containing forty-five towplanes and forty-five gliders. For the first serial (A-16), twenty-two planes of the 95th Squadron, twenty-two planes of the 97th Squadron, and one plane of the 96th Squadron assigned to Group headquarters for the lead ship in the 440th formation, were ready to go. In the second serial (A-17), there were twenty-one planes of the 96th Squadron, one of the 95th, and twenty-three of the 98th. The forty-five gliders in Serial A-16 were assigned to transport the Reconnaissance Platoon, the Control Unit, and elements of the 139th Engineering battalion. The equal number of gliders in Serial A-17 were to carry the 517th Signal Company as well as elements of the 139th Engineers. Gliders were loaded with a total of 193,433 pounds of equipment. Five hundred and thirty-two airborne troops were to board the craft. At the controls of the lead ship would be Lt. Col. Cannon with Colonel Krebs as co-pilot. The second serial would be led by Lt. Col. Johnson, 96th Commanding Officer, with Captain Roberson as his co-pilot.

In the velvety darkness before dawn, fresh winds blew across dozens of airfields in France and England. By the thousands, sleepy-eyed, yawning warriors climbed into their big-pocketed jump suits and pulled on high combat boots. It was another fateful morning of: “Well, here we go again! May your dog tags never part!” This time they were going beyond the Rhine.

C47sInbound-300x214At 2000 hours on March 23 Field Marshal Montgomery’s Twenty-first Army Group had launched a tremendous artillery barrage against the sector just east of the Rhine with intense fire sweeping through landing zones and drop zones. At 2100 hours the barrage lifted and under cover of darkness British Commandos opened the assault against Wesel. At 2200 the British VII Corps attacked. At 2330 the British XXX Corps joined the battle. Four and a half hours later, before dawn, General Simpson’s U.S. Ninth Army attacked south of the Lippe Canal. It had begun. the drive for Germany’s throat was on!

By dawn, nine small bridgeheads had been torn out of German hands across the Rhine in the Emmerich-Wesel area, and the stage was now set for the aerial armada of Troop Carrier to descend in a vertical flanking movement against the enemy’s east bank fortifications as the main Allied forces engaged him frontally.

Weather was on the side of the Allies as D-Day dawned bright and clear, with a ten-mile wind sweeping the airfields. The takeoffs began, and a Troop Carrier force of almost 3,000 planes and gliders lifted two heavily-armed and heavily-equipped Airborne divisions in a 420-mile-long javelin aimed squarely at the Ruhr defenses. If the planes had been strung out in a single file they could have stretched in unbroken line from Paris to Berlin!

The Seventeenth Airborne Division rode into battle from airdromes in the Paris area aboard 1,800 C-47 and C-46 aircraft and CG-4A gliders in both dual and single tows. The British Sixth Airborne Division jumped off from England with the entire paratroop lift made by 240 C-47s. To join the Yank glider assault, RAF threw in 381 Horsas and forty-eight giant Hamilcars, singly towed by C-47s Sterlings, and Halifaxes. The two great serial task forces converged at a point south of Brussels, while Allied fighters buzzed about protectively. Our aerial might was everywhere in evidence. The fighter screen was thrown around the target area, while others swooped east of the Rhine to isolate the battle sector.

At 0953 hours the first Pathfinder serial appeared over the target. It was the first link in a Troop Carrier chain over four drop zones and six landing zones that included seven American and six British parachute serials and thirty glider serials divided equally between the two members of the Allied team. Altogether the procession across the target would continue for three hours and twelve minutes. The last plane would wheel homeward at 1304 hours.

The drop had begun. German flak opened up, colored equipment parachutes dotted th ground, a white parachute was hung up in a tree, a big Hamilcar glider lay on its back, broken and burning. Fighter pilots saw concealed flak positions open up on the fat transports; one ship exploded in the air, others tumbled and burned. The fighters, in rocket-firing P-47 Thunderbolts, curses and went in on the deck, taking desperate chances to silence the enemy ack-ack.

Back at A-50 the 440th propellers whirled impatiently, while the gilders waited submissively in neat rows on both sides of the long, concrete runway. Pilots sniffed nervously at the cross-wind coming from the left as they climbed into their flak vests. That might cause trouble. Throughout the dawn hours trucks had snarled their way up from Orleans through the still sleeping town of Bricy, carrying the yawning crews. Now all were ready. It was time. But they didn’t like the way that cross-wind swept across the battered airfield.

At 0831, the lead tug, with Lt. Col. Cannon and Colonel Krebs at the controls, started down the runway with the first glider in tow, piloted by Major Wilson. One after another, at twenty-second intervals, the tow planes moved into line, gently taughtened the rope, then poured on the power and roared down the runway into the sky. The drift from the wind was evident at once. Crews still on the ground swore softly as they waited their turn. The take-offs continued with stop-watch accuracy. At 0848, Lt. Col. Johnson’s second serial took off. In thirty-eight minutes, all aircraft and gliders were airborne.

Men on the ground heaved a concerted sigh of relief as they watched the skytrain come back over the field to form in groups of four, echeloned to the right. And just as they had resigned themselves to the seating-out stage, one of the planes dropped out, released its gilder over the field, and landed shortly afterwards. It was No. 642. An engine was cutting out. Hurriedly, the business of getting a spare ship into action began, for there was still time to catch the formation. Some minutes later, with the formation already out of sight, another abort winged back over the field. No. 731 had developed a runaway propeller that refused control. Another spare was called on as the Commanding Officer of the 139th Engineers, Lt. Col. Johnson, raged and fumed with impatience and worry, for he had been aboard the abortive glider. The second spare got into the sky about a half hour behind the Group formation with the uncomfortable prospect of a solo flight ahead of them.

The 346-mile flight to the target, later reported as “uneventful,” had begun. It was seventy-five miles north northwest to the Wing Departure point, “Slate,” near Pontoise, France. Then eighty-two miles northeast to the next checkpoint, “Jasper,” a spot near St. Quentin, France. Then straight on for another eighty miles to the Command Departure Point, “Marfak,” where astonished inhabitants of Wavre, Belgium, had a choice ground view of the entire Troop Carrier train flying 1,500 feet above them. On they ploughed, battling the wind drift. Descending to an altitude of 1,000 feet, the 440th drove on twenty-seven more miles to “Vega,” thirty-tow miles to “Kingston,” and thirty-three miles more to “Yalta,” lying twelve miles from the banks of the Rhine and seventeen miles from the target. Down went the ships to 700 feet, the prescribed altitude for the release. Nerves tightened as the yellow smoke and yellow panel appeared on the ground, signalling the alert just before the river appeared. Thick smoke of battle was now everywhere. The 440th plunged into the conflict at its raging height.

It was late in the airborne attack. Most of the glidermen and all of the paratroopers were already on the ground, at grips with the enemy. “The smoke and haze were so thick, I hardly knew I was over the Rhine,” said one pilot. But Landing Zone “N” was still clear of combat. At 1155 hours, our first plane released its glider over the LZ, and Major Wilson began his perilous 270-degree descent to the left, while the Commanding Officer’s tug made its flat 180-degree turn to the right to head for the rope drop area on the west side of the Rhine. Then came the withering hail of enemy flak which damaged fourteen of our planes and destroyed two. Heeding the order for no evasive action, every one of the ninety ships released its glider over the target area. But narrow escapes were plentiful.

The 95th Squadron got through with ships piloted by Major Budd and Lieutenant Davey severely shot up. In the 97th Lieutenant Sharkey returned with holes in his cabin large enough for one to crawl through. By then, farmhouses and dugouts in the LZ were alive with bursts of light flak and small-arms fire.

The second serial met it head on and was hit much harder. The hazy sky swarmed with escaping tug planes, grim-jawed pilots maneuvering feverishly to get out without hitting the feared Issel Canal line, eyes of crew chiefs darted everywhere searching for signs of critical damage to their planes. A 20-mm. shell smacked into the nose of the lead 96th ship, and Lt. Col. Johnson lead the serial back across the Rhine, fighting a fire in his cockpit. With the pilot stamping away at the fire, co-pilot Captain Roberson brought the ship into the emergency field at Eindhoven, Holland.

Lieutenant Prudhomme, also of the 96th, was forced to drop out of formation after both gasoline tanks had been hit. Trailing gas, he had to put in at B-90 airdrome.

The 98th Squadron, trailing the second serial, was hit the hardest, with two aircraft losses. Lieutenant Walters, his plane afire after being hit by three successive bursts of flak, found himself fighting for altitude in the dangerously crowded aircraft pattern. The “Bail Out!” order was given. As the crew parachuted to safety, they saw their ship blaze up in mid-air.

A crashed B-17 in a similar manner to the C-47 crash.
A crashed B-17 in a similar manner to the C-47 crash.

Back over the Rhine plane number 774, piloted by Lieutenant Decou, was in serious trouble. The right engine was on fire, and a radio message from another ship told the pilot that his tanks were on fire. Lieutenant Decou ordered the crew to jump. “When I got to the door,” related Co-Pilot Eastman, “the crew chief and radio operator were struggling with the door, which had jammed at the lower right hinge. After trying unsuccessfully to release it, the crew chief and I pushed against it as hard as we could to allow the radio operator to squeeze out the restricted opening. I then did the same for the crew chief, and finally squeezed through myself. It took me at least fifteen seconds to get through the opening. The pilot had stayed in the cockpit all this time, keeping the ship steady.”

Too low to jump himself, with one engine dead, Lieutenant Decou elected to ride the stricken plane into a ploughed-up field, “Along the field’s north edge,” said the lieutenant, ” was a highway which had heavy military traffic on it. Wishing to avoid piling up the ship across the highway, and also to avoid a large herd of sheep on the north of the field, I dragged the right wing through some posts on the south edge of the field which caused a ground loop to the right, and the ship came to a halt about two-thirds of the way across the field…I immediately removed the top escape hatch and went out over the nose, not knowing when the ship would blow up, having fully expected it to on first impact. Captain Thompson then buzzed the field and I waved an ‘OK’ to him.”

By 1411 hours, the last 440th plane had returned to the home base at Bricy. In the entire operation, but one C-47 pilot, Lieutenant Raftery of the 97th, received slight wounds in the arm.

Return of the glider pilots on Tuesday, March 27, revealed that they had had it much rougher on the ground. In all, five of them were killed and six wounded, largely by enemy shellfire. One glider, loaded with demolitions, exploded in mid-air when hit, killing all aboard.

Gliders were widely dispersed on landing, and assembly of the Airborne was initially by squad and two squad groups. Immediate contact was made with the enemy, but the tough Airborne Engineers set about their task, the clearing and defending of the zone from armored attack from the north. Every house, patch of woods and haystack had been fortified by the Germans, and for hours the invaders were under heavy fire.

One of the two gliders carrying the Battalion medical personnel landed immediately adjacent to a German house sheltering forty German soldiers. Withering small-arms fire and a direct mortar fire hit greeted them. The medical officer and non-com escaped unhurt, but their driver was killed and burned with the glider. With equipment from the other glider, the battalion surgeon set up an aid station and immediately began treating casualties.

By 1730 hours, the battalion had taken all of its objectives and had consolidated its position. During the day, eighty-three Germans were killed or wounded and 315 captured, along with an entire battery of 105-mm. artillery.

The 440th glider pilots holed up in their assembly point in the woods guarding prisoners, and , the next morning assisted in marching them back to the Thine where they were turned over the MP’s. Evacuation was made by “ducks” to the west bank of the Rhine, where the glider pilots were picked up at airdrome B-68 and brought to Bricy in C-47s on the evening of D plus, 2, March 26.

By late afternoon of March 24 both the British and American divisions had made contact with British troops working overland from the river; by six p.m. the skytroopers had taken all their assigned objectives, including several intact bridges over the Issel, regarded as the Nazis’ next main line of resistance after the Rhine. Before midnight, the airborne men had captured 4,000 Germans behind their own front lines.

GLIDER_TROOPS_AFTER_LANDING_NEAR_WESEL_(Operation_Varsity)In the entire IX Troop Carrier Command operation, 1,147 effective sorties had successfully dropped 8,731 parachutists and 684,217 pounds of supplies, while the 885 effective glider sorties disgorged 4,810 troops together with 2,024,047 pounds of equipment and supplies. Ninety-seven per cent of equipment and supplied loaded for VARSITY had hit paydirt on schedule.

By the second day it was clear that the airborne attack had come off beautifully, and that it could stand almost as a textbook model of sound airborne doctrine: jump for the open spots and clip the enemy from the side; jump in real strength, not in penny packets for the enemy to chew up one by one; jump close enough to the main attacking ground force so that contact can be made before the airborne group is worn down.

To General Williams fell the high acclaim of General Brereton, commander of the First Allied Airborne Army, who stated on March 29:

EOS - CCT #1“It is my desire to congratulate and to commend the officers and men of all ranks of IX Troop Carrier Command for their fine performance in connection with the airborne operations of 24 March 1945:

“The pilots and co-pilots of many aircraft displayed great courage in their determination to continue to their assigned DZ’s and LZ’s in the face of intense anti-aircraft fire, exceeding anything previously encountered by our units in this theatre.

“The Commanding General, 6th Airborne Division, was most emphatic in his praise of the precision which characterized the drop of his Division. The Commanding General of the 17th Airborne Division has written me, expressing unbounded admiration for the skill, courage and devotion to duty of all crew members of our aircraft and gliders.

“Many individual cases have been cited where damaged and burning aircraft continued to their assigned ares in spite of the fact that the crews well understood that continuing on course destroyed any probably chance of survival for themselves.

“The conduct of glider pilots, in general, is beyond written words of commendation. Not only did they deliver a magnificent and well-coordinated landing which in many cases was in the midst of hostile positions, but were immediately engaged with the Airborne associates in the hottest kind of hand-to-hand fighting. In one instance, a glider pilot serial immediately organized for all-around defense and withstood heavy counter-attacks with the weapons at their disposal, putting one enemy tank out of action in this engagement. The discipline and combat efficiency of these glider pilots has called forth the highest praise of Division and Regimental officers.

“The extremely low number of abortive aircraft and the speed with which abortives were re-dispatched indicates superior performance by all ground echelons. This devotion to duty is worth of the highest praise.

“The courage and devotion to duty of all IX Troop Carrier Command personnel is worthy of the very highest standards of our armed forces.”

[SOURCE: DZ Europe: The Story of the 440 Troop Carrier Group]

In Memory of 2nd Lt. William J. Hamrick, 440th TCG/96th TCS

Bill HamrickThe 440th Troop Carrier Group website and community wishes to offer our heartfelt condolences to the family of 2nd Lieutenant William J. Hamrick, 440th Troop Carrier Group, 96th Troop Carrier Squadron, navigator and flight leader. He passed away on March 16, 2013.

In a 2009 interview, Hamrick recalled the arrival of the group commander after he had been shot down.

“Colonel Krebs and Major Ottoman had been lost at Bastogne,” he said. “I remember them walking in with their straw hats on. We had a big rally for them.”

Hamrick also recalled a joke he played on Major Ottoman shortly afterwards.

“I said to Major Ottoman, ‘Could you tell me why in the world they sent a bombardier to this unit?’ Ottoman was livid and reported me to Lieutenant Colonel Johnson, our squadron commander. Colonel Johnson and I flew together on a zig-zag pattern and he said to me, ‘Could you direct us back?’ By golly, I got us back and Johnson and I have been friends ever since,” he laughed.

Hamrick also recalled an incident from Operation Varsity.

“Colonel Johnson’s plane was hit in the nose while we were dropping over the Rhine. Capt. James Robertson was the co-pilot and he was trying to use the firefighting equipment to get the flame out,” he said. “Capt. Aldo Tombari got so excited that Johnson had to tell him to sit down because he had to make an emergency landing.”

“2nd Lieutenant Aymon Prudhomme was the pilot of the right wingman plane and 1st Lieutenant Joseph Turecky was the co-pilot. They had a hole in their gas tank and had to set it down. Nobody mentioned anything about that episode until our 1996 reunion in St. Louis. I told Turecky ‘Do you know who told you to land at Wesel?’ He shook his head and said, ‘No.’ I smiled and said, ‘Well you’re looking at him!’” he chuckled.

Though decades later, he could still not get the images of the war out of his mind.

On one particular day, he flew as a navigator with 1st Lt. David Brown, 1st Lt. James Murphy and Sgt. Thomas Pinto on a mission to deliver five-gallon jerricans of fuel to the Third Army. The flight was a routine flight and they made their way back to Metz. He didn’t fly with them the next day but remembers clearly what happened.

“Murphy and Brown slid in a little too close on takeoff and they started to roll out to the left. I could tell the pilot was trying to pull up but the weight of the cargo shifted to the left and they couldn’t pull it up. They came down but didn’t make it out. The plane hit and went off like a bomb had exploded. They were hauling gas,” he said.

“When I got there, their bodies were already taken off. Murphy was a guy who always liked to fly with jump boots on. I saw his leg with a boot by the tail of the aircraft. Pinto, the crew chief, was a Brooklynese kind of a fellow. I saw his coveralls there. He was the only one still with his body in good condition, the rest were consumed by the flames,” he sobbed out of remembrance.

“We lost other guys but seeing that was hard. I still feel deeply hurt. I did get a weeks pass on the Riviera to get over the shock of it, but it never really went away. I flew with the crew the day before it happened. They were all nice young men.”

Lieutenant Hamrick, you are already missed. We salute you!

Here is his obituary published March 18, 2013 in the TribStar:

March 18, 2013

William “Bill” Jean Hamrick, 88, of Terre Haute, passed away Saturday, March 16, 2013. He was born in St. Mary-of-the-Woods, on Nov. 27, 1924, to Floyd and Katherine (Russell) Hamrick. He was a graduate of Indiana State Teacher’s College (now Indiana State University) with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 1948 and 1951, respectively. He retired in 1989 from Vigo County Schools, where he had been the Assistant Superintendent of Instruction.

Bill was a decorated World War II veteran with the U.S. Army Air Corps, where he served as a lieutenant with the 440th carrier group of the 96th squadron. He was a navigator in the European campaign against Germany. After the end of the war, Bill returned to Terre Haute and started a career in education.

He was a career educator with Vigo County School Corporation for 40 years.  During that time, he served as teacher, counselor, assistant principal, coordinator of Guidance and Special Education, Director of Pupil Personnel Services, acting Superintendent and 20 years as assistant Superintendent for Instruction. He served one year at the state level as Indiana Director of Guidance Services and six years as consultant with the American Schools in Pachuca, Hidalgo, Mexico. He also served as a developer of the Covered Bridge Special Education District. Under his supervision the Washington Alternative High School was developed in Vigo County.

After retirement, Bill was an active member of the Wabash Valley Art Guild, where he painted as a water colorist. His work was award-winning and exhibited in many locations in/around southern Indiana. He also was an active member of Memorial United Methodist Church and he served as chairman of the Administration Board and Pastor Parish Committee.

Other civic contributions include serving 23 years as Board of Directors of the Hamilton Mental Health Center from its inception through building and program development. He also was a member of Vigo Country Coordinating Council and co-founder of the 4-C Child Care Services of Vigo County. He also served on the Board of Directors of the Terre Haute Symphony and Vigo Country Historical Society and was a member of the Kiwanis Club.

Survivors include his loving wife of nearly 57 years, Mary Claire (Thomas) Hamrick, whom he married on June 30, 1956; one son, Charles “Chuck” Hamrick of Woodstock, Ga., and his fiancé Margo Held; one daughter, Sally A. (Hamrick) Robertson of Laurel, Md.; one brother, Donald Hamrick of Terre Haute and his wife Joanna; six grandchildren, Michelle Hamrick, Marie (Hamrick) Anstead and her husband Charles, Heather (Hamrick-Ormiston) LeClear and her husband Robert, Charles “Chas” Hamrick, Monet (Hamrick) Luloh and her husband Alex, and Samantha Robertson; six great-grandchildren, Amanda (Ormiston) Roberts and her husband Brandon, Darin Ormiston Jr. and his wife Angie, Austin Charles Ormiston, and Charles “Chase” Anstead; and five great-great-grandchildren, Rowen, Bailey, Lilly and Irelynn Roberts and Damien Ormiston. He was preceded in death by his parents; and his brother Robert.

Visitation will be Tuesday, March 19, 2013, from 12 noon to 2 p.m. at Callahan-DeBaun Funeral Home, 2425 Wabash Ave., Terre Haute, with funeral services at 2 p.m. with Pastor Scott Johnson officiating. Burial will follow at Roselawn Memorial Park in Terre Haute. The family asks that contributions be made to Memorial United Methodist Church, 2701 Poplar Street, Terre Haute, in lieu of flowers. Online condolences can be made at:


Remembering the ‘Serenaders’ – 440th Troop Carrier Group band

From DZ Europe: The story of the 440th Troop Carrier Group

Whenever there’s an army, there is music. Military music for the formalities of parades and retreats and, usually, sweet swing and “hot licks” for the free-time hours.

The men of the 440th Troop Carrier Group, having with them no bandsmen officially assigned, soon filled the musical gap by the creation, under Major Robert W. Hanson, of the “Serenaders,” a fifteen-piece orchestra composed of volunteers from the line-crews, headquarters squadrons and other offices and units of the Group.

Working on their own time, and working arduously, the “Serenaders” developed into a crack dance orchestra whose members – with no fanfare of publicity about the fact – did wonders for the morale of these Troop Carrier boys overseas.

In addition to their regular daylight duties, the “Serenaders doubled in brass – literally – in the military band, which in the full regalio of gleaming helmets, white belts and leggings to contrast their OD uniforms, made gala those formal celebrations in which the 440th participated. Captain Donald G. Genung and his band members received high praise from the members of the 440th.

Flight Officer George Theis recalls his experiences playing for the Serenaders:

“I was their lead alto sax player and that is me in the center of the front row. When I arrived in Orleans, France in mid January 1945, there was an attempt to expand the original band. They noticed on my officer record that I played a saxophone in the high school band.  I was approached to see if I would volunteer and I was more than happy to join. Another glider pilot, Jack Seawright, a recent replacement had been a trumpet player and also volunteered.


“We had no band leader at first. Major Hanson, the 98th TCS ex officer played a ukulele and offered to be our band leader. He promised to help us obtain transportation to the many tours that we eventually took into Paris and many other Troop Carrier bases in France plus a flight to the forward base where we played for the troops. We accepted his offer and that started a very rewarding experience.


“We played at the Rainbow Corners one time and on May 8, 1945, we were playing a show at the Grande Hotel when the war officially ended.  What a night and what a celebration. One soldier came up to the band stand and asked for Major Hanson’s autograph. When he looked at the signature, he was disappointed as he thought that we were the Glenn Miller band and Hanson was the famous Glenn Miller, who by that time was missing on a flight from England to France. That evening show was recorded and broadcast back to the USA.”

Roster of the Serenaders:

Top Row (L-R):

Maj. Robert Hanson, 98th TCS, bandmaster

unidentified, trumpet

Warren Reinhold, 97th TCS, trumpet

Jim Delabar, 440th TCG HQ, trumpet

Flight Officer Jack Seawright, 98th TCS, trumpet

T/Sgt. Lou “Viggie” Viggiano, 440th TCG HQ, drums

Sgt. Ralph Hils, 98th TCS, bass

Tom Fulton, 95th TCS, piano


Middle Row (L-R):

Sgt. Cal Jordan, 98th TCS, trombone

Dick Reese, 95th TCS, trombone

George Fredericks, 440th TCG HQ, trombone


Front Row (L-R):

Myron Herschler, 440th TCG HQ, saxophone

Joe Antonnuccio, 98th TCS, saxophone

Flight Officer George Theis, 98th TCS, saxophone

Sgt. George Cowand, 98th TCS, saxophone

S/Sgt. Alex Stratigos, 96th TCS, vocals

Chronology of the 440th Troop Carrier Group

Originally published as “Diary of Events” in DZ Europe: The Story of the 440th Troop Carrier Group.

7 June 1943:               Original cadre assembled at Army Air Force School of Applied Tactics, Orlando, Fla., held preactivation meeting, and began four-week course.

1 July 1943:                 440th Troop Carrier Group was formally activated at Baer Field, Fort Wayne, Ind.

5 July 1943:                 Original cadre arrived at Baer Field from Orlando.

10 July 1943:               440th arrived at Sedalia Army Air Base, Warrensburg, Mo., to begin training.

7 September 1943:      440th arrived at Alliance Army Air Base, Alliance, Neb.

17 December 1943:     440th air echelon arrived at Pope Field, Fort Bragg, N.C.

4 January 1944:           440th ground echelon arrived at Pope Field.

4-9 January 1944:        Training maneuvers. Five missions were flown with the 17th Airborne Division and the 282d Airborne Engineers.

17-29 January 1944:    Bivouacs at Knollwood and Lumberton, N.C.

14-15 February 1944:  440th arrived at Baer Field, Fort Wayne, Ind., to stage for overseas movement.

21-23 February 1944:  Air echelon took off from Baer Field on first leg of overseas flight.

23 February 1944:       Ground echelon arrived at Camp Shanks, N.Y., port of embarkation.

22-25 February 1944:  Air echelon departed Morrison Field, Fla., for United Kingdom via Porto Rico, British Guiana, Belem and Natal, Brazil, Ascension Island and Fernando Island, Liberia, Dakar, and Marrakech.

5-8 March 1944:           Air echelon arrived in England at St. Mawgan, Cornwall, and Valley, Wales.

8-11 March 1944:        Air echelon proceeded to AAF Station No. 481¸ Bottesford, Nottinghamshire, England, to set up its first overseas headquarters.

14 March 1944:           440th ground echelon sailed from New York Harbor on HMT “Louis Pasteur.”

15 March 1944:           Colonel Frank X Krebs assumed command of AAF Station No. 481 in addition to his duties as Group Commander.

18 March 1944:           The 440th flew its first mission in the ETO. Eleven patients were evacuated from a hospital in Pershore, North Ireland, to England.

22 March 1944:           The “Louis Pasteur” docked at Liverpool.

23 March 1944:           440th ground echelon joined the air echelon at Station No. 481, Bottesford.

11 April 1944:             Practice mission PAYLOAD. 440th executed paradrop with 456th Parachute Field Artillery.

13 April 1944:             Practice mission PITCH. 440th executed paradrop with 1st Battalion of the 507th Parachute Infantry.

15 April 1944:             First 440th formal inspection and review in ETO held on runway at Bottesford.

18 April 1944:             Practice mission FAITHFUL. 440th carried units of the 82d Airborne Division.

22 April 1944:             Practice mission PLAYPALL. 440th carried units of 82d Airborne Division.

24 April 1944:             Practice mission HOPEFUL. 440th carried units of 82d Airborne Division.

26 April 1944:             440th arrived at Station No. 463, Exeter, Devon, in change of station.

1 May 1944:                General Omar Bradley visited the 440th at Exeter.

10 May 1944:              440th Airdrome Defense Unit activated.

12 May 1944:               Practice mission EAGLE. 440th carried units of 101st Airborne Division in practice paradrop.

27 May 1944:              All personnel restricted to base.

3 June 1944:                Base completely sealed off. Recognition stripes of black and white were painted on all aircraft and gliders.

5 June 1944:                Final briefings were held. Paratroopers appeared on field with full equipment.

Paratroopers get final instructions before leaving on aircraft 43-15087, chalk #2, piloted by Capt. Matt J. Luoma of the 95th Troop Carrier Squadron

6 June 1944:                D-Day! Mission NEPTUNE BIGOT! 3d Battalion of 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment and two platoons of Company C, 326th Airborne Engineers Battalion, all of the 101st Airborne Division, were parachuted into Normandy from forty-five 440th aircraft at 0143.

7 June 1944:                Mission MEMPHIS! 440th participated in daylight aerial resupply drop to 101st Airborne in Normandy.

23-24 June 1944:         First 440th landings in France. Eleven serials flew resupply missions, carrying ammunition to newly-constructed airstrips on Normandy coast.

1 July 1944:                 First anniversary of 440th Troop Carrier Group celebrated with parade and field day at Exeter airdrome. The Group’s first Purple Heart was awarded to S/Sgt. Ernest Iannuccilli for wounds received on D-Day.

11 July 1944:              First Air Medal awarded to 298 air crew members of 440th for participation in the Normandy missions.

14 July 1944:             Colonel Frank X. Krebs awarded Distinguished Flying Cross.

16 July 1944:             Air excelons of 95th, 96th and 97th Squadrons took off from Exeter for secret flight to Italy via Marrakech.

18 July 1944:             Air echelon arrived at Ombrone airstrip, near city of Grosseto, Italy.

30 July 1944:             Ombrone based aircraft executed a simulated day paradrop.

5 August 1944:          Ombrone based aircraft executed a simulated night paradrop.

7 August 1944:           A 440th Provisional Troop Carrier Group was formed in England from an augmented 98th Squadron, 285 men arrived at Station No. 469, Ramsbury.

8 August 1944:           Lt. Gen. Eaker, Maj. Gen. Cannon, and Brig. Gen. Williams visited the 440th at Ombrone airstrip.

10 August 1944:         In a resupply mission to Mortain, France, from Ramsbury, England, the Provisional 440th dropped supplies to the encircled “Lost Battalion” during the Allied breakthrough in Northern France.

12 August 1944:         The 98th Squadron participated in a review of the 1st Allied Airborne Army by Gen. Eisenhower near Ramsbury, England.

15 August 1944:         The invasion of Southern France! Operation BIGOT DRAGOON, Mission ALBATROSS! Forty-five aircraft of the 440th at Ombrone, Italy, carried the 2d Battaltion of the 517th Parachute Infantry on the paradrop near LeMuy, France…Mission DOVE followed in the afternoon. 48 aircraft towed gliders carrying the 602d Field Artillery Battalion and the 442d Anti-Tank Company.

23 August 1944:          Distinguished Unit Citation awarded 440th Troop Carrier Group for work in Normandy.

24 August 1944:          Air echelon departed from Ombrone and arrived at Gibraltar.

25 August 1944:           Air echelon arrived back at Exeter Airdrome.

C-47 numbered 43-15076 seen in this photograph taken shortly after the explosion at RAF Fulbeck.

30 August 1944:           Air echelon departed Exeter and arrived at Station No. 488, Fulbeck, England, to prepare for new combat mission.

4 September 1944:      Air echelon returned to Exeter after mission had been cancelled.

9 September 1944:      Advance echelon departed from Exeter and arrived at airstrip A-62, near Reims, France, in the first change of station to the continent.

11 September 1944:    Air echelon departed from Reims for Fulbeck, England, after bringing more personnel to Reims.

12 September 1944:    Additional personnel brought from Exeter to Fulbeck.

Paratroopers drop from their C-47 transports during Operation Market Garden

17 September 1944:    Mission MARKET! 440th dropped paratroopers behind enemy lines in Holland, near Groesbeek, Colonel Frank X. Krebs and crew missing in action.

18 September 1944:    Second day of MARKET missions with gliders towed into Holland. Lt. Colonel Lloyd C. Waldorf assumed command of the 440th.

23 September 1944:    Second glider tow into Holland. Major William R. Cooper, commanding officer of 96th Squadron, missing in action with crew.

24 September 1944:    All personnel at Fulbeck returned to Exeter.

26-29 September 1944: Glider pilots returned to Exeter from Holland.

30 September 1944:
    Scattered elements of 440th finally gather from Reims, Exeter, Fulbeck at newly designated base, airstrip A-35, near LeMans, France.

5 October 1944:          Lt. Colonel George M. Johnson, Jr., assumed command of the 96th Squadron.

16 October 1944:        440th Troop Carrier Group awarded its first Bronze Battle Star for the Normandy campaign.

18 October 1944:        440th reviewed at A-35 by Lt. Gen. Bereton and Maj. Gen. Williams on occasion of presentation of Distinguished Flying Crosses for Normandy missions. Second Bronze Battle Star was awarded the 440th for participation in the Southern France campaign.

22 October 1944:        440th aircraft began to operate from the nearby airstrip A-38 because of poor condition of A-35.

29 October 1944:        Colonel Krebs returned to the 440th after his escape from German-held Holland and reassumed command of the Group.

4-5 November 1944:   440th moved from Le Mans to new station at A-50, Bricy, near Orleans, France.

1 November 1944:      440th participated in Armistice Day parade in Orleans.

12 November 1944:    Lt. Colonel Waldorf transferred to AAF Hq., London. Lt. Colonel Bridgman assumed duties as Executive Officer.

12-16 December 1944: Air echelon sojourned at Oakley airdrome, near Oxford, England, for the purpose of executing Practice Mission HOT with 17th Airborne Division. Weather was bad throughout the four days and the mission was cancelled. The 440th returned to Orleans.

24 December 1944:     The 440th was alerted and restricted as Von Runstedt’s counter-offensive in the Ardennes rolled forward! Precautions were taken against any possible outbreak by German prisoners of war.

25 December 1944:     440th celebrated its first Christmas overseas.

26 December 1944:     Operation REPULSE! The first plane and glider with medical supplies, and ten aircraft and gliders with gasoline were flown into Bastogne to resupply the trapped 101st Airborne Div.

27 December 1944:     Operation REPULSE continued! Thirteen aircraft towed gliders loaded with ammunition into Bastogne. 440th suffered its heaviest losses.

29 December 1944:     Glider pilots returned from Bastogne.

30 December 1944:     440th was awarded its third Bronze Battle Star for participating in the Rome-Arno campaign.

31 January 1945:         440th awarded its fourth Bronze Battle Star for participation in the Northern France campaign.

1 February 1945:         Ten aircraft of the 98th Squadron, led by Lt. Colonel Neal¸ departed for Marseilles to ferry French troops between the front and North Africa.

3 February 1945:         Three aircraft of the 96th Squadron dropped rations and ammunition in an aerial resupply mission near Durbuy, Belgium.

13 February 1945:       Mission REDBALL! The 440th executed a resupply paradrop of rations and gasoline to units on the front near Bleialf, Germany, who were cut off from rear supply depots by muddy, impassable roads. The paradrop, led by Lt. Colonel Johnson, was made five miles from the fighting front.

4 March 1945:             Major Howard H. Cloud, Group Glider Commander, transferred to Hq, IX Troop Carrier Command.

14 March 1945:           Practice mission COMET 440th carried the 3d Battalion of the 515th Parachute Infantry, 13th Airborne Division and Company C of the 129th Airborne Engineers in a practice paradrop in France.

17 March 1945:           Practice mission TOKEN. 440th participated in glider tow dress rehearsal for next combat mission.

C-47s and CG-4 Gliders prior to Operation Varsity in 1945

24 March 1945:           The crossing of the Rhine, Mission VARSITY! The 440th towed a Reconnaissance Platoon, a IX Troop Carrier Command Control Unit, the 517th Signal Company, and the 139th Airborne Engineers, all of the 17th Airborne Division, across the Rhine in 90 gliders to an area near Wesel, Germany.

26 March 1945:           Glider pilots returned from Mission VARSITY.

8 April 1945:                First enemy reaction for the 440th in the long series of gasoline hauls to the front in Germany. Two 97th planes were strafed on the ground at airstrip Y-38. The planes were destroyed, one man killed, and three wounded.

10 April 1945:             A 98th formation was attacked by an enemy plane over airstrip R-1, Germany, during a combat gasoline haul to the front. One aircraft was set afire and crash landed, the entire crew suffering burns and injuries.

21 April 1945:             440th advance echelon moved to A-94, Conflans-Jarny, to facilitate the daily gasoline hauls to the front.

8 May 1945:                V-Day in Europe! 440th paraded in Orleans for the combined Victory celebration and the first Joan of Arc Festival in Orleans for the past five years.

15 May 1945:              The 440th advance echelon returned to Orleans from A-94.

6 June 1945:               D-Day anniversary celebrated. In a ceremony at Chartres, the Croix de Guerre was awarded to Colonel Krebs, Lt. Colonel Bridgman, Lt. Colonel Cannon, Lt. Colonel Anderson, Lt. Colonel Southard, and Lt. Colonel Neal.

22 June 1945:              The 440th was awarded its fifth battle star for the Ardennes campaign.

25 June 1945:              The 440th was awarded its sixth battle star for the Central European campaign.

5 July 1945:                  The 440th was awarded its seventh battle star for the Rhineland campaign.

The 96th Connection – From Fulbeck to the Rhine

by Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Williams
934th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

6/25/2009 – Minneapolis-St. Paul —  Part III of a three part series 

The Allied invasion of the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944 may have been the beginning of the end for Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany, but it proved to be the beginning of a long and hazardous journey for the men of the 96th Troop Carrier Squadron.

Following their success at Drop Zone D, the squadron, part of the larger 440th Troop Carrier Group, continued with resupply missions to ground-based troops in the European theatre, and were detached for service in Italy in July and August 1944. Upon their return to England, the next big operation for the 440th TCG was Operation Comet. Set for early September, the mission was to drop paratroopers in Belgium ahead of General George Patton’s Third Army.

Then tragedy struck.

“My plane ‘Toni’, serial number 919, was first in line. We were placed wingtip to wingtip after being refueled and serviced,” Staff Sgt. Irving Brezack of the 96th TCS wrote in a letter shortly after the Sept. 2, 1944 incident at RAF Fulbeck, England. “My crew chief, Raymond B. Clark, and myself were sitting in the cockpit reading a UFE magazine when a rocking motion struck our airplane, followed by a loud roar… We were told that the paratroopers had dropped a pack while loading the plane. The entire work detail was killed in the explosion. In that crater, which was a twist of fate, all we saw was someone’s dogtag and an open pocket bible. Roll call had to be taken later on that day to see, who was on the detail that unfortunate day.”

The remains of C-47 43-15076, the "Bama Belle" as seen in this photograph taken shortly after the explosion at RAF Fulbeck.

Annando Kramer, also of the 96th recalled the incident in a related letter.

“My friend, Roland P.E. Dahlberg, was the crew chief on that airplane, and he was standing right in the doorway of his airplane when that bundle of landmines went off,” Kramer wrote. “Fortunately he had his back turned towards the explosion, or he would have been blinded. At the hospital they dug about 165 pieces of shrapnel out of his body. It was a miracle that he survived, but he had a strong will to live and much faith in Jesus Christ.”

A closeup of the damage to "Bama Belle" at RAF Fulbeck.

The incident occurred when a detail of paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division’s 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment Company I, were unloading parapacks from a 6×6 truck and placing them under the left wing of the “Bama Belle,” C-47 number 43-15067 belonging to the squadron. One of the parapack bundles toppled onto a bundle containing 28 landmines, which exploded simultaneously. Sgt. Shearer, Pfc. Mitchell and Pvt. Spera were killed instantly and two other member of the 82nd Airborne were wounded. Sgt. Dahlberg was the only casualty in the 96th TCS.

Operation Comet was cancelled due to Patton’s Third Army overrunning the drop zone at Tournai, Belgium.

Their next operation was Operation Market-Garden, a re-crafted version of Operation Comet. It was scheduled for Sept. 17, 1944 and billed as the largest daylight paratroop drop of World War II. Utilizing 1,544 troop carrier aircraft and 478 gliders into the rear areas of the German lines, the plan would outflank Germany’s “Siegfried Line” and liberate Holland. The 96th TCS was to drop paratroopers and gliders from the 82nd Airborne into Nijmegan, Holland during the mission.

The airborne component featured the British 1st Airborne Division taking Arnhem in the north to capture the bridges over the Rhine, the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division was in the center at Nijmegan to secure the bridges over the Meuse and Waal rivers and hold the high ground towards Groesbeek, while the 101st Airborne Division took care of the bridges near Eindhoven, Holland in the south. The British 30th Division would then make its way north through Eindhoven and Nijmegan to link up with their colleagues in Arnhem.

C-47s on the flightline while loading for Operation Market Garden.

“Colonel Krebs, the Group Commander, was the leader for this big push,” wrote Charles Everett Bullard in his memoir, ‘Little One and His Guardian Angel.’ “At 1104 he opened up his throttles and went thundering down the runway. At regular intervals each following plane took off and immediately fell into formation. In twenty minutes the formerly crowded runway was completely empty. The Colonel took the formation in a wide circle and crossed over the field. We must have put on a spectacular show.”

Flying “Miss Yank,” a 96th TCS C-47 with tail number 42-100965, the colonel and his crew were shot down over Holland during the operation. Except for the navigator, who was captured by the Germans, the entire crew escaped detection for six weeks before making their way back to American lines.

Flight Officer William Hamrick, a navigator with the squadron, recalled the arrival of the colonel in January 1945.

“Colonel Krebs and Major Ottoman had been lost at Bastogne,” he said. “I remember them walking in with their straw hats on. We had a big rally for them.”

Hamrick also recalled a joke he played on Major Ottoman shortly afterwards.

“I said to Major Ottoman, ‘Could you tell me why in the world they sent a bombardier to this unit?’ Ottoman was livid and reported me to Lieutenant Colonel Johnson, our squadron commander. Colonel Johnson and I flew together on a zig-zag pattern and he said to me, ‘Could you direct us back?’ By golly, I got us back and Johnson and I have been friends ever since,” he laughed.

Paratroopers drop from their C-47 transports during Operation Market Garden

While the ground component of Market-Garden was considered a failure due to the inability of the British 30th Division to reach Arnhem, the airborne component was considered a success due to the 96 percent accuracy in their paratrooper, glider and resupply missions.
As soon as the Airborne forces returned from Holland, after spending 72 days in combat, they were tasked again.

The German’s began a suprise offensive against the Allied lines on Dec. 16, 1944 in the Ardennes, a forest that stretches from the Sambre river in Belgium to the Rhine river in Germany, in an attempt to capture Antwerp, Belgium and drive a wedge between the British and American lines.

Due to the element of surprise, the 101st Airborne Division was driven by truck from Camp Mourmelon in Le Grand, France the 107 miles to Bastogne, Belgium where they were to hold a key junction that would halt the German advance.

The 101st Airborne held their ground for the next two weeks, while running low on critical supplies and despite mounting casualties. Their resistance created a bulge in the German lines, which gave the name of the battle as the “Battle of the Bulge.”

Following Market-Garden, the 440th TCG moved its base of operations from England to Orleans, France, in order to save time and fuel in supporting the Army’s advance across Europe. Inclement weather kept the troop carriers from executing a resupply mission in the early stages of the battle, but when the weather improved, the 96th TCS was tasked with leading the effort.

Airborne soldiers watch C-47s passing overhead to resupply the 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne in December 1944.

Bullard writes, “On the morning of December 26th the 440th had its first chance to get in on the act. The job of delivering the first glider into Bastogne was given to the 96th squadron, and at 1025 a C-47 piloted by Captain Raymond H. Ottoman took off with a glider piloted by Lt. Charlton Corwin, Jr., with F/O Benjamin Constantino as co-pilot. The glider was loaded with the surgical team and medical supplies so urgently needed at Bastogne, and at 1400, the run was started.”

The next day, the 96th was again called upon to fly gliders into Bastogne.

In his memoirs titled, “Battered Bastards of Bastogne,” Cpl. George Koskimaki of the 101st Airborne Division writes, “On the morning of December 27th, the 440th was given another glider mission, and at 10:39 eight C-47s and eight gliders of 95th Squadron and five planes and five gliders of the 96th Squadron took off from the air strip at Chateaudun…The 440th gliders were loaded to capacity with high explosives.”

He added, “Before cutting off their gliders the two planes held steady courses and were unable to make any attempt at evasive action. Sgt. Robert J. Slaughter, radio operator of a 96th Squadron ship, was in the astrodome when the right engine of his ship was hit. At the same time, he saw three different planes hit, catch fire and start to fall. A few moments later there was a tremendous explosion in the tail and fire broke out. The bail-out signal was given but only the crew chief was able to get through the cargo door before fire blocked it.”

“Of the five 96th planes, three were shot down with seven crew members killed and two taken prisoner. Both of the 96th planes that managed to get back to Orleans were also heavily damaged. The pilots of both of these ships attributed their safe return to their split-second decision to turn right out of the landing zone instead of to the left as briefed,” Cpl. Koskimaki concluded.

Aircraft numbers 42-100916 and 42-100977 belonging to the 96th TCS are listed as having been shot down with missing aircrew reports on file for Dec. 27, 1944.

The end of the Battle of the Bulge still meant no rest for the fliers of the 96th Troop Carrier Squadron and their colleagues in the 440th Troop Carrier Group as the American and British ground forces smashed through the German defenses and were prepared to cross the Rhine in the heartland of Germany.

Known as Operation Varsity, the plan was to drop paratroopers and gliders from the American 17th Airborne Division and the British 6th Airborne on Mar. 24, 1945 to assist the ground forces and open up the industrial section of the Ruhr river valley and facilitate an end to the war. The 440th TCG was to drop paratroopers and gliders from the 17th Airborne into the Emmerich-Wesel sector.

The squadron flew a total of 22 aircraft during Operation Varsity.

Bullard writes, “The lead ship of the 96th squadron caught a 20-mm shell smack in the nose. He made it back across the Rhine while the crew chief fought fires in the cockpit area, and they managed to make an emergency landing in a field at Eindhoven, Holland. Another of the 96th planes was forced to drop out of formation after two gasoline tanks had been hit. Trailing gas, he had to put in at another emergency airdrome.”

Flight Officer Hamrick recalled both of those incidents.

C-47s and CG-4 Gliders prior to Operation Varsity in 1945

“Colonel Johnson’s plane was hit in the nose while we were dropping over the Rhine. Capt. James Robertson was the co-pilot and he was trying to use the firefighting equipment to get the flame out,” he said. “Capt. Aldo Tombari got so excited that Johnson had to tell him to sit down because he had to make an emergency landing.”

“2nd Lieutenant Aymon Prudhomme was the pilot of the right wingman plane and 1st Lieutenant Joseph Turecky was the co-pilot. They had a hole in their gas tank and had to set it down. Nobody mentioned anything about that episode until our 1996 reunion in St. Louis. I told Turecky ‘Do you know who told you to land at Wesel?’ He shook his head and said, ‘No.’ I smiled and said, ‘Well you’re looking at him!'” he chuckled.

Operation Varsity was a success, despite having high casualties, and the end of the war was in site.

Without having anymore paratroopers or gliders to drop, the mission of the troop carriers changed. Since Patton’s Third Army raced through the heart of Germany at such a rapid pace, supplies were delivered by aircraft from the 440th TCG’s new base in Metz, France.
On one particular day, Flight Officer Hamrick flew as a navigator with 1st Lt. David Brown, 1st Lt. James Murphy and Sgt. Thomas Pinto on a mission to deliver five-gallon jerricans of fuel to the Third Army. The flight was a routine flight and they made their way back to Metz. He didn’t fly with them the next day but remembers clearly what happened.

“Murphy and Brown slid in a little too close on takeoff and they started to roll out to the left. I could tell the pilot was trying to pull up but the weight of the cargo shifted to the left and they couldn’t pull it up. They came down but didn’t make it out. The plane hit and went off like a bomb had exploded. They were hauling gas,” he said.

“When I got there, their bodies were already taken off. Murphy was a guy who always liked to fly with jump boots on. I saw his leg with a boot by the tail of the aircraft. Pinto, the crew chief, was a Brooklynese kind of a fellow. I saw his coveralls there. He was the only one still with his body in good condition, the rest were consumed by the flames,” he sobbed out of remembrance.

“We lost other guys but seeing that was hard. I still feel deeply hurt. I did get a weeks pass on the Riviera to get over the shock of it, but it never really went away. I flew with the crew the day before it happened. They were all nice young men,” Hamrick concluded.

This Life Magazine photo from 1945 shows C-47 #43-15163 being loaded for Operation Varsity. This may have been a 440th TCG aircraft.

According to DZ Europe, the official history of the 440th Troop Carrier Group, more than two million air miles had been flown by aircraft and crews of the 440th Troop Carrier Group during the month of April 1945, including more than 13.5 million pounds of freight; 10,000 evacuees, liberated prisoners of war and wounded troops; and 1,230,000 gallons of gasoline. The gasoline alone amounted to 20 percent of the gasoline delivered by the entire IX Troop Carrier Command for all of 1945.

From Operation Neptune on June 6, 1944 until their deactivation on Oct. 18, 1945, the group averaged 650 air miles per sortie. On one particular day 60 aircraft flew 167 sorties, a record for the Group. In one month, 3,182 sorties were flown, 2,508 of which were combat sorties, for a total of 13,330 flying hours.

The 440th Troop Carrier Group was well decorated for their accomplishments. Despite losing 67 men who were killed in action, over 900 Air Medals, 36 Purple Hearts, 32 Bronze Stars, 21 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 8 French Croix de Guerre medals were presented to individual members. The 96th Troop Carrier Squadron earned their fair share of these.

Part I VE-Day: The 96th Connection

Part II D-Day: The 96th Connection

D-Day: The 96th Connection

by Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Williams
934th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

6/6/2009 – Minneapolis, St. Paul — Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of three articles detailing the 934th’s connection to WWII historical events.

On a dreary, overcast June afternoon in Exeter, England, Cpl. William Wildes attached nozzles to the wings of the green and white C-47 Skytrain aircraft formerly known as the “Pride of Minnesota.” Pouring approximately 100 gallons of fuel into each wing, he did it exactly like he had done several times before in the previous months for the training missions to prepare for the Normandy invasion. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, except the white invasion stripes and the large “6Z” that was painted onto the fuselage earlier in the day.

A C-47 belonging to the 96th Troop Carrier Squadron. Note the “6Z” marking on the fuselage.

“The planes were fueled in the afternoon of June 5th. We didn’t know where they were going. We just fueled them like normal,” said Cpl. Wildes, a special vehicle operator for the 96th Troop Carrier Squadron. “One pilot had ‘Pride of Minnesota’ inside an arrowhead painted on the nose, but they made him take it off when they put the invasion stripes on for D-Day.”

By evening, each of the 45 aircraft belonging to the 440th Troop Carrier Group was laden down with paratroopers from the 3rd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division for the flight across the English Channel.

Paratroopers get final instructions before leaving on aircraft 43-15087, chalk #2, piloted by Capt. Matt J. Luoma of the 95th Troop Carrier Squadron, prior to departing for the D-Day drop on Normandy.

Among the notables flown by the 96th TCS was the famed “Filthy 13,” a demolitions platoon from the 3rd Battalion Company Headquarters. Each member wore a Mohawk-style haircut and face paint and collectively they were quite tenacious fighters.

They also dropped Cpl. Bobbie Rommel, a relative of General Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, who was leading the German resistance in Normandy.
But not everything went without a hitch.

“I heard that somebody ran into the deicer boot and tore it up. They replaced this one plane and put another plane in its place. The crew chief was a guy named Bluestone. I remember him well and I fueled his plane,” the corporal recalled.

“It was all an unknown for us,” said Maj. George Johnson, who was an operations officer with the 98th Troop Carrier Squadron during the invasion. “We dropped at night and daytime for the preparations. When we went into Normandy, it was agreed that Col. Krebs, the group commander, would lead.”

Maj. Johnson was promoted to lieutenant colonel a short time later as the 96th Troop Carrier Squadron commander. After a stellar career, he retired in 1975 at the rank of major general.

At 11:53 p.m., Col. Frank X. Krebs, 440th TCG commander, took off from Exeter in aircraft number 292717, call sign ‘Ada,’ followed by 44 other aircraft from the 95th, 96th, 98th and 98th troop carrier squadrons that comprised the group. Capt. William R. Cooper led the 96th TCS in chalk 19, aircraft number 100965.

Once airborne, the only navigational aids used were blue lights on the tops of the wingtips and fuselage, as the aircraft rendezvoused with other Skytrains from the IX Troop Carrier Command and Royal Air Force. With only the moonlight to navigate them in complete radio silence, the American and British forces joined together to make the big jump across the English Channel as the lighthouses of England slowly slipped away beneath them.

Once they reached the coast of Normandy, a cloud cover enveloped the planes, followed by the blue hue of searchlights and flak from German anti-aircraft batteries.
Col. Krebs honed into the radio signal from the Pathfinders who jumped in an hour before to mark the drop zone. At 1:36 a.m., the paratroopers received the command, “stand up and hook up.” Four minutes later, the green light came on giving the okay to jump. In a matter of seconds, the sky was filled with the billowing white parachutes of the 101st Airborne Division heading for Drop Zone D, near Ste. Mere Eglise, France, 400 feet below.

Two members of the “Filthy Thirteen” complete a final pre-inspection before boarding their aircraft at Exeter. The “Filthy Thirteen” were identified by their distinctive Mohawk-style haircuts.

In his memoirs titled, “The Filthy Thirteen,” Sergeant Jake McNeice wrote the following regarding his flight into Normandy, “Those Germans were firing ammunition up at us that went all through the plane, our chutes and things like that. Those stinking automatic weapons had tracers about every fifth round. It just looked like a string of fire coming up at us. I did not know that there was any other color of tracer than orange but it looked like the greatest display of fireworks that I ever saw in my life. It was beautiful. They would have a blue one then a couple of red then a copule green. There was every color in the rainbow rising up to meet us. We lost several planeloads of paratroopers but the greater part came through it.”

Tech. Sgt. Charles Everett Bullard, a crew chief assigned to the 98th TCS, recorded a piece of 96th TCS history in his memoir, “Little One and His Guardian Angel.”

“Later, we found that two of the 96th squadron planes had crash-landed shortly after dropping their troopers,” he wrote. “One plane of the 96th squadron came in on only one engine with the radio operator wounded by a bullet in the neck. He was the group’s first Purple Heart winner; Staff Sergeant Earnest S. Iannuccilli.”

Cpl. Wildes remembers the scene when the aircraft returned.

“I was on guard duty when they left and was still up when they returned,” he said. “Some of the guys they brought back were shot up quite a bit. One of them got shot in the privates from flak that penetrated underneath the aircraft. It was a real mess. Tech. Sgt. Edward Bluestone, the crew chief whose plane I fueled earlier that day, well we lost him on that day at D-Day.”

While other troop carrier groups were scattered due to the cloud covering at the coast, misplaced their drops by flying in too fast, or were shot down by the Germans, only the 3rd Battalion of the 506th P.I.R. landed in close proximity to their designated drop zone.

The post-landing scene at Omaha Beach on 6 June 1944.

At 6:30 a.m., the main landing force of the 1st, 4th and 29th U.S. Infantry Divisions, 2nd Ranger Battalion, 3rd and 50th British Infantry Divisions and Canada’s 3rd Infantry Division landed at Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches making a 60-mile long front.

But the battle was not over for the 96th TCS.

At dawn on the morning of June 7, Maj. Johnson flew the lead aircraft in the resupply mission.

“All of we operations officers were to fly on the resupply mission,” he said. “We carried ammunition, food, medical supplies and water.”

“We went in about 15 to 20 miles behind enemy lines, descended to 500 feet for the drop and came back across Omaha beach. We had a beautiful view of the landing craft,” Johnson said.

“There was lots of flak and small arms fire and aircraft damage. We were fortunate that we didn’t lose any aircraft. We were so low that all the people on the ground could shoot at us with small arms fire. I led them down to treetop level and then got out of there and back up to the proper altitude,” he remembered.

“It was quite an event in our lives. We got out of there quickly after we did our jobs. We were very fortunate,” he concluded.

The Memorial to the crew and passengers of C-47 #42-100905 flown by 1st Lt. Ray B. Pullen of the 95th Troop Carrier Squadron.

Little did anybody know, on the evening of June 5, that there would be heroes in the making who jumped out of the aircraft early the next morning. Of the 231 soldiers of the 506th P.I.R. who lost their lives at Normandy, 103 were from the 3rd Battalion, including those who died in three of the 440th TCG aircraft that perished in the operation.

The 96th Troop Carrier Squadron was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation, the precursor to the Presidential Unit Citation, for their efforts 65 years ago.

Part I: VE-Day – The 96th Connection

Part III: The 96th Connection – From Fulbeck to the Rhine

VE Day – the 96th Connection

by Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Williams
934th Airlift Wing Public Affairs5/1/2009 – Minneapolis-St. Paul — Editor’s note: this is the first of three articles detailing the 934th’s connection to WWII historical events.

On May 6, 1945, Edward Kennedy, chief of the Associated Press western front staff dispatched the scoop of a lifetime.At General Dwight Eisenhower’s headquarters at Reims, France, General Gustaf Jodl, German army chief of staff, signed the terms of surrender at 7:41 p.m. central war time. The European Theater of World War II was officially over.

Less than 12 hours later,

at 8:35 a.m. central war time on May 7, Kennedy’s dispatch was released by the New York desk of the Associated Press, and the world went wild with joy.

The Minneapolis Morning Tribune ran the headline, “Announcement Due at 8 A.M.: Today Will Be VE-Day” in its May 8th edition, while it’s cross-town rival,

the St. Paul Pioneer Press ran with the headline, “City Set To Mark V-E Today.” Hundreds of other newspapers, like the Rochester Post-Bulletin in Minnesota, ran with a simple headline declaring, “President Announces Victory.”

President Harry Truman joined British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Russia’s Marshal Josef Stalin in issuing a simultaneous joint proclamation of Germany’s unconditional surrender.

The VE-Day riot in Halifax, Nova Scotia

After 16 years of depression and war, the announcement sparked celebrations worldwide including thousands gathering at Trafalgar Square in London and New York’s Times Square. At the celebration in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, revelers were so excited that a riot broke out.

In Minneapolis, grocery, meat, hardware and liquor stores were closed all day on May 8, and the Cargill Corporation let their employees leave at 12:30 p.m. Near the Foshay Tower on 9th Street and Marquette Avenue, paper and streamers were thrown out of office windows like a ticker-tape parade in celebration of the European theatre’s end.

But the war was not finished for pilots and crew of the 96th Troop Carrier Squadron, the precursor to today’s 96th Airlift Squadron. Flying C-47 Skytrain cargo aircraft with the large wartime marking 6Z stenciled on the left side of the fuselage, the squadron was assigned to the 440th Troop Carrier Group of the 9th Air Force’s 50th Troop Carrier Wing.

The 96th Troop Carrier Squadron performed admirably during Operation Neptune, more commonly known as D-Day, for their role in dropping paratroopers from the 3rd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division on June 6, 1944. By December 1944, the squadron airdropped supplies to ground infantry units fighting at Bastogne, Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, and was stationed at Orleans, France, 133 kilometers southwest of Paris, when Germany surrendered.

Statue of Joan of Arc in Orleans, France

Cpl. William G. Wildes, a special vehicle operator for the squadron, laughed when he recalled his activities on that day.”I was driving a beer truck back from Paris. We went to Paris to get beer and found out about the war’s end when we got back to quarters. I guess the war was over when I drove through the gate,” he said.

After finding others, he just thought about home, though he did have an encounter with a brother in the Navy while Cpl. Wildes was stationed in France.

“I just looked forward to seeing my mother, father, brother and sister. Most of the guys just kept to themselves and did their own thing. My brother took a C-47 flight over from England to France, which was a no-no,” the corporal added. “I was given permission to fly back with him to England and ended up staying a couple of days with him on his boat. We had a real nice time.”

Now 85 years old, he looks back fondly upon his experiences in the war.
“I enjoyed England and France. I didn’t see any action except for planes that came in on a wing and a prayer, that were all shot up. I am sorry that I didn’t stay in, but a lot of us just wanted to go home. We went into Omaha Beach at Normandy a few days after the invasion, and when we left there we got to see the cemetery. My one request is that I get to see it again,” Cpl. Wildes said.

On Dec. 31, 1945, he was discharged and worked in a shoe shop in his native Massachusetts before moving to Colorado, where he currently resides. He drove truck for 17 years before starting up his auction house business which he maintained for 25 years. “I’m thankful for the education. The military was good to me. They really taught me a lot and I don’t regret it one bit,” he concluded.

A patient gets unloaded from a C-47 after a medevac mission

In “The 440th Troop Carrier Group in Operation Neptune,” the late Randy Hils wrote, “Victory in Europe, V-E Day, fell midnight of May 8, 1945. The activities of the 440th TCG were increased rather than lessened by war’s ending. Now there were hundreds of thousands of liberated prisoners and displaced persons to be rushed homeward.
Emergency food and medical cargoes had to be rushed to critical areas throughout Europe, wherever hunger or disease threatened. There were still wounded to be moved to the hospitals.”

The mass celebrations and euphoria felt during the first V-E Day 64 years ago have been replaced with much smaller and more somber wreath laying ceremonies in remembrance of those who fought and died on foreign fields two generations ago.

Update: Cpl. William G. Wildes has passed away since this story was first published.

Part II – D-Day: The 96th Connection

Part III – The 96th Connection: From Fulbeck to the Rhine