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Home : News
NEWS | June 6, 2024

D-Day Squadron Travels Over 3,000 Miles, Crosses Atlantic Ocean to Commemorate 80th Anniversary of D-Day

By Sgt. Matthew Lucibello

OXFORD, Conn. — On May 15, five WWII era transport planes landed at Waterbury-Oxford Airport in Oxford, Connecticut. The aircraft, part of the D-Day Squadron’s 2024 Legacy Tour, consolidated at the airport then departed for Europe to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in France, the first step in the Allied liberation of Western Europe, and the 75th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift.

Included in the fleet were two DC-3 civilian airliners with military service records, having been acquired by the Army during the war; two C-47 Skytrains, military transport planes built off of the DC-3 platform specifically for the U.S. Army Air Corps; and one R4D-6S, a variant of the C-47 built for the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy.

Despite all once being owned and operated by the U.S. armed forces, these aircraft now belong to various flying museums, nonprofits and private owners from across the country.

These historic airframes, one of which was built 83 years ago in April 1941, traveled approximately 3,000 nautical miles over six days to reach England via the North Atlantic air ferry route. This route, also known as the Blue Spruce Route, was used by the U.S. Army Air Forces, or USAAF, during World War II, to transport military aircraft from air bases in the United States to bases in England for use in operations in the European Theater of Operations.

During the war, USAAF aircraft departed Maine and New Hampshire and flew to bases in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Following stopping in Canada, the aircraft traveled between 776 to 1,000 miles to bases set up by the Army in Greenland. From there, the aircraft flew to Iceland, before making their final leg of the journey to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Once in the United Kingdom, the aircraft were directed to their stations of assignment.

The D-Day Squadron’s route took them from Oxford, Connecticut, to Presque Isle, Maine, then to Canadian Forces Base Goose Bay. Goose Bay itself was originally a Royal Canadian Air Force station which was expanded to accommodate the USAAF and the British Royal Air Force during the war. It would facilitate the transportation of more than 8,000 aircraft to the United Kingdom.

From Goose Bay the Squadron traveled to Narsarsuaq Airport, known as Narsarsuaq Air Base, or Bluie West One (BW-1), during the war, in Greenland. After Greenland, the next stop was Reykjavík Airport in Iceland, followed by the last stop on the Blue Spruce Route, Prestwick, Scotland. Once in Prestwick, the aircraft departed for North Weald, England, where the Squadron utilized their aircraft to conduct practice airborne operations and other rehearsals to get ready for the scheduled jumps to commemorate D-Day in Normandy.

Besides being the backbone for Army and Navy aerial transportation operations during the war, C-47s were also used as the primary aircraft for dropping paratroopers behind enemy lines. Two of the Squadron’s aircraft, “Placid Lassie”, owned by the Tunison Foundation, and “That’s All, Brother”, owned by the Commemorative Air Force, were utilized to drop airborne forces into combat during D-Day and during subsequent operations throughout the war.

"That's All, Brother", piloted by U.S. Army Lt. Col. John Donalson, commander of the 438th Troop Carrier Group, led a formation of 800 aircraft carrying over 13,000 Army paratroopers that were dropped behind enemy lines in France approximately 48 minutes after midnight on June 6, 1944. Once on the ground, the paratroopers secured avenues of approach leading to Utah beach, one of the five amphibious landing sites during the operation, which prevented German forces from reinforcing their defenses during the subsequent assault by the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division later that morning.

“Placid Lassie”, part of the 74th Troop Carrier Squadron, or 74th TCS, towed Waco CG-4A assault gliders carrying soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division into Normandy during the invasion. Lassie released its first glider at approximately four in the morning on June 6, returned to England, picked up another and flew back to France releasing the second craft at approximately nine at night.

Both these aircraft were also used in Operation Market Garden, part of the allied invasion of the Netherlands, and Operation Varsity, the largest single day airborne operation ever conducted and the sole large-scale airborne operation in Germany during World War II.

During the 80th anniversary commemorations for D-Day between June 3 and June 9, the Squadron will be flying over Normandy and paradropping reenactors, dressed in authentic reproduction World War II uniforms, via static-line jumps into the drop zones used by the original paratroopers during the invasion.

Following the D-Day commemorations, the Squadron will fly over to U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift.

Operation Vittles and Operation Plainfare, also known as the Berlin Airlift, were operations conducted by the U.S. Air Force and British Royal Air Force to airdrop in food, fuel and medical supplies to Allied forces and over 2 million civilians in West Berlin that were cut off due to rail, road and water blockades set up by the Soviet Union on June 24, 1948. 278, 228 flights were conducted, with a rate of 2,796 takeoffs and landings per 24 hour period, resulting in 2,326, 406 tons of supplies being dropped by the blockades were lifted on May 12, 1949. C-47 aircraft, like those flown by the D-Day Squadron, were utilized to conduct these resupply missions out of bases throughout western Germany, including Wiesbaden.

The public commemoration will be held on June 16, with a smaller event held the day prior for Department of Defense ID card holders.

The Squadron will return to the United States at the end of June.