48th Troop Carrier Squadron in the Rhine Mission - Operation Varsity - 24 March 1945
Operation Vasity was the first airborne operation where the C-46 airplane was used for dropping paratroopers. The C-46 was bigger then the before used C-47.
The C-46 could carry double the number of paratroopers that a C-47 could carry. The exit time for the paratroopers was the same, as the C-46 had two exit doors, one on each side of the plane.
The 313th Troop Carrier Group had the honor to use the C-46 in this combat operation. The Group was based at Achiet, France.
The four squadrons were devided into two serials. The 49th Troop Carrier Squadron was leading in Serial A-5, followed by the 29th Troop Carrier Squadron. The next serial, A-6, was flown by the 48th Troop Carrier Squadron and, as last in the line, the 47th Troop Carrier Squadron.
Each serial consisted out of 36 aircraft. The two squadrons in Serial A-6 did despatch 18 aircraft each.
The 48th Troop Carrier Squadron planes had chalk number 36 to 54.
The 313th Troop Carrier Group was going to drop the 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment over DZ-X.
The mission for the 313th proved to be a tough one. The C-46 airplanes, lacking self-sealing gas tanks, were vulnerable. Sixteen C-46s were shot down and another seven made emergency landings west of the Rhine River.
The 48th Troop Carrier Squadron, who led the second serial of C-46s, lost eight airplanes uring the mission. This is 44% (!) of the 48th TCS planes that departed Achiet.
The following chalk numbers crashed;
# 41 Pilot 2nd Lt. Merton Larson. This plane was a spare plane and replaced another plane. The two pilots wounded
#44 Pilot 1st Lt. Dudley Rose. The entire crew bailed out
#45 Pilot 2nd Lt. Donald D. Shire. See further on for more details.
#46 Pilot 1st Lt. Robert B. Reeder. The two pilots perished in the crash.
#47 Pilot 1st Lt. Junior Barton. Only the crew chief was able to bail out.
#49 Pilot 1st Lt. Joe T. Henderson. The navigator of this plane did not survive.
#50 Pilot 2nd Lt. Gerald Hamilton. Both pilots perished.
#52 Pilot 1st Lt. James Clausen. Only the crew chief survived.
Chalk # 45
This plane, 44-77637, tail letter Q, was flown by:
2nd Lt. Donald D. Shire (P)
2nd Lt. John D. Stroud (CP)
Sgt. Bernard Isenberg (RO)
T/Sgt. Norman E. Rhoads (CC)
They had dropped 22 paratroopers of the 513th PIR at DZ-X. Capt. Leroy L. Bryand filled in a report as a witness of what happened.
After completing the drop I did a turn and proceeded back across the Rhine. On crossing the Rhine I sighted a C-46D type aircraft with the left wing on fire behind the gas tank. I put on power to catch up with the aircraft to call the pilot over the VHF to tell him he was on fire. As I was catching up with the aircraft the pilot started down in a slow glider as if preparing to crash land. Instead of putting the aircraft down straight ahead, the pilot started a low turn at what seemed to be a slow air-speed. When the aircraft went into the turn the fire spread to the extreme end of the left wing, burning the aileron off almost immediately. Unable to straighten the aircraft out the left wing struck the ground followed by the nose and then the right wing. The aircraft then exploded and the tail section was thrown clear of the wreckage. I went down to a low altitude and buzzed the wreckage and was able to read the call letter on the tail section. The call letter was Q for Queen.
Upon returning to the squadron and checking with the other squadrons, all of their aircraft with marking Q had returned. From this check it can be assumed that this aircraft was Bubbles Q for Queen, piloted by 2nd Lt. Donald Shire. The approximately time of this crash was between 1020 an 1025 hours, 24 March 1945. The approximate location was in the vicinity of Bonninghardt, Germany.
As witnessed by Captain Bryand. T/Sgt. Rhoads escaped with only slight lacerations and contusions. The British immediately took him to an aid station and was back to duty five days later.
Lt. Joe T. Henderson, who crashed in the same vicinity, stated that he came upon the wreckage and noticed 2 or 3 bodies.
Left: The Achiet airfield was located near the village Grévillers. Airfields are more often named to the nearest larger city, instead of the small village.
Right: The 313th dropped the paratroopers on the British LZ-P, which was located more north of DZ-X and closer to Haminkeln. The X marks the general area of the crash.
Top: The tail section of Chalk Number 45. The Q is visible on the tail and enables to ID the plane. (Mr. R. Picket)
Right: Lt. Joe Henderson who landed in the same area and who investigated the wrecked C-46.
Thanks to Mr. R. Picket for sharing the photo, Mr. R. Chancellor who shared vital information and Mr. Thierry Cardon.