Story of a survivor
This is the story of what I believe to be the only surviving C-46 Commando with a combat jump history.
C-46 Commando 44-77575 arrived at RAF Folkingham sometime between January and February 1945 as part of the of the 313th Troop Carrier Group’s complete re-equipment from the C-47 Skytrain to the C-46 Commando, 44-77575 was assigned to the 48th Troop Carrier Squadron which was one of four squadrons that made up the 313th Troop Carrier Group.
On the morning of March 24th 1945 as part of Operation Varsity the 313th Troop Carrier Group was tasked with carrying members of the 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment from the 313th’s airfield at Acheit Le Grand to the drop zone at Wesel. 44-77575 was given the chalk number 51 for the operation and its crew for Op. Varsity was 1st Lt Robert Wilson pilot, 2nd Lt Warren Watson co pilot, Sgt Bert Sutherland radio operator, and Sgt Joe Smith, crew chief.
The 313th’s morning didn’t begin very well as chalk 13 crashed on take off due to the pilot being caught out by the strong crosswind blowing across the runway the 313th were using. 1st Lt Robert Wilson who preferred to be known as Bob managed to take off safely on full power but at about 1500ft the left engine began to cut out. Bob immediately reduced the power to the left engine, but Bob found that the left engine was still able to pull 12 to 15 inches of manifold pressure. On board the aircraft was a battalion commander and his staff. The commander went forward to the cockpit and asked Bob what he planned to do. Bob said that he planned to continue with the mission. The commander put his hand on Bob’s shoulder and said “Good, those boys up there need me” They then proceeded on their way with reduced power on the left engine and increased power on the right engine.
By cutting corners as the formation made turns in the course towards the drop zone Bob managed to keep the formation in sight. As they approached the drop zone they overtook the 47th Troop Carrier Squadron as they made their slow up prior to dropping their load of paratroopers and Bob dropped behind and to the right of the 47th Troop Carrier Squadron. As the last paratrooper jumped from 44-77575 the first 20mm round went through the fuselage, in an effort to dodge the flak coming up Bob dived down and right, whilst diving 44-77575 was hit three more times by 20mm rounds, once by 40mm round and was also hit several times by machine gun fire.
Whilst pulling out of the dive Bob discovered that the trim tabs and the hydraulic boosters were not working and that he had very little aileron control. After regaining control of the aircraft they flew back to Achiet Le Grand flying right wing low to hold the aircraft straight. While flying back to Acheit Le Grand the crew experimented with slowing the aircraft down to 120mph to determine weather it would be safe to land. Bob was going to ask his radio operator and crew chief to bail out but discovered he needed their weight to hold the tail of the aircraft down and that he could not use the flaps to slow the aircraft down as if they attempted to use the flaps during landed it would have pitched the aircraft down and they would have crashed.
With the radio operator and crew chief braced for a crash landing in the tail of the aircraft Bob put 44-77575 down on the runway at 110mph but soon discovered that the brake system had been damaged and was forced to ground loop 44-77575 to avoid hitting other aircraft already parked on the airfield.
44-77575 was so extensively damaged during Operation Varsity that it was beyond the capabilities of the squadron to repair it and it would have be repaired by one of the Ninth Air Force service groups. 44-77575 was returned to the USA after the war and eventually passed on to the Japanese Self Defence Force where it served until October 1977 having clocked up 9765 hours flight time. It was sold on to Fred Paterson III who in 1982 gave 44-77575 to the Castle Air Museum where it has been on display ever since.
Bob Wilson was recommended for the Distinguished Flying Cross for this mission but in the chaos at the end of World War Two the recommendation got lost in the system. Bob filed away his copy of the recommendation at home after the end of the war and forgot about it. That is until his daughter in law found Bob’s original copy of the recommendation and resubmitted it. The US Air Force upgraded the recommendation to the Silver Star and Bob Wilson was presented with his medal in July 2007 62 years after he flew the mission the medal was recommended for.
The 313th Troop Carrier Group suffered their worst losses of World War Two during Operation Varsity having thirty three men killed in action and twenty two men wounded. Of the seventy two aircraft the 313th used for Operation Varsity they had two aircraft go technical before take off, lost one aircraft on take off which were all replaced by spare aircraft. The 313th lost twenty aircraft shot down, thirty seven had battle damage leaving only fifteen aircraft out of the seventy two aircraft sent out on the morning 24th March 1945 undamaged.
The following article was written by Mr. Richard Chancellor who lives in England. His main research objective are the C-46 airplanes used by the 313th, 314th and 316th Troop Carrier Groups in Europe. As C-46 buff, he is equally interested in the C-46 airplanes that flew with any other Group.
C-46 # 44-77575 at an airfield, probably in France. The Z7 Squadron code is very well visible.
Left: Damage by machine gun is encircled. For the photo the planes number has been added.
Both photos through Mr. Chancellor