Special Delivery to No Man’s Land……..

 

This is the story of the re-supply mission to the Keent airstrip during operation Market Garden. This re-supply operation was executed on September 26, 1944. What follows is how this was published in the Stars and Stripes in January 1945.

 

Written by 1st Lt. Joseph D. Guess

 

The airborne army in Holland had to have supplies. The C-47s came through under fire.

When the full story of the “miracle” of supply is finely written, one of the most absorbing chapters will begin in the operation office of a wing of the 9th Troop Carrier Command at its base in England. The date was September 26 1944. it had been nine days since the first paratroopers and glider-borne fighters had dropped in Holland at the beginning of the greatest airborne operation in history- the attempt to turn the German line at Cleve. The Wing, commanded by Brig.-Gen. Harold L. Clark, had carried its share of those fighters in Holland. It had ferried across the First British Airborne, a Polish brigade and three-fourth of the US 82nd. But men must have supplies to continue fighting. Food and ammunition and guns. Blood plasma. For two days the need had been acute. But the English fog had held the Wing’s planes firmly to the ground.

Today, at last, the fog was lifting and the sun was showing.At 0800, it was decided to run the mission. Soon the motors of more than 200 C-47s would be making the ground throb beneath them at the Wing’s bases. General Clark looked at his overall plan. One of his officers pointed out that the plan called for landing at three bases in Holland. They looked at their map of the day.“The enemy isn’t cleared from three field in this area,” this officer said. “the situation is confusing there. At this moment we have no fields to land on”. With his finger he indicated a point on the map two miles north of Grave and eight miles southwest of Nijmegen. “There’s a small German fighter field there that may be cleared by this afternoon. But that’s only one field”. “Give us three hours”, said General Clark, “and one field we’ll land and unload all planes.” The C-47s were loaded.By 1100 the German fighter field – 1000 yards by 1400 yards- had been cleared. The Germans had been pushed from one to two miles away. Whether they could be held there was an open question.At 1115 the first of the C-47s, its seams bulging with tightly packed cargo, lumbered down the runway and took off for a field in Holland that might – and then again might not – be cleared of the enemy when it came time to land. Meanwhile, a force of 8th Air Force and RAF fighters was readying for take-off to the same area. Obviously the Luftwaffe would challenge fiercely such a mass landing of supplies as this.Probably the longest aerial supply train that ever headed for a front line nosed its way over the enemy coast before 1300. the sky wasn’t too clear, and the sky train went in at low altitude. Beneath it, a furiously speeding fighter escort plane occasionally would turn sharply upon a Dutch haystack or a lone farmhouse, spaying lead into a hidden flak gun that was trying to get the range.

 

Some of the fighter escorts went ahead to set up a ring of protection around the small field at Grave. At 1350 the first C-47 set its wheels on the dirt landing strip. Three hours – 180 minutes – to land, unload and dispatch more than 200 planes. It was a task that might have unnerved the traffic control officers at the largest and best equipped airfield in England – of the U.S.But there was no control tower at this field. There were no traffic control officers. There was sharp, vicious fighting a mile and a half away. There were squadrons of desperate Luftwaffe fighter pilots trying to penetrate the Allied fighter ring. In the offing, the 8th Air Force and RAF fighters were mixed with the Germans in a great sirling dogfight.The first C-47s to land carried English antiaircraft personnel and equipment, including big Bofors guns. The ordinary unloading time for this cargo was three to four hours. They did it in 45 minutes. At one time there were more than 100 c-47s on the field – 100 closely parked, defenceless sky freight wagons. The men were hurrying with the unloading knew they would be duck soup if even a half-dozen enemy planes could get close enough to strafe them.Above the field, the traffic pattern was jammed with a long orderly line of cargo planes ready to land. One dirt landing strip was cluttered with those that had landed. Another strip was jammed with aircraft ready to take-off. And all traffic directions were coming by radio from one parked C-47 on the ground.  Yet there was not one moment of confusion.The supplies rolled out o the field; 132 jeeps; 73 jeep quarter-ton trailers; 31 motorcycles; 3.374 gallons of gas for vehicles; 38.700 pounds of ammunition; 60.730 pounds of rations. In all, 657.995 pounds of combat equipment and 882 fighting men were unloaded on a field 1.000 by 1.400 yards.While the Wing was making this great supply delivery – without the unprecedented airborne operation would have failed – it also was loading many of the glider personnel that had been stranded in no man’s land – taking them back to England so that they could fly again against the Hun.Planes that were loading these essential men dropped out of the line that was squirming from the unloading area down a dirt strip to the take-off line; then, when ready, they edged their way back into the procession.The Luftwaffe was going crazy trying to get in close enough to shoot up the C-47s. one force of 50 Luftwaffe fighters headed toward the field. Within a few blazing minutes, the 8th Air Force had shot down 32 of the Germans, probably shot down another and damaged eight. The remaining Huns scattered. At 1650 – three hours to the minute -  the last of the C-47s took off. The job had been done.Back to England they went, and landed. Not a single cargo plane had been lost in the most dangerous re-supply mission ever undertaken by air to the front battle lines.

 

 

C-47s of the 43rd Troop Carrier Squadron, 315th Troop Carrier Group, on the old riverbed at Keent.

 

More about this operation.

 

The Keent airstrip was created in the 1930s. The Dutch airline company was looking for an airfield in the Nijmegen area. The major of Overasselt mentioned the field.

In 1933, an air show was organized on the field. After that all attention to the field vanished.

 

During the war. The field came into view of the German Luftwaffe. With the strength of the Allied air force, the main German airfields weren’t safe. They searched and created satellite airstrips. The Keent airstrip was brought into use again as satellite field for the large Volkel airfield.

 

On September 17, 1944, paratroopers of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment were dropped near the bridge at Grave. One company was dropped south of the Maas river. They landed around the small village of Velp. This was located 3.5 kilometres from the airstrip.

The first objective for the paratroopers was the bridge. That was taken and a roadblock was set up on the main road towards the bridge.

 

The existence of the airstrip was not discovered before September 19, two days after the landing. Planners in the UK had excluded the strip for use in the operation.  

A patrol of the 504th discovered the strip. The discovery was send by word to the HQ.

HQ still kept to the original plan: flying reinforcements and supplies to the Deelen airfield, north of Arnhem.

With the withdrawal of the Oosterbeek bridgehead, the Deelen airfield plan was useless.

Meanwhile, supplies were running out for the troops in the Nijmegen area. This was caused by German attacks on the corridor, and cutting it successfully a few times.

This triggered the birth of the operation to Keent airstrip.

 

An improvised air traffic control unit flew to the airstrip to do their task from their ‘tower’, a parked C-47.

The Troop Carrier units involved were from the 52nd Troop Carrier Wing. The table below gives insight on the operation. Who flew from where and at what time did they land at Keent.  

 

Serial No.    No. of C-47s        TC Unit           Airfield      Time                       Load

A-107          29                       314 TCG          Saltby       13.50              2nd A/L LAA Bty

A-112          36                       315 TCG        Spanhoe     14.45                    AFDAG

A-113          36                       315 TCG        Spanhoe     15.15                    AFDAG

A-114          36                       316 TCG      Cottesmore  16.05                    AFDAG

A-115          36                       316 TCG      Cottesmore  16.15                    AFDAG

A-116          36                       313 TCG      Folkingham  16.50                    AFDAG

 

 

From the 52nd TW History as printed in ‘Valor without Arms’ by Michael Ingrisano following:

The mission was considered important and glamorous enough to receive full newspaper, radio and photographic coverage. Shortly before the group took off from Cottesmore, a B-17 landed and discharged ten correspondents complete with notebooks, pencil and camera.

 

Above we have read the report by Joseph Guess. Mr. A. I. Goldberg from associated Press recorded:

Somewhere in Holland, September 26

American freighters of the air late today poured jeeps, men and weapons onto a forward airfield here in the first landing with supplies for harassed forces in the Eindhoven-Arnhem corridor. Previously supply and reinforcing of this battle zone had been done by glider or parachuting men and material.

There were Germans near and the blue smoke of battle was clearly visible when the C-47 specials highballed onto this grassy pasture and began to disgorge their loads. The first planes were emptied and taking off for their British bases by the time the last planes were in through the narrow, uncertain corridor.

No Nazi planes challenge

The unarmed transports of the First Allied Airborne Army had a thick escort of fighters buzzing on their flanks and no enemy planes challenged them. There was no FLAK and all planes in the convoy headed safely back to England, belying the German radio which announced that the German air force had broken up an attempt to reinforce the corridor with heavy losses to Allied planes.

Major William Childers, Memphis TN (37th TCS Ex. Officer), who briefed the squadron with which I flew and led in the first element, stood in the pasture airport and there was no mistaking his keen satisfaction as red-bereted Royal Army Service Corps men swung jeeps out of the plane. “It’s been a success so far”, he ventured.

Capt. Perry Dean of Worthville TX  (37th TCS) who flew one of the lead planes agreed enthusiastically. “this is actually flying stuff to the front lines”, Childers said.

It was the third trip into the area for him and most of the pilots of the red ball air fleet, but it was the first time they had landed.

Childers also effected what may have been the first evacuation from this zone. As the last supplies hit the ground and pilots began warming up for the jaunt home, up came Flight Officer James Sindeldecker from Bellaire OH, looking for the commanding officer. He was sunburned and battle stained but otherwise he was looking well. A glider pilot, he landed troops four days ago and then made his way back here trying to hitch a ride to his home base.  

He wriggled through where the Germans later cut the road but he had no startling story to tell. On a previous landing attempt, he had had to set his glider down in Ypres.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

C-47 at Keent. This strip was better known as the Grave airstrip. Later is was used by British fighter planes.

In the back in the Cafe Wachthuis situated along the dyke. The cafe’s name refers to a ferry that was once situated here.

The situation at Grave and some key positions. Eleven C-47s of the 315th TCG dropped paratroopers on the south side of the bridge at Grave. The bridge is clearly visible spanning the Meuse river. A roadblock was set up between Grave and the village Velp. German forces met the American paratroopers here and a short battle enveloped.

The airstrip is roughly indicated. The Wachthuis cafe is also marked. The cafe is no longer in busniness as such.

Airborne Troop Carrier - Holland