A Gooney by any Other Name is Still a Gooney
Supreme Commander-Europe, General Dwight Eisenhower,
didn’t hesitate when ask to list the Allied weapons that most
helped end the war. In no particular order he said, “The bazooka,
the jeep, the atom bomb and the C-47.”
The bazooka made the lowly GI into a feared tank killer. The Jeep gave
his commanders incredible flexibility to move about the battlefield.
The atom bomb saved many thousands of GI lives by bringing the whole
thing to an end. The C-47, however, was the instant pipeline that brought
the GI what he needed to fight when and where he needed it. Before there
were beachheads, before there were roads, before there was any other
way to move men and equipment, the Gooney Bird was there.
Although the C-47 was an adaptation of the DC-3 transport, when the
military ordered the first of nearly 10,000 C-47’s in 1940, they
initially saw it as a freighter and had large cargo doors and a beefed
up floor added. Shortly thereafter, they realized they could load as
many as 27 fully equipped paratroopers in it and drop them where needed.
These aircraft not only had smaller doors and provisions for seats down
the sides, but (are you ready for this?) a round hole in the middle
of each passenger window allowed troops to stick their gun barrels out
and fire at any fighter that may be attacking them.
The feats of the C-47 during WWII are legendary: 4,800 troopers dropped
during the invasion of Sicily, an amazing 60,000 dropped at Normandy
in addition to towing several thousand gliders. In the Pacific, as soon
as runways were secured or hacked out of island jungles, endless streams
of the old birds supplied embattled troops. The C-47 was the Huey of
its day, bringing men and equipment in and leaving with the wounded.
Pilots had a real love/hate relationship with the old bird. On the one
hand, it was a slow, plodding beast (170 mph on a good day), but on
the other hand, pilots knew it would take care of them. Its long wing
and big control surfaces let it fly easily on one engine and its crews
knew it could handle whatever the weather had to throw at them.
In many ways the C-47 was an aerial jeep because it was used in so many
ways for which it wasn’t designed. It flew on skis and floats
and, during the 1948 Yom Kippur war, Egyptians even tried using them
as bombers, rolling bombs out the open door only to find they were dog
meat for the Israeli-flown, Czech-built Messerschmitt 109s.
Several wars later, Gooneys armed with a trio of 7.62mm Gatling guns
became Spookies or Puff the Magic Dragons over Vietnam. Troops on the
ground said the sounds of the 18,000 rounds a minute hitting the jungle
sounded like a gigantic bug was chewing on the trees.
Of all the different types of aircraft built during WWII, more than
any other, it is the C-47 that is still alive and working for a living
in far corners of the world. The old airplane will probably out last
every single person reading this, which is a sobering thought. But then,
that’s how legends are made.
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