Seal of the National WWII Glider Pilots Association

Courtesy of the National Archives / NWWIIGPA Collection

Bundles from the Sky on DZ

[16-22 Dec Situation]   [26-27 Dec. Gliders]   [27 Dec. The Final Drop]

THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE → Bastogne: Bundles From The Sky

23 December 1944

Pathfinders set up the radar beacon for the C-47s in Bastogne at 0925.

It was decided that one Troop Carrier Group of the 50th Wing, the 441st stationed in France, as well as two groups from the 53rd Wing, the 438th and the 435th, would drop supplies as soon as weather permitted. The 50th Wing was getting its intelligence information from the advanced Ninth Air Force headquarters stationed at Luxemburg City, Luxemburg. The 53rd Wing was getting their intelligence directly from the 101st Airborne Division through Maj. Gen. Troy Middleton’s VIII Corps at Neufchateau, Belgium.

First Resupply (441st TCG)

The resupply of Bastogne began when twenty-one C-47s from the 441st Troop Carrier Group, took off from Dreux, France at 0958 beginning the resupply of Bastogne. They flew in following the Bastogne Marche—Highway (N—4) at 900 ft. As it happened, a Panzer Division was also occupying that highway in their drive to Rochefort. The C-47s began receiving heavy small arms and flak fire, mostly from the Panzer Division. The 302nd Troop Carrier Squadron was leading the formation and the second ship, piloted by 1st Lt. Robert L. Anstey and co-piloted by 2nd Lt. Raymond G. Wiethorn, 302nd TCS] was the first aircraft destroyed. The crew of this plane bailed out and, except for the pilot, was captured by the Germans. The rest of the planes made the drop directly on the red smoke. There were fighters in the sky with the C-47s but they had orders to protect against a Luftwaffe that never showed up and did not strike the Panzer Division. It was reported by the 510th Fighter Squadron who escorted the twenty one C-47s, that the flak was moderate, accurate and light.

Narrative report by the 302nd TCS regarding this resupply mission:

General Von Runstedt, of the German Army, had a good deal to do with squadron activity during the month of December. Not only did his daring counter-offensive awaken a new-born interest to the fact that there still was a war on, but it also brought on a combat re-supply mission to beleaguered members of the 101st Airborne division at Bastogne, Belgium. It was on the 23rd, at 1000 hours, that the nine-plane formation took off from A-41 to fly in much-needed ammunition and medical supplies to the Bastogne garrison. The crews had been briefed to expect some light flack and small arms fire, and it was exactly this type of fire that forced the crew on A/C #42-100870 to bail out of their burning ship at P-419590. (GSGS 3982). 1st Lt. Robert L. Anstey, the pilot on 870, made his way back to the squadron, returning at 2300 hours on the 29th, looking like the character in the cartoon, “Up Front With Mauldin.” Upon interrogation,it was learned that Lt. Anstey did not jump with the rest of the crew, since he remained behind to adjust the controls of his flaming ship. He landed at P-510565, (GSGS 3982) and after refusing an invitation from some beckoning Germans, he was picked up by an American machine gun patrol which came out to get him. After giving information to intelligence at divisional headquarters, and living through a hail of German artillery and strafing attacks, Lt Anstey left Bastogne on the 27th, when the 4th Armed Division broke through. From Bastogne he made his way to Neufchateau and then to Paris and Chartres, from where he made his way to A-41. It was Lt Anstey“s belief that the rest of the crew members on his ship were taken prisoners by the Germans, since they landed in German-held territory. The four, still missing in action are:

Co-Pilot: Raymond G.l Wiethorn 0-808629 2nd Lt
Crew Chief: Earl d. Purgett 36720552 T/Sgt
Radio Operator: Morris E. Parker 38431545 S/Sgt
Asst Crew Chief: Joseph L. Smitrus 12211586 S/Sgt

The results of the mission were excellent. Besides supplying the cut-off troops with much-needed ammunition and medical supplies, the mere sight of the planes dropping their para-packs and bundles proved to be a big moral-building to the men on the ground. Although it was a small part, the squadron was happy to have played a role in helping smash the German counter-offensive.

Second Resupply - Pathfinder group resupply.

The next resupply to Bastogne was the Pathfinder group. Before sunrise two C-47s left Chalgrove, England, Airfield with Pathfinder Commander, Colonel Joel Crouch. Forty two C-47s assembled at Membury Air Field, England were loaded and would follow Colonel Crouch's route. Because of bad weather they did not take off in large groups but rather in individual flights. This, and the fact that there was no fighter coverage, turned out to be detrimental to the mission. The small groups of planes were easy prey for the German Anti-Aircraft Batteries and because of the breaks between these small groups of planes they were able to reload between each serial. Of the forty C-47s only twenty eight planes reached the drop zone or came close enough to make their drop. One plane had to turn back before making the drop due to damage.

Courtesy of Air & Space Mag. Smithsonian

Of the forty-two aircraft that took part in the mission, three came back undamaged. Twenty-six came back with damage ranging from few holes from small arms fire to large holes from flak. As of 2000 hours on the 23rd of December, There was a total of thirteen operational aircraft in the group. All engineering personnel in this group and the 57th M R & R Squadron worked all night and as or 0600 hours, 24 December, there was a total of twenty-four operation aircraft in the group.

Four were shot down, nine made emergency landings ‘on the far shore’. Of the 252 men flying the mission four men were seriously wounded, two slightly wounded, and sixteen were missing in action.

Third Resupply - 53rd Wing

This resupply was the largest and involved all the Groups of the 53rd Wing, all based in England; 434th TCG stationed at Aldermaston, 435th TCG stationed at Welford Park, 436th TCG stationed at Membury, 437thTCG stationed at Ramsbury and the 438th TCG stationed at Greenham Common (On both the 23rd and 24th Group Commander, Col. John M. Donalson led the 438th Group. Col. Donalson Commanded the lead plane on the air assault on Normandy)

The take-off and order of resupply drop over the DZ was:

  1. 1228: Forty-one C-47s from the 437th
  2. 1245: Fifty C-47s from the 434th (drop altitude: 500 ft.)
  3. 1245: Forty-six C-47s from the 436th (drop altitude: 500-700 ft.)
  4. 1250: Forty-three C-47s from the 435th (drop altitude: 700 ft.)
  5. 1259: Forty-three C-47s from the 438th (drop altitude: 380 ft.)

Each Group flew at a different altitude in order to complicate matters for German anti aircraft artillery. Even so one plane was lost on this mission. The 88TH of the 438th was flying at the lowest altitude; 380ft. when C-47, #42-92087, was destroyed. It was reported that no one was seen bailing out and the plane crashed on the DZ. Killed were pilot 1st Lt. Louis M. Roberts, Co-pilot Lt. Edward R. Petzold, crew chief T/Sgt. Jim W. McDonald and radio operator S/Sgt. Robert L. Casperson.

Courtesy of the National Archives/ NWWIIGPA Collection

A Douglas C-47 of the 9th Troop Carrier Command drops supplies over Bastogne, Belgium 23 Dec. 1944 [This C-47 is proudly displaying the squadron code CN for the 434th TCG, 73rd TCS, commanded by Maj. Terry G. Hutton]

As Lt. Robert Anstey, pilot as mentioned above, was making his way back to Bastogne he passed Lt. Roberts aircraft and made the following report:

In proceeding from there [Aid Station at Villeroux] to Bastogne, I passed the remains of a burned C-47. The number on the tail was 292087. I examined the wreckage and was able to distinguish what I thought were the remains of four bodies, but there was so little remaining that I could not be sure that four or only four had crashed with the ship. The wreckage was found at P-550565, Two miles south of Bastogne.

The resupply to the 101st was a success. Of the 264 Troop Carrier C-47s involved in the air resupply, 253 arrived over the DZ to drop 334 tons of ammunition, rations, and medical supplies. All the supplies were put to immediate use but it was evident that this would not sustain the 101st for more than a day.

24 December

A priority communication resupply mission took off in the early morning of the 24that 0855. Six C-47s of the 9th Pathfinder Group flew resupply to Bastogne on DR (Dead Reckoning) using the GEE¹ ground system allowing them to fly on top of overcast. They confirmed picking up R/E (Rebecca/Eureka) signals thirty-four miles out. One plane returned early due to missed communication at the IP (Initial Point). The other five, after dropping their bundles, returned to England as 156 C-47s from the 434th, 435th, 436th and 437th were leaving for another resupply to Bastogne. Of the five returning, three were severely damaged from flak and small arms.

The four Troop Carrier Groups that left as the Pathfinders returned were not in the prearranged order after take-off and had to do much maneuvering until they fell into the correct order over France. This mission turned out to be more successful than the previous day’s mission partly due to a change in the route, the drop altitude being changed more dramatically and the formations of the planes being kept tight. They were over enemy territory for only 12 minutes and the German artillery could not change altitude and sight in on these planes as quickly as the previous mission.

The take-off and order of resupply drop over the DZ was:

  1. 1025: Forty-four C-47s from the 437th (drop altitude: 300 ft.) made drop at 1338
  2. 1033: Thirty-nine C-47s from the 436th (drop altitude: 2,200 ft. high for para-drop)
  3. 1039: Thirty-three C-47s from the 434th (drop altitude: 800 ft.) made drop at 1341
  4. 1041: Forty-one C-47s from the 435th (drop altitude: 350 ft.) made drop at 1350

This mission suffered less damage but some aircraft received damage from flak and small arms fire and one plane from the 72nd Squadron, 434th Group did not return. Due to bullet holes in the fuel tanks it made an emergency landing in France.

25 December

Weather grounds all planes. No resupply for Bastogne! Movement of the 17th Airborne from England to the Continent was not without its problems: Further Reading Christmas Accidents

26 December

290 C-47s were loaded and ready to go on December 26 but the weather was not good. They waited, sitting on the air field through daybreak and into mid-morning. Visibility had improved to marginal and IX Troop Carrier headquarters decided to go at 1200. If in the five hour flight to Bastogne the weather did not improve they would abort the mission. These aircraft began taking off between 1205 and 1225. They kept a loose formation until over the ceiling where 289 aircraft loaded with 169 tons of ammunition, signal equipment, gasoline, and other necessities began to group up into a tighter formation. At the IP the weather lifted. Their route took them over the lead element of Patton’s Third Army, the 4th Armored Division, which was headed for Sibret. After watching the seemingly endless air armada heading for Bastogne, the 4th Armored Division Commander, Colonel Crieghton Abrams, changed his plan and headed straight for Bastogne as well.

438th in formation to Bastogne.
Courtesy Brian Gilbert, Photograph taken by Sgt Jerry P. Gilbert, Radio Operator, 88th TCS-438th TCG / Brian Gilbert collection

The 88th Squadron of the 438th Troop Carrier Group in formation heading to a Drop zone West of Bastogne, Belgium

The order of resupply drop over the DZ was:
  1. Sixty-five C-47s from the 434th (drop altitude: 300 ft.)
  2. Fifty-six C-47s from the 437th (drop altitude: 300 ft.)
  3. Fifty-six C-47s from the 435th (drop altitude: 350 ft.)
  4. Seventy-one C-47s from the 436th (drop altitude: 2000 ft.)
  5. Forty-one C-47s from the 438th (drop altitude: 400 ft.)

One plane belonging to the 75th/435th was lost on this mission. Even with a severely damaged plane and injured crew, pilot Capt. Paul W. Dahl stayed on course to the DZ and released his bundles on the DZ before crash landing the plane. The crew survived and was rescued by Allied forces.

Courtesy of the National Archives/ NWWIIGPA Collection

Much needed supplies wrapped in Bundles pushed out the doors of C-47s and release para-packs gently float down to the waiting 101st A/B. Bastogne, Belgium 23 Dec. 1944

Twenty-eight planes of the 435th received category A damage and had to make an emergency landing at A-83, Demain/Prouvy, France. A-83 was designated as the emergency AirField and medical station because it was only one hour away from the DZ.

The 436th fared better with only five planes receiving slight small arms damage. The 438th also had minimal damage with the exception on one harrowing incident.



[16-22 Dec Situation]   [26-27 Dec. Gliders]   [27 Dec. The Final Drop]

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