C-47 Carried the Paratroopers On D-Day

Most of us are familiar with the C-47, or the Dakota as it was called by British and Commonwealth forces, because it’s the plane paratroopers jump out of in movies or longer productions about D-Day such as Band of Brothers. In the movie, A Bridge Too Far, about the British drop on Arnhem, there is a magnificent scene of C-47s rolling slowly to the runway then taking off.

These two photographs show C-47s during World War Two:

The pilot of a C-47 cargo transport crash lands safely after having dropped supplies to elements of the 101st Airborne Division which has successfully repulsed all attempts to capture the besieged city of Bastogne, Belgium. 30 Dec 1944 (US Army photo)
War Theatre #12 (France) – Douglas C-47 “Skytrains”, 12th Air Force Troop Carrier Wing, loaded with paratroopers on their way for the invasion of southern France, 15 August 1944. (US Air Force photo)

[Images courtesy of the US Air Force Website and the US Army Website.]

Saving Private Webster: A Review of Parachute Infantry by David Kenyon Webster (Part 4 of 4)

Webster was wounded in Holland and writes about it with a certain humor:

Martin, another man, and I ran toward the hedge to open fire. We had only gone a few feet when a German machine gun fired a short burst at us. A two hundred pound man swung a baseball bat and drove a spike clean through my leg. The force of the blow spun me around and knocked me down. ‘They got me,’ I cried. What a cliche I thought as I lay on the ground. ‘They got me.’ I’ve been seeing too many movies.

Because of this wound, Webster missed the Battle of Bastonge, and he returned to Easy Company several months afterwards.

One of the more interesting details in Webster’s memoir is about how Private Hoobler actually died. This is a very dramatic scene in the HBO Series Band of Brothers. Hoobler is showing everyone the Lugar he got from killing a German officer. He accidentally shoots himself with the Lugar and bleeds to death. This is all true. In the series, one of the medics, Doc Roe, highly thought of by the men, comes running but can’t save Hoobler, who bleeds to death. But that isn’t what happened.

Upon his return, Webster asks about Hoobler, who was a friend. Writes Webster: “And Hoobler. Where’s Hoobler?” Someone tells him Hoobler is dead. “…McCreary told me how he (Hoobler) had died while the medic was off looting the dead. They wanted to shoot the medic when they caught him…” To read this is to understand why so many World War Two combat veterans have said the real war will never be in the history books. The medic in question, was not “Doc Roe”, who is prominently featured in the HBO Series and highly thought of by the men both in reality and in the series.

While Webster himself never says it, and probably would never had said it, he was a brave soldier. On David Kenyon Webster’s website, Burton P. Christenson, fellow soldier, wrote:

I watched a man during the peak of one of our most epic struggles with the Germans. We had fought for twelve hours. The enemy fire was showing on our nerves. The men were done in. The look of death showed in the faces of the living. The men of the first platoon were trying to blend into anything that made them inconspicuous. Tension mounted. Then far up ahead at the closest point to the enemy, standing erect, stood Dave Webster, shouting to the Germans to surrender. And as they sheepishly passed this hunk of a man, going to the end of their war, the first platoon again moved forward.

It is a tragedy that Webster did not live to see the extraordinary HBO series Band of Brothers in which he is featured in almost every episode but also that he never saw his memoirs become so widely read and admired.

Saving Private Webster: A Review of Parachute Infantry by David Kenyon Webster (Part 1 of 4)

Daniel Kenyon Webster’s memoir, Parachute Infantry: An American Paratrooper’s Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich, was rescued from obscurity by his service in E Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division which was made famous through the HBO series Band of Brothers. “Web” as he was called in the series, and presumably in the service (although he signed all his letters to his family as ‘Kenyon’) is a rarity: a highly educated and very observant young man serving in the ranks. Webster jumped at D-Day and survived the campaign through Normandy and dropped into Holland for ‘Operation Market Garden.’ He was fortunate to be wounded shortly before the 101st Airborne was sent to hold Bastonge and suffered terrific casualties. He returned to the regiment and saw out the rest of the war with E Company.

Webster was an English literature major at Harvard who dropped out and enlisted in the paratroopers. His motivations for doing so are complex. A man of his educational and social background could easily have become an officer in any of the services and probably arranged to stay well back from the front line. But this was not Webster’s desire. In a letter to his parents, he says everyone in America wants to beat the Germans but no one wants their son to die. However, someone’s sons had to die and he did feel he could exempt himself from this.

The Army and Webster were not a good fit. He hated the army and as far as I can see the army didn’t like him very much – not because he was a ‘goldbrick’ or anything but because he had an ‘attitude.’ And his attitude is something I, and imagine you, can sympathize with: he was far too intelligent to swallow all the bullshit. It wasn’t hard for others, particularly officers – especially inept officers – to pick this up and ride him. Band of Brothers glosses over the immense gulf between enlisted men and officers in WW II. Obviously that gulf still exists and must exist to maintain discipline in the armed forces. But in WW II it was carried to an extreme. The enlisted men were treated as ignorant fools and were subject to constant harassment and petty regulations they called “chickenshit.”

In his talk to the men before D-Day, Colonel Sink, who commanded the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (and was in his mid-30s in real life not in his 50s as portrayed in the series) he didn’t patronize them but gave the kind of realistic talk one would hope a grown up man would give to highly trained soldiers. He ended with this: “I do not care what else you do, but for God’s sake, don’t let the general catch you in a wool knit cap…”

In the US Army in WW Two, men were issued wool knit caps to put on their heads to lesson the friction of their helmet. Although the helmet did have a liner, that often got discarded because the men used their helmets to cook in and other personal requirements when they were under sustained fire and could not move. Therefore, any rational person would wear a wool knit cap so that one’s helmet didn’t scrape one’s head and to have a layer of wool between one’s steel helmet and one’s head in freezing weather. How hard is this to understand? Yet General Taylor didn’t think it looked very military for men off the line to take their helmets off and just wear their wool caps. That was the kind of stuff he worried about. Consequently, the men even slept in their helmets so no one could see their wool caps. No wonder Webster hated the army. (And General Taylor.)