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15 October 2014
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by WMCSVActionDesk

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Alan Hartley
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
08 June 2005

'This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Liz Goddard on behalf of Alan Hartley and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.'

Because the advance of the Allies in Europe was coming to a halt through lack of supplies, General Eisenhower agreed to General Montgomery’s plan to drop a carpet of Airborne troops in a narrow thrust in order to capture the vital bridge at Arnhem over the Rhine, enabling our troops and armour to strike into the Ruhr, the industrial heart of Nazi Germany. The 101st American Airborne Division were dropped at Eindhoven to capture the road bridges and the 82nd at Nijmegen to capture the major bridge there. The last and most vital bridge at Arnhem was the target of the 1st Airborne Division. So on September 17th 1944 the six squadrons of the 46 Group and the Stirlings of 38 Group towed hundreds of Horsa gliders filled with Airborne troops to the Landing Zones which were 8 miles from the bridge. American troop carriers dropped the parachutists of the 1st Airborne Division at Ginkel Heath. Because of the lack of transport planes, a second lift was necessary. This meant that on the first day all the troops on the ground could not be used for the thrust to the bridge for the 7th Kings Own Scottish Borderers and some South Staffs had to protect the landing and dropping zones for the second lift on Monday September 18th. On the Monday night the Germans captured the dropping zones and recognising the ground markers brought into the area, every anti aircraft gun and even Schmeisser machine guns mounted on orange boxes awaited the arrival of our Dakotas and Stirlings for the first re-supply missions. The briefing for our aircrews was to go in at 120mph at 500’ in a straight line for 2 minutes because we were short of parachutes and a lot of the unbreakable supplies were dropped freefall in wickerwork panniers. So without any guns to fire back (the Dakotas are unarmed), with no fighter escorts and in broad daylight, our aircrews flew into a horrendous curtain of bursting anti aircraft shells and small arms fire. Several aircraft were hit on the approach (my own pilot Len Wilson was hit after dropping his panniers and despite being badly damaged tried to crash his stricken Dakota onto the gun site which shot him down). According to an eye witness he must have died, slumped into the control column, veered to the port side, sliced a big tree in half with his wing and then crashed at the back of some houses. Two despatchers and the navigator baled out but the remainder of the crew are buried in the Airborne Cemetery. Len Wilson had a wife and a one-year-old baby daughter. Flt.Lt. David Lord was hit on the approach and his starboard wing set on fire. He dropped his panniers burning fiercely and on enquiring if they had all gone, he was told there were two remaining. So he circled Arnhem on fire, just to drop the last two panniers. As they dropped, the starboard wing collapsed and the Dakota KG374 plunged to the ground. Luckily, the navigator Harry King who was standing near the door to supervise the exit of the panniers was thrown clear and he parachuted down. For this action David Lord was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross, the only one for Transport Command. Despite the heavy losses, our aircrew continued to fly in these supplies for four consecutive days, 90% of which fell into enemy hands.

In and around Arnhem there are many memorials to various Para units, Glider Pilots, Air Despatchers, Airborne units, but not one to the 175 RAF aircrews who gave their lives on these suicidal re-supply missions, which in my estimation was the bravest flying of the war.

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