Nfld. & Labrador

A historic stopover for some historic planes on their way to 75th D-Day anniversary

Eleven of 15 Douglas C-47s passed through Goose Bay over the weekend en route to the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Europe.

Eleven of the 15 C-47s passed through Goose Bay Monday on their way to Scotland

Busload after busload of people were brought out to the base to see 'Betsy's Biscuit Bomber' on the tarmac at 5 Wing Goose Bay (Jacob Barker/CBC)

It was a picture reminiscent of a past era at the Goose Bay air force base Monday morning as residents gathered to catch a glimpse of some World War II relics on their way to Europe for the upcoming 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

"There's a lot of old spirits and old souls around that remember these quite well and that we're able to participate in this sort of situation here, this event here in Goose, basically with the same infrastructure possibly is amazing," Happy Valley-Goose Bay resident George Andrews said.

Ten of the fifteen C-47s set to take part in D-Day ceremonies made their way through Goose Bay over the weekend. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Ten out of 15 Douglas C-47s that are taking part in the commemorative event made their way through Goose Bay over the long weekend. The aircraft, a military version of the DC-3, were used in World War II to transport troops and supplies. Goose Bay served as a jumping-off point for the planes flying on to Europe. They will make their way through Greenland and Iceland before arriving in Scotland.

"We are actually replicating the same route," said Moreno Aguiari, who is in charge of marketing for the D-Day squadron. "These airports are here because of the war in a way and we are still using them today and it's definitely the safest way, and for these airplanes, the only way."

Moreno Aguiari is in charge of marketing and media for the D-Day squadron. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

The mission is complicated and costly. The budget for each plane to make the trip was between $250,000 and $300,000, raised mainly through sponsorships and donations. It was the No. 1 challenge for the non-profit organizations and museums, which, for the most part, own the planes.

"If you don't have the money you can't even plan the trip," Aguiari said.

D-Day drop

The planes will join 15 European aircraft to commemorate D-Day when they fly in formation together across the English channel into France, where they will be dropping 250 paratroopers onto the beaches of Normandy. 

Pilot Sherman Smoot, who flew fighters in the military, said it is an honour to be behind the controls of the aircraft.

"Every time I crawl into the seat of this airplane to fly, I think of a 21-year-old, 22-year-old, maybe, flying this aircraft across the English Channel at night with 29 paratroopers on the back," he said.

Sherman Smoot is a pilot aboard Betsy's Biscuit Bomber. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

The plane arrived in England about a month after D-Day in 1944 but it was very active in the Allied campaign. What sets their plane apart from the others is that it was never converted to a passenger or cargo aircraft.

"The inside is just like it was during the war," Smoot said. "We haven't changed that. We've tried to preserve it."

Candy Bomber

The aircraft Smoot is piloting was put on display for the public Monday morning on the tarmac at 5 Wing Goose Bay base. Busloads full of curious residents were shuttled onto the runway to get a look both inside and out.

"What a great piece of living history," said aviation enthusiast Geoff Goodyear. "We're still acknowledging the anniversary of D-Day, and then to have all these wonderful aircraft come through, it's special."

Paul Singh said it was cool for him to get to see the plane and very exciting for the kids (Jacob Barker/CBC)

It's named "Betsy's Biscuit Bomber," partly for the wife of the man who donated it to the California museum where it normally resides as well as for its role in the Berlin airlift — a massive food and medicine airlift that took place after the war — where it became known as one of the candy bombers.

To think about what they had to go through to get the mission done it's pretty amazing.- Shane Wallace

"During the Berlin airlift the crews were throwing candy out with little parachutes on it," said John Doyle, who helped work on the plane.

John Doyle shows off a candy chute that will be tossed from the plane during a re-enactment of the Berlin Airlift. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

The plane will also help re-enact the Berlin Airlift this summer.

"The Jelly Belly company made a bunch.… We're going to be throwing them out over Germany," Doyle said.

Emotional voyage

Doyle said they've bumped into a few C-47 pilots on the way already, and the aircraft awakens a lot of memories and feelings.

"There's a lot of history with this, a lot of emotion with it. There's been some tears from the people we've met," he said.

Shane Wallace will be piloting the plane across the English Channel to commemorate D-Day. (Jacob Barker/CBC)
 

It's a special trip for Shane Wallace as well, who will be piloting the C-47 during the D-Day event — his grandfather served in World War II.

"To think about what they had to go through to get the mission done it's pretty amazing," he said. 

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About the Author

Jacob Barker

Videojournalist

Jacob Barker reports on Labrador for CBC News from Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

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