RETURN TO 315 TCG

 Rev. 04/1703

"I will come!"

 

History

of the

315th Troop Carrier Group

 

The Origin. Originally constituted as 315th Transport Group on February 2, 1942, the Group was redesignated the 315th Troop Carrier Group in Jul 1942. At that time, the Group consisted of the 34th and the 43rd Troop Carrier Squadrons. Training for combat operations with C-47's and C-53's, the Group departed the United States in Oct-Nov 1942, for assignment to the 8th Air Force in England. For this deployment, the Group staged through Greenland (APO 3300) in November of 1942. Encountering bad weather while flying the North Atlantic route, the air echelon was detained for about a month in Greenland, where it searched for missing aircraft along the east coast and dropped supplies to crews.

 

(Above) 315th TCG C-47, a/c 290, pre-Normandy invasion (Knight Photo Collection)

After the air and ground echelons were united in Aldermaston, England in December 1942, the group's primary mission was ferrying cargo in the British Isles and training with airborne troops and gliders.  In May 1943, a detachment composed of all the 315th aircraft deployed to Blida, Algeria (in North Africa), leaving components of the ground echelon in England.  During this time, two new Troop Carrier Squadrons were formed and added to the Group -- the 309th and the 310th, both activated October 1, 1943.  

 

(Right) 315th C-47 positioning to tow  CG4A Waco glider (Knight Photo Collection, 34th TCS)

In November e airborne phase of the invasions of Sicily (Operation Husky, June 1943) and Italy, it actively supported the critical logistical effort of the operations by flying supplies around the Mediterranean.

 

 

 

(Left) 315th TCG C-47, a/c 887, sporting nose art.

While the detachment was in North Africa, the ground echelon was assigned to the 9th Troop Carrier Command in October 1943 and relocated to Welford, England, and then to Spanhoe, England, in February 1944. The detachment in North Africa rejoined the ground echelon at Spanhoe in May 1944.

 

 

                                 (Above) Cockpit of 315th C-47. (From Knight Collection)

 

 

(Right)  315th TCG C-46 unloading crews and equipment. Date unknown.  Knight Collection)

Spanhoe (Air Station 493). Spanhoe was one of the many airfields built in England during the buildup for the bombing campaign and was turned over to the troop carriers for the invasion. The base was bounded on the west by an old quarry and on the south and east by heavy Spanhoe woods from which the base derived its name. However, it was usually known as Harringworth or Wakerly, the names of the neighboring towns in Northhamptonshire.

Map of Air Station 493 'Spanhoe', England

Originally a bomber field, the base was built to class 'A' specifications with a main runway 6,000 feet X 150 feet and two intersecting runways at the western side, each 4,200 feet long. The encircling perimeter track had 50 loop-type hardstandings and two 'T2' hangars to the south between the perimeter and the Harringworth-Laxton Road. This area also housed the living accommodations and technical site. The mess and medical accommodations were on the south side of the country road.

The pyrotechnic and bomb store was set the wooded area to the south-east of the airfield and the northern end housed a 72,000 gallon fuel store with two further 72,000 gallon stores at the quarry end. The station was allocated to the 9th Troop Carrier Command Substitution Unit and was officially opened on January 7, 1944. On February 7, 1944, the 34th and 43rd Troop Carrier Squadrons moved their aircraft from Welford Park to Spanhoe.

(Above)  Aerial photo of Spanhoe, ca. 1944

 

 

 

(Right) The PX (Post Exchange) at Spanhoe

 

(Left) Heat for the quarters and buildings was fueled by coke or coal. When deliveries of fuel fell behind, the troops turned to the Spanhoe woods to chop their own, as depicted here.

 

Spanhoe today (2001). (Right) Aerial view of the few buildings that remain of Spanhoe. (actual buildings to be indentified.

 

 

(Left) Two quanset huts. Photos taken by 315th veteran and association member Dick Ford.

 

 

 (Right) Hanging around the WAAF (Women’s Army Air Force) Barracks, waiting for their dates.  The 818th Medical Aero Evacuation Transportation Squadron (MAETS), which included about 12 Flight Nurses, was detached to the 315th TCG at Spanhoe.

 

(Above) 315th TCG training drop probably 34th TCS aircraft

(Knight Collection)

On May 11, 1944, a dress rehearsal for the invasion was run and included 432 aircraft of the 50th and 53rd Troop Carrier Wings carrying over 6,000 paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division (the 'Screaming Eagles'). The 52nd Wing (to which the 315th belonged) contributed 369 aircraft to the exercise with only a token compliment of paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division (the 'All Americans'). As these troopers were already fully trained, they did not want to risk training casualties so close to the actual invasion date. Forty-eight C-47s from the 315th took off from Spanhoe at 2230 hours. All aircraft had returned to Spanhoe by 0437 hours.

 

 

 

 

(Right) Typical training drop. (Origin of photo and identity of parachute and troop carrier unit unknown.)

D-Day ~ The Normandy Invasion. On June 3, 864 paratroopers of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division arrived at Spanhoe. The paratroopers slept in one of the hangars while they waited for D-Day. On June 5, the troopers began boarding their aircraft. One of the troopers in Flying Officer Harper's aircraft of the 43rd Squadron dropped a hand-grenade which exploded and detonated several other grenades. Three paratroopers were killed and 15 others wounded including the radio operator of Harper's aircraft.

Forty-eight C-47s, led by 315th Group Commander Col. Hamish McLelland, took off from Spanhoe just before midnight on June 5, headed for DZ (Drop Zone) 'O' near St. Mere Eglise, France. Over 1,800 troop carrier aircraft carrying 18,000 Allied paratroopers took part in the initial airborne assault over Normandy, France, on June 6. The 315th illuminated the 'green light' at 0040 hours and successfully delivered its cargo of the 505th Parachute Regiment on target and with good concentration. During the assault, 12 aircraft received slight damage from flak (fluges abkanen ~ German anti-aircraft artillery). By 0440 hours, 45 of the 315th aircraft had returned safely to Spanhoe. Two others had landed in southern England and one was hit over the DZ and was lost.

(Above) 315th C-47 landing at Spanhoe.  In distance,

315th’s C-109 tanker. (Knight Collection)

 

 

(Left) 315th TCG Commander Col. Hamish McLelland

 (without trench coat) (Knight Collection)

 

Contrary to reports by some historians regarding the airborne operations of that night, the vast majority of the Group's troops landed on their assigned DZ's in position to execute their assignments. For its heroic effort during this assault, the 315th Troop Carrier Group was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation.

 

(Above) Spanhoe flightline on D-Day of Overlord. Note 34th TCS aircraft (NM) on left and

43rd TCS Aircraft (UA)  on right. 'Invasion stripes' can be seen around fuselages.

Follow-on airdrops of troops and supplies by the 315th continued throughout the next day and for weeks after the initial airborne assault. On May 26, 1944, elements of the 315th air landed badly need supplies at Grave, re-supplying hundreds of desperate troops with badly needed food, combat supplies, and reinforcements.

Training and Tragedy. Training was a major occupation for the all the troop carrier groups and the airborne units. Unfortunately, training for combat, like combat itself, had its price. On July 8, 1944, 369 Polish paratroopers arrived at Spanhoe to participate in a training mission named Operation Burden. At 2130 hours, 33 C-47s departed Spanhoe for a training DZ near Wittering, England. Enroute, over Tinwell, Rutland, England, one of the aircraft of the 309th Squadron collided with another in the formation. Both aircraft crashed to the ground killing eight crewmen and 26 paratroopers. Only one person survived, Cpl. Thomas Chambers, 9th AF, leaping from the aircraft as it plummeted to earth. (see 315th Newsletter, Vol. 22, Issue 3, "Tragedy at Tinwell".)

 

(Left) Besides paratroop drops, most of the troop carrier groups trained at towing gliders. The 315th was assigned gliders and also trained with them, even 'snatching' them from the ground (see Gliders on Home Page). However, the 315th TCG never towed gliders into combat.

 

 

 

 

(Below) The flightline at Spanhoe depicting 315th TCG C-47s with CG-4A Waco gliders.

 Note 'invasion stripes' about the gliders.

Operation Market Garden. The speed of General George Patton's 3rd Army advance through Europe had caused the cancellation of three major airborne operations scheduled for September -- 'Transfigure', 'Linnet', and 'Comet'. The 315th's next major combat operation was 'Market Garden' on September 17, 1944, made famous today by the film "A Bridge Too Far." The 315th Group carried British, American, and especially Polish troops of the notable 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade into DZs in Holland. It was during Market Garden that the 315th was to suffer heavy casualties.

On September 14, 1944, 354 paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division moved onto Spanhoe from their living sites on Braunstone Park. The first of two serials 45 aircraft of the 315th, loaded their paratroopers and tookoff from Spanhoe on September 17, 1944, at 1039 hours. The second serial followed at 1101. They followed the northern route to the DZs north of the River Mass in Holland. One aircraft, piloted by Capt. Bohanan, was hit by flak and he and four other crewmembers were killed. The other 89 aircraft dropped their paratroopers and returned to Spanhoe. That night, the ground crews reloaded the aircrafts' parapack racks (six specially designed racks suspended from the belly of the aircraft to deploy packs of ammunitions and supplies) for a drop of British troops the next day. On September 18, two serials of 27 aircraft each took off with 462 British paratroopers of the 4th Parachute Brigade. Their destination was DZ 'Y' at Ginkel Heath. This time, many aircraft were hit by German anti-aircraft fire. Some of the pilots who returned attributed their losses to lack of fighter support on the final run-in.

 

 

(Left) British paratroopers (unit unknown) preparing for airlift to Holland. Note the numeral '4' of '4A' on the nose of the C-47, denoting the 310th TCS. Photo taken by Russ Lane, 310th electrician, 1944.

 

There was still another drop to be made ~ another bridge to be taken. Bad weather was working against the 315th and the 1st Polish Brigade, whom they were to drop on September 19. On this and the following day, flying was impossible due to the weather. Seven-hundred Polish paratroopers could not depart Spanhoe until the 21st. The follow-on drop scheduled for the 22nd was grounded again due to bad weather and could not be launched until the 23rd, D+6 days. During this time, the stress of boarding the aircraft in anticipation of a combat drop, then de-boarding due to weather grounding, was immense and caused one paratrooper of the Polish brigade to shoot himself with his own pistol. (See 310th TCS History).

 On September 21, though the weather over Holland was clear, the weather over England was not. Even so, a take off was attempted.

(Above) 315th dropping Polish paratroopers at DZ "O", near Grave,

September 23, 1944. The parachute drop took place between CG-4A

glider landings, towed by another troop carrier group, some of which

can be seen on the ground.  Taken by US Army Correspondent

 inserted in a previous drop, probably with the glider troops.

The first serial from the 315th, A-84 consisting of 27 aircraft of the 34th and 43rd Troop Carrier Squadrons, attempted takeoff at 1310. Only 2 out of 27 aircraft were successful with the others aborting due to the bad weather.

The second serial, A-85 consisting of 27 aircraft of the 309th and 310th Troop Carrier Squadrons and led by Maj. Henry Hamby of the 310th, managed to get 25 aircraft airborne at 1427, breaking through the overcast and assembling on top. Under radio silence, the serial departed for its DZ in Holland not knowing about the aborted attempts of the other serial.

From another airfield in England, the 314th Troop Carrier Group was to join the 315th for the mission. Their two serials (A-86 with 27 aircraft and A-87 with 33 aircraft) took off at 1405 and 1413 with 11 aborts and 3 aborts respectively.

 

 

(Left) Knight’s mates on 315th jeep – note bumper markings -- 9ê315  ê  TC ~  9th Air Force, 315th Troop Carrier

The second serial of the 315th arrived over the DZ between 1708 and 1715. On the run-in, the group could see another troop carrier group crossing the DZ from left to right. The German gunners had been alerted. The Group suffered heavy casualties. Three of the 310th Squadron's 16 aircraft were shot down and several could not return to Spanhoe, diverting instead to Brussels with wounded crewmembers and battle damage. The 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade jumped into a very hot drop zone. Many were killed or wounded in the air or after landing and many others were captured. Fighting was intense and the bridge at Arnhem -- the 'bridge too far' -- could not be taken.

On September 23, 42 aircraft of the 315th finally got off the ground from Spanhoe with 560 more paratroopers of the 1st Polish Brigade, and dropped on DZ "O" near Grave, southwest of Nijmegen, Holland. By now, however, Operation Market Garden had stalled and although a tactical gain was not to be made, the Brigade did manage to send some of their numbers across the river to reinforce the British paratroopers trapped in Oosterbeek, and secure a corridor for their eventual evacuation. Polish Brigade casualties were for the operation were a devastating 25 percent.

On September 23, D+6, the Polish paratroopers from the 314th and 315th Groups who did not make it off on the 21st.

The Most Dangerous Re-supply Mission. On September 29, 72 C-47s of the 315th joined the 52nd Troop Carrier Wing, commanded by Brig Gen. Harold L. Clark, as part of a 209 aircraft mission to re-supply the Polish and British paratroopers in the corridor near Arnhem. It had been nine days since the initial airborne assault of the operation. The aircraft air-landed behind enemy lines to deliver critical men, equipment, and food to reinforce the newly-won corridor in Holland.

Gen. Clark's plan called for landings at three German airbases in Holland located two miles north of Grave and eight miles southwest of Nijmegen. The bases were still in enemy hands and their securing by the Allies was not certain. At 11:15 hours, the first of the C-47's, took off for one of the fields in Holland, to be escorted by 9th AF and RAF fighters. On the approach, the fighters attacked flak guns hidden in haystacks and some flew ahead to form a protective ring around their objective field at Grave.

The first aircraft landed at 1350 hours as the long train of 'Skytrains' (C-47s) circled overhead waiting their turn. The Luftwaffe fighters, desperately trying to get to them, were held at bay by the Allied fighter ring. 9th AF Jugs (P-47) shot down 32 German fighters and damaged eight others from a force of 50 which had attempted to penetrate the landing zone.

At one time there were more then 100 C-47's on the field, all being coordinated by one C-47 on the ground. They delivered 132 jeeps, 73 jeep quarter ton trailers, 31 motorcycles, 3,374 gallons of gasoline, 38,700 pounds of ammunition, and 60,730 pounds of rations. In all, 657,995 pounds of combat equipment and 882 fighting men were unloaded on a field 1,000 by 1,400 yards.

At 1650 hours, the last of the C-47's took off for their bases in England, many loaded with wounded and glider personnel who had been stranded since the initial assaults. Not a single cargo aircraft had been lost. It was the most dangerous re-supply mission ever undertaken by air to the front battle lines.

                  (Above) Loading ammunition aboard 315th TCG aircraft.

The Bulge. When the German army broke out at Bastogne in December '44, it surrounded the American troops creating a 'bulge' and threatening annihilation of a significant portion of our forces. After weeks of bad weather that grounded aircraft, the 50th and 52 Troop Carrier Wings dropped supplies to the starving Allied forces while the 315th transport the 17th Airborne Division from England to landing at Reims, France, where they went straight into the line of combat.

                                  (Above) 315th TCG at Liege, Belgium, spring 1945

Crossing the Rhine ~ Operation Varsity. In March 1945 the Allies were poised to go into Germany itself. The 315th dropped British paratroopers near Wesel, Germany. This was to be the 315th's heaviest losses of the war, losing 19 aircraft with 36 badly damaged.

Amiens. Immediately following Operation Varsity, the 315th in combination with the other troop carrier groups were focal in the air evacuation of wounded troops. In April 1945, the 315th Troop Carrier Group moved from Spanhoe, England, to Amiens, France, affording a faster response in support of the Allied assault into Germany.

 

 

 

(Left) Understandably, accommodations were crude -- mostly tents

 

 

 

 

 

(Below, left and right) Dining, and bathing, was 'al fresca'.

 

 

 

V-E Day. On May 8, 1945, Germany unconditionally surrendered -- the war in Europe was over!  The 315th still had plenty of work to do.  During April 1945, 46, 313 troops were evacuated from forward battle areas and the total reached 101,400 by 10 May.

(Below) 34th TCS pilot Thaddeus Knight photographed much of the destruction of the German war machine.

(Top row) ME-109 at Orleans, France, Mar ‘45; Two Me-109s at Chartres, France, Feb ‘45

(Below) Ju-88 at Celle, Germany; Ju-88s at Chartres, France, Feb ‘45

(Below) Fw-190 at Chartres, France, Feb ’45; Knight in front of Fw-190

(Below) Knight’s squadron mate Mark Grossinger in front of Ju-88; Burning hangar in Germany

Going Home. Although the war in Europe was over, the work was not. Following VE-Day (8 May 1945), many units were deactivated, sent back to the United States, or redeployed to the Pacific to fight the Japanese. The 315th, whose mission was essentially moving men and materiel, was instrumental in bringing the boys home. Included in this great logistical movement were hundreds of American POWs (Prisoners of War) returning home from their internment in Europe. At this time, the best routes were over the mid-Atlantic and the 315th relocated in Trinidad in the Caribean and assigned to the newly created Air Transport Command.

(Above left and right) USS General William H. Gordon loading 315th TCS personnel and

equipment for transport to Trinidad.

 

(Below left and right)  Trinidad as seen from the USS Gen. Gordon.

 

 

(Right) Cargo train unloading at the dock at Port of Spain, Trinidad.

(Above) ‘Indian’ bobby, Port of Spain

(Below) Queen’s Park Hotel, Port of Spain

(Above) Local watering hole, Port of Spain

(Below) Beach at Trinidad

 

(Below) Quarters at Borinqueen Field, Puerto Rico

 

Though logistical support and air transport activity was still very busy, the need for a large number of units decreased and the 315th Troop Carrier Group and its four squadrons -- the 34th, 43rd, 309th and 310th --were deactivated in Trinidad on 31 Jul 1945. Although the 315th was now retired, the  ~ (Sources ~ Air Force Combat Unist of World War II, Action Stations 2, Poles Apart by GeorgeCholewczynski, Lt. George Guess, USAAF Staff Writer (1945, )and member's memoirs.)