Early in the morning on September 17th, 1944, Operation Market Garden is about to begin. In Southern England, the airfields are a beehive of activity, airplanes, and gilders are being made ready and paratroopers are about to board the C-47 Dakota’s that will take them to the Netherlands to capture the bridges and help end the war by Christmas.
On Chilbolton Airfield Serial A-8 is made ready, it comprises of 45 C-47 Dakota’s from 304 and 305 Squadron of the 442 Troop Carrier Squadron. They will transport the 3rd Battalion of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment and 3rd Platoon B-Company of the 326th Airborne Engineers from the 101st Airborne.
Their destination: Dropzone A near Eerde and Veghel on what is soon to be known as Hell’s Highway. Their task: capture the bridges at Veghel and secure the road for the British XXXCorps to pass through on their way to Arnhem.
Part of Serial A-8 is Dakota with tail number 43-15111, nicknamed Sonya, she has the following crew:
- Pilot: 2nd Lt Herbert Shulman (born in Puerto Rico)
- Co-Pilot: Omar Kampschmidt
- Mechanic: Ralph Zipf
- Radio operator Roger Gullixon
The Dakota takes off without incident, forms up into V of Vs formation and flies along the Southern route to the Dropzones of the 101st Airborne. When crossing the border the formation comes under heavy anti-aircraft fire as the slow moving and low flying formation overflies the front lines.
Shulman flew his Dakota with daring and experience through this anti-aircraft fire to drop his load (stick) of paratroopers on the drop zone. Suddenly he was in serious trouble. James Gurthrie, who was a witness to the events, recalls:
Above the Dropzone fire broke out in the “111″, most probably by a direct hit. The paratroopers and the parapacks were dropped normally. The Dakota continued north and then made a wide turn to the left. It lost a lot of altitude and was below the formation. The last I saw was three man jumping from the burning plane by parachute, of which one parachute did not open.
In the famous book, A Bridge to Far, by Cornelius Ryan, Shulman is quoted radioing his flight leader:
“Don’t worry about me, I’m going to drop these troops right on the DZ.”
Shulman probably said this in reference to the drop in Normandy when the paratroopers landed over a wide area because of heavy anti-aircraft fire and a cloud bank that made formation flying impossible.
Another eyewitness continues the story, this time by Sergeant Charles A Mitchell:
Mitchell watched in horror as the plane to my left streamed flames from its port engine. As the pilot held it steadily on course, Mitchell saw the entire stick of paratroopers jump right through the fire.
The Sonya Crashed near Erp on the banks of the Aa river below the Vogelenzang road. Two men died in the crash, the brave pilot Shulman and his co-pilot Kampschmidt who’s parachute failed to open.
The pilots were buried temporarily on the cemetery in Erp and later repatriated home, I was unable to locate their graves.
On the cemetery at Erp, one of the propellers is there as a monument, on it is a plaque, it reads (translated):
CRASHED IN THE STRUGGLE FOR OUR LIBERATION
The propeller of a C-47 Skytrain nr 43-15111 named Sonya code V4-0 of the 304 Troop Carrier Squadron (TCS) of the US 9th air force.
On Sunday afternoon 17 September 1944 crashed on the bank of the Aa (river) near Vogelenzang, Erp.
The plane took off from Chilbolton airbase in England and dropped paratroopers at Veghel for Operation Market Garden.
From the above story, I’ve made a video in which we visit the drop zone, crash site and the cemetery with the propeller.
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