D-Day commemoration highlights include return of WWII C-47 Dakota to Normandy

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C-47 dropping paratroopers in a photograph date September 11, 1944. Photo Source: Imperial War Museum

The flying of a World War II military transport plane used by the United States during the invasion in Normandy will be one of the highlights of the commemoration of the D-Day landings. Seventy years after, the Whisky 7 will again fly to the skies of France and recreate the events that transpired then.

Paratroopers will be seen jumping from the plane in their original jump zone just like they did during the Second World War. However, the paratroopers will not be invading Nazi-occupied Normandy. This time, they will be partaking of the commemoration. The jumpers who will drop from the skies on the scheduled commemoration will make up of active and retired military personnel.

The Whisky 7 recently undertook repair and restoration. The plane is currently housed at the National Warplane Museum in New York. It is being restored for its role during the 70th commemoration. Once the day arrives, it will take to the skies once again and recreate the mission of dropping troops in German-occupied and heavily-defended Europe over the original jump zone t Sainte-Mere-Eglise.

Whisky 7 is a twin-prop Douglas C-47 model. It was named after the W-7 squadron marking it bore. It was restored after the French government made an invitation for the plane to become one of the highlights of the 70th anniversary. There will be other planes of C-47 model which are expected to also fly during the commemoration. However, it is the only plane expected to come from the United States.

The chairwoman of the Return to Normandy Project, Erin Vitale, said that the plane held a very significant role during the D-Day. She further added that the troops that dropped into Sainte-Mere-Eglise helped liberate the town and Europe.

The Whisky 7 will take a route to France via Labrador, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland and Germany. Each leg will reportedly take 5 1/2 to 7 hours. Vitale said the task will be daunting given that the plane is about 70 years old. It is not of the same condition as before.

Leslie Palmer Cruise Jr. of Horsham, Philadelphia will also return to France to join the commemoration. He was then 20 years old when he enlisted as a paratrooper in 1944. He is originally among the 21 men that the Whisky 7 carried to France during D-Day. Now 89 years old, Cruise will be reunited with the craft although he will not be on the plane as it will make its way to Normandy. He will take the commercial flight to France. Cruise said that the Whisky 7 will always be part of him because it took him to his first mission.

He also recalls the experience of jumping down to the critical zone. He was aboard the plane with other paratroopers when it left Cottesmore Airdrome in England. He was geared with an M-1 rifle which was carried in three pieces, a grenade, a 30-caliber rifle ammunition, a first-aid kit, K-rations and a New Testament bible placed in the left pocket of his uniform just over his heart.

The plane was donated to the museum eight years ago. While the exterior looks exactly like the C-47 it was when it went on a mission on June 6, 1944, the interior had undergone many changes. It had been repaired and transformed to a corporate passenger plane.

The museum president, W. Austin Wadsworth, said that they transformed the interior and fitted it with lounge seats, a dry bar and a table adorned with the map of the Bahamas. 

The project of the museum to restore the plane to its original condition involved a cost of around $180,000. The expenses included the rebuilding of two engines and the procurement of parts and equipment. The project also required the service of the restoration. The museum is now raising funds for the return trip to Normandy. The museum estimates that the projects still needs around $250,000 for its completion.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that the museum plans to upgrade the plane by installing GPS systems. However, the plane is still not equipped with an autopilot. Wadsworth’s daughters, Naomi, and son, Craig, will be among the five pilots who will take turns in flying the plane all the way to the site of the commemoration.


Siegphyl is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE