"The Bosnian Dak"
By Jan Bos
In July 1994 Captain Patrick Collett was stationed with his unit of French "blue-helmets" (United Nations Peacekeepers) [3-eme Companie 9-eme Regiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes] in the Serbian village Rajlovac, in the neighborhood of a small airfield, some 7 kilometers from Serejevo in former Yugoslavia. Together with his unit, he had to prevent that the Serbs and Bosnians would slaughter each other.
His unit was on the Serbian side of the frontlines. From his amored car he saw a C-47 in camouflage painting parked between the MIG airplanes (see also pictures in "Wereldwijd"of Dakota Magazines number 3 and 4 2003 – sender Frank van Dijk, SFOR). The situation at that time was too dangerous to check out the C-47. When Patrick would leave his armored car, there was a possibility that he would be shot by the Bosnians. A couple of weeks later, Patrick had the opportunity to speak the Bosnians. To his surprise he received permission to check out the plane. The Serbs had no objections.
During his visit to the plane, Patrick made the accompanying picture [color picture]. He saw that all the instruments, seats, radio, etc were still present in the cockpit. Together with his friend, Sergeant Jean-Marie Lesavre, he discovered the identification plaque of the airplane behind the co-pilots seat. Both soldiers noticed that the plane had several bullet holes in the left side of the plane. The plane was in a bad shape, according to Patrick. Only the cockpit was in a better shape. On the identification plaque he notice the plane’s serial number 43-15073. This number made it possible for me to trace the plane’s history. The plane was made by Douglas under construction number 19539 and left the factory on 29 January 1944. In my archives I found that the plane was assigned to the 95th Troop Carrier Squadron, 440th Troop Carrier Group. On 11 March 1944 the plane arrived in England.
On Sunday 17 September 1944 43-15073 left from Fulbeck to drop zone N, Klein Amerika, southeast of Groesbeek. On the fuselage, under the cockpit, the plane’s nickname "Snafu Special" and behind the cockpit the Squadron code 9X was painted. Over the tail number the letter R (call sign) was stencilled. # 073 was part of Serial A-23. This serial consisted of 48 transport planes, carrying 520 artillerymen of the 376th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division. Also dropped from these planes were twelve 75mm pack howitzers with ammunition. The howitzers and ammunition were stored in so-called parapacks, slung underneath the planes. # 073 dropped twelve paratroopers of A Battery. "Snafu Special" was fired upon and one of the troopers was hit. The pilot of the plane was 2nd Lieutenant James P. Harper from Corona, California. On Monday 18 September # 073 towed a CG-4A Waco glider to Landing zone T on the Wylerbaan at Groesbeek. Also on 23 September a glider was towed, now to LZ O at Overasselt.
Lt Harper was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on 25 December 1944. Two days later he participated in a re-supply mission to the encircled 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne. You know the history of the "Screaming Eagles" (e.g. "Band of Brothers"). In the early morning eight C-47 of the 95th Squadron and five planes from the 96th Squadron left for Chateaudun, where the 439th Troop Carrier Group was stationed. The thirteen planes from the 440th joined the 22 planes of the 439th. Each plane towed a glider with ammunition to a landing zone near Savy, north west of Bastogne. The 95th flew at the end of the serial. At the time they approached the zone, the German anti-aircraft gunners had found the range. Several of the airplanes and gliders exploded mid-air. The also on "Snafu Special". On the return trip Lieutenant Harper made an emergency landing near Chateaudun.
According to the book "Pulse and Repulse" the crew found out that the glider was not released yet. I think that the book is not correct, since the crew of the tow plane would drop the 90-yard long nylon towrope after the glider would have been released. Id the glider still would have been behind the C-47, the glider pilot would have been in serious trouble if the tow rope would be dropped by the plane’s crew.
Lieutenant Donald Orcutt (95th Squadron) described Harper’s plane as a wreck. Both tires were shot flat and the plane landed on the metal. Both fuselage and both wings were severely damaged by 20mm AA fire and small caliber fire. The tail was also damaged and there were leaks in the tanks. There were several holes in the propeller blades. It was a miracle that the plane brought home the crew.
According to Orcutt the plane was fit for the junkyard, but the plane survived for some reason. During the re supply of Bastoge, thirteen planes were shot down. Five belonged to the 439th TCG, the other belonged to the 440th. In June 1961 the plane was sold to the French Air Force and finally it arrived in Yugoslavia on 11 April 1973. The plane was left behind on the airfield near Sarajevo and became a bar for the "blue helmets"