D-Day 75th Anniversary sponsored by University of Maryland University College Europe

Photo by Leonardo Briganti
Photo by Leonardo Briganti

Daks over Normandy is a long way back for U.S. planes, but they’ll be there

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

One of the highlight events within the mix of celebrations honoring the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings is the Daks over Normandy event. (“Dak” is the short form for Dakota, the name used by the U.K. Royal Air Force to refer to the Douglas C-47 Skytrain.) 

From June 2-9, more than 30 DC-3s and C-47s from around the world will amass first at Duxford Airfield in the U.K. and then the Caen-Carpiquet Airport in France. The event will likely represent the first time since the end of World War II that so many aircraft of this type gather in a single place.

On the afternoon of June 5, weather conditions permitting, the aircraft will cross the English Channel in formation, and around 300 paratroopers in period uniform will jump into the original drop zones ‘N’ close to Ranville and ‘K’ near Sannerville, in Normandy, France.

When pasts collide: An old C-47 flies again

One of the old planes to have participated in the 70th D-Day Daks over Normandy event will be back for the event’s 75thedition, but this time with a new name. A look at the colorful history of the aircraft once known as “Union Jack Dak” is a testament to the versatility and longevity of the DC-3 and its military equivalent, the C-47.

The aircraft in question was a C-47 built in 1943 by the Douglas Aircraft Company in Long Beach, California. Upon delivery to the United States Army Air Forces in July, it was given the military registration number 42-24064 and assigned to the 74th Troop Carrier Squadron (TCS), 434th Troop Carrier Group (TCG). In September of that same year, the plane crossed the south Atlantic and eventually reached Aldermaston, England, where it was used in training ops.

On the morning of June 6, 1944, this plane, along with some 50 other C-47s, towed Waco CG4A gliders over the beaches of Normandy as part of the Chicago mission carrying troops and equipment for the 101st Airborne Division. Other WWII operations this particular aircraft went on to support include Market Garden, Repulse (Relief of Bastogne) and Varsity (Rhine Crossing).

Following the end of WWII, the plane was flown to Arkansas, where the Reconstruction Finance Company was carrying out its mission of disposing of some 150,000 WWII-era aircraft through storage, sale or scrapping. Having escaped the scrap heap, the still-serviceable plane was bought and sold between a number of flight operators over the ensuing years, its duties likely entailing ferrying passengers and mail, or for pilot type-rating training.

In 2000, the plane experienced major engine issues, and a decade later, a duo by the name of James Lyle and Clive Edwards sought out an old DC-3 with the goal of restoring it in time to participate in the 75th DC-3 anniversary Dak-Meet event organized as part of the EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.   

It was thanks to the research and keen eye of Dutch author Hans den Brok that the story continues. A historian and expert on the C-47s of Operation Market Garden, den Brok was familiar with the aircraft of the 74th Transport Troop Squadron. Den Brok had traced the whereabouts of a crew member on one of these old planes, Ed Tunison, and sent him a letter. When Tunison replied to his letter in the summer of 2014, he mentioned that his old aircraft had been named the “Placid Lassie.”

Den Brok recalled having just seen Tunison’s old plane at the Daks over Normandy event. The historian asked Tunison if he knew his old aircraft was still flying: he did not. Thanks to den Brok’s efforts, contact between the plane’s old radioman and its new owners was quickly established, and an invitation was extended to Tunison and his son to come see the plane in Europe. The two were able to see the old plane in England and fly in it as part of events commemorating the 70th anniversary of Operation Market Garden in September 2014. 

With the plane’s original identity as the Placid Lassie established, the Union Jack Dak was renamed, and with old photos attesting to her former look, re-detailed in keeping with her wartime guise.

Lyle, the plane’s owner, continued to keep the Placid Lassie a fixture at airshows through the ensuing years. In 2017, he founded the Tunison Foundation, naming it on honor of the crewmember who passed away in 2016, and donated the plane to the foundation.

A long way back

The Placid Lassie is just one of the 15 planes that will make its way back across the Atlantic in order to participate in the 75th anniversary of D-Day; this time, it will lead the fleet as part of the D-Day Squadron, another initiative of the Tunison Foundation.

On May 18, the fleet will make a trip up the Hudson River in New York and fly around the Statue of Liberty. They will then fly the original “Blue Spruce” route used to ferry aircraft during the Second World War. Upon departure from Oxford, Connecticut, the fleet will stop to refuel in Goose Bay Airport in Newfoundland, Canada; Narsarsuaq Airport in southern Greenland; Reykjavik Airport in Iceland and Prestwick Airport in Scotland before completing the final leg on to Duxford Airfield, north of London.

To enjoy an up-close look at the planes during their time in Duxford or Caen, tickets to the shows organized on their respective airfields are a must. Tickets to the Duxford event are sold exclusively in advance and not at the gate, so booking beforehand is essential. While tickets to the Caen event will be available at the door, tickets bought online come at a reduced price.

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