The Air Mobility Command Museum is home a plane used in Operation Overlord on June 6, 1944.
World War II was fought and won through the bravery and tenacity of America’s fighting men fighting the Axis powers in all corners of the world.
But those men could not have fought Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy nor Imperial Japan without the machinery of war.
At the close of World War II, many parts of the massive Allied war machine either were abandoned or destroyed. A very few survived to be displayed today as physical reminders of the war.
One such machine is a 70-year-old C-47 “Skytrain” cargo aircraft, nicknamed the Turf and Sport Special. This aircraft, built by Douglas Aircraft in Oklahoma City, was one of a fleet of planes that took part in the invasion of Europe, starting with the Battle of Normandy, which began 50 years ago today.
But while the Turf and Sport Special survived the war, it almost did not survive the peace.
Its journey from Oklahoma to the skies over Normandy to the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover Air Force Base, where it has been restored to its wartime appearance, took more than 40 years.
The Special arrived in England on April 21, 1944, assigned to the 61st Troop Carrier Squadron, one of the units tasked with delivering soldiers from the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment to zones located behind the German lines. Their mission was to confuse and harass German forces facing the invasion forces at Normandy.
Tech. Sgt. Winfield “Bing” Wood was crew chief on that mission, a nighttime flight to drop the infantrymen near the French town of Sainte-Mère-Église on June 5, 1944. A horse racing fan, he named the plane after a well-known racing magazine of the time.
Wood, who died in 1992, left behind a video history of that mission in the archives of the AMC Museum.
The crew trained for weeks before the drop and was ready to go on June 4, but the mission was delayed for 24 hours. The Turf and Sport Special joined hundreds of other planes at about 10 p.m. June 5 to drop the infantrymen before the main invasion force hit the beaches at Normandy.
A burst of anti-aircraft fire sent shrapnel rattling across the aircraft’s skin as it flew through the explosions. One burst so startled Wood and an Army lieutenant that they fell back from the door atop some life rafts.
The C-47 flew over the drop zone and the 18 soldiers jumped into the darkness.
“The lieutenant gave a yell and jumped and was followed by a bunch of screaming, yelling troopers,” Wood says in the video. One got stuck and Wood had to shove him out the door.
The pilot took immediate evasive action, flying back over the English Channel. There, Wood beheld an amazing sight: an armada of men and materiel massing toward the beachhead.
“You never saw so much equipment in your life,” he said. “Men on the beach, tanks in the water, ships turned over, airplanes coming down and ditching in the water.”
A shot of nerve-settling whiskey awaited the men upon landing, but the Skytrain’s radio operator was a teetotaler, so Wood got his ration as well.
The crew flew a second mission June 7, one that could have been Wood’s last.
Assigned to deliver six 150-pound equipment packs, the C-47 encountered heavy fire from below. Bullets ripped through the aircraft. One went through the floor behind Wood’s position, another hit an engine and one passed through the fuselage near the rear hatch.
That bullet almost had his name on it, Wood said, but he didn’t realize how close he’d come to death until the next morning: an armor-piercing bullet had come through the floor of the aircraft, missing his head by inches.
Wood was able to find that hole again when he came to Dover in 1988 to dedicate a restored Turf and Sport Special at the AMC Museum.
From D-Day to Dover
In those days, the museum was in its earliest stages and Wood’s plane was the first in a collection that since has grown to more than 30 aircraft.
Following the war, the Turf and Sport Special was assigned to bases in Germany, North Africa, Maryland and Alabama. It was turned over to the U.S. Army in 1964 and by 1979 was at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., where it was used as a target for Army gunners. By 1986, the plane, a gutted, rusting hulk, was at a small field near Harrisburg, Pa., where it was used to train heavy-lift helicopter pilots.
When Museum Director Mike Leister first spotted the C-47, its doors and propellers were missing, there were holes in the fuselage and its skin was covered in graffiti. But it was solid enough to undergo restoration.
When work was completed two years later, Wood and several surviving members of the 61st TCS were on hand to see the final product.
“Bing Wood was a character,” said Museum Director Mike Leister. “He had a very good memory and he remembered a lot of things about the airplane that were useful to us.”
Work continues on the Turf and Sport Special to this day. For instance, the museum is currently awaiting troop seats from a derelict C-47 that will bring the aircraft even closer to its D-Day configuration.
“This airplane is really popular with the general public,” Leister said. “It’s probably the best example of a combat C-47 on display anywhere.”