The crash landing of Dakota 43-48400 in Oisterwijk
On Saturday September 23 of 1944, while in day six of operation Market Garden, an American C-47B Skytrain/Dakota tug aircraft was hit by German Anti-Aircraft fire over the Dutch province of North-Brabant. As a result of the damage sustained by this attack this C-47B with registration number 43-48400 made a controlled crash landing on the heath near Oisterwijk at 16.07 hours. The aircraft was the tug for a Waco glider that had carried airborne men of the 82nd Airborne Division, most presumably men of the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment. The aircraft was hit just before reaching its initial point south-west of the town of Schijndel. After reaching this initial point the aircraft should have taken course to its objective, a Landing-Zone near Nijmegen.
The aircraft carried nose code 6Z and was attached to the 440th Troop Carrier Group, 96th Troop Carrier Squadron. She took part in the 3rd airlift that had to bring the 82nd Airborne Division over to Holland for operation Market Garden. This Dakota, as the British and Dutch referred to it, was based at airfield Exeter in Devon in England, better known as USAAF Station 463. The 440 TCG was commanded by Group Commander Lt Col. Frank X. Kreds. The 96th Troop Carrier Squadron was commanded by Major William Cooper.
D. PLUS 6, September 23, 1944.
On this date another airlift took place for operation Market Garden. That day American thug and glider aircraft took off from six airfields in the Greptham/Cottesmore/Langer area in England. During this airlift the gliders carried supplies and troops from the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment, 80th Anti Aircraft Battalion minus batteries A and B, Company A-307th AEB and elements of special forces. Most of the gliders landed on or close to their Landing-Zone near Overasselt in Holland designated LZ ‘O’. During the airlift two gliders were forced to land prematurely in England and 43 gliders where cast off between the coast of England and the Landing-Zone. Of all the gliders ten Waco´gliders are still considered missing today. Directly after the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment would have landed the troops had to assemble themselves in the woods west of Groesbeek in preparation to take over positions in sectors along the frontline.
The mission of Dakota 43-48400 and her crew was called Mission Combat Market A-91 and consisted in a glider tow to Landing-Zone ‘O’ at Overasselt. Their ETA was set for 16.15 hrs and after crossing the channel their route to Overasselt would lead them passing south along Antwerp (Belgium) and past Eindhoven (Holland) along the west onto their Landing-Zone.
The crew members were:
Pilot Major, William R. Cooper 0-520488, Santa ana-California
Co-Pilot, 2nd LT. Lawrence L. Altermatt 0-705208, Joplin-Missouri
Navigator, 1st LT. Harvey I. Wardell 0-809464, Longbeach-New jersey
Engineer, S/SGT. Gilbert A. Scherer 17121526, Saint Joplin-Missouri
Radio Operator, S/SGT. Jerauld I Cutts 19136125, Lebanan-Oregon
The crew apart from S/SGT Jerauld I. Cutts together already successfully had flown previous missions. On June 6 1944 they had been part of a mission for operation Overlord (D-DAY) transporting 101st Airborne troops from the 3/506th PIR and 326th AEB. After D-Day they also flew missions to Southern France and Holland. Radio operator S/SGT Cutts was added to the Cooper crew for operation Market Garden. He also came from the ranks of the 96th Troop Carrier Squadron. During operation Overlord S/SGT Cutts was onboard aircraft 43-15067 with Chalk number 84 belonging to “A” Flight (3).
On 23 September Major Cooper flew his C-47B as lead plane of the formation to Holland. After reaching the area near the Initial Point west of Schijndel Major Cooper flew trough intense German ground fire and got a direct hit under the left wing. Immediately a heavy black trail of smoke and oil was emitted from his left engine. The Waco-glider that was towed was immediately cast off and the aircraft was seen going down behind enemy lines near Oirschot and Best. The fate of this glider and its occupants is still not clear today. After his aircraft was hit Major Cooper made a down and out left turn under control and decent was being made at last sight heading in to direction of Belgium. Bailing out was out off the question because the plane was to low and loosing altitude fast so Major Cooper decided to make a controlled crash landing.
During the ground fire by Flak Radio Operator S/SGT Jerauld I. Cutts was severely injured to his head while being in the navigator compartment, the rest of the crew seemed okay and all braised themselves for the crash landing. After flying past the town of Boxtel and low over the natural reserve the Kampina, Major Cooper headed into the direction of the Belgium border slowly loosing altitude. He subsequently flew very low over hamlet De Logt near Oisterwijk while the towrope that was still attached to the rear of the aircraft was dragging over de ground. Major Cooper could not prevent a controlled crash landing and he successfully landed on a patch of heath named Small Oisterwijk Heath (Kleine Oisterwijkse Heide) close to road Oirschotsebaan, just outside the village Oisterwijk, about 15 miles West of Eindhoven.
During the rough belly landing the already severe injured S/SGT Cutts sustained more injuries, while in the rear of the aircraft crew chief/engineer S/SGT Gilbert A. Scherer suffered a nasty head wound. The navigator in the baggage compartment and the pilot and the co-pilot seated in the cockpit all suffered minor wounds. As soon as the aircraft had come to a stop on the heath a couple of farmers and their family came running up the heath. They had witnessed the aircraft flying low over their farms and eventually crash land on the heath. They came to the aircraft out of curiosity and to see if they could provide any assistance to the crew that was just leaving the aircraft at that moment. While farmer Willem van Baast from farmhouse ‘De Logt’, together with farmer van de Sande and farmer Broers ran towards the aircraft, other family members stayed safely behind on the road a few hundred meters from the landing spot. Farmer van Baast, a person who had already been helpfull to the underground for their resistance activities wanted to help the crew. His farm already was a safehouse for Dutch who were hiding for the Germans for all sorts of reasons. He must have thought that his farm would have been a very good temporary hideout for these airman, and now that he was eye to eye with these men he considered it his duty to help them and provide them with a safe place to hide.
While the farmers were at the aircraft helping the crew a group of German soldiers was seen approaching the landing site from the direction of the village Spoordonk. Immediately there was panic amongst the farmers and the crew and farmers Van de Sande and Broers ran away from the aircraft. The Germans directly reacted and started shooting into the direction of the farmers and aircrew, hereby hitting S/SGT Cutts while he was still on the ground besides the aircraft. While the Germans were approaching fast the crew and the farmers made for their escape, unable to help and take with them their wounded radio operator.There was nothing they could do for the severely wounded S/SGT Cutts and they had no other choice than to leave him behind. The airmen were quickly led away by farmer Van Baast and together they fled into the direction of the nearby farms of hamlet De Logt.
After a few hundred meters the crew and farmer Van Baast ran straight in to a group of Germans Wehrmacht soldiers that approached the area from a different direction. The airmen and the farmer had no other choice than to surrender. Nevertheless farmer Willem van Baast tried to ran away. Knowing the danger he was in Van Baast jumped over a ditch into a field nearby at the farm of farmer H. Schoones with the intention to flee to De Logt. At that moment a well aimed German shot severely wounded Van Baast and he dropped down in agony. The airmen were taken prisoner and transported to Oisterwijk not knowing the condition of their wounded crew member S/SGT Cutts. He sadly died besides the aircraft after a fatal German shot and was buried besides the aircraft in a so-called field grave. The unharmed farmers Van de Sande and Broers were also taken prisoner. They were accused off helping the enemy and transported to the village Spoordonk for questioning. Luckily for them they were released in the evening and could return home to their farms and family without a scratch.
The crew, meanwhile prisoners in Oisterwijk, were told that S/SGT Cutts died from his head injury, that he was killed by a German shot was not mentioned to them. Later the crew was told that Cutts was removed to the nearest hospital in Oisterwijk and buried with deceased hospital patients after he had pasted away from his wounds sustained during the crash landing. Crew chief A. Schrerer was treated for his head injury in the same German hospital in Oisterwijk. The severely wounded farmer Willem van Baast was bleeding heavily while he was transported to Spoordonk on a wooden cart. He would not make it and died that same day. the Germans had not allowed a doctor to treat van Baast his wounds.
A few day’s after the crashlanding some Dutch placed a pine wooden cross and an American helmed on S/SGT Cutts field grave. After some time the remains off Cutts were removed by the German authorities and buried on the graveyard of the St Petrus Banden in Oisterwijk. Already four American were buried on this graveyard, and also the Germans buried there own dead there. The four Americans were all occupants of a Jeep carrying Waco glider called ‘Queen-City’. This glider was shot down over Oisterwijk on 18 september, the second day of operation Market Garden and crashed outside of the village.
The names of these four men were:
Pilot Noel Clarence McCann T122016
1st Lt. Ray J. Hiltunen 01103214
Tec./5 Robert J. Le may 36239073
Driver/Pvt. Raymond L. Carson 36176352
The crew of the C-47B ended up in Barth, Germany in Stalag Luft 1, prison camp for Allied airmen. They would all survive the war. Radio Operator S/SGT Jerauld I. Cutts was awarded the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and Purple Heart. In 1946 the five Americans that were burried on the Oisterwijk graveyard behind the church were relocated to the American cemetery in Margraten Holland.
The C-47B 43-48400 remained on the heath for quit some time and the Germans took their time to investigate the aircraft in the day’s that had followed. Witnesses later explained that the Germans left behind some demolished radio equipment on the wing coming from an opened radio panel. also some bushes of straw and wooden clumps were found lying beside the aircraft. The inside of the aircraft was a big mess after the Germans had left it, but still an American helmet and fire extinguisher were found and taken home by someone as a souvenir. One eyewitness remembered clearly the impression he got when he laid his eye’s on the pilots instrument panel and gages after entering the cockpit. It was a sight he would never forget. He also remembered clearly that one could wobble the aircraft by jumping up and down the wingtip. He even took a piece of the fuselage. A piece just where the white star was painted near the rear exit door. It was ripped away from the side of the aircraft by using a pair of pincers.
The aircraft was on the heath for quit some time after the war and shortly after the liberation, during the spring of 1945, another aircraft, a British Tempest, also had made a successful crashlanding on that same heath. When a young Oisterwijk boy went up to the heath to take look at the American aircraft he was surprised to see another one lying in the vicinity. This aircraft had crash landed about 100 yards from the C-47B without lots of damage and it was guarded by the British Military Police. When they noticed the young boy was carrying a little camera he was questioned and ordered to hand over the camera. He was then told that when no photo’s of the aircraft where found on his film they would return him his camera to him. After a few weeks his camera was indeed returned by the MP’s, together with his developed film. What happened to the pilot of the Tempest or his plane is not known precisely. The American C-47B was partly stripped on the site that same year and removed to an unknown destination. What remained stayed behind for years after.
After the war farmer Willem van Baast was posthumously thanked by the American President Truman for giving aid to American service men and his help in their escape. His name was engraved on a local memorial plaque that was placed in a little chapel dedicated to the Holy Marie near hamlet de Logt. On this plaque are other names of civilians that died during the German occupation and it also has the names of the Allied soldiers that died in Oisterwijk as a result of Market Garden and the liberation of Oisterwijk in october of 1944.
The first operational mission of the 440th TCG was an airdrop of American airborne troops from 45 C-47 troopships. In the early morning of June 6 1944 the airborne troops parachuted behind the beaches of Normandy in France code named Omaha and Utah beach. The men from the 440th TCG also took part in the airdrops above occupied Holland (operation Market Garden), Southern France and Germany, and they also took part in the supply drops for the 101 Airborne Division when they where surrounded in Bastogne Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. The aircraft of the 440th TCG also carried fuel and supplies for General George S. Patton’s 3rd army during his campaign trough France into Germany during 1944/45.