The Magnificent Flying Machine...Dakota
The Douglas DC-3 revolutionized air transport in the 1930s and 1940s. Its lasting impact on the airline industry and World War II makes it one of the most significant transport aircraft ever made. The major military version was designated the C-47 Skytrain, of which more than 10,000 were produced. Many DC-3s and converted C-47s are still used in all parts of the world.
It first flew on December 17, 1935. Production of civil DC-3s ceased in 1942; military versions were produced until the end of the war in 1945. In all total 16,079 DC-3/C-47s were built. The aircraft's legendary ruggedness and its ability to take off and land on grass or dirt runways made it extremely popular in developing countries, where runways were not always paved. Some of the uses of the DC-3 have included aerial spraying, freight transport, passenger service, military transport, missionary flying, and sport skydiving shuttling and sightseeing.
Possibly its most influential role in military aviation, however, was flying "The Hump" from India into China. The expertise gained flying "The Hump" was later be used in the Berlin Airlift, in which the C-47 played a major role. In September 1944, allied forces under General Montgomery launched “Operation Market Garden”, the largest airborne operation in history that had delivered over 34,600 men into the German occupied Europe with a combined force of 1,438 C-47/Dakotas.
After World War II thousands of surplus C-47s were converted to civil airline use, some remaining in operation in 2013 as well as being used as private aircraft.
Dakotas in IAF
Dakotas, fondly referred to as the Gooney bird was the first major transport aircraft inducted into the fledgling Indian Air Force way back in 1945. No.12 Squadron was the first unit to reequip with this aircraft. It became the workhorse for the IAF remaining in the forefront of operations for the next four decades.
Service of Dakotas in IAF: some excerpts of the book “My years with the IAF” by ACM PC Lal
In October 1947 Pakistan launched “Operation Gulmarg” to take over Kashmir by a force of 15,000 trained tribal Pathans under the clarion call of Jehad. By 24th October they were 35 miles west of Srinagar. Maharaja Hari Singh finally lost all illusion of an independent Kashmir and late at night asked for Indian help. The Maharajah signed the Instrument of Accession on 26 October 1947. Kashmir had to be saved from advancing Pakistani marauders.
It was an impossible situation as Army would have taken days to reach Srinagar through a poorly maintained road through Jammu (actual road connection from undivided India to Kashmir was from Rawalpindi). Hence there was no other way to render help but and airlift of troops. Task was fraught with danger at every step as airstrip at Srinagar was short and unpaved that was made to operate only small, light personal aircraft of the Maharajah. Only aircraft that the IAF could use to airlift the troops at that time were Dakotas with their limited ceiling capacity. There was no landing aids, no crash tenders and no proper refuelling facilities. The Government of India were not even sure that the enemy was not already at the airport.... 28 sorties were flown on the very first day of the operation, that is on the 27th. ..within five days a full brigade was airlifted...Dakotas did the entire transportation. Advance of the Pakistani marauders towards Srinagar was halted.
Saving of Poonch- a saga of courage, tenacity and guts
...when Indian troops managed to reach Poonch, the enemy were already well dug-in on all the hills around to lay a siege. Poonch was a hilly area and did not have even an airstrip. So supplies had to be air dropped. Part of these vital supplies were lost as they could not be recovered in that very restricted area. So Army set about making an airstrip without any mechanical equipment on the J&K militia parade ground. A 600 yards airstrip was made ready in six days on the flat top of a hill with rivers running on three sides and a precipice on the fourth. Air Cmde Meher Singh landed the first Dakota carrying AVM Subroto Mukherjee and large load of essential supplies....subsequently Army wanted two twenty-five pounder guns as enemy was firing at their positions with field guns. Dakotas carrying these heavy guns found it extremely difficult to land by day as enemy was lobbing shells at the airstrip. Air Cmde Mehar Singh, therefore, delivered them by flying a Dakota at night with help of few oil lamps. Meher Baba, the nicknamed he earned from his friends and close associates, converted some Dakotas with his imaginative imagination to carry and deliver bombs.
(Saving of Poonch is a glorious chapter of heroism in the history of No. 12 Squadron).
Landing at Leh
Battle for Kashmir shifted eastward towards Ladakh...enemy was making steady ground towards Leh and blocked Zojila pass, closing the only road link between Srinagar and Leh.... On 24 May 1948, taking Maj Gen KS Thimaya, GOC 19 Div as his passenger Meher Baba negotiated the mountains at 24,000 feet in his ancient Dakota, with no de-icing facilities, no pressurisation, no route maps, he reached Leh height 11,500 ft above sea level and put his aircraft down deftly on an improvised strip constructed by a Ladakhi engineer....in next few days Dakotas of No. 12 Squadron airlifted enough troops and material to be ready when enemy arrived.
.....The story of Kashmir operations would have been very different if it were not for the Air Force...(Dakotas).
Dakotas in 1962 Operations
IAF’s role in this operation against Chinese incursion was limited to carrying of troops and supplies....The tribals of NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh) had seen Dakotas but they had not seen much motor – transport at that time of even bicycles for that matter.
Workhorse of IAF
Though transport fleet of IAF was bolstered significantly after 1962 through inductions of Fairchild Packets from USA, AN-12 s from Soviet Union, De Havilland Carbous from Canada, bulk of air droppings of supplies, particularly in the remote areas in the Eastern sector were undertaken by Dakotas based at Jorhat. Dakotas took prominent part in 1965 and 1971 wars airlifting troops and equipment and airdropping of essential supplies. Perhaps one of the most sterling moments of Dakota operation in IAF was its role played in the Tangail airdrop of 1971 war of Bangladesh liberation. It was the largest airborne operation in the world after Operation Market Garden. This airdrop operation involved An-12, C-119s, 2 Caribous and Dakotas from 11 sqn and 48 Sqn.
Dakotas were de-commissioned from IAF in ........., curtains finally coming down on a glorious chapter of more than 40 years in service.