Clifford Kantz, C-47 pilot100th TCS ,441st Troop Carrier Group
On D-day Clifford Kantz flew his first out of the sixteen combat missions which he would fly during world war two. The group had trained long and hard before this first operation, flying numerous hours of formation flying during day and night.
When the C-47's arrived over the Normandy peninsula things began to happen fast and furious. The land beneath them and the sky around them lit up like a gigantic Fourth of July. There were searchlights everywhere. Clifford dropped his stick of fifteen paratroopers near St.-Mere-Eglise. After all paratroopers had exited the plane they continued across the peninsula dropping down to sea level to avoid more searchlights. Read his d-day story here
Clifford Kranz recalled:
I also practiced glider pick-up, because my plane was equipped with all that was needed to pick up a CG4A glider from the ground without landing. I have picked up many gliders this way and towed them to an altitude of 1.500 feet over the airfield. At this time the glider pilot released the glider from the tow plane and glided to a landing at our home base. However, no planes were sent to recover any gliders from Normandy, as many were either destroyed or heavily damaged on landing.
Clifford Kranz moved with the squadron to an airfield in France near Villeneuve and continued supply flights. In March of the next year the squadron was stationed on an airfield near Deux, France.
The CQ (Charge of Quarters) came early to our tent that morning in France in 1945.
Our tent was cold and damp because the fire in the potbellied stove went out. The woodburning stove didn't seem to produce much heat especially when the temperature is near freezing and the wind is howling. The tent was flapping it's sides as if it were gasping for air before being blown away.
We got up, dressed in the light of a naked light bulb swaying back and forth like a whirling dervish, and headed for the mess hall tent. After breakfast of powdered eggs and thick sliced toast bread, we went to the operations tent to be briefed on the day's mission.
After the briefing, the crews headed for the C-47 airplanes all squadrons were using. Starting the engines could be a problem during cold weather. If they did not start the first time spark plugs would freeze over and delays could cause timing problems all down the line.
There were, as I remember nine airplanes that were to fly to the Cherbourg airport ont the Normandy peninsula. There we would pick up supplies to take to the airfield closest to the front lines.
The aircraft took off, one at a time, manoeuvring into a nine-ship formation as we climbed out on course. The weather was not very good and slowly deteriorated as the flight progressed. We were to stay in the clear, underneath the clouds, and remain in visual contact with each other. It soon became evident that we were not going to be in the clear as the clouds were coming lower and lower.
Then it happened, the lead aircraft called and said that he was in the clouds and all aircraft were to pull up until they were on top of the clouds. As we came out on top, we saw a heavy black column of smoke coming through the clouds. One of our planes didn't make it. We found out later that the plane was destroyed and there were no survivors.
We continued on now with eight aircraft. Navigating ws extremely difficult. If we flew to far and passed the airfield we would be over the front lines. This would be a disaster. Fortunately, the clouds dissipated and we were able to land at the airfield as we had been briefed.
All eight aircraft landed safely and parked on a side taxi strip. Everyone pitched in to off-load the supplies as quickly as possible. As we were off-loading the supplies we could hear the German heavy artillery guns shelling close to the airfield. The shells ketpt getting closer. We could hear the whine just before they hit the ground and exploded. They told us it was a creeping barrage.
The word came out to take cover until there was a lull in the shelling. Everyone ran sort of helter-skelter to look for a place of questionable safety. There had been rain earlier in the day and there was mud everywhere if one was not on the taxi strip.
Another shell came over and exploded, causing the earth to tremble and my ears to ache. I started to run as fast as one can run with combat boots on. Another shell exploded as I made one long running jump into a bomb crater. I landed in the center in about six inches of muddy water, and I kept my head below the rim of the bomb crater. Cautiously looking around. I saw another person in the bomb crater with me. We smiled at each other as we peered over the edge of the crater. There seemed to be a strange silence when word came for all the air crews to get them out of there. We raced to the airplanes, ran through the checklist, taxiing before the second engine was started.
There was to be no waiting for anyone in order to be in proper sequence. I was the second one to take off, which was in the direction of the front lines, less than a mile away. As soon as we lifted off, and the gear was coming up, an immediate climbing left, 180-degree turn was made to get out of the area being shelled.
Flying French POW's home
We took off and headed toward Paris. It wasn't long before there seemed to be a lot of moving around and excited talking from our passengers. I asked our crew chief to go back and find out what was going on. He came back and said that the former POWs wanted to know when we would be leaving German air space and be back over France again. I told them we would be glad to do this.
It wasn't very long before we could see the fortifications of the Siegfried line coming into view. This was relayed to the POWs, and their excitement grew. As we passed over the Siegfried Line there was an area free of fortifications. Then slowly in the distance we could see the outline of French Maginot Line fortifications. This information was passed to the former French POWs with the caution that we were still not over French soil. As we started over the Maginot Line, we all knew we were really back over France again. Everyone ceased talking, and to a man they all stood up, coming to attention, and started singing at the top of their voices the French national anthem, the Marseillaise.
I looked back ath them singing and even today after over fifty years, I can still hear them singing: "Allons, enfants de la Patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrive." Even now, I still get goose bumps when I hear that tune, and see the men, standing at rigid attention singing with much emotion, tears streaming down their faces.
The anthem continues to the end with: "Marchons, marchons; Qu'un sang impur abreu ve nos sillons."
At the very end of the song, there were loud cheers, that could be heard above the roar of the engines, as they hugged and kissed each other in wild abandon. Their four years as German prisoners of war were really finally over.
We landed at a field near Paris and were met by representatives. As each former French prisoner of war stepped off the airplane, he got on his knees and kissed French soil once again.
We met the representatives and signed the necessary documents. When the former POWs realized that we were the air crew members who flew them back to France we were given big hugs and, as the French do, we were kissed on the cheeks three times.
It was a great day to be alive. We were extremely pleased that this mission, at least for us was almost over.
However we still had to fly back to our home base. The only problem was that we were only to fly during daylight hours and it was getting dark fast. Anyone in the sky at night, we were told, would be shot down. The French told us that we would be able to leave the airplane where it was until the morning.
The night was dark, and very cold, as I burrowed fully dressed, combat boots and all, deep down into my makeshift sleeping bag inside the airplane. I pulled a blanket over my head to try to keep warm. As I drifted off into a peaceful sleep, my thoughts returned to the front lines. There was no peace there. The war raged on.
Clifford published his story previously in The Daily News, Lebanon, PA