Into Holland by Glider - 17 September 1944
Charles Edward Skidmore, jr. - 91st Squadron - 439th Troop Carrier Group
For Charles this was not his first combat. He flew by glider into Normandy on D-day+1. After several days on the ground in France he was send to the beach with other glider pilots and send back to England to prepare for another mission.
Training continued at Upottery until 8 September 1944 when the 439th was alerted to move to Juvincourt, France (ALG A-68) as the vanguard of the 50th Troop Carrier Wing. The movement of equipment and personnel took several days, but the air echelon returned to England the following week to take part in the invasion of Holland scheduled to begin on 17 September 1944. Chuck flew the D-Day mission in a CG-4A as pilot, departing from Balterton Airdrome. He said later that the mission was strange from the very beginning and almost humorous.
The day of the mission he was driven out to his glider in a jeep. During his preflight check he noted that his load was a ¼ ton jeep trailer that was covered with a tarpaulin. Skidmore asked the loadmaster what was in the trailer and he told him 800 pounds of land mines. He was told not to worry because it would take the weight of a sizeable vehicle to detonate them. Small consolation, Chuck mused. Three gliders troopers of the 82nd Airborne Division were also included in his load.
Chuck waited outside of his glider for some time for his copilot who never appeared. When he queried the crew chief he smiled and said that the Colonel Young had decided against using two glider pilots on this mission. Just prior to his glider being pulled into position for hookup a fourth soldier suddenly showed up at the glider. He wore full combat dress and was carrying a Thompson submachine gun. He climbed over the jeep trailer and sat down in the copilot's seat. Chuck was surprised to see that it was Warrant Officer Walter F. Domanski, the assistant engineering officer of the 91st TC Squadron. After a brief conversation Chuck learned that he was an unofficial passenger, in essence, a stowaway.
The four hour flight to Holland was boring and tiring, Chuck said, but would admit later that it was pretty hairy after passing over the Dutch coast. A tow plane just ahead of him went down in flames after being hit by ground fire. He watched for parachutes but saw none as the plane plummeted to earth. He said that he felt his heart racing and he began sweating so profusely that beads of water were showing inside his watch crystal. Near the end of the 90 mile overland portion of the flight his glider began to take ground fire from a windmill but fortunately no one was hit. Moments later he received the green light from his tow plane and released his glider. Turning to the left he quickly spotted his landing zone. As he circled towards the field below more ground fire was directed at his glider. As he made his approach he saw another tow plane go down trailing fire. In an effort to evade the enemy fire coming up at him he dove towards the ground, quickly picking up speed. One of the glider troopers aboard sensed that he was exceeding the usual rate of descent and panicked. He climbed over the trailer, rapped on Chuck's steel helmet and shouted, "Slow this S.O.B. down!"
Not knowing quite how to fly the glider and defend himself at the same time, Chuck did the best he could under the circumstance... he flew the glider. The trooper suddenly shoved him in the back which caused the glider to begin dropping even faster. Fortunately, W/O Domanski came to his rescue. He shoved his Tommy gun into the soldier‘s shoulder and said, "If you don't get back in the back I'll slow you down permanently."
Since the trooper had left his weapon in the back of the glider, and probably because he sensed that discretion was the better part of valor, he beat a hasty retreat to the back of the CG-4A. Chuck landed the glider in the proper landing zone, the glider didn't fair so well. The giant beets growing on the landing zone pretty much destroyed the bottom of the glider. Chuck helped unload his glider and moments later a jeep arrived to tow the trailer. Within several days he was back in France. In October, November and December 1944, Chuck flew resupply missions to Holland as copilot aboard the squadron's C-47s. On 4 December 1944, he was awarded an oak leaf cluster to the Air Medal and the Distinguished Unit Badge for his participation in Operation "Market." He was also awarded the orange lanyard by the Dutch. Belatedly he was also awarded the Willemsorde, the Netherlands highest award.
The Holland mission was the last combat mission Chuck flew. The strain of combat had taken a toll on his nervous system. He began to have flashbacks of his close calls in France and Holland. On one occasion German soldiers passed within a few feet of him as he lay in an apple orchard on a pile of canvas bags used to drop supplies from the air by B-17s. On another occasion he watched the reflection of war from a glassed-in porch of Dutch home and become so entranced that he didn't notice the bullets coming his way until the glass shattered. Luckily he was not hit, but he had bad dreams about the incident later.
Since October 1942 he had logged 377 hours and 45 minutes of pilot time in powered aircraft and gliders, 6 hours and 15 minutes of it in combat.
The story above is part of the biography of Charles Skidmore that was compiled by former WWII glider pilot Leon B. Spencer of Prattville, Alabama, a wartime friend of Chuck Skidmore, Jr., and his wife, Norma Lee, with the considerable help of their son, Michael G. Skidmore. It was completed on 8 July 2007. Provided for this website by Mike Skidmore.
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