It was the most enjoyable air show I’ve seen. All the more because it was completely unexpected.
Do you remember the movie, A Bridge Too Far? Dick Bogarde, James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Edward Fox, Eliot Gould, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Hardy Kruger, Ryan O’Neal, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, Maximilian Schell, Liv Ulmann.
Operation Market-Garden, the biggest airborne landing in history, really happened. It happened last weekend, 66 years ago.
Remember Robert Redford rowing a canvas boat full of paratroopers across a wide river, under heavy fire? That was in Nijmegen. The crossing point on the Waal river is just 4,000 meters from my hotel right now.
I am in Nijmegen, in the Netherlands, for meetings. I’d completely forgotten the date. The internet notices about the 66th anniversary of Operation Market-Garden were very sparse. I thought I might see a few commemorative parachute drops during the weekend.
Then, on Saturday morning, a camouflaged C-47 troop carrier with Normandy invasion stripes banked hard 200 feet above me, and I knew I was in a very historical place and time.
Then I got to the old drop zone itself, at Ginkel Heath 15 kilometers from Arnhem, and WOW!
Soldiers in US 101st Airborne and British 1st Airborne uniforms drove jeeps flying the British 1st Airborne Pegasus flag. Camouflaged tents sold World War II uniforms, flags, patches, books, even old World War II aircraft instruments.
A low-flying procession of C-47s, C-130s and C-160 Transalls disgorged 700 paratroopers on the heath. There were American, British, Dutch and German paratroopers and aircraft – once adversaries, they now commemorated the event together.
Ginkel Heath is the original drop zone for the British 1st Parachute Brigade. A 3-square kilometer sandy meadow, it is still carpeted with purple heather, virtually unchanged in 66 years.
In A Bridge Too Far, Sean Connery as Gen. Roy Urquhart listens in consternation as a briefing officer tells him that his drop zones are so far from his objective, the bridge at Arnhem, that they are off the map! Gene Hackman, as Gen. Sosabowski, pointedly inspects at the briefer’s uniform. “Just making sure which side you are on.”
The printed programme for the air show included:
|Boeing Stearman||CAP 10|
|Piper Super Cub||ASK21 aerobatic glider|
|Saab Safir||Pitts Special|
|Antonov 2||Yak 52 formation aerobtics|
|Yak 3U||Fouga Magistere|
|P-51 Mustang||Breitling Jet Team|
|Supermarine Spitfire||Apache helicopter|
|B-17 Flying Fortress|
Every young boy of my era knew Spitfires, Mustangs and B-17s. But in my 53 years, I had never seen a real Spitfire before, nor had I ever seen a B-17 in flight.
All my boyhood wishes were about to come true.
The Stearman was loud, hefty and smoky. The Super Cub with Dutch insignia and sneaked around the trees over the show line.
The Yak 3U is a Soviet fighter from World War II. How many pilots have even seen this airplane, never mind seen it flying.
The other half of the Soviet pair, the Antonov 2, looks like a biplane, but a careful inspection shows a massive airframe.
The cockpit is high above ground, almost like an airliner cockpit. Ten skydivers jumped out of that monster cabin.
Then the pilots flew several chandelles right above the trees. It was exhilarating to see a big airplane like that maneuvering up close.
Other airplanes flew some very nice aerobatics. I saw a Saab Safir for the first time, as well as a Falco F8 and that French aerobatic beauty, a CAP 10.
The next items on the program were the Warbirds: Spitfire, P-51 Mustang, B-17 Flying Fortress. Then there would be jets.
It was about to become a truly unforgettable afternoon!
Posted from Nijmegen, September 18, 2010
66th Anniversary, Operation Market-Garden