Peacetime Planes Hold Invasion Key

Every airworthy transport serves Allies in freight, troop transit

Some ground observers and most combat pilots may question the inclusion of obsolete transport planes in a spotter's guide concerned primarily with current combat types. Others may feel that this space might better be utilized for the illustratnon and description of additional twin-engine bombers covered in the two sections preceding this. But any one of these planes which flew peacefully as late as 1939 may appear as a major weapon — in the hands of the Axis or the Allies.

From a tactical standpoint, the medium and light bomber can hardly do more than pave the way for ground attack, while carrying on sometimes spectacular low-altitude attacks on enemy ground emplacements. Whether the Allies invade Japan or Europe during 1943 or the Axis strikes for full domination of Russia's resources, ground troops must be used for final conquest — and that will demand the use of every available air-worthy transport. Because man eats, sleeps, works, retreats, or advances on the ground, it is evident that air power alone cannot, will not, win the war, though lack of air power can easily lose it. The armistice will only follow defeat on the ground. So everyone concerned with accurate plane identification should be able to identify all transports.

Fortunately, existing cargo and troop planes are big enough, fly low enough, and have sufficient external variances to make identification relatively easy. In this classification, general characteristics rather than individual wing, tail, and engine features furnish the key to quick recognition. For example, all American planes in this group represent military adaptations of the familiar Douglas and Lockheed transports. The C-47 and C-53 are both DC-3 airliners with internal changes, and differ externally only in their use of cargo and jumping hatches. The C-54, now going into service, was developed from the DC-4 prototype which Japan acquired more than two years ago. That new transport designs have not appeared since the war began may be explained by the fact that each succeeding war month makes line production of fighters and bombers more important than experimentation with new transport plans. Even the sleek new C-46 Curtiss Commando actually appeared before the outbreak of war in the prototype CW-20, now in service with British Overseas Airways. Britain, too, is depending for aerial transport on such planes as the DeHavilland Flamingo and the old Bristol Bombay.

Germany, on the other hand, has developed several new transport designs since 1939. The outsize Junkers 290, with four engines, is now serving along with the four-engine Junkers 89 and Focke-Wulf 200. But the three-engine Junkers 52, in land and seaplane type, will continue to perform workhorse duties with the Luftwaffe in cooperation with Italy's Savoia Marchetti 79 series. Because the latter Axis transports are trimotors, and the Allied planes are bimotors, there is little excuse for confusion. However, much prewar equipment owned by Air France may soon enter Nazi service. The Dewoitine 338, a luxury airliner which carried six passengers in a forward compartment, eighteen in the main salon, and boasted large baggage and lavatory space, is probably already in service. With deluxe fittings removed, accommodations are provided for more than thirty fully-equipped troops. This plane, like its German and Italian companions, is also a trimotor with outboard nacelles barely protruding beyond the straight leading edge of the wing, and an extremely long snub nose on the fuselage. It has wing span of 96' 4", is 72' 7" long, and measures 18' 3" in overall height. Maximum speed is estimated at 196 mph and cruising range at 600 miles or less. The Bloch 220, 300, and 400 are also potentially available to Hitler's air transport commdnd. The first, a twin-engine, sixteen-passenger transport resembles our DC-3 but can be distinguished by thick wings with marked dihedral outboard of the engine nacelles. The 300 is powered by three Gnome-Rhone engines and carries more than thirty soldiers while the four-engine Bloch 400 can accommodate fifty troops. The trimotor has top speed of 208 mph while the four-engine type, is 15 mph faster.

Current British classification of the DeHavilland Albatross as a first line military plane despite its age may be an invasion tipoff. Powered by four Gipsy-Twelve liquid-cooled engines, has cruising range of 1,040 miles and speed of 219 mph. It can be distinguished by clean lines and teardrop twin fins and rudders pointed at the top.

This article was originally published in the December, 1942, "Complete Spotter's Guide" issue of Air News magazine, vol 3, no 8, pp 58-59.
The original article includes 4 photos.
Photo credits to Douglas, British Combine, TWA.