Air Despatchers RASC Presentation

It wasn’t possible to honour Nos.38 and 46 Groups’ airmen without also honouring the Air Despatchers of the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) who flew with them.

At the time of the writing of this article, the Air Despatchers Roll of Honour stated that 125 Air Despatchers lost their life in mission with Nos.38 and 46 Groups’ airmen including 80 during operation Market Garden in September 1944 (one Air Despatcher shot down during the operation will die in captivity on 27 February 1945).

The Air Despatchers were responsible for the Army supplies that the aircraft were carrying.

Two RASC Air Despatchers and their 570 Squadron crew.
Crew of Nev Hicks, 570 Squadron, and their two Air Despatchers, RASC (back row, first left and first right), prior to Arnhem resupply on 19 September 1944 in Stirling IV LJ992.

Ari-Jan Van Hees in his must have book “Green On!” has written a formidable history (including numerous Veterans’ stories) of the Royal Army Service Corps Air Despatchers since its creation in 1940 in complement of the Airborne Forces.

The 2 principal aircraft that will be used since the first operational sortie of the Air Despatchers on the night of 06 June 1944 are the Short Stirling (with 2 Air Despatchers) and the Douglas Dakota (with 4 Air Despatchers).

To be an Air Despatcher was a hard physical job that needed a great skill to drop supplies as soon as the orders were given by the Captain of the aircraft, in a very little short time (8 seconds in a Stirling and 8 to 12 seconds in a Dakota), in an aircraft that sometimes in war conditions couldn’t fly straight and with always in mind its own security to prevent himself from falling from the aircraft.

Extracted from Ari-Jan’s book, here are the words of a Glider Pilot who, fighting in the Perimeter in September 1944, witnessed the supplies being dropped:

“As to the aircrews and the Air Despatchers on the resupply drops, what can one say? I am sure we on the ground, had nothing but admiration for them and I only wish that their efforts had been better rewarded by a total success on our part”.

They deserve our recognition and their place next to the No.38 and 46 Group airmen.

Air Despatch Group formation sign.
The formation sign of the Air Despatch Group that was a great pride to wear “…for the good work done by the Air Despatch Group over Arhem” (War Office minute) © IWM
Air Despatchers are loading panniers
SUPPLIES DROPPED BY TRANSPORT PLANES (CH 12945) Original wartime caption: Panniers containing supplies are dropped by parachute from transport planes whenever the need arises. These large wicker baskets are packed with food, arms, ammunition wireless sets and spares of all kinds. They are padded with sandbags, containing straw to safeguard their contents. Weight of the pannier with parachute attached is 350 pounds. Picture (issued 1944) Shows a pannier being loaded on to a Dakota transport aircraft. Copyright: © IWM
Panniers are attached to parachutes by Air Despatchers
SUPPLIES DROPPED BY TRANSPORT PLANES (CH 12946) Original wartime caption: Attaching parachutes to the panniers. Personnel of the R.A.S.C. do the packing and despatching of these panniers. They are moved on roller conveyors in Dakotas, which enable them to slide to the door of the aircraft. Copyright: © IWM
Photo of crashed Dakota KG401
ROYAL AIR FORCE TRANSPORT COMMAND, 1943-1945. (CE 165) Operation MARKET III: air re-supply of British airborne forces in the Arnhem area, 19 September 1944. Burnt-out Douglas Dakota Mark III, KG401, of No. 48 Squadron RAF based at Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, which crash-landed in a field near Kessel, Holland, after parachuting supplies over Arnhem. The aircraft had just dropped its supplies from 700 feet when it was met with intense anti-aircraft fire. The tail unit, rudder, port aileron and engine, the starboard auxiliary fuel tank and all the gyro instruments were either damaged or put out of action, and one of the Army despatchers was mortally wounded. The captain, Flying Officer L R Pattee RCAF and his co-pilot, Flying Officer A C Kent RAF, flew the crippled aircraft back to the British lines, through three more areas of enemy flak, where they sustained further serious damage, including a five foot hole in the starboard wing which caught fire, and complete electrical and communications failure. Once over the British lines, Pattee gave the crew and despatchers the opportunity to bale out, but they refused and the pilots then made a successful belly-landing in the field. No sooner had they all quit the Dakota, than it was engulfed by flames. The unfortunate despatcher died soon after the landing, while the others were taken to Brussels and the crew returned to Down Ampney. Sixteen aircraft of 48 Squadron participated in MARKET III, flying through intense flak with no fighter escort. Many aircraft were hit and two, (KG401 and KG428), failed to return. Over the following four days the Squadron lost another six Dakotas on re-supply missions to Arnhem.Copyright: © IWM

2 must have books written by Ari-Jan Van-Hees:

– “Green On!” The story of Arnhem re-supplies

A detailed survey of the British parachute re-supplies sorties during operation, ‘Marker Garden’ 18-25 September 1944

ISBN 90-806808-2-6

– Tugs and Gliders to Arnhem”

A detailed survey of the British glider towing operations during operation ‘Market Garden’ 17, 18 and 19 September 1944

ISBN 90-806808-1-8

Next page: Air Despatchers RASC Roll of Honour