RIVERSIDE — The plane that spearheaded the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 had three words emblazoned on its front, a simple message for Adolf Hitler: “That’s all, brother.”
The Douglas C-47, which touched down at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force on Tuesday, was thus named after its ultimatum to the fascist dictator.
“It’s a 1940s phrase telling the opponent essentially, ‘you’re finished,’ ” said museum curator and historian Doug Lantry.
That’s All, Brother has survived untold tribulations: spearheading the invasion of Normandy at D-Day, transporting wounded back across the English Channel, and withstanding the subsequent 75 years of wear, tear, and changing hands. The plane will stay at the museum for viewing by the public until 12 p.m. Thursday when it takes off again for its next stop.
There are thousands of C-47s still in existence. The plane was used for decades after the war.
“The design of the frame itself is important in aviation and military history,” Lantry said. “It was a groundbreaking transport aircraft due to its ruggedness and practicality. It was one of the first airplanes that was able to reliably carry heavy loads wherever you wanted.”
The plane is also famous for its good looks.
“Its an iconic design, known worldwide,” Lantry said. “Aviation types can spot it a thousand miles away.”
That being said, That’s All, Brother is no ordinary plane of its make. Known as a pathfinder airplane, it was the first of more than 800 aircraft to fly over German lines on D-Day. Its job was to drop the paratroopers inside in the right spot, and enable other planes to do the same.
“There were more than one pathfinder, but this was the first one over the beach,” Lantry said. “The fact that it was saved and preserved is kind of miraculous.”
The plane survived the war but in 2015 was on the verge of being scrapped. That’s All, Brother was sold multiple times over the years. The plane was found in a boneyard, waiting to be cut up for parts. It likely would have been, had not someone recognized the serial number and contacted the Commemorative Air Force.
The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) was founded to find and preserve World War II-era combat aircraft for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations, according to its website. CAF acquired the plane and undertook the $3 million restoration, a three-year process that completed in 2018.
“The first goal was to get it to look exactly like it did on D-Day, the second goal was to get it done prior to the 75th anniversary of D-Day,” said Col. Malcolm “Mitch” Mitchell, who flew in with the aircraft.
The plane flew once again over Normandy Beach in 2019 on the 75th anniversary of the invasion. Jordan Brown, who piloted the plane to NMUSAF along with co-pilot TJ Cook, also flew the plane over Normandy in 2019.
“It’s a grand lady to fly,” Brown said. “It’s a wonderful handling airplane. It’s not fast, but when you’re sitting up there you have time to reflect, and think of the history of this airplane.”
The C-47 can cruise at around 150 knots, Brown said, which is slow by today’s standards. Modern commercial jets fly at around 400 knots.
C-47s like That’s All, Brother carried between 18 and 22 paratroopers into the invasion, and many were used to bring wounded back across the channel. Flying the plane was a team of four: the pilot, co-pilot, navigator, and radio operator.
“So this airplane, in the lead, it was down to about 300 or 400 feet [above ground]. It was dark. You’re bouncing around. You’re being shot at. The door opens, and there you are, you’re looking down. You’re going to jump into the dark, and you don’t know what’s going to happen. The courage and the patriotic duty that those people felt, it’s just amazing to sit in there and realize that.”
That’s All, Brother is an airworthy plane, meaning it has modern communication equipment and other things necessary to maintain national flight standards. However, its exterior and most of the equipment visitors will see on the inside are restored to as close to how it was on D-Day as possible.
“The C-47 is a living history presentation, so it treads the line between modern usefulness and its original condition,” Lantry said. “And the payoff of treading that middle ground is that you get to see the machine working. It’s expensive and time consuming, but it is an educational complement to static preservation of original equipment that we do.”
The plane will stay in town for the birthday of Jim “PeeWee” Martin, a World War II veteran who is turning 100 years old this week.
Reach London Bishop at 937-502-4532 or follow @LBishopFDH on Twitter.