No.437 Squadron RCAF at Arnhem
“They’re such fighters, if only they can get the stuff to fight with…“Stanley Maxted of the BBC reporting from Oosterbeek during a resupply drop for the 1st Airborne Division during Operation Market Garden.
No.437 Squadron RCAF was formed on 14th September 1944 and less than a week later was delivering supplies to the beleaguered British 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem. The greatest airborne operation ever attempted was launched on the 17th with its audacious objective, set by the operation’s architect Field Marshal Montgomery, to create a bridgehead over the Rhine at Arnhem by driving a salient deep into German occupied Holland. This salient was intended to be the Allies’ entry into Germany and thereby create an opportunity to end the war by Christmas. And not coincidently, it would also give the British and American forces a chance to reach Berlin before the Russians.
In order to accomplish this astonishingly ambitious objective an airborne armada of British, American and Polish paratroops were required to seize nine bridges in Holland, the nearest in Eindhoven and the furthest being in Arnhem itself, some 90km from the ground forces’ start point in Neerbelt. As the furthest away, and therefore hardest to reach, the British Paratroops holding the bridge at Arnhem were given the toughest of assignments in being required to hold the bridge until the British Army’s XXX Corps’ arrived to relieve them. In order that they may have a chance to do so, air supply to the lightly armed paratroops would be vital. The stakes were high; should Arnhem Bridge fall back into German hands before XXX Corps reached it the entire operation failed.
The operational plan called for the British paratroops at Arnhem to hold the bridge for two to three days against what was expected to be relatively light resistance. In the event however, a combination of XXX Corps’ slower than expected progress towards Arnhem and worse, the nearby – totally unexpected – presence of the German 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions forced the paratroopers into a much longer and tougher resistance than was anticipated, and for which they were poorly equipped.
The Tenth Bridge then, was a 1,400km round trip airborne resupply, much of it over enemy occupied territory that was to test the RAF’s Transport Command to its limit, and its newest Squadron, No. 437 RCAF most of all. It was to require as much courage and operational audacity by its aircrews as that which was shown by the men on the ground they were supplying.
On 17th September at the start of Operation Market Garden (“Market” being the airborne element of the operation, “Garden” being the ground operations), RAF Transport Command’s No.38 Group and No.46 Group, combined with the U.S. 9th Troop Carrier Command, put over 1,500 aircraft into the air. Only nine days later the RAF had lost almost 90 aircraft destroyed and most of the remainder damaged; the USAAF faired as badly with 932 aircraft damaged or lost out of a total of 1,173.
The First Allied Airborne Army had undertaken 4,852 troop-carrying aircraft sorties of which 1,293 had delivered paratroopers, 2,277 had delivered gliders and 1,282 resupply. 164 aircraft and 132 gliders had been lost with USAAF IX Troop Carrier Command suffering 454 casualties, RAF 38 and 46 Groups another 294 casualties. 39,620 troops had been delivered by air (21,074 by parachute and 18,546 by glider) as had 4,595 tons of stores. Another 6,172 aircraft sorties were flown in support of Market Garden for the loss of 125 aircraft, against 160 enemy aircraft destroyed.
Statistics of course only tell part of the story. The video linked below is one of the most remarkable records available of the Arnhem battle, one which here serves in place of a thousand inadequate words I might use in describing the battle of the tenth bridge at Arnhem.
In just over a week, between the 17th and 25th of September over 11,000 sorties were flown in support of Market Garden, with most of the 6,000 resupply sorties being to Arnhem in support of the 10,000 paratroops of British 1st Airborne Division there. RAF Transport Command as well as the USAAF’s Troop Carrier Command heroically flew their unarmed transport aircraft, mostly Douglas Dakotas along with the RAF’s Short Stirlings, against intense flak and small arms fire from the ground as well as occasional Luftwaffe attacks. One Dakota pilot, Flight Lieutenant David Lord 271 Squadron, Royal Air Force was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for bravery for his actions in the resupply; an award whilst personal, represents the bravery of them all.
No.437 Squadron RCAF, September 1944
Formed with just 15 Douglas Dakotas sourced mainly from the RAF on the 14th September, No.437’s first mission on the 17th was as part of the first day’s drops at Arnhem. With all 15 departing between 10.05 and 10.18 from Blakehill Farm, twelve aircraft were towing Horsa gliders which were released successfully at the target. The gliders contained 146 men of the British 1st Airborne Division along with 16 bicycles, 10 motorcycles, 5 jeeps, 6 trailers, 2 handcarts, 4 blitz buggies, 3 wireless sets.
The next day the Squadron put another six Dakotas in the air, all towing gliders. Again, all returned safely but this time not without incident, or damage. While no enemy aircraft were spotted flak was “stiffer” en route, especially around Renkum, Wageningen, Rhenen and Hertogenbosch. F/O Delahunt’s aircraft KG422 was damaged by small arms fire over the drop zone including a light flak shell striking the aircraft just behind one of the fuel tanks.
On the 19th and 20th, remarkably in the context of the enormity of the operation unfolding at Arnhem, the squadron reverted to routine freight and mail transport operations to Brussels, along with other of the smaller airfields in Belgium. Even more remarkably, those aircrew not engaged in flight operations were set to work “laying lino in the flight offices“. The return trips for those that did fly were mostly empty but included some casualty evacuation, though on the 20th KG589 was forced to land in Belgian tobacco field after losing both engines; its crew was not injured.
On the 21st, with the battle on the ground in Arnhem no longer progressing according to plan and the paratroops now completely reliant on resupply from the air to continue holding the bridge, the Squadron sent ten aircraft on its first resupply mission to Arnhem.
It was not to be a good day for the squadron. Five aircraft failed to return, brought down by the now withering flak around the drop zones and, of great concern for the unarmed and slow Dakotas, enemy aircraft action as well. Both F/S Lane’s KG427 and F/O Semple’s KG410 were attacked by Fw190’s. The worst was the flak however, all five lost aircraft being shot down by flak with only KG489 (F/O Chambers) able to reach allied lines, crash landing at airfield B.56. The other losses, that of KG489 (F/O Cressman – Ed. there were two aircraft reported as KG489 in the Ops Records for this operational sortie which I have differentiated by their pilot in command), KG387, KG376, and FZ656.
“You can hear the flak they have to fly through, it’s absolutely like hail up there…“Stanley Maxted of the BBC reporting from Oosterbeek during a resupply drop for the 1st Airborne Division during Operation Market Garden.
Many of the lost crew members survived, four taken prisoner while the rest returned to the squadron in time either directly or with the assistance of the Dutch Resistance. Four were known killed, two more wounded wounded, the rest officially listed as missing.
Remarkably, the record of FZ656 crew’s capture immediately upon their crash-landing near Tournhaut in West Belgium is preserved in their post-war repatriation record.
After what was largely a rest day on the 22nd the Squadron returned to resupply on the 23rd. Fifteen of the sixteen aircraft listed to depart were sent to Arnhem in what was becoming a desperate situation for the ground forces (incidentally, FZ692 the subject of model piece following was forced to abort just prior to take off).
Pilots reported clear signs that the supplies were not always reaching the troops and often falling into enemy hands. Squadron records report that 195 panniers were dropped well within the designated drop zones; one aircraft returned to base with its load still on board due to jammed rollers.
Fortunately, an aggressive fighter escort was provided on this day and enemy flak was effectively suppressed ahead of the run to target. Several aircraft were hit by small arms fire though, but despite this all arrived at the drop zone. Things went wrong during the drop itself however, KG345 was upset by a flak explosion just under its tail causing it to enter a steep dive before recovering, but with much of its load still on board. In addition, KG501 needed to take strong evasion action to avoid a dropped load directly ahead and nine of its panniers came off their rollers and were consequently brought back. Unfortunately, one aircraft failed to return, KG305 piloted by F/O Paget was lost with all crew listed as missing.
September 23rd proved to be the Squadron’s final involvement in the Arnhem operation; they were rested on the 24th and by the 25th Market Garden had ended in an allied defeat. In all, the Battle of Arnhem had claimed the lives of twelve 437 Squadron aircrew, and a further four were taken prisoner. The Squadron’s gallantry during this costly baptism of fire was recognised, however; two Distinguished Flying Crosses and a Distinguished Flying Medal were awarded.
After the battle the Germans fortified the north bank of the Rhine into an elaborate defensive position. Arnhem’s former residents were not allowed to return and their homes were then systematically looted by the Germans. Sporadic fighting continued on the plains between Arnhem and Nijmegen as the salient driven by XXX Corps became relatively pointless and the Allies consolidated their positions elsewhere.
In a final irony, after such effort and loss had been expended in trying to take and then hold it, just two weeks after the conclusion of Market Garden Martin B-26 Marauders of the USAAF 344th Bomb Group bombed and totally destroyed Arnhem Bridge .
1/72 Scale Airfix Douglas Dakota Mk.III
Those who may have read my last piece, that on the “Flying Nightingales” will no doubt be skipping forward to the bottom of the page in order not to read the construction process of another Airfix Dakota. After all, how different could it be from the last one?
Note much, to be honest. However, there were some life circumstances that came into play during this build that gave it a slightly different flavour, and it is on those and some other minor differences that I shall focus.
This model actually began life on the kitchen bench while we moved into our new home in Canberra. It took a little while to set up my model area in our new apartment but in the mean time I completed as much assembly as possible before requiring paint, something I needed to unpack to be able to accomplish. In the image above I’m approaching that point; the fuselage halves not glues but offered up to check fit but the wings were almost complete. Within a week or two of moving in, I was able to put my model area together and begin work in earnest.
I’m quite pleased with my little area at the back of the apartment, with tile floors to mitigate spills and aid in the retrieval of dropped parts, and a certain remoteness from the living areas so the compressor doesn’t annoy.
I did practically nothing with the interior except a coat of interior green, and then put the fuselage together. I toyed with the idea of painting the wings and fuselage separately, before joining them, but the fit wasn’t quite good enough.
The wing root gap was the only construction issue I faced, and was indirectly caused by the start on the kitchen bench. I had pushed the assembly out of the instructed sequence to achieve as much construction as possible, but when I offered up the wings the there was gap (caused by an earlier misalignment of the fillets) and I needed to fill a fairly substantial gap which can be seen top left in the image below.
I elected in this instance to use some stretched sprue to fill the gap, applying a liberal amount of thin liquid glue in order to bed it down snuggly – aided in this instance with a wooden kebob stick. The resulting seam required very little sanding to make good.
As on the previous model, I blanked off the tail as the cone wasn’t present on this airframe. In addition, I made a couple of other enhancements seen at bottom left…
…namely opening the navigator’s window rather than simply paint it as I had for the previous model. I also painted the undercarriage with the same technique described previously, my go-to method now.
Painting, Markings and Weathering
My primary references for this build are these photos of No. 437 Squadron Dakotas. There’s really not much else to go on, even an enquiry to the the Canadian War Museum was fruitless – I found it to be a very poor website in general, and disappointingly they didn’t even bother to reply to my request for assistance.
While these photos were to be my guide, for a few reasons the condition of these particular aircraft weren’t examples I would necessarily be aiming to replicate.
The photo above of a No. 437 Dakota is absent any D-Day Stripes on the underside of the fuselage, dating it to some time in 1945. The snow on the ground indicates a winter timeframe, so perhaps February/March 1945, or even as late as post-war late 1945.
In the photo below, perhaps the most common photograph of a No.437 Dakota, the lack of D-Day Stripes, even on the underside of the wings, also indicates a photo taken well after Market Garden. Furthermore, the leafless trees in the background and overall early spring-like look to the weather and surrounding landscape all suggest [to me] that this photo was taken in April or early May 1945.
The two photos above then of airframes that were at least six months older than when I am depicting my model of FZ692 entailing six more months of wear; as a consequence my model was not to be as weathered as either of the two pictured above.
I painted the underside in very much the same manner as before though with slightly more enhanced pre-shading with more density and with the Neutral Grey finished somewhat more patchy in its overall appearance.
The D-Day Stripes were applied as before too, though I used an off-white and Nato Black to represent aged markings as opposed to fresh.
The upper surface is where this model makes more of its divergence from the last. After the pre-shade I worked very slowly and carefully in applying the initial coat of Olive Drab. I wanted to represent an airframe now showing some signs of age, as well as wear and tear.
To achieve the the look I was going for I first had to exaggerate the patchiness in the finish as prior experience working with dark green hues under a coat of clear gloss, and then finish coats taught me that the final effect is diminished at the conclusion of these steps. The photos above and below show how the raw finish looked. I left the areas where D-Day Stripes would have been present for the next treatment.
With the base coat done, I now worked on the newer green applied to cover the D-Day Strips as would have [probably] happened before the airframe was given to the RCAF. The order to cover the upper stripes was issued in late June/early July 1944 and would have been completed by the RAF as they still retained FZ692 at that point. To replicate this I used RAF Dark Green in the areas where the stripes were over-painted as it’s highly likely that would have been the paint used.
Another small detail occurred to me at this moment; FZ692 was originally built for the USAAF and so would have worn US markings out of the factory and probably all the way to the UK. It stood to reason then that the US markings would have had to have been painted over at some point. To recognise this, even without evidence that it occurred, I also painted a Stars and Bars shape on the port wing with RAF Dark Green.
With the painting completed satisfactorily I moved on the gloss coat in preparation for the decals.
I decided to try again with a craft urethane clear gloss I have been experimenting with. When it works it gives a beautifully smooth and hard gloss finish but it’s difficult to achieve and required multiple fine coats to avoid pooling. In the end, I was mostly happy with the result achieved but I’m not sure I’ll continue with this particular product as Future/Klear is so much easier to work with. Something to note; the photo above shows just how much of the texturing disappears under the gloss coat…
I was excited to reach this point as it now became time to use the decals I had designed specifically for this project and had custom printed for the purpose.
Custom Hobby Decals did an an excellent job in printing the decals, after first assisting me with some of the finer details of graphics design, its sizing and final layout. As can bee seen above, they looked absolutely terrific in their packaging and I couldn’t wait to start applying them.
The decals themselves – three sets – were printed on an A4 clear decal sheet which necessitated cutting very closely around the decals in order to minimise the clear surround. I made a mistake early on in not doing so and consequently left large areas of the code letter interior as clear, and therefore susceptible to silvering – something that would come back to bite me later. The decals themselves reacted reasonably well to standard decal solutions, but they did not melt down as well as I would have liked – at least with Micro Set/Sol. Nonetheless, as they are printed on very thin decal sheeting, this was not critical.
I was very pleased with how the decals turned out but if I print them again (I have a notion to offer them for sale should there be interest) I will make some minor adjustments; the diamond shape with OR on the nose is a little larger than it should be, the Squadron code letters are a fraction large and their colour slightly off, the font for “Royal Canadian Air Force” on the fuselage is a fraction thick, as it is for the name “Fort Selkirk”. These are minor picks though, and overall I was well pleased with my first attempt at decal design. Certainly, there’s no other decals of this aircraft in print, so there is that.
As is my usual practice, I began weathering with the underside. After a wash to highlight control surfaces and access panels (only), as well as some grime in the panelling under the nose, I applied an initial flat coat.
Most of the weathering was then accomplished with my airbrush and a very thin mix of varying dark greys. I am quite random in how I do this, simply playing with the colour as I go, always making sure that the mix stays thin enough to retain control on the density of its application. Once I was happy with how far I’d taken it, I applied a final coat of flat Future to complete the finish.
It was around this time I realised I had forgotten to paint the de-icer boots on the wing and tail leading edges. After I’d done those, I realised I had forgotten to paint the fin leading edge too.
Otherwise, the upper surfaces received the same treatment and process as the undersides. A panel wash to emphasise the control surfaces, an initial flat coat followed by grime with the airbrush. I also worked in some further hue variation to increase the final texture which while subtle, turned out well. Lastly, I applied a khaki filter to the ailerons to stand them out some more; the fading in the paint finish of the elevators and rudder is quite pronounced and I wanted the ailerons to match that.
Unfortunately, the initial flat coat also showed some significant silvering on a few of the decals. I was unable to deal with all of it satisfactorily and needed to apply some very delicate masking to paint around some of the squadron codes to cover the silvered decals. I don’t usually get a lot of silvering but I fear the urethane gloss coat was the issue here, rather than the custom decals (the kit decals also tended to silvering).
I brushed a coat of Future/Klear to the de-icer boots to make them more rubber-like in appearance and dry brushed the remnants of the white paint from the original D-Day Stripes. I think it’s just visible in the pic below.
With weathering largely completed and the model now on its wheels, all of which passed uneventfully this time, it was time to add the final touches, the bits and pieces, and the antenna lines.
In addition to the airbrush applied grime, I used some powdered chalk to represent the walkway traffic from maintenance and refuelling. In the photo above it’s more pronounced than it appears in real life, but perhaps a little strong anyway.
One of the areas I didn’t pay much attention to on my previous Dakota was the antenna wires. The images below show that the standard arrangement was of two lines, not one, from fin to forward fuselage. Also, it is clear that there are also two lines between the pits tubes and the ventral post, all of which I missed previously.
I drilled various holes in the fuselage to accommodate the lines, also adding a post for one of them to terminate just rear of the astrodome as per the diagrams and photos. I used stretched sprue for the long lines and snapped them tight with a bit of smoke.
I used stretched sprue for the whip antenna just to the rear of the astrodome and some stretched a little thicker for the post antenna just forward of the fin fairing on the rear upper fuselage. I used thin brass wire cut exactly to length and attached with white glue for the radio direction finding antenna lines from pitot tube to post on the underside.
On the final stages now, I added the undercarriage as well as the remaining bits and pieces such as propellors, doors, exhausts, etc. Speaking of which, in an homage to the longevity of the real FZ692…
The doors, propellors, main wheels, control surfaces and exhausts all came from the original model. Sadly, it was one of three that did not survive our move to Canberra but before reluctantly consigning it to the bin, I salvaged these parts for use in this next FZ692. It seemed fitting, after all the two models are of the same airframe.
References and Credits
- “No.437 Squadron Canadian Armed Forces” by Andrew Thomas.
- “Green On, the Story of Arnhem Re-supply” by Arie-Jan Van Hees
This article, including all text and photos of the model(s), is my original work and is protected by copyright in its entirety, except where noted. All research sources are listed in the References and Credits section above, including photos from official sources. All other images were sourced from the internet and are used here under protection of fair-use. Any copyrighted images will be removed or credited forthwith upon request by its rightful owner.