May 8, 1945
V-E Day and L-5’s in the ETO.
In most places, we celebrate May 8th as Victory in Europe (V-E) day, although in Russia and a few other countries they hold the remembrance on May 9th, which is when many of you will have read this.
The official capitulation of Germany occurred on May 7th at Reims when General Alfred Jodl, acting on behalf of Hitler’s successor Admiral Karl Donitz, signed the unconditional surrender agreement of all German forces on the eastern and western fronts. For some, it was a time of jubilation and several L-4’s and at least one L-5 pilot flew under the Eiffel Tower following the surrender. If you’ve ever seen any vintage photos showing a large LD-XXX “buzz number” on the side of an L-5, the aerial antics that took place all over France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and Italy on V-E Day and the weeks afterward undoubtedly contributed to the adoption of that marking practice. Easy identification made for an effective deterrent and if caught, a pilot could face a Courts Martial hearing.
For many I have met who were somewhere in Europe at the time the European phase of the war ended, they remembered it as a moment of weary relief and not one of frenzied celebration commonly depicted in the old Newsreel films. For example, thirty-eight years ago today I was invited to a party held by two Dutch sisters in Cave Creek, Arizona. They were just teenagers when the war ended and that is what they spoke of – weariness and a subdued atmosphere because there was still so much uncertainty ahead and they had suffered so much that light-heartedness did not come easily, even for teenage girls. The two also recalled an American army unit distributing great bundles of banana’s, mountains of fresh butter, and pallet loads of sugar from the backs of 2-1/2 ton “deuce-and-a-half” trucks in their village square – common commodities that they had not seen or tasted for nearly 5 years. On that day in 1982, as they had done on every May 8th since 1945, those two women served their guests a dessert of bananas fried in butter and delicately laced with caramelized sugar. Delicious! I made some for myself this morning in recognition of V-E day, although I cheated a bit and had it on pancakes instead of crepes.
Anyway, I thought it might be good to finish my day with a quick summary of the Stinson L-5 in the European Theater of Operations (ETO). The “Flying Jeep” was a late-comer to WWII. Although the prototype Model 76 first flew on June 28, 1941, production of the L-5 did not start until October 1942 and the first ones alighting on foreign soil came ashore on October 2, 1943 at the Port of Karachi, India (now West Pakistan). The first group of L-5’s delivered to the ETO arrived in northern England two months later on December 2nd, 1943. Those ten airplanes were the vanguard of exactly one thousand L-5’s earmarked for the liberation of northwest Europe. Adding the L-5’s sent to the 12th Air Force in Italy, 1,318 Sentinels criss-crossed the western European countryside during World War Two.
A quick search of the L-5 database that I have compiled reveals some surprising numbers. Over 90% of those planes survived the war, and out of the approximately ten dozen that didn’t, just six were shot down by enemy ground fire. Six more were declared missing in action behind enemy lines and three were stolen by retreating Germans. The rest were written off due to non-combat accidents or for general war weariness. Those low numbers are a testament to Allied air superiority from June 1944 onward and it also speaks volumes about the success achieved by the Mobile Reclamation and Repair units that recovered and repaired crashed liaison aircraft in the ETO. It also shows the somewhat more benign nature of the flying in western Europe vs the wilds of Burma, China, New Guinea and the Philippine Islands where far more L-5’s met their premature demise.
These dry statistics don’t really tell an exciting story, but over 400,000 individual sorties were flown in Europe by L-5’s. This included millions of pounds of mail and cargo delivered, tens of thousands of personnel carried one by one, thousands of artillery missions flown and aerial photos snapped, hundreds of “horsefly” missions undertaken, incalculable numbers of important maps, documents and orders delivered and many tons of surrender leaflets dropped – not to mention the multitude of other utilitarian jobs given the stout little green airplanes from Wayne, Michigan.
More than this, on May 8th in 1945, while the guns fell silent and the fighters and bombers stood down, the little Stinsons were busier than ever aiding the monumental effort known as the Marshall Plan that got underway to heal and rebuild a war-torn continent. That’s an aspect of L-5 history that many of us overlook, and its peace-time mission in Europe was just as important an assignment as its relatively short-lived contribution to the shooting war.
Next time you pass by an L-5, give it a pat on the nose for a job well done.