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Thread: WWII C-53 (C-47 variant) found in the Swiss Alps

  1. #1
    EAA Staff / Moderator
    Join Date
    Jul 2011

    WWII C-53 (C-47 variant) found in the Swiss Alps

    This is an incredibly interesting story with a local Oshkosh connection.

    The pilot of the crashed plane was Ralph H. Tate, Jr., who I interviewed for the Timeless Voices program back in 2004. Ralph and his wife Ruth had settled in the Oshkosh area in 2001. Ralph passed in 2009. Here is the link to his Timeless Voices interview:

    Here is a bit more about the crash and the rescue:

    The story continues. Ralph's father was Brigadier-General Ralph H. Tate (1899-1977). Gen. Tate was serving in the Occupational Forces immediately following WWII, while Ralph Jr. was flying in the Army Air Force. Being a high ranking officer, Gen. Tate brought home some war loot, including a customized standing desk that had been made for Hitler in recognition of the 1938 Anschluss - the occupation and annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938. Ralph, Jr.'s wife Ruth donated the desk to the AirVenture Museum, and Curator Ron Twellman and I picked it up yesterday and put it in the Eagle Hanger, where it will remain on display. I'll try and get some photos of it posted later today. It's a poignant reminder of the war, yet in way, a mark of the Allies' success in defeating Hitler for the simple fact that it was brought back to the States.

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    St. Louis/Omaha
    The story of this plane and the crash, if I recall correctly, is in The DC-3: The Story of a Fabulouis Airplane by Col. Carroll V. Glines and Wendell F. Moseley. I first read this book in sixth grade and it's the book that made me fall in love with aviation. It's been a while since I've read it (if anyone knows where I can get a copy in good condition, I'd be forever grateful), but the quote I recall is something along the lines of "The plane is preserved in the glacier and is slowly moving down the mountain. In a couple of hundred years, it should see the light of day again."

    Kind of glad it showed up in my lifetime.
    Anxiety is nature's way of telling you that you've already goofed up.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Aug 2011

    WWII C-53 (C-47 variant) found in the Swiss Alps

    Found a short storyline leading to a video documentary on the website (German).

    Haven't viewed it yet but thougt I'd share.


    (updated to say that the speigel site will allow you to view (an English) film trailer but looks like a registration is required for the full video)
    Last edited by 3Dphotos; 08-17-2012 at 11:44 AM.

  4. #4

    The history of Swiss Alp crash needs amending

    In the weeks following the sucessful rescue there was contraversy in the British press, which was cleared up by the USAAF in Europe, when they publically thanked the RAF for finding the lost aircraft. Both Brigadier General Ralph Snavely and the C53's pilots father, General Ralph Tate sr, claimed they had found the crashed aircraft. This is what my Father [Fl.Lt. G.D.Head 7 squadron -pathfinders- RAF bomber command] wrote about the search [he was the pilot of an RAF Lancaster that first found the C53; note some reports called it a C47 but seeing top brass were involved it's likely they used the more comfortable C53].

    On November 20th 1946, as air/sea rescue officer for our station, I received a request for assistance in searching for a crashed DC3 (Dakota) which had disappeared whilst flying over the Swiss Alps. We were told it contained high ranking American Officers and wives. Within 25 minutes we had dispatched our stand-by aircraft. That night with the search not locating the crashed aircraft I planned to join the search. When I filed my flight plan with group HQ I was told that further searching would be useless. With the lapse of time and the low temperature it was their opinion that any survivor of the crash would have died. My own CO however told me to go for it and this we did, taking off early on Thursday 21st with food supplies and blankets.

    The search area had been established by 3 radio stations plotting faint signals from the crashed aircraft. After 7 ˝ hours in the air we gave up for the day without any sign of the crashed aircraft among the many mountains we searched.
    We landed at search HQ at Istres in southern France. Early next morning we were requested to search an area about 50 miles north of the original area because during the night a 4th radio station had plotted a bearing further north of the original area.
    We arrived over the search area only to find it almost completely covered with cloud, with gaps here and there. At 9.30am my rear gunner called out “circle skip- I think I have spotted it”. We then circled over a gap in the cloud and the mid-upper gunner confirmed that he saw what he though was a crashed aircraft. The cloud closed over and we lost sight of it. The navigator was unable to obtain an accurate fix of our position because of the radio interference from the mountains, so we decided to fly a fixed speed and direction course until clear of the interference. This we did-the navigator plotted a radar position and backtracked to plot the position of the crash site.
    We landed at Istres and gave search HQ all our information, which was relayed to all other search centres and search aircraft, of which there were approximately 100. Later in the afternoon the weather was clearing so we took off and headed for the crash site. Before we reached it other aircraft radioed in that they were over the position we had given and that the aircraft was indeed there. It was on a glacier at an altitude of approximately 11,000 ft. We all dropped our supplies and left it too ground parties to effect the rescue.

    On Sunday, back in the UK what a great feeling it was to read in the newspaper that all 12 occupants of the DC3 had survived the crash and had been rescued by the ground parties. One of my happier flying experiences - per ardua ad astra..."

    Stories & even a TV programme have been written which don't even mention the RAFs role in this story. Hence this post

    Dave Head, New Zealand.

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