Dakota Noses in London

I was watching a DVD of “The Lavender Hill Mob” again recently, and noticed something I had previously forgotten. There is a scene in which Stanley Holloway (playing “Al” Pendlebury) returns from France by air. “Dutch” Holland (played by Alec Guinness) meets his flight, presumably at Croydon. Visible briefly is a Dakota with the British Civilian registration G-AGYX.

Frame grab from my DVD. Alec Guinness in “The Lavender Hill Mob” – G-AGYX in the background.

Naturally enough I thought I’d look it up. I assumed it would be an ex-Transport Command aircraft and wondered about its history. Naturally, again, I discovered the path had been well beaten before me. My interest was piqued when I read that the nose of G-AGYX still exists. I thought I’d seen it on a visit to London, but it transpired that what I’d examined was a different Dakota, at a different museum.

Bomber Command Museum, Hendon

The “Lavender Hill Mob” Dakota was Douglas C-47A-10-DK c/n 12472, built at the Douglas Plant at Oklahoma City, OK and given the US military serial 42-92648. It passed directly to Britain where it became Dakota Mk.III KG437 with 233 Squadron at RAF Blakehill Farm in Wiltshire. KG437 saw action in September 1944 as part of operation MARKET III – the resupply of British Airborne forces at Arnhem. I had a quick Google for 233 Squadron and found the photograph below.

Douglas Dakotas of No. 233 Squadron RAF (and who knows if KG437 is one of them) lined up on the perimeter track at Blakehill Farm, Wiltshire, for an exercise with the 6th Airborne Division, 20 April 1944.
Bridge (F/O), Royal Air Force official photographer – http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//9/media-9244/large.jpg This is photograph CH 12833 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

I also happened to find a photograph of a 233 Squadron Dakota.

Douglas Dakota C.III (FZ692, ‘5T-UK’ “Kwicherbichen”) of No. 233 Squadron RAF based at Blakehill Farm, Wiltshire (UK), in flight, returning to the United Kingdom with wounded from the Normandy battlefront. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Post war as we know KG437 became G-AGYX when it was sold to BOAC in 1946. Its British career also included a stint with BEA (in whose markings it was filmed), then charter airline Autair (an ancestor of Court Line) and then to United Libyan Airlines when Autair disposed of its piston-engined aircraft in the mid 1960s. Its final flying engagement was as 5N-ATA somewhere in Sudan. It was noted as being derelict in Malta sometime later. I’m not clear how, but seemingly someone intended to refurbish the derelict Dakota as a restaurant, club, or bar. This clearly didn’t happen and eventually KG437 was passed to the RAF Museum, who sent the nose section to be restored by the Medway Aircraft Preservation Society in my hometown of Rochester. The nose was returned to the Bomber Command Museum at Hendon in 2006. I assume the rest of it (depending on what actually existed by then) was scrapped.

After restoration by the Medway Aircraft Preservation Society in my hometown of Rochester. The nose of KG437/G-AGYX was returned to the Bomber Command Museum at Hendon in 2006.

Science Museum, London

When I heard that the nose of KG 437 had been preserved, I thought “oh, that’s the one I walked through several years ago.” I was of course wrong. Firstly, the nose of KG437 wasn’t installed in Hendon until 2006, and I was long departed from Britain by then. Secondly, I remembered that the Dakota nose I had looked at was located in a completely different Museum. The colourful and slightly larger remnant below is located in the Science Museum, South Kensington, London.

There is a lot more nose here, and the paint scheme shouts “Royal Canadian Air Force” to those who recognize it from countless other post-war C-47s and Lancasters – so whose nose are we looking at here?

The Science Museum Dakota is C-47B-30-DK Dakota, originally allocated AAF serial 44-76586. This aircraft was also a product of the Douglas plant in Oklahoma City, OK.

Joe Baugher says “(MSN 16170/32918) to RAF as Dakota IV KN448 Mar 1945. Transferred to RCAF Apr 8, 1946.” Baugher doesn’t note it, but apparently 448 was scrapped at Trenton, Ontario, sometime after 1968. The front fuselage was acquired by the Science Museum, where it went on display in 1970. All records suggest that it was owned and operated by the the RCAF until its demise, so the truncated word suggestive of “AIRLINES” is a bit of a mystery although the font is a pretty good match for the “ROYAL CANADIAN AIR FORCE” legend frequently seen on RCAF C-47s. Go figure. People in museums wield paint brushes in strange ways. I don’t have any information relating to 448’s RAF or RCAF service, but I’ll keep looking.

Postscript and Digressions

RAF Blakehill Farm, where KG437 was based, is located just to the South-West of Cricklade in Wiltshire. To the North-East of Cricklade, over the border, lies RAF Down Ampney in Gloucestershire. The village of Down Ampney, besides giving its name to a well known British hymn tune (written by Ralph Vaughan Williams and familiarly set to “Come Down O Love Divine”), was also the location of a Transport Command base, housing 48 and 271 Squadrons and a number of other service units.

On the afternoon of 19 September 1944, at the same time that KG437 was flying from Blakehill Farm, Flight Lieutenant David Lord, DFC, of 271 Squadron flew from Down Ampney in Dakota KG374 “YS-DM” as part of operation MARKET III. The squadron had been ordered to fly at 900 feet to ensure proper delivery of supplies to the embattled troops below. Very shortly before the drop, KG374 was hit by Anti-Aircraft fire which started a fire in the starboard engine and wing. Lord apparently decided to proceed with the drop, and had completed one pass with his despatchers dropping supplies from the burning Dakota. Lord was making a second pass to get rid of a couple of containers which had hung up when the aircraft broke up and crashed. Lord’s navigator was thrown clear but the rest of the crew perished. David Lord was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.

No photographs exist of Lord’s aircraft, although the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Dakota ZA947 was painted to represent Lord’s aircraft some years ago. Coincidentally it’s now painted to represent “Kwitcherbitchen” of 233 Squadron (see above!)

Researching MARKET III I happened to come across this photograph, complete with crop marks, from the IWM collection:

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. This is photograph CE 165 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

3 thoughts on “Dakota Noses in London

  1. In re the former RCAF Dakota with “Airlines” on the side: Too bad there’s no Canadian equivalent of Joe Baugher to help you sort out that mystery. How unfortunate that some museum docent would willfully falsify the historical record — and with so little as a paintbrush. You and I both teach our students to deplore that sort of misbehavior.

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    • I got a bit more detail from an updated Joe Baugher page dated April 2022. But this throws up another question as he has the Science Museum acquiring KN448’s nose in 1976.
      76586 (MSN 16170/32918) to USAAF Mar 20, 1945. To RAF in UK as Dakota IV KN448 via RAF Montreal Mar 27, 1945. 10 Sqn RAF 17Apr45. 436 Sqn RAF 24Oct45. 435 Sqn RAF 17Mar46. Transferred to RCAF as KN448Apr 8, 1946. Cockpit section was acquired by Science Museum in 1976. Nose section noted at Science Museum, South Kensington, London Mar 2004
      A Canadian bulletin board says KN448 served as a Dakota 4 MFP with No. 101 (T) Flight and its predecessors No. 101 (K) Flight and No. 101 Communications Flight R.C.A.F. Station Dartmouth/Canadian Forces Base Shearwter, Nova Scotia

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