Time Travel: Operation Carpetbagger

January 4th marked the seventy-first anniversary of the start of Operation Carpetbagger, in 1944. Maybe you’re not familiar with this World War II initiative of the Allies. Here’s a brief glimpse into that massive undertaking.

Photo from Carpetbagger Aviation Museum

Photo from Carpetbagger Aviation Museum

Imagine you’re a civilian resistance fighter working to rid your homeland of Nazi occupiers. You might live in France, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, or Holland (now the Netherlands).

But you need precious, scarce supplies to fight the highly skilled Nazi military and aid the Allied forces. What do you and your fellow patriots do?

Enter Operation Carpetbagger. Underground intelligence networks in these countries partnered with the resistance groups and communicated the needs to Operation headquarters in England. The resistance coveted supplies like guns, ammo, small explosives, clothing, medical supplies, and even blood plasma to help their wounded. Undercover agents made up part of the deliveries as well.

B-24 bombers morphed into specialized cargo delivery aircraft. Everything unnecessary on board got the heave-ho. Newly-developed containers, made to fit into the bombing holds and to withstand a low-altitude drop by parachute, replaced the bombs.

Deliveries were made directly to drop sites in each country, but only during about fourteen nights a month. They needed moonlight for navigation in order to made the flights as clandestine as possible. Crews made around fifty drops per night.

This huge operation demanded a group of people who worked like a well-oiled machine. Each day began with requests fielded from agents with the resistance groups. High-level officers plotted a map with the requests and decided which would get drops that night. The day went on with packing supplies, making parachutes, transporting the supplies in disguise to the airfield, loading the planes, briefing the crews, and navigation planning. Darkness fell and bombers arose.

The days ended at dawn, when crews returned and shared any intelligence gathered, before hitting the sack. And so another day of Operation Carpetbagger began.

As with any World War II innovation, I’m amazed by the ingenuity, efficiency, and heart with which these people helped win the war.

Your turn: If you had been part of Operation Carpetbagger, what role do you think you’d play?

I highly recommend visiting this site or watching this fifteen-minute video about the daily process if you want to know more: Operation Carpetbagger