World War II
U.S. Army Pathfinders and USAAF flight crew prior to D-Day, June 1944, in front of a C-47 Skytrain at RAF North Witham
The C-47 was vital to the success of many Allied campaigns, in particular those at Guadalcanal and in the jungles of New Guinea and Burma, where the C-47 (and its naval version, the R4D) made it possible for Allied troops to counter the mobility of the light-traveling Japanese army. Additionally, C-47s were used to airlift supplies to the embattled American forces during the Battle of Bastogne. Possibly its most influential role in military aviation, however, was flying "The Hump" from India into China. The expertise gained flying "The Hump" was later be used in the Berlin Airlift, in which the C-47 played a major role, until the aircraft were replaced by Douglas C-54 Skymasters.
A C-47 flown by the China National Airways Corporation (CNAC) pilot Moon Chin, who had previously flown "The Hump" in the aircraft, had a role in the Doolittle Raid. Moon Chin was tasked with flying from Chungking to Myitkyina, a military base in Burma. His aircraft was "jumped" by Japanese fighters and, after landing at a small hidden airstrip to wait for his pursuers to give up the game, he planned to resume his flight to Myitkyina. One of his passengers, "an unshaven, balding, bedraggled American" who was dressed in a combination of civilian clothing and an Army uniform, suggested that he fly to a field in India since the American had heard that Myitkyina had fallen to the Japanese. When Chin's DC-3 arrived at Myitkyina, he found that the base had, indeed, been severely bombed by the Japanese and hundreds of people were milling around the airdrome. Eventually, Chin would carry sixty-eight passengers and a crew of four (including eight stowaways in the aft compartment he did not know about) on the final leg to India. After arriving in India, the tattered American approached Captain Chin and thanked him for the ride. "Believe me, Chin," he began, "if I had had any idea that you were going to jam that many people into this old crate I would have gone home the way I came." Chin inquired as to how that might have been and the American replied "I flew in, by way of Tokyo." The short, balding, bedraggled American was none other than Lt Col Jimmy Doolittle returning from the historic raid on Tokyo.
In Europe, the C-47 and a specialized paratroop variant, the C-53 Skytrooper, were used in vast numbers in the later stages of the war, particularly to tow gliders and drop paratroops. During the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, C-47s dropped 4,381 Allied paratroops. More than 50,000 paratroops were dropped by C-47s during the first few days of the invasion of Normandy, France in June 1944. In the Pacific, with careful use of the island landing strips of the Pacific Ocean, C-47s were even used for ferrying soldiers serving in the Pacific theater back to the United States.
C-47s (about 2,000 received under lend-lease) in British and Commonwealth service took the name Dakota, possibly inspired by the acronym "DACoTA" for Douglas Aircraft Company Transport Aircraft. The C-47 also earned the informal nickname "Gooney Bird" in the European theater of operations.
Other sources attribute this name to the first aircraft, a USMC R2D—the military version of the DC-2—being the first aircraft to land on Midway Island, previously home to the native long-winged albatross known as the gooney bird, which was native to Midway.
The United States Air Force's Strategic Air Command had Skytrains in service from 1946 through 1967.
With all of the aircraft and pilots having been part of the Indian Air Force prior to independence, both the Indian Air Force and Pakistan Air Force used C-47s to transport supplies to their soldiers fighting in the Indo-Pakistan War of 1947.
After World War II, thousands of surplus C-47s were converted to civil airline use, some remaining in operation in 2012, as well as being used as private aircraft.
Several C-47 variations were used in the Vietnam War by the United States Air Force, including three advanced electronic warfare variations, which sometimes were called "Electric Gooneys" designated EC-47N, EC-47P, or EC-47Q depending on the engine used. EC-47s were also operated by the Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian Air Forces. A gunship variation, using three 7.62 mm Miniguns, designated AC-47 "Spooky", often nicknamed "Puff the Magic Dragon", also was deployed.
Royal Canadian Air Force
The Royal Canadian Air Force and later, the Canadian Armed Forces employed the C-47 for transportation, navigation, and radar training, as well as for search and rescue operations from the 1940s to the 1980s.