• In October 2006, Olivier Paz, Mayor of Merville-Franceville and President of the Franco-British association of the Merville Battery museum, during a visit to the museum at Sainte-Mere-Eglise, learns about the existence of an old C-47 abandoned near Sarajevo. A few weeks later he starts enquiries once he has the aircraft's registration.
  • 28 April 2007, Colonel Alan Edwards, Administrator of the Battery, after several tours of duty in Bosnia-Herzegovina manages to locate the aircraft on Google Earth.
  • 01 June 2007, on another visit to the Sainte-Mere-Eglise museum, Olivier Paz obtains the e-mail address of Patrick Collet, a French officer who first saw the aircraft in 1994 during the Balkan conflict. Research into history of 43-15073 begins in France, The United States and Holland.
  • 03 June 2007, Beatrice Guillaume, deputy Mayor and Alan Edwards, a British Colonel, both members of the Battery together with Pierre Jeanson who has just completed the new museology of the Battery, join the project to bring the aircraft back to Normandy. Alan leaves for Bosnia on behalf of NATO several days later and goes to Rajlovac to view the aircraft and assess its state of conservation.
  • 16 June 2007, the night he gets back to England, Alan sends over 50 photos of the aircraft, as well as the report of the meetings he has had with the German commander of the Rajlovac base, Colonel Giegeling.
  • 17 June 2007, Sylvain Billion, a Champagne vine grower reservist in the 6th Regiment of Combat Helicopters and friend of the Battery, agrees to help in the removal of the aircraft.
  • 20 June 2007, the history of the aircraft is progressing well and Pierre uses the plane's nickname to name the expedition: operation SNAFU.
  • 21 June 2007, the museum curator's husband, Patrick Dagorn, Hans Combee of Merville-Franceville, but of Dutch origin, and Jean Vergnes, ex-postmaster of Franceville, join the group, now known as the SNAFU Team.
  • 22 June 2007, Beatrice, Pierre and Olivier start to work on a pamphlet to help publicise the need for donations, necessary for the project. The expedition is planned to move between 11 and 21 October 2007, as Alan has informed them that the EUFOR troops, based at Rajlovac, are due to leave on 30 November, taking their lifting equipment, essential for our operation with them. The 30 of November is absolute deadline for all the team.
  • 23 June 2007, the Merville- Dakota Association is created with Jean Vergnes as its first President. Erik Martin, a flight mechanic, with many hours on Dakotas, is present and spontaneously volunteers to help.
  • 27 June 2007, Denis Ratier, aircraft enthusiast and printer also joins the SNAFU team. From Rajlovac, Colonel Giegeling sends positive answers regarding board and lodging on the base and the availability of lifting equipment. The official request for the donation of the aircraft is submitted to the Bosnian authorities. "There shouldn't be any problems" according to the German Colonel.
  • 03 July 2007, first telephone contact between Olivier and Colonel Patrick Collet, who is in Afghanistan, and who first saw the aircraft thirteen years earlier. Patrick is thrilled to learn that the aircraft is to be saved and is ready to join the team subject to his prior commitments.
  • 04 July 2007, Alan receives an e-mail from the Colonel Giegeling, informing him that the Bosnian authorities require a 6 week delay to examine the question of donating the aircraft.
  • 08 July 2007, Olivier, Pierre and Patrick were going to the Evreux Air-Show to contact those responsible from the France DC3 Association where their aircraft is presented.
  • 14 July 2007, Jean-Claude Ladougne, a tire wholesaler, with links to Merville-Franceville, agrees to help financially and to supply the team with bright red overalls.
  • 19 July 2007, Jean-Pierre Lifhoogue, deputy Mayor of Chauny in the Aisne, joins the SNAFU team : not only is he retired, he is also an expert in specialised transport.
  • 21 July 2007, distribution of the 3 page pamphlet, printed in French and English, begins. The first donations come in.
  • 23 July 2007, SNAFU team meeting on dismantling procedures for the aircraft with Yves Tariel from the French DC-3 Association. Not only does he give advice, he also supplies Douglas manuals, especially some in French, which are particularly useful.
  • 02 August 2007, research into the history of the aircraft and her crews have made progress and two crews member's families are located in the United States, thanks to the painstaking efforts of Francis Paz. Beatrice can now contact Barbara Smaltz, the co-pilot's widow and Chris Buckner, the radio operator's son.
  • 09 August 2007, Alan receives another e-mail from Colonel Giegeling saying that the whole operation seems to be a jeopardy as Monsieur Hrnjic, a Bosnian functionary in charge of relations with EUFOR has informed him that his country did not intend to dispose of the aircraft which was an integral part of their national heritage.
  • 10 August 2007, Olivier sends over 20 e-mails and letters to such influential people as the French Ambassador in Bosnia, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Foreign affairs… to put the case of the aircraft. At 11 o'clock Olivier phones Lieutenant Colonel Pierre Arnold, defence attache at the French Ambassy in Sarajevo, who is just on the point of going on leave. After hearing of the situation, Pierre Arnold takes up the case and prepares to intervene at the Bosnian Defence Ministry.
  • 20 August 2007, Patrick Collet, following the matter from Afghanistan, gives a slight hope : he has spoken to the First Secretary of our Embassy in Sarajevo who informed him that the Bosnian Defence Minister was more or less in favour of the transfer.
  • 25 August 2007 (Sunday), Merville-Dakota organises a big jumble/car boot sale at Franceville to collect money and publicise its plans. Donations continue to come in. Franceville becomes "le petit village qui rêvait d'un grand avion" (the small village which dreams of a big plane).
  • 29 August 2007, Claude Robert, an aeronautical engineer with a workshop at Carpiquet and a wealth of experience in old aircraft, joins the team. He will be in Rajlovac for 5 days to supervise the more delicate dismantling operations.
  • 31 August 2007, Olivier contacts Michel Caillard, retired aeronautical engineer and expert on Dakotas. Michel, who lives in Ouistreham, agrees to help reassemble the aircraft in Normandy.
  • 01 September 2007, thanks to the ex-minister and deputy of Calvados, Nicole Ameline, Olivier meets Craig Stapleton, the American Ambassador in Paris. Olivier gives an enthusiastic account of the project and the Ambassador designates one of his associates, Emilie Saliege, who will follow the project closely from now on.
  • 02 September 2007, Patrick Jumel, a Merville-Franceville municipal employee joins the team. His specific job is to construct the transport chassis. Together with Jean and Hans, he is an integral part of the pathfinder team, which has to convey the material by road, due to leave a few days before the rest of the team, planned for 11 October.
  • 06 September 2007, the Ministry of Defence's signature is announced as imminent. To take advantage of low fares, tickets are purchased.
  • 11 September 2007, as there is no signed agreement from the Minister : Pierre Arnold, the French Defence Attaché, meets a senior official from the Defence Ministry to discuss the aircraft.
  • 15 September 2007, the SNAFU team meets, gives a press conference and issues the first release, announcing the expedition.
  • 16 September 2007, the family of the aircraft's pilot, James Harper, is located and contacted in the United States. The SNAFU family is growing.
  • 17 September 2007, Pierre Arnold mentions several obstacles and delays at different levels. Olivier suggests going to Sarajevo himself to meet the Bosnia-Herzegovinian authorities.
  • From 26 to 28 September 2007, Olivier is in Sarajevo. He is well supported by the embassy with his enquiries. He meets Colonel Giegeling and sees the aircraft "for real" for the first time before entering into negotiations with Defence Ministry officials. By the end of his trip, it seems that there is an agreement in principle but another agreement is nevertheless necessary from the National Heritage Commission. The United States Representatives in Sarajevo might help to advance matters. Under these conditions, the possibility of postponement is high.
  • 02 October 2007, following his trip to Sarajevo, Olivier receives a fax proposing a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) between the commune of Merville-Franceville and the Bosnian State. In spite of this hopeful development it seems certain that the original dates can no longer be kept. The expedition is postponed until the 07 November. The deadline is getting dangerously close.
  • 11 October 2007, e-mail from Pierre Arnold announcing the signature of the MOU for the following week (he is empowered to sign on behalf of Merville-Franceville).
  • 12 October 2007, Jean-Pierre Legrand, retired (but still young and active according to Claude, who was to be proved right) joins the team, replacing Denis Ratier, who has to cancel because of the delay.
  • 20 October 2007, a retired helicopter pilot from the French Air Force, Laurent Kerbrat, contacts Olivier and gives him a lot of information for the period 1996-2004 during which he and his unit were often stationed at the Rajlovac base.
  • 21 October 2007, another SNAFU team meeting to prepare for their departure and finalise the dismantling operations and their sequences as well as transport. That afternoon in Caen, Beatrice and Olivier meet Zeljana Zovko, the Bosnia-Herzegovinian Ambassador to France for her support and help. Convinced, she becomes SNAFU's best advocate from then on, as well as the Team's guardian angel.
  • 22 October 2007, Olivier writes to Nicolas Sarkozy, asking for his support : the President of Bosnia is due in Paris for an official visit on the 19 November.
  • During the last ten days of October 2007, several articles appear in the United States. The American families, with a little help from us, literally bombard the Defence attache and the U.S. Ambassador in Sarajevo with e-mails.
  • 24 October 2007, Olivier learns the MOU written out by the Defence Ministry has to be approved by a meeting of the State Collegial Presidency. But the document has somehow got itself lost between the Ministry and the Presidency. Battle stations once more and more calls, contacts, meetings, enquiries…
  • 25 October 2007, after the Americans intervene rather vigorously in Sarajevo the MOU is found. But the next Collegial Presidency meeting isn't scheduled until the beginning of November. As a precaution, Olivier proposes postponing the expedition yet again by one week : from the 14 to the 25 November. The deadline could not be tighter ans the German engineers also need a margin of several days to dismantle and remove its own equipment by the 30th November.
  • 26 October 2007, confirmation that the "Memorandum of Understanding" is at the Presidency and ready for the next Collegial meeting.
  • 28 October 2007, the 26th session of the Presidency is scheduled for 02 November and the subject of the Memorandum is well and truly on the agenda.
  • 01 November 2007, the Bosnian Prime Minister, Nicolas Spiric, resigns. The press fear a crisis situation and a return to violence.
  • 02 November 2007, the 26th session of the Collegial Presidency is cancelled, replaced by an extraordinary session dealing solely with the Prime Minister's resignation. In Normandy, the SNAFU team takes all this on the chin even though it seems as if the whole project is over. Each passing day lessens the chances of success and everybody in the Team, as well as the American families, knows this.
  • 05 and 06 November 2007, the American families lobby the French Embassy and President Sarkozy, on an official visit to the U.S.A.
    On that same day, Olivier and the American families write directly to the acting President of Bosnia-Herzegovinia, Zeljko Komsic
  • 07 November 2007, according to Zeljana Zovko, the Bosnian Ambassador in Paris, a meeting of the Collegial Presidency is likely the following week, most probably the 14th. The departure date is postponed yet again but this time there is no more room to manoeuvre. Alan is to keep in touch with the new German Commander, Colonel Tränapp, in order to finalise the logistics and the problems of board and lodging after this umpteenth but final postponement.
  • 12 November 2007, at 18.03 hrs ; an e-mail from the French Embassy in Sarajevo and signed by Pierre Arnold announcing the favourable decision of the Bosnian Presidency which convened two days earlier than planned. Shortly thereafter the news is confirmed by a press release. The announcement to the team members and the American families was made by Olivier. There was an immediate eruption of joy. Beatrice is in tears, champagne, everyone is overwhelmed. It's now down to work : the pathfinders schedule their departure for the 15th whilst Beatrice struggles on the internet to find tickets for the rest of the team for Saturday 17th. She also has less than three days to finalise the authorisations for a 'Category 3' Large Convoy of 25 meters across 5 countries and then 9 French "departments". That same day, Reuters makes the first report which triggers a sustained media storm with articles in the world's press. The SNAFU team issues another press release : "Let's go! On y va !".

"The French in red who wanted to save their Dakota", as they were called by the American press, are ready to go. Finally!!!

© Merville Dakota 2007 - 2014