- 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
- 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
- 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:
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 15 September 2007, the SNAFU team meets, gives a press
conference and issues the first release, announcing
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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,
- 05 and 06 November 2007, the American families lobby the
French Embassy and President Sarkozy, on an official visit to
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!!!