Eyewitness to History

World War II
The Troop Carrier D-Day Flights
By Lew Johnston
These stories are not copyrighted unless noted but we request anyone using them for other than personal use to credit the author and the museum.
The Three-Airplane Invasion of France
Neal Beaver's Story

At the aerodrome at Folkingham, three C-47s of the 29th Troop Carrier Squadron, 313th Troop Carrier Group took off by themselves. They had been delayed by a mechanical problem—but off they went anyway.

The first report of this flight appeared in two consecutive issues of the 29th Troop Carrier Squadron newsletter, but without much about the cast of characters.

My documentation here is based on a personal phone call on April 18, 2001 to fill in the details about Neal Beaver, the person who narrated the paradrop story of the flight in the 29th TCS, 313th TCG airplane on D-Day. He is obviously alive and alert and in full command of his facilities and his memory, which seems exceptionally good. He also has records.

On 6 June 1943, Neal was a First Lieutenant in command of the 81mm Mortar Platoon, 3rd Battalion, Headquarters Company, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. The unit first landed in Ireland by ship, and stayed there while permanent bases were being built in the English Midlands.

Just before the mission, this group of paratroopers was billeted at Wollaton Park, a 100-acre estate in the center of Nottingham, surrounded by a brick wall. There was a large manor house and the estate boasted its own herd of deer. The camp consisted of pyramidal tents with wooden floors, and, a few Nissan Huts for central services. Many of the fields were now farmland.

According to Neal, being stationed around Nottingham was very pleasant. There were friendly young women who took the paratroopers into their hearts. The beer at room temperature was a bit strange to American tastes, but no more so than the mixture of warm beer and orange or lemon drink to create a drink called a "shandy" for women .

There were few complaints with the life there, but most of the airborne troops say they were glad to get on with the mission. "You can only do so many practice jumps, you can only clean your weapons so many times, you can only run in formation so much, and you can only dig so many practice foxholes," they said. They wanted to go fight the war for which they were trained.

A Clean Start

Neal Beaver started his military career as a very young man in the Michigan National Guard in October 1938, and when the Guard was federalized in October of 1940, he shipped with it to Camp Beauregard, Louisiana. As a Staff/Sgt., he was chosen to be interviewed for Officers Candidate School, and was then among 3000 accepted (out of 7000) for airborne training. This took him to Ft. Benning, Georgia for jump school.

By then, the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment was being formed at Camp Blanding—one of five. The "Old Man" in Neal's unit was 27, and his advice was to pick Boy Scouts, Farmers, and Small Town Boys for paratroopers, simply because they would be accustomed to being outdoors. "Very good advice," says Neal, "You gotta suffer as a paratrooper, and these folks are more ingenious and used to it than city folks."

The unit shipped overseas in December 1943, and landed on the Northeast Coast of Northern Ireland overlooking the Irish Straits. They were billeted there temporarily, but soon their permanent camp in Nottingham, England was ready, and they moved there.

Neal tells his story of D-Day in his own way, and certainly very well, but there are a couple of things that the readers might miss. Most of the 313th Troop Carrier Group, and its four Troop Carrier Squadrons departed from Folkingham Aerodrome—long before the three C-47s described here got into the air. And these aircraft made it only after the flight leader had to change airplanes. They flew the mission by themselves, without seeing any of the original formation.

Neal Beaver's Jump

This first appeared in Editions M-27 and M-28 of Papoose Express News, the newsletter of the 29th Troop Carrier Association of the 313th Troop Carrier Group. It was first addressed to Joe Harkiewicz, the historian of the 29th Troop Carrier Squadron at the request of Robert Nelson, leader of the 29th flight carrying 3rd Battalion, 81mm Mortar Platoon into Normandy June 5/6 1944. The narrator is Neal Beaver.

June, 1993

Quickly to business. I have identified the aircraft and crew that carried my Platoon Sgt. on D-Day. This was Joe Anderson of Columbia Falls Montana. Joe was a great leader, he got a battlefield commission during Normandy, and he survived the war. He flew in with 1st Lt Robert Kerr, so I picked up Kerr's address from the 29th TCS newsletter and sent addresses to both.

My 3rd plane then carried my Senior Section Sgt. Zelinski. Unfortunately. "Zeke" was killed in Normandy. He was my platoon Sgt. at the time since Joe Anderson had been transferred over to command the 2nd Battalion 81mm mortar platoon. One of war's Ironies: I got Joe a commission and lost him to another unit at once. Zeke's flight crew may be interested in knowing that he was one hell of a fighting man. His death was doubly tragic in that a short round from our own artillery killed him—after we had been relieved and were returning to Nottingham. (July 5 or 6)

Our (508th) 3rd Battalion came to FoIkingham by truck and English buses from our base in Wollaton Park, Nottingham. Our 1st Battalion was at Folkingham also. Our Headquarters Unit and 2nd Battalion were at Saltby.

As I recall, we were there (all on cots in one massive hangar) for five or six days before D-Day. We had our own kitchens set up somewhere and ate very well—especially since we were receiving free PX rations once or twice per day. Fattening the calf, so to speak. Our time was spent lounging, studying the maps and aerial photos, gambling, reading, etc. It was a pleasant relief after our intensive training believe me. We did pack our bundles and have them all mounted on the C-47s as soon as all aircraft were assigned a chalk number (a temporary staging number on the side).

Other than the combined briefing by our Col. Mendez and the Troop Carrier Commanding Officer, I don't remember any other contact with the air crews, other than for the three crew chiefs: Sgt. Robert Lachmund, S/Sgt. Manuel, and Sgt. Robert Rienstock—all of whom supervised the loading of our bundles.

We were so loaded up with ammo, guns, mines, demolition packs, rations, etc. we must have weighed 300 pounds each. How those fantastic C-47s got off the ground that night is still a mystery to me. As I recall, it was a worry to the aircrew also because I can remember much fussing and discussing over that center of gravity calculator that night. Since we were all young and ignorant, I assume your guys finally Just said: The hell with it; it will probably fly! I do recall that our angle of ascent was so flat that it is fortunate that the tall TV antennas were in the future.

Almost Left Behind

When the port engine of Nelson's plane wouldn't start we were in a panic. The worst feeling of being left behind I've ever experienced. We fell out of that plane like bloated frogs—pulled the bundle trip and waddled across the runway between trios of aircraft roaring by. One bundle chute burst open, and contrary to one report, we left it behind. (81mm Mortar ammunition).

When we were loading the spare plane we heard Lachmund having a rather violent "discussion" with the crew of the spare about who was going to Normandy. Nelson must have been the senior officer because he ended the discussion and boarded the plane. Airborne over England, and all the way to our drop, I stood in the door with another of our battalion officers Bill Gary (killed in action In Holland) and with Sgt. Lachmund—so Lachmund saw everything I saw.

We were alone—3 planes—I never saw another aircraft. I recall critiquing Nelson mentally as follows: "Well, he is OK, he saw the blinking light on the submarine, he made the left turn, we're doing fine, etc. etc." We saw the ChanneI Islands clearly and made landfall well south of our intended route. We were at 1500/1800 feet and I could see that the left plane was holding tight and of course found out the same was true of the plane on our right. We had very few cloud problems, if any, just some isolated ground haze.

I could see the silver ribbons of the Merderet and the Douve rivers and could even see the large volume of fire rising from the flak train we had been told was parked at St. Sauvzeur leVicomte far to the north. I recall telling Lachmund to tell Nelson to turn left. I had been drilled in the land features; I could see the whole area just as the sand table had it. I don't know if the message got through or not because we started to take some machine gun fire and suddenly we were down to 600/700 feet and popped out over the opposite beach. In fact, I compute now that we were exactly between the targeted UTAH and OMAHA landing beaches.

Turning the Right Way

Clear sky–bright moonlight—the beach was a beautiful white strip, and the water had some white caps. It was quiet and calm compared to the ride across the peninsula. Nelson snapped that C-47 into a tight and wide open left turn. I recall thinking: he is turning the right way. As soon as the direction stabilized on west, we came under machine gun fire. The first burst looked like it was coming straight for my forehead, but it swept by in a gentle curve to the east.

The next burst caught us front to rear. The plane took a sudden lurch, lost some more altitude, and roared back up to speed. Nelson had evidently set up for the GO light as soon as he completed the turn. I found out later that he and some others of the crew had been wounded. This first burst nicked Bill Gary across the nose, and I caught a 9mm round in the jaw. It knocked me back, but I bounced back into the door and as the green light snapped on, I kept right on going out of the plane.

As it turned out, the full bore Jump saved us because our chutes snapped open with such speed. I know I oscillated just once or twice and hit the ground hard.

Your guys did a great job, considering the circumstances. Three planes, alone, out over the opposite shore and then directly into a flurry of flak and fire, yet the three planes stayed so tight. I had my entire platoon of 50+ troopers all together by 6:00 that morning. (I hit the ground at 1:30AM).

As it turns out, the low altitude was a break also, not one man was fired at in the air. I had to leave seven men behind in a French home when I left at 8:00AM. All had jump injuries: broken arms, two broken ankles, a wrenched back, etc. By D+ 3 or 4, all were on medical ships headed for England. We left one broken mortar but found every single bundle. That's one hell of a tight jump, even by Fort Bragg training standards.

I found my regiment on D+3 without losing another man. The medics dug the machine gun round out of my chin at that time, and I still have it. Evidently it was a tracer with the phosphorus used up and therefore light enough to just slide under my skin.

Right on the Button

You should know, and it is important to me that you do, that my company commander, Captain Malcom Brannen was dropped exactly where he was supposed to be—in the middle of our drop zone just 1/4 of a mile from the German Beach commander's Headquarters. So, when this German general started for the beach (UTAH) at 7 or 8:00AM, his VW (later called The Thing in America) ran into Malcom's ambush, and thus ended General Falley's life.

My 3rd Battalion mortar platoon lost its 1st man by enemy fire on June 18th, but from then on it got worse. We lost eight wounded In action and three killed In action on June 20th alone. Our regiment (508th) fought constantly for 33 days as shock troops for the regular infantry until July 3rd and 4th when we were so decimated we couldn't function as a unit. It is interesting to note here that the 4th Division on UTAH Beach, which had airborne activities between them and any German reinforcements, sustained only 200 casualties. While OMAHA Beach that had no airborne support, sustained 3,000. About 2,000 of these are estimated to have been Killed In Action.

The 29th Troop Carrier Squadron Historian
Reports on the Same Flight

Joseph Harkewiecz (Col. USAF Ret.) documented this incident in his book We Are the 29th Troop Carrier Squadron.

The 29th Troop Carrier Squadron was briefed and instructed very much the same as all others that day. They were to drop American paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division on the Cotentin Peninsula of France to prevent the German inland divisions from responding to the invasion, and to keep the approaches open for our assault forces from UTAH Beach to the interior. But this report starts with the end of a three-day pass in Leeds. The narrator is Sgt Robert Lachmund, the crew chief on the plane that dropped Neal Beaver and his paratroops.

[LACHMUND] "There was a tapping on the bedroom door and I realized that my three-day pass was for all intents and purposes, over. I was in Leeds where many of the members of the 29th spent their passes. It was about 6:00AM June 5, and I had to get the train to Grantham.

"It was about a four hour ride to Grantham, and when we arrived we found that the trucks that usually met us were not to be found. Not only that, but we could not find any other 29th men in our usual haunts. After a lot of hassle, I finally got thru by telephone to Captain Cobbe, the Adjutant. He told me that he could not talk on the phone, but that 1 should get out to the base as soon as possible and bring anyone else from the squadron along with me.

"We hopped a cab and got to the main gate where we were refused admittance. The people on guard were members of the 29th and we had known some of them since we got into the squadron in Florence. Captain Cobbe finally came to the gate and got matters straightened out and we were allowed to enter. He updated us on what was happening — namely that today was to be D-Day.

"I changed clothes and headed for the line and talked to my assistant. He assured me that the plane was ready, but neglected to tell me that the radiomen had been working on the radio. I also found out that Bob Nelsen was going to be the pilot because Fitzpatrick, my regular pilot, was going to fly with someone from Group. The rest of the crew was the same.

"Up to this time things had been bad enough, but from here on in they went downhill in a hurry. The paratroopers came out and we attached the parapacks. We loaded up and when the order to start engines was given, ours would not start. We tried hand cranking, but only succeeded in sticking the solenoids. Soon it was obvious that our bird was not going to fly that night. 'OK Joe, we've got to take the standby plane.' We alerted our paratroopers and they sprang into action and transferred all their gear (including parapacks) to the reserve airplane. It didn't take fifteen minutes before we had made the transfers and had engines started. Nelson's wingmen Kerr and Kreiser had waited for him.

The aircraft that flew that day was C-47 #42-32810, chalk number #52.

The crew was:
Pilot: 1st Lt. Nelsen, Robert (NMI)
Co-Pilot: 1st Lt. Denson, Joseph D.
Navigator: 2nd Lt. 2nd Lt. Connors, Walter W.
Radio Operator: SSgt. Aldrich, William F.
Crew chief: Sgt. Lachmund, Robert A.

[BOB NELSEN] "We led our individual flight out to the run-up position. All the other birds had gone south. We took off, got our flight together and headed for Bournemouth on the south coast of England. We didn't see any of the thousands of airplanes that were in the air that night. We flew southwest over the channel and turned east (Hoboken) and flew between the Channel Islands. What a greeting? Tracers were coming up from both sides. Fortunately, we were out of range of their guns. Soon the coast of France loomed up in front of us. I told Joe that we were going to make our own invasion with just our three-plane flight.

We made landfall where we were supposed to and started looking for signs of the DZ. It wasn't there. 'CONNORS, where in hell is it?' It wasn't to be. I guess the pathfinders ran out of candles. Then all hell broke loose. Tracers were coming at us from all directions. We continued to look for some sign. 'ALDRICH, can't you get any radio signal from the Drop Zone?' That wasn't to be either. Soon another beach loomed up ahead. 'Joe, we've gone a beach too far. We've got to go around.'

I set up a wide turn to the left. I set it up so we would pass over the site where we estimated the DZ to be. Tracers continued to light up the night. It looked ominous. We completed our 360-degree turn and slowed down to drop our stick of paratroopers. Finally the ground fire got us. What a racket! As far as I know our troops all got out per schedule."

We Went Around Again

[LACHMUND] We went around again and that is when we were hit. I cannot remember if paratroopers jumped when we were hit or if they had already jumped, but it was close. I grabbed the manual release for the parapacks because the box at the door had been hit and I did not know if they had been released. There was some yelling going on up front and, after I pulled in the static lines, I went toward the cockpit.

The first person I met was Bill Aldrich. The left side of his face looked as though it had been hit by a porcupine. One of the bullets had gone through the navigator's table and the splinters lodged in his face and some had pierced his eyelid. On getting to the cockpit, I found that Nelsen had taken one through his leg and that Joe Denson was flying the plane from the right seat. The left control column was useless. The shot that wounded Nelsen took the skin off of Denson's flack jacket. An inch further back and this would not have been written.

"Connors and I got some morphine into Nelsen with Connors doing the honors. I got under Nelsen's shoulders and tried to lift him out of the seat while Joe flew with one hand and tried to support his leg with the other. We finally got him out of the cockpit and onto a litter. Connors and Aldrich stayed with him while I went back to the cockpit.

[JOE DENSON] "We got shot up pretty bad. Nelsen took a hit in the leg; Aldrich took one in the face. Conners had one in the butt, and Lachmund caught a piece of shrapnel in the hand. All crewmen except me sustained injuries, although flak did penetrate my flak suit. I looked over at Nelsen, he seemed to be nodding. The troops had jumped, and I didn't know he was hit."

[NELSEN] "I had been hit but didn't know it for several minutes. The first indication I had was that my left foot wouldn't respond. I yelled at Joe to take over and head for the channel. Fortunately we were not able to detect any loss of oil or fuel. We were all excited. I instructed Joe to get to 350-degrees (direct course to South-Hampton) and hightail it for England and the emergency strip. Good old Bob Lachmund had put a tourniquet on my left leg to stop the bleeding and he gave me a morphine shot. I wasn't feeling a bit good. I began to sweat. I never sweated like that in my entire life. I never knew what trauma was before that time. After we settled down on a course to England.

Bob pulled me out of the cockpit and got me stretched out on the bucket seats in the cabin. That's all I remember until we passed over the emergency landing strip and Bob fired the red flare to alert the ground medical crew.

"The medics put me on a stretcher and into an ambulance that took me too a general hospital five miles away. It was about 0430 when at the emergency room they began debriding (wound cleaning) procedures. The doctor asked me where I had been. When I told him that we had dropped paratroopers in France and the invasion was on, he didn't believe me. Nothing was announced until 0600 that same day."

[DENSON] "All the crewmembers of that plane went to the hospital except me. The medics at first sight thought I had also been hit. I was splattered with blood, mostly from Bob Lachmund's hand as he performed cockpit duties. Nelsen's wounds were severe, while those of the other crewmen were considered slight. The British doctors gave me a few swigs of scotch—later a bottle of gin."

Flash Report

The 313th Troop Carrier Group, leading the 52ndWing, was first to report. "Attempted to follow prescribed route, but was unable to do so because of weather. Weather caused group formation to break up completely, and aircraft then proceeded individually to Drop Zone. Cloud cover 10/10 with base of 900 feet and tops of 8,000 feet and above, which extended to south coast of England. Ceiling then lifted and visibility improved, and at designated DZ there were scattered 5/10 clouds cover with base of 4,000 feet, tops unknown, and visibility 10 to 20 miles. From sandbar to DZ, snipers shot at aircraft. What appeared to be 40mm AA fire encountered from Ste. Mere Eglise and from west. of DZ. Machine gun and small arms fire encountered from all around area of DZ. Concentrated 20mm fire from Carentan."

Neptune Analysis:

We need not have worried about all the Germans knowing of our presence when passing the Channel Islands. Initial sightings of Allied paradrops were not taken seriously by German intelligence. They had been "bitten" hours earlier by such reports, only to find the Allies had dropped many dummy paratroopers. These were three-foot high, rubber inflatable dummies that discharged firecrackers when landed. This was part of an elaborate deception plan, code name "FORTITUDE," designed to keep the enemy guessing the where and when of the invasion.

German divisions were kept in readiness in Norway since there was evidence that tank units were staging in Scotland. A couple of inflatable tanks sloppily camouflaged, and a jeep pulling a heavy roller with tank treads, convinced our enemy's photo intelligence of the build-up.

The One Man Radio Show
Arthur Een's D-Day Communications Report

After we were settled in England, most of our radio operators (including me) went back to school. We went in groups of two or three, and the object was catch up on some of the later developments in radar; and also to get acquainted with the amazing radio aids then available to flight crews over the United Kingdom.

My friend Sgt. A. W. Hastings was sent to Pathfinder school, which practically assured him of being one of the spearheads of the coming invasion. The selectors could not have made a wiser choice. It is sad to recall that this very polite and unassuming young man was killed as a passenger in a B-24 on his way home after the war.

The Briefing

Suddenly we knew. On the 4th of June we were briefed for the paradrop; the day had finally arrived. I do not suppose it was any great secret to anyone, and it must have been the most highly publicized event in the annals of war. The Germans knew it was coming, and they also knew just about when it had to be launched since weather conditions for a channel invasion were only favorable for a short period.

But they could only guess at where we would land. So when the briefing officer uncovered the map, he reminded us that the Nazi high command would give millions of dollars for a good look at it. So "mum's the word," he said.

We were scheduled to take off at eleven o'clock that night, but the weather was so bad that the invasion was postponed for twenty-four hours. So it was the following day, after the meteorologist presented all the facts to General Eisenhower, that he gave the go-ahead.

Perhaps because the Normandy D-Day was so highly publicized, just being part of it was thrilling in itself. Before the end of the war, we were to take part in airdrops with still greater numbers of men and planes. And certainly, our own squadron losses had been much heavier on the second airdrop during the Sicilian invasion. But at this date, more than thirty years later, historians rehash the Grandfather of all "D-Days."

The Boyhood Dream

I strongly suspect there is a touch of the heroic fantasy in all men. Long before D-Day, and while I was still a civilian, I had dreams of being part of the avenging force that would put an end to the German march toward world domination. Now that the time had arrived I sat in my crew position aboard a plane, just as I had envisioned it so many years before.

However, by this time it was a bit different; I no longer felt like a super patriot. In the dark of a low overcast night, with scores of engines revving up, and a plane loaded with grim looking paratroopers, the sensation was more one of apprehension, if not downright fear. These missions did not always go "just like in the movies." Even the dry runs invariably resulted in some casualties. At this time of the war, all that mattered was getting it over with—and then my own speedy demobilization.

USAAF Photo
Part of the crew in the report, The One Man Radio Show
L to R: T/Sgt. Henry Jeffries, Captain Eugene Turkelson, and S/Sgt. Arthur Een.

In spite of all this, there was the feeling that this was one of the mightiest events in the annals of man. We were familiar enough with the ways of the news media to realize that in a matter of a few hours, the radio waves and newspapers all over the world would be blasting away with sensational banner headlines, which were never equaled.

And now as I write this 25years later, I still feel a strong sense of pride. When another veteran asks if I was by chance part of the invasion of Normandy, I am pleased to say that I was, and offer my hand to a "soul brother". We may have been on God's side, as Joe Louis said when he volunteered for military service; but for this invasion and the previous one I had been on in Sicily, I never forgot that we had to help ourselves too.

The Germans wore "Got mitt uns" (God's With Us) lettering and I always wondered how Celestial Decisions were finally made. The Germans on one hand were battling for dear life against the so-called atheistic Reds; but on the other hand they were doing their best to exterminate the chosen people. At the time of this writing, Grambling University in Louisiana was turning out many players who became pro stars. Their coach, Eddie Robinson, once came upon the team praying for victory. He told them that God did not care who won those football games, and to get out there and hit somebody. And that seems to have been the Russian philosophy as well.

Bomber Crews, Too

All military personnel in England had not just been training and waiting for many months for the invasion of Normandy. The bomber crews of the American and British air forces had been hitting the Axis targets with steadily increasing bomb loads; and were escorted as far as range would permit by fighter squadrons. Many of us, including me, hoped that they alone could bring the German military machine down in defeat.

This was too much to expect, but now that the invasion was scheduled, the Allies had such complete mastery of the skies that our transport crews assumed than any planes over the invasion course would be ours. Fortunately, it worked out this way.

Our course took us southward to a point slightly west of the Channel Islands—Jersey and Guernsey. Then we made a ninety-degree turn to the left; the desired objective being to pass equi-distant between these two islands. At the radio briefing we were told that if this navigational feat were accomplished our flights should be out of the range of the German flak guns based there.

There were eighteen planes from our squadron. We formed two V of Vs of nine airplanes following each other 1000 ft. back. Other groups in front and back of us, flew in similar patterns.

Nine Planes Wide—Five Hours Long

To visualize the enormity of this operation, besides being nine planes wide, it was strung out for something like five hours. The groups had to be coordinated from dozens of bases in England so that they would mesh into a solid train. The naval armada was even more awesome. Following the launching of the second front, Joseph Stalin was quoted as saying that never in military history had the world witnessed anything as grandiose or spectacular.

The lead plane of each nine was equipped with a "Rebecca" interrogator unit, which activated a "Eureka" response unit set up on the drop zone. I was the radio operator in the lead plane of the first group. The pilot of our plane was Captain Edwin H. Greer. Our co-pilot was a Lt. Charles E. Johnson who later was to die in a crash near Liege, Belgium. I do not recall who our navigator was. Sgt. Henry Jeffries was the Crew Chief (or Aerial Engineer, as he preferred).

Visibility at times was zero-zero, and other times it opened up a little. Captain Greer tried lower altitudes and then higher ones in an effort to find better visibility. As we approached the Cherbourg peninsula we were at fifteen hundred feet but had to let down to around seven hundred feet to drop our paratroopers and loads. We came out of the overcast just before reaching that lower altitude at about 0200. We were scheduled to be over St. Mere Eglise at six minutes past the hour.

Since our run over land was to take twelve minutes, we expected a fair amount of flak and small arms fire, and it was certainly there. The first planes had dropped their troopers ahead of us, and the hornet's nest had been nicely stirred up by that time. The sound of a flak burst hitting a plane can best be described as sounding like a hailstorm on a tin roof.

Before take-off time, one of our paratroopers asked me if I would stand back by the cargo door and give him a good solid push if he froze before jumping. A refusal to jump could result in a pretty stiff sentence. This didn't feel OK, so I didn't do it—and I don't know to this day what he might have had in mind.

In a matter of minutes, our pilots spotted the lighted panel with the proper color designation for our drop. The red light, or warning light, in the plane cabin had been on now for several minutes, and then the green light was switched on to signal the paratroopers to jump. The planes had throttled back to slower speeds for minimal shock to the troopers as their chutes opened. And as usual, the landing gear warning horns were blaring away inside the planes. This provided some assurance of proper speed and altitude.

A Warning Sign

This was a warning indication designed for quite another purpose—to prevent wheels-up landings, but in a paradrop situation, it provided some assurance of proper speed and altitude. It was triggered automatically when the aircraft was below 1000 feet and the engine speed was below 1000 rpm, and the landing gear was still retracted.

Many paratroopers told me later that they felt sorry for us since we could not get away from the flak, but had to fly back through it. I certainly appreciate hearing that kind of sympathy from the men I consider the cream of the fighting crop.

Wherever you are at this writing, I salute you all—the men of the 82nd and 101st Division, and the Allied Airborne Army.

After our stick of paratroopers had cleared the door, Captain Greer went into a rapid climb to get away from the flak, which was concentrated at the lower levels. At six thousand feet he leveled off and we soon were over the Channel on our way back to England.

No Rest for the Anxious

I refused to relax however, and thought up all sorts of possibilities like damaged gas tanks, wing bolts, hydraulic lines, and perhaps tires punctured by flak bursts. In those higher latitudes during the month of June, daylight comes quite early. When we touched down neatly back in the Midlands around five o'clock, the night had ended.

A check of our aircraft by the ground crews found most of them still ready for flight. A supply drop was scheduled for the early morning hours of June 7th, and since our plane was among those selected, the heat was on again.

For the supply drop, the undersides of the planes were loaded with parapacks containing high priority supplies. These parapacks were also used when paratroopers were riding in the cabin, and were released by a salvo control switch in the pilots' compartment. Inside the plane, the cabin was filled with several heavy boxes, which were rigged to parachutes attached to static lines.

Photo: Neal Beaver
Downed C-47 in the Merderet or the Douve

Our route was the same as for the night drop, which spearheaded the invasion. This was the first occasion when we had ever made a daylight mission over enemy territory. Visibility was quite good and we were greeted with the usual amount of flak and small arms fire. I could not say it was any more comforting to be able to see the crews who were putting up the flak.

When it was time to push out our boxes the co-pilot came back to lend a hand as we had some very heavy ones. When all were finally jettisoned, we yelled to Captain Greer to kick the plane in the ass and get the hell out of there. This time instead of climbing for a safer altitude he dove the plane right to the tree top level and we hedgehopped to the coast. This was an effective way to escape flak, which could not be fired effectively at low altitudes in the dark. We stayed low for most of the return and climbed to several thousand feet shortly before reaching the English coast.

Over the channel, we spotted several planes, which had ditched. The crews appeared to be all right and we waved to them and noticed that launches of the British Air Sea Rescue were racing to the scene. On each occasion when we approached the English coast, I was reminded of a bunch of little chicks scampering back to the mother hen after straying a little too far away and being frightened by some unknown terror in the barnyard.

Our landing again went off without trouble, and the crews mingled on the ramp swapping the usual after mission reports. One pilot remarked that a greased straight pin could not have been driven up his butt with a sledgehammer. That was pretty hard to top for holding a tight rear end. I thought complexions were pretty much gray for several hours, until most of the shock wore off.

After these combat missions, and after a calming jolt of Old Overholt rye whiskey, the crews went through an interrogation session before going to the mess halls. The usual questions concerned the amount of flak, whether the drop was on target, were any enemy aircraft spotted etc. I often wondered what was considered light flak. If I saw one burst or tracer bullet as far away as the horizon I rated the flak as heavy.

Two Planes Missing in Two Days

We had one plane missing from this first mission, but we soon learned that it had landed at one of the first coastal airfields in England. The pilot was 1st Lt. Richard Randolph, the co-pilot, according to one record was 2nd Lt. Fern W. Pett. Randolph remembers his co-pilot as 2nd Lt. Charles E. Johnson. He doesn't remember the navigator, and there are conflicting reports about the crew chief and radio operator. The course was planned to fly west of London to avoid the trigger-happy anti-aircraft gun crews in that city. They would fire at any overhead planes, and ask questions later.

Randolph tells it like this:

"We were caught in a search light from about the door back, and we were under heavy fire from both sides. This was after letting down through the overcast to about 500 feet. The oil line on the right engine was severed and I feathered the prop. The left engine was also acting up, and the rudder cable was severed. The navigator had a sliver of wood from his desk pinning the lids of one eye together.

I dropped on target and got out of there. We nursed the plane back across the channel to a single strip airfield just over the coast called Tarrant Rushton. I landed straight in, and while we were there contacting our base, the crew counted holes in the airplane. There were 326, some as close as 6 inches from the gas tanks. Part of the trailing edge of the left wing was turned up in a 90-degree angle. Someone flew down to get us, but I don't remember being de-briefed."

The airplane was repaired, and may have been the one we called Patches. Randolph cannot verify this at this late date.

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