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.
For the Record

This is a letter from Brig. Gen. James Gavin in France to a friend in England to comment on the fine manner in which AAF planes carried US Army paratroopers to the jump locations on D-Day. Mr. R. J. Stewart, San Diego, CA, donated this letter to the US Air Force Museum.

June 9th (1944)

Dear Hal, (General Harold L. Clark, commanding 52nd Troop Carrier Wing)

Through the courtesy of Col. (Bruce D.) Bidwell who is leaving the beachhead today I am able to get this short note to you.

Task force "A" has accomplished most of its objectives—the 505th carrying out its mission exactly as planned. Ste. Mere Eglise was taken two hours after landing and the 507th and 508th are holding the line of the Merderet.

Lt. Col. Thomas J. B. Shanley, (commanding 2nd Battalion, 508th), Col. George V. Millett Jr. (commanding 507th) and Lt. Col. Charles J. Timmes, (commanding 2nd Battalion. 507) are still cut off but we may be able to pull them out in the next 24 hours.

The accomplishments of the parachute regiments are due to the conscientious and efficient tasks of delivery performed by your pilots and crews. I am aware, as we all are, that your Wing suffered losses in carrying out its missions and that a very bad fog condition was encountered inside the west coast of the peninsula. Yet despite this, every effort was made for an exact and precise delivery as planned. In most cases this was successful.

I want to express to you and all of the officers and enlisted men of your command our appreciation for a job damn well done.

James Gavin

PS. Generally speaking all is going well, the 506th has done remarkably well, although it has taken heavy casualties in spots.

Would you please call Col. (Joel L.) Crouch (commanding IX TCC Pathfinder) and express to him our appreciation for a job well done.

Jim

Other Airborne Comments

The officers who commanded the paratroops were aware of the problems of Troop Carrier aircrews and very soon after D-Day, the following letters (excerpts) were received by the Commanding General of Troop Carrier Command.

HEADQUARTERS, 82nd AIRBORNE DIVISION 8 JUNE 1944

Please express to all elements of your command who brought this division in by parachute or who performed resupply missions for us, our admiration for their coolness under fire, for their determination to overcome all obstacles and for their magnificent spirit of cooperation.

Mathew B. Ridgway, Maj. General
82nd Airborne Division

Brig. General Paul Williams endorsed this statement by General. Ridgway.

The fact that General. Ridgway, under the stress of battle, felt it necessary to forward that basic letter is particularly pleasing and will serve as additional evidence of his appreciation of a task well performed. I can only add my sincere appreciation for your loyalty and devotion to duty.

Brig. General Paul Williams
IX Troop Carrier Command

Debriefing Conference—Operation Neptune

In the search for accuracy, a copy of the report of this conference was obtained from the US Army Military History Institute, Carlisle PA. The full report can be reviewed at American-Divisions.com.

This was an 82nd Airborne session that was held at the Globe Mount House, Leicester, England on 13 August 1944. Each commander present who had commanded a battalion or larger of the 82nd Airborne Division in OPERATION NEPTUNE was permitted to talk—not to exceed ten minutes. Instructions were that each officer was to speak freely, without restraint, regarding any aspect of the operation during its airborne phase, and to offer any criticism he saw fit in the interests of improving our operational techniques in future combat.

Commanders spoke in the same order their landings were scheduled. Their statements were taken down verbatim as far as possible. At the conclusion of the conference, considerable free-for-all discussion took place, of which no record was kept. However, it did have a strong bearing on the conclusions attached to this report, which is a 15-page document in very fine print.

Most of the content revolved around infantry planning and procedures after landing, but there were some common observations about the flights and delivery that can be digested for Troop Carriers here. Some said that their flight was too fast and too low, while others complained about being dropped too high. And all agreed that the formations held together very well across the channel and until they ran into the dense fog that shrouded the last leg of their flights to their objectives.

If you are interested in the details, please go to the web site. If you only wish to read the conclusions, here they are:

* Weather Conditions—It is interesting to note in Operation NEPTUNE that weather conditions were almost ideal until shortly after crossing the west coast of the peninsula. There a dense fog was encountered that lasted almost up to the Merderet River. This caused considerable dispersion and error in the drop of the 507th and 508th Parachute Infantry Regiments, with the error generally being that of dropping well beyond the drop zone where the fog first cleared. Unfortunately, this put most of the equipment in the Merderet River or the swamps or tributaries of that river.

* The 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment jumped east of the Merderet River, landed with most of its men in the drop zone area, and promptly undertook to accomplish its mission. The 507th and 508th Infantries, with equal promptness, moved to accomplish what was considered the next most important mission, and that was the seizure of crossings over the Merderet River. Due to the wide dispersion of these units, this took a bit more time than was anticipated.

* A number of airborne commanders present suggested that it be recommended to Troop Carrier commanders that they conduct unit proficiency test similar to those conducted in this Division. Each unit to be given a mission to execute under simulated combat conditions.

The Troop Carriers who reviewed this asked, to the man:

"How does one train to continue to fly a tight formation when suddenly engulfed in a dense fog? You cannot fly formation on an aircraft you can't see. And what kind of training might have been devised to condition pilots to fly through flak and ground fire without actually firing at them in the training session?"

Glossary

AA - Anti Aircraft Fire
AAA - Anti Aircraft Fire
Ack-Ack - Anti Aircraft Fire
AFB -Air Force Base
AMC - Air Mobility Command
C-47 - USAAF Cargo model 47 derivative of Douglas DC-3
C-53 - USAAF Cargo model 53 derivative of Douglas DC-3
CG-4A - Cargo Glider model 4A
CO - Commanding Officer
CP - Command Post
DC-2 - Douglas Commercial model 2
DC-3 - Douglas Commercial model 3
D-DAY - 6 June 1944 for the Normandy invasion
DETROIT - Code name for Glider mission, 6 June 1944
DFC - Distinguished Flying Cross
DSC - Distinguished Service Cross
DZ - Drop Zone Paratroopers and parachute cargo
EAGLE - The major practice mission for NEPTUNE
Eureka - Ground radar unit interrogated by Rebecca
FLAK - Anti Aircraft Fire
FORTITUDE - Deceptive invasion plan to confuse the Germans
HACK - Word used to indicate when watches were synchronized
Horsa - British cargo & troop carrying glider
LCVP - Landing craft Vehicle Personnel
LSI - Landing Ship Infantry
LST - Landing Ship Tanks
LZ - Landing Zone for Gliders
NEPTUNE - Code name for the D-Day Normandy invasion
Nose code - Combination number–letter code for each aircraft
OMAHA - Code name for one of the landing beaches
PW - Prisoner of War
Rebecca - Airborne radar interrogator to query Eureka
Serial - Designation for a flight of airplanes dedicated to one purpose. For D-Day, each serial was a V of Vs of nine.
SHAEF - Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces
SOS - Emergency distress signal
TCS - Troop Carrier Squadron
UK - United Kingdom
UTAH - Code name for one of the landing beaches
WW II - World War Two

References
My thanks to all friends, associates, and resources who helped with this

GREEN LIGHT—book by S/Sgt. Martin Wolfe, Radio Operator, 436th TCG, 81st TCS.

Shared historical research of 1st Lt Neal Beaver, 81 mm Mortar Platoon, 3rd Battalion, Headquarters Company, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.

INTO THE VALLEY—book by Col. Charles H. Young, USAF (Ret) TC Group Commander and pilot, 439th Troop Carrier Group—with special thanks to his son Charles D. Young, editor.

The AIR MOBILITY COMMAND MUSEUM STAFF.

WINGS OF TROOP CARRIERS—book by S/Sgt. Robert Callahan, Radio Operator, 314th TCG, 50th TCS.

The History of The 50th Troop Carrier Squadron of the 314th Troop Carrier Group WW II by T/Sgt. Bob Bramble, Crew Chief.

Shared historical research from S/Sgt. Michael Ingrisano, Troop Carrier Radio Operator, 316th TCG, 37th TCS.

Shared historical research from Randolph Hils, son of WW II Troop Carrier Sgt. Ralph Hils, 440th TCG.

History of the 32nd Troop Carrier Squadron by 1st Lt Donald vanReken, Troop Carrier pilot, 314th TCG, 32nd TCS.

WE ARE THE 29th TROOP CARRIER SQUADRON—book by Joseph Harkiedwics Col USAF retired.

Personal files of LC George Merz (Ret.), Troop Carrier Pilot, Flight Leader. 314th TCG, 61st TCS.

George "Pete" Buckley, 74th Troop Carrier Squadron, 434th Troop Carrier Group.

A GENERAL'S LIFE—An autobiography by General of the Army Omar N. Bradley.

Personal files and records of 1st Lt Lewis E. Johnston, Troop Carrier Pilot, historian, 314th TCG, 61st TCS.

The diary of T/Sgt. Winfield E. "Bing" Wood, Troop Carrier Crew Chief, 314th TCG, 61st TCS.

VINCIT QUI PRIMUM GERIT—book by William H. Hughes. The Story of the 349th TCG in WW II.

PURSUE & DESTROY—book by Kit Carson, 357th Fighter Group.

PERSONAL FILES of Kenneth K. Robertson, Jr.—Author of Operation Nickel Grass

The U S Army Military History Institute.

AIR ASSAULT—book by John R. Galvin.

Major General (Ret) John Moench, 9th Air Force Archivist.

Richard Ellinger—Editor, THE MARAUDER THUNDER.

IMAGINAIR DESIGNS—Aviation Stamps.

101st Airborne Division History Website.

Debriefing Conference - Operation Neptune, 82nd Airborne Division.

THE GLIDER GANG—book by Dr. Milton Dank

Troop Carrier Unit Contacts database, LC Robert L. Cloer, Troop Carrier Pilot, 315th TCG, 34th TCS.

USAF Historical Studies No. 97. Airborne Operations in World War II, European theater—by Dr. John Warren.

Charles D. Young, and Charlotte and Albert Kissling for their editorial assistance.

AND I APOLOGIZE TO ANYONE I MAY HAVE OVERLOOKED

The Troop Carrier D-Day Flights

» The true HISTORY of this mission can never be told accurately until it is balanced with accounts from the Pilots, as well as the airborne forces.

» The impressions being circulated in books and TV documentaries today are based on incomplete data–and as a result, their conclusions are subject to question.

» The majority of oral reports of this mission given by paratroop veterans were spoken in good faith. They reported what they saw, and believed it to be true.

» As a matter of general interest, professional archivists like Major General (Ret) John Moench warn us that casual oral histories are often incomplete and unreliable —and to be safe, they should always be thoroughly checked.

» The records, both Airborne and Air Forces, show that Troop Carrier played a crucial role in the success of the D-Day mission. A few individuals, largely undocumented, differ.

» The pilots were thoroughly trained and qualified. The records show that they flew a complex mission flawlessly until encountering low clouds and blinding fog.

» Although the fog made for less-than-perfect delivery, the Airborne forces did a remarkable job of gathering fighting units together, and achieving their goals.

» The casualties on Utah Beach where there was airborne support were considerably lower than Omaha Beach, where no airborne forces were placed between the beach and the German defenders. There was more to this, of course.

» The paratroopers had no way of knowing how impossible it was to maintain command discipline and flight control of a tight formation in "zero-zero" operating visibility. And there was no way to tell them. Many still may not know.

» Many individual pilots, suddenly forced to make all the crucial command decisions on their own with little or no visibility, and with no SHAEF contingency plan, did a remarkable job of finding the drop zones on their own for the paratroopers.

» Some evasive action has been reported by both airborne forces and Troop Carrier crews, but the amount and the timing differs. Most official reports, both Airborne and Troop Carrier, place this as happening after the fog. A few paratroopers (very few) place it before, and speculate that it was the result of panic.

» When things did not go as planned, American ingenuity and initiative took over at all levels to save the day.

» There were many outstanding acts of bravery, both in the air and on the ground in the D-Day assault—and many wonderful stories have been told about the Troop Carrier and Airborne forces—but there are many yet to be heard.

» There is an obvious need for better understanding between the Troop Carrier veterans and some of the Airborne veterans. It is not too late, but the time is rapidly running out.

LEST WE FORGET!

 

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