A Little Background
This is not just Troop Carrier, but the move from the Mediterranean to England, the life and the training leading to invasion, and the follow up.
The material here is digested from the book We Are The 29th Troop Carrier Squadron by Col. Joseph Harkiewicz. Permission was granted by his widow, and survivors of the 29th Troop Carrier Squadron Asso-ciation. It is educational material, not meant for commercial use. It is good history and delightful reading.
This book is one of the very best written about life in the WW II Troop Carrier Command in the European Theater of Operations. You will enjoy it.
The combat chronicles are factual, to the point, and well documented. But what really sets this apart is the interesting treatment of life in England before and after D-Day. This was written from the heart, and readers readily sense this. The enormity and functions of the new base, compared to the tent cities of Africa and Sicily and Italy, is an impressive opening—and the story gets better.
The 29th book is out of print, and those who have them are reluctant to let them go. Your only chance to taste this great work may be right here in front of you. I wish I could tell you where to get a copy, but I don’t have one myself. These pages came from copy machines and computer scanners. And I’m still looking for a copy of my own so I can preserve more of this.
What A Change
The first reaction to the new base at Folkingham was “It’s immense”! On this base we had three concrete runways, each 6,000 feet, ample taxiways, a revetment for parking each aircraft, and four hangers. There were innumerable Nissen huts to house us, an Officers Club, an EM Club in the making, a consolidated officers’ mess, and a consolidated enlisted men’s, mess. We were the first tenants, and parts were still under construction.
It was like going from the slums direct to uptown living. The Nissen huts reminded one of a long half cylinder lying flat on the ground. True, the corrugated sheet metal that made for the skin of this structure was not insulated, but we would be dry. The ends of the hut were bricked, with windows on either side of the door. Our floor was concrete; though muddy outside, our feet would be dry indoors.
We marveled the first time nature called. A central latrine served several huts. In addition to the stand-up slate-slab urinals, there were beautiful white porcelain commodes, and they all flushed. Each area provided one washroom. There were no sinks, just a long trough with several pairs of water spigots appropriately placed. Washing was done out of pans provided by the British. In the morning hot water came out of the faucet, but only in the morning. Since our ablutions were performed here, we called the structure the “Ablution”. Now get this; a member of the RAF tended to the hot water furnace and washed the pans after our use. If this seems extravagant, weigh it with the fact that the toilet paper provided had printed on every third sheet “Property of the Royal Air Force”. It had the consistency and stiffness of a brown paper bag. Procedures were to massage the paper with one’s hands while sitting and meditating until, when rubbed against the face, it did not scratch.
Scattered throughout the base were above the ground air-raid shelters. They were simply four-foot brick walls, dirt packed on the outsides as well as one end. At the opened end, another smaller wall packed with dirt provided protection from that direction. Our instructions were to wear helmets in the shelter to protect our heads from shrapnel falling on us from our own antiaircraft shells, as well as enemy bombs.
And the Finer Things
The real luxury was the weekly Saturday hot shower. There was but one shower facility on the whole base. Time schedules were posted for each hut with limits of 20 minutes for each hut. The time limit was no problem, however, since not everyone was on base on shower day. Some showered at the YMCA in town, or still preferred to bathe out of a helmet in their quarters or at the washbasin in the “Ablution”. Few observed the limit of 20 minutes. Most came out looking like prunes.
[PETRIC] “One could not help but appreciate this new life. We were treated like first-class soldiers. We didn’t have to put up tents, but were put up in Nissen huts with stoves and an abundant supply of coke (fuel) so that we could keep warm. A whole year passed since we had slept in a real building or bed, so this was just great. We even had toilets and hot showers.”
However, the American soldier still has to bitch. We soon learned to resent the mattresses provided by the British. Actually, they were made up of three sections, appropriately called biscuits. I think they were stuffed with straw. No matter how we arranged the biscuits or the body position, we found ourselves in the cracks.
England was a crowded island with farmland at a premium. When new bases were built, as much of the farmland was retained as possible. To get from the enlisted area to the consolidated mess, a shortcut took us across an English farm. Talk about hell being raised! The British came down on us like a ton of bricks.
Sleaford was our liberty-run town. The natives were very hospitable. A dance hall was the town’s social center. Here young airmen made contact with girls their age. Dance halls in England were quite the thing. Usually a three to five piece band provided the music for the hundred or so paying guests with American music being preferred by all. Of course we, like everyone serving in England during the war, were introduced to the memorable “Lambeth Walk”. A bar provided spirits which helped ward off any shyness. Strong friendships with the English girls were developed. It didn’t take long for our troops to find a store that sold fresh milk and ice cream. Talk about living in Heaven!
During the 70’s a travel agency labeled Grantham as the most boring city in England. We could have told them that in 1944. However, it did provide the best “fish and chips” in the Midlands. There was always a queue outside this establishment. It was worth the wait in the wet cold just to get inside the store and enjoy the heat and smell of cooking. The merchant accepted a shilling (about a quarter) and handed you a newspaper cone containing the food. With a dash of vinegar and sprinkle of salt we walked the streets savoring this delight.
And There Was Nottingham
Nottingham was the big city in the area, for Troop Carrier Command as well as airborne units. Consequently, it was always crowded. Every night trucks for many air bases lined up in front of the Black Boy Hotel. Here is where we were dropped and picked up again for our respective bases. Other Troop Carrier groups also operated from the Midlands, beyond the German bombers’ effective range. Later, Troop Carrier units were moved to the London area to be closer to the activity in France.
What made Nottingham nice was the diversity of pubs. Across the street from the Black Boy was the Flying Horse Cafe. There one felt like he was sitting in someone’s home, a cross between a parlor and a dining room. The bar, to be sure, was there. A pull on the long arm of the faucet provided pressure for the beer to be brought up into the glass. A foaming head just barely running over the top of the glass and one was already wetting his lips in anticipation. However, the first sip of English beer was usually a disappointment, it was served at room temperature, and to many it tasted green and thinner than American beer. The innkeeper started the GI on the mild, but in time we experimented with heavier tastes such as bitters, ale or even stout. The latter was dark, almost black, and we would say it was so thick you could chew it. “Arf-n-arf” was a popular combination of mild beer and ale. Since we didn’t have anything else, English beer had to do.
The Trip to Jerusalem was a fascinating pub. Purported to have been frequented by Robin Hood, it was built into the side of a hill. The cave-like entrance led to individual chambers, each accommodating but a dozen persons or so. Here the atmosphere was nothing like home. The furnishings looked more like they belonged to Robin Hood himself. Our more romantic troops visited Nottingham often in the quest to find a “Maid Marion”. Regardless of the town or pub, “glasses please” meant closing time.
During our first weeks in England passes were liberal. Two-and three-day passes allow for some to visit distant cities such as Leeds, Reading, Edinburgh, and London. From the day of our arrival ’till we left England there were two distinct camps in the squadron. One that would not go to London because of the bombings, and the other who thought “to hell with the bombings, the action is there.”
The Buildup Starts
On March 14, ’44, we had our first practice air raid in England. On this day we also received a new aircraft and crew. Lieutenants JOHN FITZPATRICK, PHILIP CARPENTER, Flight Officer SEYMOUR GITTLE and Sergeants WILLIAM OLIVE, KERMIT CARTER and EDWARD LORENZ were the first of the new crews that would be the beginning of a buildup in our aircraft, crew and overall strength. Sixty days later the squadron would be flying twice the number of aircraft, our training escalating to what seemed a maddening pace.
When the ground echelon arrived, JOHN TITUS was pleased that the motor pool was already building up. On February 27th, two officers of our group went to the depot and drew 28 jeeps. Though the depot was only 30 miles away, everyone was glad to get back; the weather was so bitter. More specialized vehicles were obtained from Liverpool, nearly a hundred miles distant, and Wales, still farther. They were beauties.
MARCH 19, ’44: Our first real air raid alert in England. Though distant, we could hear he sound of explosions and feel faint vibration.
This day is also remembered for the longest chow lines ever. With the arrival of the ground echelon the service personnel were not quite geared to such a drastic influx of personnel. The use of china instead of mess kits also had a slowing effect; that’s right, china dishes. Besides, who was in a hurry to leave the table? We no longer felt the grit of desert sand in our teeth or had to spit bugs out as we ate. I say again, we were in Heaven!
Another factor that favorably affected our morale was that the mail caught up to us, very welcome, since we had not heard from home since Sicily. Also, the Quartermaster issued us white sheets.
In addition to showers and mess, the British provided many other services that the squadron normally had to perform itself. Tower, base operations, communications and general base upkeep and repair were provided for. This was good; for the next sixty days would be tota1y occupied with crew training for the buildup in squadron strength, and in preparation for the big one—the invasion.
MARCH 27, ’44 : The Enlisted Men’s’ Club was opened. Favorite game was table tennis. A week after its opening a ping-pong tournament with an $80 jackpot made for a spirited contest. Here we also tried our skills at darts. The Englishmen were masters at the game, winning many free drinks from the uninitiated. Those who drank soda pop did better with their eye-hand coordination when playing darts than did those who partook of the beer.
There was a price exacted for the luxury offered us in England. Dress uniforms were required at the supper meal in the officers’ mess. An interesting sight was the toasting ritual. Several officers in full dress could be seen dangling bread, forked by bailing wire, toasting the thick sliced English bread by the gas flame of space heaters. The British would never understand this practice by officers, but then they never knew how well the cheese-like butter melted into the warm bread.
Administration was tightened. Excuses for late or erroneous reports were no longer tolerated. Everyone had to wear dress uniforms to town. No excuse was accepted for sloppy clothes. Vehicles were dispatched to Kettering where there was a clothing PX. The practice of saluting on base (except flight line) and in town was emphasized. It seemed like every time we turned around there was another type inspection. Now it was our guns, their cleanliness, lubrication and proper operation that received special attention. If not our guns, then it was gas mask drills. About the time we were becoming accustomed to our gas masks, a new, lightweight one was issued.
We knew that the lectures on “Customs of the Services,” “Military Courtesy” and “Anglo-American Relations,” was the result of the character who patted the Scott bagpipe player on his bottom while on the dock of Greenock.
More seriously, airdrome defense was a big thing. Our aircraft and the perimeter of the base were very well guarded. It was calculated that every foot of the fence and each aircraft would be passed by one of our guards every eight minutes.
If our living on the base gave us the feeling of spaciousness, the sky was the opposite — crowded. It was said that a pilot could be anywhere over England at 10,000 feet, kill his engines and still be able to glide onto a runway. The airdromes were that plentiful. Pilots had to keep a sharp eye out for other aircraft, fighters. Bombers, transports and gliders, which were all over the sky.
Our first training consisted of ground instruction and flight orientation to familiarize us with procedures and navigation peculiar to England. To begin with, all RAF bases looked alike, like they were built using identical plans. To differentiate between fields, two large letters lying on the ground in front of operations gave the code letters for that base.
During daylight, when our arrival corresponded with the time operations was expecting us and the tower could visually identify us a. friendly aircraft, we were not questioned and given traffic information. If there was a question, we were challenged for the “colors of the day”. There would then be a scramble in the cockpit, everyone looking to the poor radio operator tic hurry up and give the coded “colors” as challenged.
At night, when enemy attacks were prevalent, great care was taken to make certain the Germans were not following us in, pretending to be one of us. Normally, after calling “Boyscout. Tower” (our group code name}, the black countryside surrounding the base would show a giant circle of lights. We would fly over these lights in a counterclockwise direction until the perimeter broke into a funnel, directed toward the center. Only after we were positioned in the center of the funnel, and in our descent did the runway lights become visible. To help in establishing a proper glide angle, lights pointed toward the landing aircraft showed green if on glide path, amber if above, and red if below. Taxiway lights were sufficiently subdued so as not to be seen from the air, but ample for ground operations. Should there be a question about the identity of the aircraft, the pilot was directed to fly over a pair of searchlights pointed upward for visual identification. Antiaircraft guns trained on that point. We hoped the gun crews were properly trained in aircraft identification.
If England was known for anything, it was fog. When it lifted sufficiently for flying, there was no guarantee that your destination would not “sock in” before you got there. Knowing their own weather patterns, the English provided for a mortar that fired a parachute flare a thousand feet upward through low clouds to mark the field.
Should a pilot be uncertain of his position (lost), he needs only to call “Darkey” on the emergency frequency for help. After transmitting in a firmly prescribed manner, a ground station came back with the proper heading to his destination.
At night, should radio silence be required, “colors of the day” were given by flares, fired from the aircraft by the radio operator — never fast enough to satisfy the others in the crew.
There were times when the “Darkey” operator did not want to transmit headings to you by radio. They would then activate a searchlight on the ground that oscillated from vertical to 450, pointing in the direction the pilot should fly.
Our pilots found the British aeronautical charts showing the outlines of farms and forest to be very helpful to their air navigation. With this and all the help from radio, radar, and visual aids, the poor navigators became the butt of jokes declaring them to be “obsolete.” The invasion would disprove that observation for some of our members.
Since ours was a new base, it had the most up-to-date innovations. An example is the runway and other high priority lighting. One power source on one side of the field provided for every other runway light. Another power source from the opposite side of the field provided for the ones not covered by the opposite generators. In this way large sections of the base could be bombed out, but still the aircraft could function with the services from the alternate source. Clever, those British.
As in Sicily and North Africa, special services did all they could to steer our spare time into wholesome activities. Golf at the Sleaford course was the thing for some of our members. Or how about an art contest? Private First Class BOUCHER submitted a watercolor of a Sicilian Harbor that was exhibited both at the Churchill Club in London and in Westminster Abbey.
29th War Diary
“Softball and hardball games between officers and enlisted men had been played in conjunction with ‘Salute the Soldier Week’. TONY ENOS, better known as ‘TONY VELESCO’ to wrestling enthusiasts, tossed epidermis with an Englishman before a capacity house in Sleaford Hall, proceeds of which will also go to ‘Salute the Soldier Week’ fund.” Tony recalls the time he took on the English professional wrestling champ, Charlie Green, “and I beat him!”
[29th WAR DIARYI “Bicycling became a major sport in the squadron. The surrounding countryside is in full blossom and the sweet scent of daffodils and lilacs fills the air, and each evening a general exodus of GI’s on bicycles occurs, all pedaling leisurely along the country lanes absorbing the beauties of England in the spring.”
We felt there were only about four or five spring days. All others were winter; cold, wet arid foggy. It didn’t seem like summer would ever arrive. We wanted that mud to dry out.
HORSA GLIDER: Compared to the American CG-4A, the British Horsa was a giant. In fact, for size, it can better be compared to the C-47 whose wingspan was only seven feet longer than the Horsa’s. However, the Horsa stands two and a half feet higher and is three feet longer than the C-47, the aircraft we would use to tow this British monstrosity.
Our first flights with the British glider were with two C-47’s doing the towing. Even then, the tow pilots felt a great deal more drag while the glider pilots complained that it was not as maneuverable as the CG-4A. The British on the othter hand loved this bird.
Each squadron in the group would have two Horsas assigned. We knew they were serious when a crew of glider mechanics received training at the Horsa factory in Christ Church. Allied headquarters felt all Troop Carrier units shouId be capable of interchanging gliders.
As tow and glider pilots became more proficient with the Horsa, towing with a single Gooney was practiced. We were all convinced that whoever came up with the hare-brained idea of pulling a Horsa with a C-47 had rocks in his head. Fortunately, our group was not obligated tactically to follow up on the Horsa. We never missed that monster.
Training in the Horsa
The Horsa was but one phase of glider training, and a small one at that, when compared to the overall glider program. A pattern developed. One day it would be glider flight training, the next day ground school, and so it alternated. One day the flight training consisted of “snatch” pick-up, the next day cross-country formation, then perhaps double tow, and, of course, saturation landings for combat were practiced. Due to the newness of our base, large mounds of sand and equipment were still in the middle of one runway. Simulated combat landings were conducted at other bases. The tow plane came back later to retrieve the gliders.
Our gliders were being equipped with intercommunication kits; wire attached to the towrope enabled the pilots of the tow plane to talk to the glider pilots. This was a very welcomed innovation.
The glider training would have been considered a heavy load for the squadron in itself. We were to have 18 CG-4A’s assigned. On top of that, great emphasis was placed on paradrops and night formation. We were flying every day or night the weather would allow. One day it would be night formation, the next a paradrop. Sometimes we dropped as few as four paratroopers, practicing Pathfinder techniques and testing their equipment. The 313th Group also dropped a British airborne unit with 72 aircraft. So realistic was their alert, assembly and briefing, that when the British paratroopers reached the aircraft they believed this to be it—the invasion.
[29th WAR DIARY, APRIL 5, 44] “Nine ships loaded with paratroopers and pararacks took off at 2355 for secret DZ. Due to bad weather only two ships got through to DZ while the other seven, after coming out of heavy clouds, were unable to sight the DZ and returned to home station with troops.”
Three nights later another nine aircraft loaded with paratroopers for a secret DZ. This time the mission was successful. However, a few days after this successful drop, the failure of the April 5th exercise would be repeated. Bad weather will screw up any drop. Though some will swear by the capabilities of the radar, everything had to be working just right for a radar drop to be suc-cessful. Even if the radar worked perfectly, bad weather would break up any formation. No one had come up with a way that a formation could fly into clouds and still be in formation when they came out. Usually we came out scattered all over the place.
Radar, The Limiting Factor
Limiting factor to a successful drop through the weather was that only one of nine aircraft had radar. One must picture the poor pilot, who without radar or navigator, with his position over the earth disrupted by clouds, attempts to orient himself. Over enemy territory there are no radio signals to navigate by, the ground is dark. Even in the most favorable light, reestablishing one’s position takes time and was not always successful. These exercises were stimulating conditions we would encounter over enemy territory. We hoped the invasion included good weather. The guessing game went on; where and when would the invasion take place?
Crew integrity was being disrupted by the arrival of each new aircraft. Long-lasting crew friendships developed since the squadron’s inception were now being shattered. After all, had we not trained together, crossed the big pond as a team, ate and slept in the same bird, saw combat in Sicily and flew into Salerno? Did we not share the bombing at Bari, and were we not each tested during that long fiasco coming out of Gibraltar? However well one came to know new squadron members, the bond of friendship could never match that shared amongst the old timers who knew each other’s feelings and thoughts, and who often shared their personal problems.
To mention two crews, MANDARINO and AMOS were assigned to a new aircraft. Although LAIRD was still pilot, a new co-pilot, ROBERT TEWS, would fly with this crew. SLERF, their old aircraft, was now assigned to JOHN BUZALKO and DAVID ROGOW. Their pilot was CHESTER BARBER, with BILL BOLTZ, a new member to the squadron, as co-pilot.
It’s important to restate that it was our squadron policy that after a new pilot was checked out in the “gooney”, the pilots alternated seats and split flying time. That is, after flying one leg as pilot, the next would be in the right seat performing co-pilot duties. This practice elevated our new pilots’ skills quickly, a policy not necessarily followed by other squadrons.
Newly assigned aircraft engineers were taken aboard on flight missions as assistant crew chiefs, as were new radio operators checked out by an old-time radioman. The old-timer crewmen wondered from time to time if they were as bone-headed as these new members when they arrived a year earlier.
So now we have the power pilots flying almost daily, the glider pilots about every other day. The strain to keep those aircraft in the air was felt by every member in the squadron. Not so obvious was the amount of additional supplies required to clothe, feed and dress the additional squadron personnel. This was also felt by the administrators who had to pay the troops, keep up their records, etc. The medics had to order more serum for those distasteful shots. Oh yes, the girls were not that plentiful since the size of the group had doubled.
The first big restriction covering all troops in the United Kingdom was called on April 13, ’44. No one knew why, but guesses were that the invasion was around the corner. It was lifted five days later. During this time business was good in the base clubs. Also during these five days we became more aware of base discomforts, like the mud that had been with us since the rain washed away the snow that greeted us upon arrival. As if our mind was being read, concrete slabs were placed where we walked.
A new twist as of May 5, ’44 was that only combat crews were permitted 48-hour passes. Everyone took advantage of this since the rumor mill had it that passes would be cancelled soon.
Another surprise came when on May 10, ’44; passes for only combat crews were cancelled. All others were permitted liberty passes; however, the next day these too were cancelled.
[29th WAR DIARY, MAY 12, ’44] “The reason for the cancellation of passes was that higher headquarters is trying to simulate conditions on nights of combat missions. The training mission, which took place last night, was an operational success. Close to 1,000 planes formed and proceeded to three different DZ’s. In this monstrous exhibition and amid all the confusion in the air, two planes of the 316th collided in mid air upon returning from their DZ. Twelve lost their lives, amongst them being the group C.O. and the group chaplain.”
Though not talked about, the all-services restrictions in the United Kingdom helped track down AWOL’s. In April ’44 alone, 13,000 were picked up throughout England without passes. These dragnets also produced a number of deserters.
Some ground training didn’t make sense to us at all. Often it did nothing more than create a lot of questions, as if the rumor mill did not provide enough. A training film was shown in the base theater for all combat crews, “Nine Men on a Desert”. This full-length movie dealt with the experiences of a crew that was forced down in the desert. Why, now, do we see desert survival?
In the crowded skies over England we saw many aircraft that were unknown to us. Aircraft identification was covered during our weekly training sessions. We learned to tell friend from foe.
On a routine basis we were receiving lectures on “Escape and Evasion”. How to avoid the enemy, and if captured, how to escape. It never failed to amaze us how much the British knew about “Dulag Luft,” the German interrogation for Allied airmen, and the various “Stalag Luft’s,” the German POW camps for Airmen. Known to but a few at the time, the British had communications established with each of the POW camps in Germany. This was done by sending one in every 10 or 20 bomber crews to special POW schools. They learned the codes for alerting the mail censor to hidden messages coming out of POW camps.
Their uniforms were specially prepared, containing compasses hidden in each uniform button, and other escape items, as well as money. Graduation exercise entailed being flown into France in a light aircraft, landing in a select field, walking into town and having a drink in a French cafe, then flying home. Law of average provided that a number of these crews would end up as POW’s. They were trained well and carried on the war while imprisoned.
To promote confidence, combat units were given lectures by those who had successfully evaded the enemy. On April 27, Lieutenant John Bielstein, a bombardier whose aircraft was shot down over enemy territory, gave a talk on his experiences and what to do if forced down. His lecture was very much appreciated, since he proved it could be done, and he could answer questions about his evasion.
While our side was doing all it could to prepare our people for getting out of Germany and back to the fighting, the German propaganda radio station was giving lessons on how we could give up and get out of the fighting. To the fighter and bomber pilots, they advised them to lower their landing gear and flaps; the German fighters would then graciously escort their aircraft to a safe haven.
During the months of April and May their propaganda emphasis was on Patton’s Fifth Army Group. If there was any one General the Germans seemed to fear it was Patton. Best known propagandist was Lord Haw Haw, the name this English turncoat adopted. He and his associates in psychological warfare even gave Patton’s troops a recipe, “ingredients obtainable from any mess hall kitchen”, guaranteed to make one just sick enough to miss the shipment that would send them against “our impregnable west wall. Better sick for a day than die.”
From the day we hit England, the German propaganda station was popular. Its American jazz, received in neutral countries, was more current than our own Armed Forces Radio. The entertainment was intended to get us to listen. The thrust of their propaganda, however, was to fray our nerves and lose confidence in our leaders, and especially with our Allies. Their thrust was ineffective!
It was about this time that passport photos were taken. We posed for three pictures, front, then right and left profile. Coats and neckties were provided, compliments of a couple of Irishmen who worked on the base. These jackets really looked “ratty”, just like intelligence wanted them to look. This is how the natives would dress on the continent, Norway or Italy—wherever needed.
The only people in Europe who lived high on the hog were perhaps ranking Germans. Just as the passport photo jackets represented what the normal dress was in Europe, so too were the British on hard times. The English held their heads high in their adversity, were fun loving, but had to make many sacrifices for the war effort.
Within weeks of our arrival, dances were held on base. Since most of their menfolk were away at war, the English girls were grateful for the social contact these dances provided. At our base, they didn’t race around the dance floor as in town; they couldn’t—the floor was too crowded.
Drinks were beer, properly chilled, and whatever spirits the clubs could come up with. Try gin and grapefruit juice. The grapefruit juice didn’t help the taste of the gin, nor did the gin smooth out the sour taste of grapefruit. You really had to want a drink to order one of these. When lucky, an aircraft on a freight run to Scotland would bring back a few cases of Johnny Walker. On the black market that bottle would bring $20.00, but in Scotland cost $2.20 (1944 dollars). The only bourbon available was from ATC pilots who flew the four-engine aircraft from the States and charged an arm or a leg, or from our new squadron members who brought a bottle or two with them. We resented the Air Transport Command and contemptuously labeled the ATC “allergic to combat.”
The girls did not, for the most part, partake of the drink. They did appreciate the sandwiches, cake and cookies the respective clubs provided. Especially the sweets. Sugar was so severely rationed that most English families did without sweets for months at a time. We served them tea, but we Americans didn’t know how to make tea any better than the British knew how to make coffee.
Like any young girl, the English woman dressed her best for dances. Chances were that the clothes worn were their Sunday best or borrowed for the occasion. On first sight, the unusual redness of their skins brought questions. The answer was in the adaptability of the English. Fuel was severely rationed. As a result, the family sat very close to an open fireplace or the gas flame, using only what fuel they had to. Their clothes always smelled of smoke, but this too we came to understand.
[29th WAR DIARY, MAY 20, ’44] “Cloudy and cold. Preparations for the anniversary dances tonight were about completed. There will be two dances, one for enlisted men and one for officers. The celebration will mark the squadron’s first year overseas. It is the hope that we will not celebrate another such anniversary.
“It was one year ago today that we (the ground echelon) landed in Casablanca. In celebration we were given the day off and were not assigned any flying missions. Only priority duties were performed. In a group baseball tournament we beat the 48th, but lost the playoff with the 47th Squadron by a score of 11-4. Earlier, the 47th beat the 49th with an 11-0 win.
[29th WAR DIARY, MAY 21, ’44] “Both dances last night were huge successes. Girls from Nottingham and neighboring towns represented the local talent and did much to improve Anglo American relations. The boys also were cooperative. The idea of holding frequent dances on the base has proved a big factor in bolstering morale.”
We learned the impracticability of holding two dances on base on the same night. There just weren’t enough girls to go around. From then on each club sponsored a dance fortnightly, the girls dancing weekly, alternating between the EM and Officers Clubs.
New Flight Surgeon
“Captain MAURICE RICH, from Atlanta, Ga., has been assigned to the squadron as Medical Officer. After having officers attached and changed so often it is hoped that he will be permanently assigned.”
Fortunately, this became the case as our flight surgeon hovered over the aircrews like a mother hen ascertaining if their physical condition would allow them to fly missions. But on the eve of the invasion it was respiratory infections that kept some grounded. It seemed like everyone had a cold. There were those who felt a trip to the hospital in south England was a treat. There they had the pleasures of a rest camp, horseback riding, etc. However, they kept a close watch to be sure the hospital stay did not go to 30 days. That was when they would be dropped from the squadron rolls. Assignments would then be made via a replacement pool. No one wanted that, unless it meant going home.
Some didn’t have a choice and were transferred to other organizations on temporary duty basis (TDY) or detached service (DS). CLINT R. COWDEN received orders for DS to Ninth Air Force Engineering Command.
The flying schedule was hectic. The weather had to be really “socked in” to ground us. It was not cooperating with us at all. At least in Sicily we had periods of good weather. Not so with this damn English weather.
Day after day, night after night we flew. You couldn’t imagine how stinking the weather could be; and we still flew. GEORGE TILLEY remembers, “I thought we were never going to stop. Every night the 313th would form and rendezvous with other groups. From there the whole wing headed toward the DZ, coordinating our arrival with other wings. No navigational lights, only the blue formation lights. Even the exhaust flame was dampened. ‘Oh my God’, we thought ‘let’s get this over with’. It was midnight ’till three in the morning, twelve to three, twelve to three, twelve to three. These rehearsals were nerve wracking. We had to know where we were, where we were going, couldn’t afford to be wrong, had to be right on it, couldn’t afford a disaster. It was a wonder we came through.”
29th War Diary, 20 May 1944
Late this afternoon two large units of paratroopers moved onto the base, bivouacking across the field. As soon as they occupied it, it became restricted and closely guarded. All members of the 313th and base personnel have been ordered to stay away from the paratroopers’ campsite. How long they will remain here, or for what purpose they have come, no one knows. Speculation, of course, is rife. Will it be a practice jump or will it be the real thing? It is expected that base and group personnel will also soon be restricted to the base. A USO show performed on the base in the evening. It was enthusiastically received. Ten planes towed 10 gliders on wing mission. Gliders landed at Barkston Heath and were brought back in the afternoon.
MAY 30, ’44: Intelligence received a new supply of maps. Headquarters did this to us before; that is, provide us with maps for areas we did not now fly in. A sure sign the big one was on. Try as they may, our intelligence people were unable to guess the point of invasion, the maps were that varied. We also remembered that a month earlier intelligence received the new type of escape kits and other items for distribution to combat crews. We thought then that the invasion was imminent.
MAY 31, ’44: The weather has been good for the past few days. A couple of days ago we were sunning ourselves with temperatures in the 80’s. Last night, however, we experienced a real Sicilian cloudburst. Thunder, lightning and the high gusting wind kept many awake. Again, like Sicily, power went out, communications were disrupted and it took all the next day to restore order.
JUNE 1, ’44: It’s still raining and, would you believe, this is the time we’re directed to paint black and white stripes on the wings and around the fuselage of the “gooney’s” and the gliders Can you imagine that — in the rain? Like from out of nowhere, cans and cans of paint, masking tape and brushes appeared. Aircraft engineers, mechanics, radio operators and technicians we were, but Michelangelo’s we were not. There was pressure put on us to hurry “don’t wait for the weather to clear—do it now.” So we did. When we ran out of paint brushes, the-aircraft sweeping broom was put to use, the broom we used to sweep snow off the wings and stabilizers. No one would tell us why: “Don’t ask, do as you’re told.” We saw a contradiction between the prominent white stripes accented black stripes and the camouflage colors intent to conceal. We looked like a squadron of striped-ass birds.
Zebra Stripes in the Rain
Unknown to us, the “zebra” striping was being applied to every aircraft in the theater. From that day on, any aircraft not sporting the zebra stripes would be treated as enemy. Another precaution against a repetition of the second night in the Sicilian invasion.
The crew chiefs, radio operators and mechanics felt better when directed to mount pararacks be-neath 20 of our aircraft (18 + 2 spares). This operation was followed up by our aircraft electrical spe-cialist, wiring up the release mechanism to a switch in the cockpit. JOE DARGUZAS and KEN KERSTING worked all day at the wiring. (DARGUZAS) “It was late in the evening~ before we were finished, and I wound up in the infirmary with another attack of malaria. I never did learn whether the release buttons worked.”
JUNE 2, ’44: The base was restricted at 1700 hours. The weather is cloudy and cold. Daily we see paratroopers on the way to and from chow. Their “shuffle”, the gait between marching and trotting, is often audible before we set eyes on the troopers; they are virtually imprisoned in their tent area. From the looks of these tough troopers it’s doubtful that Hitler’s “Western Wall” can hold them; that is, if an invasion ever comes.
JUNE 2, ’44: It’s still raining. At nine this morning the base was sealed. Guards were placed around the respective squadron and group intelligence and briefing rooms. There were MP’s all over the place. Only select communications were permitted with the outside, and then these calls were monitored. Personal mail was put into special bags and stored. The censors wouldn’t even see them until after D-Day. Meetings went on all day, preparing for briefings for the next. Only classified personnel were “in the know,” but, hell, anyone could guess something big was happening.
The Generals Drop In
At three in the afternoon a visiting C-47 landed. Brigadier Generals Paul L. Williams and H.L. Clark emerged (Commanders, Troop Carrier Command and 52nd Wing, respectively). Stern-faced MP’s checked roster and ID’s of those going into this high-level meeting. It was limited to key group and squadron staff, including intelligence personnel. The overall invasion plan was presented.
The code name for the invasion directed against the beaches of Normandy in northwest France was “OVERLORD”. Five amphibious assaults would take place along the neck of the Cherbourg Penin-sula, where the Americans would secure UTAH and OMAHA beaches, and the British would assault GOLD, JUNO and SWORD beaches stretching to the east.
NEPTUNE, the airborne landings, would be by the American 82nd and 101st 6th divisions dropping at the base of the Cherbourg Peninsula to the rear of UTAH Beach in the vicinity of Sainte Mere-Eglise. The British 6th Airborne Division was to drop east of Sword protecting the British flank.
While the amphibious landings were to take place after first light, the airborne would be dropped behind enemy lines hours earlier to secure objectives and harass defenders of the beaches.
Those privileged to this high-level briefing were awed at the scope of the operation. Involved were 5,300 ships, 150,000 men, 1,500 tanks and 12,000 aircraft. Troop carrier units were to supply 1,300 transports and 3,300 gliders to the effort. The Allies were to put 37 of their divisions up against the 60 divisions the Germans had available to them in Western Europe. Not so one sided when one consid-ered that the Allies had complete air supremacy and were in command of the sea lanes. It wasn’t going to be a cakewalk either. Dislodging an enemy from a well-defended position is always costly.
[29th WAR DIARY, JUNE 4, ‘44.1 “A half hour before the scheduled briefing of the 29th combat crews, with 18 planes in readiness (2 spares), it was learned that D-Day had been postponed for 24 hours, apparently due to the inclement weather. Even though not yet officially notified of the nature of the mission, there is a quiet certainty amongst officers and enlisted men that this is literally the eve of the invasion. Tenseness has increased. Crew chiefs and radio operators are checking and rechecking the planes and equipment.”
Neptune #1 “Boston” (D-Day Invasion)
UNE 5, ’44: Weather stormy, miserable. At 1000 Colonel Roberts briefed the assembled pilots. At approximately 0215 the next morning they would drop American paratroopers on the soil of France, the Cherbourg Peninsula. The paratroopers were, in effect, to cut off the Cherbourg Peninsula, pre-venting the German inland divisions from responding to the invasion. Additionally, they were to keep the approaches open for our assault forces from Utah Beach to the interior.
Captain Segal, Intelligence Officer of the 47th, received our greatest attention with the disclosure, “very little enemy flak of any type and small-arms fire only in the DZ area”. Major McFadden, G-2 (group intelligence), gave the general enemy situation and talked about escape and evasion. He also covered the rice-paper map that was to be eaten should we be forced down in enemy territory. Captain Blake gave the communication briefing. Emphasis was placed on the need for absolute radio silence all the way to the drop zone. Now came Captain Noffsinger. He briefed that the weather conditions were improving and to expect a final weather report before takeoff.
Navigation on this mission was to be easier than those into Sicily. The route was planned where we would have radio and light signals every 30 miles or so. Even over the channel, vessels emitting light signals were to assure us accurate overwater navigation.
The 313th Group would deliver the First and Third Battalion of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regi-ment of the 82nd Airborne into drop zone “N”, one mile NW of Picauville, France. “Boston” was the code name for 82nd drop, while the 101st Airborne mission was known as “Albany”. The route, gener-ally from west to east through the Cherbourg Peninsula, was designed to avoid enemy antiaircraft po-sitions and to be clear of our own invasion fleet. Encouraging, too, was the news that for the previous 24 hours, our bombers had been pulverizing German coastal defenses.
29th Squadron Leads the Way
We in the 29th were a little bit miffed when we learned that we were not going to be the lead squadron as we had in the past. This time the honors would go to the 49th Squadron, which with the 47th made up serial 22. The 29th would be the third squadron in the group formation, leading 23 serial. The 48th was to follow us and be the last squadron in the group.
The briefing continued with a pep talk by an unshaven rough-looking paratrooper officer. The Lieutenant Colonel wanted to know how long it would take us to get him there. After being told two-and-a-half hours, he quipped, “good, be sure to wake me up from my nap, I don’t want to miss the show.” He calculated that his jump time would be eight-and-a-half minutes after passing the coast of France, that twelve minutes would put our aircraft over water again, on the east side of the peninsula. If for any reason we were to still have paratroopers aboard after passing through the peninsula, we were to make a 180 right turn and drop them onto DZ “0”, near the east coast. We were not to come back with any paratroopers who still wanted to jump. Refusals would be met by the military police and court martialed.
Reaction to this combat briefing was as usual mixed. Some were pale, sitting in stony silence lick-ing their lips. Others, sporting broad grins, were pleased to be going into combat. After the briefing there were many quick trips to the latrine. Surprising how one’s kidneys float during excitement.
D-Day seemed to us to be anti-climactic, without much fuss or excitement. There was, however, more than the usual letter writing. Those who had not experienced combat looked to the veterans for reaction. The old-timers tried to portray confidence, regardless of how they felt inwardly, so as not to concern the newcomers.
All were trying to adjust biological clocks; sleep would be hard to regulate. Those weeks of train-ing when we flew so consistently from midnight to three would be helpful, but this was different; cat-naps were all we could handle. There would be no deep sleep today.
During the afternoon the enlisted crew followed directives and inspected the aircraft for any scraps of paper that would provide useful information to German intelligence should the aircraft land in en-emy territory. You can’t imagine the crevices and hidden places in a gooney that a slip of paper can lodge. The Germans would painstakingly inspect the downed aircraft and find them. Anyway, this was the only time when the aircraft got a really good cleaning out.
More annoying, though, was the requirement that afternoon to remove from the aircraft all excess equipment and tools not essential to that mission. Crew chiefs believed, for sure, that the tools were too valuable to lose should the aircraft be shot down. That was why they were left behind! Actually the removal of the extraneous weight allowed for that much more to be carried into combat. No, you could never tell that to a crew chief. To the crew chief, flying without a toolbox aboard his aircraft was lik-ened to a navigator without a watch.
1900: The enlisted personnel of the participating crews were briefed on the mission. This time the en-listed men were given a thorough briefing on the route to and from the drop zone, should they need to assist in navigation, or even to fly the aircraft home. Radio operators were ever so attentive to their instructions. “IFF, not on when airborne unless ditching, connect detonator, before landing home dis-connect.” Frequencies to set the radar to receive and transmit, for each checkpoint. Bomber code, Q-signal, pyrotechnics and verification signals—splasher beacons—etc., etc.
2100: Combat crews reported to their respective operations. Here we were issued escape kits, French money, maps and overlays. Final instructions were given to include the latest weather forecast. Clouds over the Cherbourg peninsula and enrooted were to be high and not a factor in the mission. Lastly, we were told the password for this mission, “FLASH/THUNDER”.
We Started in Trucks
Trucks carried us out to our aircraft where the smudge-faced paratroopers were lolling around, seemingly unconcerned with the coming events. Those who rested on their backs looked like lumber-ing turtles when they turned over onto their hands and knees. Then, like a weight lifter, they pressed themselves upward to a standing position. Paratroopers carried a phenomenal weight. Hand grenades, knives, rifles, K-rations, ammunition, spare chute, explosives, and a whole lot of other stuff that made each a walking arsenal. Troopers helped push their buddies up the ladder, while those in the aircraft turned, offering a helping hand, pulling the next into the aircraft.
D-DAY MISSION: Engines from 72 aircraft whined and popped in their starts all over the base. The prearranged taxi sequence put 49th in the lead; followed by the 47th, then we came with chalk number 37 through 54, and were followed by the 48th. NELSEN had trouble starting his engines. His wingmen, KERR and KREISER, waited for him.
It felt funny having the headsets on and not receiving any instructions. What could not be prear-ranged was communicated by blinker light signals. This is how the first aircraft was instructed to de-part. At precis4y 2315, Colonel J.J. Roberts eased his aircraft off the ground. The group followed. NELSEN could not get a start. He, JOE DENSON and the paratroopers switched to LACHMUND’S aircraft, the first spare.
Twenty second intervals separated aircraft. It’s a wonderful sight to watch single aircraft become one of three, then nine, to make the standard formation of V of Vs. When a squadron was formed, it placed itself in its proper sequence within the group. All aircraft lights were on; navigational, recogni-tion and formation. From the ground it looked like a Christmas tree sailing through the air.
Gradually the formation tightened. Everyone on the ground marveled. Everybody was up this night, watching, feeling, knowing they were a part of something big. Almost guilty in their feelings, they gazed in awe at the splendor of that colored tree in the sky. Some prayed too. People like PECCIA, ROBINSON, VASCONCELLOS, LAWYER and SEBELIN hoped like hell the crew would not have cause to use their services; they were our parachute riggers. Then the family of cooks, BACCUS, BEASLEY, BEATTY, BURKS and BUCHANAN, GREENFIELD, HORVATH and DUKE, who wondered when they put on that nights meal if it would be the last for some in that for-mation. Clerks were not spared. The chaplain’s letters to the family of the dead or missing are not easy to type. Nor is taking inventory of the MIA’s personal effects any fun. When that formation went overhead, we were all there, with them.
We Missed the Topkick
MAX TILLEY, our first sergeant, was not out on the tarmac. A week earlier, after many bouts of ill-ness, he was transferred to hospital status for rotation to the States. We were sure, though, wherever he was, his heart with us this night.
The formation came over the field at 1,500 feet, heading south. It was good and tight. There were thousands of eyes looking up that night. The cloud base was 2 to 3000 feet, with breaks in the over-cast. This made for a nice dark background, accentuating the lighted aircraft. We were now seeing other troop carrier groups in their form up, also heading south, converging on Atlanta, the first check-point.
It was the sight, the throb of the engines, and the knowledge that this was it, the invasion, that af-fected viewers emotionally, leaving none without goose bumps. HAROLD WILLEN recalls, “The most wonderful exciting moment of my life, to see all those planes in the air, as far as you could see. To the right, left, front and back looked like thousands upon thousands. But then we had to wait for our men to come back. It was hard. After being so close to them the months we were together. We had a good feeling for them.”
[KERSTING “The anxiety of the anticipated invasion for several weeks was released June 6th, 1944. Up early on the line. Every one excited, checking engines, parapacks, jammed starters and parapacks that released accidentally. The excitement was there, also the fear. We were in on the beginning of an historical event that turned the tide of the war. Being of the ground crew that day I felt the emotion of fear of the unknown, of something that was not done before, and felt empathy with the crews that would fly that mission. Having been together as a squadron for quite awhile, you become somewhat like a family, and you have sincere concern for each other.
The planes took off into a beautiful morning one after another, rose higher and higher, and began to rendezvous. Planes, planes, planes, I never saw so many planes—looked like swarms of mosquitoes. Our prayers went with crews as they headed south toward France.”
If the formation looked spectacular from (lie ground, it was even more so from the air. Groups from our left and from our right were easing into Atlanta. There, we became a line of groups, all under the 52nd Wing, each group positioned in proper drop sequence.
The checkpoints, named after American cities, would have turned the heads of the British. We continued on to Burbank, Cleveland and Dallas. It was here in the vicinity of Bristol that we encoun-tered a few brief showers. We were, however, encouraged by the breaks in the overcast through which the moon could occasionally be glimpsed.
Residents of the southern England communities over which we flew also saw the groups of the 53rd and 50th Wings enter the flow over Elko. Chances are that no one in Dorset County slept that night. This show of aircraft was too impressive, too important, and too beautiful to miss.
After Elko the formations descended to 1,000 feet, where we stayed for 29 miles until reaching Flatbush on the southern coast of England. Over water, we came down to 700 feet to be beneath the effectiveness of German radar.
Four Minutes After Flatbush
Four minutes past Flatbush we turned off our navigational lights. The amber recognition lights still shone to alert allied ships that we were indeed friends. Even without navigational lights we were able to see aircraft far forward and behind us in the bright moonlight, for the clouds had disappeared and the visibility was now unlimited. Our course continued in a south-west direction to take us over the navigational ship Gallup and to Hoboken.
We settled down to a loose, somewhat relaxing, but still properly positioned formation. The calm night air was as smooth as silk, giving the occupants of the aircraft a feeling of being suspended in space. So accurately did the pilots hold their positions that it seemed as though all were attached by invisible rods, acting as if they were one. Paratroopers were pleased. Airsickness was rare. Navigators, crew chiefs and radio operators could not resist seeing the view. First up forward through the pilot’s front windows, then through the overhead astrodome, and also by way of the large opening in the rear of the aircraft where the jump door had been removed. The full moon shone brightly, reflecting off the skins of the “goonies”. Damn near like daylight.
[HALL] “I was scared and anxious, but that was one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen. My job was to go up in the bubble (astrodome) and scan the skies for enemy airplanes, but I could also take in the view. Out across the English Channel were airplanes as far as you could see, all headed for the coast of France. I thought of how strong we were, thinking, “They didn’t have a chance.” That was a good feeling. I knew they were done when I saw all that.”
The full moon was in front of us, lower on the horizon and larger than when first seen. At Hoboken we made a 90-degree turn to the left. In 54 miles, this course would take us to the Initial Point on the French coast. The aircraft turning in front of us occasionally were silhouetted on the face of the moon. What a sight At Hoboken the recognition lights were turned off, the dim blue formation lights got dimmer when, as directed, they were switched to low. Paratroopers were given the 20-minute notice, giving them time to hook-up and be ready for the 4-minute red light signal.
Our route in took us between the Channel Islands. These were still held by the Germans. We didn’t have to wait long before the gunners on Alderney, on our left, let us know they were there. The para-troopers on that side of the aircraft pressed their faces to the plastic windows, fascinated by the dis-play. We were well out of range. Tracers came straight toward us, then arched downward and disap-peared shortly when the phosphorous that made them luminous burned out.
As if to give the troopers on the right side the same treat, German gunners on Guernsey let loose. They too were out of range. The cat was out of the bag. One could envision the alert being sounded with every German from Cherbourg to Sevastopol knowing of our presence.
The formation tightened up. France was visible up ahead. Slowly we climbed to reach 1,500 feet before crossing the coast. This altitude put us above the range of small arms fire. The weather was good. The formation great. This was going to be one helluva good drop.
WHAM! We Hit the Fog Bank
When over the coast, we could see gunfire up ahead. We’ll worry about that later. All was well when WHAM, we hit a cloudbank, or was it enemy smoke? Damn, damn, dammit! Each of us tucked into our lead trying to maintain the integrity of the formation. Tracers were all around us. Flashes from flak bursts negated our night vision. Searchlights bathed the skies, lighting the cabins with a strange blue light as the beam swept through the formation.
Some pilots lost sight of their lead aircraft and gingerly pulled away, only to find themselves on someone elses wing, but from the other side. So much depended upon exactly where we were when we first hit the cloudbank. Those flights that could see downward descended to drop altitude and had no trouble other then to worry about the intense ground fire they were flying through. Other flights stayed on top of the clouds, hoping for a break before reaching the DZ. The break came, but only after a lot of dodging of other aircraft bouncing around from flak explosions and prop wash, and flying through the awesome fingers of tracers. It looked suicidal to go through that stuff, but we did. Those poor bastards in the rear were going to have a rough time hooking up, or even standing up.
The clouds broke up before we reached the DZ. We now could see. There is the drop zone, just as depicted on our map. Oh-oh, no pathfinders lighted “T”; the Rebecca signals seem to be too far right. What to do?
We were not one formation, but many. The 4-minute red warning light had long since been given. Each flight or individual aircraft now gave the green light, dropping the troops as best as they could. Once relieved of paratroopers, it was on the deck for most. Few climbed out immediately to the briefed 2,200 feet.
The Germans again put their searchlights on us; persistent bastards, they were. As long as the eerie blue lights just flicked through the cabin, it was OK. If a light got a hold, we would be a goner. Every gun in the area would then be on us.
Over the water we felt safe, but damned if one of our planes was not challenged by the invasion fleet. In response, the color flare, green-green-red, was fired. It was accepted; the aircraft was not fired upon. We saw a barrage balloon at 500 feet a few miles off the coast near checkpoint Paducah.
After flying well clear of the coast, and on a northeastern heading generally paralleling the penin-sula, crew chiefs and radio operators pulled in the static lines. Pilots turned over the controls to the co-pilots for a well-deserved trip to the lavatory. A cigarette at this time was very soothing. The hand that gripped the control column would be stiff for some time, as if still clutching the wheel.
At checkpoint Spokane, we flew a reciprocal of the inbound heading back to Gallup. From there we would take the same route home as we flew coming in. Once settled, shroud lines in, aircraft in-spected for damage, etc., crewmembers became quiet and thoughtful. It was like putting one’s brain on a playback loop, repeating the four to six minutes from when we entered the cloud bank ’till clear of the DZ. Over and over we replayed that tape. What happened, how did it happen, what should have happened? This loop played itself all the way home. Damned if the weather didn’t do it to us again!
FIELD 484: Practically the whole base stayed up for the return of the aircraft. Everyone felt they were part of the mission. HAROLD WILLEN kept a pot of coffee warm in operations for the staff that did not fly this one. The mess sent over snacks in anticipation of a long night. Intelligence organized its notes, ready to debrief the crews and collect classified material. Fuel trucks were topped off, ready to service the aircraft for a fast turnaround, should one be called. Sheetmetal and aircraft welders were ready to make repairs. On a mission like this, they knew there would be holes in the aircraft needing their attention. Personal equipment and riggers were ready to collect and inspect life vests, flak suits and parachutes. Seems like every time there is a mission, some overanxious crewman will mistakenly pull the ripcord, requiring the chute to be repacked.
VAN CLEEF: “For those air crewmen left behind when the squadron took off, there is a very ambiva-lent feeling about going as a member of the group, being part of it, and staying behind on the ground and watching everybody go. I finally came to the conclusion that it is the same thing as the devil and the deep blue sea. There is no real answer to it. You’re damn glad you’re not going to get your pants shot off. On the other hand, having watched everyone else go is a lonesome sort of thing, and it’s a helluva long wait for them to come back. I did spend a lot of time on the flight line waiting for them to come back.”
Not Fun to be Leftbehind
[BOB HILLS]: “For myself and a number of other glider pilots I can say there was a strange feeling of being left out of it. A glider ride into a France where Germans outnumbered the allies could end up in serious harm, but that’s what we had been trained for and anticipating. Ever since Barkston Heath, any glider pilot in the squadron could see that our emphasis was on paradrops, practice flights night after night, but no gliders. A couple of us actually discussed trying to get transferred to one of the groups where gliders were flying every day. But reason soon settled the idea as too much bravado and too lit-tle loyalty. Our turn would come, maybe.”
It was just breaking light when we heard the drone of the first aircraft returning. QUINN CORLEY led our squadron to Normandy, but he was far from the first coming in. That honor, we think, goes to CHESTER BARBER. After the DZ he firewalled the engines, hit the deck and took advantage of every short cut. He didn’t come up to briefed altitude ’till he was halfway home.
Our first aircraft landed at 0430. The squadron dribbled in during the next hour. Three of our air-craft were unaccounted for.
Intelligence wanted to know exactly where each of us dropped, flak positions, distressed aircraft sighted and so on. The two-ounce shot of spirits administered by our medical staff took the edge off our hyper condition. Doctor RICH, our new flight surgeon, looked over each crewman with a watchful eye, alert to detect any unusual strain.
Crewman reaction to the mission varied greatly. Usually it. was the new co-pilots who first showed strain. Their job was to observe everything, the engine instruments, look for flak and machinegun em-placements to report to intelligence, watch out for other aircraft, as was certainly needed on this mis-sion, etc. While going into the DZ, some displayed extreme excitement. The veteran pilots quickly drew their attention away from the enemy fire and into the cockpit, soothing the atmosphere with calm instructions.
The pilots knew that there was no way of getting through that wall of fire without getting hit. They held their place in the formation anyway, determined to go with it. Not until after the aircraft were re-lieved of their cargo did they break loose and hit the deck. It was a pleasurable physical release to buzz the countryside for those few minutes, dodging searchlights and enemy fire. Good feeling!
Then Came the Reactions
Then there were those who displayed a delayed reaction, as experienced by this crewman: “I’ll never forget it. I guess you’re all tensed up, but once you get over it and are on the ground you start thinking about the others. Is everybody back? You watch for them to come in. They took us over to the flight surgeon. I got a shot of Gibsons to settle me. We were like this (demonstrating trembling hands). Do you remember shaking? I sure do. I don’t know what happened. When I got back to the barracks I couldn’t keep my legs still, no matter what. I felt like I had to tie them down. Then the Gibson took hold. Like after previous missions I had a fitful night, wondering about those poor bastards in France. How were they doing? Did I do all right? Then proud that I was a part of the big invasion. What happens tomorrow? How many saw me shake? What will they think of me in the morning?”
The intensity of the emotions involved can be felt in CHARLES RATLIFF’s account. Chuck joined the squadron a few months earlier and flew this mission with ED SUTTON. While flying be-tween the islands of Alderney and Guernsey, “The fire on our right and left looked like so many lighted tennis balls; however, their beauty did not blot out the death message they carried. If you saw one standing still, it had your number. Ed would fly and I’d watch. I’d fly and Ed would watch. What we saw scared the living hell out of us. Our final turn took us across Cherbourg and the drop zone. On this black finger of land would be the lighted DZ. At this point we would give the troopers a green light and they would go out at about 600 feet to whatever life or death held for them on the ground. The ground was lit up like Las Vegas, just from the intense gunfire from the enemy’s machineguns firing straight up giving the illusion of umbrellas, truly the umbrellas of Cherbourg.”
In this frightful madness of gunfire and sky mixed with parachuting men and screaming planes, we found that we had missed the DZ and we were now out over the water. We were dumbfounded. What to do? Ed smiled at me and I smiled back and we turned that sucker around the widest circle you can imagine. We circled back to 600 feet, hoping that it would be the right decision. The jump sergeant was now in the cockpit helping us locate the DZ. I thought we would never find it. Seemed an eternity. Finally the sergeant pointed his finger and, sure enough, off to the right was the DZ. We pulled back the throttles to a semi-stalling speed, hit the green light, and the troopers jumped into the black night. Needless to say, we racked that plane around about 100 feet off the ground and shot the cooking oil to it. Off, full bore, like a scalded dog, planes were going down around us and I was sure we would be next. The gray dawn was peeping over the horizon. When we reached Folkingham we both agreed there was no future in flying.”
Once on the ground, crews made a cursory examination of the aircraft for battle damage. To the surprise of all, only half of our aircraft received hits. They ranged from relatively harmless to heavy structural damage that could have caused a flaming crash onto the drop zone.
“At about 0530 the squadron mission report “Neptune-Boston 5/6 June, 1944,” was delivered to group headquarters. It indicated: low clouds over the DZ, drop at 700-2200 feet, at 105-120 lAS, within one to one and one-half miles of DZ. Two hours later, group sent a flash consolidated report to higher headquarters.”
We were now down to one missing aircraft. At 0815 one aircraft returned; the delay was due to be-coming lost over south England on the way back. The other aircraft previously unaccounted for made an emergency landing at Tarrant Rushton (on the south coast of England) with wounded aboard.
Here is the Story from the Crew of C-47 #42-32810, Chalk #52
Pilot 1st. Lt. NELSEN, ROBERT (NMI)
Co-Pilot 1st Lt. DENSON, JOE D.
Navigator 2nd Lt. CONNORS, WALTER W.
Radio Oper. SSgt. ALDRICH, WILLIAM F.
Crew chief Sgt. LACHMUND, ROBERT A.
[BOB NELSEN] “It was about 10 P.M. JOE DENSON and I climbed into the cockpit and checked out everything; Start engine signal came. We started the left engine; the right would not start. It just would not catch at all. The other planes were taxiing out and lining up to do their runups. 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 810. It didn’t take fifteen minutes before we had made the transfers and had engines started.
We led our flight out to the runup 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 as briefed and started looking for signs of the DZ. We couldn’t find it at first.
Where is the DZ?
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 DZ?” 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.”
[BOB NELSEN] “I set up a wide turn to the left. I set it up so we would pass over the site where we estimated to DZ to be. Tracers continued to light up the night. It looked ominous. We completed our 360 turn and slowed down to drop our stick. Finally the ground fire got us. What a racket! As far as I know our troops all got out per schedule.”
[JOE DENSON] “We got shot up pretty bad. NELSEN took a hit in the leg, ALDRICH took one in the face, CONNORS 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 Nellie, he seemed to be nodding. The troops had already jumped. At first I didn’t know Nellie 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 de-grees (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 mor-phine 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 Take Over
The medics put me on a stretcher and into an ambulance to a general hospital five miles away. It was about 4:30 AM. 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. The invasion wasn’t announced until 6:30 AM.”
[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. As for me, the British doctors gave me a few swigs of scotch—and then a whole bottle of gin.”
REST YOUR EYES, GENTLE READER
NOTE: The story splits here. Here is the same event, recorded on another occasion by Bob Lachmund. This report was combined with the report of NEAL BEAVER, the paratrooper jumpmaster. The combined story can be read in THE TROOP CARRIER D-DAY FLIGHTS.
“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 6:00 AM June 5, and I had to get the seven o’clock train to Grantham.
It was about a four-hour ride to Grantham, and when we arrived we found that the trucks that usu-ally 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 Flor-ence. 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 ó 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 en-gines was given, ours would not start. We tried hand cranking, but only succeeded in sticking the sole-noids. After a brief discussion, it was decided to change to a different plane. LES MURPHY’S plane was ready and we shifted to it. We took off with our wingmen and tried to catch the Squadron.
We Never Found the Others
We crossed the Channel and started looking for the drop zone. We finally saw it, but the pilots de-cided that we were too far away. We went around again and that is when we were hit. I cannot remem-ber if paratroopers jumped when we were hit or if they had already jumped, but it was close together. 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 cords, 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 navigators table and the splinters lodged in his face and some had pierced his eyelid. On getting to the cockpit, I found that Nellie had taken one through his leg and that JOE DENSON was flying the ship from the right seat. The left control column was useless. The shot that had 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 Nellie’s shoulders and tried to lift him out of the seat while Joe flew with one hand and tried to support Nellie’s leg with the other. We finally got him out of the cockpit and put him on a litter. CONNORS and ALDRICH stayed with him while I went back to the cockpit.
When I got back to the cockpit, we tried to assess the damage to the plane. The engines were all right and we had full control on the right stick, but the left stick was useless. We headed back to Eng-land. As we approached the first lighted emergency field, we fired our flares and they promptly shut off the lights. We headed for a second field and Joe greased the landing. Maybe the fact that we did not know the condition of the landing gear had something to do with it. At any rate, we were down and in one piece, even if we had a few holes.
The British medics came out to the ship, but they were not very well equipped. We gave them the big aircraft first aid bag so that they could put splints on NELSEN’S leg. They would not touch ALDRICH’S face because they were afraid of damaging his eye. They got NELSEN and ALDRICH off to the hospital and DENSON, CONNORS, and I went into debriefing. DENSON still insists that it was a bottle of gin later when we were released, but I looked at my watch and it was 6 o’clock ó 24 hours after the taps on the door in Leeds.”
AFTERWARDS: The cooks did a fine job of serving us fresh eggs and bacon, pancakes and French toast and even brought out the hoarded pineapple juice. Exhausted, the combat crews went to their quarters for much needed sleep. The linemen were feverishly attending to the damaged aircraft. The squadron had one shot down over enemy territory, one emergency landing at Tarrant Rushton, and seven other aircraft that had sustained battle damage.
The Second Mission, Neptune #2, Freeport (D+1)
During the afternoon of the sixth we were alerted to fly another mission to DZ “N”. This time we would parachute in supplies. The briefing was scheduled for 1900 for a takeoff the next morning at 0300, June 7. Our route in would be a reciprocal of the course we took while coming out on the previ-ous mission. Good news. By approaching the DZ from the east to the west we would be exposed to the possibility of enemy fire for only 3-1/2 minutes. After making our drop, a left 180 turn was to be taken, and then return by the same course we took in.
Each aircraft would have the help of two quartermaster delivery personnel. They assisted in load-ing the aircraft cabin and parapacks with the much needed medical supplies, food and ammunition. Over the DZ, it was they who had the responsibility of delivering (kicking out) the cargo. The quar-termaster personnel, on the whole, were not particularly enthused about going on a combat mission.
At 0200, the morning of the 7th, we retraced yesterday’s steps, drawing escape and evasion kits plus maps, and gathered for our final briefing. We didn’t like the weather briefing one bit. Though un-favorable, we would not require instrument flying, so we were told. The 1500-foot cloud base had enough breaks for the groups to form, theoretically. Hell, we could look at the sky and see that this would be a problem, not even a peek of the moon, it was a dark, dark night.
[BARBER, Chalk #41] “We took off well into the night. The weather was closing down. By the time we got to 12-1400 feet it closed in on us. We were m formation by that time. I was flying from the right seat because we were on the left wing of the lead plane. It was so thick that all I could do was fly formation on the blue haze coming out of the exhaust stack of the left engine of the lead plane. That’s what I flew on until it got to the point that I could no longer do that. We pulled away and up, trusting to the good Lord that we didn’t fly into anyone else doing the same thing that we were doing. Our lead plane had a navigator. When we lost him, we were on our own.
Well Briefed Before Takeoff
We had been well briefed before takeoff. BILL BOLTZ paid good attention to the headings to be taken and navigated expertly. When we broke out of the weather some time later, we were “dead on course”. Another C-47 was ahead of us. With no navigator aboard I thought I had better move up on him, maybe he had a navigator. We pulled up on his left wing. He was not from our group. We flew there for several minutes before he realized we were there. When he looked out and saw that someone was sitting on his wing, he wheeled to the right as hard as he could turn and went the other way.
We went on doing our own navigating, flying right down on the deck, ’til we reached the drop zone. There we pulled up high enough to “throw out the stuff” and came back out, again right on the deck; must have been 20 feet off the ground. I flew over three American tanks near a hedgerow, their crews sitting on top of the tanks waving to us. We saw some German troops in and around a farm complex. One was standing in the middle of the courtyard firing at us with his sub machinegun. I learned later that some of our crew chiefs took those brief moments to fire their Thompson sub ma-chineguns at the Germans on the ground, and any other target of opportunity. We didn’t tarry long. Once we got rid of the cargo we hightailed it home.”
[TILLEY, Chalk #38] “The next night was a resupply. The weather was bad. Really bad. We got lost. DANNY (KRIEDT) asked me to go to the astrodome, you know the bubble on top, and I’m looking, when all of a sudden, on top of us a C-47. It went whoosh! I said “Oh my God, that was close”. I don’t think we were more than 10 feet from colliding with the other plane—10 feet! It was dark, could see no lights, it was rough. That plane looked like a big fish when it flew over us. I don’t think Danny saw it. That was close. When we got up over the clouds, there were airplanes all over, scattered in every direction.”
[VAN CLEEF Chalk #28] “Monroe, Group Operations led our squadron on the resupply mission. I was flying on his right wing. We rendezvoused all right, that was no problem, but after going into the cloudbank, it became very thick. I was able to stay with Monroe for one-and-a-half to two minutes. When I could no longer maintain visual contact with him, I broke off. We went up, heading away from the lead plane, trying to break out into the open. After five minutes of this, still in the soup, a bright orange light seemed to flood the cockpit. Instinctively I abruptly shoved the nose of the plane down, throwing the guys and equipment in the back all over the damned place. What happened was that I had come up underneath another plane and was directly under the amber recognition light under the bottom of the aircraft. About five minutes later we broke out, sweating and delighted to see that it was clear on top; we were at 8-9,000 feet.
Planes All Over the Place
There, we saw planes all over the damn place. I knew that only one out of every five or six had a navigator. I asked RAY FAUST to set the course to the first turning point, then to go up into the astro-dome and, with the lamp, signal in Morse Code, N-A-V-I-G-A-T-O-R. He did this for about 15 min-utes. We picked up a dozen planes. After making the first turn, FAUST went up into the bubble and did it again. By the time we made landfall on the peninsula, we had 32-35 planes lined up behind us. This made a respectful force to dilute the fire that came up from the ground.
By that time it was daybreak. There was a hell of a lot of fighting going on down below. The QM men were so paralyzed with fear that our crew chief JIM STEVENSON had to do most of the work himself. He got most of it kicked out around the church at Ste. Mere-Eglise. Fortunately, he got that out before I had to start taking evasive action.
We got hit with all kinds of machinegun and small arms fire. STEVENSON caught one across his parachute harness that bounced off the Bible he was carrying in his shirt pocket. FAUST was standing between JACK RYAN and myself, when two or three came through. One creased the cheeks of his buttocks. About the same time our left engine caught fire. We had to cross control to douse that fire.”
[BUD WESSOLEK Chalk #361 “My pilot was JENS LERBACK. I was standing between the pilot and the co-pilot looking out to see whether we made an OK drop when I felt like my right leg was on fire. My pants leg was burning. I tried to move and fell over in the companionway. When my blood reached the crew in the rear of the plane, one of them came forward. I directed him to dump sulpha powder over the wounds. JENS dropped me off at an emergency location (Warmwell in Southern England). like a MASH Unit. He stayed with me as long as he could, and got me a canteen of Scotch.
Of the 15 C-47’s furnished by our squadron for this mission, three had returned early, with their loads. After becoming lost in the weather, they had to land in southern England and were then directed by command to return to home base, as it would be impossible for them to rejoin the formation.
Beginning at 0800, those that completed the mission began to stagger in. The last to return was the lead aircraft of our squadron, piloted by our Group and Squadron Operations Officers Lieutenant Colonel Robert Monroe and Captain WILLIAM KELLER. Even over the drop zone, with enemy fire all over the place, Monroe sucked on his pipe, seemingly unconcerned with the Germans.
[SPEED] “We dropped the supplies while we were being shot at. The fire was intense. One bullet came between the QM trooper and me as we kicked the bundles out. The left engine was shot out just before we hit the drop zone. Colonel Monroe let the engine windmill until we passed the coast before feathering it. That was to keep the Germans from concentrating their fire on us, a damaged aircraft.
C-47s Ditched in the Channel
On the way back we spotted a C-47 ditched in the Channel and circled it. The downed crew was wearing life vests and were in their dinghy. They waved their hands indicating that they were OK.
Monroe and crew hobbled back at 120 mph, by way of the North Sea and the Wash, staying over water as much as possible so they could ditch if that became necessary. When they reach-ed the coast of England the British shot a challenge flare across their bow.”
[SPEED] “The flare pistol was in place and properly loaded with the color of the day. Colonel Monroe told me not to shoot it. Do you think I was nervous? I held off, but my finger would not re-lease from the trigger. In seconds, the British lobbed an antiaircraft shell that exploded about 1,000 feet in front of us. Monroe said, ‘Shoot it!” Of course I did. I nearly yanked that pistol out of its mount.”
A couple of P-51s escorted them to the field. With a feathered engine, the C47 put on a fine show, doing a buzz job of the base. Unknown to those on the ground, when Monroe advanced the throttle of the good engine while on final, it too went out. There was no time for feathering; they landed with two dead engines.
[SPEED] “Upon inspection, we found 42 holes in the aircraft. A bullet had cut the left throttle cable causing its failure. Only a few cable strands were keeping the right engine running, until the throttle was pushed a little harder. That bullet, about the size of a .38 caliber, lodged in the radio operator’s table. I still have it.”
The 313th Group leading the 52nd Wing 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 com-pletely, and aircraft then proceeded individually to DZ. 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 A/C. What appeared to be 4OMM 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 2OMM fire from Carentan.”
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 para-troopers. 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 where and when the invasion was to take place.
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 buildup.
In Holland, prospective drop and landing zones were flooded. Preceding D-Day, allied spies para-chuted into Holland were allowed to overhear that Pas de Calais would be the primary assault point on the continent, just in case they were captured and interrogated, as some were.
Also preceding D-Day, Sir Bernard Montgomery was seen inspecting units in Gibraltar, steering attention to a probable increase in activity on the Italian front, and perhaps an invasion of southern France. Actually, Montgomery was still in England working on plans for the Normandy invasion. What the German spies saw was an actor who looked like and played Montgomery’s part verywell.
Patton’s Phantom 1st Army Group
The “biggy” though, was George C. Patton’s 1st Army Group. Between radio intercepts of the 1st Army Group’s communications and reports from spies that Germans had in England, there was abso-lutely no doubt in the German high command that the main thrust of the invasion would take place at Pas de Calais. There were two problems with this. First, there was no 1st Army Group; it was fictitious, made up of dummy landing craft, vehicles, camps and wireless communication provided by a phantom organization. Second, from the onset of the war, the British had captured spies who had been dropped into their country and subsequently turned them around. The spies were sending messages back to Germany, which were authored by the British.
An Army Group is very large. All of the Allied ground forces that landed in Normandy (the Eng-lish, Canadian and American units) were part of the 21st Army Group. German intelligence believed the phantom 1st Army Group’s order of battle to be even greater than that of the 21st Army Group.
When we went in on the first night, we were unaware that, preceding the American stream into the peninsula, British bombers flew above our flight level with the intention of being picked up by the German radar. The British continued past HOBOKEN for some distance before making a feint toward France, hopefully to draw enemy fighters and attention away from Normandy.
Though we were not jumped by enemy fighters, the weather did more to disrupt the drops than the enemy could possibly have done. Rather than a compact drop as planned and trained for, the drop pat-tern looked more like a pepper shaker had been waved over the peninsula.
Many paratroopers landed in fields flooded by the Germans as a precaution against an airborne in-vasion. Progress of the paratroopers was measured like a mile a day. If not floods, then it was the hedgerows that slowed them. Almost every hedge concealed a German, a decided advantage for them.
It would be days before the 508th was formed as a fighting unit. In the meantime the troopers did what they knew how to do well, cut communications and disrupt the enemy’s ability to respond. Six of their number ambushed and killed General Lieutenant Wilhelm Fally, Commander of the 91st Divi-sion, delaying response of that division from the north.
The Scattered Troops Confused the Germans
The drop was so disbursed and the paratroopers so effective in cutting communications, blocking roads, and attacking troop movements, that the German 7th Army, which commanded the defense of Normandy, was unaware of the amphibious landings on Utah beach, even as 1ate as 1720 on the 6th. Also, try as they may, German intelligence was unable to make sense of the spread of paratroopers and great numbers of amphibious landings. In their attempt to give a tidy intelligence appraisal, they de-layed the report of the invasion. At the end of D-Day, hardly any German units outside the beach area knew that the invasion had taken place.
Eisenhower had his Fingers Crossed
Eisenhower and his staff kept their fingers crossed hoping that the German 15th Army would still expect a landing at Pas de Calais, and stay in that area for a couple of more days.
How did the 29th do on D-Day? Quite well; and not so well. Reports from the 508th indicate that leaders of the serials that carried them in did quite well using their radar (GEE). However, the forma-tions disintegrated when they entered the cloud bank that morning, leaving only a few in formation behind the leader.
The weather also loused up the pathfinders who were to mark our DZ. As usual, three pathfinder teams preceded the main assault, knowing one would reach and properly mark the DZ. In this case, only one came close; 1-1/4 miles. Here they set up the transmitters. This is why there was conflict between our visual sighting of the drop zone and the Rebecca signal received by the pathfindersí transmitter. They were off.
The accuracy of our resupply mission (NEPTUNE #2) is questionable. We put the bundles where we thought they should be. Unlike the paratroopers who could later tell us where they had landed, the supply bundles were mute. Enough to say that when we got there, DZ “N” was still in German hands.
On both missions, our group sustained more damage than any of the other groups in the wing. On D-Day, the group lost 3 aircraft and had 33 damaged. On D + 1, there were five aircraft of the 313th lost, with 17 damaged. On the first mission one aircraft of the 315th was damaged by an accidental ex-plosion from an anti-personnel grenade amongst the paratroopers, killing three of them, and hospital-izing 15 others.
On D + 1, two aircraft of the 316th collided on takeoff. One pilot died of injuries from the accident. The loss, outside our squadron that affected us most, was that of Barney Lihn, our group fight surgeon. He flew the D + 1 mission with the 40th.
War Diary Neptune #2, (Chalk #7) C-47, 43-15637
“Shot down by enemy flak near DZ and landed in enemy territory in a flooded area with parapacks still loaded. Lieutenant Wilson extricated himself from nose of ship and succeeded in saving himself from enemy fire by submerging his body beneath the water, breathing through tube of his Mae West. Afterwards, he made his way around aircraft and discovered Staff Sergeant Jennings wounded. Al-though wounded himself, Lieutenant Wilson carried Jennings to a dry spot and then departed for aid. He was refused help at a nearby French farmhouse and told to proceed down along the road, where he fell into German hands. He was placed in a nearby field hospital and 36 hours later was rescued by Al-lied forces when Germans were forced to retreat. Later, bodies of Lieutenant Bagley, Staff Sergeant Jennings, and Major Lihn were discovered near plane wreckage.”
JOHN BUZALKO did not go on NEFTUNE #2 with CHESTER BARBER. The two left side gas tanks of his gooney were riddled from gunfire. SLERF’s left engine also sustained flak damage, suffi-ciently to require an engine change. Buzz resented the Germans for having hurt his aircraft. Crew chiefs were like that.
Van learned, upon his return from D + 1, that of the nine strands of wire that made up the aileron cable, seven-and-a-half strands had been cut by machinegun bullets. With all the evasive action he took and the cross controlling to knock out the fire, those one-and-a-half strands in the aileron held up. An example, I saw all the way through the war, that we Americans built stuff to keep people alive.
RYAN and VAN CLEEF had to force FAUST to go to the aid tent when they landed, FAUST was that embarrassed. Afterward, the crew didn’t help matters by calling him “FLAK-IN-THE-FANNY-FAUST,” or “FLAKASS” for short.
When in combat, our adrenal gland is very active. STEVENSON was wounded but did not know it immediately. CLINTON COLLINS remembers, “I happened to be at the main gate when an ambulance pulled up with a wounded crew chief from our squadron. I talked with him and he showed me the Bi-ble he was carrying with a hole through it. He said he was pulling in the shroud lines at the time he was hit with small arms fire. The bullet penetrated the Bible and his skin, coming out his side.”
[WESSOLEK] “I was moved to another hospital, I don’t know where. The doctors passed by me every day, just looking at my chart. I got impatient one day and asked what in hell was going on. The doctor said, “You’re not an emergency because you’re going to lose that leg anyhow. “I could under-stand that by witnessing the really serious wounded they were bringing in by the dozens.”
The Right Doctor Came Along
“I accepted the fact that I would lose my leg and started to plan how I might live with that, when a young doctor with a three-day growth of beard approached my bed, and asked me if I would give him the opportunity to save the leg. I had, according to him, about fifteen fractures and a hundred pieces of metal of all sizes distributed through my leg. He performed an operation that had the orthopedic ex-perts in the States shaking their heads. I lay in a body cast for quite a while. One day they cut my cast down to just what encased my right leg. I was sent by plane via the northern route to good old New York, U.S.A.”
[NELSEN] “When I woke several hours later I couldn’t move. I was in a body cast from my chest to my toes. A piece of the shell that came through the cockpit hit the top of my femur (thigh bone). About 10 inches of the bone was broken into pieces (There are still 8-10 pieces of German steel imbedded in the bone.) I don’t remember how many blood and plasma transfusions I got that day and the next sev-eral days, but I did get a lot of attention. On June 7 casualties started coming in, in larger and larger numbers. I was almost ignored, except that every three hours I got a shot of penicillin. Dr. Hagen, the orthopedic surgeon, conveniently arranged that the cast expose two shoulders and two hams for tar-gets. After about three weeks I was moved to another hospital near Cirencester in the Midlands. There they put me in a Thompson traction device designed to minimize shortening of the femur.
The British hospital beds were unique. The mattress was series of one-foot wide padded sections. When I was in full body cast and it came time for a BM, they just pulled out one of the sections and put the bedpan underneath.
It was special event when CRIST, TAIT, DENSON, Dr. RICH and others came over to see how I was doing. The first part of July, CRIST came over with a surprise. He had the orders and a pair of Captain’s bars that he pinned on my pajamas. I flew co-pilot with CRIST when we left Laurinburg-Maxton for North Africa. We were known as “Pappy and Lil Abner,” I being the tall one, Lil Abner.”
JOE DENSON is still smarting because of the oversight in reporting the wounds for the other three crewmembers, WALT CONNORS, BILL ALDRICH and BOB LACHMUND. Somewhere in admini-stration between the English hospital and the issuing authority, there was a breakdown. Though wounded, these three members were not listed as such, and denied the Purple Heart, a medal they justly deserved.
Gliders were used extensively on D and D +1. While we Americans were dropping our troops in the wee hours of the 6th of June, the British employed Horsa gliders to spearhead their assault. Later in the day some Americans placed CG-4Aís on their landing zones. The larger American glider operation was conducted on D + 1. Most historians agree that D and D +1 glider missions were highly success-ful. The 313th T.C. Group, however, was not involved in the Normandy glider operations. Not directly.
While the pre-D-Day flying activity of our group involved a great deal of formation flying and drop training, the glidermen were being farmed out to other units and schools. Some of our glider me-chanics were placed on temporary duty with the depot at Crookham Common. There the troops worked seven days a week, twelve hours a day, assembling gliders for the invasion. They surpassed the hoped for 20 CG-4A’s a day output to bring that number up to 30 a day. The morale of the troops was outstanding. The depot realized the exertion involved, and fed the glider mechanics four times a day.
Others were at, or returning from, the Horsa factory at Christ Church during D-Day. LEROY KIRKEY tells, ìI happened to be with some other mechanics on our way back to Folkingham, when the order came that all personnel were confined to base in preparation for the invasion of the continent. Our travel orders didn’t require us to be back to our base until Monday. We decided to swing by Lon-don on Friday for the weekend. The MPs would stop us for identification and check our travel orders. They would shake their heads and go about their business. I highly suspect we were the only GIs in London, legally, that weekend.
Most of our TDY and DS personnel were now back at our unit again. They were glad to be part of the squadron rather than just a replacement. As if to rub it in, damn if our glider pilots were not again alerted for transfer, this time to the 53rd Wing.
For the two weeks following D-Day, the squadron did very little flying, but was on almost constant alert for a chance mission that might spring up overnight.
Captain TRAVERS pressed the aircraft mechanics and crew chiefs to quickly put their aircraft in flyable condition, using all the persuasion at his command. In one of his pep talks, TRAVERS laid into the mechanics, accusing them of being dime-a-dozen crew chiefs. A deafening silence occurred. One crew chief flipped a quarter to the captain. The meeting ended with the crew chiefs silently going their way, doing their thing; fixing aircraft as best they could. The engineering officer went his way, to sup-ply, smiling. He knew the chiefs would do their best. Now he had a pep talk for technical supply.
Really, the enlisted linemen and crew chiefs liked the engineering officer. TRAVERS never missed an opportunity to brag about his men when he was out of range of their hearing.
JUNE 22: With less than an hour to prepare, five of our squadron took off at 1400; a half hour later five more took off for Aldermaston. There we were loaded with 55,000 pounds of 155mm howitzer shells. The next day at 0440 our first section departed, followed at 0530 by the second section for A-2, a strip near Criqueville, France, (49 22N-01 00W) delivering the much-needed ammunition. Our planes were provided with fighter cover. Fighting was in progress not far from the landing strip and the distant rumbling of guns could be heard. While no enemy planes were sighted, our crews were in-formed that only a short while before they had landed, German planes had been over the field. Ground personnel, with the help of the crew, hustled the unloading allowing the aircraft to take off quickly, to make room for those still scheduled to land.
Field Designations A & B
A-2 indicated an American engineered field. “B” was designated for the airfields that were built or made serviceable by the British. The very first field used by the Allies was A-1 at St. Pierre du Mont (49 23N-00 58W). It was a 5,000 foot strip right on the beach, used primarily as an emergency landing strip (ELS). Its first customer was a P-51 in trouble. It landed while equipment was still on one end of the strip.
SCOTLAND: Twelve of our aircraft were to proceed to St. Andrews where Polish airborne would use our aircraft for training. To most, this seemed more like a vacation rather than duty. The Poles used the aircraft as a platform for loading and vacating exercises.
There was probably no one who enjoyed this duty more than GEORGE TILLEY. He was born in Scotland of English parents. “I was back home,” he said.
The Squadron arrived at the Scottish air base late in the evening. Our bachelor officers found it dif-ficult to accept a beautiful 20 year-old English WAAF awakening them and asking if they wanted their shoes shined (a batwoman).
Golf enthusiasts were in heaven. Here was the birthplace of the game. The “old” course was still operational. Seemed more like an obstacle course to some, especially the 18th green, not at all as smooth as the American courses.
DOWIS THOMPSON and TED CRALL were more naturally inclined, dating a couple of lassies during their stay. They took in the sights between periods of holding hands.
The Moscow Courier
A sight not easily forgotten, however, was the Moscow Courier. A British twin-engine Mosquito bomber made the trip from St. Andrews, directly to Moscow, overflying Germany. The Mosquito was stripped of armour, armaments and all other unnecessary weight to make room for extra fuel cells. We watched as the aircraft taxied to the very end of the runway. There the engines were checked, and then power was advanced. When full power was attained, the brakes were released and the Mosquito went screaming down the runway. With only feet to spare, the aircraft cleared the runway, still screaming, grasping for altitude. A courier pilot told us that they were too high and flying too fast when over Germany to be threatened in any way.
During our stay in Scotland we were privileged to have our own courier service. GEORGE SANTICH navigated such a flight, carrying personnel and mail back and forth to Folkingham. He re-calls a time when his aircraft carried a British general and several Allied officers. “One of the Captains was Count George Rostworowski, Polish paratrooper commander who had been a German prisoner of war, had escaped to France, and then to Britain.”
Scotland made a favorable impression on our crews. Enough so that there were volunteers galore when it came to liquor runs. LARRY CAYWOOD was with CHESTER BARBER, CONNOR and CHRISTENSON when they flew to Perth, then jeeped to the many small towns. On one such visit they saw a Fair and Strength contest. They also brought back several cases of scotch.
Then there was the time Pappy made a visit. “With my name being LAIRD, I thought I would go to Scotland and see my kin, the Scots. I got a few days leave, went to Scotland and damned near froze to death. Stayed one night and said ‘it’s too damn cold for me,’ and left. Never went back to Scotland again.”
July started slow. The fourth came and went almost unnoticed. A mental picture of the fireworks on the continent was all the excitement needed on that day.
Supplies In—Wounded Out
Not ’till the 11th did we pick up on our supply missions. Now, in most cases, we carried in evac personnel, usually a flight nurse and medical technician. These people were all business. While flying to France, they, like most others in the cabin, napped. While our cargo was being unloaded, the nurse and medic rested away from the activity. However, once the aircraft was unloaded, they often pitched in to set up the webbed belts. These hooked from the top of the cabin to the floor, readying them for litters that would be slipped into the openings in the belt, which allowed patients to be stacked, four high. The air evac people were tremendous. From the time the ambulances arrived at the aircraft, nurse and medic became different people, all attentive of the physical well-being and spirit of those entrusted to them. They knew just how to talk to the wounded, giving them encouragement without pity. With certainty, many of our troops survived only because of the caring attention of the air evac personnel.
A planeload of wounded, in most cases, involved both litter and ambulatory patients. The walking invariably sought out those more serious than they to help. Not at all unusual to see an ambulatory sit-ting next to a “stump” of a body, the poor soul who lost his arms and legs and was encased in a cast covering his entire body. Holes were made for the eyes and the nose/mouth area. The ambulatory fed beverage to the patient and offered conversation throughout the trip.
We crewmen at first turned our eyes away from such severely wounded. These were not pleasant sights. As time went by, most of the 313th found strength in the eyes of those “encased”. Their steel blue or oak brown eyes told of their thankfulness at being alive.
Softball was not known to the British. The 29th and 47th Squadron played an exhibition game for the British at Kirton, some 25 miles from 484. The 47th defeated an all-star air depot team by a score of 5-3. The game was played at the Nottingham cricket grounds, using a borrowed pitcher, NORMAN FICKE of the 29th. Norm joined the members of the 47th while they enjoyed a steak dinner at the Beau-fort Club.
Ping-Pong, by both the women’s and men’s champions left the audience marveling at how easily that celluloid ball was smashed back and forth as only experts could do.
Boxing champ Billy Conn sparred three rounds to a capacity crowd at the gym. The exhibition was well received. On another occasion Joe Louis put on a show. As Joe sparred, he conversed with those at ringside. It was a joy to have a word with him, something to write home about. The fight fans on the other hand, were rather disappointed with the “Brown Bomber.” They wanted to see a brawl.
From the middle of the month on we flew missions to France about every other day. We were now taking our bedrolls or blankets with us. Too often we were caught on the continent, where we had to spend the night. Billets were not available at most of the forward bases. Before the end of the month, however, some strips, usually an airfield abandoned by the Germans, provided reasonable facilities. One enterprising troop carrier pilot, who knew he would have to spend a night in France, called vari-ous control facilities to ask about the movie showing that night. When he found one he liked, he landed.
The signal corps personnel were right behind the front line troops. In addition to setting up com-munications, they provided the projector and power source for showing movies; usually in the open, projected onto a bed sheet. Special services furnished the entertaining and current films. The signal corps, however, still showed the training and propaganda films, such as, “Why we Fight,” or “The Eastern Front”—and let’s not forget the films on how to brush teeth, and the boring VD films.
During this period, the cargo flown by our squadron was, for the most part, camouflage netting, medical supplies, paint, rations, signal corps equipment, coffee, batteries, mortar frames, blood plasma, gasoline, beans, maps, literature, medals and ammunition (from 30 caliber to 1O5MM mortar shells). An aircraft from another group was loaded with 5,000 pounds of razor blades. That amount satisfied the requirement for the Americans in France for but one day.
AUGUST: This month offered us diversity like we had not seen before. To begin with, a notice ap-peared on the bulletin board that mess kits were to be used in the EM mess in lieu of the china plates. Would you believe, better sanitation was given as the reason? That we could take, but the plugged drainage in the EM’s wash room was something else.
The duties within the intelligence section were varied. Most accepted the mission briefings, keep-ing track of enemy flak positions, mail censorship, security, etc. However, balloting for the November general election did not seem to fall under intelligence, least of all to those who were in intelligence. Lieutenant CHARLES EARLY took to the job of voting officer, chasing down eligible troops, and telling them how to get an absentee ballot.
BRUTUS: KELLER, our operations officer, after visiting a friend at a hospital in southern England, told of a woman there who had a little dog, but was unable to feed him. Her rations supply could not cover hers and the dog’s needs.
How Chester got the Dog
This story appealed to CHESTER BARBER. A few days later Chester was scheduled to go to that same hospital. There he would visit a cousin and look in on the woman with the dog. Chester did not find his cousin, but did find the dog. It was a bullmastiff, a huge dog. Looked like it weighed over a hundred pounds. Brutus had short fawn colored hair with a patch of white on its breast. He was even tempered, liked to be petted. The dog looked strong, but was not cumbersome, in fact, surprisingly ag-ile for an animal that large. But it was his eyes; dark doleful hazel eyes that made Chester melt inside. “I figured we could get all the food we needed for him from mess hall scraps. I volunteered, and the woman gave me the dog. Brutus sat on the back seat of the jeep, enroute to the airfield where the air-plane would take Brutus to his new home. The MP’s at the gate of the airbase did a double take, at first not realizing that the brown colored figure in the rear was a “humungous” dog. Brutus was to cause many surprises in the months to come.
V-1 VERGELUNSWAFFE #1: (Reprisal weapon #1). It was seven days after D-Day, June l3th at 0300 to be exact, that the first flying bomb fell on London. It looked like a small aircraft but was pow-ered with what was at the time a very sophisticated propulsion system, a pulsating jet engine.. A gyro-scope compass determined its course, a measured fuel supply its range. The altimeter was set anywhere from 2000 to 8,000 feet (usually 3,000). When the fuel was exhausted, the flying bomb toppled, falling to its target with its l,800 pounds of explosives. Considering that all control had to be set before the V-1 took off from its sled-like launching facility in France, it was surprisingly accurate, usually landing within 1,500 to 2,000 yards of its intended impact.
The V-1 was a fast “bugger”, flying between 360 and 375 miles per hour. At that time only the most sophisticated allied fighters could catch it. Initially there were not many defenses against this weapon. In the first two months of its use, several thousand were launched from facilities in France, mostly in the Pas de Calais area. These accounted for killing 4,000 civilians. Many more were injured.
It was not all one sided. One night during August we witnessed hundreds of British Lancaster bombers flying low over the base, headed south, then to Germany. They would know reprisal.
BREAK THROUGH: On the 28th of July, Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr. was on the scene in France. German Intelligence treated with caution reports coming out of Brittany that Patton was in that area. They were, however, giving up the idea that he would cross the channel at Pas de Calais, a couple of hundred miles to the northeast of Normandy. Late in July, the Germans released the 15th Army, but too late to impact on the invasion. Allied headquarters was jubilant over the results obtained from For-titude. Their most optimistic hope was that the German 15th Army would not be committed to battle for several days, but several weeks, as was the case, would have been viewed as unbelievable.
Pass in Review for the Generals
Generals like parades, but not so all the troops. We learned that Eisenhower’s review of the 82nd Air-borne would also include troop carrier combat crews. On the 9th we rehearsed. That was not so bad. Liberty runs to town were cancelled because the trucks were needed for the dry run. That was bad.
The next day, in full dress uniforms, we were transported by trucks to the British RAF, C-47 base at Leicester East. There Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower, with Generals Brereton of the Ninth Air Force and Ridgeway and Gavin of the 82nd Airborne, reviewed the troops.
Eisenhower lauded the airborne and troop carrier for their role in the Normandy invasions. He went on to announce the consolidation of all Allied Airborne divisions and Troop Carrier units into the First Allied Airborne Army. General Eisenhower, accompanied by Colonel Roberts, walked through the ranks of the 313th, pausing here and there to speak to various officers and men.
Well, that took care of rumors that the 82nd and Troop Carrier would be going home. They had fought hard through Sicily, Italy and Normandy, and some thought that the purpose of the parade was to announce their return to the States. Obviously, not so. We were to stay in Europe until Hitler was defeated. Eisenhower added that the airborne and troop carrier units would probably be called upon again to even exceed their accomplishments. This brought groan from some of the troops, which Ike took with an understanding smile.
While we were parading at Leicester, word was received in the squadron that the glider pilots were on a one-hour alert. On the 13th, 13of our glider mechanics went on DS to station 429. The following day 21 glider pilots were transferred to the 316th Troop Carrier Group.
GAEL (A-31), 48 05NA)2 11W: Nine aircraft from the 29th were the first Allied aircraft to land oh this recently abandoned German airfield. Several hundred Germans, we were told by the French Maquis, were hidden in a nearby woods. Armed Maquis, wearing the Free French FF armband, seemed to enjoy their task of clearing out the Germans. We gathered from our conversation with them that they did not intend to take any “Boches” alive.
The Germans left this field rather hurriedly. Left behind were portraits of “Der Fuehrer”, Goering and other high-ranking German officers and Nazi party officials. We brought back all the pictures that time and two arms would allow. Other treasures were pieces of German uniforms, disarmed German hand grenades and, oh yes, French wine. Only six of our aircraft brought back wounded. The other three came back empty.
It was strange, carrying aboard the same aircraft, both German and American wounded. One Ger-man was nearly hysterical when being carried aboard, believing our crews were going to dump the Germans into the sea when over the English Channel. (29th War Diary) “Lieutenant CARPENTER re-ported that, while flying over southern England on the way back, a German wounded prisoner kept looking eagerly out of the window for buzz bombs. His disappointment in not seeing any of his Fue-hrer’s ‘Victory’ missiles was keen.”
OPERATION TRANSFIGURE: On the morning of August 24th the base was sealed. Like other com-bat missions, passes were cancelled, incoming and outgoing phone calls monitored, etc. Though we were not officially informed as to the purpose of the alert, we saw a mission coming on. The German army was reeling back toward Paris. Their Seventh and the Fifth Panzer Army were desperately at-tempting to squeeze through the 12-mile gap at Falaise. A paradrop here, we amateurs knew, would cut them off.
Other activities that enhanced belief that a big one was coming, was when all but five of the re-maining glider pilots were sent on DS to the 316th. They were undoubtedly being set up for a sizeable glider operation with that group. On the other hand, two aircraft with full crew were placed on DS to the 29th. This day two more power pilots were permanently assigned. The next day, the 15th, four more aircraft came to us, two attached complete with crew, and two permanently assigned.
The squadron now had the strength of 28 aircraft. To complete the crews, the five glider pilots re-maining in the squadron were to be pressed into co-pilot duty, should a mission be called.
16 August 1944, 29th War Diary
“The 313th Group is to participate in a series of combat missions over France (TRANSFIGURE), the first of which, according to present plans, will take place this Friday. The object of these missions is to drop American, British, French and Polish paratroopers between Paris and Von Kluge’s retreating army and thus bottle it up in northern France. The DZ for the first mission is a meadow a few miles east of the town of Ablis; about 18 miles west of Paris. The 29th will contribute 27 planes. At the briefing Colonel Filer explained that our group would depart this field at 1630 and fly to Membury (England) where paratroopers would be loaded and dropped tomorrow morning. (Late that afternoon the mission was postponed 24 hours.) It is anticipated that we will participate in at least four or five missions in about as many days. Upon return to this field from the first mission, our ships must be ready to take off again within three hours.”
Why is it that no one remembers TRANSFIGURE? Because it was never flown. The mission was cancelled when General George S. Patton advanced so rapidly with his armored columns that the in-tended DZ was practically in American hands, thus obviating the necessity of a paradrop.
The planes that were attached to us for this mission returned to their respective units. Liberty runs were resumed. We expected the glidermen who were on loan to other units would soon return.
SOCIAL: The squadron was getting back to normal. The officers’ dance scheduled for the 19t1) was postponed to allow Lieutenant JOHN RYAN and Flight Officer JAMES FOSBURGH to paint murals behind the bar of the officers club. Scenes of landscapes of Sicily and the night bombing of a city were depicted. When the next dance was announced, however, we learned that (29th WAR DIARY) “The Ministry of Transportation had forbidden the use of civilian busses to transport girls to our dances, so GI trucks we used. There weren’t quite as many girls as formerly.”
The officer’s mess was really going uptown At one noon meal, an excellent vegetable soup was served. Two days later the novelty was soup. Talk about good living!
Falaise Gap Closed
It was on August 20th that the Falaise gap was finally sealed, encircling the remnants of the Ger-man Seventh Army and Fifth Panzer. Not as many of the enemy were caught in this pocket as hoped for. The Germans did, however leave behind 10,000 dead and 50,000 prisoners. At any rate, the Ger-mans were now on the run.
An Allied airborne and surface landing on southern France several days earlier was already pulling some heat away from the forces in north and west France. On the 23rd the Allies liberated Paris.
There was an urgency to capture a port facility intact, to supplement the limited cargo capabilities of Cherbourg, and receive the supplies which came directly from the Normandy beaches. Using aircraft as ‘trucks” to carry supplies was expensive. For example, it cost a gallon of gas to deliver two to the front when done by air. Cargo carrying also detracted from airborne training, which was much needed to maintain high skills to insure accurate glider landings and paradrops. The Germans knew this. Where they had to, they gave up real estate but not ports.
On the 28th, much to the delight of the American soldier, Reims was liberated. The French shared with their liberators their proudest product, champagne. While Allied maps showed lines of advance to the east and north of France, circles were drawn around the several meaningful port cities on the west coast of France. These were still held by the Germans. They did not give these up easily, and then not before their demolition engineers did a masterful job of rendering the ports useless. (As late as the 14th of September, six French port cities were still in German hands, surrounded by the Allies.)
LINNET: For all practical purposes the Germans were in a rout. In France, the Allies had fronts going simultaneously to the north, east, south and west. Toward the end of August, World War I battle-grounds were again occupied. Operation LINNET was for a paradrop ahead of the British thrusting north. The DZ would be in the Lillearras—Douai area, to cut off the retreating enemy, and thus anni-hilate the German Seventh Panzer and Fifteenth Armies. A drop zone several miles north of the Bel-gian town of Tournai was chosen.
[29th WAR DIARY SEPT. 1] “Early Sunday morning 23 of our ships, loaded with gliders, will spearhead the drop. Six hours after their return, 20 of them will haul two gliders each of airborne in-fantry to an LZ a mile north of the paratroop drop area. Truckload after truckload of 505th Paratroop Infantry arrived this afternoon, and the men bivouacked on the field.”
The drop never materialized. It was cancelled when ground troops again overran the DZ at Tour-nai. Arras, one area in consideration for the proposed drop, was later to become known to us. Our next home would be in that area.
Our glidermen returned to the squadron from DS with various other troop carrier units. This time it was for them really a “sweat job. Our pilots were at their gliders, loaded and ready for takeoff when the cancellation notice was received.
Antwerp Finally Ours
The English people were particularly pleased when the Allies captured some 300 V-1 launching sites in the Pas de Calais and northern France area. Montgomery continued his drive north, hopefully to capture the V-1 sites. So unexpected was his advance, that the Germans had not made provisions to fortify the Belgian port city of Antwerp. Damned if the British 11th Armored Division, with the help of Belgian underground, didn’t capture the city with the entire port and harbor facilities intact. The port was not to be operational for some time, however. Located at the end of the Schelde estuary, the 54 miles on either side to the seas opening was held by the Germans. Had Montgomery cleared the estuary of the enemy, the remaining 80,000 troops of the Fifteenth Army would have been trapped. As it was, Von Rundstedt was able to extricate 65,000 of his men with accompanying artillery, trucks, wagons etc. into Holland, ferrying them along the shores and across the three-mile mouth of the Schelde. We would not see the use of this port ’til the end of November.
CARGO and GASOLINE: In the meantime, trucks would travel night and day bringing supplies from Normandy to the front, a distance of 300 miles. Troop carriers were to become very involved in exten-sive cargo carrying. Only airborne operations of the highest priority would keep us from meeting the pressing logistical needs of the ground units. There was no way, however, that the ground units could be supported entirely by air.
Patton greeted September ’44 with joy when his 7thArmored and 9th Infantry established a bridgehead over the Meuse at Verdun 150 miles east of Paris. He could have also cried. On that day he didn’t re-ceive a drop of gas. A corps in Patton’s army needed 200,000 to 300,000 gallons of gas a day for an average movement of 50 miles. Patton liked to travel at 100 miles a day. Troop carrier could provide but a trickle of Patton’s needs. At this juncture he was 60 miles from the German border. Patton was ready to drive onto Berlin. “I can take care of the Germans,” he bellowed; “but I’m not sure I can win against Montgomery and Eisenhower.” Patton was infuriated when Montgomery stopped at Antwerp and did not take the estuary. It was Patton’s army that was cut in gas and rations to provide Montgom-ery with the logistical needs to enable him to drive north. Charles B. MacDonald’s book “The Mighty Eisenhower” declared the failure “One of the greatest tactical mistakes of the war.”
On 8 Sept.’44, at 1843 Double British Summer Time, the first V-2 bomb fell on London. This 46-foot “reprisal” weapon was an 80-ton rocket that carried 10 tons of explosives. Fired from the continent, the V-2 projected almost straight up to 100,000 feet, arched over, then plummeted to its target. It, like the V-1, was remarkably accurate.. There was limited defense against the V-1 flying bomb, but there was no known defense against the V-2. It was a scary weapon. The speed of 3,600 miles per hour ne-gated the possibility of even seeing it come down. Only the enormity of the explosion told of its pres-ence.
NOTE: Several other missions were planned to support the troops advancing toward Germany, and then cancelled as the need subsided. Crossing the Rhine had a high priority, but this was not seriously attempted until MARKET-GARDEN in September.
After each cancelled mission the paratroopers seemed to slip out of our base as furtively as was their arrival. Jump floors were removed from the C-47’s. Intelligence retrieved and restocked the es-cape kits. Mission maps and other classified items were burned. Invariably the squadron went into a slump after each cancellation.
The on-again off-again missions, one alert after the other, created a tense situation. Sound sleep was hard to come by. Church attendance. However, increased during alerts.
ETAIN, VERDUN: With clear weather our supply missions to the continent were on again. Our entire squadron, 23 aircraft, was committed to three supply missions to France. Two flights of eight aircraft each carried desperately needed 80-octane gasoline to Etain, 20 miles northeast of Verdun. The field at Etain was only opened to aircraft that very day. A day earlier German snipers were still being cleared.
29th Diary (While flying over Verdun)
“The boys were all stuck by their aerial view of this famous battlefield of the last war, still scarred by a maze of trenches and marked by thousands of white crosses. ‘It sort of connected the last war with this one,’ Staff Sergeant FRANK T. TURNER-ROE, radio operator on Lieutenant HOLLAND’s ship, re-marked when the planes returned.”
Not unlike World War I movie footage, our aircrews witnessed tremendous convoys choking the main roads, all headed toward the front.
While operating in France and Belgium, the enemy was never far away. To add to this excitement, was the skill necessary to take off and land on the unimproved fields, usually nothing more than a lev-eled out farm with a road in the proximity of the strip. (LAIRD) “This is where that intensive training in short-field takeoffs and landings really paid off. Coming in, barely flying, like we were hanging on by the prop blades. Those short-field takeoffs we jerked that plane off into the air, on some of the damndest fields, with nothing to spare.
BRUSSELS: At no time since being overseas have we seen such a beautiful city, with its tall modern apartment houses, imposing public buildings, parks and squares. This impression was obtained from flying overhead. Aircrews could pretty well judge a city by what it looked like from the air.
None of us got into the city. As in most cases, we stayed by our aircraft ’til unloaded, then de-parted to make room for others to come in. We knew, though, that with the commencement of RON’S Brussels would vie with Paris.
Brussels also provided a thrill for one of our flights. LARRY CAYWOOD, on an early flight to B-58 said, “While on the downwind leg for landing, the control facility instructed us to land in the other direction, even though with the wind. We were told that the Germans were now holding what would have been the base leg. The crews did all they could to help unload the cargo, so they could quickly get out of there.”
EDITORS NOTE: The book We Are The 29th Troop Carrier Squadron continues with details of the MARKET-GARDEN mission. This is every bit as interesting, but it is beyond the scope of this before and after report of the D-Day flights. It is my hope to go on with a separate report—and the Good Lord will-ing—I will be back with that on some future date.