‘Hackensack’ – The last US Airborne troops arrive

Colonel Robert L. Wolverton of the 506th PIR and his men prepare for the big jump.

The Airborne operations for D-Day were a series of successive waves of paratroopers and glider borne troops that established substantial forces behind the beaches. The scale of the operation unnerved many of the Germans. The main British drops, beginning with Operation Tonga, achieved much by surprise, including the initial Operation Deadstick. It was Operation Mallard, flying in on the evening of 6th June, that helped lead to the abandonment of the only German armoured counter-attack on D-Day – the sight of hundreds of gliders flying overhead and landing behind them was too much for the Panzer troops.

The US Airborne forces chose to name their successive missions in alphabetical order, Mission Albany was followed by Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Elmira, Freeport, Galveston and Hackensack. A 2019 study by Martin W. Bowman, D-Day Dakotas: 6th June, 1944 pulls together details of all these operations combining them with numerous personal accounts from the C-47 ‘Dakota’ plane pilots who carried the paratroopers as well as accounts from the glider pilots who brought in the support waves.

The last US Airborne mission was ‘Hackensack’.

‘Hackensack’s fifty C-47s in the 439th towing twenty Wacos and thirty Horsas and fifty C-47s in the 441st towing fifty Wacos would deliver troopers, guns and vehicles in the 325th GIR to the 101st Airborne Division.

‘Hackensack’s lead serial carried the 2nd Battalion, 325th Glider Infantry and most of the 2nd Battalion, 401st Glider Infantry, which was attached to the 325th and acted as its third battalion. These numbered 968 troops of which Horsas carried over 800.

The cargo included five vehicles, eleven tons of ammunition and ten tons of other supplies. The other serial consisted of fifty aircraft and fifty Wacos of the 441st Group from Merryfield. They carried 363 troops, mostly service personnel ofthe 325th and 401st and eighteen tons of equipment, including twelve 81 mm mortars, twenty jeeps, nine trailers and six tons of amnunition.

A jeep being loaded onto a C-47

Chuck Skidmore was one of the glider pilots in this last airborne mission for the overall D-Day landing plan – both airborne and amphibious – Operation ‘Neptune’. They arrived in daylight in the early hours of D+1, June 7th, but the ground around the Landing Zone was not yet secure:

“We caught a burst of machine gun fire from the ground which missed my head by about a foot and then stitched the right wing from end to end. The first bullet – I was flying co-pilot – just missed my head as we turned our plane to the left and that why it didn’t get us. If we’d gone another second farther (or a half second) it would have gotten us both in the face and we’d have probably all gone down.

‘The Germans had flooded our proposed landing area so we landed in three feet of water. I went out the side of the pilot section by tearing off the canvas and tumbling in the water after first removing my flak vest. One guy didn’t have the presence of mind to take off his jacket and fell into a hole where the water was over his head. Luckily for him, the other glider pilot rescued him after a series of frantic dives. It was pretty funny though to watch this big tall pilot as he dived down, came up, shook the water out of his eyes, looked around and then dived again. He must have dived down about three times before he found his little co-pilot.

‘Upon landing we discovered the source of the ground fire which nearly got me. It turned out to be a bunker containing about a dozen conscripted Polish soldiers with one German in charge. After the glider infantrymen from several gliders, including ours, directed a hail of rifle fire at the bunker, the resistance ceased. There was silence in the bunker and then a single shot. Then there were shouts and laughter and the Poles emerged with their hands held high and surrendered. They weren’t about to fight the Americans so they simply shot the Kraut sergeant.

Our general instructions were to get back to the coast as best we could and get on a ship for the return to England. We landed about a mile and a half from Sainte-Mere-Eglise. I spent some time with some artillery guys manning a 105 cannon and some time with a communications outfit of the Army. I saw a burning C-47 on the edge ofthe field where I landed. I could still make out the number on the tail and I knew it had been flown by a good buddy of mine. All aboard were killed I heard later. I guess I was just lucky to get off so easy. A lot of other guys weren’t so lucky.’

The wreckage of a C-47 Dakota near St Mere-Eglise, normandy.

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