paratroopers and gliders

Jun

14

1944

US infantry v Fallschirmjäger in the ‘bocage’

Three US soldiers advance beside a typical thickly grown hedge in the bocage.

Picking myself up to brush off my uniform, I saw a strange and shocking sight. On the edge of the ditch lay a German forearm. Part of the uniform sleeve was there, with the elbow, arm, hand, and all fingers intact. I wondered what had happened to the rest of that poor bastard. I never did find out.

Jun

6

1944

2100: 21st Panzer abandon counter-attack

A battery of M7 Priest 105mm self-propelled guns from one of 3rd Division's Royal Artillery Field Regiments near Hermanville-sur-Mer, 6 June 1944.

From here the excellent anti-tank gunfire of the Allies knocked out eleven of my tanks before I had barely started. However, one battle group did manage to bypass these guns and actually reached the coast at Lion-sur-Mer, at about seven o’clock in the evening. I now expected that some reinforcements would be forthcoming to help me hold my position, but nothing came. Another Allied parachute landing on both sides of the Orne, together with a sharp attack by English tanks, forced me to give up my hold on the coast.

Jun

6

1944

2000: Second wave of glider troops depart

Troops of 6th Airlanding Brigade smile from the door of their Horsa glider on an RAF airfield as they prepare to fly out as part of 6th Airborne Division's second lift on the evening of 6 June 1944.

Later that evening, about 9.30 to 9.45 p.m. (I remember we had a marvellous sunset), I went up on the balcony by myself and listened to the lapping of the waves. Suddenly the drone of aircraft could be heard – the tugs were on their way home. It was a very poignant moment.
I remember tears pouring down my face as I thought of all those young men who were now in France – wondering what was happening to them – was my brother amongst them. It was a very sad moment and one I will never forget.

Jun

6

1944

0230: 82nd Airborne fly into the cloud bank

US paratroopers on board their C-47 about to depart.

A few minutes inland we suddenly went into cloud, thick and turbulent. I had been looking out the doorway, watching with a profound sense of satisfaction the close-ordered flight of that great sky caravan that stretched as far as the eye could see. All at once they were blotted out. Not a wing light showed.

Jun

6

1944

0215: German 7th Army still undecided

US parachute troops now found themselves confronting their German counterparts - the Fallschirmjäger fighting as infantry.

Motor noises can be heard from the sea on the east coast of Cotentin. Admiral of the Channel Coast reports ships spotted in the sea around Cherbourg. Chief of Staff suggests attaching the 91st Airborne Division. Chief of Staff of Army Group B judges that at present it is still a local affair. Chief of Staff is of the opinion that it is a major action.

Jun

6

1944

0130: Operation Tonga – 6th Airborne parachute in

Operation TONGA. Short Stirling Mark IVs of Nos. 196 and 299 Squadrons RAF, lining the runway at Keevil, Wiltshire, on the evening of 5 June, before emplaning paratroops of the 5th Parachute Brigade Group for the invasion of Normandy.

When the dispatcher (RAF) bawled ‘Red On’ followed by ‘Green On’, then ‘Go, go, go,’ we went through the aperture as fast as possible. We were going in about 500ft, and it was essential to have a fast dispatch to ensure that we would be closer together on the ground.
It was a moonlit night with some light cloud. I had quite a good descent, landing a bit heavily but safely in a corn field with stalks up to my waist. There was a real danger for us at this point of being shot at by one of our mates, so a simple code system had been devised, the first day being ‘Ham’ to be answered by ‘Egg’, the next day ‘Bread’ and ‘Butter’.

Jun

6

1944

0016: Operation Deadstick – Pegasus Bridge

A picture of the bridge over the canal , later named Pegasus bridge. The three glider pilots had demonstrated extraordinary skill in bringing the assault platoons to within yards of their objective.

Quite suddenly and unexpectedly the pilots said, ‘Christ, there’s the bridge,’ and they put the nose of the glider down very steeply. The next thing I knew was that there were sparks coming from the skids underneath, they didn’t have wheels, and I thought these sparks were actually enemy fire but they were in fact the skids striking the ground.

Jun

5

1944

2300: ‘I wish to God it were safely over’

The Chief of General Staff, General Sir Alan Brooke at his desk in the War Office in London.

It is very hard to believe that in a few hours the cross Channel invasion starts! I am very uneasy about the whole operation. At the best it will fall so very very far short of the expectation of the bulk of the people, namely all those who know nothing of its difficulties. At the worst it may well be the most ghastly disaster of the whole war. I wish to God it were safely over.

Jun

5

1944

2030: Eisenhower meets the men of the 101st

1st Lieutenant Wallace C. Strobel, who survived the night and subsequent week of fighting without injury. He died in 1999. The 502nd jumped into Normandy with 792 men. After six days of desperate fighting, only 129 were still standing and able to make the roadmarch back to St. Come-du-Mount.

You must remember that the men of the 101st and the 502nd Parachute Infantry especially were exceptionally well trained. We all felt we had outstanding senior and field grade officers. We had the best arms and equipment available and we had been very well briefed for the operation. We were at a peak physically and emotionally. We were ready to go and to do our job. While I think the General thought his visit would boost the morale of our men, I honestly think it was his morale that was improved by being such a remarkably “high” group of troops. The General’s later writings confirmed this.

May

19

1944

British 6th Airborne are ready for Normandy

The Queen and Princess Elizabeth talk to paratroopers in front of a Halifax aircraft during a tour of airborne forces preparing for D-Day, 19 May 1944.

Then they cast off: you could see the tug aircraft rising and flying away, the drone of their great engines lessening, whilst round in enormous spirals sail the gliders. The sky seems thick with them. Then you hear the swish as, engineless, they come in to land. First one then another, then half a dozen at a time, and the sky still full of them. How are they all going to get in? They touch down at between seventy and eighty miles an hour. Swish they roar across the ground. How is it that they do not crash into one another?