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16 October 2014
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Back to Normandy
D-Day revisited.

A D-Day paratrooper of US 82nd Airborne returns to the beaches. This is his story and his reflections 60 years on...

The Normandy Landings on D-Day 6th June 1944

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82nd Airborne Div. Leading up to the day...

  • Doubts are beginning to arise about the feasibility of a US Airborne assault. Latest Intelligence indicates that German 91st Infantry Division is moving into the Cotentin Peninsula. Air Chief Marshal Leigh Mallory is having last minute fears that the landing behind Utah beach may be a disaster.

    He writes to General Eisenhower expressing his concerns and suggests that to land the airborne troops in countryside which has now been flooded by the Germans could lead to very heavy losses of personnel. Eisenhower consults General Bradley. He rejects the concerns. He states that without the airborne element to the operation, Utah would be a complete non-starter. The commander of 82nd AD, General Ridgeway, agrees with this statement. He says that his division is ready and well up to the job in front of them.

  • Air Chief Marshal Leigh Mallory goes personally to see General Eisenhower to press his objections further about the proposed Utah air-drop. He says it will be a a "futile slaughter" of both the 82nd & 101st Airborne Divisions.

    After consideration Eisenhower telephones Mallory. He says that although the risks are indeed high, the Utah air-dop must still go ahead. However, in view of the changing situation, with increasing numbers of Germans around Cotentin, the paratroopers will now be landing Ste Mere Eglise and the river Merderet. instead of landing near St Sauveur-le-Vicomte and the River Douve. Their new objective is to take the road junction and the bridges on the river, after which they will move towards the Douve.

  • Group Captain Stagg reports that some better weather is about to break. However it is forecast to become much worse by June 6th. Winds of up to Gale force 5 are predicted. This raises real doubts about the whole D-Day operation. At best it will mean a both very dangerous sea crossing and no airborne assault at all.

  • Group Captain Stagg reports no change in the weather from yesterday’s predictions. In fact conditions in the channel are deteriorating. Winds are getting up and cloud is dropping to as low as 500 feet in some places.

    General Eisenhower provisionally postpones D-Day for 24 hours and he asks for an 04:00hrs meeting to re-assess the position.

  • 04:00hrs - Group Captain Stagg reports to General Eisenhower that there is still no sign of the weather lifting.

    Eisenhower confirms that D-Day will definitely be postponed for 24 hours. The invasion, which was scheduled for tomorrow, is now being re-cheduled to take place on Tuesday June 6th but only if there is a major improvement in the weather within the following 12 hours.

  • 17:45hrs - at the weather briefing Group Captain Stagg reports encouraging news. There is to be a “window” of more settled weather between the Monday evening and daylight on Tuesday 6th. Far from the longer period of good weather that the planners had wished for, it does at least provide some opportunity. Air Chief Marshal Leigh Mallory however expresses continued concern for the airborne operation due to the possibility of low cloud.

  • 18:00hrs - Gen. Eisenhower decides that Operation Overlord is “go”. The invasion fleet will sail to France on the early morning tide.

  • 21:50hrs - The first US airborne troops take off from Berkshire in C47 aircraft, bound for the area behind Utah, close to Ste Mere Eglise. These are the pathfinders, who will land ahead of the main assault paratroopers, to locate and identify suitable drop-zones for them.

  • 22:30hrs - second wave of 82nd AD pathfinders take off from Lincolnshire.

  • 23:15hrs - The 82nd AD main assault force takes off with almost 6,400 troopers on board.

  • 23:30hrs - 101st Airborne assault force takes off with 6,600 paratroopers. Between the two airborne divisions there are 900 planes in the sky.


D-DAY
  • 00:30hrs - The pathfinder planes run into trouble with low cloud formation which is covering most of the Cotentin peninsula. Some pilots fly above the cloud and drop their pathfinders without knowing exactly where they are. Those who fly below the cloud run a very high risk of being shot down. The mission is not a success. Only one of the 18 groups of US pathfinders actually lands in the proper place. This leaves many of the drop-zones unidentified for the assault troops which are coming only half an hour behind them.

  • 01:00hrs - The first of the C47s transport planes arrive over Cotentin with the 82nd and 101st on board. As soon as the planes cross the coast of the peninsula things start to go badly wrong. Most of the drop-zones remain unmarked. Many of the pilots are getting lost in the thick clouds. Heavy flak coming from the enemy beneath causes the formations to scatter. Too many planes are being shot down. The paratroopers have to jump from their planes whenever possible, often over the optimum speed.

    The result is that troops are dispersed much more widely than planned and few know where they are when they land. Some paratroopers land in the English channel. Others come down right into the town centre of Saint Mere Eglise. Some are sucked into the flames of burning buildings. Others are illuminated by the flames as they became entangled on wires and telegraph poles. They are shot on sight. The luckier ones spend a large part of the night wandering around lost but eventually sort themselves into groups and set about the task in hand.

    The Allied Assault is now fully committed and under way.

 



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