joi, 10 februarie 2011


From Brian Williams' "The Airborne Landings":

Starting at around 11 PM on June 5th, approximately 13,000 American parachutists would descend upon the peninsula via hundreds of twin-engined C-47s. The C-47 was a DC-3 aircraft that held 18 parachutists (known as a "stick" to the men). At the low speed of 120 mph, the flight would take them over an hour. The parachutists were weighed down with nearly their body weight in equipment and weapons. They would be prepared as much as possible since they would be dropping behind enemy lines - cutoff from the invading force. Whatever weapons they would fight with would be carried on their backs or strapped to their harnesses. The exception to this would be the artillery battalion of twelve 75 mm howitzers which would accompany the division. Later, heavy mortars and heavier anti-tank could be brought in by glider. In any case, there was no guarantee that the parachutist would form up with his unit once soon after he left the plane - if at all.

The planes took off and flew at 500 feet for about half and hour to avoid detection by German radar. After a slight ascent to make landfall and avoid the AAA guns, the final approach would be at 700 feet. Meteorologists had called for a calm night and nearly the entire flight was without incident. But, as the flights approached the coast of France, they encountered a cloud bank that dispersed many of the planes...only a few minutes before the dropzone. Between the chaotic mess that followed the dispersal and the enemy flak, several planes were damaged or destroyed...along with numerous injured parachutists within. In addition, because of flak, many pilots increased their speed and varied their altitude dramatically. Despite these dangerous conditions, the green light was given for the crew to jump. Aircraft speeds had reached as high as 150 mph (normal jump speed was 90 mph) - which led to numerous injuries.

At 700 feet, the descent took less than one minute. By this time, German flak artillery and AAA were shooting at anything in the sky...including the parachutists themselves. Many were hit on their way down or drowned upon landing in the flooded plains of the Douve and Merderet rivers. Although the plains were mostly only 2 to 3 feet deep (in some places more), the weight of the men, in conjunction with the dragging of the parachute could easily prove fatal. In contrast, unopened chutes among the Americans were very uncommon with their static-line parachutes. In addition, the Americans carried a reserve chute just in case.

Of course, trees, buildings, anti-glider poles and other obstacles lent to a large number of injuries. But, many were injured from the impact of the landing itself - which resulted in usually sprains and broken legs. But, by far, the potentially most dangerous situation arose from the unexpected turbulence and the resulting dispersal of the units.

The Landings
Units found themselves scattered all over the Cotentin Peninsula. In almost every case, several hours were spent just trying to find out where they were and to find others in the same Battalion or even Regiment. In some cases, contact with other friendly units were not made for days. Commanders who had landed in the drop were forced to gather any men they could find on their way to their objective - in the dark. Teams that had formed to blow up communications center or bridges found themselves without the necessary equipment because either it or the men carrying it were lost. About 60 percent of the equipment dropped was either lost by falling into swamps or into enemy-controlled areas.

Operation OVERLORD, the Allied codename for the invasion of Normandy, involved more than 150,000 men and 5,000 ships. Operation OVERLORD included American, British, Canadian, Polish, and French Armies. By nightfall on June 6th 1944, Hitler's stronghold on the coast of Normandy had been breached. The Allies sustained over 9,500 casualties compared with 4-10,000 Germans, but America and her allies began the liberation of Europe from Nazi occupation.

"We will always remember. We will always be proud. We will always be prepared, so we may always be free."

- President Ronald Reagan, June 6, 1984, at the D-Day Commemoration in Normandy, France