The needler in the haystack.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

D-Day: Overlooked air assault deserves credit



A two-pronged parachute assault began shortly after midnight.



Plainfield's veterans memorial on the grounds of City Hall contains a panel listing those who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II.

Today marks the 66th anniversary of the landing of the Allied Expeditionary Forces on the Normandy beaches, or D-Day, the largest amphibious landing of all time (see here and here). That assault got under way at 6:30 AM local time.

What many may not be aware of is that there was an AIR ASSAULT before the amphibious landing on the five 'sectors' into which the Normandy coastline was divided. The air assault combined American, British, Canadian and Free French forces in two parachute operations which got under way shortly after midnight on June 6 (see here). The night operation was followed up in the daylight hours with six glider missions.

The air assault was to the rear of German coastal defenses and was to take out some strategic targets (such as bridges and rails) to cut German communications to the rear, as well as to distract German units from the amphibious asssault, hopefully helping make the securing of beachheads by the Allied troops easier.



The Normandy landing was the largest amphibious assault ever.


The parachute assaults were under two commands, one British and the other American. The Brits seem to have had a better time of it, achieving all their stated goals relatively quickly (see here). The Americans, on the other hand were ill-dispersed, with only about a third of the troops landed able to coalesce with others and achieve some of their objectives (see here).

Among the earliest waves was that which parachuted into the village of Sainte-Mère-Église (see here). Burning buildings lit the night sky, making the parachutists easy targets for the German defenders. Casualties were high; nevertheless at about 5:00 AM, the village was captured by airborne troops, making it the first town liberated on the European mainland in WWII.



Sainte-M
ère-Église became the first liberated village in France.


The successful consolidation of the Normandy landings signaled the death knell of the Third Reich, though the actual capitulation of the Nazis did not come until eleven months later, on May 8, 1945 -- now known as VE Day (see here).

This was the generation of Olddoc (a glider pilot, as we know) and my dad (a SeaBee, the naval unit that constructed airbases for the island-hopping Pacific theater campaign).

There is a reason it is called the 'Greatest Generation'.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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1 comments:

olddoc said...

Thanks Dan, but I was not a glider pilot, just a poor young medical officer who was volunteered to go along for the ride. Fortunately despite our ignorance we survived.