1st Lieutenant - Pilot - 32nd Troop Carrier Squadron - 314th
Troop Carrier Group
I think all the men felt as I
did as we drew lots. We wanted to go and yet we didn't. Our squadron
was furnishing only six planes for this first mission to France
and only six crews would participate in what was referred to as
history's greatest military undertaking. To be in the spearhead
of this invasion would be an experience to remember all of one's
life, yet the personal danger was frightening, a danger all of us
who had been in the Sicilian invasion knew was real and great. Therefore,
when our flight won the draw, I felt a shiver of excitement mix
with the nervous chills running down my spine. I was in it !
That afternoon my co-pilot, 2nd
Lt. Donald L. Van Reken, of 262 N. 8th Street, Paterson, New Jersey,
and I, met the jumpmaster of my plane as he was drop-testing his
bundles. It wasn't encouraging to learn that we were to carry demolitions
in the parapacks attached to the belly of our plane.... 600 pounds
of TNT. I tried to find out from the paratroopers where we were
going, but they said we would learn at the briefing that evening.
As we walked into the briefing room, there was an undercurrent of
nervous chatter throughout the room as the crews looked at the large
map and observed the course. Could that be our DZ ? We had
guessed wrong....thought it would be Calais ! How long would
we be over land ? How much Ack-Ack did they have ? Will
we drop at night or during the day ? How long would the flight
be ? A thousand and one questions were flying around the room.
The briefing answered them all.
First we were introduced to the
Commanding Officer of the American Airborne troops and he explained
his Battalion's particular mission and then the general strategy
for the invasion armies. Two great armies were to strike at France
and the men we were to carry were to spearhead the attack. We were
amazed at the immensity of our own part in the invasion ! Troop
Carrier planes would be dropping airborne troops for five whole
Then the briefing continued....about how we were to form, the navigational
aids along our course, the weather forecast for the route, the disposition
of enemy troops and their anti-aircraft defenses, the alternate
airports for use in emergency, ditching procedure, methods of escape
and evasion in case we were shot down, and even the clothing and
equipment we should carry. Nothing was left to chance as we filed
out of the briefing room.
We were all ready to go, but
because of weather conditions, the mission was postponed for 24
hours. All of us congregated in the Officers Club to discuss this
latest development. Generally we felt let down. The boys made wisecracks
that « Heinrich » had not enough time to prepare
for our coming and that was the reason for the postponement. Yet,
despite the apparent jolly attitude taken by the men, we all felt
worried because of the delay. What if the news leaked out ?
These thoughts pervaded the atmosphere all the next day until the
time came when we reported to our planes. This time we were going !
The troopers in our plane were
relaxing in the cabin as we boarded the plane. They asked me how
high they would be dropped from, the speed the plane would be flying,
and how many planes would be behind us. I tried to reassure them
by telling them I would slow the plane to 100 MPH, and that no planes
would be directly behind us so they had no worries on that score.
I went over the ditching procedure again and wished them « Godspeed »,
and told them I'd treat them as a drink in Paris.
I made a final check with my crew-chief, T/Sgt. Blake E. Craig of
Eltkon, Michigan, and the Radio Operator, Sgt. Robert M. Freeman
of Bellaire, Ohio. I put on my parachute harness and Mae West and
took my place in the pilot's seat. Then we started our engines and
followed our lead plane to the takeoff position. It is hard to describe
the feelings I had as I taxied my plane past our operations and
jerked my thumb up to the boys standing there.
Within a few minutes we were
gathering speed as we moved down the runway and then we were airborne
and moving into position on the right wing of our element. After
circling while we formed, we started on our course. Sixty pllanes
in two spirals, carrying 950 men to France.
It was easy flying as we followed the course marked by plainly visible
beacons....like a highway across the face of England. We left the
land and started across the channel towards France. At this point
I went back and put on my flak suit. Below us we saw the first ship,
and I felt once more the greatness of this combined operation. At
this point we also saw the first planes returning from France. They
appeared scattered and I became apprehensive. They must have met
a great deal of Ack-Ack.
Soon we were turning towards
land on the last leg before the run-in to the DZ. I sent my crew-chief
to the rear of the plane to give a 20 minute warning to the paratroopers.
Then I adjusted my flak helmet. At this time we noticed the Island
of Guernsey on my right...our first glimps of enemy territory. I
felt a hard knot in my stomach, similar to the feeling one has before
the opening kickoff in a football game. I closed in tightly on my
lead plane, observing that a bank of clouds lay over the Cherbourg
Peninsula where we would cross the coast. Glancing at my instruments
panel, I checked all instruments carefully, remarking to my co-pilot
that we would have to lose 1200 feet before reaching the DZ, to
get down to the drop altitude of 700 feet. Soon we were over the
coast heading toward the cloud layer and some scattered fire coming
up from the right. Then our flight plunged into the clouds and I
was pressed to follow my element leader who made a diving turn to
The next few minutes seemed to
fly. My element leader and I had become separated from the main
formation and I was chasing him through the clouds. We had given
our troopers the warning red light, when I sighted a large amber
« T » identifying the DZ about ½ mile
to our left. The lead plane must have seen it because he turned
toward it and within a few seconds was dropping his troops. I chopped
the throttles and gave the troopers the « Go »
signal. Then I followed him as he dove down to the « deck »
and headed toward the coast. He was turning wildly to evade machine-gun
fire coming up from both sides. Following him, I was caught in the
crossfire, and though I kicked and turned the plane violently, I
was caught in it for what seemed to be an hour. I felt the ship
get hit and smelled smoke and yelled to the crew-chief to check
the damage and to the co-pilot to check the instruments. By this
time we were over the water and heading toward England. I stayed
on the water for some time along the route paralleling the land,
especially when we watched strong flak and machine-gun fire coming
from what should have been Cherbourg.
Within a few minutes we started
climbing to 3000 feet and I turned the plane over to the co-pilot
in order to check the damage. We had received a 20mm burst just
behind the cargo door and the rear cago sectionhad been perforated....approximately
thirty bullet holes. This had been the crew-chief's station at the
time of the drop, but luckily Craig had just moved forward. Returning
to the cockpit I noticed several other groups heading towards France
and then passed to large glider trains. Again I was impressed with
the large part the Troop Carrier Command was playing in the invasion.
During the tript home I felt depressed....The usual reaction which
sets in after the battle excitement. I felt fatigue throughout my
body. We were still « sweating out » serious
damage to the rudder and elevator and had to remain on the alert,
but the tenseness of most of the flight had passed. Soon we were
safely on the ground, being questioned by excited ground crews and
being interrogated by our intelligence Officer, amidst a bedlam
of noise as everyone tried to shout his experience.
The next night we were ready
to go again, this time on a resupply mission, carrying ammunition,
fuel, food and water to the troops that had been dropped on the
previous night. Again we went through a complete briefing, learning
that we would go in over land from the direction we had left it
early this morning. Also we learned that his would be a daylight
drop. We were not worried since we felt certain that the High Command
would not allow unarmed, and unarmored C-47's to fly over enemy
territory in broad daylight without a certain degree of safety.
Therefore a general feeling of confidence prevalled as we went to
our planes early in the morning.
On this mission I again had 2nd Lt. Van Reken as Co-Pilot, but this
time I had T/Sgt. Raymond J. Layfield of Birmingham, Alabama as
crew-chief and Sgt. Charles Shloser of Brooklyn, New York as my
radio operator. We were carrying six bundles of parapacks and six
more bundles in the rear of the plane.
We took off at 0320 and climbed
through a low layer of clouds to 1500 feet at which altitude we
started to form. We could see other formations taking off from adjacent
fields and as we circled, the sky was filling with transports. Soon
we were moving out on course, climbing to top another layer of weather.
We had been on course about 30 minutes when the formation hit solid
instrument weather. It was impossible to see my lead plane though
I was flying close to his wing, so I advanced my power and started
to climb, hoping to break through the « stuff »
and re-form. I climbed to 7500 feet without breaking out and at
this time I started to pick up icing on my wings. Since I did not
have de-icing boots, I made a gradual descent to 3000 feet, at which
altitude I found a hole in the clouds and dove through to 500 feet
above the ground. I was directly above an airfield which I circled
for ten minutes trying to learn by radio where we were. Hoever,
I was unable to get any answer. I could hear quite a few planes
calling in for information.
At this time we saw a large formation flying in a southeasterly
direction. Believing that they could lead us to France, we tagged
on to the formation and, flying close to the ground, we soon reached
the coast. Another large formation had approached from the east
and was flying a parallel course to our left. In our formation were
quite a few stray planes which, as we had, joined the larger formation
in order to complete the mission.
Once again we were over the channel
heading toward what appeared to be a peaceful France. 1st Lt. Carl
H. Weniger of Plainfield, New Jersey, pilot of another plane in
our squadron, had come up on my right wing, so I knew there were
at least two of us heading for our DZ.
We could see the Naval vessels standing off the beachead, but everything
appeared deathly still. As we flew over some of the ships, I looked
for men but did not notice any. The only reassuring sight was to
see our fighter coverswooping over our heads singly, in pairs, and
in fours. Lightenings, Thunderbolts, Mustangs, Spitfires, Hurricanes,
and Typhoons formed a solid umbrella over our heads.
Then we were heading over land
and I left the other formation and headed toward our own DZ. We
crossed the Valognes-Carentan road, the railroad to Cherbourg, and
the Merderet River. All this time we were passing over fields showing
that a great airborne armada had landed there. Horsa and Waco gliders
were in twos and threes all over the area beneath us. Most of them
seemed to be wrecked in some form or the other...the Horsas were
split in two. I remembered that the tail had to be blown off these
gliders to enable jeeps to be removed. Parachutes littered the fields,
orange, green, red, and white spots on the ground. Yet, the strange
thing to me was that I did not notice any persons moving...no trucks,
jeeps, or tanks. It seemed unreal. A great invasion had taken place,
yet the grazing cattle were the sole possessors of the fields.
To our right, Lt. Van Reken saw
the hospital at Picueville, and we realized that we were too far
south, so I made a sharp turn to the right and headed northeast.
Since we could see three flares burning to our north but could not
make out what they were. Since we could not see a « T »,
or the violet smoke which was supposed to mark the DZ, we headed
for one large field in which there were many parachutes and which
seemed to be where the DZ would be located....Lt. Van Reken gave
the green « go » signal and the crew-chief
and radio-operator started pushing out the bundles while we delivered
the parapacks from the cockpit. While we were over this area machine-gun
fire from both sides was passing over and around the ship. Luckily
we were not hit, and diving toward the deck we headed for the Channel
and home. Once more I remarked at the deathlike stiliness of the
land, especially as we passed over the deserted pill-boxes, machine-gun
emplacements, and trenches facing the water.
We were over the water following the group which had preceded us
in to the DZ when Sgt. Shloser called out that a C-47 was ditching.
I turned around and flew over the plane, but Lt. Weniger had reached
him first and dropped life-rafts to him. The crew was getting into
the rafts, so I once more headed for home. On the way we passed
several C-47's with one prop feathered, but in each case other planes
were staying close to them. Again we passed large glider trains
carrying equipment to the troops on the peninsula.
Soon the coast of England was in sight and we were heading back
to our home base,