Flight Officer - Glider Pilot - 89th Troop Carrier Squadron
- 438th Troop Carrier Group
D-DAY IN A GLIDER
During the Second World War at the time of the Normandy invasion
I was Flight Officer John C. Hanscom, T-121333, a twenty-five year
old glider pilot assigned to the 89th Troop Carrier Squadron, 438th
Troop Carrier Group, 53rd Troop Carrier Wing, 9th Troop Carrier
Command in the European Theater of Operations.
Our group had come overseas in early March of 1944, and I kept
a daily account of the activities in which I was personally involved
in the European Theater. What follows is adapted from my notes of
The gentle English countryside was bathed in semi-darkness as reveille
sounded at Greenham Common, the large American troop carrier airbase
near Newbury west of London. It was the third of June, 1944, and
British Double Summertime was in effect .
Nights were short. Days were long.
Out of a number of identical
G.I. sacks we tumbled at 0700.
Out of a number of identical Nissen huts we staggered at 0715.
Out of a number of identical barbed wire barricaded, heavily guarded
troop carrier areas we stumbled into trucks which hauled us to the
mess hall for a breakfast of powdered eggs, salt pork, dry cereal,
powdered milk and coffee.
After partially recovering from
this sumptuous mess, we were herded back to the squadron area and
into improvised briefing rooms set up in vacated Nissen huts. It
was here that we shortly came to realize that this was to be a day
of intense preparation for D-Day, a day that would usher in huge
movements of mighty forces involving countless numbers of men and
PART I : BRIEFING
I was excited. I looked at Flight Officer Bill Meisburger, my chosen
partner in this coming operation and my fast friend.
He was pale, but his eyes were bright with suppressed excitement.
He winked at me. I winked back and managed what must have been at
most a thin smile. With some twenty-four other glider pilots and
forty power pilots we were crowded into the bare, dank interior
of a Nissen hut for the purpose of being briefed on our first airborne
Major Clement Richardson, our
squadron commanding officer, was standing before us wai ting for
the last of the stragglers to enter before commencing the briefing.
When he nervously cleared his throat and began his speech, he reflected
the tension prevailing in that room.
«Gentlemen», he began
tremorously , « I want you to know that the big show
is about to begin, and we are beginning it with a bang. »
He unveiled some large maps and
charts on the wall. There in a maze of lines, strings and colored
pins was a picture of the airborne invasion of Normandy. He then
launched into the main body of the briefing. Our C-47s would transport
paratroops into Normandy in the very first wave of assault on the
night of D-Day minus one. Our gliders would go in on the second
wave during D-Day proper. The glider mission was code-named « El
mi r a ». We were only a small part of the gigantic Overlord
operation, but, to all appearances, we were in the brunt of it .
The maps and charts revealed
to us the general geography of the Cherbourg or Cotentin Peninsula
which was to be the area of our destined operations. The strings
and lines represented the various routes of our approach and return.
From aerial photographs, much enlarged , we glider pilots studied
our landing zones and planned our flight paths for landing. Another
briefing for glider pilots took place in the group briefing room
with Captain Orville Cawthon, our group glider operations officer.
There were also three officers from the 82nd Airborne Division attempting
to give us an idea of what would be expected of us on the ground
PART II : PREPARATION
Sleep would not come easily for me that night. I kept mulling over
in my mind the events of the past few days. These had included lectures
on air-sea rescue with demonstrations of life rafts and other equipment,
sessions on first aid, the departure of ten of our glider pilots
from the 89th Squadron on detached service to another group, the
zeroing of our M-1 rifles on a thousand inch range, the observation
and supervision of the loading of our Horsa gliders, lectures on
mines and booby traps, the erecting of barbed wire barriers around
that part of the hut area occupied by combat crews, our restriction
to this enclosed space, the patrolling of it by armed guards, and
our being herded to and from the mess hall under guard. All this
had taken place during the four days that preceded that morning
of June the third. A state of tension had come to exist over that
big base at Greenham Common, and morale was high.
The next day, Sunday, June the
fourth, found us in chapel listening to the glowing phrases of Chaplain
Charles Lusher on our duty to mankind in the name of Christianity.
He was obviously impressed with the occasion. He expatiated eloquently
on patriotic and religious themes. The weather turned bad late in
the afternoon. We had at least a twenty-four reprieve.
Around 1900 the next day, Monday,
June the fifth, we were summoned to the squadron briefing room by
a shrill blast from the commanding officer's whistle. We forgot
whatever we doing and dashed. This was it! We learned that our planes
loaded with paratroops would take off that evening at 2230. All
glider pilots were to make final preparations for the following
Everyone was in a high state of excitement.
The fuss and noise and hubbub
and turmoil and general hullabaloo that ensued was intense. The
power pilots appeared in all their combat finery including shock
helmets, flak suits, and Mae West life preservers. Last minute activities
included the payment of gambling debts and the bidding of fond farewells.
Not a soul knew what to expect on this, our first venture into actual
combat, and everybody acted as if nobody would ever see anybody
Around 2130 air crews began warming
up the planes down on the line. A tremendous racket and effusion
of dust ensued. At 2230 sharp the first C-47 began to ease down
the runway piloted by Colonel John Donalson, commanding officer
of the 438th Troop Carrier Group. One by one those eighty ships
followed laden with their precious cargoes of human destroyers.
They were all pulling well over forty inches of mercury on that
long take-off, and the resulting din was terrific. In that shadowy
rather overcast sky which was not yet entirely steeped in night,
the long caravan of planes began to circle widely about the field,
continuing thus until the formation was complete. At last it headed
south and disappeared into the gloom.
If our previous nights had been
sleepless, they were as nothing compared with this. We anxiously
awaited the return of those power pilots both for their safety and
for their reports of action. About four in the morning several of
them piled into our hut brimming with excitement and eagerness to
relate their adventures. We were overjoyed to see them. According
to their witness the flak had been light, no enemy aircraft had
been encountered, all sticks of paratroopers had been discharged
successfully, and not a plane or a man had been lost. It had been
a milk run! Excitement and joy unbounded reigned throughout our
camp that night.
PART III : TAKEOFF
Now it was our turn. At long last we glider pilots were going into
action. This time it would not be a dry run. Bill Meisburger and
I solemnly flipped a coin to determine who would have the dubious
privilege of acting as pilot of our glider.
Among glider pilots there was no distinction between pilots and
co-pilots as existed among power pilots. Thus some such method as
the above was used to determine who was to occupy the left seat
in the pilots' compartment of the glider.
Bill won the toss. The die was thus cast. We shook hands, exchanged
remarks of sympa thy and felicitation over our mutual destiny. I
had complete confidence in Bill's ability. We had flown many training
missions together including one foolhardy venture in which we succeeded
in looping a cumbersome Horsa glider twice from an altitude of five
thousand feet. This was an unparalleled stunt for which we received
Major Richardson gave us a short
briefing that afternoon, and then we got dressed for the party.
Dress included long woolen underwear, two pairs of thick woolen
socks, a light woolen shirt, wool olive drab trousers and shoes
impregnated against mustard 'gas, a field jacket with a small flag
sewed onto the right sleeve and a gas detector fastened to the left
shoulder, impregnated leggings, wool cap, steel helmet and liner,
gas mask, ammunition belt containing ninety-six rounds, M-1 rifle,
bayonet, trench knife, entrenching tool, first aid packet, canteen
and cup, three hand grenades, and a pack. The pack contained a blanket,
shelter half, mess kit, foot powder, matches, extra sox, two K-rations,
six D-rations, two heat units for warming rations, sewing kit, another
first aid kit, insect powder, and halazone tablets for purifying
water. Over all this we wore our Mae West life preservers. In our
pockets we carried miscellaneous items including an escape kit containing
two thousand francs in Bank of France notes, terrain maps, a small
saw, compass, passport pictures, foreign language guide, whistle,
flashlight, chewing gum, pencil, notebook, dog tags, and more matches.
The cliche "dressed fit to kill" seemed apt.
After eating a nearly supper
at 1600, we were trucked to the flight line. Bill and I were assigned
to glider number forty nine in a fifty ship formation. We doffed
our packs and donned flak suits over our Mae Wests. Captain Cawthon
called the roll and gave us a brief pep talk. At 1850 the first
towship dragging its ponderous charge behind was speeding down the
Our squadron was flying the British
Horsa glider, a much bigger, heavier, more unwieldy craft than the
familiar American CG-4A . The eighty-foot fuselage of the Horsa
was round with huge wings extending from each side about one-third
of the length back from the plexiglass nose. The wing span was well
over one hundred feet. A large fin and rudder assembly jutted eight
or nine feet into the sky above the broad stabilizers. The top of
that rudder was at least twenty feet above the ground.
The landing gear was of the tricycle type and gave that big glider
the appearance of a hulking bird of prey about ready to swoop.
All of the Horsas we repainted
a dull, dead black, suitable for such flying coffins. They had the
American star insignia on the upper left and under right wing tips
and on each side of the fuselage in addition to broad white stripes
painted around wings and body. The glider was designed to hold,
besides the two pilots, thirty-one airborne infantrymen with all
their equipment. Our particular ship was carrying fourteen 82nd
Airborne troops and a trailer loaded with communications equipment.
It amounted to about ten thousand pounds in payload .
About 1910 our turn to takeoff
came. The technique of getting a heavily loaded Horsa off the ground
was at all times an exacting and hazardous undertaking for both
the glider pilots and the towship pilots. The runway at Greenham
Common was over a mile and a quarter in length, and every inch of
it was needed. The gliders were lined up on each side of the wide
strip of concrete in alternate order with their wings inter-lapping.
They formed a curious zig-zag pattern when viewed from above. Each
towship would swing onto the runway from either side immediately
after the previous unit had started on its way. The two-inch, three-hundred
foot nylon towrope had previously been attached to both the glider
As the powered craft slowly eased down the runway, the rope would
slither and slide from its carefully looped position like a huge
endless serpent. The aft end of the rope was forked. At each end
of the fork was a heavy lug which fitted into a socket on the underside
of each wing about ten feet out from the fuselage.
Bill and I watched in fascination
as that ropes lowly inched out knocking pebbles right and left as
it slid along. After what seemed and eternity, it grew taut, lifted
slightly from the runway, and we could feel the strain as the lugs
grated in their sockets. The go-ahead signal was given, and the
pilot in our towship began easing his throttles forward. We moved
slowly at first, then faster, ever faster. Bill was properly holding
the control wheel back so that the nose wheel of our landing gear
was kept slightly off the runway surface as we gathered momentum.
This was done to prevent the terrific vibration which inevitably
resulted if all three wheels were kept on the ground at anything
above a very slow speed. The noise of the wind about our plexiglass
enclosed compartment rose to a shriek as the air speed indicator
crawled toward take off speed which would be at ninety-plus miles
I shouted the speed figures for Bill's benefit so that he would
not attempt to pull up. the big ship before it gained flying speed.
Reluctantly that ponderous glider
left the ground. The air was warm and turbulent. That unwieldy craft
wanted to do everything but remain in a straight flight path behind
the towship. Bill really wrestled with those controls. At times
I helped him exert pressure on the rudder pedals to keep that yawing
glider from slewing off into the ground on one wing. Now the towship
with its tail oscillating from side to side gradually left the ground
and grazed the treetops at the end of that long runway. We were
off! Our first hurdle was over on that fateful Elmira mission of
the huge Overlord operation.
PART IV : FLIGHT
That flight was an ordeal which will live long in our memories.
The air was very turbulent until we got over the sea. Bill and I
spelled each other at the controls in ten-minute intervals.
I was wringing wet after my first stint.
About twenty minutes after takeoff,
I unloosened my safety belt and went back into the cargo compartment
to see how our airborne troops were faring. Three of them were seated
on the right side in front of the trailer. The remaining eleven
were behind it. The men in front weren't feeling very well. Their
helmets were off and being put to retching functional use.
They looked up with dull, listless eyes and then hung their heads
back over their helmets. I couldn't see what was going in back of
the trailer. Since the riding was even rougher back
there than up front, I could well imagine, what the sight was like.
I went back to my seat feeling thankful that I was helping fly this
winged hearse and not riding in that stuffy compartment.
No matter how rough the air ever got, I had never known a glider
pilot to suffer air-sickness while flying.
We had telephonic connection
with our tug ship and could communicate freely with our pilot, Captain
Al Perry, and his co-pilot, First Lieutenant John Baird. After forming
we headed south and slightly to the east. The air became smooth
over the water, and we began to enjoy the trip a little. We were
duly impressed with our heavy fighter protection. Many P-47 Thunderbolts
with a few Spitfires and P-51 Mustangs were above, below, and on
all sides of us. They gave us a much-needed sense of security.
About 2100 I got my first glimpse
of France to our right. The atmosphere was hazy, and huge clouds
of smoke were billowing from various burning Villages near the shore.
Everything seemed to be going smoothly and according to plan. At
2110 we were heading in toward the northeast beaches of the Cotentin
Peninsula. Below us were hundreds of naval craft of all sizes, shapes
and descriptions. Some C-47s were hightailing back toward England
having ridded themselves of their dangerous loads.
Shortly before 2130 we were crossing
Utah Beach and could see our proposed landing zones. The formation
began descending to the prescribed eight-hundred-foot release altitude.
I was at the controls while Bill oriented himself and sought a field
fit for landing. Suddenly I was aware of small flashes of fire coming
from the area where we had been briefed to land.
Enemy defensive forces were still there! We promptly decided to
hang on and look for safer refuge. I could hear quite distinctly
the sharp reports of rifles and machine guns below. I was not a
comfortable person at that moment. Some of our gliders were landing
directly into that enemy fire. Some of them never knew what hit
Bill signaled that he would take
the controls. I relinquished them and selzed the intercom.
« Glider to towship, glider to towship, come in towship, »
« Towship to glider, » a metallic voice responded
in my earphones.
« Looks like this is it, fellas. Good luck! »
« We're cutting loose, » I said. « We'll
see you later - I hope l »
I had my hand on the big, red knob of the release lever. When Bill
gave the high sign, I pushed the knob cutting the glider loose.
I felt as if I were cutting an umbilical cord. We were freely coasting
through that misty, smoke-filled, shell-ridden air. The towship
was hightailing into the distance with our rope dangling uselessly
behind it. And below us - ???
PART V : LANDING
The fields were not so large as we had expected. Under conditions
in which we found ourselves, they immediately assumed the proportions
of medium-sized postage stamps. The trees which we had estimated
to be fifteen to twenty feet in height were actually anywhere from
forty to a hundred and seemed at least three hundred to us.
Bill made a two hundred and seventy
degree turn from our original flight line and approached a rectangular
field on the north side of a country road. The air was filled with
descending gliders. Every one seemed intent upon getting into that
field ahead of us. A glider cut in on our left, and Bill had to
swerve to the right and do the best he could to get into the rear
pasture of a farm house. That pasture was somewhat less than a hundred
yards in length. It was surrounded by trees, graced with a stone
barn, covered with stumps and chuckholes, and traversed by a power
line upheld by sturdy posts.
We had arrived in the bocage of Normandy .
We were a trifle short for this
destined haven of ours, and Bill had eased the big craft into a
near stall with no flaps. We hit a tree with our left wing. There
was a terrible rending, crashing sound. Affairs were then completely
out of our hands. The glider careened to the right. The ground crash
shock was taken by our right wing and landing gear. The nose wheel
came up through the fuselage, the skid crumpled, and the floor buckled.
We slewed to the right into a wall of trees and undergrowth, a good-sized
tree passing by my side of the nose with inches to spare.
The nose of that glider which
Bill and I were occupying was the only portion not completely demolished.
He looked at me, I looked at him, and our first reaction was one
of stupefied speechlessness. We mustered enough courage to look
back and see how our airborne charges had fared. The three in the
front section of what was left of the compartment were unhurt and
were in the process of extricating themselves from the debris in
preparation for action. Of the eleven men behind the trailer, one
had sustained a fractured arm, and another was knocked unconscious
but not seriously hurt.
We found out later that we had
been much more fortunate than many of the others. During our landing
approach I had fleetingly observed a big Horsa in the act of somersaulting
over some high trees before crashing sickeningly upon its plexiglass
nose. Later we learned of the disastrous results.
PART VI : GROUND ACTION
The enemy was lobbing mortar shells into our area. We took cover
as well as possible, and the airborne sergeant sent out two men
to scout the area. We found that we had landed not far from a road
which led into the main artery extending north through Ste Mere
Eglise to Cherbourg. An 82nd Airborne mortar platoon was being set
up on this road, and it was fairly secure.
The sergeant, Bill and I contacted
the officer in charge and verified our position on his map. The
original command post at which we and the airborne units were to
have assembled was several hundred yards up the road in enemy hands.
We decided to move up that road and try to contact some more of
Soon we came to a busy road junction where an airborne colonel had
set up a temporary command post. We met some other glider pilots
who had landed nearby including several from our own 89t h Squadron.
We were mighty glad to see them alive, and I assume they were glad
to see Bill and me.
We left our airborne crew here,
formed a platoon of our own, and under the guidance of an airborne
lieutenant moved into a field and began to dig in. It was about
2300 by this time and getting quite dark. Soon an airborne captain
arrived in a Jeep and informed us that we were needed to stand security
on a number of Sherman tanks just arrived. The tank jockeys had
been hard at it since 0300 that morning and had nobody to stand
guard while they slept. We were divided into three shifts with thirteen
men to each shift plus two roving guards. I drew the third shift.
The first group was immediately posted, and the rest of us lay around
under the brush and tried to sleep. I rolled up in my blanket and
shelter half with my rifle immediately at hand.
I was dead tired, but not too
much so to note the fireworks going on all about us. The firing
was quite close and distinct. It was interesting to distinguish
between the various types of ordnance, both German and American.
The German machine pistol well-deserved its title, "burp qun".
It fired so devilishly fast that the individual explosions were
The American machine gun fired much more slowly with the familiar
rat-a-tat sound. At frequent intervals a unique sound could be heard
overhead made by the big artillery shells in flight.
The sound is almost indescribable, sort of a hollow whirring like
an empty bottle hurtling through the air at terrific speed.
Flares and star shells would burst frequently lighting up the area
for miles around. Tracers would seek out each stray aircraft overhead.
At 0300 our shift was awakened
and posted. We were to watch for enemy patrols and any infiltration
activity. We concealed ourselves in a hedge row at the edge of an
orchard and maintained our vigil until about 0530, but saw nothing
to cause alarm. After that we had some K-ration breakfast and awaited
Around 0700 a new wave of C-47s
came in low. They were dropping supplies over toward the enemy from
our position. We signaled by hand and smoke to entice them our way,
but to no avail.
Shortly after that another glider
mission came swooping in.
Gliders began releasing over enemy g round. They were fired at with
everything Jerry had. Again we beqan our signalling efforts, and
some of the towships toward the end of the formation swerved in
our direction. Upon release, the gliders came in as best they could,
but very few escaped crashing.
One CG-4a came in apparently
with its nose locks unlatched and Jeep hooked up to the automatic
nose lift. Upon landing, it crashed thunderously into a hedgerow,
the nose flew up, and the Jeep catapulted out through the front
end undamaged. We fully expected to find a couple of dead glider
pilots, but upon arriving at the wreck found them resting easily
upon the grass, smoking cigarettes, shaken up a bit, but unhurt.
About forty of us glider pilots
were formed into a combat patrol and moved up toward the enemy position
under the leadership of an airborne captain. To our dismay we learned
that the mission was to knock out a German field piece, a dreaded
"eighty-eight", which had been raising the devil with
our tanks along the road to Ste. Mere Eglise.
We soon came upon a mixed platoon
of airborne and tank troops taking cover in a ditch behind a row
of trees. Two Sherman tanks were lined up with their gun barrels
poked through the trees aimed at the eighty-eight which was up an
incline about a thousand yards in front of us. They fired on it
and apparently drove the crew away. By the time we had worked our
way along the hedgerows and ditches up to the emplacement, the gun
was deserted. It had been hastily sabotaged. Mines and booby traps
were in clear evidence. We were careful to touch nothing and to
In the field in front of that
German gun emplacement were three gliders, one Horsa and two CG-4as.
One of the CGs was completely burnt. Only the skeletal structure
of the steel tubing remained, The Horsa was a mess of kindling wood.
The other CG had apparently made a perfect landing, but directly
into the face of enemy machine gun fire. The two pilots sat stiff
and cold in their seats.
We moved on up the hill past
the abandoned eighty-eight and came to a huge shell crater in which
two airborne infantrymen were lying. They were both wounded and
delirious from shock and fatigue. We did what we could for them
and sent a man back for medical aid. Farther on we came to a road
along which a column of German vehicles had been shattered by our
We examined the more intact trucks carefully, looking for booby
traps and tossing grenades into a couple of them to make certain
they were cleared out.
This road crossed the main artery
to Ste. Mere Eglise, so we moved out to the junction. Some paratroopers
were setting up an anti-tank roadblock there. The enemy was not
far over the hill at that time. A wounded paratrooper lay quietly
by the wayside. He had been hit in the pelvis, the slug having passed
through his body and emerging through one of the cheeks of his buttocks.
His trousers had been cut away, and the wound bandaged. He certainly
was a gory mess, but he was in the hands of those angels in olive
drab, the medics. Close by lay another paratrooper who had apparently
been dead for some time.
We went back along that main
road to a spot near where we had maintained our watch the previous
night. For the first time I saw German prisoners being brought in.
They were a tired, bloody, beaten-looking group of men. They seemed
glad to be through with the fighting. As they passed, one of them
smiled wearily at me as much as to say, "Well, I guess we've
We assembled in a field where
a lot of other glider pilots had gathered. I was reunited with a
lot of old buddies whom I had not seen in ages. It was almost a
festive moment. In the middle of that field was a badly smashed
Horsa. The pilot lay dead beneath a shelter half nearby. He was
Flight Officer John Mills, one of the newer lads in our own 89th
This had been the glider which I had glimpsed in the act of somersaulting
at the time we were engaged in our thunderous landing the previous
I wandered over to a farm house
nearby and was offered cider by the friendly farm people. I readily
accepted it and gave them some of my chocolate D-ration in return.
They were very glad to get it. In a field adjoining this farm lay
a great number of dead covered with parachutes and shelter halves.
Some of them had already been buried in rude, temporary graves marked
by sticks with dog tags attached. Not bothering to look for anyone
I might have known, I hurried away from that dismal place.
PART VII : EXODUS
About 2000 that evening of June the seventh orders came through
for us to be evacuated. It was a nine-mile trek to the beaches,
and we were a little tired from the day's activities. Nevertheless,
we moved along willingly, some one hundred seventy of us from the
53rd Troop Carrier Wing. My rifle and pack seemed to grow greatly
in weight with each mile we covered.
Enemy mortar shells were descending
as we neared the village of Ste. Marie du Mont. We took cover as
well as possible and sustained no casualties. As we got closer to
the beaches we were met by hundreds of infantry troops coming in
along with much heavy, mobile equipment. Dog-tired, we finally reached
Utah Beach about 2330.
No sooner had we lain down on
the sand for much-needed rest while awaiting water transportation
than we were galvanized into action by an enemy plane that roared
in to strafe the beach-heads. We dove into entrenchments, and the
beach security troops let fly at the plane. For a few moments we
were treated to a terrific display of fireworks as thousands of
tracers streaked into the night sky. Apparently Jerry got away untouched.
Soon some amphibious trucks called
DUCKs approached and took us off-shore to an LCT (Landing Craft
Tank). This was an open, barge-like affair tactically used for beach
invasion. It afforded no shelter from the cold night air, and we
were quite miserable. We nibbled some K-rations while the craft
slowly edged away from the beach area.
Another enemy plane passed overhead,
but did not attempt to strafe us. We guessed it to be a Junkers
88 as it had a distinctive sound quite unlike any American or British
The ship and shore batteries gave it their attention, and again
we were witness to a wonderful display of tracer fireworks.
A plane went down in flames up the coast, but we couldn' t determine
if it was enemy or friendly.
Moments later, the angry whine
of a German dive bomber electrified us as it swooped to lay an egg
on a ship nearby. We hit the deck as the bomb struck, fortunately
in the water, not on the ship. The impact jarred us considerably,
and we were drenched by the ensuing waterspray.
From this LCT we were transferred
to an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) at about 0300, now June the eighth.
I stumbled below, fell into a hammock, and was dead to the world
until awakened at 0630 to be informed that we were again being transferred.
We crawled topside and piled into three infantry landing barges
which transported us to a hulking LST (Landing Ship Tank). We scrambled
up its sides via the rope network and disposed ourselves on the
spacious deck. Prisoners and wounded were also being brought aboard.
There were a number of merchant seamen who had lost their ship when
it struck a mine the previous day. The food aboard that LST seemed
heavenly after our two-day subsistence on K-rations. We had steak
for dinner with all the trimmings.
We were on this ship until the
following morning, sleeping over night in the tank hold. About 0830,
June the ninth, we landed at Portland Bill on the south coast of
were transported by truck a short distance to Weymouth. There we
had breakfast and waited for trucks to take us to our various bases.
It was a long ride to Greenham Common in our open truck, and rain
poured down for about half the distance. At long last about 1630
we arrived at that blessed base. Next to home, I know of no spot
on earth that ever looked so wonderful.
PART VIII : RECEPTION
Everyone at the base was overjoyed to see us. The greater part of
us had been given up for dead in the pessimistic reports given by
the power pilots who had towed us into that inferno. Many of our
C-47s had been hit on that mission. Two had been shot down, but
not from our squadron.
Doc Pringle, our squadron flight
surgeon, broke out a stock of Old Overholt, and we each inhaled
a double shot without blinking an eye. What a bedraggled appearance
we presented! Dirty, unshaven, exhausted, clothes torn and soaked
with sweat, we certainly reflected that three-day ordeal of combat.
We ate supper just as we were.
Everyone ogled us, asked all kinds of questions, and exclaimed how
glad they were to have us back. The good Chaplain had tears in his
eyes as he shook each of us by the hand. The mess officer saw that
our plates were loaded with extra portions of everything which certainly
emphasized the rarity of the occasion.
We were indeed heroes for a brief
spell. Captain Keller, our group intelligence officer, took pictures
and interrogated us briefly. Bill and I took a good, long shower
after all the excitement and went to bed early. It certainly felt
fine to retreat into that comfortable old sack once again.
An immediate count of our squadron casualties revealed only one
glider pilot definitely known dead, the aforementioned unfortunate
Flight Officer John Mills. Five of our men had
sustained serious injuries, two of them being in such bad condition
that they would never fly again. Four were missing.
Later we learned two of the missing were dead.
It is difficult for the individual
participant in an airborne assault to judge the efficacy of the
Chester Wilmot, in his excellent survey, THE STRUGGLE FOR EUROPE,
wrote of it this way :
Confusing as the airborne attack is to the participant, it is
more than confusing to the enemy. More than any other form of attack
the airborne landing gives rise to false and ominous reports. The
very nature of the attack tends to unnerve the defender and lend
exaggeration to his initial warnings.
The general orders for awards
issued by the Ninth Troop Carrier Command stated the results of
the mission in somewhat florid and optimistic terms as follows :
The magnificent spirit and enthusiasm displayed by these officers
combined with skill, courage, and devotion to duty is reflected
in their brilliant operation of unarmed gliders of light construction
at minimum altitudes and air speeds in unfavorable weather conditions
over water and into the face of vigorous enemy opposition with no
possibility of employing evasive action, and in their successful
negotiation of hazardous landings in hostile territory to spearhead
the Allied invasion of the Continent.
Their respective duty assignments were performed in such admirable
manner as to produce exceptional results in the greatest and most
successful airborne operation in the history of world aviation.
Thus ended our first venture
into airborne combat. We were indeed a sadder and wiser group of
young men. Our enthusiasm for action had definitely cooled. Henceforth
we would look with apprehension upon any proposed glider combat
Comradeship had been forged in
the heat of that ordeal, and a strong bond of kinship would always
exist among those glider pilots who had participated. Whenever a
group of them would gather, this common background of fire would
furnish ample subject matter for tall tale-telling. The significance
of that episode seems to gather glory as it slips farther into the
recesses of our memories.
John C. Hanscom (July 10, 1993)