Men of D-Day


    
 Troop Carrier
Michael N. Ingrisano
Robert E. Callahan
Benjamin F. Kendig
John R. Devitt
Arthur W. Hooper
Ward Smith
Julian A. Rice
Charles E. Skidmore
Sherfey T. Randolph
Louis R. Emerson Jr.
Leonard L. Baer
Robert D. Dopita
Harvey Cohen
Zane H. Graves
John J. Prince
Henry C. Hobbs
John C. Hanscom
Charles S. Cartwright
 
 82nd Airborne
Leslie Palmer Cruise Jr.
Marie-T Lavieille
Denise Lecourtois
Howard Huebner
Malcolm D. Brannen
Thomas W. Porcella
Ray T. Burchell
Robert C. Moss
Richard R. Hill
Edward W. Shimko
 
 101st Airborne
John Nasea, Jr
David 'Buck' Rogers
Marie madeleine Poisson
Roger Lecheminant
Dale Q. Gregory
George E. Willey
Raymond Geddes
 
 Utah Beach
Joseph S. Jones
Jim McKee
Eugene D. Shales
Milton Staley
 
 Omaha Beach
Melvin B. Farrell
James R. Argo
Carl E. Bombardier
Robert M. Leach
Joseph Alexander
James Branch
John Hooper
Anthony Leone
George A. Davison
James H. Jordan
Albert J. Berard
Jewel M. Vidito
H. Smith Shumway
Louis Occelli
John H. Kellers
Harley A. Reynolds
John C. Raaen
Wesley Ross
Richard J. Ford
William C. Smith
Ralph E. Gallant
James W. Gabaree
James W. Tucker
Robert Watson
Robert R. Chapman
Robert H. Searl
Leslie Dobinson
William H. Johnson
 
 Gold Beach
George F. Weightman
Norman W. Cohen
Walter Uden
 
 Juno Beach
Leonard Smith
 
 Sword Beach
Brian Guy
 
 6th Airborne
Roger Charbonneau
Frederick Glover
Jacques Courcy
Arlette Lechevalier
Charles S. Pearson
 
 U.S.A.A.F
Harvey Jacobs
William O. Gifford
 
Civils
Philippe Bauduin
Albert Lefevre
René Etrillard
Suzanne Lesueur
 

 

John C. Hanscom
Flight Officer - Glider Pilot - 89th Troop Carrier Squadron - 438th Troop Carrier Group

D-DAY IN A GLIDER

PREFACE
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 June, 1944.

PROLOGUE
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 machines.

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 combat mission.

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 after landing.

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 day.
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 again.

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 proper reprimand.

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 long runway.

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 and towship.
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 per hour.
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 them.

Bill signaled that he would take the controls. I relinquished them and selzed the intercom.
« Glider to towship, glider to towship, come in towship, » I called.
« 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 our troops.
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 indistinguishable.
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 further orders.

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 step cautiously.

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 artillery.
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 had it."

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 Squadron.
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 evening.

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 plane.
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 England and
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.

EPILOGUE
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 overall operation.
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 mission.

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)