Major Benjamin F. Kendig.
Pilot - 44th Troop Carrier Squadron, 316th Troop
It was common knowledge that
our Group was transferred from Sicily to England to participate
in the invasion of the European continent. Even the German radio
announced our arrival and welcomed us to the UK. Of course, they
also promised that we would all be shipped home in wooden boxes.
My name is Ben Kendig and I was the commander of the 44th Troop
Carrier Squadron of the 316th Troop Carrier Group. At the time of
the Normandy Invasion (D-Day) we had been overseas for about a year
and a half. Our group participated in the Sicilian landings with
two night paratroop drops. The second drop was met by heavy fire
(mostly so called friendly). Our group lost 12 airplanes out of
36. Even though it didn't show on the surface, we were all somewhat
apprehensive about the invasion plans that we all knew were in our
After arriving in England,
we soon adapted to our new country and in some ways because of the
many similarities we almost felt as though we had gone home. Our
days and nights were filled with flying supply missions in England
and Scotland and many night formation training flights. One of the
night formation flights ended in tragedy with two of our planes
colliding in mid-air. The lead plane, that had the Group Commander
as an observer, was hit by a plane of the following element at a
turn around a beacon. All personnel on both planes were killed.
The group commander, Col. Burton Fleet, had been my squadron commander
prior to his transfer to group headquarters. This accident naturally
effected us all. There was deep sorrow for the loss of our friends
and also the heightened awareness that the night formation flying,
required for the invasion, could be even more dangerous.
One day we received visitors.
They were members of the 82nd Airborne who set up camp on our field
at Cottesmore. There was no doubt now that we would be participating
in the invasion! We would be taking them on a one way trip to some
undisclosed location someplace on the continent. We certainly did
not envy their position. Their camp was isolated and we didn't get
to talk with them until just before they boarded our planes. The
less any one individual knew about the whole operation, the better
the chance to keep the secret from the enemy.
Because I was a squadron
commander, I was briefed on the operation sometime before the rest
of the squadron. I don't remember the exact sequence of the activities
prior to the invasion. We did go to a nearby airfield to listen
to a talk and receive a send off by General Eisenhower. Then came
the postponement of the mission for a day due to the weather. I
breathed a sigh of relief but realized it only meant another day
Prior to the invasion and in addition to the many practice night
formations, we had gas drills and night vision training. For the
gas drill, we had to don our masks and walk through smoke filled
tents. The night vision training consisted of wearing dark-tinted
red goggles (in a darkened gym) and playing catch with a large white
ball. We also trained to identify aircraft and read text that was
faintly projected on the wall of a darkened room. On the mission,
we wore impregnated coveralls, carried gasmasks and wore tin helmets.
We certainly did not look like aircrew members.
I can't explain the feeling but on every mission I was relieved
when we started the engines and were ready to go. Then the anxiety
left me and it was all down to business. We formed up on the perimeter
strip with our loads of paratroopers and para-bundles. The 44th
Sq. was in the lead with the Deputy Group Commander Col. Washburn
in our lead plane. I was number ten, leading the second element
of nine planes of the 44th Sq. The group had four squadrons. Each
of the squadrons put up 18 aircraft. In spite of the large number
of aircraft, the take off and form up were uneventful. We then proceeded,
on course, to our point of departure from the coast of England.
We crossed the channel with
no problems; flying at about 2000 feet above the water. As we approached
the coast of Normandy, we found a cloud formation had formed just
below our altitude. My first thought was that the Germans had spread
poison gas in the area. The cloud formation appeared to lay in rows
and looked to me as though it might have been spread by airplanes.
I quickly realized that my imagination was working overtime! The
clouds were a natural formation and could have resulted from the
planes that were ahead of us flying through nearly saturated air,
causing it to condense into clouds.
As we neared the drop zone,
I was faced with an important decision! Was it better to drop down
and fly through the clouds and risk having the formation break up
with the possibility of mid air collisions or to stay above and
drop the paratroopers at an altitude that would cause them to become
widely separated? We soon picked up the radar signal from the pathfinders!
At about five miles distance from the drop zone, the cloud layer
ended and I could clearly see the lights set up by the pathfinders.
I immediately closed the throttles and started to descend. I quickly
realized that I had better use some power, for my formation was
overtaking my plane. By the time we reached the drop zone we were
a little above the 500 ft. altitude and a little faster than the
desired speed for dropping the troops. However, it was, in my judgment,
best to drop at this time rather than to circle and take the chance
of colliding with the following formation.
After dropping the troops
we flew as low as possible and soon crossed the coast. I don't know
if I dreamed this or not, but as we crossed the coast I thought
that I could see trenches and soldiers. I don't remember seeing
much ground fire. Compared to the second night over Sicily this
was a "milk run". The remainder of the trip back to our
base was uneventful. We all felt quite relieved to learn that there
were few casualties. I believe that our group lost no airplanes
Several explanations are
in order. The pathfinders were a group of troop carrier crews and
paratroopers highly trained in navigation with the latest radar
equipment. Prior to our drops they located the drop zones and set
up lights and radar for our guidance to the drop zones. Our lead
planes were equipped with Rebecca-Eureka radar that had a scope
in the instrument panel giving direction and distance to the pathfinder's
signal. Another explanation concerns our night formation flying.
Each plane had three purple hooded lights on each wing and three
on top of the fuselage. They were only visible from the rear quarter
and were adequate so long as the formation was fairly tight. The
exhaust pipes had flame arresters to avoid being seen from the ground
and presenting a target.
This account is only as
accurate as my memory. I certainly did not make up this account.
I believe it to be fairly true to the actual events. It was a night
that many of us will never forget!
My crew for this mission
NEPTUNE BIGOT are as follows:
Co-Pilot 1st.Lt. Karol F. Rybos
Navigator 1st.Lt. Donald W. Ertel
Crew Chief T/Sgt. Donald M. Ashling
Radio Op. S/Sgt. James R. Taylor
Benjamin Kendig (September 24, 2002)