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
 

 

Sherfey T. Randolph
2nd Lieutenant - Glider Pilot - 80th Troop Carrier Squadron - 436th Troop Carrier Group

The Preparation for Normandy
I was attending my sophomore year at Asheville College, North Carolina when America entered World War II. During that year, I picked up my pilot’s license as a course in the Civilian Pilot Training Course. I got credit towards my degree and had fun, to boot.
In March 1942, some of my friends and I heard about the newly started U.S. Army Air Force glider program. A glib Army recruiter with a quota to fill found a rapt audience with us. By having my pilot’s license and passing a perfunctory physical, I was a prime candidate for this new training.
Starting in May 1942, about 75 glider pilot trainees reported to Shaw Field in Sumter, South Carolina. There we enlisted as privates in the Army Air Force.
Moved down to Ft. Jackson, S.C., our group was formally in-processed into the military. The archetypical shot line, uniform issue, and yet another physical that essentially consisted of being able to breathe and walk upright followed.
Following the abbreviated introduction into the military, I traveled by train to a civilian-run preliminary light airplane gliding instruction school at Goodland, Kansas. The flying there was actually conducted in powered light aircraft. In my case, Piper Cubs were the primary vehicle.
Everything we did at Kansas was a repeat of private pilot training with a heavy emphasis on deadstick landings. We flew a landing pattern and on the downwind leg, the instructor would pull the throttle. It was up to the student to fly the rest of the pattern and get the plane down on the field. This was really effective at developing judgment and distance estimating in a young pilot.
The guys that couldn’t do it after a couple of tries, and the patterns grew longer and longer from the touchdown point, were eliminated from the program. Since we had enlisted, those guys were sent to jobs elsewhere. Not what we young guys wanted, so I worked really hard at being good at milking the plane’s glide as far as possible.
After Kansas, the we moved on to Amarillo, Texas’ England Field. It was here that they got our first true sailplane training. Flying mostly Schweitzer and Laister-Kauffman 2-place sailplanes, I learned the basic theory and operation of the tow-plane/glider operation.
This was the most fun flying I ever had. I’d get towed to three-four thousand feet, release the tow line, and after flying whatever the simple pattern required for that flight’s lesson – could be a loop, a 360 around a point or what have you- but after that lesson requirement was met, I could play and experiment for as long as I had altitude.
The true gliders we flew at England Field were very different from the power off Cubs. In the Cub, when you pulled the power to simulate the tow release, the weight of the engine and the shorter wings ensured that you were going into an immediate descent. In the Schweitzer, that wasn’t the case. With those long wings, you could do a lot of stuff and not really lose a lot of altitude. I really enjoyed flying those gliders.

By the winter of 1942, I had been promoted to Staff Sergeant and was sent to the cold, windswept panhandle of Texas outside Dalhart. It was here that I had my introduction to the CG-4A ‘Hadrian’ combat glider. I always figured that this would be the only aircraft I see combat in.
The CG-4A is a big aircraft. With a wingspan over 80 feet and a load carrying capability of more than its own weight, it dwarfed anything any of my classmates or I had ever flown before. After settling into the left seat of the CG-4A, I discovered that as fun as the sailplane training had been, it wasn’t particularly applicable to the big glider.
With the CG-4A, once you ‘cut-off’ from the tow rope – by the way in almost no case did the tow plane release the glider, rather it was the glider that released the tow rope. If you didn’t or if the tow rope snapped, the end from the tow plane came whipping back and could tear a hole in the Plexiglas or the fabric or what was worse, wrap around a control surface or the landing wheels. We lost a lot of guys in training and in combat due to a broken towrope.
Anyway, once you cut off, the CG-4A was a big heavy ship. If she wasn’t being dragged forward, she was going to go downhill. If you kept the speed up above 80 mph or so, she handled very well. You could maintain position behind the tow ship with only slight moves of the rudder. In free flight, the controls weren’t particularly heavy until the speed dropped off. At that point, you weren’t far from the stall and the controls were a bit sloppy.
I graduated and was commissioned a Flight Officer on 27 February 1943. I was immediately sent to Ft Knox, Kentucky area for combat infantry training. While there, I learned to use and maintain all the U.S. small arms: M1 rifle, M1 carbine, .45 pistol, bazookas, mortars and machine guns.
I also continued my flight training, gaining experience and confidence handling a glider in a variety of flying conditions with heavy emphasis on night flying.
For our night training, often times, the instructors would set out two smudge pots to mark the end of the runway, then string a rope between two poles that was our ‘obstacle’ we had to clear, and then another two pots to mark the desired touchdown point. If we landed too long or too short, we caught an earful from those instructors. Nobody wanted to be thought as ‘not cutting the mustard’ so we got pretty good at hitting the mark.
I was assigned to the 80th Troop Carrier Squadron in the 436th Troop Carrier Group. I stayed with the 80th until its deactivation in late 1945 after the war.

After more training, culminating in division-size glider assaults in the rugged terrain of northern North Carolina, my group shipped out from New York aboard the RMS Queen Mary on January 2, 1944.
I arrived in Scotland on January 6 and soon was on my way south to my group’s home at Membury Field, England. From then until April, we new glider pilots practiced flying in formations ranging from single ships up to Wing-sized drops. It was during this time that I also practiced my first double-tow flights. In this configuration, one C-47 would tow two CG-4As. With careful planning and skillful handling by all three pilots, it was a viable combat configuration. If it was rushed or a pilot was ham-fisted, it could be a disaster.
I flew every chance I got. In addition to his scheduled flights, I’d hang around the squadron and group ops areas and anytime somebody needed a pilot or co-pilot, I was ready to fly. Eventually, all of my group’s glider pilots were sent to a British navigation course and then we would fly as C-47 navigators. After building up some ‘Gooney Bird’ time, we served as C-47 copilots thus doubling the number of C-47 crews available if a glider tow wasn’t the mission.
If we were doing tows, you rotate before the tow plane at about 75-80 mph, and go above him. Not too far or you’d dump the tow on its nose before he was airborne. It was a real short flight if you did that.
After you saw the tow get up, you’d settle in trail behind him about 4-6 feet above his tail. That kept you out his propwash and let him make any turns he needed without having to worry about you hitting him on the inside of the turn. At night, however, you had to fly slightly below him because the only reference you had was his exhaust flames. You’d get tossed around pretty good while the group was forming up, but it would generally settle down once everybody was heading the same way.
About April, the planners for the airborne portion of the D-Day landings realized that the number of troops and amount of supplies to be airlifted exceeded the expected number of American gliders. Turning to the British, the we borrowed some Airspeed A.S.51 Horsa gliders and assigned them to some of the tasked glider units, mine included.

On my initial checkout on the Horsa, a Brit NCO sat in the left seat and I sat in the right. We were pulled up and at pattern altitude we released from the tow. Except a bit on the downwind, I didn’t touch the controls. After we landed, the NCO said ’You’ll do just fine, mate.’ And with that, I was checked out. As a matter of fact, I was able to train additional glider pilots on the Horsa. There weren’t any designated instructors so we had to help each other hone our skills after the initial Brit checkout.
The Horsa was a much bigger craft than the CG-4A. The cockpit was almost completely separated from the cargo area whereas in the US glider, the two pilots were right in front of the payload. Indeed, in the CG-4A, the cockpit was hinged at the top to swing up and out of the way to load and unload. In the Brit ride, the cargo was unloaded via the tail. It also carried almost double the load of the American glider.”
Randolph continues in his description of flying the bigger model, “The Horsa was a much different type than the American glider. It came with pneumatic-type flaps. The CG-4A had manually operated spoilers to dump speed. With the Horsa’s flaps, you could crank in 80 degrees and drop down in a hurry and also bleed off speed quickly. Very good tricks to have going into a ‘hot’ LZ (landing zone).
I kept up my habit of trying to fly any chance I could get. I racked up almost 60 hours in the Horsa before flying into combat. Some guys, unfortunately, only had 4-5 hours before facing gunfire.

Flying into Combat
On June 3, 1944, our crews were briefed on our part of the impending invasion on June 4th. The weather wasn’t consulted, however, and refused to cooperate so the initial drop was slipped by a day to the evening of the 5th, D-Day (D-1). As part of that drop, the 82d Airborne Division dropped both paratroopers and gliders into their objectives around Ste.-Mere-Eglise.
My squadron was on deck to fly the evening of June 6th. Due to scattered drops and heavy German resistance in the initial 82d assault, our designated LZ was still in a hotly contested area. Since the radios for the 82d’s commander, Major General Gavin, were destroyed on landing, he had no way to communicate back to England that the LZ would be very hot.

On the afternoon of June 6th, I was briefed on the target area. Small fields surrounded by hedgerows would make for very sporty landings. Reconnaissance photos also showed small objects in the field as “cows.” Those cows would turn out to be anti-invasion obstacles planted by the Germans to foil just such landings.
The take-off time was set for 2100. At that late hour, it would still be twilight, but dim enough so that any unforeseen obstacles on the glide in would be hidden until touchdown.
My copilot, Joe Bickett, and I walked out to our chalk or spot where our ship was on the runway. As we approached, we saw some airborne troops loading their equipment. They stopped and looked at us and we looked at them. Finally, the NCO of the bunch, Sgt Wallace Edwards, introduced himself and his men. Joe and I reciprocated.
After watching them secure their load, we checked it to make sure it matched the manifest. We tipped the scales at 16,767 pounds. Max gross of the Horsa was supposed to be 15,800, but I wasn’t too concerned. I just would have to watch my stall speed a little more closely since it would be higher due to the extra weight.
That evening when it was finally time to get going, just as the start engines flare went off, Sgt Edwards leaned forward and shouted, “Get us on the ground in one piece and we’ll keep you from harm on the ground.” That phrase has stuck with me all these years. When he said it, he meant it and he sure did keep his word.
When it was our turn, the tow plane gradually started its take off run. As it did, it pulled the tow rope taut and started the Horsa rolling. Unlike the CG-4A, which had a single point attachment for the rope, the Horsa had two points, one on the underside of each wing. You had to be more vigilant in flying with this arrangement than a single point system since it was easy to overstress an attachment rope while the other went slack. If that happened, the line could break and the glider would quickly roll around the still-attached wing- a catastrophic event in a heavily loaded glider with frail humans aboard.

Flying over the Channel, I saw the thousands of ships involved in the amphibious landings. All those lights reminded me for some strange reason of a Christmas tree. I soon snapped back from my daydreaming after crossing the coast when a couple of rounds of ground fire twanged off something in the back, either the howitzer or the jeep. Stuff hitting the plywood floor made a dull thud.
At 400 feet, the light from the tow flashed and we cut off. In the gathering dark, it was tough to see the details I wanted. We turned left through 90 degrees following standard procedure and couldn’t make out the ground. Still descending, another 90-degree turn, and a burning tree casts a little light on the field. Another 90 and we line up for the landing.
At 75 feet, we brush through some tree tops and the horizon is barely visible. We drop full flaps and take an elevator ride down with the nose pointed at the dirt. At 30 feet, I pull the wheel deep into my stomach as Joe is calling out altitude.
We hit pretty hard but in one piece and after only a couple of hundred feet come to a stop. Just as we stopped, another Horsa came whizzing by and smacked into a hedgerow at high speed. We also discovered the LZ was still under fire so the troopers unloaded us in a hurry. In less than five minutes, we had unloaded and beat feet to impromptu rally point at one end of the field. Here we found another dozen 82d troopers. During the night, more and more guys joined our position.

Next day, D+1, we located ourselves in relation to the battle. We were northeast of a road between Les Forges and Ste Mere-Eglise. Our assigned post-landing battle station was the headquarters command post. Since nobody knew where it was, we stuck with Sgt Edwards and his guys, moving from skirmish to skirmish.
I saw just how frightening and numbing ground combat can be for the next three days. Finally, all the glider pilots were ordered to accompany some walking wounded to the beach and turn them over to some medical guys there. We then found the beachmaster and he loaded us on a transport back to Plymouth, England.
Although the invasion glider force as a whole suffered massive losses during the Normandy operation, amazingly every single 80th Troop Carrier Squadron pilot came back in one piece.

Sherfey T. Randolph     (27 January 2013)

Testimony forwarded by Thierry Cardon