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
Harvey Jacobs
William O. Gifford
Philippe Bauduin
Albert Lefevre
René Etrillard
Suzanne Lesueur
Marie Thierry


Julian A. Rice
1st Pilot, 37th Squadron, 316th Troop Carrier Group

A Pilot's Story

Most things about the aerial INVASION OF NORMANDY on D-Day have been told - the preparations, the training, the planes, the paratroop divisions, the aircrews, the route to Cherbourg Peninsula, etc. I shared the honor with more than 1,600 fellow pilots who flew that historic Mission.
My name is Julian A. Rice, S/N 0679800, 1st Pilot, 37th Sqdn, 316th Troop Carrier Group.
Our crew included Co-pilot Lt. LaRue Wells, Crew Chief T/Sgt. Thaddeus J. Urbaniak, and Radio Operator S/Sgt. Harold C. Gondolfe. My assignment was clear and simple - fly the plane, keep strict radio silence, stay in tight formation, deliver 21 paratroop passengers on time to drop zone "O" northwest of St. Mere Eglise.
Our assigned position in the formation was right wing B-Flight, plane #42-24328, Chalk#41. Our group was to carry the 2nd & 3rd Battalions, 505th PIR (Parachute Infantry Regiment) of the 82nd Airborne from Cottesmore Airfield in the midlands of England to the Cherbourg Peninsula in northwestern France.

My purpose in writing this article is to refute certain negative entries in a book written by Mr. Stephen Ambrose, a well-known American author who specialized in researching and documenting historical events. In his "D-Day" Book (pp. 198-ff. 1995), he accused me, and my fellow pilots who participated in the flight to Normandy, as being "untrained and afraid." Furthermore, he wrote, "… pilots took evasive action to avoid flak… pilots dropped troops at high altitudes (1,500 ft)… pilots dropped troops at high speeds (150 mph)… pilots dropped troops in flooded areas, some of whom drowned, many others were scattered in wrong places." Most of this information was gleaned from Major Dick Winters, 506th PIR, who headed up Easy Company of the 101st Airborne, and who gave many extensive interviews to Ambrose - after which Ambrose wrote the famous "Band of Brothers" movie, which featured Major Winters and his heroic men of Easy Company.

True. Some of these unfortunate events did happen. Some paratroopers actually experienced these unforeseen, and in some cases, tragic events. Those who survived were quick to report what they considered to be failures of the Air Corps pilots. Even one failure is one too many. Nevertheless, they happened, and the troopers who survived being dropped into flooded swamps and other wrong places were quick to vent their anger and complaints against the troop carrier pilots. Fortunately the misplaced para-drops were small in number compared with the total 10,000 PIR personnel who jumped from the C-47s the morning of June 6th. Upon review it was determined that the Mission objectives were not compromised as a result of these misplaced drops. In fact, it was learned that the scattered drops caused considerably effective confusion among the German defenders. We fault Mr. Ambrose for giving broad, bold and negative brushstrokes to the complaints about these drops without taking the time or bother to interview and question the aircrew members to get their side of the story. As a result, the entire body of troop carrier pilots was castigated by the dramatic text coverage published in his "Best Seller" book.

As a pilot who was part of the 316th TCG carrying General Ridgway's 82nd Airborne, 3rd Bn, I would like to relate what I saw and did, and what I believe was done by the 316th Troop Carrier Group formation to Drop Zone "O". In response to Mr. Ambrose remarks, I submit the following:

First: "Untrained?" I certainly didn't feel untrained. I had 18 months of technical and academic training, which included 400 hours pilot time before I joined the 316th Troop Carrier Group in Sicily in late 1943. By D-Day I had acquired over 800 hours of total flight time. Some of this involved miscellaneous supply missions, but was primarily devoted to close day-night formation flying, practice drops of paratroops, glider pulls, short field landings, instrument flight training, etc. We all knew the Invasion of Europe was coming and we concentrated on perfecting our skills on a daily basis. Pilots were rigorously trained and routinely tested to maintain their eligibility for a green card Instrument Rating - which was required of all 1st pilots.

Second: "Afraid?" Hell yes, I was afraid! Who wasn't? So was every mother's son who was aboard that chain link of planes headed for Normandy. Who knows what lie ahead? Thoughts cross your mind - thoughts that you try to ignore. "Is this going to be my last moment in time?" SCARY? You bet!!! Nevertheless, we were each and everyone trained and committed to execute the job that had been assigned to him, and do it to the very best of his ability.

The briefing in the Operations Room for the Normandy Invasion (code name "Bigot Neptune") was thorough: A favorable break in the weather was expected. The target for our 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) was the town of St. Mere Eglise in Normandy on the Cherbourg Peninsula. All the compass headings en route to the various checkpoints and the final heading to the Drop Zone after crossing the Cherbourg coastline were carefully noted. Our Drop Zone (DZ) was coded "0" and was ½ mile northwest of the town. The pathfinder flight aided with radar would locate and drop into the designate DZ; there, they would setup a lighted "T" marker to guide the incoming flights to their respective drop zones. Aerial photos were screened on the wall to point out the location of anti-aircraft defenses. All paratroops were to be dropped on or as near as possible to the designated drop zones. "Caution - watch your airspeed at the DZ - Your planes are carrying overloads up to 1,000 lbs - Airspeed below 110 mph could cause a fatal stall. NO paratrooper is to be returned to England that night unless disabled or killed by anti-aircraft fire. Any paratrooper refusing to jump will be court-martialed. Only lead planes will have navigators on board. It is imperative that all planes without navigators stay in tight formation throughout the mission. (Really?? What if something… Forget It, I thought; Just stay tight and follow the lead ships all the way in!)

Concluding the briefing, 316th Group Commander Lt. Col. Washburn looked around at the roomful of pilots and said, "Gentlemen, you will be taking part in the largest airborne armada ever created. The 316th Group will be putting 72 planes in the air from here, and 13 more identical groups will join us en route to complete the 2-hour 51-minute flight to our drop zone in Normandy. Let's do the job you have been trained for. Keep the formation tight; give your troops a good trip to the DZ. Good luck. Let's go!"

By 2130 hours (09:30 pm) the various "sticks" of paratroops had marched out to their respective planes, which had been identified with large chalk numbers next to the left side door. They clambered aboard with their heavy equipment load, assisting each other up the portable metal steps, and sat down to wait on the long cold aluminum side benches inside. The Jumpmaster, a big man with black smudges covering his face was an impressive sight. He must have weighed well over 300 lbs loaded down with equipment. He looked to me like he could win the war single-handed. He was anxious to get started and reminded me to do everything possible to jump his stick at 700 feet altitude and at 115 miles per hour. I assured him that I didn't anticipate any problem doing that. (Little did we know what lie ahead.) We climbed aboard.

A few minutes later the Cottesmore airfield shook with the loud rumble of 288 Pratt Whitney (C-47) engines coming to life. We taxied in turn to our position on the perimeter leading to takeoff runway "50". While we sat and waited for the green "go-light" from the tower, I went through preflight cockpit check (for the 3rd or 4th time - I also threw in a prayer or two).

At precisely 2300 (11pm) hours, the green flare signal illuminated the Control Tower. The Invasion was ON! The Group Leader in first position on the runway began his takeoff roll. One by one the following flights climbed into the night sky.

Our turn had arrived. I taxied off the end of the perimeter strip to the runway, locked the tail wheel in position, called for 15 degrees flaps and shoved the twin throttles "to the firewall". A moment later the heavily laden ship staggered into the air. Co-pilot Lt. LaRue Wells pulled up the landing gear into flight position while I fought the sudden impact of the twisting vortex of prop wash from the planes ahead. Reaching 500 ft LaRue closed the flaps and I began a 180-degree climbing turn left where I slid into the right wing position in B-Flt. As we reached 1,000 feet, the 316th Group had gathered into a tight 72-ship formation and headed for precise checkpoints where we would collect and blend into our position line with 13 other groups arriving from different airfields. Try and imagine if you will - multiple groups of 72 aircraft taking off from scattered airfields in England and flying through the dark night to various check points - arriving at the same altitude - no radar - no radio communication - just dead reckoning navigation and straining eyesight by lead pilots and navigators looking for the dim amber wing lights of the other groups. Imagine if you will this huge armada of over 800 planes merging successfully that night, wing-inside-wing, without one collision. (Mr. Ambrose was apparently unaware of the training that enabled us to complete this very difficult task!)

Reaching southern England, we were now assembled into one long sky-train carrying over 10,000 paratroops of the 82nd and 101st Airborne headed for Normandy. I recall our last warning: "Remember - only 10% of the planes have navigators on board. The Group and Squadron Leaders and some secondary backup Flight Leaders fly these planes. Therefore, the rest of you orphans better hang in close and tight so you don't lose your way!"

We left the southern English coastline at the "Portland Bill" heading. The night sky was still dark despite occasional streaks of moonlight coming through the receding clouds. The air was reasonably smooth. Strict radio silence was maintained. For a while the amber wing lights on each plane helped keep the pilots in good position. Crossing the channel, the lead ships flew at a low altitude (500ft); squadrons and flights following were staircased upward to avoid the twisting prop wash. A short distance after departing the English coast, all normal amber wing lights were turned off according to plan. Guiding us now were four small-cupped blue lights installed along the top fuselage spine and mid-upper wing surface of each plane. Keeping these four small lights in view required the flight leaders and wingmen to keep their Vee formation tightly in position. This was critical. Losing sight of the blue lights left only the hazy moonlit silhouette of the adjacent plane. Sweat time.

The cockpit is dark except for the fluorescent reflections from the instrument panel. The left seat I sit in feels different because of the flak cushion pad under my butt. In addition, I wear a parachute harness, which seemed to me to be a meaningless gesture. The small sausage shaped parachute bundle is tucked under my seat. If my plane becomes disabled and it is necessary to bail out, I have to grab the chute, find and attach its metal connectors to my harness, climb out of the cockpit, run back through the fuselage to the side door, (assuming none of it is on fire) and jump. Good luck, I thought!

Crossing the Channel, we passed the various checkpoints on time: "Flatbush"…"Gallup"… and "Hoboken," etc. Shortly before reaching Guernsey Island, our 82nd PIR formation turned to 135 degree heading to the Cherbourg Peninsula; the 101st PIR split off slightly to an approach heading of 140 degrees. As we passed just east of Guernsey, some enemy anti-aircraft fire was seen, but caused no damage to our formation that I could see. Below us the English Channel was striped with the wake of thousands of ships heading for the landing beaches of "Omaha" and "Utah". The Germans heavily defended these beach areas with gun emplacements in concrete pillboxes along the top edges of the cliffs. The troops that we carried to the inland drop zones beyond the beaches were charged with sealing off the bridges and roadway accesses around the nearby town of St. Mere Eglise to prevent German army reinforcements from getting through to aid the German soldiers defending the beaches.

At this point, 2-1/2 hours into the flight, everything had gone smoothly; nevertheless, I was perspiring from the strain of keeping the cupped blue lights in good sight. In the background of my mindset, I'm not ashamed to say, I could hear some quiet praying going on - Lord keep us safe… keep us safe…

Through the murky gloom ahead, the darker outline of the coast began to appear. Our group's lead pilots were going in low at 500ft levels, whereas the following squadrons and flights were stacking up to 1,000 ft. Our airspeed had slowed to 120 mph in preparation for the upcoming drop zones, some 18 to 20 miles ahead where we would slow to 115 mph for the planned jump. "Remember! When the heavily overloaded C-47 approaches the DZ, the pilot must maintain careful control of the airspeed - anything under 110 mph could be critical and lead to a fatal stall and spin without enough altitude left for recovery."

Suddenly, without warning, the "s…. hit the fan!" Just as we started to cross the beach area, we flew into a 1500 ft high wall of heavy land fog that blanketed our entire portion of the formation. Not only did the critical blue lights vanish from sight, but also the entire planes in the formation disappeared. It was impossible for me to see my own wing. Now the fear of enemy fire was secondary. The immediate concern was mid-air collisions from the planes all around. In the darkness of the cockpit, the green fluorescent needle-ball-airspeed, altimeter and artificial horizon instruments demanded immediate attention. This is where another part of pilot training automatically kicks in. Emergency Dispersal Procedure! Spread out! I shoved the fuel mixture to rich - boosted throttle setting and rpms to climb mode - synchronized prop pitch - kicked hard left rudder - pulled back the yoke to a climb rate of 500 ft/min. Forty-five seconds later I leveled out at 1400 ft, still locked inside the pitch-dark fog. I continued to hold the approach leg compass heading to the DZ, and prayed no other planes were in my path. It was eerie in the dark listening to nothing but the heartbeat of my plane's engines. Although I could see or hear nothing through the fog outside the windows, I could sense the nearness of other planes. CONCENTRATE! I glued my focus on the instrument panel and kept a tight grip on the controls. More sweat time!

Meanwhile, the other unfortunate pilots without navigators were stuck in this "soup" flying blind on their own. No wonder some Groups lost their bearings and missed there drop zones. They had no fancy satellite GPS system; no radar, no navigator - they were flying the "Model T" airplanes of yesteryear! If they managed to avoid collision and emerge from the soup safely, they now had to grope their way down to try and find their scheduled drop zone. (Unfortunately, Mr. Ambrose and his "second guessers" weren't sitting up front in the cockpit with them to tell the "untrained and scared pilots" what to do).

Those few minutes in the soup felt like eternity in a blindfold. When we finally broke out of the fog, there were scattered planes left and right and in front of us. I breathed a sigh of relief - but not for long. We had little time to get the plane back down from 1,500 to 700 ft for the upcoming drop (and don't build speed going down - we need 115 mph at the DZ). I cut back the throttles and started down, but that's when all hell broke loose. A heavy barrage of enemy anti-aircraft shells burst right, then left. Black-gray flak clouds were everywhere. Machine gun tracer streams were searching us out. Staccato rat-a-tat of bullets pierced the tail assembly, which upset the elevator controls, and we started downward. I pulled back on the yoke and readjusted the elevator trim wheel. Our planes had no self-sealing gas tanks in the wing. A tracer going through that area would be fatal. The sky was now a smoky yellow haze. Exploding shells filled the air with turbulence, which jerked our plane up and down like a yo-yo. I saw other planes catch fire and go down. We passed over the town of St. Mere Eglise where there was heavy fighting going on. A large fire was burning in the Northern edge of town. While this pandemonium was going on outside, LaRue clicked on the red warning light to ready the paratroops for the jump. Meanwhile, I was very busy manhandling our plane to get back down to the 700 ft jump altitude and 115 mph airspeed.

So? Just step on the brakes, right? What brakes???? To reduce the speed of a C-47 in a hurry, you get resourceful quick. Co-pilot Wells extended the flaps and lowered the landing gear to help produce drag, while I kicked the rudder and yanked elevator and aileron controls around to slow the descent.
The resulting ride down was rough. It may have caused anger among the paratroops. Somebody may have suggested to Mr. Ambrose that scared pilots were taking "evasive action" from the flak. They were probably thinking, "What the hell is he doing up front?" Sorry guys. There was no other way to descend low enough for the drop.

A couple of minutes later, chutes billowed out from planes ahead of me. Then I saw the lighted "T" the pathfinders had placed on our DZ "O". A few seconds later we turned on the green jump light. With flaps down and landing gear extended we had managed to slow the descent airspeed to 118 mph at altitude of 750 ft. This was slightly fast and slightly high, but it was the best recovery possible from the dense fog and short recovery distance to the DZ. Thirty seconds later the troops were out the door and on there way down to liberate the town of St. Mere Eglise.

The C-47 is a rugged airplane, a dependable airplane - but it is not a smooth riding airplane, particularly at low altitudes. To those paratroopers who spent many hours doing training jumps from the C-47, you know what I am talking about. But, perhaps you may not know what a pilot sometimes has to do to make the plane conform to certain unpredictable conditions. When you suddenly find yourself plunged into a total blackout with hundreds of airplanes around you, you had better spread out and spread out fast. In our case we turned and climbed to a safer height. When we broke out free of the fog, we then had to hurry back down to reach a safe jump altitude. With no brakes to stomp on, we did what we could to slow the plane down by cutting back throttles, dropping flaps, dropping landing gear, and jerking the controls around to increase drag. This is what happened.

I'm sorry that Mr. Ambrose implied that the pilots were untrained and afraid. I guess he was half right, because I certainly remember being scared.
But - the suggestion that the "pilots took evasive action to avoid flak" is totally ridiculous. The fact of the matter is that no lumbering, overloaded C-47 can do any fancy quick twists and turns for any reason, let alone avoiding flak. That would be a magic act. We were just pilots flying primitive World War II airplanes - not magicians.

As the world knows now, the air invasion of Normandy was successful. The scattered airdrops did not fail the Mission. In at least one case I personally know of, a misplaced drop saved lives because the designated drop zone was alive with multiple enemy machine gun nests. Troopers floating down there would have been slaughtered before getting out of their chutes. At the end of the long day, all assigned Mission objectives were accomplished. In conclusion, all elements that participated in the aerial Invasion of Normandy were successful - including the bus drivers and crews of C-47s and Gliders who for the most part managed to deliver the personnel and supplies, and who were fortunate enough to avoid collision in the fog, survive the anti-aircraft flak and machine gun fire, and get the C-47 back to the airfield to be patched up and ready for tomorrow - to fly and fight another day.

The Band of Brothers was a moving portrayal of Major Dick Winters and his "Easy Company". They and all members of the 82nd and 101st PIR did an outstanding job. They gave their all - some gave more - some gave their lives. They deserve all the honors and respect that can be given them - now, and forever.

The Troop Carrier Wings were merely support arms. We helped train paratroopers. We helped get you there. We didn't leave you unattended - we resupplied your needs in Africa, in Normandy, in Bastogne, in Holland, in Wesel, Germany. We evacuated your wounded. Our dedicated pilots, navigators, radio operators and crew chiefs crashed and burned along side you. We lost many friends, as did you, in ways too terrible to describe here. I took the time to write this piece to shed some light on our side of the story - a side that was overlooked by Mr. Ambrose. It is our hope this will help subdue the harsh criticisms expressed by some of the paratroopers all these years. Your courage was tested to the core. We were tested right there along side you, over and over again. You gave your all to perform your duty well, and so did we. The way I live with my memories of Normandy and the horrors I witnessed is to focus on the heroism so nobly displayed by so many. Let's let the peace, the peace we all fought so hard for, give us all peace of mind as well. We are proud to have served with all of you, and we hope that you might remember us in the same way.

Peace to all who served.

Julian A. Rice     (31 August 2008)
S/N 0679800, 1st Pilot, 37th Sqdn, 316th Troop Carrier Group, WWII