Skip to comments.D-Day: Eisenhower and His Paratroopers
Posted on 06/06/2014 8:45:25 AM PDT by Retain Mike
General Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived in London to command Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) for the last five months of planning for D-Day. During that time he achieved much more than the oft repeated portrayal of managing a political/military alliance. Though he never led troops in combat, his leadership sustained many unprecedented initiatives for the successful Normandy landings. The air assault exemplifies the frightful uncertainties plaguing this Day of Days.
The night before D-Day, 20,400 American and British paratroopers dropped behind the Normandy beaches from 1,250 C-47 aircraft plus gliders. This massive assault was attempted just 17 years after Charles Lindberg flew the Atlantic solo for the first time.
To the last moment Ike's air commander, British Air Chief Marshall Leigh-Mallory, saw only tragic forebodings reinforced by memories of American losses in North Africa and Sicily, and the German catastrophe on Crete. The German losses there were so severe that Hitler forbid any further massive air assaults. Leigh-Mallory anticipated over half the planes and gliders would be destroyed before reaching the drop zones with surviving paratroopers fighting isolated until they were killed or captured.
The unescorted transports would arrive over Normandy the night of June 5 in three streams with each 300 miles long; thereby allowing the Germans up to two hours to reposition night fighters and anti-aircraft artillery for maximum slaughter of the transports. Most pilots were flying their first combat mission. Leigh-Mallory had received specific intelligence the German 91st Air Landing Division, specialists in fighting paratroopers, and the 6th Parachute Regiment inexplicably moved into the area around St. Mere-Eglise, where the American divisions were to land. Could these movements mean the deception plan for D-Day directing attention to Pas de Calais was breaking down?
Ike remained strategically committed to the airborne assault, because it would enable the early capture of Cherbourg. Without port facilities, the limited logistic support across the beaches could doom the entire invasion.
At the same time he was devoted to the men. The evening before D-Day, Eisenhower left SHAEF headquarters at 6 PM and traveled to Newbury where the 101st Airborne was boarding for its first combat mission. Ike arrived at 8 PM and did not leave until the last C-47 was airborne over three hours later.
In My Three Years with Eisenhower Captain Harry C. Butcher says, "We saw hundreds of paratroopers with blackened and grotesque faces, packing up for the big hop and jump. Ike wandered through them, stepping over, packs, guns, and a variety of equipment such as only paratroop people can devise, chinning with this and that one. All were put at ease. He was promised a job after the war by a Texan who said he roped, not dallied, his cows, and at least there was enough to eat in the work. Ike has developed or disclosed an informality and friendliness with troopers that almost amazed me". The famous picture of Eisenhower supposedly forcefully delivering last minute instructions to the troopers actually involved talking about his experience working in a store when he was a kid.
In Crusade in Europe General Eisenhower says, "I found the men in fine fettle, many of them joshingly admonishing me that I had no cause for worry, since the 101st was on the job, and everything would be taken care of in fine shape. I stayed with them until the last of them were in the air, somewhere about midnight. After a two hour trip back to my own camp, I had only a short time to wait until the first news should come in.
One of the first D-Day reports was from Leigh-Mallory with news only 29 of 1,250 C-47's were missing and only four gliders were unaccounted for. That morning Leigh-Mallory sent Ike a message frankly saying it is sometimes difficult to admit that one is wrong, but he had never had a greater pleasure than in doing so on this occasion. He congratulated Ike on the wisdom and courage of his command decision.
We rest in the comfort of historical certainty and will never understand the courage required to live this history forward, The above represents only one of many crushing anxieties Eisenhower persevered through. The specter of Passchendaele, the Somme, and Ypres, where the British incurred murderous losses for gains of only yards, had invaded most planning discussions. And this time the allies were intending to undertake an amphibious and air assault more daunting than any land campaign of WW I.
Crusade in Europe by General Dwight Eisenhower
My Three Years with Eisenhower by Captain Harry C. Butcher
The Secret Life of Stewart Menzies Spymaster to Winston Churchill by Anthony Cave Brown
D-Day by Steven E. Ambrose
Picture of Eisenhower http://www.freerepublic.com/perl/pings?more=330525619
D-Day Pictures http://blogs.denverpost.com/captured/2009/06/05/the-65th-anniversary-of-d-day-on-the-normandy-beaches/#
D-Day: Presidential radio address to the nation http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jeI3vwz3p4
I am just reading “D-Day with the Screaming Eagles” by George Koskimaki (c.1970). An excellent read - the voices in letter and interview of those who jumped.
God Bless them all.
Thanks for sharing ... and the ping.
My dad piloted a C-47 on D-Day...actually D-Day minus 1...he dropped the Pathfinders...the select paratroops who went in blind to mark the landing zones for the first wave. His plane was shot down..he jumped...luckily..landed amid American troops..got back to England 3 days later...and was back flying the next day...
I thought the losses were worse..the real problem was that moist of the paratroops that did jump successfully were dropped miles from their targets..
My understanding is that most of the men in that pic were KIA/WIA within hours of it being taken....
Great post. Still trying to imagine 1250 C-47s in three streams 300 miles long roaring across the English Channel at night. Add the towed gliders and my circuit breakers shut down.
"... God was an ally in this great cause."
In his memorable speech 30 years ago today, commemorating the 40th Anniversary of 'the Boys of Pointe du Hoc', President Reagan also mentioned how Ike's officers followed his lead and prayed with their paratroopers before they boarded the planes ...(begins at the 7:10 mark)
"So the night before the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer, he told them, 'do not bow your heads but look up, so you can see God and ask his blessing in what we are about to do'."
1250 c-47s would be about 16 miles if laid end to end. Three columns, just over five miles each. That leaves 294 miles of space for gliders and group separation,
Still a big bunch of planes though.
That is great. I think I have Reagan’s speech as one of my links. I would love to work that into my narrative.
At jump school in 1972, we were still in some of the old wooden barracks.
Many of those C47’s made three round trips.
I had not realized that. But of course if each has a stick of 11, then at most 13,350 are dropped on the continent the first time around.
Affectionately known as Splinter Village. They were still using them to house junior NCOs when I was there from 79-82.
Splinter Village, that’s pretty good, is there any history for them?
Benning was also where I saw my first concrete barracks I guess it was the last week, or last few days or something. I preferred the old open bay wooden barracks.
Splinter Village is now home to the various post facilities like housing, finance, etc. A mini-mall of Army bureaucracy, basically, but at least it’s all in one place.
I stopped by there in 2002 after watching my son graduate from Airborne School. All of those old barracks are gone now- nothing left but a few bricks from the chimney stacks. The company street was even pulled up. A damned shame. That place has some real history attached to it. It's the same locale where Infantry OCS was based during WWII.
I would lay on my bunk in those wooden barracks and think about the history of what we were doing.
I can get a little lost in my thoughts on history at times, and was shocked when our bus pulled up to the black hats for the jump part, and they all seemed to have heavy German accents, it was pretty funny for me, being barked at by Krauts, you “vill leeve” the bus, now!!!.
LOL. Well, they did have the mannerisms down for that. I remember them popping out of nowhere from the scrub on Fyrar DZ and yelling at us to double time off the drop zone.