Skip to comments.D-Day: The 96th Connection
Posted on 06/05/2009 7:18:03 PM PDT by skydancer506
On a dreary, overcast June afternoon in Exeter, England, Cpl. William Wildes attached nozzles to the wings of the green and white C-47 Skytrain aircraft formerly known as the "Pride of Minnesota." Pouring approximately 100 gallons of fuel into each wing, he did it exactly like he had done several times before in the previous months for the training missions to prepare for the Normandy invasion. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, except the white invasion stripes and the large "6Z" that was painted onto the fuselage earlier in the day.
"The planes were fueled in the afternoon of June 5th. We didn't know where they were going. We just fueled them like normal," said Cpl. Wildes, a special vehicle operator for the 96th Troop Carrier Squadron. "One pilot had 'Pride of Minnesota' inside an arrowhead painted on the nose, but they made him take it off when they put the invasion stripes on for D-Day."
(Excerpt) Read more at minneapolis.afrc.af.mil ...
The thesis Eisenhower was more than just a political general is certainly not new. However, I had not thought carefully about the subject until retirement. Now I get to pick a subject, like on WW II in Western Europe, and read all the books I have accumulated on that subject from estate and garage sales, and used book and thrift stores.
Eisenhower arrived in London with less than five months until D-day. That is one month less than I had as Finance Director to lead our college management team in preparing the annual operating and capital budgets. His experience occurred in another world I cannot adequately imagine.
A popular historical portrayal describes General Dwight Eisenhower managing a political/military alliance, but reminds us he never lead troops in combat. However, his leadership sustained many unprecedented initiatives for successful Normandy landings. The air assault examples the frightful uncertainties of many critical hazards run on 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 tragic forebodings reinforced by memories of American problems in North Africa and Sicily, and the German catastrophe on Crete. He anticipated hundreds of planes and gliders destroyed with surviving paratroopers fighting isolated until killed or captured.
The planes would arrive in three streams each 300 miles long, allowing the Germans up to two hours to reposition night fighters and anti-aircraft artillery for maximum slaughter of unarmed transports. Most pilots were flying their first combat mission. Leigh-Mallory had specific intelligence the German 91st Air Landing Division, specialists in fighting paratroopers, and the 6th Parachute Regiment had inexplicably moved into the area around St. Mere-Eglise, where American divisions were to land. Could these movements mean the deception plan directing attention to Pas de Calais was breaking down?
Ike remained strategically committed to airborne assault, but compassionately devoted to the men. The evening before D-Day, Eisenhower left SHAEF headquarters at 6 PM, traveling to Newbury where the 101st Airborne was boarding for its initial 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”.
In Crusade in Europe General Dwight 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.
The above represents only one of many crushing anxieties Eisenhower persevered through. President Roosevelt understood the enormous risks, and asked the nation to pray for the coming invasion. Resting today in the luxury of historical certainty prevents us from perceiving the dark specters hovering about nearly all invasion planning aspects.
Nothing tugs at my heartstrings more than film clips from the landing barges, the looks on the soldiers’ faces as they approach the beaches of France.
God bless America
By the way, you don’t happen to be a former 101st paratrooper of the 506 PIR?
No, I’m a person who worked with the 506th Air Expeditionary Group in Iraq, and the 96th Airlift Squadron in Minneapolis.
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