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48 FLYPAST June 2014
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ot long after midnight on the
night of June 5-6, 1944 the
air war over the soon-to-be
beachheads started. Just like the
rest of Germany’s armed forces, the
Luftwaffe was not immediately aware
of what was about to happen. Over
the next 24 hours, the high command
was forced to come to terms with
what faced it – Operation Overlord,
the Allied invasion of Europe.
In the six hours before the landings,
almost 1,000 Bomber Command
aircraft targeted gun emplacements
along the Normandy coastline.
Six bombers were claimed as shot
down by German night-fighters,
and four of these were submitted by
3 Staffel/Schnellkampfgeschwader
10 (3/SKG 10), a fighter-bomber
unit flying Focke-Wulf Fw 190s
that had, until then, been carrying
out raids on England by night.
Oberleutnant (Oblt - flying officer)
Helmut Eberspächer and Feldwebel
(Fw - sergeant) Helmut Eisele of 3/
SKG 10 intercepted RAF bombers
attacking positions to the west of
the beachhead and claimed four
Lancasters shot down at just after
05:00 hours.
Eberspächer survived the next
11 months, being awarded the
Ritterkreuz. Eisele was killed
in action – his Fw 190 crashing
at Bonn Hangelar airfield on
November 4, 1944, a victim of flak.
Landing light betrayal
The first recorded Luftwaffe loss
on June 6 occurred at 01:48.
Oberfeldwebel (Obfw - flight
sergeant) Hermann Bolten and his
radio operator Fw Wilhelm Lohf of
4/Kampfgeschwader 51 (4/KG 51)
lifted off from St Andre in northern
France at 01:30 in a Messerschmitt
Me 410. Bolten, aged 25, was an
experienced pilot who had been
responsible for test flying the Me
210 and, from January 1943 its
improved successor, the Me 410.
By June 6, Bolten had flown
81 operations in Me 210s and
’410s. He was shot down once, on
February 22, 1944, by a Mosquito
of 96 Squadron crewed by Flt Sgt
Tom Bryan and Sgt Basil Friis.
The purpose of Bolten’s 82nd
and ill-fated ‘op’ was either a
night-fighter sortie in response
to Bomber Command’s attacks
on gun batteries or a long-range
intruder sortie over England. As he
returned to Saint-André-de-l’Eure
in Normandy, he was unaware that
another aircraft was in the circuit.
New Zealand-born Fg Off Roy
Lelong and Flt Sgt John McLaren in
a 605 Squadron Mosquito had taken
off from Manston in Kent. They
had visited Évreux and Saint-André
airfields only to find them unlit and
inactive. At 01:30 the landing lights
at Saint-André came on briefly, after
which they dropped four bombs on
the airfield.
The lights then came on again and
in his combat report Lelong said he
“obtained a visual on an aircraft at
1,000ft silhouetted against cloud
[which] helped him to recognise it as
an Me 410. The aircraft was carrying
no lights.” [Fg Off Lelong is referring
to himself in the third person tense,
which was the practice in combat
reports at that time – ED.]
The report continues: “Fg Off
Lelong then flew in a steady climb
to just underneath the enemy and
confirmed it as an Me 410, he
throttled back and pulled up to dead
astern and at a range of 150 yards,
opened fire. Strikes were seen around
the cockpit area and the aircraft burst
into flames.
“It then lost height slowly in a spiral
dive and finally crashed about seven
miles south east of Evreux... Fg Off
Lelong then lost height and took
photographs of the aircraft burning
on the ground. Five minutes later [it]
exploded and pieces continued to
The report for 4/KG 51 states that
on returning to Saint-André from
an operational flight, Hermann’s
Me 410 was attacked by a night-
IX Fliegerkorps I/SKG 10 and 67 operational Ju 88/188
2 Jagdkorps 185 day- and night-fighters
X Fliegerkorps 20 He 177s and Ju 88 fighters in south-west France
2 Fliegerdivision 44 torpedo bombers in southern France
from above
Maj Sölter’s Junkers
Ju 88 of I/KG 77.
Oblt Kurt Becker of
2/KG 77 who flew a
very long mission from
the south of France on
June 6.
A Dornier Do 217M of
9/KG 2, in the summer
of 1944.
I/KG 77 briefing for
a mission, La Jasse,
southern France, in
1944. Left to right: Oblt
Sommer (Ops Officer);
Maj Willi Sölter (Gr
Kdr); Fw Schmidt; Lt
Kurt Becker and Uffz
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50 FLYPAST June 2014
fighter and spun into the ground
from 100m (328ft). Hermann was
seriously injured and never flew again
during the war; Wilhelm Lohf was
Frantic redeployment
As dawn broke, Overlord was well
and truly under way. According
to Oblt Paul-Adalbert Bärwolf
flying a Messerschmitt Bf 109 of 3/
Nahaufklärungsgruppe 13, he was
the first member of the Luftwaffe to
witness the invasion fleet from the air.
[Oblt Bärwolf ’s claim is
The problem
facing the
a veteran s tale
Bomb aimer Stefan Jilke served with the Luftwaffe’s 7/KG
6, and flew on a sortie to try to prevent the invasion. He said of
the mission: “On June 6, 1944 we were based at Lüneburg Heath
airfield [in Germany]. Around noon, we got the news that enemy
warships had landed troops, and in the following briefing take-off
was ordered for 21:00 hours and the attack on the warships for
Our aircraft [a Junkers Ju 188] had been loaded with two wing-
mounted 1,000kg bombs, which could penetrate an armoured deck,
and twelve 50kg fragmentation bombs in the weapon’s bay. We
flew round some prohibited areas and arrived in the target area at
The anti-aircraft fire of the warships was so intense that I had the
impression of flying into a Champagne flute. The tracer bullets – to
my knowledge every fourth bullet was a tracer – were coming
towards us like the bubbles in sparkling Champagne.
It was my task to aim the bombs using the Zeiss ‘Lotfe’ bomb sight
mounted in front of me. Suddenly a projectile hit the front of the
cockpit. I immediately dropped the bombs, but could not observe
the effect because I had been injured. A splinter of the size of my
index finger had plunged into my skull, just to the left of my left
eye. The scar is still visible today. Because of numerous smaller
splinters there was also no more skin on the whole left side of my
Oblt Müller [the pilot] who was sitting to my left, a little higher,
was hit in his right heel by an approximately equal-sized fragment.
I asked him if I should take over the machine but he replied that he
could go on flying.
Since all instruments had been broken by the splinters, I had to
navigate without them along the well-known River Seine via Paris
to Melun. But our airfield had been bombed on the same evening,
and so, after we had landed, we taxied into a crater. We were
trapped in the cockpit. After we had been freed, Oblt Müller and I
were driven to the nearest hospital, where the doctors removed
the shrapnel. I was then transferred to the eye clinic in Paris-Clichy.
There they found out next day that the splinter had been only a
centimetre away from my eyeball.”
Luftwaffe was that Luftflotte 3 –
which controlled airfields in northern
France, Belgium, Holland and
western Germany – had just 815
aircraft at its disposal on June 5. Of
that total, 481 were operational, but
the following day, that figure had
been reduced yet further to just 319.
Understandably, there was
immediately some frantic
redeployment. One such unit was
the Junkers Ju 88C-6 and ’R-2-
equipped Zerstörergeschwader 1
(ZG 1). For the previous two years,
ZG 1 had been
carrying out reconnaissance and
fighter duties over the Bay of Biscay.
As well as their normal tasks, ZG
1 crews began practising low-level
flying in preparation for attacks on
Allied shipping and ground targets.
It was no surprise to ZG 1’s
commanders that the unit was
thrown into action on the afternoon
of the 6th. Unteroffizier (Uffz -
corporal) Aegidius Berzborn recalls:
“The days before the invasion began,
there had been regular air attacks
on our bases so that we were often
forced to move to other airfields.
Above right
A Junkers Ju 88 of ZG 1
camouflaged to protect it
from attack, June 1944.
Groundcrew push a 5/JG 2
Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6
into position at its French
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Braggard shared one destroyed,
Fg Off J Moureau and Fg Off M
J Sans shared the destruction of a
second and Fg Off Moureau a third.
Meanwhile Fg Off J Houton of 485
Squadron RNZAF shot down one
more and four pilots from the unit
shared the ‘kill’ of another.
Records for 2/ZG 1 reported
the loss of three Ju 88s with seven
crew killed and two baling out
unwounded, while a fourth Ju
88 was shot down with all crew
baling out behind German lines,
albeit wounded. In the days that
followed, ZG 1 was slaughtered over
Normandy to such an extent that it
was unable to continue operations
after June 10 and was disbanded at
the end of July.
Uneven balance sheet
A myth perpetuated by the 1962
film The Longest Day was that the
only Luftwaffe fighters to make an
appearance over the beaches was
Oberst (group captain) Josef ‘Pips’
Priller and his wingman Uffz Heinz
Wodarczyk from Jagdgeschwader
26 (JG 26). Priller did get airborne
early in the morning but according
to recent research, it was JG 2 that
made the biggest impression.
First claim for JG 2 was by Major
(squadron leader) Kurt Bühligen, the
Geschwader Kommodore – a P-47
Thunderbolt south of the beachhead
just before midday. Another 18
claims were submitted for a total of
nine Typhoons, three P-47s and six
P-51 Mustangs, the last being lodged
by Oblt Bruno Siekmann of 9/JG 2
at 21:05.
Only two other German pilots filed
claims – Oblt Franz Kunz of 2/JG
26 and Hauptmann (Hptm - flight
lieutenant) Heinz Mihlan of 8/
Schlachtgeschwader 4 (8/SG 4), each
claimed a P-51.
Losses-wise, JG 2 had two Fw 190s
destroyed with the pilots killed and
JG 26 four with one killed and two
wounded. If the balance sheet seems
to favour the German fighters, in the
days that followed, most of those who
scored on D-Day found themselves
on the receiving end – see the panel.
Such losses of experienced flyers
Then came the ‘Longest Day’. I do
not recall how many missions we
flew to the Orne estuary. Our losses
during these attacks were enormous.
I had seen how my comrades were
butchered – these combats were so
cruel and the enemy’s air superiority
was overwhelming.”
Reconnaissance missions were
flown from Lorient, taking off at
08:35, landing back 11:02, having
been chased by four Mosquitos.
Allied records note the appearance of
Ju 88s in the middle of the afternoon
as shown by 222 Squadron’s diary:
“Third show was laid on in the
afternoon – another patrol over the
assault area. Soon after arrival on the
patrol line, some enemy reaction was
reported. Blue Section, led by Plt Off
R H Reid, saw four Ju 88s and gave
chase. Plt Off Reid fired at one but
the ‘Hun’ entered cloud and no claim
was made.”
At 15:45 near Caen, 349 Squadron
claimed three damaged, whilst Flt
Sgt J C I Van Melkot and Sgt J
Above left
Maj Kurt Bühligen of
JG 2 (centre) telling his
colleagues about his
100th victory on June
7, 1944. He was the first
German fighter pilot to
claim an Allied fighter
on D-Day.
Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-8
‘White 5’ of 1/JG 26 at
Boissy le Bois, France,
at around the time of
D-Day. Lt Georg Kiefner
(left) was shot down by
flak east of Paris while
flying this aircraft on
August 12, 1944.
Another Fw 190 of
8/JG 26 photographed
at Melsbroek in
Belgium after the
airfield was captured
by the Allies.
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52 FLYPAST June 2014
simply could not be sustained.
Stuka slaughter
The Luftwaffe continued to try to
rush reinforcements to the front
during the afternoon of the 6th. Jabos
of III/SG 4 flew from Clastres to
Laval, a number carrying groundcrew
within the fuselage of their Fw
190s. Five were shot down in the La
Bazoge area – four pilots from 7 and
8/SG 4 were killed, as well as four
Hptm Heinz Mihlan of 8/SG 4
managed to shoot down an attacking
P-51 only to be shot down himself,
baling out unwounded at Saint-Jean-
d’Assé. Sadly,
his passenger, Fw Hans Eidam, was
unable to get out and was killed.
The Ju 87 Stukas of I and II/SG 103
(based at Biblis and Metz-Frescaty and
essentially a training unit) were rushed
west late in the evening, apparently to
be based at Le Mans in preparation
for attacks on the beachhead
the following day.
Near Chartres, the
aged dive-bombers were bounced by
the USAAF 339th and 355th Fighter
Groups. Nine Stukas were either
destroyed or badly damaged.
Cover of darkness
Darkness gave the Luftwaffe the
chance to attack the invasion fleet,
and also the troops on land but it
was not that easy, despite a number
of regular bomber units being
committed. The Ju 188s and Dornier
217s of KG 2 targeted landing craft in
the Seine and Orne estuaries, losing a
Ju 188 of 3/KG 2. KG 6 did similar –
for the loss of a Ju 188 of 1/KG 6 and
one from 7/KG 6.
Five Ju 88s of KG 54 were lost,
including those flown by Hptm
Herbert Birkner, Staffel Kapitän of 3/
KG 54 and Hptm Franz Dollensky
of 8/KG 54. The Heinkel He 177s of
Date Name Unit Circumstances
Jun 7 Manfred Fieseler 10/JG 2 killed
Jun 7 Wolfgang Fischer 3/JG 2 captured
Jun 8 Herbert Huppertz III/JG 2 shot down and killed
Jun 8 Fritz Schüler 12/JG 2 wounded
Jun 12 Bruno Siekmann JG 2 reported missing
Jun 12 Romuald Nistler 2/JG 2 killed
Jun 20 Ludwig Hartmann Stab I/JG 2 killed
Jun 23 Fähnrich Fritz Beer Stab I/JG 2 killed
Jun 28 Franz Kunz JG 2 shot down and wounded
Jul 10 Karl Bielohlawec 12/JG 2 killed
Jul 25 Hans-Joachim Voormann 12/JG 2 killed
Sep 28 Erich Hohagen I/JG 2 injured
Oct 24 Alfred Müller 10/JG 2 killed
A Ju 88R-2 of I/ZG 1 in its
previous environment –
the Bay of Biscay.
Pathfinders of 6/KG 76
were rushed from the
Mediterranean to the
Bottom right
Recce Fw 190s of NAG 14
in southern France.
48-53_Germans_fpSBB.indd 52 14/04/2014 18:22
over but those that followed would
be much harder for both sides. As
the Allies consolidated their ground
positions, it enabled forward landing
grounds to be constructed, which
meant that Allied day- and night-
fighters could stay longer in the air and
range further into German territory.
It was the beginning of the end for
the Luftwaffe - Allied air superiority
was quickly to become Allied air
at Cognac, then landed at Saumur,
then back to Cognac before finally
returning to La Jasse at 07:40. They
had attacked shipping, but without
any perceptible result.
Such trips were fraught with
difficulty and danger from all sides.
Obfw Anton Günther and his crew
of 3/KG 77 were victims of ‘friendly
fire’. They were shot down and killed
by the 17th SS Panzer Grenadiers
near Angers at 21:30. Anti-aircraft
fire claimed Fw Helmut Kramer and
crew of 8/KG 26 over the sea.
Allied anti-aircraft guns and
especially night-fighters had done
well, the RAF claiming 13 aircraft
destroyed and four damaged, either
intruding or on beachhead patrols.
At least seven of those destroyed by
night-fighters were Ju 52 transports
supporting the move of air and
ground personnel closer to the
Normandy front.
The first day of Overlord was
I and II/KG 40 suffered particularly
badly, losing five predominantly to the
Mosquitos of 456 Squadron RAAF;
29 personnel lost their lives and one
was captured.
The pathfinders of KG 66 and
KG 76 were also in action, the latter
believed to have been rushed up from
the Mediterranean. Just one, from 2/
KG 66, was lost. Finally, Do 217s of
KG 100 were in action, but suffered
no losses.
Precarious situation
The precarious situation the Luftwaffe
found itself in meant committing
more assets from further afield. The
Ju 88s of III/KG 26 and KG 77
had been busy carrying out torpedo
missions from southern France and
were rushed northwards.
The logbook of Oblt Kurt Becker
of 2/KG 77 shows what was involved.
They took off from their airfield at La
Jasse at 19:09, landed for refuelling
Uffz Rolf Dickel of 1/ZG
1 was one of the Ju 88
pilots lucky enough to
survive the slaughter of
his unit at Normandy.
An III/ZG 1 Junkers
Ju 88R-2 that was shot
down and crash-landed
behind German lines in
June 1944.
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(For a valid comparison, in 2012, the entire U.S. Air Force had
3,345 manned, fixed-wing aircraft including all transports but
excluding trainers, AWACs, and tankers; the RAF had 260.)
In June 1944, the European War had dramatically reversed
from four years previously. When Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht
conquered Western Europe in 10 weeks, Nazi Germany seemed
unstoppable. But since the Battle of Britain in 1940 and the
growing Allied bomber offensive, with German defeats in the
Mediterranean and Russia, the grand alliance stood poised to
pounce from Britain, across the English Channel, and liberate
Occupied Europe.
Planning the
oday the numbers
involved in
Operation Overlord
are unthinkable:
6,000 bombers,
more than 5,000
fighters, some 1,600
transport aircraft,
and 2,500 gliders. All
crammed into scores
of airfields throughout Britain, but mainly
in southern England. All were serviced,
armed, and assigned aircrews, eager to
take off on the day called “D.”
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AUGUST 2014 13
“We are about to invade the
Continent and have staked our
success on our air superiority.”
General George C. Marshall, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, 1944
A hastily applied set of invasion stripes
contrast this RAF Gosfield-based A-
20G from the 644th BS of the 410th BG
as it overflies a small portion of the in-
vasion fleet heading for the Normandy
coast on D-Day. (Photo courtesy of
Stan Piet)
Aerial Assault_v2.indd 13 5/1/14 11:33 AM
That spring, the American public avidly followed
the European Theater “ace race” as Thunderbolt
and Mustang pilots vied for the highest score.
The 4th Fighter Group competed with the 56th to
produce the top gun, and by June 5, the highest
scores were Capt. Robert S. Johnson, rotated
Stateside with 27, Maj. Francis S. Gabreski with 22,
and Capt. Don Gentile, also rotated, with 21.83.
But the Fourth’s public affairs officer had the wider
view. Captain Grover Hall said, “After D-Day, a
pilot with 90 planes won’t be worth five column
inches of print.”
The Luftwaffe, though highly experienced, had
felt the effect of prolonged air combat. After the
fighter arm’s glory days in the fall of 1943, when as
many as 60 American bombers were hacked down
at a time, the Jagdwaffe’s ranks had been steadily
depleted. While the Reich continued producing
thousands of Bf 109s, Fw 190s and other fighters,
pilot training and quality steadily declined. By
the summer of 1944, Lt. Gen. Adolf Galland’s day
fighters sometimes incurred a ghastly attrition of
25 percent aircrews and 40 percent aircraft per
The Luftwaffe fought a four-front war: in the
West, the East, the Mediterranean, and at home.
When the crunch came in Normandy, perhaps
900 German aircraft were available in the West
to oppose a crushing coalition numbering some
13,000 aircraft — a disparity of nearly 15 to 1.
Leading to D-Day
Under the Supreme Allied Commander, General
Dwight Eisenhower, heading Allied expeditionary
airpower was Air Chief Marshal Trafford Leigh-
Mallory while Air Marshal Arthur Coningham led
the RAF’s tactical air arm.
The senior American airmen were General Carl
Spaatz, commanding U.S. air forces in Europe,
with Lt. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle of the Eighth and
Maj. Gen. Elwood “Pete” Quesada with the Ninth.
All were experienced professionals; Spaatz and
Quesada had set an endurance record together in
The buildup of forces necessary to invade
Northwest Europe took a full
year. The first priority was
defeating the U-boats that
preyed on vital Atlantic convoys
from the New World to Britain.
That campaign was largely
won in May 1943, permitting
delivery of men and materiel
in ever-growing numbers.
Between June 1943
and June 1944, American
strength in the UK grew
enormously: from two army
divisions to 17; from 24
aircraft groups to 101. The
latter were divided between
the strategic Eighth Air
Force and the tactical
Ninth, which would
support the ground
campaign and deliver
airborne units behind enemy lines
on the night before D-Day.
FACTS FROM THE FRONT The World in June 1944
JUNE 4 JUNE 9 JUNE 13 JUNE 15 JUNE 19-20 JUNE 22 JUNE 23
U.S. Fifth Army
occupies Rome
Soviet offensive
in Finland
First Buzz Bombs
on London
Marines land on
Saipan in the
Battle of the
Philippine Sea
British repulse
Japanese at
Imphal, India
Soviet Bagration
offensive on
Central Front
Above: Within 24 hours post-
invasion, 9th TAC engineers
were preparing the first airfield
in Normandy to aid medical
Right: On the continent,- an op-
erations offi cer from the 368th
FG coordinates a ground support
mission with Army offi cers.
(Photos courtesy of Stan Piet)
Aerial Assault_v2.indd 14 5/1/14 11:33 AM
AUGUST 2014 15
Can't Get Started, a 9th AF
B-26B from the 323rd BG drops
it’s 2,000-pound ordinance
load on a roadway interdiction
mission near Torigini, France,
post-invasion. First Lt. Dale E.
Sanders and his crew were later
shot down by a Me 262 in late
April 1945 and interred as POWs
for a scant two weeks before
V-E Day. (Photo courtesy of
Stan Piet)
Aerial Assault_v2.indd 15 5/1/14 11:33 AM
The Anglo-Americans conducted an extensive
deception effort, both through actual operations
and false intelligence, indicating that the landings
would occur in the Pas de Calais, only 26 miles
from the English coast. Consequently, the pre-
invasion interdiction campaign focused on
railroads and bridges both in the Calais area and
in Normandy.
On a larger scale, Allied air commanders argued
whether they would benefit more from bombing
Axis petroleum production or transport routes.
Both had merit, but Eisenhower favored the
“transport plan” over the “oil plan.” He reckoned
— correctly — that interrupting enemy rail and
road networks would hinder the Germans faster
than the lengthy period necessary in reducing
In April, Allied heavy bombers turned most of
their attention from strategic targets to the tactical
realm, supporting the upcoming ground offensive.
For instance, most of the rail bridges over the
Seine River were destroyed by medium bombers,
especially Ninth Air Force B-26s, preventing rapid
German reinforcement of the landing zones.
In May 1944, the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces
lost nearly 550 aircraft while the RAF wrote
off nearly 1,000. But the momentum clearly
belonged to the Allies, as Luftwaffe fighter chief
Adolf Galland recalled, “The British and American
tactical air forces, successfully extending their
attempts to interrupt the bringing up of German
reserves deep into France, made any move by
daylight almost impossible. In June alone they
destroyed 551 locomotives.” He cited a report by
the commander of panzer division: “The Allies
have total air supremacy. They bomb and shoot
at anything which moves, even single vehicles
and persons. Our territory is under constant
FACTS FROM THE FRONT Airpower in Europe 1944
“Big Week” by 8th
and 15th Air Forces
Discussion of
Transport vs. Oil
French & German
rail networks vs.
Axis petroleum
Luftwaffe fighters
heavily attrited
bombing in NW
In June of 1944, the bubble-
canopy "D" model Mustangs had
just begun to arrive so the B/C
models, many equipped with
Malcolm hoods, soldiered on
and were an important ingredi-
ent in the invasion. (Photo by
John Dibbs/
Aerial Assault_v2.indd 16 5/1/14 11:33 AM
AUGUST 2014 17
Te P-47 Jug was the heavy hit-
ter of the ground support team
with their eight .50 Brownings
and heavy rocket and bomb
loads being ideal for the mission.
(Photo by Scott Slocum)
observation. The feeling of being powerless against
the enemy’s aircraft has a paralyzing effect.”
Meanwhile, the Royal Air Force reshuffled its
tactical deck. While Bomber Command continued
attacking German urban-industrial areas, Fighter
Command was divided into Air Defense Great
Britain, protecting English airspace, and Second
Tactical Air Force with fighter-bombers and twin-
engine types such as Mosquitos, Bostons (A-20s)
and Mitchells (B-25s).
Time, weather, and tides drove the Allied
schedule. The landings had to occur in early
June or wait until month’s end
— a seeming eternity. Therefore,
preparations went ahead.
Te day of days
Some groups painted black and
white “invasion stripes” on June 4 because
originally D-Day was to be June 5. Yet everyone
knew what was coming. At Debden north of
London, Col. Don Blakeslee said he was prepared
to lose the entire Fourth Group in defending the
beach head. At 0230 on the 6th, at Chilbolton
in Hampshire, Col. Gilbert Myers told his 368th
Fighter Group Thunderbolt pilots and ground
crews, “Men, the time we have been preparing for
is here.”
Actually, D-Day began the night of the 5th as
nocturnal trains of transport planes towing gliders
streamed south from the English coast, bound
for the Norman darkness. But even before dawn,
American and British fighters and bombers were
airborne. A P-47 squadron commander recalled,
“There were all kinds of aircraft; you almost had
to put your hand out to turn. The barrage of
gunfire from the Channel was terrific. We could
see hundreds of flashes as the Navy laid down
their barrage.”Amid some 13,000 sorties in a fairly
small area, collisions were inevitable. The 394th
Bomb Group lost four Marauders in two midairs
with only one survivor.
Aircrews gawked at the spectacle in the Channel.
Lieutenant Clyde East, a 22-year-old recon pilot,
recalled, “It would have been darn near impossible
to get lost on our way to France. All we had to
do was follow the endless string of ships in the
Channel in support of the invasion. We entered
France just south of the invasion beach, Utah,
made it past all the parachutes and gliders on the
ground and headed toward the Laval area, 125
miles inland.” East and his wingman ambushed a
Aerial Assault_v2.indd 17 5/1/14 11:34 AM
flight of Fw 190s and left three burning.
East’s mission represented the Allies’ most
under-rated asset: aerial reconnaissance. Low-level
photography of Normandy had been underway
for years but the combined staff ignored
crucial imagery. Despite thousands of photos,
Normandy’s bocage, thick hedgerows, went
unappreciated until GIs and Tommies confronted
well-entrenched Germans just inland.
The 387th Bomb Group was prominent among
the Marauder Men on D-Day, leading the wing
attacking the area around Utah Beach. The 557th
Squadron history recorded, “At 0130 hours the
crews were awakened and told to go to briefing at
0230. At briefing they learned it was the day we
had waited for, and amongst great cheering the
briefing started.
“The weather was very bad, rain and low clouds
predominated. As Major (Joe) Whitfield with the
formation behind him approached Cherbourg
Peninsula, he found the clouds down to 3,000
feet, and took his formation down to that altitude,
7,000 feet lower than they had ever bombed before
and exposing them to all the small arms and light
flak guns in the area. He crossed Barbleur just after
0600 and proceeded along the coast to the target,
which was light flak guns and defended positions
at Les Dunes de Verreville.
“All went well until they reached San Vast, then
the flak came up, scads of it. Ships were falling all
Omaha Beach showing transport
ships bringing fresh supplies and
transport after the Normandy
landings. Note the balloons over
the area to help deter any Luft-
waffe low-level strafing attacks.
(Photo courtesy of EN Archives
Aerial Assault_v2.indd 18 5/1/14 11:34 AM
AUGUST 2014 19
about but the formation kept on. From this time
until the formation reached the western coast
of the peninsula, they were subjected to flak,
both heavy and light. The target was bombed
successfully, and miraculously, every ship because
of the brilliant leadership, came back to base
safely, but not free of battle damage. No one who
was on that trip will ever forget the spectacle of
invasion ships below, aircraft blowing up on all
sides, hundreds of gliders and parachutes of all
colors on the ground. It was a fitting opening for
the coming show.”
The invasion fleet included battleships, cruisers,
and destroyers providing naval gunfire support for
the ground troops. Among the airborne observers
were U.S. naval aviators flying Spitfires as part of
the fleet Gunfire Spotting Pool with nine British
In the half hour before the landings, 1,365
heavy bombers attacked coastal defenses with
nearly 2,800 tons of ordnance. But weather forced
bombers to drop by radar with poor results. The
north-south heading caused concern of “dropping
short” prompting Ike’s 30-second delay, equaling
a 1 1/2-mile miss inland. As Doolittle recalled,
“Since the bombardiers had a definite bomb line
and didn’t want to undershoot for fear of hitting
our men, I suspect they added a fudge factor to
their aiming points.
When bombing by radar, some lead crews
absorbed pathfinders from other units. Stephen
Darlow’s D-Day Bombers contained such a
description of Lt. John Howland, a “Gee”
electronic-beam navigator in the 91st Bomb Group.
The B-17s tracked over Gold Beach, Howland with
his “eyes glued to the blips of the Gee box keeping
us on course. H2X (“Mickey” radar) operator John
All Bombers 3,700 c. 2,300 6,000 400 15-1
Fighter/Recon 2,900 2,400 5,300 425 12-1
Transport * 1,200 475 1,675 65 25-1
Totals 7,800 5,175 13,000 890 15-1
D-Day sorties 8,700 3,500 12,200+ 130-300 40-1
* Plus 1,400 US and 1,100 RAF gliders
AAF a/c: USAF History Offi ce
RAF/RN a/c: Fleet Air Arm Museum
GAF a/c: F.H. Hinsley, British Intelligence in the Second World War.
Douglas DC-3 Dakotas dropping
paratroopers over Arnhem on
September 17, 1944. (Photo
courtesy of EN Archives)
Joisey Bounce, a B-24D-25, was from the premier Liberator group in the ETO the 93rd BG. Soon re-
named Utah Man, it was later lost in a mid-air over Bremen, Germany. (Photo courtesy of Stan Piet)
Aerial Assault_v2.indd 19 5/1/14 11:34 AM
Spierling gave range and ground speed data to the
bombardier who cranked the information into his
Norden bombsight. Charlie Eager, our bombardier
from the 381st BG, looked for a break in the
clouds so he could take over visually. But it never
came. Nevertheless, our training paid off. We had
confidence the Gee Box course line was reasonably
accurate, and our practice bombing had proved
the ‘Mickey’ operation and bombardier could hit
the beachline with good accuracy.”
The heavies were followed by 205 medium,
light, and fighter-bombers. Later in the day, the
heavies returned but encountered worse weather.
In round numbers, 1,700 of 2,700 Eighth Air
Force bomber sorties were rated effective (64%)
dropping 3,600 tons of ordnance. But 36% aborted
due to weather. Mighty Eighth fighters flew 1,880
sorties: sweeps and escorts, day and night.
The Ninth Air Force logged 3,050 sorties and
delivered two airborne divisions. Fighter-bomber
effectiveness on the beaches was almost none.
Inland it was significant, especially against
VIII Fighter command launched 73 patrol
and 34 fighter-bomber missions with very little
contact. Allied fighter pilots only claimed 30
aerial victories while losing at least eight aircraft in
combat. Hardest hit was the Fourth Fighter Group,
which wrote off 10 Mustangs to all causes.
Overall D-Day losses were surprisingly slight
from 13,000 sorties: 70 American aircraft and 33
British to all causes.
Contrary to legend, JG-26’s Kommodore, Lt.
Col. Josef “Pips” Priller, did not make the only
aerial attack. He and his wingman made a pass at
Sword Beach but other Luftwaffe planes followed.
Throughout the day about 30 Junkers 88s attacked
the British beaches in daylight with little effect,
and about 70 Fw 190s and Bf 109s strafed the
landing areas. Some 40 Luftwaffe planes were
known lost to all causes.
On the night of the 6th-7th, the Germans flew
about 175 sorties against Allied shipping. Through
D+2 only five U.S. Navy vessels were sunk, none
by air attack.
The Luftwaffe seldom launched more than 250
daily fighter sorties in the Normandy campaign.
It was a losing effort. As Adolf Galland recalled,
“Wherever our fighters appeared, the Americans
hurled themselves at them. They went over to
low-level attacks on our
airfields. Nowhere were we
safe; we had to skulk on our
own bases. During takeoff,
assembling, climbing, and
D-Day Losses
25 P-51s
17 C-47s
10 P-47s
6 B-24s
5 A-20s
3 P-38s
2 B-26s
1 F-5
1 Spitfire
RAF: 33
14 Spitfires
11 Typhoons
3 Bostons
3 Mustangs
1 Mosquito
1 Halifax
Compiled from John Foreman’s
Over the Beaches.
Dubbed the "Eyes of the Eighth,"
F-5s and Spit XI’s of the 7th
Photo Group were operating
around the clock in the summer
of 1944 providing much needed
aerial intelligence of tactical and
strategic targets throughout the
continental battlefield. (Photo
courtesy of Stan Piet)
Aerial Assault_v2.indd 20 5/1/14 11:34 AM
AUGUST 2014 21
approaching the bombers, once in contact, on our
way back, during landing, and ever after that the
American fighters attacked with overwhelming
But despite control of the air, Allied losses
mounted. It was no surprise, as the AAF and
RAF flew against the most practiced antiaircraft
gunners on earth. A Typhoon pilot, Charles
Demoulin, wrote, “In Normandy the Germans
had undisputed flak supremacy. It was estimated
to be about 20,000 batteries, from 105mm, 88, 40,
37 down to 20mm. Hence, the odds in favor of the
enemy stood at four to one against the number of
Allied aircraft.”
Consequently, throughout June, the Anglo-
Americans lost more than 1,600 planes, almost
equally divided between the AAF and RAF.
Combined transport aircraft and miscellaneous
losses were 47.
The Mighty Eighth lost more than 200 B-17s
and B-24s during June, with the two U.S. air
forces writing off 205 Thunderbolts. Some 160
Mustangs went down, and nearly 100 Lightnings.
Considering the defenses and the operating
conditions of A-20s and B-26s, medium bomber
losses were light with 34 combined. (The Douglas
A-26 Invader went operational in September.)
The month’s RAF losses included 383 bombers,
178 Spitfires, 93 Typhoons, 45 Mosquitos, and 53
Mustangs or assorted types.
By 1944, the Luftwaffe had been driven from North Africa and the Mediterranean
but still fought in Russia, Italy, and Western Europe. Spread thin and sustaining
horrific losses (as much as 25 percent of fighter pilots per month), Goering’s
forces had been worn down by the relentless Anglo-American Combined Bombing
Offensive. Te British bombed by night, the Americans by day — the latter escorted
by long-range fighters. Tough Germany worked successive miracles of production,
the experience level of Luftwaffe pilots had entered an unrecoverable spiral.
In preparation for Operation Overlord, Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL)
announced that 10 combat wings would be committed to the invasion front.
However, because of growing Allied
air superiority over France and
Western Europe, and the increasing
need to defend the Reich itself, few
aircraft were immediately available.
Luftflotte Tree, responsible
for the Channel front, probably
had fewer than 200 fighters and
perhaps 125 bombers on June 6, and
few of those were within range of
Normandy. Various German sources
are extremely contradictory, ranging
from about 300 to more than 800
planes. Colonel Josef Priller’s postwar
history cites 183 fighters in France,
and that number seems more
reliable than most, as Priller was a
90-victory wing commander who
reputedly led the only attack on the
beaches in daylight.
Te invasion caught the Luftwaffe
in a state of flux, and in JG-26 only
Priller and his wingman, Sergeant
Heinz Wodarczyk, were available
at Guyancourt to fly against the
Allied armada. Te two Focke-Wulf
190s made a low-level strafing pass
against Sword and Juno Beaches,
surviving a storm of antiaircraft fire, and escaped.
Despite numerous accounts, Priller’s apparently
was not the only air attack on the beach head. Other
small formations struck portions of the beaches or the
invasion fleet, but without much effect.
Most Luftwaffe sorties were flown against the
invasion forces after dark, and few of the promised
reserves materialized from the Reich. Luftwaffe bombers
made almost nightly attacks on the Allied fleet and port
facilities from June 6 onward but they accomplished little
in exchange for their heavy losses.
Te U.S. Army Air Forces chief, General Henry
Arnold, wrote that the Luftwaffe had an opportunity to
attack 4,000 ships — a target unprecedented in history.
Accounts vary, but reputedly only 115 to 150 sorties
were flown against the Allied navies that night. German
aircraft losses on D-Day have been cited as 39 shot
down and eight lost operationally.
The Luftwaffe
on D-Day
Major Josef "Pips" Priller
is shown here wearing the
Ritterkreuz with Oak Leaves
and was one of the Luft-
waffe's leading personalities
flying both the Bf 109 and
Fw 190 with JG 26 on the
Western front. He was one of
the leading Aces flying 307
missions against the West-
ern Allies achieving at least
101 aerial victories, including
11 four-engined bombers.
He ended the war with the
rank of Oberst and received
the Swords to his RK on July
2, 1944. He survived the war
but died on June 20, 1961
aged 46. (Photo courtesy of
the EN Archives Collection)
Aerial Assault_v2.indd 21 5/1/14 11:34 AM
For the French, liberation came at a steep price.
At least 25,000 civilians were killed from the pre-
invasion bombing through the end of Normandy
fighting in August. Army cartoonist Bill Mauldin
captured the essence of the situation with two
GIs surveying a ruined town, saying, “We sure
liberated the hell out of this place!”
Meanwhile, advanced airfields sprang up
across Normandy. Largely unheralded, but
fervently appreciated by ground forces, were
aviation engineer battalions that began arriving
on D+11. Initially operating under IX Tactical Air
Command with portions of three Ninth Air Force
groups, the expeditionary air arm went to work
supporting infantry and armored
units against stiff German
opposition. By the end of June,
the engineers had about 15 fields
operating with Thunderbolts and
Typhoons for close air support,
Mustangs and Spitfires for air
defense, and C-47s providing
resupply and casualty evacuation
to England.
“A fighter bomber
Allied air superiority grew
into outright air supremacy,
extending well beyond the
front lines. Wide-ranging fighter
bombers made road, rail, and
barge traffic difficult throughout
northern France, and often
Throughout Normandy,
German forces spent daylight
hours looking over their
shoulders for aircraft, which
inevitably bore stars or
cockades. Black crosses were
rare, prompting “Jabo jitters”
after successive attacks by Allied
At the Soldat level, Germans
said, “American planes are silver.
English planes are camouflaged.
Our planes are invisible!”
The Hawker Typhoon grew
to near-legendary status in
Normandy with “cab rank”
tactics. Formations of “Tiffys”
orbited on call to ground-based
forward air controllers. Certainly
the rugged Hawker airframe
packed a punch with four 20mm
cannon and eight 60-pound rocket projectiles.
A New Zealand Typhoon pilot, Desmond Scott,
wrote, “Whereas the Spitfire always behaved
like a well-mannered thoroughbred on first
acquaintance, the Typhoon always reminded
me of a low-bred carthorse whose pedigree had
received a sharp infusion of hot-headed sprinter’s
Despite its rugged airframe and powerful engine
the Typhoon sustained heavy casualties over
Normandy. Some 37% were destroyed or damaged
beyond repair, second among RAF aircraft only to
the Mustang with nearly 44%.
In comparison, a P-47’s typical loadout was the
Members of the Women's
Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) are
here helping to re-arm a Hawker
Typhoon for another ground
attack mission, belonging to
the Royal Canadian Air Force
439 Squadron. Te Typhoons
did their part in behind the lines
ground support and supply line
interruption. (Photo courtesy of
EN Archives Collection)
Aerial Assault_v2.indd 22 5/1/14 11:34 AM
AUGUST 2014 23
eight .50 calibers, two 500-pound bombs, and/or
six HVARs. But whatever the “Jabo” aircraft, its
mission was the same: inflict maximum damage
on German transport.
Lieutenant General Bodo Zimmermann of
Army Group D said, “No road movement by day
was possible under the air umbrella.”
A more colorful description came from Lt. Gen.
Fritz Bayerlein of the elite Panzer Lehr division
who famously described the route to Normandy
as “a fighter-bomber race course.” His division lost
few panzers but many of his transport and support
vehicles were destroyed by air attack.
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel would have agreed.
On June 10 he informed Fuhrer headquarters,
“Air superiority has a very grave effect on our
movements. There’s simply no answer to it.” Five
weeks later, Spitfires strafed his staff car, sending
the Desert Fox to the hospital.
After the Normandy campaign, Allied analysts
examined causes of German armor losses in
65 percent by Allied tanks or anti-tank weapons
10 percent by aircraft
25 percent abandoned, broken down or out of
Of 223 Mk V Panthers destroyed in 1944, 14
were killed by aircraft (11 by RPs).
In the Falaise pocket during August, Typhoons
claimed 222 armored vehicles but only 13 of the
total 388 found destroyed were attributed to RPs,
or 3 percent.
Nonetheless, Allied airmen owned Norman
airspace. Not only did they hinder or destroy
enemy communications, but they largely
prevented Luftwaffe attacks on Anglo-American
ground forces.
When Dwight Eisenhower went ashore in
France he surveyed the massive logistics operation
on the beaches. Ships, vehicles, and men were
wide open to bombing, prompting his newly
commissioned son John to offer, “You’d never get
away with this without air supremacy.”
The general replied, “Without air supremacy I
wouldn’t be here.”
Visit Barrett Tillman at
ETO TOP 12 ACES JUNE 5, 1944
Maj. Robert S. Johnson 56th 27 Rotated out
Maj. Francis S. Gabreski 56th 22 28, POW 7-44
Capt. Donald S. Gentile 4th 21.83 Rotated out
Capt. Walker M. Mahurin 56th 19.75 SD, rotated
Maj. Walter C. Beckham 353rd 18 POW
Maj. Duane W. Beeson 4th 17.33 POW
Capt. Gerald W. Johnson 56th 17 POW
2nd Lt. Ralph K. Hofer 4th 15 KIA 7-44
Capt. Joe H. Powers 56th 14.5 Rotated out
1st Lt. John T. Godfrey 4th 14.33 16.3, P 8-44
Maj. Glenn Duncan 353rd 14 19, SD 7-44
Maj. James A. Goodson 4th 14 POW
SD: Shot down, evaded (2)
KIA: Killed in action (1)
POW: Prisoner of war (5)
8 of 12 were casualties: 66.6%
Top aces from the 4th FG, Capt. Don Gentile (R) and his regular wing at the time, First Lt. John Godfrey
(L) pose with Gentile’s mount Shangri-la during the spring of 1944 at their home base at Debden. (Photo
courtesy of Stan Piet)
Aerial Assault_v2.indd 23 5/1/14 11:34 AM
Major Dick Turner 11 kill ace
and CO of the 356th Fighter
Squadron stands by his P-51D
s/n 44-13561 AJ+T Short-
Fuse Sallee at airstrip A-66
near Orconte, France upon
completion of his combat tour
on October 2, 1944. Te extra
victory flags reflect ground and
V-1 claims plus Dick’s 11 aerial
kills. (Photo courtesy of Jack

ince the 25th of May, the group
had been informed that it was on a
six-hour alert status, and had been
assigned two officers from General
Patton’s Third Army to stay with us
and set up liaison procedures. Our flying hadn’t
changed much except that more dive-bombing,
fighter sweeps, and strafing missions were being
thrown in with our normal escort duties.
“It didn’t take much brain power to know that
the invasion of the Continent was imminent.
The clincher came when we discovered a small
detail of cameramen among us who had been as-
signed to cover our first-day activities on D-Day.
“On the 3rd and 4th of June, a couple of
short missions were run over France. Rumor and
speculation ran high on the 5th and 6th as we
awaited the event with bated breath, and when
it was revealed that the first day’s operations had
already been completed without our participa-
tion we felt very much let down.
D-Day fighting spirit
“Our fighting spirit came to peak pitch when af-
ter supper we were summoned to an immediate
briefing. We found that we were to escort a C-47
and glider mission that night. We were to man
our planes immediately, and to remain in them
ready to take off upon signal from the tower. We
were in our Mustangs at 9:00 that evening and
at 10:00 we finally got the green take-off flare.
“Forming up in the settling dusk proved to be
no problem, and when we rendezvoused with
the southbound C-47s and gliders a half hour lat-
A Pilot’s View of D-Day
In his memoir, Lt. Col. Richard E. Turner recalled D-Day for the Ninth Air Force’s
354th Fighter Group at Maidstone, Kent. He described the “Pioneer Mustangs’” rare
D-Day missions: night escort of troop carrier aircraft and gliders. BY BARRETT TILLMAN
Aviinside_DDay.indd 24 5/1/14 11:53 AM
AUGUST 2014 25
Lt. Col. Dick Turner, standing
by a P-51D, continued flying
Mustangs after the end of WW II
until he transitioned to the F-86
Sabre Jet which he flew during
the Korean War. (Photo courtesy
of Jack Cook)
er over southern England, we could still
see them fairly will in the twilight. My
flight had a box of 16 C-47s and glid-
ers to escort, and by the time we passed
over the coastline and the Isle of Wight,
it was black as the ace of spades. A cloud
cover obscured even the faint starlight.
The only way I could keep track of my
charges was to concentrate on the blue
flame of their exhausts. I couldn’t help
wondering how I was supposed to tell
the difference between our planes and
theirs if the Germans attempted an
interception. I left the problem to be
solved when it arrived, and strained to
stay with my C-47s and gliders without
running them down in the process.
“When we got to mid-channel we
were supposed to turn east and pro-
ceed off Cherbourg where the C-47s
and gliders were to penetrate the en-
emy coast. Normally, escorting fighters
move in advance of convoyed planes
but tonight we were strictly followers,
glued close to our charges. I divided my
time between keeping one eye fixed on
the ghostly C-47s, avoiding the deadly
tow lines between them and the glid-
ers, and watching for other wandering
fighters that cut in front of us. Alto-
gether a cliff-hanging mess!
“After 2 1/2 hours of heart-seizing
flying, we crossed in over the coast-
line and the C-47s cut loose their glid-
ers and dropped their paratroopers. I
knew the mission had been completed
only because without warning, the air
burst into a maelstrom of crisscrossing
tracer fire from the void below. I made
a sweeping level turn to the right with
my flight away from the drop zone, and
beat it for the south coast of England.
“Yet now we were presented with
an even-stickier problem. I knew our
group alone had 48 churning Mus-
tangs in the black void ahead, and all
of them were converging for the pundit
light at Christchurch for landing and refueling
before returning to home base. The pundit light
was a powerful hooded searchlight throwing its
beam straight up, a marker for friendly aircraft.
The beam is invisible until you are directly over
it, and there would be terrifically heavy conges-
tion tonight. God knows how many planes from
other groups were being diverted to the same
light, and it was with mounting apprehension
that I approached the Bournemouth area to
search the blackness for the pundit.
“There had already been six hair-raising near-
collisions with other homebound flights. As we
flew on, I debated chucking the whole mess to
fly directly to our base, but I resolved to follow
the flight plan even if it killed us all — as it could!
“It was a case of which was greater, your pa-
tience or your fear, and my patience was wear-
ing exceedingly thin. After discovering the light
by chance, I flew a wide, careful orbit, avoiding
other fighters that loomed near us. Finding the
Christchurch runway, I decided that the safest
way to land my flight was to use a 1,000-foot
overhead, 360-degree landing pattern in forma-
tion. It was not the usual system but it would
keep the flight together, which was essential for
our safety.
“With the flight in close formation, it would
be easier for individual fighters to see us, and
make them give way by force of numbers. The
A cloud cover obscured even the faint starlight. The only
way I could keep track of my charges was to concentrate
on the blue flame of their exhausts. how I was supposed
to tell the difference between our planes and theirs if
the Germans attempted an interception?
Aviinside_DDay.indd 25 5/1/14 11:53 AM
system worked perfectly. I set up in close forma-
tion 1,000 feet over the runway with wheels and
flaps down and flew a wide descending circle
with slow power reductions, finally skimming
the approach end of the runway in perfect for-
mation. We had it made! The pilots in my squad-
ron were of the best. They could and did perform
any maneuver I asked of them.”
Another mission
The night’s missions had diminished the number
of available fighters, and after his P-51s were ser-
viced, Ninth Air Force asked Turner to provide an im-
promptu patrol over the landing beaches. He readily
accepted and takes up the tale:
“Shortly before dawn I assembled my pilots
and briefed them. The plan was to fly straight
to the beachhead and provide cover from the
mouth of the Seine to the Cherbourg Peninsula
for one hour.
“The cloud cover had dropped and we were
forced to fly at about 4,000 feet. Crossing the
Channel, I saw the debris of C-47s floating for-
lornly on the oily water, a grim reminder of last
night’s mission. Arriving over the Bay of the
Seine we could see ships, boats and LSTs spread
out for miles, extending out of sight into the
Channel. At that low altitude, they could clob-
ber us if they fired upon us. None of the warships
fired, but we drew a few shots from trigger-hap-
py gunners on smaller craft.
“As we flew back and forth patrolling the
beach, I could see a steady movement of person-
nel through the beaches to the inland woods. All
looked orderly and peaceful form 4,000 feet but
now and then a half-sunken ship, a burning ve-
hicle or some unidentifiable wreckage would be
visible. I noticed the wreck of a C-47 and P-47.
“After our first sweep of the area, we started
looking for the German fighters we expected to
find trying to hit the invasion forces, but except
for ourselves, the sky was empty. The only Ger-
man aircraft I saw tried to sneak in at water level
from the northeast only to be caught in murder-
ous crossfire from two cruisers, and it fell into
the Channel in a long splash of flame.
“I led the flight toward the crash in hopes of
finding other venturesome Nazis. We saw no
more fighters, however, until a squadron of P-
47s arrived to relieve us. I gathered my Mustangs
and flew up the coast to Calais where we jumped
across the Strait of Dover to our base at Maid-
stone. We arrived in time for lunch, and to find
that our squadron was scheduled for another
C-47 and glider escort that afternoon.
“We flew down to the southern tip of England
and picked up another long string of ‘Gooney
Birds’ dragging gliders, and took them across
to Utah Beach where they penetrated five or
10 miles and cut their gliders loose. I watched
the gliders in fascination as they made their
tight little spirals; they didn’t waste much time
and many of the landings I saw looked pretty
rough. Knowing that glider pilots had to join the
ground troops to fight their way out, it seemed
to be a pretty rugged job, and as we took the
C-47s back to the Channel, I thanked the Lord
again for making me a simple fighter pilot.”

The only German aircraft I saw tried to sneak in at
water level from the northeast only to be caught
in murderous crossfire from two cruisers, and it
fell into the Channel in a long splash of flame.
Te Mustangs flown by the
“wheels” of the 356th FS at
airstrip A-31 at Gael, France,
during August 1944. On the left
is squadron ops officer Capt.
Verlin Chamber’s P-51D s/n 44-
13525 AJ+P and on the right is
Major Dick Turner’s Short-Fuse
Sallee. (Photo courtesy of Jack
Aviinside_DDay.indd 26 5/1/14 11:53 AM
At the time of her design, no one would
have thought the C-47/DC-3 would still
be flying some 75 years later, much less
have a major role in changing the course
of history. (Photo by Moose Peterson)
3_Nocturnal Gamble.indd 40 5/1/14 12:17 PM
On the airfield at Barkston-Heath (USAAF Station AAF-483) near the city of Grantham in
Lincolnshire, 72 Douglas C-47 Skytrain transports from the 61st Troop Carrier Group sat waiting.
Soon they would carry 1,230 paratroopers from the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 507th Parachute
Infantry Regiment to Normandy as a part of Mission Boston, the code name of the operation to move
the 82nd Airborne Division to France on D-Day. Just seven miles away on the airfield at Fulbeck
(USAAF Station AAF-488), 45 C-47s of the 442nd Troop Carrier Group were preparing to load the
regimental headquarters and the 1st Battalion, 507th – an additional 770 paratroopers. By mid-1944,
the flight crews of those two troop carrier groups had gone through just as much intense training as
the paratroopers they would carry into battle.
C-47 Skytrain #42-93096 shortly before departing for Normandy. Tis aircraft flew as Serial 5, Stick 17 on its first combat mission during the pre-dawn hours of June 6, 1944 as a
part of Operation Neptune/Overlord – the Allied invasion of Normandy. As chalk 17, this aircraft carried Pathfinder team #2 of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment/82nd Airborne
Division to Drop Zone N near Amfreville west of the village of Ste.-Mère-Église. Note how everything on the fuselage that might catch the jumper or parachute D-ring static lines was
faired with tape. (Photo courtesy of author)
3_Nocturnal Gamble.indd 41 5/1/14 12:17 PM
First came training, then the trip, then
more training
For the pilots, copilots, radio operators, naviga-
tors, and crew chiefs, their military service had
begun as much as two years earlier with primary,
and then advanced, training. They were by then
intimately familiar with the venerable Doug-
las C-47 Skytrain, which the U.S. military relied
on throughout the Second World War as one of
its primary military movers. After earning their
wings, the fresh aviators of the 61st and 442nd
Troop Carrier Groups spent three or four ad-
ditional months of training and familiarization
with the C-47 learning the idiosyncrasies of its
flight characteristics. That phase was inevitably
followed by assignment to a troop carrier squad-
ron and then deployment overseas.
Sidney M. Ulan of Chester, Pennsylvania, re-
ceived his wings at Moody Field in March 1943
and, like so many other new Skytrain pilots,
he was immediately assigned to the Troop Car-
rier Command. He recalled that, at the time, the
Army needed pilots “to drop airborne troops in
the invasion of Europe, so my entire graduating
class was sent to the Troop Carrier Command.”
Ulan started flying the C-47 at Bergstrom Field
near Austin, Texas, and was then transferred to
Sedalia, Missouri, where the 441st Troop Carrier
Group was formed. On March 1, 1944, Ulan’s
squadron — the 99th TCS — departed Home-
stead Army Airfield in Florida: destination Eng-
land. The first leg of the trip took them from
Florida to Borinquen Army Air Field, Puerto Rico
— a distance of 980 miles. From there, they flew
1,200 miles to Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana, and
then 1,325 more miles to Forteleza, Brazil. After
a short 270-mile hop to Natal on Brazil’s Atlantic
coast, the squadron then flew 1,437 miles across
the open ocean to the RAF airfield on Ascension
Island. After resting and re-fueling there, the
99th covered another 970 miles of trans-Atlan-
tic flight to Greenville, Liberia, then 883 miles
to Dakar, West Africa, then 1,435 miles to Casa-
blanca, and finally 1,151 miles to RAF St. Maw-
gan near Newquay in Cornwall. By the time the
squadron’s C-47s touched down on the tarmac at
Langar Field in Nottinghamshire (USAAF Station
AAF-490), they had completed a 10,000-mile re-
positioning. It should be remembered that many
of these pilots were just out of flight school.
The 61st and 442nd Troop Carrier Groups
arrived in England at about the same time in
March as Sidney Ulan’s squadron did after its
epic trans-Atlantic repositioning. Once they
settled in at Barkston-Heath and Fulbeck respec-
tively, it was time to get to work. Much had to
be accomplished to ready both groups for their
participation in the assault on fortress Europe,
so training schedules did not relax in England.
Thus, when the men of the 507th Parachute In-
fantry walked to the flightlines at Fulbeck and
Barkston-Heath on the evening of June 5, their
lives were placed in the capable hands of two
groups of thoroughly trained military aviators.
The 117 C-47s that waited for the men of the
507th thus represented much more than merely
the product of American industrial capability.
Having those aircraft sitting on those fields that
evening with full gas tanks and 117 well-trained
flight crews standing by represented an incalcu-
Tese 436th Troop Carrier
Group survivors of D-Day
supported the invasion of
Southern France in August 1944
before returning to England.
(Photo courtesy of Stan Piet)
3_Nocturnal Gamble.indd 42 5/1/14 12:17 PM
AUGUST 2014 43
lable amount of human effort and energy. It had
taken years for their families to raise and educate
the young American boys who were there to pro-
vide the airlift for those 2,004 paratroopers that
night. The U.S. government had picked up where
their families, high schools, and colleges left off,
spending even more time and money turning
them into skilled flight crews. While the crews
had undergone countless hours of training, and
many of them had already flown combat mis-
sions in the Mediterranean the previous summer,
nothing could have prepared them for what they
were about to experience in the airspace over
Normandy’s Cotentin Peninsula.
Drop Zone “T”: Te impossible target
All 117 of the C-47s that carried 507th paratroop-
ers that night had a common destination: Drop
Zone “T” near the village of Amfreville — three
miles west of Ste.-Mère-Église. But in the end,
Drop Zone “T” would have only symbolic sig-
nificance. While it is generally well understood
that the 82nd and 101st Airborne Division drops
experienced scattering during the Normandy
operation, it is not well known that the 507th
was scattered over a wider geographical area than
any of the other regiments that night. While a
few 507th troopers landed in the correct place,
others landed in 101st drop zones. Elements of
the regiment’s 2nd Battalion landed far north of
where they were supposed to, with one unfortu-
nate stick of 18 troopers being dropped among
the hedgerows between Valognes and Cherbourg.
Some troopers came down well to the east of the
drop zone, between Ste.-Marie-du-Mont and La
Madeleine. A few men even ended up on Utah
Beach itself. Finally, nine sticks from the 3rd Bat-
talion, 507th came down 16 miles south of the
DZ near the village of Graignes. In all, it is es-
timated that the regiment was spread out over
sixty square miles.
So why did such well-trained and, in some cas-
es, combat-experienced troop carrier squadrons
produce such an imperfect drop on D-Day? Why
did the 61st and 442nd Troop Carrier Groups
distribute the 507th Regiment across 60 square
miles of Norman countryside instead of putting
them all down within Drop Zone “T”? Some of
the aircrews of the 61st Troop Carrier Group’s
14th Troop Carrier Squadron had flown four pre-
vious combat missions, so being under enemy
fire was nothing new to them.
Why did nine C-47s from the 61st Troop Car-
rier Group’s 53rd Troop Carrier Squadron drop al-
most 170 paratroopers of the Headquarters Com-
pany of the 3rd Battalion, 507th in the marshes
south of the city of Carentan? Although a num-
ber of factors can be blamed for the broad disper-
sion of the 507th across Normandy, two factors
above all produced this outcome: the regiment’s
late arrival, and poor visibility.
Te weather became the enemy
As they approached Normandy, the 61st and
442nd Troop Carrier Group’s C-47s encountered
a disorienting cloud bank. The low, dense clouds
broke up the formations and set them off course
moments before they flew into the fire of the en-
emy’s air defenses.
Paul Smith, who commanded F Company,
507th at the time, could not see any other aircraft
in formation with his C-47 (#42-24204 of the
14th Troop Carrier Squadron, 61st Troop Carrier
Group). Hoping to get a better view, he moved
forward and looked out of the astrodome, but he
could see nothing. “I could hardly even see the
Currently known as D-Day
Doll (N45366) and sporting
invasion stripes, Douglas
C-53D AAF-43-68830 is an
actual veteran of the Normandy
Invasion. It flew three missions
over Normandy on June 6 and
7, 1944, as well as airdrops later
on over Holland. It also flew
supplies into Bastogne during
the Battle of the Bulge and took
part in the final airdrop across
the Rhine River in 1945. Now
operated by the CAF Inland
Empire Wing in California, she
continues to drop jumpers at
special events. (Photo by Frank
B. Mormillo)
3_Nocturnal Gamble.indd 43 5/1/14 4:39 PM
Above: Te cockpit of a C-47.
South Plains Army Airfield,
Lubbock, Texas (January 10,
Inset: Captain Sidney M. Ulan
of Wallingford, Pennsylvania.
On D-Day, he was a C-47 pilot
with the 99th Troop Carrier
Squadron, 441st Troop Carrier
Group, 50th Troop Carrier Wing.
(Photos courtesy of author)
wingtips,” he remembered. As the C-47s began to
drift farther apart, much of the 507th was already
set up to be misdropped. It did not help that only
two of the regiment’s three pathfinder teams
landed on the drop zone, or that they came
under enemy fire almost immediately upon
landing. Had they been able to accomplish
their mission, the C-47s carrying the rest of
the regiment would have been guided in to-
ward Drop Zone “T.” Instead, those C-47s
approached unguided through obscuring
cloud cover.
Then came the enemy ground fire. Be-
cause the 507th was based in an area of
England two and half hours farther north
than any of the other parachute regiments, it
consequently had to contend with a longer cross-
channel journey that made it the last to arrive
over Normandy. The first paratroopers to jump
that night — a planeload of pathfinders from the
502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Air-
borne Division — jumped at approximately 12:15
a.m. The 507th, on the other hand, arrived over
the area starting at approximately 2:30 a.m. Thus,
as the C-47s of the 61st and the 442nd came
thundering in toward Drop Zone “T” to drop the
507th, German anti-aircraft gunners were ready.
Seated by the door of his 442nd TCG aircraft,
Lt. Robert H. Parks of C Company, 507th, “no-
ticed an impressive fireworks display” outside. He
observed flashes of red, yellow, blue, and white as
they streaked past his troop carrier formation. “I
admired the show until I realized what they were:
anti-aircraft shells,” he remembered.
First Lieutenant Sidney Ulan from the 99th
Troop Carrier Squadron, 441st Troop Carrier Group
remembered that, “Suddenly, all hell seemed
to break loose.” From the cockpit of C-47 #42-
101013, he had a front row seat for the spectacle:
“The sky was filled with red and green trac-
ers, and searchlights beamed up at the planes
just ahead of me. I could also feel the vibration
of the flak coming up and shaking the plane. I
realized that the flak suits we were told to wear
might come in handy. I remember chewing gum,
and the saliva in my mouth completely dried up
from the fright. It seemed al-
most impossible to fly through
that wall of fire without get-
ting shot down, but I had no
choice. There was no turning
After dropping his stick of
paratroopers from the 1st Bat-
talion of the 501st Parachute
Infantry Regiment, 101st Air-
borne Division, Lieutenant
Ulan put his C-47 in a nose-
down attitude and leveled-off
just above the deck to avoid
ground fire. Flying just above
the tree tops at full-throttle,
Ulan’s Skytrain eventually
passed over the beach and
then came out skimming the
water of the English Channel.
The aircraft of Ulan’s forma-
tion then climbed and formed
up for the trip back to Eng-
land. When he landed safely
at Merryfield, Ulan inspected
the outside of his C-47 and
found several small holes in
the skin from flak over the Co-
tentin peninsula. He breathed
a sigh of relief because he had
survived the ordeal.
And then there was the weight
and navigation
Just before arriving over the drop zones, the C-47
pilots were supposed to throttle back to 90mph
and hold an altitude of approximately 800 feet
while the paratroopers exited. But under the cir-
cumstances of the night drop, that 90mph air-
speed was not always possible, and many planes
were significantly faster than usual when the
paratroopers jumped. There was one major factor
— weight. Generally in both the 82nd Airborne
Division and the 101st Airborne Division, the C-
47s that flew that night were heavier than they
should have been. 101st Airborne Division author
and historian Mark Bando described the situation:
3_Nocturnal Gamble.indd 44 5/1/14 4:39 PM
AUGUST 2014 45
“The recommended safe maximum
weight for a C-47 with cargo aboard is
27,900 pounds. Troop carrier planes rou-
tinely flew ETO missions at 30,000 pounds.
On the D-Day night drop, the C-47s were
hauling equipment and overloaded para-
troopers, which brought their weight up to
as much as 34,000 pounds.”
The increased weight had a strong ad-
verse effect on the C-47’s flight character-
istics. Under normal loading, the plane was
capable of maintaining stable, controlled
flight at the relatively slow forward air-
speed of 90mph, but the overloading on
D-Day increased the stall speeds to the
point that 90mph was dangerously slow. To
compensate for the higher stall speeds, pi-
lots were forced to drop their paratroopers
at a forward airspeed approximately 20 to
30mph faster than normal. Thus, the Sky-
trains were dropping their paratroopers at
speeds of 110mph, 120mph, or even faster.
The aircrews also struggled with a num-
ber of other significant complicating fac-
tors. First of all, only about two out of every
five C-47s carried a navigator. This two-to-
five ratio had never presented much of a
problem previously, but in the less than
ideal, disorienting conditions of the Opera-
tion Neptune night drop, that ratio became
a major problem.
Secondly, strict adherence to radio si-
lence eliminated the possibility of the pi-
lots adapting and adjusting their plans to
mitigate the problems encountered during
the approach to the drop zones. Thirdly,
20- to 30-knot winds were blowing over the
drop zones that night. Those winds gener-
ated sudden patches of turbulence that
buffeted the C-47s and knocked many off
course. Finally, the airspeed and altitude of
the troop carrier C-47s was such that the
pilots had only a very narrow window of
opportunity to line up on their drop zones
before they turned on the green lights.
When the formations ran into that un-
expected cloud bank over the 24-mile-
wide Cotentin peninsula, they were at an
altitude of 1,500 feet, moving at 140mph.
Once they got out of the clouds, the pilots
had less than four minutes to orient them-
selves and make the necessary course corrections
that would take them over the target drop zone.
Again, due to overloading, the pilots could not
slow their airspeed to buy themselves more time
to solve their navigation problems.
So many complications
Another ever-present concern that was almost
certainly in the mind of every pilot that night
was that, if they hesitated too long to turn on
the green light, they stood the chance of drop-
ping paratroopers in the English Channel on the
eastern side of the peninsula. That was what hap-
pened to Sergeant Leonard S. Goodgal of I Com-
pany, 506th Parachute Infantry, 101st Airborne
Division. After jumping during the pre-dawn
hours of D-Day, he landed in shallow water. He
then waded ashore, climbed up on the beach,
and realized that he was at the foot of a tall
cliff. When the sun rose a few hours later, Good-
gal found that his plane had overshot the drop
zone by 12 miles and dropped him at the base of
Pointe du Hoc.
Te view aft in a fully restored,
combat-ready C-47: the trip
from England to their drop
zone in France was brief so
comfort wasn't a consideration.
Skytrains were long on function
and utility but short on luxury.
(Photo by Moose Peterson)
Cpl. Joe Oleskiewicz, a
pathfinder with the 506th
Parachute Infantry Regiment ,
stands in the door of his C-47
Skytrain S/N 42-100920 6Z+L
"Chalk 21" of the 96th TCS
440th TCG at Exeter, England
on the evening of June 5, 1944.
(Photo courtesy of Jack Cook)
3_Nocturnal Gamble.indd 45 5/1/14 4:39 PM
For C-47s that overshot the drop zone on the
Cotentin Peninsula, making a second approach
was not an option because it would mean flying
back through the enemy’s anti-aircraft defenses.
But there was yet another danger: a total of 801
Troop Carrier C-47s flew in Operation Neptune
air drop that night (Mission Albany, the aerial
repositioning of the 101st Airborne, consisted
of 432 C-47s and Mission Boston, the aerial re-
positioning of the 82nd Airborne, consisted of
369 C-47s). Those 801 aircraft were all operating
within the same airspace at night under combat
conditions lit only by dim blue lights designed to
be visible only from behind. The traffic pattern
for the Neptune parachute drop ran from west to
east over the peninsula. If a pilot missed the drop
zone on the first go-around and decided to make
another approach, he would be flying against the
flow of traffic in airspace with hundreds of air-
planes. The pilots obviously did not want to drop
paratroopers in the English Channel. They obvi-
ously did not want to drop paratroopers far away
from their assigned drop zones with little or no
hope of assembling. They obviously did not want
to turn around and fly head-on into approaching
C-47s to make another drop zone approach. Do-
ing so would jeopardize their lives, the lives of
the 18 paratroopers they were carrying, and the
lives of the men on the other C-47s. Clearly, the
troop carrier pilots had a difficult job to do under
near-impossible circumstances that night.
A good effort in a bad situation
As a result of the myriad of influences and circum-
stances affecting the 61st and 442nd Troop Carrier
Groups, the men of the 507th Parachute Infantry
were scattered on the D-Day night drop. The reali-
ty ultimately led to accusations that the pilots had
behaved irresponsibly and/or cowardly. But the
actions of those airmen seem far less irresponsible
when the full circumstances are considered and
all of the facts are appreciated. On D-Day, there
were near-perfect drops, mixed drops, and totally
disastrous drops. The exercises that the groups
had flown in preparation for the operation had
not even approached what would be a gauntlet of
fire over the Cotentin Peninsula that night. Those
circumstances made it impossible for the pilots to
get their jobs done with the same level of preci-
sion that had been achieved in training.
Although they have been somewhat criticized
in the past, the Troop Carrier aircrews who flew
Operation Neptune did the best they could have
possibly done given the circumstances, and the
reality is that, despite the scattering, the mission
was a success. While the cases of disastrous mis-
drops on D-Day are undeniable, there were also
countless cases of pilots who went above and
beyond the call of duty to make sure that the
paratroopers they were carrying were delivered to
their drop zone. Despite the fact that they flew
the mission in unarmed and unarmored aircraft,
they faced enemy fire and completed the mission
as half of the team that made vertical envelop-
ment operations possible and contributed to the
ultimate success of the Normandy Invasion.

C-47B S/N Number 43-48608
arrived three weeks too late for
the invasion but this combat
veteran, in its original livery of
the 9th AF, 302nd air transport
wing, 27th air transport group
participated in operation Market
Garden and others through the
end of the war. In 2010, she was
voted the most original C-47
out of 26 other Skytrains in
attendance at EAA-Oshkosh
(AirVenture). Features like the
original celestial navigation set,
navigators drift meeter, original
radios as well as gun ports in the
windows, make this "Gooney"
a true time capsule. (Photo by
Scott Slocum)
3_Nocturnal Gamble.indd 46 5/1/14 4:39 PM
The glider gang behind the lines
Twelve glider infantrymen of the 193rd Glider Infantry
Regiment prepare to climb aboard a Waco CG-4 named Sad
Sack for a training mission at Camp MacKall, North Carolina
during October 1943. (Photo courtesy of Jack Cook)
4_Silent Targets.indd 56 5/1/14 3:15 PM
AUGUST 2014 57
During the National WW II Glider Pilots Association’s 41st reunion
in Oklahoma City in October 2011, glider pilots George L. Williams
of Idaho and Norman C. Wilmeth of Oklahoma shared memories of
their D-Day glider missions with the author.
Mission Elmira
Normandy D-Day
Flight Officer George L. Williams flew seven glider missions
during World War II. Fresh out of high school when he enlisted,
he was excited to be a part of the war. He had the opportunity
to fly both the large British Airspeed Horsa glider and the rela-
tively smaller American Waco CG-4A Hadrian glider. The wood-
en Horsa’s fuselage was 67 feet long, its wingspan was 88 feet,
and it had a loaded weight up to 15,500 pounds. The Ameri-
can Waco’s tube-and-fabric fuselage measured 48 feet, 8 inches
long, its wingspan was 83 feet, 8 inches, and it had
a loaded takeoff weight of 7,500 pounds
(or up to 9,000 pounds at emer-
gency load weight).
Horsa vs. CG-4A
When asked to compare the two gliders he flew, Williams re-
called, “During Normandy, I flew the Horsa glider. It was like
a Mack truck — you couldn’t maneuver it very well. A Horsa
really shouldn’t be cross-controlled (for example, performing
a slipping maneuver to lose altitude), especially with a load in
it — it might not recover to controlled flight again. But the
CG-4A – that was a Mercedes by comparison!”
Several glider missions were flown on D-Day in Operation
Overlord. Mission Elmira was flown during the early evening
of June 6. Williams related his experience of flying a Horsa
glider during that mission:
4_Silent Targets.indd 57 5/1/14 3:15 PM
Teenager on D-Day
“Briefing and training were extensive and very
good for D-Day,” reflects Williams, adding, “They
made a great big mosaic map of the whole area
and told me the name of every farm close to
where I was landing. I had a 38-year-old copilot
and I was barely 19 then. I flew a British Horsa
glider with a jeep, a trailer full of ordnance and
mortar ammunition. I had 19 fully equipped
airborne troopers. I was overloaded by approxi-
mately 3,000 pounds when we took off from
Greenham Common — that was the base in Eng-
land about 60 miles west of London. The run-
way length was way more than we should have
needed, and there was a construction area down
at the end. It was a pretty smooth road leading
out from the runway. Anyway, I got to the end of
the runway and still wasn’t off the ground! The
C-47 was off the ground, and that tow pilot knew
what my problem was, so he held
the C-47 down and was going just
as fast as he could. He wasn’t 10 feet
over that runway, and he told me
just before I lifted off the ground,
‘If you don’t get that thing off the
ground by the time we get to that
building, you’re going to be off the
[tow] rope.’ That is bad news when
he disconnects his end of the rope — it has a big
hook up there and the nylon rope approximately
10% before it snaps — so if he disconnects his
end, that thing is stretching and boom! It’ll tear
the whole nose apart practically!
“I got off the ground at the last second and was
just mushing for half an hour. I wasn’t really
climbing very much. We circled for a long time
because there were thousands of gliders coming
in. I finally got up to about 600 feet and asked the
commanding officer of the ground unit on board
to come forward behind the pilots’ compart-
ment. I asked him, ‘Did you supervise loading
this glider?’ He said, “No, I didn’t, and I’m mad
— I saw what you did to struggle off the ground.”
Well, I knew it was overloaded because we had
figured out a way of testing before we took off.
We jumped up in the air and grabbed the glid-
er’s tailskid, and if the tail came down like this
(gesturing to a height above the ground), it was
okay. If it came down like this (gesturing with
a quick downward motion), it was tail-heavy —
and that’s what this Horsa did. So I knew that,
and I had rolled the trim tab forward and did ev-
erything I could to try and keep the nose down
because I couldn’t buck all that weight.
Bottom: C-47s of the 72nd
and 74th TCS, 434th TCG are
waiting to queue up with their
Horsa gliders at Aldermaston
in preparation for the KEOKUK
afternoon resupply mission
on June 6. (Photo courtesy of
Stan Piet)
Inset: Flight Offi cer George L.
Williams. (Photo courtesy of
4_Silent Targets.indd 58 5/1/14 3:15 PM
AUGUST 2014 59
“The air was very smooth and there was no
turbulence, so when the [towplane made a quick
maneuver], the jeep suddenly got loose and
rolled forward! The Horsa’s nose came down all
of a sudden, and I thought, ‘Oh, God!’ I could
feel the difference in my stomach! That is the
only time I ever got scared.
Landing hazards
“We got the glider level again and I asked the
tow pilot, ‘What the hell did you do back there?
You’re jerking me all over!’ Then I told the crew
that because of the load I had, I was going to
come in really fast. I could see Normandy, but it
was a little ways away. I said, ‘When we come in,
we’re going to be hot. Normally, too much speed
coming in means you’re asking to be killed be-
cause you can’t get the damn thing stopped. But,
I said to myself, ‘I don’t have spoilers, I’ve got
“barn door” flaps.’ They were big things, like this
(gesturing with arms spread wide). So first, I rolled
the trim forward and both of us grabbed hold of
that control wheel because I didn’t want the nose
to come up — the glider would have stalled. Then
I dropped those flaps just before I was going to
land. I was going about 115mph — way too fast
— when I pulled those flap handles on.”
The Germans had erected hundreds of wooden
poles, nicknamed “Rommel’s asparagus,” which
were sunk partway into the ground and strategi-
cally placed throughout the fields in Normandy
as hazards to glider landings. Williams saw those
in his target landing area, so he chose another
field about two miles south of Sainte-Mère-Église.
Newspaper accounts reported: “On reaching the
One of the primary design
functions of the Waco CG-
4A glider was to bring light
transport and field artillery to
the battlefront. (Photo courtesy
of Stan Piet)
French coast, Williams’ plane drew fire from
20mm antiaircraft guns and rifles. Farther in-
land, German soldiers used machine guns to try
to bring the plane down.”
Williams recalled, “The tow pilot had a certain
way he was supposed to fly to avoid ground fire
— if the intelligence was correct. After the glider
released, he’d bank a wing over an area where
they dropped the nylon towropes on the ground.
Normally we released about 300 feet above the
ground. Well, after I released, I lost 290 feet im-
mediately! I did that on purpose. I could see we
were going to land in water because the Germans
Hastily applied invasion stripes
greet this somber group of
airborne infantry as they ready
to board a Horsa glider for their
June 6 daylight delivery to
Normandy. (Photo courtesy of
Stan Piet)
4_Silent Targets.indd 59 5/1/14 3:15 PM
had opened some irrigation ditches and flooded
that field until the water was several feet deep. I
went down and hit that water hard and fast, and
that quickly stopped my forward speed — and
that’s what can kill you. The Horsa didn’t have
the protective nose device like the CG-4A, which
was equipped with a bolt-on Griswold nose con-
sisting of four pikes that came down a big steel
plate that could knock down small trees or poles.
Behind enemy lines
“As soon as we landed, I told everybody to get
out of the glider, but not to unload anything un-
til we knew where the enemy was. If we’d landed
one field over, we’d have known immediately!
The 88th Squadron really got it. I had quite a few
bullet holes in the tail of the glider, but I didn’t
know that until I got out. At that time of the year,
they were in double daylight saving time. It was
pretty light out, but it did get dark after midnight
for a while. After we got down on the ground
and it was finally dark, we used hand-operated
‘cricket’ clickers for communicating.”
Along with other pilots in his squadron, Wil-
liams was interviewed afterward, by war cor-
respondent Ted Malone, on radio (which was
recorded by Westinghouse Corporation, and un-
known to Williams at the time, a copy was later
given to his father back in the States). The inter-
view reported that the glider pilots had landed in
German territory and “spent three-and-one-half
days filtering through the German lines back to
friendly soil. While making their way back to
their own lines, the men surprised 43 Germans
and took them prisoner. They were forced to
hide in trees, holes, or barns of peasants while at-
tempting escape. After meeting American troops,
the men piled in jeeps and started back to the
beaches to join their forces.”
Getting back to base
Williams recalled that the glider pilots had been
ordered to “proceed [by walking] to Utah Beach
for evacuation, first by an Army DUKW from
Utah Beach to the LCI (Landing Craft Infantry),
and next by LST (Landing Ship Tank) — but it
was having engine trouble, so we transferred to
a PT boat for the trip back via the Channel to
England. There, C-47s took us back to Greenham
Common. Our main job after landing was guard-
ing prisoners and crossroads.”
A hometown Idaho newspaper ran a story
about Williams’ participation in D-Day, stating
that he was awarded an Air Medal for “outstand-
A C-47 Skytrain flown by First Lt. Gerald
Berry of the 91st Troop Carrier Squadron
about to snag the pick-up line and make
the first recovery of a glider from liberated
France on June 23, 1944, near St. Mere
Eglise. (Photo by Jack Cook)
A nice view of a CG-4 glider in
flight from the cockpit shows
a slight climb with an airspeed
of 110mph. Both the 350' nylon
towline and the left wing of
the C-47 Skytrain tow plane
are visible through the glider's
canopy. (Photos by Jack Cook)
4_Silent Targets.indd 60 5/1/14 3:15 PM
AUGUST 2014 61
ing gallantry” in his glider mission. A portion of
the Air Medal citation reads as follows: “Magnifi-
cent spirit and enthusiasm was displayed by F. O.
Williams, and combined with skill, courage, and
devotion to his duty, he remained at the controls
of his glider, without regard to personal safety,
against most severe enemy opposition and land-
ed his glider astride Hitler’s Westwall.”
Mission Hackensack
(Normandy D-Day + 1)
Second Lieutenant Norman Wilmeth flew six
glider missions during World War II. At age 26,
he was older than many of his peers in the ser-
vice. Briefly reflecting on his missions, Wilmeth
commented, “Most people only have one experi-
ence in their life like that and I have had several.
I flew four glider combat missions and two more,
which were special missions into Germany.”
During Operation Overlord, Mission Hacken-
sack was one of two glider missions that were
made on the morning of June 7, 1944. Wilmeth
recalled his mission:
Heavily loaded Horsa
“I flew the Horsa glider and had 30-some troops
aboard; our D-Day mission had been postponed
by one day because of weather. That gave the
troops time to think about wanting to have an-
other bandolier — another round of mortar am-
munition. Because of this, my load was more
than normal, since the fellows had been in com-
bat before and thought that they needed extra
supplies. We were heavy, and when we took off,
the towplane was airborne with the wheels up in
the well, but we were still on the runway, trying
to get off. We traveled the full length of the run-
way, and then the grass, before we finally wres-
tled it off the ground. Once we
were airborne, and passed 90mph
indicated, it flew fine.
Antiaircraft fire
“Our flight was uneventful un-
til we passed by the east coast
of Cherbourg, when I noticed
splashes in the water off our
right front. I first thought the
splashes were from dropped
belly tanks from fighters in the
area. Then one of the splashes
was a surface burst, and I real-
ized that we were at the ex-
treme range of shore ground
fire. The splashes were from projectiles, not belly
tanks. And soon we would receive the green light
to cut loose and land. We were briefed to do a
270-degree turn to the left, instead of a standard
glider release turn to the right. That was odd, and
I never have figured out why we did that, when
we could have done a 90-degree turn to the right.
But anyway, we did a 270-degree turn to the left,
and what I observed was that when I’d roll-back
my airspeed — if my memory’s right — to about
75 or 80mph indicated, the needle on the rate-
of-descent instrument was pegged straight down.
So, I increased the airspeed to 90mph indicated,
and that reduced my rate of descent.
“The Horsa had a cockpit with a door behind
the pilot and copilot, and the sergeant was stand-
ing there in the doorway, and I told him, ‘Sit
down, shut the door, and prepare for a crash
landing’ — because I figured we were going to
land in the trees. And he did. I rolled-out on a
heading and prepared for a crash landing in the
trees. All of a sudden a little area opened up, and I
Top: Before Allied soldiers
reached the beaches, U.S.
and British paratroopers were
landed behind German lines in
Normandy. Shown here on the
right is a British Horsa glider and
on the left and the background
are two Waco CG-4A gliders.
(Photo courtesy of EN Archives)
Inset: Second Lt. Norman C.
Wilmeth. (Photo courtesy of
4_Silent Targets.indd 61 5/1/14 3:15 PM
called for full flaps, and on the Horsa, the bottom
of the wing flaps would be as large as a confer-
ence table on both sides, so it would really come
down at a very steep angle. Well, my copilot was
also a power pilot, and he was a little slow about
putting the flaps down. So, I reached over and
slapped the control down myself and got the
flaps lowered.
Crash landing
“The flaps and brakes were operated by com-
pressed air, and before we took off, they came
around and aired up every Horsa’s air tank. We
touched down fast at 90mph indicated, and I
struck one of those glider poles (“Rommel’s as-
paragus”). I saw it just fly up out of the ground,
like a toothpick flipping up into the air, so it
wasn’t planted very deep. I had time to hit right-
rudder, left-rudder, and correct my direction of
flight. When I came to a hedgerow, I had enough
forward speed to pull back on the yoke and raise
the nose up, where I could hit the belly on the
hedgerow. So, the Horsa took the shock of the
crash on its belly, and we opened the door and
everybody jumped out. The only injury on that
flight was one of the troopers, who sprained his
ankle on the jump out of the door. We were high
enough off the ground that it was quite a fall.
“We had the windshield shot out; some other
gliders had come to this same field and they had
received small arms fire. One of them had gone
kind of slant-ways through the trees, and the
Horsa was all wood — so there was a lot of splin-
tering on it from going through the trees. My
troops thought I was a pretty golden boy, since
they were all safe and sound.
“As soon as we got organized, I started walk-
ing down a road and got into a firefight. I got
hit from the back with the first round — if I’d
been playing football, it would have been a 15-
yard penalty for clipping. The sergeant assigned
a trooper to look after me, after we got through
that firefight, but I said, ‘Sergeant, you go ahead
and take this trooper and put him somewhere
else. I’m a trained infantry officer and I’ve got
enough sense to get down out of the line of fire
— I don’t have to be knocked down.’ So that took
care of that. We went on and I joined some other
glider pilots and we meandered along toward the
Te long way home
“A half-track came by and we hopped on board,
going on down to the coastline. We got on board
a ship and the next morning we were in Ports-
mouth, England. The glider pilots were the first
ones off of the ship, even though they had pris-
oners and those who had been wounded aboard.
They had trucks there for us, and we loaded up
and drove about an hour to this camp area they
had set up with a mess hall. We went over to the
mess hall, and what did they feed us? Steak! Oh,
was it good! Then we loaded back up and drove
a few miles to another camp area where we were
going to stay all night. And what did they feed
us? More steak! So we had two steak dinners in
less than six hours — that was their reward for
us coming back from behind enemy lines. We
stayed there until a troop carrier plane came by
that airfield and picked us up. Then they dropped
us off at our different air bases.”

A restored WACO CG-4A on
display at the Silent Wings
Museum in Lubbock, Texas.
(Photo courtesy of Silent Wings
4_Silent Targets.indd 62 5/1/14 3:15 PM
D-Day Landings in Normandy
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The Great
This is an original example of the D-Day message from General Eisenhower,
supreme commander of the Allied forces in Europe, which was issued on June
5 and 6, 1944, to every single soldier, sailor and airmen of the Allied
Expeditionary Force who would be participating in the D-Day landings and the
supporting operations.The letter was presented on SHAEF headed paper and
bore the plain signature of Dwight D Eisenhower with no rank indicated.
Courtesy Tony Cooper (D-Day Spitfire pilot with 64 Sqn) from whose logbook
this was copied.
4 Concorde
‘Over the beaches of Normandy on D-Day’. In the early evening of D-Day, June 6, 1944, Operation Mallard took place to tow gliders
carrying the remainder of the British 6th Airborne Division into Normandy.The glider-tugs and gliders were escorted on this daylight
operation by fighter aircraft.The nearest Spitfire Mk.IXb, code letters ‘AGM’, is the personal aircraft of Group Captain AG‘Sailor’
Malan, the commanding officer of No 145 (Free French) Wing, who flew his Spitfire as a section leader with 340 (‘Ile de France’)
Squadron on D-Day, escorting the glider-towing‘heavies’.The Spitfire Mk.Vs, in the centre of the picture, are from 345 (Free French)
Squadron. Short Stirling of 196 and 299 Squadrons can be seen below the fighter escort, plodding towards enemy territory towing
their Horsa gliders.The North American Mustang IIIs (top right) are from 315 (Polish) Squadron which was also on Mallard escort.
The Hawker Typhoons (lower right) are‘Bomphoons’ of 197 Squadron on armed reconnaissance. Artwork: Gary Eason
RAIDS JUNE 8-9 AND JUNE 14, 1944
Clive Rowley MBE RAF (Retd)
Sub Editor:
Dan Sharp
Leanne Lawrence
Jonathan Schofield
Group production editor:
Tim Hartley
Production manager:
Craig Lamb
Marketing manager:
Charlotte Park
Dan Savage
Commercial director:
Nigel Hole
Published by:
Mortons Media Group Ltd,
Media Centre,
Morton Way, Horncastle,
Lincolnshire LN9 6JR
Tel: 01507 529529
Printed by:
William Gibbons and Sons,
Special thanks to the following for
their help and generosity in
providing assistance, artwork or
images for this publication:
RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight
Jon Bleasdale
Tim Callaway
Tony Cooper
John Dibbs
Gary Eason
Martin Johnston
Len Krenzler
Wiek Luijken
Robert Taylor
Spencer Trickett
ISBN: 978-1-909128-38-5
All material copyright Mortons Media
Limited, 2014. All rights reserved.
© Mortons Media Group Ltd. All rights
reserved. No part of this publication may be
produced or transmitted in any form or by any
means, electronic or mechanical, including
photocopying, recording, or any information
storage retrieval system without prior
permission in writing from the publisher.
Front cover
Wing’ by
The Military
specifically on the RAF involvement in the
build-up to D-Day, the invasion and the
subsequent Battle of Normandy. Although
the D-Day story has been well covered in
the past, most accounts centre, not
surprisingly, on the ground elements
story of one of which is included in these
pages. In 2004, for the 60th anniversary
commemorations of D-Day, I was privileged
to fly that Spitfire as part of the BBMF
formation which conducted a number of
flypasts over commemorative ceremonies in
Normandy, including the main one on June
6, with no fewer than 17 heads of state and
assorted members of European royalty,
including our own Queen, watching on the
ground. This was an occasion I will never
forget and heightened my interest in the D-
Day events of 1944.
Since joining the BBMF in 1996 I have
also had the privilege of meeting many
wartime veterans, some of whom were
involved in the operations surrounding D-
Day, of hearing their stories first hand and
in some cases getting to know them well.
Their understated accounts and innate
modesty serve only to highlight the sheer
courage and outright heroism of those who
took part, without which the war would not
have been won. To my knowledge there has
never been a publication which focusses
have been fascinated by the D-Day
story since my father took me to see
the film The Longest Day at the
cinema when I was 11 years old. At
that age I was at once enthralled and
shocked by the events portrayed on the big
screen and totally in awe of the courage and
heroism of those who carried the fight to
the enemy.
Having subsequently served for 36 years
as a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force, my
interest, perhaps not surprisingly, became
orientated towards the RAF’s involvement in
the war and in the D-Day invasion. I have
never lost sight, though, of the fact that
where D-Day was concerned, the air
element was only a part of an all-arms
campaign of almost unbelievable scale that
was undoubtedly one of the greatest
military feats of all time.
My 11 years flying with the RAF Battle of
Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF), including
my time as the officer commanding the
flight, gave me the privileged opportunity to
fly two actual D-Day veteran Spitfires, the
From the author:
Squadron Leader Clive Rowley MBE RAF (Retd)
RAF BBMF D-Day 60th commemorative flypast in 2004 over the Normandy beaches – the author was flying one of the Spitfires.
Crown copyright
(which, of course, were fundamental to the
whole thing). The few air power related
D-Day narratives, which have been
published, have covered the subject as an
Allied campaign, which is exactly what it
was. However, the natural bias towards the
surface elements and also towards the
American forces participating in the Allied
effort can lead to the vital and not
insignificant part played by the RAF being
somewhat overlooked.
I can’t help wondering, whether the real
D-Day story has been done a disservice by
some books and films which have focussed
too much on the American part and rather
downplayed the British, Commonwealth
and other occupied nations’ involvement in
the great event. Would I be wrong to
suggest that some might be surprised to
learn of the scale and importance of the
involvement of the other Allies and of the
RAF in the success of the D-Day operations?
With all this in mind, I have set out to
provide, in the space available, an overview
of the RAF’s operations in the build-up to
D-Day (roughly from the beginning of April
1944), the invasion operations from June 6,
and the subsequent Battle of Normandy up
to the end of August, accepting that the RAF
part is a relatively ‘small cog in a much
larger machine’. The scale of even just the
RAF operations in this period was immense
and there simply is not the space to cover it
all. I have not been able, for example, to
cover the RAF Air Sea Rescue organisation’s
small battles, in many cases without official
recognition or without becoming household
names. By telling some of their stories I
hope to paint a picture of what it was like to
be involved in this stage of the war with the
RAF, and to commemorate the courage of
those who did so.
For them, it seems, this was an event not
to be missed, despite the obvious risks to
life and limb. It is difficult for us, today, to
put ourselves in their shoes, with four long
years of war and Nazi domination of Europe
behind them, with their sense of duty, their
patriotism, their acceptance of risks and
losses that would seem intolerable today
and, frankly, with little alternative.
Now was the chance to strike back, to
liberate Europe from the tyranny of the
Nazis. To quote Tony Cooper, a 98-year-old
D-Day Spitfire pilot whose story features in
this publication and who I am proud to call
my friend: “We had become used to hearing
and accepting bad news, setbacks and
sometimes personal losses, but now, at last,
we were fighting back and this time we
knew that we were going to win!”
I hope that readers may find this
publication a thought-provoking and fitting
commemoration of the 70th anniversary of
D-Day and the RAF’s part in it. Most
importantly, I hope that it may serve as a
tribute to the men and women of the RAF
who flew and fought in these operations and
of their courage, tenacity and sheer
heroism. n
part (it rescued 163 aircrew and 60 other
personnel on D-Day alone and during June
1944 a total of 355 people were saved by the
RAF ASR aircraft and boats). Neither could
I include the part played by RAF personnel
on the surface during the invasion, such as
the RAF beach and balloon squadrons, the
fighter control radar operators on landing
craft off the beaches, the RAF Servicing
Commandos and the RAF Regiment
gunners. The first of these RAF men landed
on the Normandy invasion beaches on the
afternoon of D-Day, some of them on
Omaha beach with the Americans.
The content of this publication is not set
out chronologically. Rather, it is divided by
the different roles of the RAF aircraft and
crews, such as fighters and fighter-
bombers, heavy bombers, medium
bombers, and so on. Each section has a
short ‘documentary’ introduction, with the
essential details, to set a framework for what
follows and to introduce the aircraft types
involved. There are then separate accounts
of individual actions or operations by pilots
and crews flying in that role, some of them
in the individuals’ own words.
There is a tendency for the D-Day story
to be narrated with a strategic orientation,
focusing on the parts played by the great
military men who planned and commanded
the operations. But the success of the
endeavour, and the ultimate liberation of
Europe, is just as much the story of the
many individuals who fought their own
A RAF BBMF formation consisting of the C-47 Dakota, Lancaster and two D-Day Spitfires overflies Arromanches for the D-Day 60th anniversary
commemorations on June 6, 2004 – the author was flying one of the Spitfires. Crown copyright
n Tuesday, June 6, 1944, a date
known to most as D-Day, a
mighty armada crossed the sea
from England to France and
cracked the Nazi’s four year
long grip on Western Europe. On this day in
history the greatest amphibious operation
displayed its awesome power in a feat of
arms that led to the liberation of Northern
France by August 1944 and to the defeat of
Nazi Germany the following spring. The
Normandy landings were the beginning of
the end of the war in Europe.
In military terminology ‘D-Day’ is the
code word used for the day that an attack or
operation is initiated, with H-Hour being the
start time. It had been used in connection
with other operations before the Normandy
invasion and has been used since; the
landings at San Carlos during the Falklands
War in 1982 being an example. For most
people though, the codeword D-Day is
synonymous with the Allied invasion of
Normandy on June 6, 1944.
Operation Overlord, as it was named, was
the largest air, land, and sea operation ever
undertaken. Overlord was the name assigned
to the establishment of a large-scale force on
the Continent, an operation that began on
June 6, 1944, and continued until the Allied
forces crossed the River Seine on August 19.
The assault phase of the operation – the
seaborne invasion, the landings and the
gaining of a secure foothold – which began on
D-Day and ended on June 30, was codenamed
Operation Neptune. Numerous other
operations were part of the overall plan, such
as Operations Tonga, Detroit and Chicago for
the landing of the British 6th Airborne and the
American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions.
Years of meticulous planning and
preparation, the painstaking build-up of
forces and their intensive training came to
fruition on June 6, 1944. The assault had
been planned to take place on June 5, but
due to poor weather General Dwight
Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied
Commander, decided at the last moment to
delay the invasion by 24 hours.
In the months leading up to D-Day the
Allied forces conducted an extensive
deception operation aimed at misleading the
Germans with respect to the exact date and
place of the invasion. This was so successful
that the invasion actually took the German
military high command completely by
surprise, even though they knew it was
coming, that it was only a question of time and
was bound to happen soon. Low tides and bad
weather – combined with the Allied deception
plans – had convinced the Germans that an
attack was unlikely at this time and they had
not been able to second-guess the planned
location for the landings either.
As British bombers began to pummel
Normandy’s coastal defences on the night of
June 5-6, and the invasion armada was
making its way slowly across the English
Channel, Generalfeldmarschall Erwin
Rommel, the German general responsible for
the defence of the French coast against the
long anticipated Allied invasion, was taking a
break in Germany, celebrating his wife’s
birthday. He was convinced that there was no
better time to be absent from his duties.
It is hard to conceive the epic scope of
this decisive battle that foreshadowed the
end of Hitler’s plan for Nazi domination.
Quite apart from the military combat
elements of the operation, Overlord required
a logistics plan that could ensure that a vast
amount of men and equipment could be
landed by the end of D-Day.
On the eve of the landings more than 1000
Allied bombers pounded the German coastal
artillery positions and a sophisticated RAF
operation jammed and deceived the enemy
radars. As the naval armada neared the coast,
the beach defences in Normandy were
pulverised by naval gunfire from 200
warships. Before the bombers made their
presence felt, some 23,000 Allied airborne
troops were dropped into the area behind the
beach head by almost 2000 transport aircraft
and the gliders they towed, with the task of
disrupting the organisation of German land
forces and seizing a variety of tactical targets
such as bridges and crossroads, thereby
The greatest military operation of all time
Map from the logbook of D-Day RAF Spitfire pilot Tony Cooper, showing the invasion beaches
with their code names in his own writing. Courtesy Tony Cooper
“For four long years, much of Europe had
been under a terrible shadow. Free nations
had fallen... Europe was enslaved, and the
world prayed for its rescue. Here in
Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies
stood and fought against tyranny in a giant
undertaking unparalleled in human history.”
(President Ronald Reagan during a speech on the
40th anniversary of D-Day in 1984).
protecting the flanks of the invasion. During
D-Day itself, between the first landings at
6.30am British Double Summer Time (GMT
+2) and midnight, another 132,000 American,
British and Canadian troops were landed by
sea on five beaches, code named (from west
to east) Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword,
along a 50 mile stretch of the heavily
fortified Normandy coast.
The Americans landed 59,000 men on the
beaches at Utah and Omaha, while 73,000
British and Canadian troops landed on
Sword, Juno and Gold beaches. These men
were transported and supported by more
than 5000 ships, crewed by almost 196,000
sailors from the Allied and Merchant Navies.
When D-Day was over, thousands of men
had died. British Prime Minister Winston
Churchill had said to his wife, Clementine:
“Do you realise that by the time you wake up
in the morning 20,000 men may have been
killed?” He was not far wrong if the casualties
on both sides are taken into account.
Although sources vary somewhat, the
Allies lost around 10,500 men killed,
wounded, missing in action or taken
prisoner on June 6, 1944, and the Germans
had a similar number of casualties. Yet
somehow, partly due to the extensive
planning and preparation and mostly to
the sheer courage, fighting spirit and
sacrifice of the Allied forces, ‘Fortress
Europe’ had been breached. The Allies
had gained a foothold in France, the
Germans were forced back from the
beaches and the advance across Europe to
defeat Hitler had begun.
By June 11, D-Day +5, 326,547 troops,
54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies
had been landed on the beaches to support
the advance inland with yet more continuing
to arrive.
The sheer valour of those men who
landed in enemy territory and into the
unknown on D-Day, June 6, 1944, should
never be belittled. Many of them feared the
worst, but willingly did their duty anyway
and, in many cases, especially among those
in the first waves, they did not survive the
slaughter on the invasion beaches.
Many more of those who somehow made
it ashore unscathed were to pay the ultimate
price in the battles that followed.
D-Day: the Allied armada photographed from an RAF aircraft on June 6, 1944.
Allied troops wading ashore in Normandy on D-Day.
experts were drafted on to Merchant Navy
vessels to help in avoiding incidents of
friendly fire.
As well as being inter-allies and inter-
services, the RAF operations were also
inter-command. It was, quite simply, no
longer possible for RAF commands to
operate as independently or with such
defined roles as they had done earlier in the
war. By 1944 it was clear that bombing
could be carried out not only by dedicated
bombers but by fighter aircraft too.
Fighters could carry bombs and could
use cannons and rockets against ground
targets, and they could carry out
reconnaissance as well as being employed
in air combat.
The most startling evidence of the new
crossover of roles between and within
commands was the scarcely credible
disappearance of the name Fighter
Command in November 1943. It had
become apparent that Fighter Command
would have to provide both air cover and
tactical support for Overlord, while still
remaining responsible for defending the
It was therefore decided to split Fighter
Command into the old (pre-1936) Air
Defence of Great Britain (ADGB) and the
new Second Tactical Air Force (2 TAF).
This was a relatively short-lived experiment
and the name Fighter Command returned
to life in October 1944 as the war entered its
final phase.
ost D-Day accounts rightly
and understandably focus
on the landings and the
action on the ground.
However, it is widely
accepted that the invasion and the
subsequent Battle of Normandy would not
have been successful without the air
supremacy fought for and achieved by the
Allied air armada that ruled the skies over
northern France. In fact, the part played by
air power in the success of the operation
was crucial, as the senior Allied
commanders, including General Bernard
Montgomery, recognised.
This publication aims to separate and to
focus on the specific involvement of the
Royal Air Force in this greatest-ever
military operation, while accepting and
acknowledging the fact that it was, indeed,
only a part of a combined effort.
Essential to maintaining this perspective
is an understanding of the background, the
context and framework within which these
RAF operations occurred. It is also
important to state at the outset that this ‘air
power won the day’ focus is not intended in
any way to detract from the courage,
resilience and capabilities of the Allied
soldiers and sailors on the surface, without
which victory could not have been achieved.
By 1944, in the European theatre of war, all
operations were ‘combined’. Firstly, there
was the combination of the Allies. The
extent of integration and co-operation
between the British and Americans at all
significant command levels was remarkable,
beginning at the top, the Supreme
Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces
(SHAEF). Air operations at lower levels also
displayed this combined quality and the
Tactical Air Forces in particular mingled
their efforts, adopted each other’s methods
and jargon and shared each other’s targets.
The RAF of 1944 included the air forces
of several other commonwealth and enemy-
occupied nations, subsumed within it. On
D-Day the Allied nations represented in the
air included: Australia, which provided
11,000 participating aircrew; Belgium, with
two Spitfire squadrons; Canada, which
committed 39 strategic and tactical
squadrons; Czechoslovakia with three
squadrons of Spitfires plus a Coastal
Command Liberator squadron.
French aircrew operated four Spitfire
squadrons and two squadrons of Boston
medium bombers; the Netherlands had a
squadron of Spitfires and one of Mitchells;
New Zealand, which had 11,000 men
serving with the RAF and provided four
tactical squadrons plus two Coastal
Command squadrons; Norway with two
Spitfire squadrons and Poland with nine
tactical squadrons of fighters and
Mosquitos. Individual airmen from several
other countries also flew with the RAF on D-
Day (the full RAF order of battle on D-Day
can be found on pages 15-18).
Combined between Allies, the Overload
enterprise was also, of course, combined
between the services; it was in fact the
most spectacular of all examples of the
inter-service co-operation which some had
been preaching ardently for years. Air
Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, the
Commander-in-Chief Air and Deputy
Supreme Allied Commander SHAEF, was
one of the great exponents of combined
operations, saying: “I do not myself believe
that any modern war can be won either at
sea or on the land alone or in the air
alone... in other words, war has changed to
three dimensional.”
There are very many examples of this
inter-service ‘jointery’ in the operations
before, during and after D-Day. For
example, RAF pilots spotted for naval
artillery; Army pilots flew Taylorcraft
Auster Air Observation Posts (AOP) in
nominally RAF squadrons to provide
artillery spotting for the land forces; gliders
flown by Army glider pilots were towed and
released by RAF transports, which also, of
course, dropped Army paratroopers; and
Royal Observer Corps aircraft recognition
D-Day air power
And the RAF’s contribution
General Bernard Montgomery, Land Forces
Commander, Operation Overlord.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder.
Commander-in-Chief Air and Deputy
Supreme Commander SHAEF.
As Operation Overlord embarked upon its
preparatory phase, tactical air power
increasingly came into play. Two great
tactical air forces were formed to support
the ground forces in the invasion, the
USAAF’s Ninth Air Force and the RAF’s
Second Tactical Air Force. Both were under
the overall command of RAF Air Chief
Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory.
The RAF’s Second Tactical Air Force (2
TAF) had grown out of initiatives in mid-
1943 to structure a composite group to
support the invasion of Europe. In January
1944, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham
took command of 2 TAF, and two months
later he assumed the additional duties of
commander of the Advanced Allied
Expeditionary Air Force (AAEAF).
By D-Day 2 TAF consisted of four RAF
Groups: 2 Group, 83 Group, 84 Group and
85 Group. Of these, 2, 83 and 84 Groups
were readily available for the air-land battle
in Normandy, while 85 Group was under the
temporary operational control of 11 Group.
ADGB. 2 Group consisted of four wings of
Boston, Mitchell and Mosquito light and
medium bombers. 83 Group consisted of a
reconnaissance wing and some light aircraft
used for artillery spotting, one Mustang
wing, four Spitfire wings and four Typhoon
wings. 84 Group consisted of one Mustang
wing, five Spitfire wings and three Typhoon
wings as well as recce and spotting aircraft.
As the campaign progressed, 2 TAF’s
subordinate units directly supported units
of the 21st Army Group. The British Second
Army relied upon 83 Group while 84 Group
supported the First Canadian Army. In total,
including the USAAF elements, the tactical
air forces had 2434 fighters and fighter-
bombers, together with around 700 light
and medium bombers, available for the
Normandy campaign.
These forces were used to strike against the
Germans from the air during the
preparatory campaign from the end of 1943
up to D-Day. The immense scope and the
resounding effects of this air battle are less
well known than some other Second World
War campaigns; but its success, at
significant human cost, and its importance
to the outcome of the invasion, cannot be
Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-
Mallory stated: “If it had not been for the air
attacks by bombers, fighter-bombers and
fighters, delivered before D-Day and
immediately afterwards, it is my view that
the Army would have had double, if not
three times the amount of resistance which
they have in fact encountered. As it is, the
Germans in front of them are short of petrol
and ammunition and are in a generally poor
state. This is due to air attack.”
Spitfire Mk.IX of 443 Squadron (RCAF) 2 TAF.
Officers of the RAF, the Royal Navy and the British Army discuss plans on the bridge of a Landing Craft Tank (LCT) en route to Normandy,
demonstrating the combined nature of Operation Overlord.
This series of attacks began during
December 1943 with the steady destruction
of German ‘V’-weapon storage and
launching sites to prevent the weapons
being used against the Allied forces
massing in the south of England. There
followed an expansion in specific types of
operations over France, including a very
large number of sorties to drop supplies to
the Resistance. The aim of this concerted
effort was to build up the fighting
effectiveness of the Resistance forces in all
occupied territories and to thereby cause
the maximum disruption to the German
command and communications structure.
The Allied air campaign for the invasion
of Europe consisted of three phases. First,
Allied fighters would attempt to destroy the
Luftwaffe. The second phase called for
isolating the battlefield by interdicting road
and rail networks. Once the invasion began,
Allied air forces would concentrate on
battlefield interdiction and close air support.
The outstanding feature of D-Day and the
whole of the remainder of the war in the
West, the value of which cannot be
overstated, was the Allied air supremacy
which existed, at least by day.
Allied air superiority happened suddenly
and rather unexpectedly in the early months
of 1944 and the German Luftwaffe was
effectively destroyed between January and
June 1944. According to German sources,
2262 German fighter pilots died during that
time including some of the most
experienced and best commanders.
During the so-called ‘Big Week’ in
February 1944, the American air forces
targeted the German aircraft industry for
special treatment and, while production
continued, the Luftwaffe fighter force took
staggering losses. In March 1944, fully 56%
of the available German fighters were lost,
43% were lost in April (as the bomber effort
switched to Germany’s petroleum
production) and 50% in May, a month in
which no less than 25% of Germany’s total
fighter pilot force (which averaged 2283 at
any one time during this period) perished.
This Allied air campaign was staggeringly
successful and devastating to the Germans.
By June 1944, the months of
concentrated air warfare had given the
Allies not only air superiority but air
supremacy as well. This meant that Allied
fighters, fighter-bombers and medium and
heavy bombers could operate in daylight
virtually without interference from the
Luftwaffe and had only to contend with anti-
aircraft flak, which could still, however, be
intense and extremely dangerous. The
fighters and fighter-bombers were able to
roam over the occupied territories bombing,
strafing and rocketing anything that moved
and that could be deemed hostile. It is a
relatively well-known fact that only a single
flight of two Luftwaffe fighters made an
appearance over the invasion beaches on D-
Day itself – proof indeed of the success of
the air superiority campaign undertaken
prior to the landings.
At D-Day minus 60 days, the Allied air
forces began their interdiction attacks
against rail targets and marshalling yards;
these attacks increased in ferocity and
tempo up to the eve of the invasion itself
and were accompanied by strategic bomber
raids against the same targets.
Raids against bridges, railway
marshalling yards and major crossroads
were carried out by medium bomber forces;
and, later, the strategic heavy bombers of
both the USAAF and RAF were tasked to
continue these attacks to isolate the
Normandy area. As part of the
transportation plan fighter-bombers
attacked pinpoint targets, such as
locomotives, rolling stock and bridges, as
well as military vehicles on the roads.
The bridge campaign, which aimed at
isolating the battlefield by destroying
bridges on the River Seine below Paris and
bridges on the Loire below Orleans, began
on D-Day minus 46. Here, fighter-bombers
proved more efficient than medium or
heavy bombers. Their agility enabled them
to make pinpoint dive-bombing attacks in a
way that the larger bombers, committed to
horizontal bombing runs, could not. The
fighter-bombers also had the speed,
firepower, and manoeuvrability to evade and
even to dominate the Luftwaffe, although
enemy anti-aircraft fire and, occasionally,
enemy fighters did cause losses against the
attacking Allied fighter-bombers.
By D-Day minus 21, the Allied air forces
medium bombers and fighter-bombers were
attacking German airfields within a radius
of 130 miles of the battle area and these
operations continued up to the assault on
the beachhead.
USAAF A-20 Havocs (known as Bostons in RAF service) bombing a target in Normandy.
Aerial reconnaissance photograph of destroyed road bridges across the Seine at Elbeuf
taken on June 8, 1944
Next on the list of priorities was the
interdiction of rail and road traffic and these
communications targets were followed by
attacks against radar and coastal defence
sites. Individual buildings housing military
and Gestapo headquarters were attacked and
radar stations were destroyed or put out of
use. All six of the long range radar stations
south of Boulogne were destroyed before D-
Day and 15 others rendered unserviceable.
The requirement to keep the planned
invasion sites secret and to encourage the
Germans to devote their attention to the
region of the Pas-de-Calais complicated the
air campaign. To maintain the element of
surprise a greater number of targets were
attacked north and east of the Seine, and for
every mission flown over Normandy two
were flown over the Pas-de-Calais. Rocket-
armed Royal Air Force Hawker Typhoon
fighter-bombers of the Second Tactical Air
Force (2 TAF) attacked two radar
installations outside the planned assault
area for every one they attacked within it.
Finally, in the build-up to the invasion
itself, two more elements of air power came
into play. Fighter sweeps and standing air
patrols were flown to prevent any German
air activity over the channel ports and
invasion area, creating an impenetrable air
superiority ‘bubble’.
From the beginning of April 1944, in the
lead-up to D-Day, 195,200 sorties were flown
by Allied aircraft, of which the RAF flew
71,800, excluding the work of Coastal
Command. During this period the RAF
dropped 94,200 tons of bombs to the
USAAF’s 101,200 tons. The Allies lost a total
undertook bomber escort and offensive
fighter sweeps, 33 struck at targets inland
from the landing area and 36 provided
direct air support to invading forces.
Although the commanders at SHAEF
knew they had air supremacy (otherwise
the invasion would not have gone ahead)
they expected a major German air
reaction similar to that encountered over
Dieppe during Operation Jubilee in 1942.
The directive issued to Allied fighter
forces by SHAEF stated that: “The
intention of the British and American
fighter forces is to attain and maintain an
air situation which will assure freedom of
action for our forces without ef fective
interference by the German air force,
and to render maximum air protection to
the land and naval forces in the common
object of assaulting, securing and
developing the bridgehead.”
The scale of Allied air operations on
D-Day was so vast that sources vary
considerably over the exact details,
numbers and statistics. The Allied air forces
had at their disposal over 11,500 aircraft of
all types, of which some 5500 belonged to
the RAF and its associated air forces.
Despite poor flying weather on June 6,
1944, with a cloud base of around 2000ft
over the invasion beaches in the morning,
the Allies flew an astonishing 14,674 sorties
during the 24 hours of D-Day itself; the
RAF’s contribution to this staggering total
was 5656 sorties. In comparison, the
depleted German Luftwaffe flew a paltry
319 sorties that day. An operation of this
scale was bound to suffer losses and 113
Allied aircraft failed to return from their
missions, mostly the victims of flak, not all
of it fired by the Germans.
RAF airfield engineers constructing an advanced landing ground airfield in Normandy, laying metal wire mesh matting.
of 1953 aircraft in just over nine weeks, of
which 1251 were USAAF and 702 were RAF.
In human terms the total loss was some
12,000 officers and men and this was before
the great Allied armada ever sighted the
shores of Normandy. This was an immense
effort and a great human cost, which has to
be weighed into the total cost of the D-Day
invasion. Without the efforts and sacrifices
of these airmen, Operation Overlord may
not have succeeded and certainly there
would have been many more casualties on
the ground both during the landings and
the subsequent Battle of Normandy.
The air plan for D-Day was the most
complex ever devised, involving thousands
of Allied aircraft, all with specific tasks,
each unit needing to be de-conflicted with
the others.
On the night of June 5-6, 1944, the eve
of D-Day, a huge airborne armada of some
1900 transport aircraft and converted
heavy bombers towed and released gliders
and dropped paratroopers behind and on
the flanks of the invasion beaches. By
midnight on June 5, some 1333 heavy
bombers had dropped 5316 tons of bombs
on radar stations and the 10 most
important German gun batteries in the
assault area. Meanwhile sophisticated
jamming and spoof operations by RAF
heavy bombers continued to sow confusion
as to where the invasion fleet was heading.
During the D-Day assault itself a total of
171 squadrons of USAAF and RAF fighters
undertook a variety of tasks in support of
the invasion. Fifteen squadrons provided
shipping cover, 54 provided beach cover, 33
the end of June 1944 the Allied air forces
carried out 99,000 sorties over France. The
total number of Allied aircraft lost during
this month, including the heavy bombers of
the USAAF 8th Air Force and RAF Bomber
Command (which alone lost 300 bombers in
June 1944, many of them over France) was
around 1200. During the same period the
Luftwaffe flew 13,315 sorties and lost 646
fighters, fighter-bombers and medium
bombers in France. The Allies lost about
10% of their strength in aircraft in the
month, while the Luftwaffe lost 50%.
As the Battle of Normandy raged, the
concepts, practice and effectiveness of
Allied close air support evolved into a
triumphant fusion of air power with ground
assaults by infantry, tanks and artillery.
A battalion commander in a tank
regiment reported: “Our air cover has been
excellent and has helped us out of many
tight spots. … they knocked out eight
German Mark V Panther and Mark VI Tiger
tanks that were giving us a great deal of
trouble … they are on call by any unit down
to a platoon, requested through company
and battalion, and given the location of the
target. Then the ASPO (Air Support Party
Officer) contacts the air cover and gets a
strike within a matter of minutes. I have
seen the air strike within three minutes
after the call was made. We like to know the
air is there. We want it all the time.”
Sherman tanks moving up to Tilly-sue-Seulles on June 17 pass a crashed Spitfire of 412 Squadron‘bellied in’ by the road. Pilot Officer D R
Jamieson’s MJ316‘VZ-S’ suffered a glycol leak and engine overheating on June 10 and he put the aircraft down in Allied-held territory. Many
losses, such as this one, had nothing to do with enemy action.
By the end of the Normandy campaign,
all the elements, procedures and
relationships for the remainder of the war
in Western Europe were in place, with
forward air controllers (occasionally
airborne controllers), radar direction of
strikes, ‘on-call’ or ‘cab rank’ fighter-
bombers and true close air support, to
name just a few facets.
Normandy was neither the victory of a
single branch of arms, nor the victory of a
single nation. Instead, it was and still is the
classic example of complex combined arms,
multi-service and coalition warfare. It was a
true air-land battle.
During the whole period of the Battle of
Normandy, between June 6 and August 31,
1944, the RAF flew224,889 sorties in Europe
and lost 2036 aircraft (983 of which were from
Bomber Command and 224 fromCoastal
Command). In the same period 2 TAF lost
1035 aircrewkilled or missing in action.
Clearly, this was an extremely dangerous
time to be flying with the RAF. In the pages
that follow, the lead-up to D-Day, the invasion
and the subsequent Battle of Normandy are
explored in detail from the RAF perspective.
Individual accounts and stories of particular
parts of the action aim to give the reader a
feel for what it was actually like to be involved
in this great campaign with the RAF in 1944.
D-Day was only the beginning of the end.
The fiercely fought Battle of Normandy
followed immediately on from the landings,
lasting officially until September 1, 1944.
Enemy air activity continued to be limited in
the days immediately after D-Day, but it
gradually increased and more reports of air
combat came in from the battle areas.
After June 10, Allied fighter squadrons
were able to land at Advanced Landing
Grounds (ALGs) in Normandy to re-arm
and refuel. Six days later squadrons
began operating permanently from these
hastily constructed forward airfields,
which endowed the fighter aircraft with
much quicker reaction times and longer
time on task.
However, the forward strips were often
perilously close to enemy positions and
came under frequent shelling. In one case,
RAF Hawker Typhoons operating from a
forward strip attacked German tanks and
fortifications a mere 1000 yards away from
the runway. In addition, the peculiar thick
dust of Normandy played havoc with the
engines of the Spitfires and Typhoons until
special air filters were fitted to the aircraft.
Meanwhile, the engineers had to water
down the runway surfaces.
Ground attack and close air support now
became the norm for the fighter squadrons
in Normandy, although they retained their
air-to-air capabilities. Between D-Day and
2 Group
137 Wing:
88, 342(Fr) Sqns, Hartford Bridge, Hants, Boston IIIA
226 Sqn, Hartford Bridge, Hants, Mitchell II
138 Wing:
107, 305(Pol), 613 Sqns Lasham, Hants, Mosquito VI
139 Wing:
98, 180, 320(Dutch), Sqns Dunsfold, Surrey, Mitchell II
140 Wing:
21, 464(RAAF), 487(RNZAF) Sqns, Gravesend, Kent, Mosquito VI
83 Group
39 (RCAF) Reconnaissance Wing:
400(RCAF) Sqn, Odiham, Hants, Spitfire XI
168, 414(RCAF), 430(RCAF) Sqns, Odiham, Hants, Mustang I
121 Wing:
174, 175, 245 Sqns, Holmsley South, Hants, Typhoon IB
122 Wing:
19, 65, 122 Sqns, Funtington, Sussex, Mustang III
124 Wing:
181, 182, 247 Sqns, Hurn, Hants, Typhoon IB
125 Wing:
132, 453(RAAF), 602 Sqns, Ford, Sussex, Spitfire IX
126 Wing:
401(RCAF), 411(RCAF), 412(RCAF) Sqns, Tangmere, Sussex, Spitfire IX
127 Wing:
403(RCAF), 416(RCAF), 421(RCAF) Sqns, Tangmere, Sussex, Spitfire IX
129 Wing:
184 Sqn, West Hampnett, Sussex, Typhoon IB
143 Wing:
438(RCAF), 439(RCAF), 440(RCAF) Sqns, Hurn, Hants, Typhoon IB
144 Wing:
441(RCAF), 442(RCAF), 443(RCAF) Sqns, Ford, Sussex, Spitfire IX
Air Observation Posts:
652 Sqn, Cobham, Surrey Auster IV
653 Sqn, Penshurst, Kent Auster IV
658 Sqn, Collyweston, Northants Auster IV
659 Sqn, East Grinstead, Sussex Auster IV
662 Sqn, Westley, Suffolk Auster IV
84 Group
35 Reconnaissance Wing:
2, 268 Sqns, Gatwick, Sussex, Mustang IA
4 Sqn, Gatwick, Surrey, Spitfire XI
123 Wing:
198, 609 Sqns, Thorney Island, Sussex, Typhoon IB
131 Wing:
302(Pol), 308(Pol), 317(Pol) Sqns, Chailey, Sussex, Spitfire IX
132 Wing:
66, 331(Nor), 332(Nor) Sqns, Bognor, Sussex, Spitfire IX
133 Wing:
129, 306(Pol), 315(Pol) Sqns, Coolham, Sussex, Mustang III
134 Wing:
310(Cz), 312(Cz), 313(Cz) Sqns, Appledram, Sussex, Spitfire IX
135 Wing:
222, 349(Belg), 485(RNZAF) Sqns, Selsey, Sussex, Spitfire IX
136 Wing:
164, 183 Sqns, Thorney Island, Sussex, Typhoon IB
145 Wing:
329(Fr), 340(Fr), 341(Fr) Sqns, Merston, Sussex, Spitfire IX
146 Wing:
193, 197, 257, 266 Sqns, Needs Oar Point, Hants, Typhoon IB
Air Observation Posts:
660 Sqn, Westhanger, Kent, (Advanced Landing Ground) Auster IV
D-Day RAF units and aircraft (the air order of battle)
661 Sqn, Fairchilds, Kent, (Advanced Landing Ground) Auster IV
No 85(Base) Group
141 Wing:
91 Sqn, West Malling, Kent, Spitfire XIV
124 Sqn, Bradwell Bay, Essex, Spitfire VII
322(Dutch) Sqn, Hartford Bridge, Hants, Spitfire XIV
142 Wing:
264 Sqn, Hartford Bridge, Hants, Mosquito XIII
604 Sqn, Hurn, Hants, Mosquito XIII
147 Wing:
29 Sqn, West Malling, Kent, Mosquito XIII
148 Wing:
409(RCAF) Sqn, West Malling, Kent, Mosquito XIII
149 Wing:
410(RCAF) Sqn, Hunsden, Herts, Mosquito XIII
488(RNZAF) Sqn, Zeal, Wilts, Mosquito XIII
150 Wing:
56 Sqn, Newchurch, Kent, Spitfire IX
3, 486(RNZAF) Sqn, Newchurch, Kent, Tempest V
34 Reconnaissance Wing:
16 Sqn Northolt, Middlesex, Spitfire XI
140 Sqn Northolt, Middlesex, Mosquito IX/XVI
69 Sqn Northolt, Middlesex,Wellington XIII
Air Spotting Pool:
26, 63 Sqn, Lee on Solent, Hants, Spitfire V
808(FAA), 897(FAA) Sqns, Lee on Solent, Hants, Seafire III
885(FAA), 886(FAA) Sqns, Lee on Solent, Hants, Seafire III
1320 Special Duty Flight, Lee on Solent, Hants, Typhoon
38 Group
295, 570 Sqns, Garwell, Berks, Albemarle/Horsa
296, 297 Sqns, Brize Norton, Oxford, Albemarle/Horsa
190, 620 Sqns, Fairford, Glos, Stirling IV/Horsa
196, 299 Sqns, Keevil, Wilts, Stirling IV/Horsa
298, 644 Sqns, Tarrant Rushton, Dorset, Halifax V/Horsa/Hamilcar
46 Group
48, 271 Sqns, Down Ampney, Glos, Dakota/Horsa
233 Sqn, Blakehill Farm, Wilts, Dakota/Horsa
512, 575 Sqns, Broadwell, Glos, Dakota/Horsa
10 Group
1, 165 Sqns, Predannack, Cornwall, Spitfire IX
151 Sqn, Predannack, Cornwall, Mosquito XIII
41 Sqn ‘B’ Flight, 276 Sqn(A/SR), Bolt Head, Devon Spitfire,
Warwick, Walrus
126 Sqn, Culmhead, Somerset, Spitfire IX
131, 616 Sqns, Culmhead, Somerset, Spitfire VII
263 Sqn, Harrowbeer, Devon, Typhoon IB
610 Sqn, Harrowbeer, Devon, Spitfire XIV
68 Sqn, Fairwood Common, Glos Beaufighter VIF
406(RCAF) Sqn, Winkleigh, Devon, Beaufighter VIF, Mosquito XII
1449 Flight, St Mary’s, Scillies, Hurricane IIB
11 Group
33, 74, 127 Sqns, Lympne, Kent, Spitfire IX
64, 234, 611 Sqns, Deanland, Sussex, Spitfire VB
80, 229, 274 Sqns, Detling, Ken,t Spitfire IX
130, 303(Pol), 402(RCAF) Sqns, Horne, Surrey, Spitfire VB
345(Fr) Sqn, Shoreham, Sussex, Spitfire VB
‘A’ Flight 277 Sqn, Shoreham, Sussex Spitfire, Sea Otter, Walrus
350(Belg) Sqn, Friston, Sussex, Spitfire VB
501 Sqn, Friston, Sussex, Spitfire IX
137 Sqn, Manston, Kent, Typhoon IB
605 Sqn, Manston, Kent, Mosquito VI
96 Sqn, West Malling, Kent, Mosquito XIII
125(Newfoundland) Sqn, Hurn, Hants, Mosquito XVII
219 Sqn, Bradwell Bay, Essex, Mosquito XVIII
‘A’ Flight 278 Sqn, Bradwell Bay, Essex, Warwick
456(RAAF) Sqn, Ford, Sussex, Mosquito XVII
418(RCAF) Sqn, Holmsley South, Hants, Mosquito VI
275 Sqn, Warmwell, Dorset, Spitfire, Walrus
‘B’ Flight 277 Sqn, Hawkinge, Kent, Walrus, Spitfire
‘B’ Flight 278 Sqn, Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, Walrus, Spitfire
12 Group
‘A’ Flight 504 Sqn, Digby, Lincs, Spitfire VB
316(Pol) Sqn, Coltishall, Norfolk, Mustang III
‘B’ Flight 504 Sqn, Coltishall, Norfolk, Spitfire VB
25 Sqn, Coltishall, Norfolk Mosquito XVII
307(Pol) Sqn, Church Fenton, Yorks, Mosquito XII
Fighter Interception Unit, Wittering, Northants Beaufighter,
Tempest, Mosquito, Mustang
No 13 Group
‘A’ Flight 118 Sqn, Sumburgh, Shetlands, Spitfire VB
‘B’ Flight 118 Sqn, Skeabrae, Orkneys, Spitfire VB
309(Pol) Sqn, Drem, East Lothian, Hurricane IIC
1 Group
12, 626 Sqns, Wickenby, Lincs, Lancaster I/III
100 Sqn, Grimsby, Lincs, Lancaster I/III
101 Sqn, Ludford Magna, Lincs, Lancaster I/III
103, 576 Sqns, Elsham Wolds, Lincs, Lancaster I/III
166 Sqn Kirmington, Lincs, Lancaster I/III
300(Pol) Sqn, Faldingworth, Lincs, Lancaster I/III
460(RAAF) Sqn, Binbrook, Lincs, Lancaster I/III
550 Sqn, N Killingholme, Lincs, Lancaster I/III
625 Sqn, Kelstern, Lincs, Lancaster I/III
3 Group
15, 622 Sqns, Mildenhall, Suffolk, Lancaster I/III
75(RNZAF) Sqn, Mepal, Cambs, Lancaster I/III
115 Sqn, Witchford, Cambs, Lancaster I/III
514 Sqn, Waterbeach, Cambs, Lancaster II
90 Sqn, Tuddenham, Suffolk, Stirling III, Lancaster I/III
149 Sqn, Methwold, Norfolk, Stirling III
218 Sqn, Woolfox Lodge, Rutland, Stirling III
138(Special Duty) Sqn, Tempsford, Beds, Halifax, Stirling
161(Special Duty) Sqn, Tempsford, Beds, Hudson, Lysander, Halifax
4 Group
10 Sqn, Melbourne, Yorks, Halifax III
51 Sqn, Snaith, Yorks, Halifax III
76 Sqn, Holme-on-Spalding-Moor, Yorks, Halifax III
78 Sqn, Breighton, Yorks, Halifax III
102 Sqn, Pocklington, Yorks, Halifax III
158 Sqn, Lissett, Yorks, Halifax III
346(Fr) Sqn, Elvington, Yorks, Halifax V/III
466(RAAF) Sqn, Driffield, Yorks, Halifax III
578 Sqn, Burn, Yorks, Halifax III
640 Sqn, Leconfield, Yorks, Halifax III
5 Group
9 Sqn, Bardney, Lincs, Lancaster I/III
44(Rhodesian), 691 Sqns, Dunholme Lodge, Lincs, Lancaster I/III
49 Sqn, Fiskerton, Lincs, Lancaster I/III
50, 61 Sqns, Skellingthorpe, Lincs, Lancaster I/III
57, 630 Sqns, East Kirkby, Lincs, Lancaster I/III
106 Sqn, Metheringham, Lincs, Lancaster I/III
207 Sqn, Spilsby, Lincs, Lancaster I/III
463(RAAF), 467(RAAF) Sqns, Waddington, Lincs, Lancaster I/III
97, 83 Sqns, Coningsby, Lincs, Lancaster I/III
617 Sqn, Woodhall Spa, Lincs, Lancaster I/III, Mosquito IV
627 Sqn, Woodhall Spa, Lincs, Mosquito IV
6 Group
408(RCAF) Sqn, Linton-on-Ouse, Yorks, Lancaster II
419(RCAF) Sqn, Middleton St George, Durham, Lancaster X
428(RCAF) Sqn, Middleton St George, Durham, Halifax II,
Lancaster X
420(RCAF), 425(RCAF) Sqns, Tholthorpe, Yorks, Halifax III
424(RCAF), 433(RCAF) Sqns, Skipton-on-Swale, Yorks, Halifax III
426(RCAF) Sqn, Linton-on-Ouse, Yorks, Halifax III
427(RCAF), 429(RCAF) Sqns, Leeming, Yorks, Halifax III
431(RCAF), 434(RCAF) Sqns, East Moor, Yorks, Halifax III/VII
8 Pathfinder Group
7 Sqn, Oakington, Cambs, Lancaster I/III
35 Sqn, Graveley, Hunts, Lancaster I/III
156 Sqn, Upwood, Hunts, Lancaster I/III
405(RCAF) Sqn, Gransden Lodge, Hunts, Lancaster I/III
582 Sqn, Little Staughton, Hunts, Lancaster I/III
635 Sqn, Downham Market, Norfolk, Lancaster I/III
105 Sqn, Bourn, Cambs Mosquito, IX
109 Sqn, Little Staughton, Hunts, Mosquito IX/XVI
139 Sqn, Upwood, Hunts, Mosquito
571 Sqn, Oakington, Cambs, Mosquito XVI
692 Sqn, Graveley, Hunts, Mosquito IV/XVI
100(BS) Group
85(BS) Sqn, Swannington, Norfolk, Mosquito XIX
141(BS), 239(BS) Sqns, West Raynham, Norfolk, Mosquito VI
157(BS) Sqn, Swannington, Norfolk, Mosquito XVII
169(BS) Sqn, Gt Massingham, Norfolk, Mosquito II
23(BS), 515(BS) Sqns, Little Snoring, Norfolk, Mosquito VI
214(BS) Sqn, Oulton, Norfolk, Fortress II, III
192(BS) Sqn, Foulsham, Norfolk, Wellington X, Halifax III,
Mosquito VI
199 Sqn, North Creake, Norfolk, Stirling III
C-47 Dakota ZA947 of the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) painted with invasion stripes. Crown copyright
15 Group
59, 120 Sqns, Ballykelly, Londonderry, Liberator V
422(RCAF), 423(RCAF) Sqns, Castle Archdale, Fermanagh,
Sunderland III
811(RCAF) Sqn, Limavady, Swordfish, Wildcat
16 Group
143 Sqn, Manston, Kent, Beaufighter X
848(FAA) Sqn, Manston, Kent, Avenger
819(FAA) Sqn, Manston, Kent, Swordfish
236, 254 Sqns, North Coates, Lincs, Beaufighter X
455(RAAF), 489(RNZAF) Sqns, Langham, Norfolk, Beaufighter X
Part 415(RCAF) Sqn, Bircham Newton, Norfolk, Wellington XIII
854(FAA), 855(FAA) Sqns, Hawkinge, Kent, Avenger
18 Group
86 Sqn, Tain, Ross and Cromarty, Liberator
210 Sqn, Sullom Voe, Shetlands, Catalina IV
330(Nor) Sqn, Sullom Voe, Shetlands, Sunderland III
Part 333(Nor) Sqn, Sumburgh, Shetlands, Mosquito
Part 333(Nor) Sqn, Leuchars, Fifeshire, Mosquito VI
Part 333(Nor) Sqn, Woodhaven, Fifeshire, Catalina IB
1693 Flight, Skitten, Caithness, Anson
19 Group
144, 404(RCAF) Sqns, Davidstowe Moor, Cornwall, Beaufighter X
235 Sqn, Portreath, Cornwall, Beaufighter X
248 Sqn, Portreath, Cornwall, Mosquito VI
58, 502 Sqns, St David’s, Pembs, Halifax II
53, 224, 547 Sqns, St Eval, Cornwall, Liberator V
206 Sqn, St Eval, Cornwall, Liberator VI
311(Cz) Sqn, Predannack, Cornwall, Liberator V
179 Sqn, Predannack, Cornwall, Wellington XIV
10(RAAF) Sqn, Mount Batten, Devon, Sunderland III
201, 228, 461(RAAF) Sqns, Pembroke Dock, Pembs, Sunderland III
172, 304(Pol), 407(RCAF), 612 Sqns, Chivenor, Devon, Wellington XIV
524 Sqn, Davidstowe Moor, Cornwall, Wellington XIII
816(FAA) Sqn, Perranporth, Cornwall, Swordfish II
849(FAA), 850(FAA) Sqns, Perranporth, Cornwall, Avenger I
838(FAA) Sqn, Harrowbeer, Devon, Swordfish
106 (Photo Reconnaissance) Group
541, 542 Benson, Oxfordshire, Spitfire XI
540, 544 Benson, Oxfordshire, Mosquito IX / XIV 
D-Day invasion stripes
nacelles on the wings, and 18in (46cm)
forward of the leading edge of the tailplane
around the fuselage.
Whether the width of these stripes was
intended to be the same width as the heads
on standard-issue Air Ministry barrack
room brooms is another thing entirely, but
it makes a good story.
For some unknown reason some fighter
aircraft units of 10 Group, ADGB, such as
131 Squadron (Spitfire Mk.VII) and 126
Squadron (Spitfire Mk.IX) painted narrower
stripes on their aircraft. At 9in wide, they
were exactly half the width specified in the
official directive.
Most of the Allied aircraft involved in the
D-Day operations were marked up with
these ‘invasion stripes’, although some low-
flying tactical reconnaissance aircraft, such
as those used for artillery spotting,
received a dispensation allowing them to
paint the stripes only on the under surfaces
of their aircraft.
The heavy four-engine bombers of both
the USAAF 8th Air Force and RAF Bomber
Command were exempted from wearing the
stripes altogether as they would mostly be
operating at night and, in any case, the
Germans had very few aircraft with which
they could be confused.
To avoid aircraft being compromised
while on the ground at forward airfields in
France, orders were received a month after
D-Day to remove the stripes from the upper
surfaces of aircraft. They were completely
removed by the end of 1944. 
However, for security reasons, orders to
units to paint the identification stripes on
Allied aircraft were not issued until June 3
to the troop carrier squadrons, and June 4
to other units.
In most cases the stripes were painted by
the ground crews with only a few hours’
notice, few of the stripes were ‘masked’ and,
as a result, depending on the abilities of
those applying them, the stripes were often
far from neat.
In the Official Record Book of 64
Squadron, which was equipped with
Spitfire Mk.VBs at Deanland, in Sussex,
the entry for June 4, 1944, recorded: “In
the evening the business of distempering
distinctive markings on the aircraft began.
This job was spoiled by heavy rain which
removed the distemper with an enthusiasm
equal to that of the ground crew who were
putting it on. Work was discontinued until
early next morning when the weather
The identification stripes were five
alternating black and white bands (three
white and two black) painted on the wings
and rear fuselage. On single-engine aircraft
each stripe was to be 18in (46cm) wide,
placed 6in (15cm) inboard of the roundels
on the wings and 18in (46cm) forward of
the leading edge of the tailplane on the
National markings and serial number
were not to be obliterated. On twin-engine
aircraft the stripes were 24in (61cm) wide,
placed 24in (61cm) outboard of the engine
A Spitfire Mk.IX of 411 Squadron (RCAF)
being painted with invasion stripes at
Tangmere, Sussex, by LACs Ken
Applesby (working on the fuselage)
and Stan Rivers (on the wing).
he need for special recognition
or identification markings on
Allied aircraft involved in
Operation Overlord was
conceived in a study conducted
by SHAEF some weeks before D-Day.
The invasion of Sicily in 1943 had taught
the Allies a salutary lesson when 23 of 144
troop-carrying C-47 Dakotas were shot
down by gunners of the Allied invasion fleet
as they passed over it on their way to the
drop zone. Another 37 C-47s were badly
damaged and 1400 of the 5300 paratroopers
on board the transport aircraft were killed
or missing – one of the worst so-called
‘friendly fire’ incidents in modern warfare.
It was obvious that the sheer number of
combatant units involved in Overlord,
coupled with the Allied and inter-service
nature of the operation, could lead to
misidentifications occurring. Similar or
worse losses to ‘friendly fire’ might occur if
no action was taken to minimize them.
The scheme for marking aircraft with
identification stripes was approved by Air
Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory,
commander of the Allied Expeditionary Air
Force, on May 17, 1944. One British paint
company, Walpamur of Blackburn,
Lancashire, received an order to deliver
90,000 gallons of white water paint in a
very short timescale for the painting of the
A small scale test exercise was flown
over the invasion fleet on June 1 to
familiarise ships’ crews with the markings.
opportunity and bombing or strafing any
military vehicles or personnel caught in the
open in daylight, they became the bane of
the lives of German ground troops. The
German soldiers became extremely fearful
of these Allied fighter-bombers, which they
nicknamed ‘jabos’, from the German ‘jäger
bomber’ or ‘hunter-bomber’. One veteran
Wehrmacht soldier, Helmut Hesse, said later
that “the jabos were a burden on our soul”.
Without doubt, the ‘jabos’ had a decisive
effect on the Battle of Normandy. Their
presence and effectiveness prevented the
Germans from moving reinforcements
forward during daylight hours and much
increased the time it took to do so.
The part played in the effectiveness and
success of the fighter and fighter-bomber
operations over the continent after D-Day by
forward-based ground radar units and
control centres cannot go unmentioned.
The Allied air forces had radar available
to them from the very first day of
Normandy operations, and it was soon
incorporated into tactical air control as well
as for early warning and air defence
purposes. Radar had, of course, been used
by the RAF from the Battle of Britain
onwards and it had first been used by the
Allies for tactical air control during the
Italian campaign.
Now, in Normandy and during the
subsequent breakout, the radar and
tactical control systems reached new
levels of refinement. Each tactical air
command had a radar control group built
around a tactical control centre (also
called a fighter control centre), with a
microwave early warning (MEW) radar
Meanwhile, the 2 TAF fighter squadrons
flew more than 1300 ‘Low Cover’ patrol sorties
over the beachheads, as well as 90 escort and
convoy protection sorties, all encountering
negligible resistance. In addition, the fighter-
bomber squadrons of 2 TAF flew 400 close air
support and armed reconnaissance sorties in
support of the landings.
Following the invasion and during the Battle
of Normandy, Allied fighter sweeps
continued to maintain the hard-won and vital
air supremacy by engaging any Luftwaffe
aircraft they came across in the skies over
France, permitting increasing use of fighter
aircraft as supplementary ground attack
assets and as fighter-bombers.
Roaming freely over the areas to the rear
of the battlefronts, seeking targets of
AF single-seat fighter and
fighter-bomber aircraft played
an enormous part in the build-
up to D-Day, during the
invasion itself and in the
subsequent Battle of Normandy.
Prior to the invasion, operating in the pure
air-to-air fighter role on ‘Ranger’ and ‘Rodeo’
fighter sweeps, they helped to clear the
Luftwaffe from the skies over the continent.
The RAF fighters also escorted heavy and
medium bombers on daylight bombing
raids as they targeted bridges, marshalling
yards, coastal artillery and military
facilities. Meanwhile, the fighter-bombers
strafed, bombed and rocketed tactical
targets with great accuracy.
During the D-Day assault itself, fighter and
fighter-bomber squadrons provided
shipping cover, beach cover, and bomber
escort, they flew offensive fighter sweeps,
provided direct air support to invading
forces and struck at targets inland from the
landing area.
The fighter squadrons of Air Defence of
Great Britain (ADGB) were tasked with
suppressing enemy air and sea activity in
the areas from Brittany to Pas-de-Calais.
Operating in conjunction with 2nd Tactical
Air Force (2 TAF) fighter Squadrons,
ADGB Spitfire squadrons flew 363 ‘Low
Cover’ sorties over the landing area and
they also assisted in escorting the glider
and tug combinations during Operation
Mallard on the evening of D-Day.
In total, ADGB aircraft flew 169
defensive patrol sorties, 134 offensive patrol
sorties, 203 convoy patrol sorties, 152 naval
spotting patrol sorties and 57 anti-shipping
recce and strike sorties during D-Day.
Fighters and fighter-bombers
Pilot Officer Sid Bergman with his 441 Squadron Spitfire Mk.IX, Normandy, August 2, 1944.
Mobile fighter controllers Major D Gray (British Army) and Sqn Ldr R A Sutherland (RAF).
For the operations in support of the D-Day
landings and the subsequent Battle of
Normandy the RAF had three principal
types of fighter/fighter-bomber available to
its commanders. The Supermarine Spitfire
and the Hawker Typhoon together made up
the vast majority of the RAF’s fighter assets,
while the North American Mustang III was
operated in smaller numbers. These types
are covered in more detail in the following
pages, with individual stories to give a
‘flavour’ of what it was like to fly them at this
stage of the war.
One other fighter type, the Hawker
Tempest Mk.V (the aircraft intended to
replace the Typhoon), was operated by just
two squadrons on D-Day. 3 and 486
(RNZAF) Squadrons, based at Newchurch
in Kent, were equipped with the Tempest,
as part of 150 Wing. A third Tempest
squadron, 56 Squadron, joined 150 Wing in
June 1944, after D-Day. Most of the
operations carried out by 150 Wing
comprised high altitude fighter sweeps,
offensive operations known as ‘Rangers’
(long-range sorties inside enemy territory,
specifically to attack ground vehicles) and
anti-shipping reconnaissance.
On June 13, 1944, the first German V-1
flying bombs were launched against
London. The Tempest’s excellent
performance at low-altitude made it one
of the preferred tools for dealing with
these small fast-flying unmanned
missiles. 150 Wing was transferred back
to the ADGB where the Tempest
squadrons racked up a considerable
percentage of the total RAF kills over the
flying bombs (638 of a total of 1846
destroyed by aircraft). 
located within 10 to 30 miles of the front,
three forward director posts, three or four
close control radar units and, finally, four
direction finding stations.
Originally developed for air defence
purposes, this radar network now took on
added importance for the control of tactical
air strikes. When an air-ground coordination
party sent in a request for immediate air
support the request went directly to a
combined operations centre where it was
evaluated. If it was considered legitimate
and was approved by both army and air
commanders the request was relayed to the
Tactical Control Centre (TCC).
Typically, the TCC would relay the
request to airborne fighter-bombers, and a
geographically appropriate forward
director post would furnish precise radar
guidance and navigation information to the
fighter-bomber formation from the MEW
and close control radars, vectoring them to
the target area.
Once in the target area, the flight leader
would communicate with the air-ground
coordination party which had sent in the
original request, via a forward air controller,
for final details. If possible the air-ground
coordination party would arrange for
artillery to mark the target with coloured
smoke and also, if possible, to undertake
suppressive artillery fire against known
enemy anti-aircraft defences.
Operation Overlord saw many
important developments in tactical air
operations, but one of the most significant
was the use of forward air controllers on
the ground to direct waiting fighter-
bomber aircraft, such as rocket-equipped
Typhoons or bomb-carrying Spitfires, to
attack enemy targets; a system which had
originated in the Italian theatre of
operations. Today, forward air control is an
integral part of close air support
operations for many of the world’s air
forces, including the RAF.
Hawker Typhoon 1B MN293‘TP-D’ of 198
Squadron takes off fromThorney Island,
armed with 3-inch rockets, flown by Flt
Sgt J S Fraser-Petherbridge.
Hawker Tempest of 486 (RNZAF) Squadron.
Stills from a Typhoon gun camera film of a
strafe attack on a locomotive.
Supermarine Spitfire
n D-Day, the RAF’s order of battle
included 61 squadrons of the
RAF’s ubiquitous Second World
War fighter, the Supermarine
The original versions of this famous aircraft
had entered service in August 1938. Continuous
updates and improvements, allowed the later
versions of Spitfire to keep up with the rapid
evolution of aircraft design and capabilities
during the war.
As a result, the Spitfire was still in front-line
service in considerable numbers at the time of
D-Day and indeed to the end of the war in
Europe and beyond. The last operational sortie
of an RAF Spitfire took place on April 1, 1954, in
On June 6, 1944, 57 squadrons of
Spitfires were available to ADGB and 2 TAF
for offensive operations in support of the
D-Day landings, including two squadrons
which were used for naval artillery spotting
duties. Another four squadrons of Spitfire
Mk.XIs were employed in the ‘recce’ role
and, in addition, a further four air sea
rescue squadrons had a few Spitfires on
their strength.
Nine Spitfire squadrons gave initial air
cover to the first troops ashore on D-Day,
while others patrolled the convoys with the
vital task of preventing enemy air
reconnaissance. One Spitfire pilot had a
grandstand view of the invasion – he was
shot down into the channel on June 5, quite
likely by ‘friendly fire’, and was not picked
up from his dinghy until June 7.
The Spitfire Mk.IXs of 144 Canadian Wing
led by Wing Commander J E ‘Johnnie’
Johnson (who eventually became the RAF’s
official highest-scoring fighter pilot of the
war) gained the distinction of being the first
RAF aircraft to operate from French mainland
soil since the fall of France in 1940 when they
landed at Advanced Landing Ground (ALG)
B3, at St Croix-Sur-Mer, on D-Day +4, June
10, 1944. This, the first temporary airstrip in
Normandy to come into operation, had been
constructed in just three days.
The Spitfires were refuelled and re-armed
by RAF Servicing Commandos and were
ready for take-off in 20 minutes. 144 Wing
deployed en masse from the UK to B2 ALG,
at Bazenville, France, on June 16, the first of
many RAF units to do so. Subsequently, the
bulk of the 2 TAF Spitfire squadrons were
progressively moved across the Channel to
operate from newly constructed forward
airfields, close behind the front lines, to
provide rapid tactical support and to extend
their range and time on task.
The vast majority of the Spitfire squadrons
at the time of D-Day were equipped with the
Mk.IX version, although 11 squadrons
under the command of ADGB were still
operating the older Mk.V. Three squadrons
were equipped with Mk.VII Spitfires,
intended for high-altitude operations, but, in
practice, often used at lower levels.
Two units, 91 Squadron and 322 (Dutch)
Squadron, were equipped with the new
Griffon-engine Spitfire Mk.XIVs. They were
involved in pre-invasion fighter sweeps and
armed-reconnaissance missions up to
D-Day itself, but were then withdrawn back
to England where their high speed
capabilities could be used on ‘anti-diver’
patrols against the V-1 ‘doodlebugs’ when
attacks on them began in June 1944.
losses. There may not have been too much
danger from German fighter aircraft, but
there certainly was from flak. As one
Spitfire pilot put it: “By this stage of the
war the German anti-aircraft gunners were
not short of practice!” A loss of engine
coolant would quickly cause the engine to
seize or catch fire and the low altitude
inherent in ground attack missions meant
that there were few options and only
limited gliding range.
Of 152 Spitfires destroyed or damaged
from all causes during the month of June
1944 all except 21, which fell to German
fighters, were lost to light flak (up to
30mm calibre). However, considering that
attacks against ground targets were far
from everyone’s thoughts when the
Spitfire was originally conceived, it is a
testament to the brilliance of the original
design and to the subsequent
modifications that the aircraft was able to
fulfil this role so successfully.
The Spitfires could operate as classic fighter
aircraft or in the ground-attack, strafing role
and they were also used as fighter-bombers,
carrying a 250lb (113kg) bomb under each
wing or a 500lb (226kg) bomb under the
centre fuselage. To extend the rather
limited range of the Spitfire this centre
‘station’ was sometimes taken up with a 90
gallon drop tank, which provided a useful
sortie duration of around three hours.
The gun armament of the Spitfires in
use in 1944 – usually two 20mm cannons
and either four .303 machine guns, or two
.50 heavy machine guns – provided the
aircraft with a valuable air-to-ground strafe
capability. With the increasing use of the
Spitfire in the ground attack role, the
vulnerability of its Merlin engine’s water
and glycol cooling system to hits from
small arms fire and light flak proved to be a
concern for its pilots and the main cause of
Spitfires operating from Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) B3 St Croix-sur-Mer, Normandy, June 1944.
Wing Commander Geoffrey Page, OC 125 Wing, taxies his Spitfire Mk.IX, coded‘AGP’, loaded with
a 500lb bomb under the fuselage and two 500lb bombs under the wings, at Longues, Normandy.
Later the same day, Page was to shoot down his 14th enemy aircraft, a Messerschmitt Bf 109,
returning to Longues wounded in the leg and his aircraft damaged by anti-aircraft fire.
TOP: Spitfire Mk.IXs of 66 Squadron on the
way to Normandy for a beachhead cover
patrol, carrying 90 gallon drop tanks, on
June 13, 1944.
ony Cooper had wanted to be a
pilot ever since the time when he
had a ‘joyride’ in an aircraft of
Alan Cobham’s Flying Circus,
sitting on his sister’s lap at the
age of five.
His dreams were almost shattered when
he was later refused entry to the RAF twice
because the medical showed up a badly
damaged eardrum. Then in late 1937, aged
21, Cooper was accepted for pilot training
with the RAF Volunteer Reserve at Luton. It
seemed that the RAFVR was less particular
and, as he says: “There was a war coming.”
After completing his flying training on Miles
Magisters and Hawker Harts, he was sent
to the Central Flying School (CFS) at
Upavon in July 1940 on a flying instructor’s
course. There he flew the Avro Tutor
biplane and the North American Harvard –
D-Day survivor 1
Flight Lieutenant Tony Cooper
(64 Squadron Spitfire pilot)
Eventually, his wish was granted and he
returned to England with his wife, who was
moving from a land of plenty to a strange
war-torn country with all its restrictions,
shortages and dangers, where she knew no
Cooper’s parents took her in while he
attended a Spitfire conversion course at 61
Operational Training Unit (OTU) at Rednal
(and its ‘satellite’ airfield of Montford
Bridge) in Shropshire, initially flying the
Harvard, with which he was by now very
familiar, and then Mk.I and Mk.II Spitfires.
He completed the OTU course at the end of
June 1943 and, although he had less than 60
hours on the Spitfire, he was assessed as an
above average Spitfire pilot.
In July 1943, Tony Cooper joined 64
Squadron, which was undergoing a period
of rest and training, and was temporarily
the first aircraft he had experienced with a
retractable undercarriage – and within the
month he had qualified as a flying
Cooper spent some time instructing at 7
Service Flying Training School (SFTS),
Peterborough, on the Fairey Battle, and
was then posted, in November 1940, as an
instructor on 31 FTS at Kingston, Ontario,
Canada. There he flew the Fairey Battle,
the North American BT-9 Yale training
aircraft and, from July 1941, the Harvard.
By June 1942 he had over 1300 hours total
flying and was assessed as an above
average flying instructor.
While at Kingston, Cooper met and married
a Canadian girl, but this did not stop him
from continually pestering the authorities to
be allowed to return to the UK on ‘ops’.
based at Ayr in Scotland with its Mk.Vb
Spitfires. He was to serve with the squadron
for the next 16 months. Although he had yet
to acquire any operational experience, he
was now a very experienced pilot with some
2000 hours of flying under his belt as he
entered the fray.
His truly operational flying began when
64 Squadron moved from Ayr to Friston in
August 1943 and, a few days later, on to
Gravesend in Kent. Many of the operations
conducted by the squadron were over
occupied Europe. The pilots flew on fighter
sweeps and escort missions to daylight
bombing raids carried out by medium
bombers, such as Martin Marauders or
Lockheed Venturas.
They also escorted Coastal Command
Bristol Beaufighters on anti-shipping strikes
off the coast of Holland. On these sorties
enemy anti-aircraft fire, flak, was, if
anything, more dangerous than encounters
with Luftwaffe fighters and, in his
comments in his logbook, Cooper
frequently wrote “heavy flak”. The escorting
Spitfires were often hit by enemy ground
fire and on many occasions Cooper
witnessed one or more of the bombers they
were escorting being shot down.
Sometimes Cooper led a section of Spitfires
down low over the Continent to strafe
targets such as barges. On April 18, 1944,
while 64 Squadron was flying from
Flt Lt Tony Cooper chats to his ground crew as he straps into his Spitfire.Tony Cooper
Coltishall, Norfolk, Cooper’s logbook
records a “dinghy search” and his notes
give the story: “Junior baled out 70 miles off
the coast whilst on a ‘Jim Crow’ mission –
Patrols lost sight of him after three hours –
we found him again after an hour and
directed launch to pick him up – safe and
sound!” ‘Junior’ was John Harder, an
American pilot serving in the RAF with 64
Squadron. He was one of Cooper’s best
friends and he was obviously relieved that
he had been picked up.
At the end of April 1944, in preparation for
the impending invasion of France, 64
Squadron moved to the advanced landing
ground at Deanland, near Lewes in Sussex,
where conditions were primitive. Unlike
permanent stations there was no
accommodation for personnel, everyone
was expected to live under canvas and only
four blister hangars were provided for
aircraft maintenance work.
For many of the personnel, Deanland (or
‘Tentland’ as it was sometimes known) took
some getting used to. Tony Cooper recalls:
“Deanland was a bit of a comedown; luckily
it was summer time when we suddenly
found ourselves on this hump in the middle
of the Downs. We were in tents and I found
myself using the same equipment my father
had used in the First World War: a truckle
bed made of wood and canvas and the same
materials for a bath and washstand. At night
it was very cold, but when D-Day came
along we didn’t get much sleep as we were
doing up to four shows a day and were kept
very busy.”
An entry in Cooper’s logbook against
May 5, 1944 – a day when he flew a dawn
patrol for one hour and 55 minutes –
proudly notes the birth of his son, Peter
John. On May 22, he records that he took
over a new personal aircraft, Spitfire Mk.Vb
BM327, coded ‘SH-F’, which he named
PeterJohn 1 after his newly-born son, who
he was not able to see until his christening
some weeks later.
64 Squadron ground crew assist the
pilot to strap into Spitfire Mk.Vb‘SH-B’
for a sortie from Deanland in June
1944.Tony Cooper
One for the album! Tony Cooper’s
photograph taken from his Spitfire over the
Channel on D-Day.Tony Cooper
one pilot ran out of fuel as he was taxiing
back to dispersal. Cooper recorded two
hours and 35 minutes of night flying in his
logbook for the sortie.
JUNE 1944
The intense flying rate continued; on June
10, Cooper flew three times, then once on
11th, twice on 12th and three times on 13th.
As was typical of many other units during
June 1944, 64 Squadron had its busiest
month of the war; its total flying hours
amounted to a staggering 1150 hours – the
bulk of which were flown in the two-week
period after D-Day.
Everyone was stretched to the limit,
especially the ground crews who had to
work long hours to keep the squadron’s
Spitfires in the air. Meanwhile, the pilots
had to endure the strain of continuous
operations. Cooper’s experience was typical
and his personal flying total for the month
was 75 hours, of which 71 were operational
and 25 hours were flown in the dark.
On June 23, Tony Cooper was appointed as
flight commander of ‘A’ Flight, just as 64
Squadron was moved to Harrowbeer, in
Devon to be part of a Spitfire wing with 129
Squadron. A few days later the squadron
was re-equipped with Mk.IXb Spitfires, and
Cooper flew one of the new, more powerful
Spitfires for the first time on July 3, 1944.
Once again the squadron was involved in
fighter sweeps out over France and it
continued to take losses. Sometimes pilots
were able to bring a flak-damaged aircraft
safely home to base, sometimes they force-
landed, sometimes they had to bale out and
all too frequently a pilot was killed. On July
7, Flying Officer Dryburgh, died (“His
machine dived straight in,” reported
Cooper), and the next day Flight Lieutenant
Collis baled out, but was picked up.
Many sorties now involved strafe attacks
against ground targets such as locomotives,
vehicles and barges; inevitably there was
enemy flak to contend with and on almost
every sortie at least one of the Spitfires was
hit. It was, therefore, an event worthy of
note when Cooper wrote in his logbook
against one bomber escort sortie: “No
aircraft hit! All returned.”
On July 27, the other flight commander
and Cooper’s good friend, John Harder was
hit and forced to bale out over the sea for
the second time, which he did successfully.
On July 29, 1944, the Harrowbeer Wing
Spitfires, with Tony Cooper leading 64
Squadron, carried out an unusual pre-
planned low-level bombing raid against a
German army headquarters and garrison in
the small Brittany village of Scrignac.
The raid was led by Wing Commander
‘Birdy’ Bird-Wilson, the wing leader. Each
Spitfire carried a 500lb bomb under the
centre of the fuselage. Intelligence indicated
On D-Day, 6 June 1944, Cooper’s logbook
records that he flew twice. 64 Squadron was
tasked with providing “low beach cover”
over the American assault. The Squadron
ORB records that Cooper was allocated his
personal Spitfire BM327, ‘SH-F’, for both
sorties. He took off at 4.30am (before dawn)
for his first sortie of the day, as part of a 13-
aircraft formation, providing “fighter cover
for Utah Beach” and landed back after a total
of two hours and 40 minutes airborne (the
first hour recorded as night flying). The
naval barrage was so intense that it was not
safe to be over the coast and the Wing
Leader withdrew the formation to a safer
Cooper’s remarks in his logbook give an
interesting picture of the confusion that
reigned and suggest that the invasion
stripes, so painstakingly painted on by the
ground crew, were not entirely effective:
“Navy shelling coast defences – first landing
(by the invading troops) made at 6.20am.
Nearly shot down by a Thunderbolt –
Spitfire in front actually was – another Spit
hit by naval shell and blew up – General
Brock’s benefit!”
Remarkably, Tony Cooper took his
camera with him and took a photograph
over the striped wing of his Spitfire just after
dawn broke on D-Day, looking towards
another of the squadron’s Spitfires in
tactical formation. He says that he
‘PeterJohn 1’ inscription on Tony Cooper’s
Spitfire Mk.Vb BM327.Tony Cooper
remembers “…a huge cloud of smoke and
dust totally covering the beaches,” caused
by the bombing of the night before and the
naval barrage. “From our transit height of
12,000 feet,” he says, “it appeared that the
sea was full of a multitude of ships.”
In the evening of June 6, Cooper flew his
aircraft on another sortie over the invasion
beaches, taking off at 10pm, this time
tasked with “fighter cover for Omaha
Beach”. His comments in his logbook
against this sortie read: “Hun bombers
attacked invasion fleet – tremendous return
fire from ships – one bomber destroyed.”
He landed back at 10 minutes past midnight
– almost 18 hours after his first take-off that
day – logging two hours and five minutes of
night flying.
When asked about night landings in the
Spitfire on the short runways at Deanland,
Tony said: “I remember them well with
reasonably controlled terror, especially in
the rain!”
D-DAY +1
On June 7 (D-Day +1) Tony Cooper flew
three fighter cover patrols over the Utah
and Omaha beaches; two of them in his
personal aircraft PeterJohn 1. In all, Cooper
was airborne for a total of seven hours 25
minutes that day. The Spitfires’ freedom of
movement was severely restricted by the
low cloud base and the many anti-aircraft
balloons being flown from the Allied ships
involved in supporting the landings; this led
to a much increased risk of collision.
The last operation of the day took place
in the late evening, with Cooper leading a
section of four Spitfires, flying in formation
on him in the dark with no lights showing.
This sortie provided ample evidence that it
was possible to be nearly as frightened by
your own side as by the enemy, as Cooper
recorded in his logbook: “Very bad visibility
– no attacks – sent 40 miles out to sea on
return owing to reciprocal homing vectors –
very shaky experience – brought in
eventually by rockets”. By the time Cooper’s
section landed, it was completely dark and
“Out of the darkness...”Artist Spencer Trickett captures Tony Cooper’s 64 Squadron Spitfire
Mk.Vb‘SH-F’, with his wingman in‘SH-L’, lifting off from Deanland at dusk for his evening sortie
on D-Day – recorded in his logbook as “fighter cover for Omaha Beach”.
that all of the French civilian inhabitants of
the village had been evacuated and only the
German garrison remained.
The raid appeared to be a total success,
with the German HQ and much of the
village destroyed and only the church left
standing among the rubble. This apparent
success was reported in the British
newspapers and on the BBC radio nine
o’clock news. (Years later, after the war,
amid rumours regarding double agents, it
came to light that there had been some
misinformation and, in fact, the local
population had not been evacuated from
Scrignac. Tragically, 23 civilians including
women and children had been killed in the
On August 1, with Wing Commander
‘Birdie’ Bird-Wilson leading the squadron
and Cooper leading a section, the Spitfires
strafed enemy gun positions at a target in
France, before the bombers went it. They
then saw and chased a German Bf 109, “at
deck level, flat out for five minutes”.
Cooper’s logbook records: “Birdie got in
front of me and got strikes on him – I got in
a burst from 500 yards – Birdie finished him
off – German pilot baled out.”
Four days later, on August 5, after
escorting 15 Lancasters of 617 Squadron,
which dropped 12,000lb Tallboy bombs on
the U-boat pens at Brest, Cooper led his
section of four Spitfires in a strafe attack on
flak positions. He says that as they dived on
their target: “It was the worst flak I’ve ever
seen in my life.”
Unbeknown to them, since planning the
attack, two German flak ships had moved
into the harbour during the previous night
and they put up an intense barrage. One of
Cooper’s section was killed during the
attack; another was hit and forced to bale
out only two miles off the enemy coastline.
The pilot climbed into his dinghy and was
picked up by an Air-Sea-Rescue Walrus
seaplane, in a courageous rescue, and he
was back at base within three hours.
On August 26, during a sortie to strafe
enemy transports and railway trucks, Flying
Officer Blake Smiley, who had been lucky
so far having been hit by flak several times
but always getting home, was hit by flak and
baled out five miles off Manston. He spent
the night on a buoy and was picked up at
10.30am the next day. Another 64 Squadron
pilot, Flying Officer Schmitz, did not pull
out of his attack dive and was killed.
In November 1944 Tony Cooper was posted
off ‘ops’ and back to instructing. In his 16
months with 64 Squadron he had flown
some 600 hours, the vast majority of it
operational flying and had twice been
‘mentioned in dispatches’. He had seen
much action, including being involved in the
D-Day operations; he had made a significant
contribution and was very lucky to be alive.
Many of his fellow pilots on the Squadron –
his friends and colleagues – had not been so
fortunate. 
Tony Cooper with his 64 Squadron Spitfire and his own caption from his photo album.
64 Squadron Spitfire Mk.Vb‘SH-L’ taxies out for a beachhead cover patrol sortie from
Deanland.Tony Cooper
n the early evening of June 4, 1944, 12
Spitfires Mk.IXs of 443 (‘Hornet’)
Squadron (RCAF), led by the
squadron commander, 15 victory ace
Squadron Leader Henry Wallace
‘Wally’ McLeod DFC and Bar, flew the last
of their pre-invasion ground attack missions,
the type of operation they had been involved
in since mid-April.
This was a dive bombing mission against
a German radar site on the coast 10 miles
south east of Fécamp, part of the carefully
orchestrated plan to blind the enemy. One
of the Spitfires was forced to return early to
D-Day survivor 2
Spitfire Mk.IX MK356
(443 Squadron (RCAF)
and Flying Of ficer
Gordon Ockenden DFC)
Gordon Ockenden in 1944, aged 21.
himself and two of the others were claimed
by 443 Squadron’s Flight Lieutenants Don
Walz and Hugh Russel, both of whom will
feature in this story again.
On May 5, Wally McLeod shot down
another Fw 190, his 15th confirmed victory.
Combats with the enemy were the exception
rather than the rule, however, in this
pre-D-Day period. On most of the fighter
sweeps and bomber escorts the main
opposition encountered was German flak.
443 Squadron carried out its first dive-
bombing mission on April 26, against a V-1
flying-bomb site south of Dieppe. In the
next six weeks there were many such
fighter-bomber operations against ‘Noballs’
(the V-l sites), bridges, rail junctions and
yards, and radar posts. On most of these
attacks the pilots had to run a gauntlet of
intense flak and many of the Spitfires
returned peppered with holes.
the squadron’s base at Ford, in Sussex, due
to engine trouble, but the other 11 bombed
the target successfully and four direct hits
were observed as well as some near misses
within damaging distance. Despite intense
light flak from nearby batteries, none of the
Spitfires were hit.
One of the pilots flying on this mission
was 21-year-old Flying Officer Gordon
‘Ockie’ Ockenden from Alberta, a founder
member of 443 Squadron, who was flying
his favourite aircraft, Spitfire Mk.IX LF,
MK356, coded ‘2I-V’ (the ‘LF’ designation
indicating that the Spitfire was fitted with a
Rolls-Royce Merlin 66 engine optimised for
lower levels). This aircraft is still flying
today with the RAF’s Battle of Britain
Memorial Flight (BBMF) and the author
has had the privilege of flying this Spitfire
himself on many occasions during his 11
years as a display pilot with the flight.
Formed in February 1944, 443 Squadron
was part of 144 (Canadian) Wing, under the
command of RAF fighter ace and renowned
fighter leader Wing Commander J E
‘Johnnie’ Johnson DSO and Bar DFC and
Bar (who eventually became (officially) the
highest scoring RAF fighter ace with 34
confirmed kills).
In the build-up to D-Day, between April
13 and June 5, 1944, 443 Squadron flew 487
operational Spitfire sorties on 43 offensive
The squadron’s victory ‘score card’ was
started by Squadron Leader McLeod on April
19 when he destroyed a Dornier 217 bomber
near Louvain. On April 25, a 144 Wing
formation led by ‘Johnnie’ Johnson ‘bounced’
six Luftwaffe Fw 190s and destroyed them all.
Two of the 190s were shot down by Johnson
A 443 Squadron Spitfire Mk.IX taxies at B2 ALG, Bazenville, Normandy, while French farmers
gather in their crop.
With a ground crewman laying on the wing to guide the pilot, a 443 Squadron Spitfire Mk.IX
(with a 45 gallon‘slipper’ tank) taxies past a Hawker Typhoon at B2 ALG, Bazenville,
Normandy, creating the usual cloud of dust.
Spitfire Mk.IX MK356 – a true D-Day
survivor – now flies with the RAF BBMF.
(Rachel Warnes Crown Copyright)
Munro lifted MK356 off the runway at Ford
for another beachhead cover patrol over
Normandy, one of its main wheels fell off.
Munro continued the sortie, completed the
patrol and then executed a successful ‘belly
landing’ back at Ford on his return.
When 443 Squadron was deployed
forward to France two days later, before
MK356 had been repaired, the aircraft was
left behind to be collected by a maintenance
unit. It subsequently spent 53 years on the
ground, always in RAF hands, until
eventually being returned to airworthy
condition. It took to the skies again in
November 1997 and then joined the RAF
BBMF collection – a true D-Day survivor.
443 Squadron moved with 144 Wing from
Ford to the newly completed B2 ALG at
Bazenville, Normandy, on June 16 to
continue the war from forward bases on the
continent, the first of many RAF units to do
so. By day the field was blanketed with
clouds of dust; at night the incessant din of
the Allied artillery barrage and anti-aircraft
fire, along with enemy bombing, made sleep
almost impossible.
The Spitfires continued to be used for
strafing and dive-bombing missions as well
as for fighter sweeps and patrols. Luftwaffe
fighters were appearing in greater numbers
over Normandy and the Spitfire pilots of 141
Wing found themselves in more frequent
combats with some success.
However, tragedy struck on June 16, a
day which started well with Spitfires of 443
Squadron being scrambled from cockpit
readiness at 5am to intercept 20-plus Bf
109s over the beachhead. The Spitfires
broke up the enemy formation and chased
the 109s away; Flight Lieutenant Don Walz
claimed a Bf 109 destroyed. The day ended
badly, though, with the deaths of three of
the 443 Squadron pilots, including Hugh
Russel who had shared the kill with ‘Ockie’
Ockenden only nine days earlier on June 7.
flak forced his wingman to retire.
Maclennan was captured and became a
prisoner of war.
On the third mission of the day,
Ockenden flew MK356 again, taking off at
3.40pm for another patrol over the invasion
beaches, as one of 12 Spitfires of 443
Squadron. Under heavy cloud cover, the
patrol was uneventful until nearing the time
to leave, when Flight Lieutenant Prest,
leading the four Spitfires of ‘B’ Flight which
included Ockenden, spotted four Luftwaffe
Bf 109s which they ‘bounced’ east of Caen.
Prest chased one of the 109s south, but
one of his cannons jammed and, although
the 109 appeared to give off some smoke, it
escaped. The two Spitfires flown by Flight
Lieutenant Hugh Russel and Ockenden
chased another of the 109s out over the sea,
both firing at it. They were rewarded with
the sight of the German fighter exploding in
midair under the onslaught of their
combined cannon and machine gun fire.
Unsure which of them had delivered the
coup de grace, they claimed half a kill each.
This was the first of an eventual total of four
combat kills, plus one ‘damaged’, for
Ockenden, who was also later credited with
destroying at least 35 enemy vehicles
(Ockenden was awarded the Distinguished
Flying Cross (DFC) in December 1944).
The Spitfire that Ockenden was flying when
he claimed his first (shared) kill was his
favourite, MK356 ‘2I-V’.
This Spitfire had a typically short but
intensive war. It flew 60 operational sorties
in a period of 61 days between April 14, 1944
(when it was flown on a ‘Rodeo’ fighter
sweep between Compiègne, Paris and
Rouen, encountering light flak) and its last
wartime sortie on June 14. On 19 of these
sorties Ockenden was at the controls.
MK356 was hit by ground fire on at least
three occasions and neatly-repaired bullet
holes can still be seen in its rear fuselage.
On June 14, 1944, as Flying Officer Gordon
On June 5, there was no operational flying
by 443 Squadron as the Allies ‘paused for
breath’ prior to D-Day and ‘invasion stripes’
were applied to the aircraft. The next day –
D-Day itself – 12 of 443 Squadron’s Spitfire
Mk.IXs took off from Ford at 0620, carrying
90 gallon drop tanks, led by Wally McLeod
and tasked with a beachhead cover patrol
between Courseulles and Le Havre.
The squadron penetrated up to five miles
inland, no enemy aircraft were seen, but the
pilots saw plenty of intense and accurate
flak being thrown up from five flak ships in
Le Havre harbour and they also reported
seeing naval shells passing close to their
aircraft! The Spitfires landed back at their
base at 8.25am, two hours and five minutes
after they had taken off.
Gordon Ockenden had to sit out this first
mission of D-Day, but he flew Spitfire
MK356, ‘2I-V’, on the next two beachhead-
cover patrols that day, taking off at 11.25am
and 3.40pm respectively, each mission
lasting about two hours and both being
relatively uneventful with no enemy aircraft
seen. Spitfire MK356 was also flown on a
third mission on D-Day, taking off at
7.45pm, in the hands of Flying Officer
Arthur Horrell. By the end of D-Day, 443
Squadron had flown a total of 48 sorties and
95 hours.
D-DAY +1
On D-Day +1, 443 Squadron was again
tasked with four beachhead cover patrols.
Spitfire MK356 was flown on the second of
these by Flight Sergeant G E Urquhart.
On this mission, Flight Lieutenant I R
Maclennan, who was flying MH850 ‘2I-H’,
was forced to crash-land just beyond the
beach head, his engine having failed due to
a glycol leak. Unfortunately, he landed in an
area which was not controlled by Allied
troops. His aircraft was considerably
damaged by prepared ‘anti-invasion’
obstacles in the field, but he was seen to
climb from the cockpit and run away, before
Spitfires of 144 Wing, including‘2I-N’ of 443 Squadron, some equipped with 90 gallon drop tanks, at ALG B3 St Croix-sur-Mer on June 10, 1944
for refuel and re-arm.The first time that Spitfires had landed in France since 1940.
Digby, Lincolnshire, in February 1944, half
of them were dead by the time that the war
in Europe ended in May 1945.
Ockenden was one of the lucky ones, he
survived, to serve in the postwar RCAF and
to rise to the rank of Major General (Air
Vice Marshal).
After the war he freely admitted that he
had joined the RCAF in 1942 just to fly. “I
never thought of going to war,” he said, “but
flying operations you suddenly realised, hey,
this isn’t just fun flying this is a serious
business. I was pretty scared at times.”
Gordon Ockenden passed away in 2000,
aged 77. 
Eighteen Spitfires of the wing, under the
leadership of Wing Commander Johnson,
were on a late evening fighter sweep of the
Argentan area. They ran into large numbers
of Bf 109s and Fw 190s near Caen. The
Spitfires tore into the German raiders,
which initially stayed to fight and then
turned and ran. Wing Commander Johnson
shot down an Fw 190, which was running
away at very low level; Wally McLeod
claimed a Bf 109.
One of the sections of four Spitfires was
last seen climbing into thick cloud near
Caen amid a barrage of flak. It is believed
that the section of four engaged some Fw
190s above the cloud near Caen, not
realising in the fading light that they were
considerably outnumbered by the Germans.
It seems that the Fw 190 pilots took
advantage of their superior situation, stayed
to fight and shot down all four Spitfires.
Squadron Leader J D Hall, Flight Lieutenant
Hugh Russel and Flying Officer Luis Perez-
Gomez (from Mexico) were all killed.
Flight Lieutenant Walz, the only survivor
of the four-aircraft section, was forced to
take to his parachute. He managed to evade
capture with help from the French
Resistance and eventually returned to the
Hugh Russel’s loss was especially painful
for his older brother, Squadron Leader Dal
Russel DFC and Bar (later DSO, DFC and
Bar), who was the squadron commander of
442 Squadron, a sister squadron on 144 Wing.
By the middle of July the number of
blazing, smoking or damaged vehicles
attacked by 443 Squadron Spitfires had
risen to 99, plus four locomotives or trains, a
barge, and a railroad signal house. On July
14, when the fighter wings in Normandy
were reorganised, 144 Wing was broken up
and Squadron Leader McLeod’s 443
Squadron joined 127 Wing at Crépon.
Ockenden’s decorated and highly
successful squadron commander, Squadron
Leader Wally Mcleod DSO DFC and Bar,
eventually achieved a total score of 21
enemy aircraft destroyed, three probably
destroyed and 11 damaged (13 of his kills
had been achieved while flying from Malta
in 1942).
On September 27, 1944, McLeod led the
squadron as part of a patrol by 141 Wing,
but he failed to return after the Spitfires
became involved in a mass combat on the
banks of the Rhine. One of the squadron’s
pilots last saw him fighting a lone Bf 109 in a
‘dogfight’ above the clouds. It seems that he
fell victim to the 109’s pilot, who was
probably the Luftwaffe ‘experten’ Major
Siegfried Freytag of JG 77, who claimed a
Spitfire in the Duisburg area near Wesel
that day for his 101st victory.
After the war McLeod’s body was
discovered in the wreckage of his Spitfire IX
on the outskirts of Wesel; he was buried in
the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery
at Rheinberg.
It is a sad fact, and an indication of the risks
willingly accepted by these men, that of the
pilots who had formed 443 Squadron at
Spitfire Mk.IX MK356 in its original colour
scheme as 443 Squadron’s ‘2I-V’ – it now
flies with the RAF BBMF. (Chris Elcock –
Crown Copyright)
Gordon Ockenden at the end of the war in
‘Spitfire v Bf 109 combat scene’. On June 7, 1944, D-Day +1, the Spitfires of 443 Squadron RCAF were tasked with four beachhead cover
patrols. On the third mission of the day, Spitfire Mk.IX MK356,‘2I-V’ was flown by its regular pilot, Flying Officer Gordon Ockenden RCAF.The
patrol was uneventful until nearing the time to leave, when the Spitfire pilots spotted four Luftwaffe Bf 109s east of Caen. Ockenden in MK356,
in company with the Spitfire of Flight Lieutenant Hugh Russell, chased one of the Bf 109s out over the sea.The German fighter exploded in
mid-air under the onslaught of their combined cannon and machine gun fire. Unsure which of them had delivered the coup de grace, they
claimed half a kill each.This was the first of an eventual total of four combat kills plus one‘damaged’ for Ockenden, who was awarded the
Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in December 1944. Spitfire MK356 today flies with the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Artwork: Adam
my back I caught a split-second glimpse of
the extent of the damage, but then almost
immediately another explosion caught me
directly beneath the port wing root,
loosening the studs on the port and top
engine cowlings and smashing the cockpit
hood. The cockpit side door was forced open
at the front runner, the acrylic glass of the
hood was all smashed and the windscreen
was starred. Something had grazed the right
side of my flying helmet above the earpiece,
luckily without injuring me.
“By this time my prop had stopped and I
was coming round in the roll to the right
way up. Then yet another burst took out the
lines at the time and according to the map
and with the marker of the road, we should
have been... the next thing there was a hell
of a bang and a great big flash. I assume it
was a very near miss from a German 88mm
anti-aircraft battery because you don’t get hit
directly by one of those and stay airborne.
“The shell burst just underneath my
starboard wingtip and blew the aircraft some
200ft upwards and upside down. I was flying
a clipped-wing Mk.VB and the explosion
took another 2ft off the starboard wingtip,
opening up the end of the wing like blowing
up a paper bag and leaving the aileron
dangling by a piece of cable. While I was on
n June 14, 1944, 12 Mk.VB
Spitfires of 234 Squadron took
off at 2pm from their
advanced landing ground
airfield at Deanland, situated
five miles to the north east of Lewes in
Sussex, for a beachhead cover patrol
between Bayeux and Caen. Flight
Lieutenant Walter ‘Johnny’ Johnston was
one of the pilots taking part, flying Spitfire
Mk.VB BL415 ‘AZ-B’. He takes up the story:
“We started our patrol along a line
roughly between Bayeux and Caen, just
north of the main road, at a height of about
1500ft. We thought we were over our own
Shot down by flak
Flight Lieutenant Walter ‘Johnny’ Johnston
(234 Squadron Spitfire Mk.VB pilot)
German 88mm anti-aircraft flak gun of III
Flakkorps in Normandy in 1944.
By this stage of the war Johnston was a very
experienced pilot with over 1100 hours’
flying in his logbook, having started flying
training as a volunteer reservist in 1939,
before war was declared. His first
operational flying was as a sergeant pilot on
Spitfires with 152 Squadron from February
1941 and then with 92 Squadron from July
of that year. With them he flew on many
fighter sweeps over enemy-occupied
France, he claimed three Bf 109s probably
destroyed and one as damaged; he was
commissioned in November 1941.
He flew with many of the most famous
fighter pilots of the time, no doubt learned
much from them and also lost many friends
and colleagues. Each of those is recorded in
his logbook by name, perhaps with another
comment such as “Nice chap”; one page
alone records the loss of six fellow Spitfire
pilots in a matter of days. In all he recorded
the loss of 13 friends during those early
years of the war and another seven while
radiator under the port wing, along with a
huge square of the skin above the wing. I
couldn’t get out of the cockpit because the
hood had jammed closed and I could only fly
the aircraft with both hands and the stick
right over to port as far as it would go. It
took all my strength to stop the aircraft
turning over and at one point I even cocked
my leg over the stick to get the aircraft into
the turn and keep it there. I was now coming
down in a screaming flat turn. Funnily
enough my pitot head was still working and I
saw that I had about 200mph on the clock.”
At that moment Johnston saw a small flat
strip of ground in front of him. He had made
a mental note of this flattish line on the
ground from previous passes over the area
and now he tried to put his crippled Spitfire
down on it. As he thumped on to the ground
at about 180mph he thought to himself:
“Please don’t let me burn.” The Spitfire hit
the ground “with a hell of a smack”, broke
its back and spun round and round.
The impact snapped the right-hand
shoulder strap and Johnston was flung
forward on to the gunsight. Fortunately he
had his oxygen mask on and goggles down,
which prevented any facial injuries; he did
not even get a black eye. The next thing that
Johnston remembered was that he had
stopped and was surrounded by men in
khaki who, it transpired, were from the
British unit building the airfield. One of
them shoved a rifle into the hood and tore it
off to get him out of the cockpit. Johnston
was himself a ‘Geordie’ from the Newcastle
area and was surprised to hear one of his
rescuers say in a broad Geordie accent, as
they hauled him out of the cockpit, “By
Christ man, ye haven’t half been hit”.
As he was led away he suddenly realised
that he had lost his gold watch, so he
staggered back to the wreck to find it. The
impact of hitting the ground had been so
great that it had removed his watch from his
wrist and over his hand; he found it lying
neatly over the throttle, not that there was
an engine to throttle.
Twenty-two-year-old Dennis Simms of 234 Squadron was killed on D-Day.
nearby and they went inside the HQ to
find the officer in charge.
The Spitfire pilots probably looked like a
bunch of desperados with their gun belts
slung around their waists and knives
sticking out of their flying boots. The Army
officer who met them was somewhat taken
aback and exclaimed, “Good God, what
happened to you lot?”
After they had explained their situation
and the need to get back to England and to
operations as soon as possible, he wrote
them a note to flying control at the B2
Bazenville ALG, asking them to provide any
assistance possible. The pilots had ideas of
their own though; they sent the Army driver
away to get some dinner and then stole his
After some more driving, they found the
airfield at Bazenville, which happened to
have a Dakota transport parked on it.
Seeing this as a potential lift home, they
drove the staff car, with its Bren gun on top,
right up to the ‘Dak’ and to within a few feet
of a group of people standing near it.
Johnston’s heart sank when, on closer
inspection, he recognised two of the group
as Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-
Mallory (Commander-in-Chief AAEAF) and
Air Vice Marshal Harry Broadhurst (AOC
83 Group, 2 TAF).
The air marshals appeared unimpressed
with this unscheduled interruption to their
business by these scruffy hooligans and
demanded an explanation. Johnson obliged
and handed over the piece of paper. Leigh-
Mallory chuckled and offered the three
pilots a VIP lift home.
First though, the air chief marshal milked
the situation for the public relations
opportunity it provided by getting the
accompanying press photographers to take
several photographs of the pilots standing by
the Dakota.
Eventually they all piled into the ‘Dak’ and
were fed chocolate and drinks on the way
back to Thorney Island, where they stopped
the night in the officers’ mess (with Joe
Fargher masquerading as a pilot officer).
Fargher had been unfortunate because,
having landed with his wheels down, his
Spitfire had tipped up on landing and he had
a badly gashed forehead as a result of
hitting the gunsight. Apart from that, all
three pilots were uninjured.
The British engineers who were building
the airfield had gone to the trouble of
bringing to Normandy with them a crate of
beer to share with the first pilots to land at
their brand new airfield. They reckoned
that this had now happened, so the pilots
enjoyed a bottle of beer with the engineers
while Johnston contemplated his very sad
looking Spitfire.
The commanding officer of the Airfield
Construction Unit fixed them up with a
staff car, complete with a Bren gun on the
roof and an Army driver and they set off
along the main road from Caen towards
Bayeux. They were stopped several times
by British soldiers, but eventually
reached a British Army HQ. There was a
battery of 4.5s “firing away like hell”
with 234 Squadron. In December 1941,
Johnson started a long stint as an instructor
at a Spitfire Operational Training Unit and
then at the Central Gunnery School.
In November 1943 Johnston was posted
back on to operational duties as a flight
commander with 234 Squadron with its
Spitfire Mk.VBs. During the spring of 1944
he was involved in the squadron’s
operations in the build up to D-Day,
including, for example, a train busting strafe
sortie on May 21, 1944, in the Antwerp area.
His logbook records: “Good day! Eleven
trains by Wing, two by our section”.
On D-Day Johnston flew twice on
beachhead cover patrols; the first taking off
from Deanland at 4.30am. On this mission
the squadron lost 22-year-old Flight
Sergeant Dennis Simms “missing presumed
killed”; one of the first British fighter pilots
to be killed on D-Day. His aircraft simply
disintegrated over the sea after being hit,
possibly by enemy flak, but most likely by
an Allied naval shell or by anti-aircraft fire
from a ‘friendly’ naval vessel. Sims has no
known grave and his name is
commemorated on the Commonwealth Air
Forces Memorial at Runnymede, Surrey.
On June 14, Johnston’s was not the only 234
Squadron Spitfire to be hit by the salvo of
flak over Normandy. He was soon joined by
two other pilots from his squadron, Flying
Officer Bill Painter and Flight Sergeant ‘Joe’
Fargher, who had also been hit by the
barrage of anti-aircraft fire and were forced
to land at the same partially completed
airstrip, which was in fact B6 Coulombs.
Pilots of ‘A’ Flight 234 Squadron with a Spitfire Mk.VB at Coltishall in February 1944 (Johnston
is fourth from left on the wing). Five of these pilots were destined to die on future operations.
‘Johnny’ Johnston as a Sergeant Pilot in a 92 Squadron Spitfire Mk.VB at Biggin Hill in July 1941.
The three 234 Squadron Spitfire pilots photographed in front of ACM Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory’s C-47 Dakota at B2 Bazenville, Normandy, on
June 14, 1944.They are, from left, Flt Sgt ‘Joe’ Fargher, Fg Off Bill Painter and Flt Lt ‘Johnny’ Johnston.
‘Johnny’ Johnston’s Spitfire Mk.VB BL415‘AZ-B’. (Illustration by Chris Sandham-Bailey ©
Thanks to ‘Johnny’ Johnston’s son,
Martin Johnston, for his help in
providing information for this article.
All three pilots were operational again the
next day, June 15, having featured
prominently in the morning edition of a
national daily newspaper. Johnston’s logbook
entry for his next flight records another
beachhead cover patrol with the remark:
“Not bad going – back home and over again
in less than 24 hours”.
Bill Painter’s luck ran out on June 17, just
three days after their adventures, when
returning in the dark from another
beachhead cover patrol his section was fired
on by the anti-aircraft batteries situated on
the English south coast near Brighton. As
the Spitfires took evasive action two collided;
Bill Painter was killed in the mid-air collision
although the other pilot, Flying Officer
George Sparrow, managed to land his
Spitfire safely at Deanland.
Joe Fargher’s good luck continued to
hold – just. He was shot down by flak
again on July 11, on this occasion over
enemy-occupied France. He evaded
capture with the help of the Maquis and
escaped back to England in a Navy motor
gunboat, returning to rejoin the squadron
on July 31.
Johnston remained with 234 Squadron and
converted to Mustang IIIs when the
squadron was re-equipped at the end of
September 1944. He was promoted to acting
squadron leader in November 1944 and
survived the war, remaining in the RAF for
some years afterwards. Walter ‘Johnny’
Johnston died in 2009, aged 88.
might perhaps use a small Volkswagen
Type 82 Kübelwagen – a Jeep-like vehicle
based on the VW Beetle – in order to be less
Rommel waved off the suggestion and
set off as usual in his personal staff car, a
large open-topped Horch 830BL, sitting in
the front, as was his habit, alongside his
regular driver, Unterfeldwebel Karl Daniel.
In the back of the car were staff officers
Hauptmann Lang, Major Neuhaus and
Feldwebel Hoike, who were briefed to act as
lookouts for Allied aircraft.
On the N179, between Livarot and
Vimoutiers, travelling at high speed, the car
came under attack from Spitfires. The
officers in the rear of the car spotted the
‘Jabos’ and shouted their warnings too late.
Shells from the Spitfire hit the vehicle,
seriously wounding the driver, who lost
control of the speeding car, which hurtled
on for several hundred metres before
leaving the road and crashing into a ditch.
Rommel was thrown against the windshield
post, sustaining serious head injuries; the
driver died soon afterwards and Major
Neuhaus also suffered minor injuries.
eneralfeldmarschall Erwin
Rommel, the 53-year-old
commander of the German
forces defending the so-called
‘Atlantic Wall’ in 1944, was
much respected by both sides as a soldier
and brilliant military tactician and strategist.
At the time of D-Day, Rommel was in
command of the important Army Group B.
After the Allied invasion of Normandy he
regularly travelled many kilometres every
day, meeting with his battle commanders,
personal contact being very much part of
his leadership style.
JULY 17, 1944
In the late afternoon of July 17, 1944,
Rommel had just left the command post of
the I Panzer Corps after a meeting with
Generaloberst Josef ‘Sepp’ Dietrich of the
Waffen SS, to drive back to his
headquarters at La Roche-Guyon.
With Allied fighter-bombers roaming
freely over Normandy the risk of attacks on
vehicles moving in daylight was very high.
Dietrich suggested that Rommel and his
party should not take the main road and
Who got Rommel?
ABOVE: Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel.
BELOW: Flt Lt Charlie Fox with his 412
Squadron Spitfire Mk.IX.
This research has led to it now being
widely accepted that the most likely
candidate as the pilot of the Spitfire which
attacked Rommel’s car is Canadian Flight
Lieutenant (later Squadron Leader) Charles
W Fox of 412 Squadron (RCAF).
Charlie Fox was in exactly the right
place at the right time. His logbook entry
for the day records that he was flying his
usual aircraft on armed recce duty. Time in
the air was one hour and 15 minutes. Under
the “results and remarks” column is the
seemingly routine entry “1 staff car
destroyed”. A question mark, added later,
precedes the word “Rommel”, and then…
the word “Yes”.
In the late afternoon of July 17, 1944, 12
Spitfires of 412 Squadron took off from B4
Bény-sur-Mer on an armed recce mission.
The squadron split into three sections of
four aircraft, one of these led by Fox.
During the sortie Fox and his wingman,
Steve Randall, spotted a large black car
travelling at high speed along a road with
trees on either side. It was coming towards
Fox’s section from about his 11 o’clock
position. Fox recalled: “I saw this staff car
coming along between lines of trees on a
main road.
“I did a diving, curving attack and I
probably started firing at about 300 yards. I
timed the shots so that I was able to fire and
get him as the car came through a small
opening in the trees. I got him on that pass.
“We were moving pretty fast, but I knew I
got him. I saw hits on the car and I saw it
start to curve and go off the road. At the
time, I had no idea who it was... just a large
black open car... gleaming in the sun without
any camouflage, which was unusual.”
Charlie Fox suspected that he had hit
Rommel but did not pursue the matter. After
the war he did not talk about it for many
years, “but it’s always been sitting in my
logbook,” he said.
It is most likely that it was Charlie Fox
who put Rommel out of the war. Fox ended
the war with a Distinguished Flying Cross
and Bar. He lived to the age of 88, passing
away in October 2008. 
In the days after the crash, Rommel’s
survival was in doubt, but slowly he began
to recover. However, he was then implicated
in the July 1944 bomb plot against Hitler,
not directly, but because he was deemed to
have defeatist views and Hitler was now
convinced that treachery was everywhere.
In order to save his family and himself
from disgrace Rommel was given no option
but to commit suicide by taking a cyanide
pill on October 14, 1944. Subsequently, he
was given a state funeral, officially having
died of his wounds. The Germans had lost
one of their greatest military commanders,
partly as a result of the attack by the
Spitfire, but mainly because of Hitler’s
paranoia. The effect of Rommel’s absence
from command for the remainder of the war
can only be guessed at.
This much is fact, but who the pilot was who
fired the shots that may have changed the
course of history on the Normandy front
has long been contested. Over the years
there have been many claimants to the
attack on Rommel’s staff car: American,
South African, Australian and Canadian
pilots have all claimed responsibility.
One of the first to claim credit for the
attack on Rommel was American P-47
pilot Lieutenant Ralph Jenkins.
According to Jenkins, he strafed a
German staf f car in the St-Lô area. The
car was flying command flags and when
Jenkins came around for another pass he
saw the car in a ditch with bodies
scattered around it. However, the
German accounts clearly indicate that it
was Spitfires that attacked Rommel’s car,
so this claim can easily be discounted.
Australian Spitfire pilot Fred Cowlph of
453 Squadron also claimed responsibility for
the strafing attack, asserting that his gun
camera verified this, but there are other
more credible possibilities.
Squadron Leader Chris le Roux DFC and
Bar, a South African Spitfire pilot with 602
Squadron RAF has been widely credited over
the years as being the pilot involved in the
attack on Rommel’s staff car. Le Roux
claimed that on July 17, he attacked a
German staff car near the village of Sainte-
Foy-de-Montgommery, causing it to overturn
in a ditch. One of the causes of confusion
over these various claims has been the
difficulty in resolving exact times between
those used by the Allies and the Germans.
Recent research has shown that
although Le Roux was in the right area on
July 17, it was at the wrong time. In
addition, the car carrying Rommel did not
overturn; it ran into a ditch and hit a tree
stump. Le Roux did not survive the war; he
was killed in an aircraft accident on
September 19, 1944.
In recent years, historians have compared
flight logs, consulted German reports
(which specifically said that the car was
attacked by four Spitfires, two flying high
and two flying low), accounted for the time
differences between European clocks and
British Double Summer time and confirmed
the time, location and, therefore, the aircraft
and pilot involved.
Rommel riding in the front seat of a staff car in Normandy. A Horch car similar to Rommel’s staff car.
Mk.IX Spitfires of 412 Squadron on B4 ALG at Bény-sur-Mer, Normandy, July 1944.
(RP-3), four under each wing, which could
be fitted with different types of explosive
warheads. The 6in (150mm), 60lb (27kg)
high explosive warhead was the most
commonly-used version, but the rockets
could also be fitted with a 25lb (11kg),
3.44in armour-piercing warhead.
The rocket projectiles were unguided
and inaccurate, with considerable gravity
drop after firing and it took considerable
skill and practice to aim them anything like
accurately. However, the firepower of all
eight RPs from a Typhoon was the
equivalent of a navy destroyer’s broadside.
The Typhoon could, alternatively, carry
two 500lb (226kg) or two 1000lb (453kg)
bombs, one under each wing. The first time
that RAF single-seat fighter-bombers
carried two 1000lb bombs each was on April
24, 1944, when the Typhoons of 438
Squadron were sent to attack bridges in
northern France. This was to become
standard practice and significantly
increased the level of tactical firepower
available to commanders. Although, in
theory, the role equipment was easy to
change, in actuality the Typhoon squadrons
stuck to being either rocket-firing (RP)
units (there were 13 of these squadrons
available on D-Day) or bomb carriers – so-
called ‘Bomphoons’.
Loaded for a fight, the Typhoon could
have a gross weight of up to six tons
(6000kg). It was fitted with a massive ‘H’-
layout, 24-cylinder Napier Sabre engine, one
of the most complex piston engines ever built
with a displacement volume of 36.7 litres and
a power output in excess of 2000hp with the
later versions having an astonishing 3000hp
in reserve (with injection of a mixture of
water and ethanol). The large chin intake
underneath the nose contained the radiator
and gave the aircraft its particular profile.
The ‘Tiffy’ was something of a ‘beast’ to fly.
It cruised fast, typically 350mph, with a
maximum level speed of around 400mph.
In a dive it picked up speed very quickly,
but was (officially) limited, for stability
reasons, to 400mph loaded with bombs or
rockets, although it was cleared to 525mph
without them.
Normally fitted with four 20mm cannons,
the Typhoon was an excellent strafe
platform with heavy hitting power,
especially against unhardened buildings and
unarmoured vehicles. From September
1943, Typhoons were also armed with eight
3in (75mm) unguided rocket projectiles
he Hawker Typhoon Mk.IB
(‘Tiffy’ in RAF slang) was the
RAF’s dedicated fighter-bomber
aircraft on D-Day, with 20
operational squadrons available,
18 of them operating as part of 2 TAF.
Having overcome the difficulties that
plagued the design in its early years, the
Typhoon had now found its niche as a
highly effective fighter-bomber, while
retaining a useful air-to-air pure fighter
capability at lower levels. The aircraft
proved itself to be the most effective RAF
tactical strike aircraft both on interdiction
raids against communications and transport
targets deep in North Western Europe prior
to the invasion, and in direct support of the
Allied ground forces after D-Day.
The Typhoon was a large and imposing
aircraft for a single-seat fighter, measuring
32ft (9.75m) long with a wingspan of 41½ft
(12.65m) and a massive three-bladed 14ft
(4.3m) diameter propeller. Sitting high on its
wide undercarriage, the cockpit was 8ft
(2.4m) above the ground and pilots climbed
in with the help of a pull-down ‘stirrup’ and
steps hidden by sprung doors in the fuselage.
While on the ground, there was no forward
visibility at all for a pilot sitting in the cockpit.
Hawker Typhoon
Hawker Typhoon Mk.IB, MN317,‘ZY-B’, of 247
(China British) Squadron being re-armed
at B2/Bazenville, Normandy, on June 15,
1944.The ground crews are loading 3in
rocket projectiles, while the pilot waits in
the cockpit for the next mission.
The Typhoon’s effectiveness against soft-
skinned targets is widely accepted, but its
ability to knock out German tanks has been
the subject of considerable postwar debate,
with some arguing that the relatively limited
success rates were, perhaps, not worth the
losses in aircraft and pilots.
Against the Wehrmacht’s tanks, the
Typhoon’s rockets needed to hit the thin-
walled engine compartment or the tracks to
have any chance of destroying or disabling
the tank. The 20mm shells from the
Typhoon’s cannons were only effective
against armoured vehicles if they ricocheted
off the ground into the lighter armour of the
tanks’ undersides, having been aimed short.
Inevitably, as in air-to-air combat, there
was an element of confusion and over-
claiming by the Typhoon pilots over the
number of tanks destroyed. The results of
their attacks were difficult to assess and they
could not easily tell if a tank had already
been attacked or previously abandoned.
Operational analysis of destroyed tanks after
the battles in Normandy indicated that
actually only some 4% of German tanks had
fallen victim to Typhoon rocket attacks.
However, these operational analyses also
suggested that apart from the direct
destructive effects of fighter-bomber
attacks, the effects on the morale of the
German troops caught up in Typhoon RP
and cannon attacks were equally decisive,
with many German tanks and vehicles being
abandoned by their demoralised crews with
only superficial damage.
One German tank commander said after
the war: “We feared the Typhoons most of
all. These aircraft continued to attack a
target in spite of heavy ground fire, causing
complete devastation, coming round again
and again. It created a low morale from
which we never recovered. I was lucky to
survive; the only possible means of escape
was to get out of our tanks and run.”
Evidence of German tanks being abandoned
under rocket attack was seen in the only
large-scale German armoured offensive in
Normandy, which was mounted at Mortain,
in the Falaise pocket on August 7, and
which seriously threatened the American
break-out from the beachhead. Despite
determined defence, the credit for bringing
the German attack to a halt on the afternoon
of August 7, is generally regarded as
belonging to Allied fighter-bombers,
particularly RAF Typhoons, which were
called in to intervene.
German accounts clearly attribute the
failure of their attack to the fighter-
bombers. The Typhoons first went into
action against the armoured column just
before 1pm, when early morning fog and
mist had cleared. Finding a concentration of
some 60 tanks and 200 vehicles grouped
close together, many heavily camouflaged,
the Typhoons commenced attacks against
the front and rear of the column, which was
immediately brought to a halt.
By the end of the day RAF Typhoons had
flown 294 sorties in the Mortain area, firing
2088 rockets and dropping 80 tons of
bombs. In addition, strafe attacks with the
Typhoon’s 20mm cannon had destroyed
large numbers of unarmoured support
vehicles laden with fuel and ammunition for
the tanks. Three Typhoons and their pilots
had been lost. Although the level of flak had
initially been light, it had increased during
the day with box-like patterns being put up
over the tanks, and many of the Typhoons
were found to have suffered damage from
this and from small-arms fire. Interestingly,
though, it was discovered in the aftermath
that some 30% of the German tanks had
simply been abandoned by their crews, who
were, understandably, terrified by the
Typhoon’s rocket attacks. The tank crews
knew that they were trapped and while the
chances of a direct hit were low, their
chances of survival were extremely small if
they were hit.
The Supreme Allied Commander,
General Eisenhower, said of the RAF
Typhoon pilots’ actions at Mortain: “The
chief credit in smashing the enemy’s
spearhead, however, must go to the rocket-
firing Typhoon aircraft of the Second
Tactical Air Force... the result was that the
enemy attack was effectively brought to a
halt and a threat was turned into a great
victory.” 
440 Squadron‘Bomphoon’ RB389‘I8-P’ named‘Pulverizer IV’ taxies out for a sortie loaded with two 1000lb bombs.
Hawker Typhoon Mk.IBs of 121 Wing assembled at B2/Bazenville, Normandy, for close-
support operations. Second from the right is MN666‘C-G’, the personal aircraft of Wing
Commander C L Green, the wing leader. Note the mixture of three- and four-bladed
propellers; the latter being a more recent modification.
‘Clash of the Titans’. An RAF Hawker Typhoon Mk.IB fires 3in rockets at a German Tiger tank. Len Krenzler
Cap-d’Antifer, not far from Le Havre. This was
part of the vital and carefully-planned
campaign to blind the enemy prior to the
invasion. The Typhoons crossed over the
French Coast, high enough to avoid the light
flak, and then turned through 180º into a
steep dive-bombing attack on the German
radar site with a final burst of cannon fire
before levelling out over the sea at about
500mph. They then formed up into sections of
four in battle formation for the return flight.
Total flying time was one hour, 15 minutes.
That night orders were received to paint the
broad black and white invasion stripes on the
wings and fuselage of the Typhoons.
On June 5, Trott air-tested a newly-delivered
Typhoon, one of the first with a four-bladed
propeller which were just starting to arrive
at the squadrons. That evening he carried
out another operation over the French
coast, noting later in his logbook: “Large
convoys of LCRs seen heading toward
Cherbourg.” In fact, the Channel was
covered with boats of various kinds – a
fantastic sight – and he thought that it was
impossible that the Germans did not know
what was happening.
After returning to Needs Oar Point, all the
squadron pilots were ordered to the large
Soon after Trott’s arrival, the squadron
was moved to Norfolk and led a rather
nomadic existence for several months, being
based at Ludham, then Matlask, then
Coltishall, before settling for a while at
Fairlop in Essex from September 1943.
During this time Trott carried out operations
across the North Sea into Holland and over
France. In early 1944, 195 Squadron was
disbanded and Trott moved to 197 Squadron
stationed at Tangmere Airfield, West
Sussex. The Typhoons were then equipped
with bomb racks under each wing to take
500 or 1000lb bombs. The squadron’s main
tasks were attacking radar and V-1 sites, as
well as being on escort and standby duties.
146 WING
In April 1944, 197 Squadron moved to the
newly constructed temporary airfield at
Needs Oar Point near the Beaulieu River,
overlooking the Solent and the Isle of
Wight. In preparation for D-Day, it became
part of 146 Wing, 2 TAF, with 257, 266 and
193 Squadrons. In May 1944, the Typhoons
were frequently called upon to make attacks
against radar targets along the coast of
France, as well as against V-1 sites.
On June 3, Trott was involved in a high-
level dive-bombing attack on the radar site at
en Trott was born in Ilford, on
the outskirts of London, in
December 1922. He joined the
RAF Volunteer Reserve in
September 1941 and was
posted overseas to Canada for flying
training. In September 1942 he received his
pilot’s ‘wings’ and was commissioned as a
pilot officer.
After his return to England he completed
his training on Miles Masters and was then
sent to 59 OTU at Millfield, near Berwick-
on-Tweed, to fly Hawker Hurricanes. Then
in April 1943 he was posted to 195
Squadron, which was equipped with the
mighty Hawker Typhoon, at Woodvale
Airfield near Southport, Lancashire.
D-Day Typhoon Pilot
Flight Lieutenant Ken Trott
(197 Squadron Typhoon IB pilot)
‘Bomphoon’ of 197 Squadron – as flown by Ken Trott – loaded with two 500lb bombs.
mess tent where a covered blackboard was
set up. They were briefed by the wing leader,
Wing Commander Reggie Baker DFC and
Bar, that tomorrow, June 6, would be D-Day.
The blackboard was unveiled to reveal the
proposed landing beaches and other details
of the invasion. The pilots were told to turn
in early, as they would be on call from around
4am the next day, but the roar of aircraft
overhead, heading towards France, made
sleep almost impossible in their tents.
After an early breakfast the pilots reported
to their various dispersals, where the
ground crew were already running up the
Sabre engines of the Typhoons and then
refuelling them. The pilots waited to be
called to briefings while listening to the
BBC radio broadcasts. 197 Squadron was
the first to launch at 7.10am, eight aircraft
being led by Wing Commander Baker (who
lost his life over Normandy 10 days later, on
June 16). The Typhoons attacked a German
High Command headquarters in a chateau
south of Bayeux. They encountered little
opposition with only small amounts of light
flak in the vicinity of their target. Bombing
and strafing at will for 20 minutes, the
Typhoons left the chateau a smouldering
ruin. They all landed safely back at Needs
Oar Point at 8.20am.
As soon as the aircraft from this first
operation of the day had landed and taxied in,
they were surrounded by both ground crew
and the other pilots on standby, who were
checking firstly to see if the muzzle covers
had been blown off the cannons (which
would indicate that each of the four 20mm
cannons had been fired) and then if there was
any flak damage to the aircraft. As soon as
the pilots had climbed down, everyone
wanted to know what it was like over the
beachhead. “Any enemy aircraft seen? How
much flak? The weather conditions? What
targets had been attacked?”
Meanwhile, the squadron intelligence
officer was hovering around, wanting to
speak to each pilot who had taken part in
this first operation of D-Day. Having slung
their parachutes over their shoulders,
many pilots walked away to light a
cigarette before giving way to the countless
questions coming from all sides. The
aircraft were now surrounded by the
ground crews, busy refuelling and re-
arming to get them ready as soon as
possible for the next operation.
Trott was not involved in the early
operations of the day, but he remained on
call until 5.50pm when he and seven other
pilots were briefed to carry out an armed
reconnaissance south of Caen. Trott’s
logbook shows that this involved low-level
bombing of an enemy supply dump, which
was left with black smoke and flames
coming from it. All the Typhoons on this
mission returned safely at 7.20pm. The last
operation for 197 Squadron on June 6 took
off at 9.05pm, with eight aircraft on an
armed reconnaissance in the Caen and
Bayeux area. They landed back safely at
10.15pm, and so ended D-Day.
In early July, 197 Squadron moved from
Needs Oar Point to Hurn in preparation for
the move to their new airfield in Normandy.
On July 8, the Typhoons landed at B3 St
Croix-sur-Mer on the beachhead, due to
stay for a few days. They were about to
return to Hurn on the evening of July 13
when they were briefed to conduct an
armed recce over the Caen area.
Four Typhoons, including one flown by
Trott, took off led by Wing Commander
Baldwin, who was due to become the wing
leader. During the patrol Trott spotted an
armoured carrier and requested permission
to attack it with his wingman. With the
necessary permission granted, the two
Typhoons detached from the others, which
held at higher altitude, while Trott and his
wingman strafed and immobilised the
vehicle. They were about to return for a
second attack when they heard on the radio
that the other Typhoons were being
engaged by about 30 Bf 109s.
Climbing up into the fight above, Trott
made a head-on attack against a Bf 109. As
he broke away, the starboard wing of his
Typhoon struck the Bf 109 with
catastrophic consequences. Trott’s head
and shoulder struck the side of the cockpit
as the canopy disappeared; his helmet,
oxygen mask and goggles were torn off him
and he was catapulted into the air from his
disintegrating aircraft with only his
parachute intact. He managed to pull the rip
cord and then lost consciousness. When he
came to, he was hanging in his parachute
from a tree, surrounded by German
soldiers. He was taken prisoner and
subsequently spent the next 10 months as a
prisoner of war, much of the time in medical
care in the hospital at Stalag Luft III.
Ken Trott was finally demobilised from
the RAF in November 1946 in the
substantive rank of flight lieutenant. He
passed away in September 2013, aged 90.
In total, during the 10 weeks of the battle
of Normandy, 150 Typhoon pilots lost their
lives, while many others became prisoners
of war. 
Typhoon IB loaded with two 1000lb bombs, taxiing
through a large puddle at a forward airfield.
Destroyed German Würzburg radar on the
cliff tops at Arromanches, similar to the site
which was attacked by the Typhoons of 197
Squadron on June 3, 1944.
‘Storm Rising’.Two Hawker Typhoon Mk.IBs of 197 Squadron, coded‘OV-Z’ and‘OV-C’ taking
off, roaring into the air, kicking up the dust. On D-Day, 2 TAF fielded 18 squadrons of Typhoon
fighter-bombers. In the following weeks they played a vital role in the battle for Normandy,
establishing a well-earned reputation for fast and accurate close support. By this time, most
Typhoons were carrying rockets rather than bombs. In theory it was possible to re-role the
Typhoons for the carriage of rockets or bombs quite easily, but in practice a number of
squadrons, including 197 Squadron, retained bombs as their principle air-to-ground weapon.
In this case the Typhoons are each carrying two 500lb bombs.These aircraft were referred to
as ‘Bomphoons’. Artwork: AdamTooby
of catching fire at the next attempt.
“The fuel had a very high octane rating
at this stage of the war, the Typhoon used
only 130 octane grade gas. Before starting
the engine (and during the flight), the pilot
was obliged to wear an oxygen mask
because the cockpit immediately filled with
carbon monoxide exhaust. The Napier
Sabre engine had an awesome decibel
output, sounding nearly five times louder
than a Merlin. The vibration caused by this
beast was quite disconcerting to an
inexperienced pilot.
“While taxiing, it was recommended not
to abuse the brakes, to avoid heating them
and consequently decreasing their
effectiveness. At the hold position, the pilot
had to run up the engine 3000rpm to clear
out the cylinders. At start-up and during
taxi, the engine would spit plenty of hot oil,
but the mechanic, who often guided the
pilot by sitting on a wing, learned to have a
cloth handy to wipe the windshield before
the pilot took off. It was better not to wait
too long before taking off, as the engine
heated up quickly, easily reaching a
temperature of 95ºC.
light Lieutenant ‘Johnny’ Colton
from Quebec, Canada, joined
the RCAF in January 1942, aged
19. On completion of his
training he joined 137 Squadron
to fly Hawker Typhoons operationally.
At the time of D-Day, 137 Squadron was
part of 11 Group ADGB and was based at
Manston, Kent. Colton flew 104 operational
sorties during the war and survived, an
extraordinary accomplishment on both
counts. ‘Johnny’ Colton passed away in
Canada in May 2013. Here he describes what
the Hawker Typhoon was like to operate:
“To start this monster, the Typhoon
pilot had to set the throttle to five-eighth of
an inch open and no more, otherwise
there was a risk of drowning the
carburettors in gasoline with a resulting
engine fire. The ignition of the 24
cylinders, using what was called the
Coffman System, was effected using a
shotgun-style cartridge. As the cartridge
exploded, the propeller rotated about 450º.
At that point, with the cylinders full of
gasoline, it was a must for the engine to
start successfully, or it had an 80% chance
Flying the beast
Flight Lieutenant ‘Johnny’ Colton (RCAF)
(137 Squadron Typhoon pilot)
‘Johnny’ Colton with his 137 Squadron
Typhoon in spring 1944.
Rocket armed Typhoons of 124 Wing taxiing
on‘PSP’ matting in the Netherlands in the
autumn of 1944.
He was commissioned in July 1942 and by
August he was a flight commander,
receiving a DFC and Bar before being
promoted to squadron leader and rested
from operations in a staff position.
In April 1943 he converted to the
Hawker Typhoon and joined 198 Squadron.
Despite some of his less than
complimentary comments below, Scott
loved this monster and mastered it
thoroughly. Subsequently, he was posted to
command 486 Squadron (NZ) Squadron. In
August 1943 he received the DSO and
became the Wing Leader at RAF Tangmere.
After commanding the airfield at
Hawkinge in early 1944, during which time
he was awarded the OBE for rescuing a
pilot from a burning, crashed Spitfire, Scott
enjoyed his greatest and most exhausting
fighting days. Until February 1945, as the
youngest group captain in the RNZAF, he
commanded 123 Wing, a mobile wing of
four Typhoon squadrons in 2 TAF, and led
them from Normandy to Holland. His air-to-
air combat claims for the war were five (plus
three shared) confirmed destroyed, four
(plus two shared) ‘probables’, and five (plus
one shared) damaged.
Scott passed away in October 1997, aged
79. This is his description of flying the
“She roared, screamed, groaned and
whined, but apart from being rather heavy
on the controls at high speeds, as far as I
was concerned she flew well.
“In stability terms, the aircraft was
directionally and laterally stable but slightly
unstable longitudinally, except at high
speed, when it was just stable. Aileron
control was light and effective up to
“With the massive propeller powered
by the equally massive Sabre, the power
on take-off was phenomenal, the torque
being so strong as to frighten any unwary
beginner pilot. On the take-off roll, the
aircraft would veer violently to the right
even with the rudder pedal fully depressed
left. It was only with the proper rudder
trim and the right mix of power that the
pilots were able to keep the aircraft
straight, the ailerons not being effective
below 93mph.
“The flak that we experienced... you’ve
heard the expression, ‘it was so thick you
could almost walk on it!’ It was just black,
and we suffered quite a few losses. We
would start our dive at 6000ft and we’d be
getting close to 500 miles per hour before
we’d release our rockets and pull out. On
the way down we had the 88mm anti-aircraft
guns firing at us at five or six thousand feet,
then 37mm, then 20mm, as we got lower
and closer to the target. Then on the way
out it was 20, 37 and 88mm in that order.
They didn’t have too hard a time picking off
the boys.
“At the speed we were doing when we
pulled out you could easily ‘black out’ for
two or three seconds and when you came
round you were going straight up.
Frequently, when I got back to base the
airframe mechanic would say to me, ‘You
know the rivets are pulled in the wings
here. What happened?’ This occurred quite
often, the rivets would come loose from the
stresses of the G-force.”
Des ‘Scottie’ Scott was called up to join the
Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF)
when war was declared in 1939. He joined 3
Squadron RAF in January 1941, as a
sergeant pilot, flying Hawker Hurricanes.
Group Captain Des Scott, leader of 123 Wing, (wearing the mae west) having dismounted
from his Typhoon behind him, converses with another RAF officer at B53/Merville, France,
watched by an interested group of local boys.
Group Captain Des ‘Scottie’
Scott (RNZAF)
(Typhoon pilot with 198 and 486
(NZ) Squadrons)
maximum speed, but at very low speed
response was sluggish, particularly when
carrying ordnance. The elevator control
was rather light and could not be used
harshly. There was a tendency to ‘tighten
up’ in a looping aircraft. If ‘black out’
conditions were accidentally induced in
steep turns or pulling out of a dive, the
control column needed to be pushed
forward firmly.
“Stalling speeds were quite low. The
typical Typhoon trait, as with many aircraft
at the time, was to drop a wing sharply at
the stall either with flaps up or down. The
stalling speeds varied depending on
external load. At all-up weight plus two
500lb (230kg) bombs (12,155lb in total) with
flaps up the Typhoon stalled at 90-100mph.
With flaps down, the stall was initiated at 70-
75mph. With all ammunition and nearly all
fuel expended (9600lb) the stall occurred at
75-80 and 65-70mph.
“Should the Typhoon’s temperamental
engine stop in the air you were faced with
two alternatives – over the side, or the
gliding angle of a seven-ton brick; in a
forced landing it was apt to somersault and
either crush the pilot or explode.”
A salvo of Typhoon 3in rockets on their way to a target.
The cockpit of the‘beast’ – pilot’s view as
he climbs into the Typhoon cockpit.
Typhoon Mk.IB MN234‘SF-T’ of 137 Squadron, running up on an engine test at B78
Eindhoven, Holland. It is loaded with 3in rocket projectiles with 60lb warheads.‘Johnny’
Colton flew this particular Typhoon while in Holland in 1944.The aircraft was eventually shot
down during the Ardennes Campaign in December 1944.
Leader Basil
Gerald ‘Stapme’
(Typhoon pilot
with 247 and
257 Squadrons)
Squadron Leader Basil Gerald ‘Stapme’
Stapleton DFC was born in May 1920 in
Durban, South Africa. He used the first name
Gerald and was nicknamed ‘Stapme’ after a
phrase used in his favourite cartoon strip
Just Jane published in The Daily Mirror.
‘Stapme’ was a Spitfire pilot with 603
RAuxAF Squadron during the Battle of
Britain. His personal score of six enemy
aircraft destroyed, three shared destroyed,
eight probably destroyed two damaged, all
achieved on Spitfires during the battle, made
him one of the outstanding fighter pilots of
the period. He was awarded the Distinguished
Flying Cross in November 1940.
Having subsequently served with various
units, including flying ‘Hurricats’ with the
Merchant Ship Fighter Unit, ‘Stapme’
converted to the Hawker Typhoon while
serving as a flight commander with 257
Squadron when the unit re-equipped with
the type in July 1942. Later, from August
1944 he commanded 247 Squadron, part of
124 Wing, 2 TAF, flying Typhoons in
northern France.
On December 23, 1944, Stapleton was
forced to land behind enemy lines and
became a prisoner of war, after debris from
an exploding train, which he had attacked,
punctured the radiator of his Typhoon.
‘Stapme’ was one of the real ‘characters’
to survive the war, complete with his
handlebar moustache and always with a
mischievous twinkle in his eyes. The author
had the privilege and pleasure of meeting
him on many occasions in his later life and
being regaled with his many wartime stories.
‘Stapme’ passed away in April 2010, a
month before his 90th birthday. This is his
‘take’ on flying the Typhoon:
“The first thing that struck me when I
climbed into a Typhoon was that you had to
get used to the height you were sitting at.
On take-off the Typhoon swung the opposite
way to the Hurricane and Spitfire, so we had
to unlearn that which had become second
nature to us. Early Typhoon take-offs were
nearly always in a climbing turn!
“The Typhoon was far more powerful
than previous aircraft I’d flown. On an early
flight I achieved 400mph on the clock at sea
level; it really was a tremendous ground
attack aircraft. The cannons were
devastating for soft-skin targets, such as
vehicles. If there was grass around the
targets, it was like a wave when the shells
hit the ground and the turf seemed to ripple
in retreat.
“There was no recoil when firing
rockets. Having sighted the target, I lined
up, dived, started to pull out and fired just
as soon as it disappeared beneath the nose
of the aircraft. Using this method, I
reckoned that I couldn’t miss.
“I found it best to stay low after an attack
and utilise the speed to get away from the
target, rather than attempting to climb away.
This seemed to work and when I came
down in December 1944, I wasn’t shot
down, I suppose I shot myself down when I
flew through the debris of the locomotive I
had attacked with my rockets!” 
n addition to the Spitfire and
Typhoon units, on D-Day the RAF
also had at its disposal seven
squadrons of Mustang IIIs, the
British name for the North American
P-51B/C with the Packard Merlin engine,
which were acquired by the RAF under
Lend-Lease arrangements.
The Mustang III entered service with
122 Wing (19, 65 and 122 Squadrons) in
February 1944. The second Mustang wing
was 133 Wing (306, 315, 316 (Polish)
Squadrons) which re-equipped with the
Mustang in April 1944, under the command
of the Polish fighter ace Wing Commander
Stanislaw Skalski, and which was
subsequently joined by 129 Squadron RAF.
After these so-called ‘razorback’
Mustang III aircraft had been delivered to
England, the RAF decided that the hinged
cockpit canopy offered too poor a view for
European operations. A fairly major
modification was made in which the
original framed hinged hood was replaced
by a bulged Perspex frameless canopy that
slid to the rear on rails. This canopy gave
the pilot much more room and afforded a
good view downwards and to the rear. This
hood was manufactured and fitted by the
British corporation R Malcolm & Co and
became known as the ‘Malcolm Hood’.
This hood was fitted to most RAF Mustang
IIIs, and many USAAF Eighth and Ninth
Air Force P-51B/C fighters received this
modification as well.
The RAF found the Merlin-engine
Mustangs to be robust and fast, capable of
over 400mph level at 2000ft. Many pilots
regarded the ‘razorback’ Malcolm-hooded
Mustang III as the best of the entire series.
It was lighter, faster, and had crisper
handling than the later bubble-hooded
P-51D/Mustang IV.
Prior to D-Day, being a scarce resource,
the RAF Mustang IIIs were mainly
employed on operations for which the
aircraft’s long range and high speed
provided an edge over other RAF single-
engine fighter types, such as long range
fighter sweeps, and escort duties
supporting USAAF heavy bombers or
coastal command anti-shipping strikes by
Bristol Beaufighters and DH Mosquitos.
On D-Day the Mustang III units
provided fighter cover and subsequently
some were deployed into France to
provide ground support. In July half of
them were pulled back to southern
England to deal with the V-1 flying bombs,
but they were soon back on the continent.
The Mustangs continued to provide
further long-range bomber escorts,
North American Mustang III
Warrant Officer C R Castleton in his 122
Squadron Mustang III loaded with two
1000lb bombs at B12/Ellon in 1944.
‘Malcolm’ hooded Mustang IIIs of 19
Squadron, April 1944.
including some in support of RAF Bomber
Command daylight raids.
During the Battle of Normandy, the
RAF Mustang III really proved its worth
as a true multi-role fighter. Very capable
as a pure fighter in the air-to-air role at all
altitudes, the Mustang was also an
excellent ground attack strafe platform
with its armament of four wing-mounted
.50in (12.7mm) Browning heavy machine
guns (with 350 rounds per gun (rpg) for
the inboard guns and 280rpg for the
outboard). It was also a very useful
fighter-bomber able to carry two 500lb
bombs or even two 1000lb bombs, one
under each wing. 
protecting the UK, later on with Mk.IXs. In
March 1944, 315 Squadron re-equipped with
Mustang IIIs, joining 133 Polish Mustang
Wing of 2 TAF, operating from bases in
southern England.
Among the many Polish airmen who gave
such valued service to the RAF, Squadron
Leader Eugeniusz Horbaczewski, was one
of the most distinguished.
Nicknamed ‘Dziubek’, Horbaczewski was
a legendary Polish fighter pilot – the third
highest scoring Polish fighter ace with a
total of 16½ confirmed kills (plus one
shared) – and an exceptional leader, highly
respected by all those who knew him.
Horbaczewski had been a member of the
special Polish unit consisting of 15
experienced Polish fighter pilot volunteers –
the Polish Fighting Team (PFT) or
‘Skalski’s Circus’ – that operated in North
Africa with Spitfire Mk.IXs in the spring of
1943 and with which he destroyed eight
ne of the Polish fighter
squadrons formed in Great
Britain as part of an
agreement between the Polish
Government in Exile and the
United Kingdom. One of several Polish
fighter squadrons that flew and fought with
the RAF during the Second World War, it
was named after the city of Deblin, where
the main Polish Air Force Academy was
The squadron was formed at RAF
Acklington in January 1941. Initially
equipped with Hawker Hurricanes, 315 was
moved in March 1941 to RAF Speke (now
Liverpool Airport) from where it made
frequent patrols over naval convoys as part
of 9 Group RAF. In July that year it moved to
RAF Northolt and re-equipped with
Spitfires. After only a month with Mk.IIa
Spitfires, 315 Squadron received Mk.Vbs
and, from then until March 1944, the
squadron operated Spitfires on offensive
fighter sweeps and fighter escorts over
occupied Europe and defensive patrols
Mustang – ‘two up’
Squadron Leader Eugeniusz Horbaczewski
(315 Squadron Mustang III pilot)
Squadron Leader Eugeniusz Horbaczewski
climbing into his Mustang III.
Horbaczewski with his 315 Squadron Mustang III FB382‘PK-G’ used in the rescue.
enemy aircraft in combat.
Among the decorations Horbaczewski
was awarded were the Virtuti Militari, four
Polish Crosses of valour, the DSO and DFC
and Bar. Horbaczewski took command of
315 Squadron in February 1944 just before
the unit re-equipped with Mustang IIIs.
During the invasion, the two RAF wings of
Mustang IIIs were given responsibility for
cutting off German forces behind the
beachhead, with deep-penetration missions
laid on at a rate of two to three missions per
day, attacking both German ground targets
and Luftwaffe aircraft in the air.
On the morning of June 12, 1944,
Horbaczewski led four Mustangs of 315
Squadron on a dive-bombing mission north
of Mortagne, during which they ran across
seven Fw 190s at low level. The Poles shot
down three of the 190s with Horbaczewski
and Flying Officer Kirste claiming one each,
while Flight Sergeant Bargielowski got two.
On July 30 Horbaczewski destroyed a Bf
109 and shared a kill against another 109
with his wingman.
On June 22, Horbaczewski led a formation
of 12, 315 Squadron Mustang IIIs on a
strafing attack against enemy ground
positions in Normandy. Two of the
Mustangs were hit by ground fire; Flight
Lieutenant Henryk Stefankiewicz in FB398,
‘PK-A’ was killed and Warrant Officer
Tadeusz Tamowicz’s Mustang FZ157 ‘PK-J’,
was also hit by 20mm shells, slightly
wounding the pilot in both legs.
Tamowicz managed to get his aircraft
back into the beach-head area where he
crash-landed in a marsh. Extricating himself
from the cockpit of his Mustang which was
sinking into the mud, Tamowicz crawled,
with some difficulty due to his wounds, to a
clump of bushes and used his shirt to dress
his bleeding legs. Meanwhile,
Horbaczewski found a short strip nearby, an
ALG under construction by a group of
American engineers. He circled it and
decided to land to help his colleague.
Having landed safely on the strip,
Horbaczewski was driven by the Americans
in a jeep to the area where Tamowicz had
crash-landed. On reaching the marsh about
30 minutes later, Horbaczewski and the
American soldiers had to wade through
mud and water for 400m, waist deep in
places, to reach Tamowicz. With the
Americans’ assistance, Tamowicz was
rescued, his wounds were tended and he
was helped to the jeep and returned to the
Horbaczewski slid the seat of his Mustang
as far back as possible and enlisted the
further help of the American engineers to
get Tamowicz into his Mustang (FB382 ‘PK-
G’). Then Horbaczewski, who was
fortunately small in stature, climbed in and
sat on Tamowicz’s lap, started up, taxied to
the end of the strip and took off.
The Mustang landed safely back at 315
Squadron’s base at Coolham, Sussex, where
the ground crews were understandably
surprised to see two men emerge from the
cockpit. Some of those who witnessed this
return were deeply moved by
Horbaczewski’s actions and devotion to his
men. The official RAF reaction was less
benevolent in view of the many regulations
that had been broken!
Tamowicz was back flying on operations
again five days later. His logbook contains
two entries for June 22, 1944, the first
stating: “Mustang III ‘J’ – Duty: Strafing
south of ‘Cher’ – 1:40 – “shot down and
crash landed south of Cherbourg. Ack.
Ack”. The second entry for June 22 states:
“Mustang III ‘G’ – Pilot: Sqn Ldr
Horbaczewski, Passenger: Self – Duty:
Return with CO from France – 45 minutes
In mid-July, 133 Wing was reassigned to Air
Defence of Great Britain to participate in
the anti-diver patrols against the newly
introduced V-1 flying bombs. During this
time, Horbaczewski shot down four V-1
flying bombs.
After a successful campaign against the
V-1s, on August 18, 1944, Horbaczewski led
12 Mustangs of 315 Squadron on their first
air-combat mission since their withdrawal
from France – a ‘Rodeo’ fighter sweep
against the Luftwaffe base at Beauvais.
Despite being massively outnumbered, the
Poles attacked a group of some 60 Fw 190s
of Jagdgeschwaders 2 and 26 that they
surprised over the airfield. A massive
Flt Sgt Slon and Sqn Ldr Horbaczewski demonstrate for a press photograph (not very
convincingly) how two can fit into a Mustang cockpit. (Tadeusz Tamowicz was recovering
from his wounds when the picture was taken).
Warrant Officer Tadeusz Tamowicz.
dogfight ensued in which the Polish
Mustang pilots were officially credited with
16 victories, one ‘probable’ and three
damaged (German documents record the
loss of 12 Fw 190s in the combat).
Sadly this victory haul cost the life of the
315 Squadron CO, Squadron Leader
Horbaczewski, who had been seen to shoot
down three of the German Fw 190s. As he
opened fire on the last victim, a 190 rolled in
on Horbaczewski’s tail and delivered a fatal
burst; the Mustang was seen to roll on its
back and dive straight in, exploding on
impact. In 1947 the wreck of Horbaczewski’s
Mustang, with his body still inside it, was
found crashed near Valennes. 
flew Boeing B-17 Fortress IIs and IIIs,
equipped with special RCM jamming
equipment, as part of 100 Group. The RAF
had adopted the B-17 Fortress for the RCM
role because the aircraft’s deep bomb bay
was ideal for accommodating the special
electronic countermeasures equipment; the
B-17’s ability to fly high above the bomber
stream was also an asset.
The RCM Fortresses were painted with
the standard Bomber Command
brown/green camouflage pattern on the top
surfaces, the black undersides extended up
the sides of the fuselage and the fin was also
painted black. The crew of these Fortresses
was 10, with only a single pilot, assisted by a
flight engineer who occupied the co-pilot’s
seat. They also carried a navigator, bomb
aimer, wireless operator, top gunner, two
waist gunners and a rear gunner. The 10th
member of the crew was a German-
speaking ‘special operator’.
These special RCM Fortresses carried a
radar jamming device codenamed Mandrel,
which operated in the 85 to 135MHz band,
to counter German ground radars, such as
the Freya early warning radar. The Piperack
equipment they carried was used for
jamming the German night fighters’
Airborne Intercept radars. The aircraft also
carried and dropped ‘Window’ (now known
as ‘chaff’) to confuse and swamp the enemy
radar picture. On RAF Bomber Command
main force bombing raids the RCM
Fortresses flew just above the bomber
stream or sometimes ahead of it as a
‘Mandrel screen’, throwing out a protective
specialist aircraft and crews. So successful
were these operations that the German High
Command retained Wehrmacht divisions
north of the Seine and in the Pas-de Calais,
even after the invasion in Normandy had
occurred, in the belief that this was where
the main blow would fall. These enemy
forces could, potentially, have made a major
difference if they had been deployed to
Normandy early enough. They might have
turned the tide entirely and they would, at
the very least, have inflicted greater
casualties on the Allied troops during the
initial break out from the invasion beaches.
The Radar Counter Measures (RCM) units
of RAF Bomber Command’s 100 (Bomber
Support) Group had become a standard
part of offensive air operations by spring
1944, helping to reduce bomber losses on
the Command’s night-time raids. 214 (BS)
Squadron, based at RAF Oulton in Norfolk,
o account of Operation
Overlord would be complete
without mention of the
deception operations
conducted against the
Germans. Since there was no disguising the
imminence of the invasion, it was essential
to its success that the enemy be misled
about the actual location of the assault.
Imaginative, elaborate and realistic
intelligence deceptions, for example
utilising double agents, ‘dummy’ forces and
‘spoof’ radio traffic, played no small part in
this campaign over the weeks and months
preceding D-Day.
As the date for the invasion drew closer,
the air campaign continued to sow confusion
by attacking more targets north of the Seine
and in the Pas-de-Calais area than in
Normandy. However, on the eve of D-Day the
lion’s share of the credit for successfully
blinding, confusing and misleading the
Germans, must go to the air operations
conducted by a relatively small number of
‘Jammers’ and‘Spoofers’
Boeing B-17G Fortress III ‘BU-W’ of 214 Squadron, in flight.
Boeing B-17 Fortress II ‘BU-A’ SR386 of 214 Squadron.
electronic ‘cloak’ to help conceal the attack.
214 Squadron Fortresses also carried
‘Jostle’ VHF radio jamming equipment,
officially T3160, which had become known
as ABC (‘Airborne Cigar’) and which had
been used by 101 Squadron in its special
Lancasters, with an eighth crewman, since
1943. It consisted of a panoramic receiver
and three transmitters, which enabled the
VHF ground-to-air R/T frequency being
used by the German fighter controllers to
be identified and then jammed.
The special operator used the equipment
to listen in for a controller’s transmissions.
When he was sure that he was listening to
the master controller, he jammed the
frequency and if the Germans changed
channels he had to find the new frequency
and jam that as quickly as possible.
The Jostle equipment was large and
heavy (it weighed over 600lb) and it
replaced the underside ball turret fitted to
the USAAF B-17s used on daylight
operations (the use of the original ‘ABC’
Jostle equipment was terminated in July
1944, as it proved very easy for German
night fighters to home onto it. It was
replaced by Jostle IV).
The Short Stirling IIIs of 199 Squadron
based at North Creake, Norfolk, and the
Handley Page Halifax IIIs of 192 Squadron
at Foulsham, Norfolk, were similarly
equipped to the RCM B-17 Fortresses and
they also played a part on the eve of D-Day.
From the night of June 4-5, 1944, the
specialist RCM aircraft of 100 (BS) Group,
including USAAF B-17 Fortresses of 803
Squadron, which were attached to 100
Group, set up a radar jamming ‘Mandrel
screen’ to cover the invasion fleet from the
‘eyes’ of those German radars which had
survived the earlier attacks by Allied
fighter bombers.
On the eve of D-Day, June 5-6, all the
jamming squadrons of 100 Group were in
the air performing their specialist duties.
First up, around dusk, were 199 and 214
Squadrons. 199 Squadron Stirlings took up
station at 15,000ft at intervals along the
south coast of England, spread from Dorset
to Dover.
Flying at precisely determined intervals,
heights and bearings the aircraft jammed
German radar across the entire central and
eastern English Channel, masking the
invasion fleet.
Meanwhile, B-17 Fortresses of 214
Squadron and a small force of 101 Squadron
Lancasters were heading east to fly over
Calais and along the Somme Valley,
penetrating 80 miles into France then
turning around to fly back and forth across
the Channel.
On each inward run ‘Window’ bundles
were tossed out as fast as possible. Just 10
aircraft created on German early warning
radar a ‘ghost’ bomber stream of hundreds
of non-existent raiders heading for precisely
those targets that would have been chosen
if the invasion were taking place near Calais,
distracting the German’s attention from
Normandy. The Fortresses also jammed the
German fighter control radio frequencies
with their special on-board equipment.
An electronic wall, blocking all German
communications and radar, was established
for several hours over northern France,
masking the presence of the huge and
vulnerable force of Allied transport aircraft
and the gliders they towed, on their way to
deliver airborne forces as the precursor to
the invasion.
In early 1942, Joan Curran, a scientist
and researcher, and the only woman
‘boffin’ at the British Telecommunications
Research Establishment (TRE),
suggested and then developed the
idea of dropping aluminium strips from
aircraft to generate a cloud of false
echoes on enemy radars.
‘Window’ was the code name
allocated to these small metallised strips,
like tinfoil, designed to be dropped in
bundles from RAF bombers.The strips of
aluminised paper were cut to a half
wavelength of the operating frequency
to be jammed, although quarter-
wavelength strips were later used as well.
When‘illuminated’ by radar these
strips re-radiated the signal.‘Window’
appeared on enemy radar screens as
a cluster of primary targets or,
alternatively, the screen would be
swamped with multiple returns. Special
treated paper was used to minimise
the weight and maximise the time that
the strips would remain in the air, to
prolong the effect. The result was a
gently drifting cloud of metallic strips
that created confusing signals on
German radar screens, either
concealing the position of the actual
bombers or generating a‘ghost’
bomber stream.
While the specialist ‘jammers’ of 100 Group
did their work, three other special air
operations added to the trickery that the
Germans had to contend with on the eve of
the invasion. Operations Taxable and
Glimmer, flown by 617 Squadron
Lancasters and 218 Squadron Stirlings,
created ‘spoof’ invasion fleets, while
Operation Titanic conducted by Special
Duties Halifaxes and Stirlings generated
decoy airborne landings. These operations
are described in more detail in the
following pages. 
The 10-man crew of a 214 Squadron RCM B-17 Fortress. Back row: Jimmy Pate (tail gunner),
Jock Knox (flight engineer), Don Austin (pilot), Geoff Godfrey (navigator), Les Bostock
(bomb aimer). Front row: Pip Piper (mid-upper gunner), Harry Richardson (wireless
operator), Abe Levine (special operator), Chas Lewis (starboard waist gunner), Alf Butler
(port waist gunner).
used for the forthcoming operation to
augment 617 Squadron. This decision was
made due to the former’s familiarity and
expertise with the ‘GEE’ and ‘G-H’ radio
navigation and ‘blind-bombing’ systems.
Based at Woolfox Lodge, Rutland, 218
Squadron was equipped with the Short
Stirling Mk.III and was, at the time, the only
front line heavy bomber squadron fully
operational and trained within Bomber
Command to use this equipment for ‘blind
bombing’. However, the poor performance
of the Stirling compared with the later
heavy bombers had meant that, prior to D-
Day, 218 Squadron, which was now one of
the last units using the Stirling as a bomber,
had been relegated to mostly mining
(‘Gardening’) operations and short
penetration raids into the occupied
During the spring of 1944 the squadron
had executed a number of extremely
accurate raids, utilising its expertise with
the GEE and G-H equipment, including a
precision attack on the Luftwaffe signals
depot at Vilvoorde, north of Brussels on
April 23-24, 1944, and an extremely accurate
raid on the railway depot at Chambly on
May 1-2, 1944; both raids causing extensive
damage. The air staff’s opinion was,
therefore, that with their proven precision
navigation skills, the crews of 218 Squadron
could successfully complete the special and
highly secret D-Day task without extensive
additional training.
On May 7, 1944, a meeting was held at 617
Squadron’s base at Woodhall Spa,
Lincolnshire, to discuss the ‘spoof’ raid. A
number of high-ranking personnel from the
Air Ministry and senior Bomber Command
officers were present, along with the
Due to the complex nature of the task,
Bomber Command’s premier precision
navigation and bombing unit, 617 Squadron
(of Dambusters fame) was approached in
early May 1944 to evaluate the feasibility of
this deception plan. It was apparent that the
operation would call for a high degree of
flying ability, navigational accuracy and
crew discipline. 617 Squadron was, of
course, equipped with the Avro Lancaster
four-engine heavy bomber and its success
with target marking and precision bombing
had proved that its aircrews possessed the
necessary attributes in abundance.
Also during early May it was decided
that 218 (‘Gold Coast’) Squadron would be
peration Taxable and the
similar Operation Glimmer
were sophisticated deception
operations simulating large
invasion forces heading for
Cap-d’Antifer and Pas-de-Calais. Both of
these operations were conducted on the eve
of D-Day, the night of June 5-6, 1944, while
the actual invasion fleet was on the way to
Normandy for the real landings.
To generate these decoy assaults two
relatively small, specially trained forces of
RAF bombers and Navy and RAF boats, set
out to persuade German radar operators
(and through them the high command) that
major invasion fleets were sailing for and
assembling off Fécamp and Boulogne.
‘Ghost’ invasion fleets
Operations Taxable and Glimmer
One of the 617 Squadron Lancasters that
took part in Operation Taxable on June 5-6,
DV385,‘KC-A’‘Thumper Mk.III’ flown by Flt Lt
Bob Knights and his crew, is now recreated
by the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight
Lancaster PA474. Crown copyright
Sqn Ldr Les Munro (back left), who led the Operation Taxable mission, with his regular 617
Squadron crew, posing alongside their Lancaster LM482‘KC-W’.
time on the squadron. Not measured by any
visual result, but because of the exacting
flying and navigational requirements. There
was absolutely no latitude for deviation from
the correct ground speed, track, rate of turn
and timing if it was to be successful.
“The object of the operation was to
create the impression of a fleet of ships
advancing at eight knots towards the
French coast. To achieve this, two waves of
eight aircraft were required, taking off two
hours apart. Each Lancaster flew parallel
oblong circuits (racetrack patterns) at
180mph at a height of 3000ft, maintaining a
distance of two miles between them on both
the outbound and return legs of each
circuit, thereby creating a 16 mile front.
“From a predetermined start point each
aircraft flew a straight course towards the
French coast for two minutes 30 seconds,
they then executed a rate one turn to port
through 180º, lasting one minute, returning
towards the English coast on an exact
reciprocal track. After two minutes and 10
seconds the aircraft then carried out
another 180º turn to port to arrive back over
the original outbound track. The difference
in the timing of the outbound and inbound
legs resulted in the whole pattern advancing
towards the French coast at the rate of eight
knots, the average speed of a naval convoy.
“To create the impression of an armada
of ships on the German radar screens, each
aircraft dropped bundles of ‘Window’ of
predetermined sizes every five seconds.
The illusion of a convoy approaching the
French coast was amplified by using
progressively thicker window strips as the
aircraft flew nearer to the coast on each
outward leg, and lighter strips as they flew
on the return legs. As well as the variation
in the size of the ‘Window’ strips on each
leg, the overall size was also increased
every few circuits as the whole pattern
commanding officer of 617 Squadron, Wing
Commander Leonard Cheshire.
A number of points were raised by
Cheshire who was concerned about the
complexity of the operation and the strain it
would place on his crews. His concerns
were acknowledged, and as a consequence
it was decided that each of the crews for the
operation would include a second navigator.
New autopilots and new H2S radar
navigation equipment would be fitted to the
unit’s Lancasters and an extra chute would
be added to the squadron’s aircraft to
ensure the required amount of ‘Window’
(radar-reflective, aluminium foil strips)
could be released quickly enough. In
addition, extra relief pilots would be posted
onto the squadron to augment the unit’s
already overworked crews.
As they had with the ‘Dams Raid’ exactly
a year before, 617 Squadron now set about
trying to achieve what seemed an
impossible task; within a matter of days the
aircraft modifications were completed and
additional personnel had joined the
As an amusing aside, while the new
equipment was being fitted to Lancaster
ME561, the personal aircraft of American
pilot Lieutenant Nick Knilans, it was
discovered that the aircraft’s ailerons had
been fitted upside down at the factory.
Correcting this mistake improved the
aircraft’s flying characteristics no end and
sorted a problem which had led to Knilans
being ribbed for his flying and especially for
his landings.
A second planning meeting held 10 days
later to finalise the preparations for the
operation included representatives from the
Royal Navy, including the Vice Admiral of
Dover, Commodore Jessel, and the
commanding officer of 218 Squadron, Wing
Commander Royd Fenwick-Wilson. Among
the decisions taken at this meeting, it was
agreed that apart from the installation of an
additional GEE set in the Stirlings, no other
major aircraft modifications needed to be
carried out to the 218 Squadron aircraft.
When the crews of 617 Squadron were
called together amid tight security for a
special briefing by the air officer
commanding 5 Group, Air Vice Marshal Sir
Ralph Cochrane, to be told: “Gentlemen, the
next time you are airborne operationally it
will be D-Day”, they all wondered what
exciting task they would be given as
Bomber Command’s elite unit on such an
historic occasion. It is easy to imagine that
when the details of their diversionary task
and the ‘spoof’ raid unfolded, there was a
certain amount of disappointment. At the
time they could not have realised the
importance and enormity of what they were
being asked to do.
From the middle of May, the two
squadrons were kept off operations so that
they could carry out weeks of extensive
trials, training and equipment testing over
the North Sea. For 617 Squadron these
training flights and the impending operation
involved all of the crews, while 218
Squadron selected six experienced senior
crews (and two reserve crews) under the
leadership of the CO, Wing Commander
Fenwick-Wilson, for their part in the
Captured versions of the German radars
were mounted on the headland at
Flamborough Head to assess the effect of
tactics as the training progressed. The
weather for these training flights was often
far from ideal with low cloud, heavy rain and
poor visibility, but the bomber crews carried
on regardless. The crews recorded these
training flights in their logbooks with simple
entries, such as ‘special local flying’ or other
such mundane descriptions of the duty
carried out.
On D-Day, June 5-6, 1944, the first wave of
eight 617 Squadron Lancasters took off
from their base at Woodhall Spa shortly
after midnight, each carrying a crew of
between 12 and 14 men rather than the
normal seven, with an additional pilot and
navigator in each crew, as well as ‘extra
personnel’ to assist with the task of
dropping the bundles of ‘Window’. The
leader for the operation was one of the
squadron’s flight commanders, New
Zealand Squadron Leader Les Munro, who
had on board with him as his second pilot,
the CO, Wing Commander Leonard
Les Munro takes up the story and
describes the complexities of the operation
in his own words (it should be remembered
that this whole operation was, of course,
carried out in total darkness):
“I have always believed that Operation
Taxable was in one sense the most
important that 617 carried out during my
The‘ops log’ on Flt Lt Bob Knight’s 617 Squadron Lancaster DV385‘KC-A’‘Thumper Mk.III’
included a‘D’ on the bomb symbol for its 23rd‘op’ indicating the D-Day Operation Taxable
mission (the swastika on the 32nd bomb symbol indicates the shooting down of a German
fighter by its crew).This is now replicated on the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight
Lancaster PA474. Crown copyright
second wave of three, which joined in after
the first eight, would only fly 18 circuits.
‘Window’ was dropped in the same
manner as Taxable and a naval task force
of 12 HDMLs equipped with the same
jamming devices, radar-reflecting balloons
and radios sailed beneath the Stirlings.
The boats began jamming operations at
1am followed by radio ‘chatter’ around an
hour later.
The real D-Day assault into Normandy was
supposed to have been completely masked
by the radar jamming of the specialist 100
Group RCM aircraft.
That jamming, it transpired, was
insufficient to overcome the powerful
German radars that had survived earlier
attacks, whose operators did in fact detect
and report the real invasion fleet heading
towards Normandy. By that point, however,
the Germans were in a state of disarray and
confusion, which had been added to by the
‘spoof’ invasion fleets simulated by Taxable
and Glimmer.
While some German officers wanted to
respond to the real invasion, others refused
to accept it for what it was and would not
believe the reports they were receiving. The
fact is that potent German forces were kept
in the Pas-de-Calais area, even after the
invasion in Normandy had occurred, in the
belief that this was where the main blow
would still fall, proof indeed of the success
of the numerous deception operations,
including Taxable and Glimmer.
The commander in chief of RAF Bomber
Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur
Harris, sent a message to the air crews
involved which said: “It is already
established that the operations on which
you engaged on the night of June 5-6 were
very successful and it may well be when the
full facts are known it will be found that you
achieved results of even greater importance
than can be known at present.” 
counter measures (RCM) equipment,
beneath the 617 Squadron ‘Window’
dropping aircraft.
The leading line of boats carried
equipment that jammed the German radars,
but not so effectively that they could not
‘see’ the ‘fleet’ behind them. The following
boats each towed two radar-reflecting
balloons which would reproduce big ship
sized echoes on the enemy radar screens.
They were also equipped with RCM devices
known as ‘Moonshine’ (ARI TR1427).
‘Moonshine’ had originally been
intended for airborne use; it was a pulse-
repeater device which, when it received a
signal from the German Freya radars, re-
transmitted a portion of the signal as a
greatly amplified, spread out pulse on the
same frequency, giving the impression of a
much larger radar return than was actually
the case. Meanwhile, radio operators on the
launches simulated the radio traffic that
would be expected of a large fleet of ships.
Combined together, the jammers,
‘Moonshines’ and ‘Window’ dropped from
above created a remarkably accurate
simulation of a large invasion fleet,
attempting to cover itself with RCM, on the
German radar screens.
The first three 218 Squadron Stirlings
tasked for Operation Glimmer, plus the two
reserve aircraft, took off from Woolfox
Lodge during the 20 minutes leading up to
midnight on June 5. The second wave of
three more Stirlings took off 50 minutes
later. Each Stirling carried a crew of 13 men:
two pilots, three navigators, a wireless
operator, a flight engineer, two air gunners
and four ‘Window’ dispatchers.
As with Operation Taxable very precise
flying and navigation was needed to
achieve the desired effect. The timing
called for an overall advance of 18 miles
towards Boulogne at an apparent speed of
seven knots. The front line of three
aircraft needed to fly 23 orbits while the
advanced towards the French coast. No
‘Window’ was dropped during the turns.
The directions to crew members
manning the ‘Window’ chutes as to when to
commence dropping bundles of ‘Window’,
when to cease and when to change the size,
were relayed by a system of red and green
lights operated by the second navigator.
“While we were doing our job in the air, a
number of naval vessels on the sea directly
below us were advancing at the same eight
knots, using radar counter measures and
broadcasting sound effects to simulate a
large convoy at sea.
“Each aircraft flew those parallel circuits
for two hours. The second wave of eight
Lancasters took over from the first eight
after two hours. Each aircraft of the second
wave joined the circuits at precisely the
same time as the first wave aircraft were
starting their last circuit but 500ft above.
When the first wave aircraft left, those of the
second wave descended to 3000ft. A
maximum of 90 seconds was allowed within
which to complete the handover between
the waves. Throughout the operation we
flew without lights and in complete radio
“Because of the tedious and repetitive
nature of the operation, our crews were
doubled up so that individual crew members
could be rested periodically. I was once
asked if I rested during my hour ‘off’, but
with so many ‘bods’ on board, I stayed in my
seat in the cockpit as there was nowhere
else to go!”
The ‘naval vessels’ involved in Operation
Taxable, which Les Munro refers to in his
account above, were 18 small boats, a mix of
Royal Navy Harbour Defence Motor
Launches (HDMLs) and RAF Air Sea
Rescue launches. The bad weather on June
5, 1944, and the heavy seas that resulted
from it, caused the launches to struggle to
converge at their meeting point on time.
However, they all made it and between 2am
and 4am, they advanced towards the French
coast, operating specially fitted radar
Short Stirling Mk.III LF133, photographed here in the summer of
1944, was one of the 218 Squadron aircraft that took part in
Operation Glimmer on June 5-6, 1944.
A wonderful colour shot of a Short Stirling bomber and some of the
crew taken earlier in the war, showing the enormous size and
ungainliness of the big aircraft on the ground.
removal of the mid-upper, dorsal turret, the
installation of additional fuel tanks and the
fitting of a ‘para’ exit, along with other
equipment to support clandestine parachute
jumps and re-supply operations.
The Halifax was captained by Flight
Lieutenant Johnson who, along with his
crew, was well used to dropping agents and
supplies into occupied Europe at night, to
support the work of the Resistance
For this drop the Halifax would have
been at the usual speed and height of
140mph and 5-600ft. This was low, but gave
sufficient time for the parachutes to open,
while minimising both the time in the air
under the parachute canopy and any drift
away from the drop zone.
The crew’s post-mission report for this
sortie stated that: “The passengers jumped
with alacrity”, although it also admitted that
the equipment containers holding the SAS
men’s heavier equipment, which were
supposed to follow immediately after them,
were delayed by a technical hitch and were
not released until 10 seconds after the last
man jumped. Unfortunately, this meant that,
in the darkness, the SAS soldiers were unable
to find the containers which held their Bren
guns and additional ammunition, food and
supplies, so they were left ill-equipped.
Operation Titanic involved 34 RAF aircraft
in all. 138 and 161 (SD) Squadrons, based at
Tempsford, provided 12 Special Duties
Halifaxes. 90 and 149 Squadrons, based
respectively at Tuddenham, in Suffolk, and
Methwold, in Norfolk, provided 22 Short
Stirling Mk.IIIs. For the Special Duty
Halifax crews this was the type of para-
Poole’s arrival into enemy territory was
not exactly what he had planned. He
knocked himself out on leaving the aircraft
and was unconscious on the ground for
almost an hour after landing, eventually
coming round with a cut lip and grazed chin.
The SAS team’s mission was part of a ‘spoof’
deception operation, intended to decoy
enemy forces away from the real Allied drop
zones and invasion beaches by sending the
Germans on a ‘wild goose chase’ responding
to apparent but actually non-existent, mass
paratrooper landings further inland.
The operation, codenamed Titanic, has
subsequently captured people’s imaginations
and has featured widely in films and books
about D-Day. As a result it has become
immersed in myths, legend and inaccuracies,
and sources vary wildly over the details, not
least relating to the involvement of the SAS
and their miniature ‘friends’.
The 138 Squadron Halifax from which Poole
and his team parachuted was a Mk.V series
1 (special) from Tempsford. These aircraft
were modified for ‘special duties’ with the
he first Allied soldier to land in
Normandy at the start of D-Day,
June 6, 1944, was British Army
Lieutenant Norman Harry
‘Puddle’ Poole of 1 Special Air
Service (SAS). At 11 minutes after midnight,
Poole jumped from a Handley Page Halifax
Mk.V of No 138 (Special Duties) Squadron
and parachuted into occupied France, landing
two miles west of his intended drop zone, in a
marshy area near Marigny, west of Saint-Lô in
the Manche, 10 minutes ahead of schedule.
Poole was the first of a team of six
courageous SAS soldiers out of the Halifax,
the others being Lieutenant Frederick
James ‘Chick’ Fowles and Troopers
Dawson, Hurst, Merryweather and
Saunders. These men had all volunteered
for what they knew was quite likely to be a
one-way mission.
Operation Titanic
Dropping the SAS and‘Ruperts’
Handley Page Halifax Mk.V (Special) JD319 NF-A of 138 Squadron at Tempsford.
The SAS team, meanwhile, was to play
amplified recordings of battle sound effects,
such as bursts of small arms fire, mortar
fire, explosions, screams and soldiers’
shouted commands. The SAS men were
also equipped with 20 Lewes bombs to
create explosions and were to engage any
German troops they saw.
Having created the noises of a large
airborne landing for 30 minutes and created
confusion among the defenders they were
then to melt away into the countryside and
allow silence to return. Subsequently, the
SAS men were to conduct whatever
sabotage or disruptive activity they could.
Operation Titanic was originally conceived
in four parts. Titanic II was cancelled before
the event due to the high volume of air
traffic in the planned area on a very busy
night, but the other three parts of the
dropping mission that they carried out
regularly and were expert in completing.
The Stirling crews, however, were more
normally employed on bombing operations
as part of Bomber Command’s 3 Group. The
Stirlings’ poor performance, especially their
low operational ceiling, meant that the
aircraft were now coming to the end of their
useful lives as heavy bombers (some might
argue that they were, in fact, already past
it). 90 Squadron had begun the process of
re-equipping with the Avro Lancaster, and
149 Squadron was similarly re-equipped in
August 1944.
The Stirlings had been progressively
withdrawn from main force bombing
operations and since April 1944 both these
squadrons had conducted a number of
‘special operations’ over France in support
of the Resistance.
The Operation Titanic aircraft were tasked
with dropping large amounts of radar-
reflective ‘window’ en route to the drop
zones to mask from the German radar
operators the relatively small number of
aircraft actually involved in the operation
and as a defensive tactic.
Apart from the Halifax flown by Flight
Lieutenant Johnson, which dropped Poole’s
SAS team and their containers, the others
carried between them some 450 dummy
paratroopers, officially known as ‘Paragons’
but nicknamed, engagingly, ‘Ruperts’. A
surviving Second World War British Army
infantryman told the author that it was
common practice for the troops to refer to
their officers in jest as ‘Wuperts’ in
recognition of their likely background in
British society. He believes that the nickname
for the dummy parachutists came about
because ‘Wuperts’ traditionally made a lot of
noise but were actually completely useless!
The ‘Ruperts’ were 3ft tall. They were
simply made from hessian sackcloth (burlap
in the US and Canada) stuffed with sand,
straw and wood shavings to form the crude
outline shape of a human figure. They were
attached to scaled-down parachutes which
were opened by static line just like real
paratroopers. The static lines also activated
a time-delay mechanism in the ‘Ruperts’
which caused them to ignite and self-
destruct after reaching the ground, burning
away completely. It was hoped that this
might look, to any enemy troops finding the
site, like paratroopers’ attempts to burn
their parachutes after landing. Some of the
dummies were designed to produce sounds
of gunfire or explosions after landing,
before self-destructing.
The aircraft also dropped ‘Pintail’ bombs,
which fell faster than the ‘Ruperts’ and
landed first. These devices landed upright
with a spike that stuck into the ground and
they then fired off a Very light, giving the
impression that there was a reception party
on the ground to receive the ‘paratroopers’
and to illuminate the ‘Ruperts’ as they
drifted down.
Dispatchers inside a Special Duties Halifax using the‘para’ hatch to drop supplies.
An unknown Halifax (SD) crew of 161 Squadron standing by their aircraft LL392‘MA-W’
showing the special ‘para’ hatch.
A surviving‘Rupert’ – a dummy parachutist of
the type used on OperationTitanic. Author
eventually liberated, one by one, between
August 1944 and August 1945 as the Allies
overran their locations. Both of the officers
were awarded the Military Cross for their
exploits and the troopers received Military
Medals. For them the operation had indeed
been a one-way ticket, just like those on the
ship it was named after.
By 2am on June 6, the Germans had
reported parachute landings east of Caen
and as far west as Saint-Lô. Over half of the
12th SS Panzer Division was ordered to deal
with an enemy parachute landing near
Lisieux. The dummies and the SAS team of
Titanic IV diverted a Kampfgruppe from the
915th Grenadier Regiment, which was the
only reserve element of the 352nd Infantry
Division, away from the Omaha and Gold
beaches and the US 101st Airborne
Division’s drop zones.
The German regiment spent the
morning of June 6 searching the woods for
the parachutists, believing an airborne
division had landed in the area, instead of
supporting their colleagues at the coast.
‘Enigma’ intercepts from the area of Titanic
I, revealed that one German commander
was reporting a major landing up the coast
from Le Havre (well to the north of the
landing beaches) and that he had been cut
off by them!
Overall, Operation Titanic achieved its
objective of adding to the confusion the
Germans were experiencing as a result of
all the various deception operations
surrounding the invasion. In addition,
German forces were decoyed away from the
actual Allied airborne landing zones and
invasion beaches. 
hospital in Rennes with a broken leg; he was
freed on August 4 when American forces
entered the town.
Pilot Officer John Nind, one of the
gunners, who had only been commissioned
on June 4 and who had completed 20 ‘ops’
on Stirlings (half of them special
operations), hid in some woods for two days
before being captured by the Germans on
June 8. He was taken to a prison camp at
Rennes, where he remained until July 6
when he was put on a prison train to be
taken to Germany. For 10 days the train was
stranded outside Tours, being unable to
proceed because of Allied air raids. There
were 40 POWs in the boxcar and they were
given one loaf of bread and a small piece of
meat each day between them. On July 23 he
and the other POWs cut a hole in the end of
the boxcar in which they were imprisoned
and jumped out. Subsequently, Nind evaded
recapture with the help of the French
Resistance and was eventually handed over
to Allied forces on September 5, 1944.
The SAS team on the ground in Normandy
also received assistance from a French
Resistance worker, Monsieur Le Duc
Edouard, as they laid low for a month and
then tried to make their way back to the
Allied lines in an area crawling with enemy
troops. Unfortunately, they were
surrounded and captured by German
paratroopers on July 9 with three of the SAS
team being wounded by a German grenade.
Le Duc Edouard, who was only 28 years
old, was later executed by the Germans for
assisting the SAS men. All six of the SAS
soldiers became POWs; they were
operation went ahead. Titanic I saw 11
Halifaxes and four Stirlings drop 200
‘Ruperts’ near Yvetot, Yerville, Doudeville
and Fauville. Meanwhile on Titanic III,
three Stirlings from 149 Squadron dropped
50 dummies in the Calvados region near
Maltot and the woods to the north of Baron-
sur-Odon to draw German reserves away
from Caen. Titanic IV, which included the
SAS team, was allocated 15 Stirlings which
dropped 200 ‘Ruperts’ near Marigny.
All of the Special Duties Halifaxes returned
from the operation safely, but sadly two of
the 149 Squadron Stirlings were shot down
with the deaths of all but three of the 18
men on board the two aircraft.
Stirling III LK385, ‘OJ-C’, captained by
Squadron Leader Hutchins, took off from
Methwold at 10.28pm on June 5 to
participate in Titanic IV. The aircraft is
believed to have crashed near Baudre
(Manche) 4km southeast of Saint-Lô. All
those on board were killed. Four of the
unusually large crew of nine are buried in
Baudre churchyard; the others are
commemorated on the Runnymede
Memorial as having no known grave.
Stirling III LJ621, ‘OJ-M’, took off from
Methwold at 10.09pm on June 5, also with a
crew of nine and similarly tasked. It was
shot down in the vicinity of Caen at 1am on
June 6 and crashed at Marcelett (Calvados).
The captain, Pilot Officer Mayo, and five
other crew members were killed; they are
all buried in the St Manvieu War Cemetery
at Cheux. Three of the crew escaped the
burning aircraft; Sergeants Heal and
Wynne-Cole were captured and became
prisoners of war. Sgt Heal was admitted to
Rare colour image of a 149 Squadron
Short Stirling III coded‘OJ-B’ taken in
January 1942.
many anti-tank guns as possible.
These paratroopers and glider-borne
troops were dropped on the eastern flank of
the invasion area, tasked with capturing two
strategically important bridges over the
Caen Canal and Orne River, destroying
other bridges and securing several
important villages. The Merville gun battery
which could, it was believed, have inflicted
heavy casualties on the troops landing on
Sword beach was also to be assaulted and
destroyed. The division was then to create
and secure a bridgehead around the
captured bridges until they linked up with
the advancing Allied ground forces.
Operation Tonga commenced at 10.30pm on
June 5, when six Halifaxes, three each from
298 and 644 Squadrons, began to take off
from Tarrant Rushton airfield each towing a
Horsa glider carrying the ‘coup de main’
force tasked with capturing the vital
bridges, codenamed ‘Pegasus’ and ‘Horsa’.
Wing Commander Duder DSO DFC, the
commanding officer of 298 Squadron, led
the formation, towing the glider on board
which was Major Howard who led the
assault on the bridges. The brilliant success
of this mission is now a well-known part of
D-Day history. It is rather beyond the scope
of this publication, which focuses on the
RAF involvement, but the outstanding flying
Before the Allied heavy bombers and then
the naval artillery started to pound the
enemy beach defences and the seaborne
assault went in, the massive airborne
operation in support of the invasion was
already under way.
The lifting capability of the relatively
limited number of aircraft available to 38
and 46 Groups made it impossible to
transport all of the British 6th Airborne
Division to Normandy in a single wave. The
plan, therefore, was for two lifts, the first of
which, codenamed Operation Tonga, was
executed overnight during the early hours
of D-Day, six hours before the seaborne
assault commenced. On this lift the RAF
aircraft transported the 3rd and 5th
Parachute Brigades into Normandy,
together with over 80 gliders, some targeted
against specific high-priority objectives and
others carrying the Divisional HQ and as
hile the RAF’s offensive
aircraft types were fully
engaged in operations
during the build-up to
D-Day, aside from those
aircraft involved in ‘Special Duties’
operations in support of the Resistance
movements, the remainder of the RAF’s
transport aircraft and glider-towing fleet of
38 and 46 Groups did not have an
operational role to play prior to June 5-6.
The pilots and crew of these transport
aircraft had been training hard in formation
flying and partaking in large-scale airborne
exercises to ensure that they were ready for
what was required of them. On D-Day their
turn came to do it ‘for real’ in the airborne
assault phase of the great invasion.
On the eve of D-Day 38 and 46 Groups had
some 337 aircraft available, compared with
the 876 transport aircraft which made up
the US 9th Air Force’s IXth Tactical Carrier
The RAF order of battle included 15
squadrons of transport and glider-towing
aircraft. 46 Group consisted of five
squadrons of Douglas C-47 Dakotas, while
four squadrons of Armstrong Whitworth
Albemarles, four of Short Stirlings and two
of Handley Page Halifaxes made up 38
Group’s assets.
Attached to these groups were a total of
over 700 gliders with another 400 in
reserve, mostly Airspeed Horsas with
some of the larger, light-tank- and heavy-
load-carrying General Aircraft Hamilcars.
The crews for these gliders were provided
by the Glider Pilot Regiment of the Army
Air Corps.
Airborne operations
Transport aircraft, glider tugs and para-droppers
Halifax tugs with Horsa and Hamilcar gliders waiting to go, at Tarrant Rushton airfield, June 6, 1944.
Halifax tug towing one of the large
Hamilcar gliders.
Paratroopers landing on a drop zone in
skill and courage shown by the Army glider
pilots, who put their five gliders down safely,
on the spot, in the dark, coming to a halt
within yards of their objective, must be
considered one of the finest pieces of
operational flying of the entire war.
At 11pm 28 Albemarles of 295, 296, 297
and 570 Squadrons took to the air from
Harwell and Brize Norton. They were
transporting the pathfinders of the 22nd
Independent Parachute Company, who were
to mark the three drop-zones to be used by
the airborne troops of the division, and also
the advanced parties of the 3rd and 5th
Parachute Brigades.
About 30 minutes later the main body of
the 5th Parachute Brigade left the airfields
of Fairford and Keevil. 38 Group contributed
a total of 109 aircraft for this lift, with 190,
196, 299 and 620 Squadrons each providing
23 Stirlings, and 296 and 297 Squadrons
providing eight and nine Albemarles
respectively. These forces were due to land
in their respective drop zones at 12.50am.
At the same time, the Dakotas from the
five squadrons of 46 Group, 48, 233, 271,
512 and 575 Squadrons, took off and headed
for their drop zones, with 108 aircraft
carrying the 3rd Parachute Brigade and a
further 17 towing Horsa gliders. The
Albemarles of 38 Group’s 295 and 570
Squadrons contributed additional support to
this lift, carrying between them 20 loads of
paratroopers and towing four Horsas.
Several hours later, at about 1.40am on
June 6, having allowed enough time for the
Army Engineers to clear the landing strips,
the remaining aircraft of 38 Group took off
with the main glider lift. The Halifaxes of 298
and 644 Squadrons each towed 17 gliders,
included among which were four of the large
Hamilcar gliders. Albemarles of 295, 296, 297,
and 570 Squadrons towed 41 Horsas. The
troops on this second part of the lift were
planned to land at 3.20am. The final part of
this wave towed the three Horsa gliders
carrying the sappers and men from the 9th
Parachute Battalion, who were to land atop
Merville battery at 4.30am.
The towing of gliders was always a
precarious business and it was common for
a small number to cast-off prematurely, due
to broken tow-ropes or similar malfunctions.
Several gliders came down over England
only minutes after take-off, while others
ditched in the English Channel and some,
having made it to the French coast, fell
several miles short of the landing zone.
The flight across the Channel was
uneventful, but as soon as the aircraft
crossed into France, sporadic bursts of light
flak came up at them. Flying slowly and at a
very low altitude, they were easy targets for
the anti-aircraft gunners to hit and a number
were damaged, to a greater or lesser
degree, while others were shot down.
In addition to the losses among the
gliders, eight towing aircraft also failed to
return: five Stirlings, one Albemarle, one
Halifax and two Dakotas. 620 Squadron
suffered the worst, with three of its Stirlings
brought down, aboard one of which all six
aircrew and 19 men of the 7th Battalion and
591st Parachute Squadron were killed
following a direct hit as the aircraft struggled
to locate its drop zone. In comparison to what
might have been expected, however,
resistance was relatively light.
In fact, the main source of problems was
the weather. Conditions for the airborne
drop were, as they were for the troops at
sea, not ideal. Patches of low cloud had
gathered over Normandy and obscured
some of the terrain, making navigation
more difficult. From the air, the River Dives
and the River Orne appeared very similar
and, in poor visibility, a number of aircrew
mistook one for the other, causing some
errors in the landing areas for paratroopers
and gliders.
On the evening of D-Day, after only a short
respite for the air crews, Operation Mallard,
the second lift of the day, delivered the
balance of the 6th Airborne Division’s
equipment, including the light tanks,
artillery and the glider-borne infantry. The
first of 256 aircraft/glider combinations to
take off from seven airfields in southern
England were the Dakotas of 271 Squadron
towing Horsa gliders, the first of which
lifted off from Down Ampney at 6.40pm.
Over the next one hour and 20 minutes
the remainder of the force took to the air and
slowly made their way across the Channel to
France. This time the gliders that the large
aircraft towed included 30 Hamilcars as well
as 226 Horsas. From this vast air armada,
one Horsa crashed on take-off, three broke
their tows en route and three were forced to
ditch in the Channel. The remaining gliders,
including all the Hamilcars with their
precious heavy weapons and armoured
vehicles, made it safely down to their landing
zones. A further 50 RAF Dakotas undertook
supply-dropping missions.
This lift occurred in daylight and so
required a fighter escort. For the British and
American airlifts combined the overall air
escort comprised 110 Spitfires, 72 RAF and
98 USAAF P-51 Mustangs, and 96 P-47
Thunderbolts. As it happened, the air
armada was not threatened by the Luftwaffe
and the escort fighters’ presence was
almost, with the benefit of hindsight,
Losses in this second phase were 13
transport aircraft: nine Dakotas, two
Albemarles, one Stirling and one Halifax.
The Halifax that did not make it home from
this mission was from 298 Squadron. Flying
Officer Carpenter’s LL407 ‘8T-H’ was hit by
flak after releasing its glider over the drop
zone. It staggered away, but was forced to
ditch in the sea eight miles from the French
coast. Another Halifax crew from the same
squadron saw Carpenter’s aircraft go down
and circled the area until a naval vessel
arrived to pick up the crew, who were all
returned safely to England.
Considering the scale of the assault and
the intensity of the flak these losses were
surprisingly light. That said, these bald
numbers do not in any way convey the fear
that must have been experienced by the
transport aircraft crews as they plodded
through the flak over enemy territory, low
and slow, to get into their drop zones and
out again, nor the courage it must have
taken to do so and then go back for more.
After D-Day the air dropping of supplies
continued. When there were sufficient
advanced landing grounds constructed to
allow it, RAF transport aircraft began
landing in France to deliver supplies. On
June 13, three of 233 Squadron’s Dakotas
had the honour of being the first Allied
transport aircraft to land in France since the
invasion, arriving on the B2/Bazenville
airstrip with four tons of freight on board.
During the following months the battle
for Normandy was supported by a several-
times-a-day shuttle service of transport
aircraft, flying military supplies, equipment
and ammunition into France, and
evacuating wounded on the return flights.
Meanwhile, resupply drops to the troops on
the front line continued when needed. 
Operation Mallard: Halifax tugs, towing Hamilcar gliders approaching Normandy on the
evening of June 6, 1944.
British Army Glider pilots pose in front of a
Horsa glider. Pictured from left are Lt J F
Hubble; S/Sgt B L Morgan; S/Sgt J L Crone;
Sgt R Biagott.
powered by a pair of 1590hp (1186 kW)
Bristol Hercules XI radial engines, giving
the aircraft a cruising speed of 170mph and
a maximum speed of 265mph. A former
pilot said of the Albemarle that it had “no
virtues but no vices either”.
During the build-up to D-Day the
Albemarles were involved in dropping
supplies to SOE agents and the French
Resistance in enemy territory, as well as
training with Airborne forces.
The pinnacle of the aircraft’s career
though was its involvement in the airborne
operations in support of the D-Day
invasion, Operations Tonga and Mallard,
and then on Operation Market Garden, the
Arnhem para drop.
On June 6, 1944, the four Albemarle
squadrons of 38 Group and the Operational
Training Unit (OTU) were fully committed
to Operation Tonga. 295 Squadron towed
21 Horsa gliders, although it lost six in
transit; 296 Squadron used 19 aircraft,
some towing Horsas; 570 Squadron sent 22
aircraft with 10 towing gliders and 42 OTU
provided four aircraft and crews. On
Operation Mallard, later in the day, the
Albemarle squadrons towed 220 Horsas to
During these D-Day operations the
Albemarle proved to be a real success. Of
the 602 Albemarles delivered to the RAF,
only 17 were lost on operations, while
another 81 were lost in accidents.
he Armstrong Whitworth
Albemarle is a lesser known
aircraft type of the Second
World War, which in fact
played a major role in the
D-Day airborne operations.
Originally conceived by the Bristol Aircraft
Company as a medium bomber, intended to be
constructed by subcontractors from readily-
available materials, such as steel and wood, the
design was taken over by Armstrong
Whitworth, who reworked it as a
reconnaissance bomber.
Although the type was occasionally used on
offensive operational duties, it was apparent
that its performance was no improvement over
other aircraft already in service and it had
obvious shortcomings in the bomber role
compared with the RAF’s new four-engine
heavy bombers, the Halifax and Lancaster.
Only 32 Mk.I Series 1 bomber Albemarles
were made before it was decided to produce all
subsequent Albemarles as Special Transports
(ST.1) or General Transports (GT.1). The first
ST.1 and GT.1 Albemarles entered RAF service
in mid-1942 and early 1943 respectively.
The entire production run of just over 600
Albemarles was assembled by A W Hawksley
Ltd of Gloucester, a subsidiary of the Gloster
Aircraft Company formed specifically for the
purpose of constructing the Albemarle. The
individual parts and subassemblies for the
Albemarle were produced by about 1000
The Albemarle was a mid-wing, cantilever
monoplane with twin fins and rudders. The
fuselage was built in three sections; the
structure being of unstressed plywood
over a tubular steel frame. The forward
section used stainless steel tubing to
reduce interference with the magnetic
compasses. It had a hydraulically operated,
retractable tricycle landing gear (one of
the first UK production aircraft to do so).
The main wheels retracted backwards into
the engine nacelles, and the nose wheel
also retracted backwards into the front
fuselage (there was also a semi-concealed
‘bumper’ tail wheel).
Most of the transport versions of the
Albemarle retained the Boulton-Paul
designed dorsal turret with four .303
machine guns. The original bomber design
had a crew of six including two gunners;
one in a four-gun dorsal turret and one in a
twin-gun ventral turret, but in the transport
role the normal crew was five, with a single
pilot (who was the captain), navigator,
bomb-aimer, wireless operator and air
gunner. When used as a paratroop
transport, up to 10 fully armed troops could
be carried. The paratroopers were provided
with a dropping hatch in the rear fuselage,
and there was a large loading door in the
fuselage side. The ST Mk.I Series 2 aircraft
were equipped with the necessary gear for
towing gliders. The Mk.V was essentially
the same but also had a fuel jettison
capability. All production Albemarles were
Armstrong Whitworth
Albemarle Mk.V of 297 Squadron complete with invasion stripes. Note the glider towing hook.
Albemarle pilot
Flight Sergeant ‘Bernie’ Johnson of 296 Squadron
hen the Second World War
broke out, John Bernard
Johnson, of Wigan,
Lancashire, was 15. In
1942, at 18, he was
accepted for pilot training. In early 1944,
Johnson joined 296 Squadron, which
operated Armstrong Whitworth Albemarles
in the transport, para-dropping and glider-
towing roles.
In mid-March 1944, 296 Squadron was
based at Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire,
which was to be its base for the forthcoming
D-Day operations. The squadron consisted
of three flights, each with 10 aircraft and
there were an additional three spare aircraft
in the ‘reserve pool’. ‘Bernie’ Johnson, as he
was known in the RAF, served on ‘B’ Flight.
Most of the flying being conducted by the
squadron at this time was training with the
Airborne Forces, both for para-dropping and
glider towing, in preparation for the impending
D-Day invasion. Johnson and his crew were
heavily occupied with these training exercises
during the run-up to D-Day.
Occasionally, the squadron was tasked to
send individual aircraft out at night, over
enemy occupied territory, to conduct
clandestine supply drops to the Resistance
movements in Europe on behalf of the Special
Operations Executive (SOE). By May 1944,
Johnson was considered ready to take his
crew on one of these operations. Taking off
from Tarrant Rushton, in Albemarle Mk.V,
V1775, on the night of May 6-7, 1944, the
crew flew their first operational sortie to drop
supply canisters to the French Resistance.
They landed safely back at Brize Norton six
hours and 15 minutes after take-off.
On May 21, 1944, the 296 Squadron
Operational Record Book (ORB) recorded
that a News of the World article had been
published stating that the RAF glider tug
pilots were usually older men, unfit for
combat duties! Bernie Johnson was 20 and
ready and fit for all combat duties. It seems
that the report caused some amusement!
From June 2, all personnel at Brize Norton
were confined to camp as a security
precaution and preliminary aircrew
briefings for the forthcoming operation
were conducted. On June 4, some air tests
were flown and briefings continued with
crews being shown film of the run-in to
their drop zones. Also on this day, Air Chief
Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh Mallory visited
the station and addressed the crews.
For Operation Tonga, the first
Airborne Forces air lift, which was
executed overnight during the early
hours of D-Day, 196 Squadron initially
provided three Albemarles to drop the
Parachute Brigade Pathfinders. Then 30
minutes later, having given enough time
for the Pathfinders to set up lights at the
landing zones, another 17, 296 Squadron
Albemarles carried troops of the 5th
Parachute Brigade, to Normandy.
Nine of the Albemarles, including
Johnson’s, carried nine paratroopers each,
while the other eight towed Horsa gliders.
Johnson and his crew took off at 11.48pm
on June 5, in Albemarle II, V1744. They
dropped their nine paratroopers and six
kitbags on to a drop zone near Caen, and
also released six containers of supplies.
The Albemarles experienced
considerable light flak and some aircraft
received minor damage; one rear gunner
from the squadron, Flight Sergeant Jones,
was unfortunately killed when his aircraft
was hit by ground fire. Johnson and his
crew returned safely, landing at 3.07am.
Having returned from Operation Tonga at
dawn, most of the squadron’s aircrew went
to bed. They were awakened at midday to
be briefed for Operation Mallard which was
to take place that evening.
The 296 Squadron Albemarles were
tasked to tow 20 Horsas, but in fact only 19
made it as one had a structural failure on
take-off and crashed. Johnson and his crew
took off at 7.36pm on June 6, in Albemarle
II, V1696, towing a Horsa glider loaded with
troops and equipment of the 6th Air Landing
Brigade, which they released near Caen.
Near the release point the German flak
gave the 296 Squadron Albemarles some
trouble and several were hit. However,
Johnson and his crew landed safely from at
10.34pm. Their D-Day was over.
After D-Day, Johnson and his crew were not
required to fly operationally again until the
night of July 11-12, 1944. This time they were
not so lucky. It was their turn to fly another
SOE clandestine supply operation.
Johnson took off at 12.15am with his
usual crew plus a passenger, Sergeant Dace
of the Parachute Regiment, who was
assistant to the station army liaison officer.
The planned drop zone was near Marolles-
les-Braults, Sarthe, about 25km southeast of
Alençon. Exactly what happened is not
known, but the aircraft, Albemarle Mk.V,
V1744, failed to return; all on board were
posted missing and have never been found.
Flight Sergeant ‘Bernie’ Johnson was still
only 20 years old when he was killed. 
Albemarles towing gliders over some of the
Allied invasion fleet on the evening of June
6, 1944, during Operation Mallard.
Albemarle towing a Horsa glider off the
runway during training for the D-Day invasion.
Short Stirling Mk.IVs towing Airspeed Horsa Gliders. In the early evening of D-Day, June 6, 1944, as part of Operation Mallard, 36 Short Stirling
Mk.IVs of 620 and 190 Squadrons, based at Fairford, towed the Horsa gliders of the British 6th Airborne Division to their landing zones in
Normandy.The Airspeed Horsa gliders cast off and landed troops and equipment near Ranville.The gliders carried 254 men, 33 jeeps, 29
trailers, 11 motorcycles and eight 75mm Pack Howitzers. One of the Stirlings involved in this operation was LJ849 of 620 Squadron, coded‘QS-
E’, captained by Flight Lieutenant Gordon Thring DFC (RCAF). Moments after releasing its glider, LJ849 was hit by German anti-aircraft fire. A
petrol tank in the port wing blew up and the aircraft rolled upside down. Fortunately,Thring managed to make a successful crash landing. All
the crew survived and their remarkable story ‘The Tables Turned’ is told on pages 71-72. Artwork: AdamTooby
carried by the RAF’s twin-engine medium
bombers such as the Vickers Wellington.
Another problem was that, although the
Stirling’s bomb bay was large at 40ft long
(12m), it was divided into separate
compartments, so it could not carry bombs
larger than 2000lb (907kg). As the RAF
started using the 4000lb (1815kg) ‘cookie’
and even larger special bombs, the Stirling
became less useful.
The Handley-Page Halifax and especially
the Avro Lancaster offered better
performance (the Lancaster could carry
twice the Stirling’s bomb load over long
distances, it was at least 40mph faster and
could operate significantly higher) so when
they became available in greater numbers
from 1943, it was decided to withdraw the
Stirlings to secondary tasks. Their final
Bomber Command operation was flown by
Stirlings of 149 Squadron against Le Havre
on September 8, 1944.
As the Stirling became surplus to
requirements as a bomber, it was realised
he prototype Short Stirling,
which was designed to meet Air
Ministry Specification B12/36
for a four-engine heavy bomber,
first flew on May 14, 1939,
before the Second World War had started.
The original design had been compromised
by the Air Ministry’s insistence that the
aircraft’s wing span should not exceed 100ft
(30m). In order to generate the necessary lift
from a shorter span, the wing was thickened
and reshaped, which subsequently had an
adverse effect on the aircraft’s performance,
particularly at altitude.
After various early problems had been
cured, initial deliveries of the big new
bomber began in August 1940 to 7
Squadron based at Leeming. The Stirling’s
operational debut was on the night of
February 10-11, 1941 when aircraft from 7
Squadron took part in a raid on Rotterdam.
A consequence of the Stirling’s thick wing
was a low ceiling and many missions were
flown as low as 12,000ft. On combined
operations with other RAF bombers which
could fly higher, the low-flying Stirlings took
the brunt of the enemy’s firepower. Within
five months of being introduced, 67 out of
the 84 aircraft delivered had been lost to
enemy action or written off after crashes.
Despite the disappointing performance,
Stirling pilots discovered that the thick wing
endowed the big aircraft with an excellent
turn rate and radius, allowing it to be flung
around the sky in evasive manoeuvres. Its
handling was much better than that of the
Halifax and some pilots actually preferred it
to the Lancaster.
However, the Stirling’s maximum bomb
load could only be carried for a short
distance of around 590 miles. On typical
missions deep into Germany or Italy only
some 3500lb (1590kg) of bombs could be
carried. This was the sort of load being
Short Stirling
that it could fulfil the need for a powerful
glider tug to tow heavy transport gliders
such as the Hamilcar and the Horsa.
By mid-1944 the Stirlings had found a
new lease of life, being modified to Mk.IV
standard for the glider-towing and para-
dropping role, with the removal of the front
and dorsal gun turrets (to save weight), and
the addition of a para-exit hatch in the rear
fuselage and glider towing equipment.
In August 1943, the first of at least 130
Mk.III bombers were modified to Mk.IV
specifications and production was switched
to building new Mk.IVs, with a total of 577
eventually being built.
The Stirling fulfilled its new role
admirably, its low operational ceiling was not
an issue as 2000ft was now the normal
operating altitude, and its manoeuvrability
was a positive asset. It could carry 20
paratroopers and as a tug it could tow the
large Hamilcar glider, two Horsas or up to
five Hotspurs. On D-Day the RAF’s 38 Group
transport forces included four squadrons,
190 and 622 at Fairford and 196 and 299 at
Keevil, equipped with the Stirling Mk.IV. 
Short Stirling Mk.IV LK203,‘8E-B’, of 295 Squadron, taxiing from its dispersal at Mount
Farm, Oxfordshire, during a glider towing exercise in August 1944.
Stirling Mk.IV glider tugs of 196 and 299 Squadrons lined up at Keevil on June 5, 1944, in
preparation for Operation Tonga – the airborne operation that launched D-Day.
the magazines, hitting him in the face.
Struggling with the controls, the pilot,
Gordon Thring, managed to right the
aircraft at the last moment and made a
controlled ‘belly landing’ in a ploughed field
near Plumetot, the Stirling skidding to a halt
in a cloud of dust and soil. Fortunately none
of the crew were injured in the crash
landing and all escaped the burning aircraft,
moments before it blew up. ‘E-Easy’ was not
going home and the crew was down in
enemy territory; their chances did not look
good either.
620 Squadron was one of the four glider-tug
units equipped with Short Stirling Mk.IVs,
as part of the RAF’s 38 Group, which
provided airborne support on D-Day and
afterwards. The Squadron had been formed
from a nucleus of ‘C’ Flight of 214 Squadron
in June 1943.
Initially based at Chedburgh and equipped
with Stirling Mk.Is, it was used on night
bombing raids, carrying out its first
operational sorties two days after its
way out, after releasing their glider, he
might get the opportunity to engage the
enemy position with the intention of putting
it out of action.
Stirling LJ849 released its glider in the
briefed location and then proceeded to drop
containers of supplies for the troops, from
its bomb bay. Turning for home, they
headed back towards the wood they had
passed on the way in, as the gunner,
McMahon, had hoped they would. However,
the enemy anti-aircraft gunners must have
spotted the Stirling returning and before
McMahon got the chance to open up
against the flak position, ‘E-Easy’ was
targeted by the battery and hit several
times, sustaining heavy damage.
At such low altitude and short range the
effect of the flak salvo was devastating. One
of the petrol tanks in the port wing took a
direct hit and exploded, the port outer
engine caught fire and the Stirling was
blown violently upside down. In the rear
turret McMahon’s ammunition fell out of
uring the early evening of
June 6, 1944, still in daylight,
Short Stirling Mk.IV, LJ849,
‘QS-E’ (‘E’ for ‘Easy’), rumbled
into Normandy, towing a
Horsa glider behind it, as part of Operation
Mallard. This second massive airlift of
D-Day, involved over 250 aircraft and glider
combinations with a huge escort of over 370
Allied fighter aircraft.
‘E-Easy’s crew of six – Flight Lieutenant
Gordon Thring RCAF (pilot), Flying Officer
M E Price (navigator), Flying Officer H
Braathen (bomb aimer), Flight Sergeant R
W A Burgess (wireless operator), Sergeant
W Buchan (flight engineer) and Flying
Officer Gerry McMahon DFM (rear
gunner) – had played their part in the first
airlift, Operation Tonga, about 19 hours
earlier, when they dropped paratroopers of
the British 5th Parachute Brigade into a
drop zone near Ranville. Now, on this, their
second mission in the 24-hour period, they
were towing a Horsa glider containing
soldiers of the 6th Airborne Division,
reinforcements for the paratroopers
delivered overnight.
On the way to the drop zone, ‘E-Easy’s rear
gunner, Gerry McMahon, noticed some
very accurate anti-aircraft gunfire coming
from the corner of a wood; a number of tugs
and gliders were hit by the flak from this
position. McMahon reported the location of
the battery to his pilot, hoping that on the
‘The tables turned’
The remarkable story of the crew of a 620 Squadron
Stirling glider-tug, shot down on D-Day
British paratroopers preparing to board Stirling Mk.IVs of 620 Squadron at Fairford.
The next morning the chateau was attacked
by RAF Hawker Typhoons. The Germans
and the RAF crew all took shelter in a slit
trench together during the Typhoons’
attacks, which soon reduced the chateau to
rubble. At this point the Germans’ morale
began to crumble and the officer in charge,
believing that he and his men were
surrounded, decided that they were now on
the losing side, and offered to surrender
with his 40 men to the RAF crew of six.
Exploiting the situation, Thring, McMahon
and the rest of the crew agreed to accept
the German troops’ surrender on condition
that they marched up formally to the Allied
lines with them and gave themselves up.
Over the next four days, as the RAF crew
and their charges made their way to the
Allied invasion beaches, the number of
German prisoners swelled to 90 as more and
more gave themselves up in the hope of
saving their lives. Unfortunately, some of the
Germans were killed during the march,
mainly by Allied snipers. When they finally
reached the safety of Allied lines the number
of prisoners stood at 62. Handing the
Germans over to the Canadian Army on June
11, four days after they themselves had been
captured, the RAF crew demanded and
received a receipt for their prisoners (in
finest military tradition)!
The Stirling crew were returned to England
courtesy of the Royal Navy, to discover that
they had been posted as missing in action
and that most of the squadron who had
witnessed their crash believed that they had
been killed. They were given ‘survivors
leave’ and when rear gunner, Gerry
McMahon went home, he met his parents
on their way to attend his own requiem
mass; his poor mother promptly fainted!
Gordon Thring and his crew all returned
to 620 Squadron and flew with the unit for
the rest of the war, including the other
major airborne operations, such as Market
Garden (Arnhem) – they all survived the
war, with a remarkable story to tell. 
formation. The Squadron re-equipped with Mk
III Stirlings in August 1943 and flew its last
mission for Bomber Command on November
19, 1943. Three days later its 20 aircraft moved
to Leicester East for conversion to the
Airborne Forces role. In five months of
bomber operations, the squadron had lost a
total of 26 aircraft; at least 19 more were to be
destroyed in their new role.
Over the following months, the aircrews
practised the techniques for towing gliders
and for dropping parachutists and supply
containers. The chief features of the training
were day and night cross country navigation
exercises and glider-towing. By February
1944, 620 Squadron was ready to undertake
the first of numerous sorties over France on
behalf of the Special Operations Executive
(SOE), dropping arms and supplies to the
Resistance forces, frequently using Tarrant
Rushton as a forward base.
On March 18, 1944, the Squadron was
moved to Fairford, which it shared with 190
Squadron, and training continued apace for
the impending invasion. During the remainder
of that month alone, its aircraft carried out six
exercises with airborne troops, each involving
between eight and 16 aircraft.
On the first night of the Normandy
landings, 620 and 190 Squadrons were both
heavily involved in Operation Tonga.
Commencing their take-off at 11.30pm on
June 5, the Stirling Squadrons carried
between them 887 men of the 5th Parachute
Brigade, to a drop zone near Ranville.
Twenty-three of 620 Squadron’s Stirlings
were used on this first lift, not without loss;
three were shot down by anti-aircraft fire,
and a further four received damage.
Upon their return to Fairford, it was
discovered that no fewer than 27 aircraft from
the two squadrons were in an unserviceable
condition. The ground crews worked
feverishly throughout the morning, and by
the afternoon all but two had been repaired.
On the evening of June 6, as part of
Operation Mallard, 18 Stirlings from each
squadron helped to transport the main
glider element of the 6th Airborne Division
to their landing zones. The Horsa gliders
that they towed carried 254 men, 33 Jeeps,
29 trailers, 11 motorcycles, and eight 75mm
Pack Howitzers. All but one of 620
Squadron’s Horsas managed to reach their
intended landing zone. The only Stirling lost
on this operation was Gordon Thring’s
LJ849, although six more were damaged by
light anti-aircraft fire.
As German troops appeared on the scene of
Stirling LJ849’s crash site in Normandy,
hunting for the crew, the airmen hid
together in a wheat field. After dark, when
things had quietened down somewhat, the
crew began to make their way back towards
the Normandy coast. Unfortunately, in the
early hours of the morning they mistook
two passing German soldiers for Americans
and, having hailed them, they were taken
prisoner and were held in the barn of a
French chateau.
In the foreground of this formation of Short Stirling Mk.IVs of 620 Sqn is ‘QS-E’ (‘E for Easy’)
flown by Flt Lt Gordon Thring RCAF.This is actually LJ566, the replacement aircraft for Thring’s
LJ849,‘QS-E’, in which he and his crew were shot down on D-Day.
Stirling Mk.IV towing a Horsa glider.
Horsa gliders across the Channel. After D-
Day Dakotas were also used as freighters,
air ambulances and personnel transports.
The Dakota was fitted with two Pratt and
Whitney Twin Wasp radial engines
producing 1200hp each and giving the
aircraft a typical cruising speed of 160mph.
The Dakota III could carry a payload of
8000lb (more than double the original
specification), 28 fully-equipped soldiers or
paratroopers, or 18 stretcher cases. In
practice, the aircraft’s specified load limits
were often exceeded and its ruggedness
became legendary. The C-47 was actually
overbuilt, making it almost indestructible.
As one pilot put it: “You can wreck a Dak,
but you can’t wear it out!” 
he most numerous and probably
the most famous transport
aircraft of the Second World War
was the Douglas C-47 Dakota,
the military freighter version of
the DC-3 airliner. The type saw widespread
use by the Allies during the war and went on
to become one of the most successful aircraft
designs in history, used by air forces and
civilian operators worldwide.
The DC-3 airliner first flew in 1935 and was
used extensively thereafter by America’s
airlines. Recognising the aircraft’s great
potential as a military transport, the United
States Army Air Command specified a
number of changes needed to make the
aircraft suitable for military use, including
more powerful engines, the replacement of
airline seating with utility seats along the
walls, a stronger rear fuselage and floor, and
the addition of large loading doors. The
double, port side loading door was close
enough to the ground, thanks to the
aircraft’s tail wheel configuration, for heavy
or unwieldy military freight to be loaded
relatively easily. Deliveries of the military
version of the DC-3, which was designated
C-47 ‘Skytrain’ in the United States,
commenced in October 1941. When
production finally ended, a remarkable total
of 10,692 DC-3/C-47 aircraft had been built.
Under the Lend-Lease programme large
scale deliveries of C-47s were made to the
UK; over 1900 Dakotas, as the aircraft
became known in RAF service, had been
delivered by the end of the war. The first
Dakotas to enter service with the RAF
arrived in 1942. The delivery of large
numbers of Dakota IIIs revitalised the
RAF’s transport capacity, which until then
had been based around a number of
obsolete bombers and general purpose
aircraft, which were poorly adapted for the
role. The Dakota III eventually equipped 22
RAF squadrons and three RCAF squadrons
under RAF operational control.
In June 1944, RAF Transport Command’s
No 46 Group comprised five squadrons,
each equipped with 30 Dakotas, based at
Broadswell, Down Ampney and Blakehill
Farm. These Dakotas dropped the main
elements of the 3rd Parachute Brigade into
Normandy on D-Day, as well as towing
Douglas C-47 Dakota
Douglas C-47 Dakota of 233 Squadron with
invasion stripes. Crown copyright
Paratroopers jumping from a C-47 Dakota of 271 Squadron. Crown copyright
‘Operation Tonga’. Shortly after midnight on June 6, 1944, the great D-Day invasion got
under way with Operation Tonga when 108 RAF Douglas C-47 Dakotas dropped
paratroopers of the British 3rd Parachute Brigade into Normandy. Illuminated by searchlights
and‘flak’, Dakotas of 233 Squadron from Blakehill Farm are seen over Drop Zone‘K’, near
Caen. In the foreground is C-47 Dakota FZ692, named‘Kwicherbichen’ by its crews. All 30 of
233 Squadron’s Dakotas flew to Normandy on Operation Tonga; two of them failed to return,
victims of German‘flak’. Artwork: AdamTooby
tracks to each of the dropping zones. So we
were prepared with a mental picture of what
we would expect to see as we flew in.
“As we crossed the coast, my navigator
reported two large houses which we
expected to see before a line of trees came
out of the murk. I was getting ready to drop
my troops south of the road to Caen. There
was a fair amount of moonlight and I could
see that the Germans had flooded the area
south of the road where we were supposed
to drop. I didn’t have much time to think,
but I decided that I had better drop to the
north of the road rather than in the water.
“The red light was on and the Royal
Engineer paras were standing ready to
jump. There was some flak. But I hadn’t had
to take any evasive action. I was intent on
making as steady a run as possible when
suddenly the aircraft banked almost 45º. In
a flash of light from the ground I saw a
Stirling passing very close in front of us.
Clearly, we had been caught in his
slipstream which threw us off course. I
brought the wings level and regained
heading as quickly as possible. The
paratroopers in the back were no doubt
hurled about and were probably cursing me.
“I would like to think that my engineers
were dropped accurately, especially as the
two bridges assigned to them were
subsequently blown up.”
“My DZ was one-and-a-half minutes’ flying
time from crossing the French coast to
dropping. The briefing for the mission had
been tremendously detailed. Accurate
models of the Normandy coast and
hinterland had been constructed. From
these models, cine films were made of the
RAF Dakota
D-Day experiences
British paratroopers inside a RAF C-47 Dakota, ready to go.
RAF C-47 Dakota ZA947 – an actual D-Day veteran – now serves with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Crown copyright
Hebblethwaite, who was only 21, were later
killed in action on September 19, 1944,
during Operation Market Garden (Arnhem),
after having successfully landed a glider in
enemy territory for a second time.
“On the evening of June 6, I was flying a
resupply mission to the troops who had
landed earlier in the day, when I saw a
Dakota of 575 Squadron shot down in flames.
I watched helplessly as the Dakota crashed
somewhere near Giberville and later
discovered that it was being flown by my
friend Pilot Officer Errol Wood. I was sure
that he and his crew must all have been
killed. It was not until the 1960s that I
learned that they had all survived the crash,
but were captured and became POWs for the
rest of the war before finally being liberated.”
“I was a pilot on 233 Squadron and towed
gliders on the D-Day operations. All the
RAF glider-tug and glider pilots carried out
extensive training early in 1944 prior to
D-Day. I was flying Dakotas from Blakehill
Farm in Wiltshire and was fortunate
enough to team up with a particular Horsa
glider crew. The glider captain was Staff
Sergeant Richard Banks, known, for some
reason, as ‘Admiral’ Dickie Banks, and his
co-pilot was Sergeant Brian Hebblethwaite.
“On the night of June 5-6, I took off from
Blakehill Farm at 10.50pm towing the Horsa
flown by Dickie and Brian, to Drop Zone ‘K’,
near Caen. The glider was loaded with
Royal Engineers of the 6th Air Landing
Brigade and their stores. The engineers
were tasked with blowing up certain
bridges at Troarn, east of Caen. Ours was
the second of five gliders to be released.
“On crossing the French coast we flew
into cloud, necessitating instrument flying
by me and the glider crew to keep in the
proper tow position. When the gliders were
released, their pilots found that their
“We were detailed to take paratroops from
Broadwell in Oxfordshire to a field beside
the river Orne at Ranville near Caen. The
first ‘vic’ of three Dakotas, led by Wing
Commander Jefferson, was due to drop at
12.57am. The second ‘vic’, led by Squadron
Leader Cragg, was due to drop 20 seconds
later. I was the navigator of the lead aircraft
of the third ‘vic’ piloted by Flight Lieutenant
Dixon. Our dropping time was 20 seconds
after that.
“We took off in loose formation and I was
busy for some time making sure that we
were on the right course at the right speed
to arrive at Ranville at the right time.
Twenty seconds between aircraft is not a
big margin so, as soon as things were
running smoothly, I looked through the
astrodome to see how close we were to the
six aircraft in front. To my horror there was
nothing there but empty black sky! What
had I done wrong? Where had I boobed?
“I looked back and saw the lights of
aircraft stretching back as far as the eye
could see and probably beyond. For some
reason the first two ‘vics’ had not formed up
planned landing zone had not been
prepared and was not lit. Only two of the
five gliders made it to the correct landing
site, one of them ours.
“Banks and Hebblethwaite landed their
glider successfully in the correct place in
the dark, despite the poles which had been
set up by the Germans to prevent landings.
The paratroops were successfully unloaded,
with a firefight occurring only about 200
yards away. The bridges were blown and the
operation was a complete success. Banks
and Hebblethwaite returned to our unit
unscathed about two weeks later amid
much celebration!
“Dickie Banks was awarded the
Distinguished Flying Medal for his part in
the operation. Both Banks, who was 25, and
C-47 Dakota towing a Horsa glider.
in front. Finding myself in the lead, I shot
back to my position and for the next hour
worked like never before making sure that
we were on course and time to arrive at
Ranville at the correct time.
“We crept very slightly ahead of our time
so that our ETA became 12.57am. I should
perhaps have instructed the pilot to knock
two or three knots off our speed but I
figured that with nobody in front and the
whole invasion behind us, early was better
than late, and in any case 12.57am was the
leader’s dropping time. We arrived and Jock
Young our fourth crew member took over
the map reading for the last few hundred
yards. Then the fun started.
“Gerry Brown, the wireless operator
went to the rear to see the boys out. The
first four left in orderly fashion, they were
Military Police, but the fifth man with a
mortar barrel stuffed up his jumper fell in
the doorway and blocked the way for the
others. By the time they got him back on
his feet we were past the drop zone. Gerry
passed the information on but, because he
forgot to release his microphone button he
didn’t hear Dixon say that we would go
round again so I had to nip back and tell
him. They all went out in good order the
second time round.
“With all the excitement only Jock
noticed that we were being fired at, but
nothing hit us, and we made our uneventful
way back to base. Because of the delay we
were on the end of a very long queue for
landing. It was a bit of an anti-climax and I
didn’t mind the mild telling off I got for
being 40 seconds early over the drop zone.”
A‘vic’ of Dakotas dropping paratroopers.
Further to this personal report, a
recommendation, dated June 30, 1944, for the
award of theVictoria Cross to Flying Officer
Harvey Jones was made:
“Flying Officer H Jones was the captain of a
Dakota aircraft detailed to drop parachute
troops in the Caen area on the night of 5-6
June, 1944.The approach was made at a
height of 600ft above ground, in the face of
heavy anti-aircraft fire.“About four miles from
the Dropping Zone the aircraft was badly hit
and set on fire. Flying Officer Jones continued
heading towards the dropping zone and gave
the signal for the parachute troops in the
aircraft to jump, which they did successfully. He
then ordered his crew to abandon the aircraft.
Flying Officer Jones could himself have
abandoned the aircraft through the pilot’s
escape hatch at the same time as the crew
were ordered to jump. Although well aware of
the danger of remaining in the aircraft, he
refused his parachute pack when it was
brought to him and stayed at the controls to
keep the aircraft on an even keel and
maintain sufficient height for his crew to jump
safely.Two of the crew jumped successfully
after which the aircraft crashed and Flying
Officer Jones was killed.
“By his premeditated action in remaining
at the controls until the mission was
completed and the crew had left the aircraft,
Flying Officer Jones deliberately sacrificed his
life to carry out his orders and to ensure the
safety of his crew.The dauntless courage and
self-sacrifice displayed by this very gallant
officer are a glorious example to all pilots in
his Majesty’s Service.”
This VC recommendation was approved by
the Blakehill Farm Station Commander, by 46
Group and by the AOCTransport Command.
However, it was denied by the Air Ministry and
Harvey Jones was simply awarded a Mention in
Dispatches for his actions.
JUNE 17, 1944:
“At 11.17pm on the night of June 5-6, Dakota
KG356 took off from Blakehill Farm as part
of Operation Tonga. The captain was Flying
Officer Harvey Edgar Jones (RCAF), the
remainder of the crew being Flying Officer
LN Williams, navigator, Warrant Officer
‘Cobby’ Engleberg (RCAF), wireless
operator, and myself as second pilot.
“The aircraft was carrying paratroops
and containers. In the circuit, while
climbing, we lost sight of the ‘vic’ leader and
did not regain contact again, so the captain
decided to proceed independently. Just after
crossing the French coast we were hit by
light flak which must have caught one of
our starboard petrol tanks alight. It could
have been an underslung container holding
petrol, although we did not realise that
possibility at the time.
“At the correct point the order was given
to drop the containers and the wireless
operator reported this had been done. With
the aircraft now on fire the paratroops were
also dropped. Just afterwards Flying Officer
Jones gave the order to abandon aircraft,
although the rest of the crew could not hear
this command as the intercom was dead.
The fact that the intercom was
unserviceable made things rather confused.
As far as I could make out Flying Officer
Jones refused his own parachute when it
was offered and wanted us to get out.
“The navigator and myself went back to the
door at the rear of the aircraft and found the
wireless operator pulling in the static lines. He
then went to get his parachute. We waited at
the door for a short while and as neither the
captain nor the wireless operator came back,
we abandoned the aircraft. A few seconds later
the aircraft dived into the ground. During
Tuesday morning we returned to the
aircraft crash site and found that Flying
Officer Jones was dead and that the
wireless operator was unconscious but
being attended by the villagers (Engleberg
received severe internal injuries and was
taken to the beach by stretcher bearers. He
was still unconscious three days later, but
was eventually evacuated to Britain and
recovered from his injuries).
We also found that the containers had
not been dropped as previously thought, as
apparently the electrical circuit must have
been rendered unserviceable by the fire.
“The crash occurred on the outskirts of
Bassenville, a village east of Caen. In my
opinion Flying Officer Williams and I were able
to bale out safely due to the fact that Flying
Officer Jones remained at the controls in spite
of the fact that the aircraft was alight.” 
C-47 Dakota of 233 Squadron.
Inset: Fg Off Harvey Jones RCAF.
Crashed and burning C-47 Dakota.
for the rest of the campaign. A photograph
of the three ‘Flying Nightingales’ from that
first operation, standing together in front of
one of the 233 Squadron Dakotas, was
published in the newspapers the next day.
The three nurses were LACW Myra
Roberts, Corporal Lydia Alford and LACW
Edna Birbeck. These are their individual
accounts of what it was like for them.
n the morning of June 13,
1944, (D-Day +7) three
Douglas C-47 Dakota
transport aircraft of 233
Squadron, took off from
Blakehill Farm, Wiltshire, and flew across
the Channel to France, escorted by a
squadron of Spitfires. They landed at the
newly-completed B2 airstrip at Bazenville
near Bayeux, thereby gaining the honour of
being the first Allied transport aircraft to
land in France since the invasion.
The three Dakotas were carrying four
tons of military freight, mostly
ammunition. After the supplies had been
unloaded, 14 casualties on stretchers and
some sitting wounded were loaded on to
each of the aircraft ready for an immediate
return to England.
The three Women’s Auxiliary Air Force
(WAAF) air ambulance nurses, one on
board each Dakota, who cared for the
wounded soldiers on the return flights
became the first females to fly into the
combat zone in Normandy and the first
British women to be sent into a war zone on
active service by the British Government.
These first air ambulance casualty
evacuation flights were something of an
experiment, but the military was keen that
they should succeed. They did, and they
paved the way for the large-scale evacuation
of casualties from the battle areas.
Full scale ‘Casevac’ air operations began
on June 18, 1944, when 11 Dakotas landed
on the airstrip at B4/Bény-sur-Mer in
Normandy. They were loaded with 183
casualties who were flown back to Down
Ampney, to be followed by 90 more, three
days later.
By the end of June, 1092 stretcher cases
and 467 sitting wounded had been
evacuated from Normandy by 233, 271 and
48 Squadrons. This was the beginning of a
regular casualty evacuation service by air
that continued up until the end of hostilities
in May 1945.
Carrying up to 24 wounded soldiers on each
return trip, with one WAAF nurse on board
each Dakota to care for them, these
operations played a vital part in speedily
evacuating casualties to hospitals in the UK
which could provide the necessary life-
saving operations and treatment.
The nurses had to deal with horrifying
injuries. Many of the young soldiers were
missing limbs or had their faces burnt or
blown away; treatment such as amputations,
transfusions and colostomies had often been
improvised in the field.
During the course of the remainder of
the war, two WAAF air ambulance nurses
were killed on active service; many others
suffered subsequent mental breakdowns
because of the horrors they witnessed, but
the women received little official
recognition and no medals for their bravery.
The first casualty evacuation flights on June
13, 1944, with the female nurses on board,
were met by members of the press on their
arrival at B2/Bazenville and, later, on their
return to Blakehill Farm, by dozens more
press correspondents, representing many
British, Canadian and American newspapers.
The WAAF nurses were immediately
dubbed the ‘Flying Nightingales’ by the
press, a name that was to remain with them
‘The Flying Nightingales’
Dakota casualty evacuation from Normandy
and the WAAF air ambulance nurses
Casualties being loaded onto RAF Dakotas
at an ALG in Normandy in June 1944.
The first ‘Flying Nightingales’, from left, LACW Myra Roberts, Cpl Lydia Alford and LACW Edna
Birkbeck, photographed with a 233 Squadron Dakota on June 13, 1944.
be fitted with parachutes, told that we were
operational the next day, and spent the night
in sick bay headquarters.
“We were awakened before dawn on the
13th, given our ‘flying meal’ and then taken
to an aircraft each with our medical
panniers of equipment and large flasks of
hot tea. My panniers went aboard the plane,
which was already loaded with supplies –
mostly ammunition, so there was no Red
Cross insignia on it. But we were given
fighter air cover for this first flight into
“My first flight to France began with a
handshake and ‘bon voyage’ from the air
marshal, and he gave me a newspaper to
read on the outward journey. I remember
thinking, silly chap, does he really think that
I shall be reading a paper? I’d be too busy
wondering what the next few hours had in
store for me.
“We flew in over the coast, which was an
indescribable scene with boats and ships of
every size and shape, barrage balloons, and
all the debris of the landings. Our three
planes landed in Normandy on an airstrip
which was a cornfield with a metal strip laid
down the middle as a runway, about two
kilometres from the shore where the boys
had just gone in and the Germans had just
vacated their trenches.
“Our planes were quickly unloaded of
supplies and then loaded with the wounded.
Lydia’s plane took off almost immediately
but the weather closed in and Edna and I
were told there would be a delay until the
weather improved. We were taken by a
newspaper correspondent on a short tour of
the area towards Caen where the action was
fierce. We could hear the bombing and see
the shelling and sense the snipers in the
trees! As we made our way back to a farm
where there were some refreshments, we
passed convoys of soldiers who, when they
up, and roads being made. An aerodrome was
being built, but it was grim. You had to wear
boots or wellingtons everywhere because you
were knee-deep in mud.
“I was told that I was going to become
part of the air crew of a Dakota. Ten of us,
from different parts of the country, were
billeted in Hut 5. Among them was Minnie
from Trinidad, she was a great big tall girl.
We shared a double bunk. Eventually there
were about 20 of us at the station. This
training of ours was for D-Day, but nobody
knew that. We just did as we were told, but
we realised that there was something big
happening. We had to have flying
experience. So we went up in the Dakota
whenever the crew of our plane went up.
Sometimes they’d do glider towing; and
they’d practise circuits and bumps, they
called it; sometimes they’d be taking six of
the airborne, paratroopers, up and letting
them jump out. Day or night, whenever you
were allotted you had to go with it, you were
part of the crew.
“The pilot of the Dakota in which I did
my training flights was Scottish, Warrant
Officer Jock McCannell. After the first few
trips I had the feeling he didn’t want me
aboard and eventually I asked why. He said
it was nothing personal. He’d come from a
fishing family and fishermen would never
put out to sea with a woman in the boat. It
was considered bad luck. During that first
week of June we girls were grounded, while
all the planes took part in the landings.
Jock’s was one of the few that didn’t return
on June 6, 1944. I thought about the woman
in the boat.
“On June 12, the air ambulance pool
were summoned to the headquarters and
given a pep talk by Sir Harold Whittingham,
the Director-General of RAF Medical
Services. He chose three of us: Lydia
Alford, Edna Birkbeck (Morris now) and
me. We were taken to collect our gear and
Myra Roberts was part of a large family of
eight children and came from the Midlands
area of the UK, near Birmingham. She
started to train as a nurse at the Angel
Hospital in Birmingham before the war
broke out, but had to give it up and return
home when her father was taken ill with
duodenal ulcers. Her mother needed Myra’s
help with him and the six youngest children
who were still at home. Myra was naturally
disappointed at the time, but the war gave
her a further opportunity to take up her
vocation as a nurse.
“I joined the air force, the WAAF, to get
away. I was sent first to Bridgnorth in
Shropshire, and did all the ‘square bashing’.
I wasn’t all that enamoured with that
marching and saluting stuff so I was very
glad when I was directed into the medical
section for we never had to do a lot of
saluting again – even for our pay!
“From here I was sent to further my
nursing experience at a school in Sidmouth
in Devon. After that I was in
Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire for a
couple of years. Just when this hospital
patch was becoming a bit humdrum, and I
was wishing for a change, the medical
officer had a talk with me: ‘We’ve been
asked to find people for flying duties, air
ambulance duties. But you’ve got to
volunteer before we can recommend you.’
He warned me I’d have to do some extra,
hard training. I volunteered immediately. He
was right, they did put us through the mill
in our training.
“Not long after, I had orders to go to a place
called Blakehill Farm. I was to pack all my
stuff and get on a train to this place near
Cricklade in Wiltshire. When I got there, good
gracious. It looked like a place that had been
torn out of fields. There were buildings going
RAF Blakehill Farm airfield with C-47 Dakotas lined up in preparation for a training exercise in
April 1944.
LACW Myra Roberts after returning to
Blakehill Farm on June 13, 1944, holding the
bunch of flowers given to her by a French
girl in Normandy earlier in the day.
let me start vomiting now, I begged,
because once you start you can’t stop. So I
kept my head back and prayed.
“Another time for prayer was when we
had to crash-land. We’d taken some
casualties to Oxford and were returning to
Wiltshire, empty. And I couldn’t understand
why the pilot was circling, and circling, until
they explained that we were going to have
to crash land. I put myself with my hands
behind my head and curled up into a ball.
This way you could roll and take the impact.
I ended up at the foot of the plane, but it
wasn’t too bad a crash-landing; we just
skidded along.
“We were overworked, really. You could
be on duty that afternoon, come back at
night and find you had to stay put for the
next flight back. We had very little leave at
all and it was dangerous work, though none
of us seemed to suffer from nerves. We
were carrying ammunition. We had bombs
at our feet, and once I had to sit on the edge
of one, because there was nowhere else,
and you couldn’t stand.
“At the time you didn’t think anything of
it. You became acclimatised to it. I don’t
know why, your brain realised you were
helping, you were doing your duty, kind of
thing, and if it was your duty, you did it.
There was an urgency. You didn’t have time
to think, really. Once or twice it was a bit
harrowing. The war taught me to stand on
my own two feet, I suppose, and keep an eye
on other people at the same time. It made me
feel capable of taking things in my stride.”
saw us in the jeep, yelled ‘Blimey! Women!’ I
was given a bouquet of flowers by a very
pretty French girl called Giselle. Then it was
back to the aircraft and Edna’s plane took off.
“Just as we were closing our doors, an
ambulance came tearing up. ‘Sorry to do
this to you,’ said this young MO. ‘I have a
badly wounded soldier and no place to keep
him. He probably won’t make it, but for
God’s sake don’t let him die on the plane –
do your best.’ My first thought was ‘Why
me?’ while I was fixing this dying soldier up
with oxygen, slowly to begin with, gradually
increasing it. And as I did, he started to use
the most frightful words in Welsh. He was
badly injured internally – he was minus a
leg, and an arm had gone. I thought, he’ll
not last 10 minutes, let alone make it back to
the base.
“I got hold of his hand, and told him I
was sorry that I couldn’t speak Welsh but I
could understand it! I read his label and he
was from Tywyn. I told him I knew his
home-place very well and not to worry, he’d
be back there. And then I got the wireless
operator to ask for a medical officer on the
base as soon as we landed. The soldier had
to be seen immediately. I was glad to hand
him over still alive, and I wondered if he’d
make it.
“Do you know what? Six years later, I
was married by then and living near Tywyn,
my husband Jack came home one day and
said: ‘Guess what? I met this chap on a kind
of trolley wheelchair who asked me who
was the girl he saw me with the other day. I
told him it was you, my wife. And he told me
you were the girl who’d fetched him back
from France.’ In the hospital they’d shown
him a picture of me, which had been in the
papers. And he’d remembered the face. So
next day we went down to the pub and had a
drink with him. And he lived for a good 20
years, you know.
“Anyway, to go back to that first
successful ambulance lift that he’d been on.
After all the casualties had been removed
and all the equipment had been put into the
ambulances, just as I was coming out of the
Dakota I was asked to pose for a picture
with my bunch of flowers from Giselle in my
arms. There was a sea of cameras and all
the army big wigs and the air force
hierarchy were there. This trip was a
feather in their caps. It was a boost for
everyone to know that if any of our troops
were wounded they could be brought back
swiftly and safely.
“After that, we followed the fighting.
They’d make an airstrip near the latest
fighting, we’d take in supplies and bring the
wounded out. We went right into where the
action was going on.
“One trip I’ll never forget. I prayed more
earnestly than I have ever prayed in my life.
The weather was grim, one of the casualties
started being sick and more followed. I was
trying to wedge sick-bags under them. One
soldier had a tracheotomy tube in. I had to
undo this and clear the inner tube so he
could breathe and fix it back. And I began to
feel so sick myself. Please, please God, don’t
Loading a wounded soldier on a stretcher into a 233 Squadron Dakota at an ALG in Normandy in June 1944.
and took off again. Unfortunately, the
weather closed in and the other two girls
had to wait for it to clear. Most of my
wounded men were stretcher cases. One
man required oxygen; a few hours earlier he
had been shot in the chest and back by a
German sniper.
“As the first back, I was overwhelmed by
dozens of press men. The story that
appeared in the newspapers the next day
was the first that my family knew of exactly
what I was doing.”
(Lydia Alford died in 1993)
discarded equipment. The thing I
remember chiefly about that first time on
the ground in Normandy is the dust which
was everywhere, coming up in great clouds.
While the freight was being unloaded I tried
to make the wounded men as comfortable
as possible in all that dust. I had water to
give them and panniers of tea. There was a
little stray dog that came up from
somewhere or other and started to play with
the wounded – it cheered them up no end.
“After the supplies were unloaded, we
immediately loaded the wounded on board
Lydia Alford was born in July 1916 and
grew up in the village of Horton Heath, near
Eastleigh, Hampshire. She was the fourth
child in a family of six. After leaving school
she spent a period in domestic service and
then trained to become a nurse at the South
Hants Hospital, Southampton, before
joining-up as a WAAF nursing orderly.
“I responded to a call in routine orders
asking for volunteers from suitably qualified
medical personnel to train for air ambulance
duties. Within weeks of applying, I was sent
on an intensive air ambulance training
course at Hendon for special training. This
included instruction in the use of oxygen,
injections, learning how to deal with certain
types of injuries such as broken bones,
burns and colostomies, and to learn the
effects of air travel and altitude.
“When I had completed the course, I was
posted to Blakehill Farm, near Cricklade.
The training continued with a ‘brush-up’
course at the nearby RAF hospital at
Wroughton, dinghy drill in the swimming
pool at Bath and several hours of flying
experience often in night glider exercises.
These were pretty terrifying, as they were
carried out with the aircraft cargo door
removed, and when the glider was released
the whole plane juddered. During the tense
days of waiting we were put through a tough
routine of physical training and helped with
building roads on the newly-built airfield.
“It was raining slightly when we boarded
the planes at 5am on June 13, wearing our
mae west life jackets and parachutes and
carrying the first-aid panniers. Flying over
the Normandy coast, we could see the
aftermath of the D-Day landings strewn
across the beaches; abandoned landing
craft, broken tanks, craters and scattered
Cpl Lydia Alford on June 13, 1944. Cpl Lydia Alford loading a casualty into a Dakota.
Checking on a wounded soldier at an ALG in Normandy in June 1944.
Edna Birkbeck was born in
Northamptonshire in August 1924. After
leaving school she became a trainee nurse
and in February 1943, still aged only 18,
she joined the WAAF as a nursing orderly
“for excitement”. She was trained at
Morecambe and Sidmouth before moving
to RAF Medmenham in Buckinghamshire.
Shortly afterwards she responded to a call
for volunteers for air ambulance duties,
although she was not entirely sure what
was involved.
“I had, like Myra, volunteered to become
an air ambulance nurse. We met with the
other ‘Nightingales’ at Blakehill Farm,
before we went into action.
“About a week before the first operation,
we had to go to the RAF hospital at
Wroughton for a refresher course. When we
got back we found that the camp was all
under curfew – no one could get in or out
without passes – so we knew something was
going to happen. Then D-Day came, when
the planes all took off, and a few days
afterwards we were called up to a marquee,
a field hospital ready to take the wounded.
“A senior medical official gave us a pep
talk, and said that we would soon have to be
doing the work we’d trained for, and then
pointed to Myra, myself and Lydia. He said:
‘You three stay here. All the rest can go.’
Then he told us he wanted us to go and pick
up a mae west – a life-jacket – and a
parachute, and take it up to the crew room.
“In the crew room, of course, there were
one or two of the air crew, and one of them,
sounding a bit miffed, remarked that it
looked like the girls were going over before
them. They’d flown over, but they hadn’t
landed, you see. From now until we left, we
were not allowed to go back to our own
WAAF quarters at all. They sent someone to
get our night clothes, and our instructions
were not to go out, not to speak to anyone.
“The WAAF sergeant came along: she
gave us best hospital blankets to sleep on,
not the old grey ones, and a tray with cocoa
on it. Lambs to the slaughter! Someone
came in and said my boyfriend was outside
and wanted to speak to me. I’d only been
going out with Glyn a short time then (Glyn
Morris and Edna later married). Well, of
course, I wasn’t supposed to, but I popped
out and had a few words with him. I could
see he was worried about me, and wanted to
make sure I was all right before I went.
“The airstrip we landed on was only a
cornfield that had been flattened down, and
it still had poppies round the edge, but all
the rest was barren. There was a concrete
dugout, a German dugout, so I went
investigating there. It was strange to think
that only a few days before, Germans had
been walking round in the dugout. I picked
up a German helmet, a gas mask and a
bayonet. I’ve still got the bayonet, and also a
hand grenade – I was very naive about hand
grenades in those days. I’d never seen one
before. Anyway, back in barracks it went up
on the shelf above my bed, and there it
stayed for 12 months, until I got married.
When Glyn my husband saw it. ‘Good God,’
he said, ‘it’s live’, and he promptly took it off
to the armoury. It could have gone off at any
minute if it had fallen and the pin had come
out. I had no idea.
“By the end of the war I had done about
70 flights with 233 Squadron. Some of the
wounded were very badly injured but you
couldn’t let it get to you. None of my
patients ever died on any of my flights. They
always wanted tea, those that could drink.
We’d carry an industrial-sized urn. And
they’d always want to know when we were
over the coast. I’d tell them that and say: ‘It
won’t be long before you’re home.’ And
they’d cheer. All this changed me certainly,
because I was a really shy person when I
joined up and before I started flying, but
that gave me a lot of confidence.”
(Edna Morris died in 2004) 
LACW Edna Birbeck on the steps of her
Dakota after returning to Blakehill Farm on
June 13, 1944.
Checking the casualties’ details inside a Dakota.
An RAF Servicing Commando introduces himself to the girls in Normandy.
‘Kwicherbichen’. C-47 Dakota ZA947 of the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight is currently
painted to represent Dakota FZ692 of No 233 Sqn, which was named‘Kwicherbichen’ by its
crew.This ‘Dak’ was involved in the D-Day operations and in subsequent casualty evacuation
missions, as shown by the mission symbols on the side of the cockpit. Photo: John Dibbs,The
Plane Picture Company
Halifaxes were progressively relegated to
secondary theatres such as North Africa and
Italy, while many were converted to or built
new as glider tugs, transports and maritime
reconnaissance variants. Meanwhile, the
Lancaster became Bomber Command’s pre-
eminent heavy bomber and, of course, it was
also the ‘darling’ of its crews.
In the two months before D-Day the RAF
Bomber Command Lancasters and
Halifaxes were increasingly tasked against
targets in France. In April 1944 less than
half of the bomb tonnage dropped was
directed against targets in Germany. In May
three-quarters of the heavy bomber sorties
were against targets in France and other
occupied territories outside Germany.
In the final weeks before D-Day much of
the heavy bombers’ work was directly in
support of the impending invasion, with
their efforts directed at destroying the
German lines of communication in France
and attempting to destroy the German
coastal batteries covering the French
channel ports.
For the crews of the bombers, the attacks
on the French targets brought a welcome
relief from the assault on Germany. The
‘Battle of Berlin’ and the winter were behind
them, and the spring brought lengthening
odds on each man’s survival.
Their morale plunged, however, when
word came that Bomber Command
intended to recognise the relative ease of
attacking targets in France by making each
Halifax, the few remaining Short Stirlings
having been more or less withdrawn to
second line duties. The Halifax had entered
service with the RAF in November 1940 with
35 Squadron and flew its first operational raid
on March 11-12, 1941.
The Lancaster, on the other hand, had
evolved from the less-than successful Avro
Manchester and did not carry out its first
operational sorties until almost a year later,
on March 3-4, 1942. By June 1944 though,
there were twice as many Lancaster
squadrons in Bomber Command as there
were Halifax-equipped units.
ACM Harris had been very critical of
Handley Page and the performance of the
Halifax in comparison with the Lancaster,
which had proved to be the better of the two
designs in terms of bomb-carrying
capability and survival rates. The later
variants of the Halifax, powered by Bristol
Hercules radial engines and fitted with the
Perspex nose and modified tail, were almost
on a par with the Lancaster in terms of
speed and altitude performance and
bettered it on loss rates and crew survival
statistics. However, Harris did not alter his
opinion and the Lancaster remained his
heavy bomber of choice.
If he had his way, he would have had all
production switched to the Lancaster. As it
was, while new manufacturing facilities were
devoted to the Lancaster, Halifax production
continued at Handley Page’s existing
manufacturing facilities because it was
considered more efficient to allow this,
rather than to stop production for an
unknown period while the factories
converted to building Lancasters. However,
p until the end of March 1944
the heavy bombers of RAF
Bomber Command had been
totally committed to the
campaign against German
cities and Berlin in particular, with the so-
called ‘Battle of Berlin’ officially lasting from
November 1943 to March 1944.
The commander-in-chief of Bomber
Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur
Harris, had believed for some time that an
all-out bombing campaign against Germany,
with the combined might of the British and
Americans, might bring about the downfall
of the Nazis and bring the war to an end
without the need for a prolonged land
offensive. By the end of March 1944,
however, it had become apparent that the
war would only be ended by the defeat of
Germany in the field.
The costly Nuremberg raid of March 30-
31, 1944, when 95 of the 795 bombers on the
operation failed to return and another five
were written off in crashes, was temporarily
the last of Bomber Command’s major
offensives against the German homeland. In
preparation for Operation Overlord the
emphasis was switched to targets in
occupied Europe and the transportation
system in western Germany, although there
were still some occasional raids against
cities further east in an effort to keep the
German night fighters and flak defences as
far east as possible.
By this stage, the two principal types of heavy
bomber in use by Bomber Command were
the Avro Lancaster and the Handley-Page
The RAF heavy bombers’ contribution to
Operation Overlord
Three Avro Lancaster B Mk.Is of 44
Squadron, based at Waddington,
Lincolnshire, on a daylight operation.
of these sorties count as only one third of an
operation towards a man’s tour. Crews with
only three or four trips left to complete their
tour of 30 ‘ops’, which most did not live to
see, were appalled by the prospect that
these remaining hurdles to survival might
stretch to nine or 12 trips.
In May 1944 two bombing raids on
French ‘tactical’ targets demonstrated why
this invidious idea was so ill-conceived. On
May 3-4 a force of 348 Lancasters, led by 14
Mosquitos, was sent to bomb a large
German Wehrmacht depot at Mailly-le-Camp
southeast of Paris. The enemy troops and
tanks in this depot could have been used to
resist the Allied advance after the invasion.
Problems with marking the target
accurately and then with radio
communications between the master bomber
and his force, resulted in the bombers being
delayed on their attack runs and being
forced to orbit in bright moonlight. The
German night fighters got in among the
bombers and caused carnage, proof indeed
that the Allies did not have the same air
superiority at night as they enjoyed by day.
From the point of view of the bombing
results, the operation was a success; 1200
tons of explosives were dropped on the
German camp, 220 Wehrmacht soldiers
were killed and another 150 wounded, and
37 tanks were destroyed. However, of the
362 aircraft on the operation 42, or 11.3%,
were shot down, overwhelmingly by the
night fighters. It was a high cost and one
that could not be justified.
On May 10, 89 Lancasters were sent to
bomb a target at Lille. There was a
prolonged delay in the middle of the attack,
when the target indicators were blown out
and the target had to be remarked. Twelve
aircraft, 13.5 per cent, were destroyed.
These were two exceptionally bad
nights, but they were a brutal reminder of
meant that most of the bombing was carried
out ‘blind’, but these raids helped to create a
‘shock and awe’ effect as well as putting
some of the batteries out of action.
After D-Day the heavy bombers continued
to be used against tactical targets and in
support of the Allied ground forces,
targeting communications, railways,
ammunition dumps, enemy troop positions
and other specific targets.
More than 4200 Lancaster sorties were
flown during June against these types of
targets and in direct support of Operation
Overlord and the Battle of Normandy. On
June 14, as a result of the overwhelming
daylight air supremacy achieved by the
Allies, Bomber Command was able to
resume daylight operations for the first time
in years. Fighter cover was provided for
these relatively short penetration
From mid-June much of Bomber
Command’s efforts were directed against
the German ‘V’-weapon sites, which could
have directed their missiles against the
Allied forces in Normandy as well as against
the UK mainland.
The heavy bomber operations of the RAF
have been covered in myriad books,
documentaries and accounts, but they are
often taken in isolation. Most people would,
perhaps, not consider that the heavy
bombers played much of a direct part in the
success of the Allied invasion of Europe. In
fact, though, the ‘heavies’ part in Operation
Overlord, the D-Day invasion, and the
subsequent ‘Battle of Normandy’ was
extremely important and actually contributed
significantly to the ultimate success of these
operations as well as to the final victory. 
what the Luftwaffe night fighters could still
do, given the chance. Lingering around a
target for accurate visual marking could be
fatal. There was no more talk of French
targets counting as a third of an ‘op’.
By June 3, the RAF heavy bombers had
attacked every one of their allotted pre-
invasion targets. A total of 54,869 tons of
bombs had been dropped, of which the
Lancasters contributed just over 33,000 tons.
The devastation inflicted on the railway
system in France and Belgium was extensive.
Every important railway junction
through which German reinforcements and
supplies could reach Normandy had been
severely damaged or destroyed. By D-Day
the capacity of the lines had been reduced
to six trains a day when German plans had
counted on 48 trains a day to reinforce the
possible invasion areas.
German defences all along the French
coast had been pulverised by the heavy
bombers, which had flown some 1700
sorties on 30 separate raids on gun
emplacements and batteries. Throughout
these operations, the continuing deception
of the Germans demanded that three times
as many bombs fell east of the Seine as did
to the west.
On the night preceding the invasion itself,
June 5-6, 1944, the ‘Heavies’ targeted the
coastal batteries overlooking the actual
planned invasion beaches. Bomber
Command set a new record that night with
1211 aircraft despatched on missions of all
types, most of them in direct support of the
invasion. Of the heavy bombers targeting
the coastal batteries, four Halifaxes and four
Lancasters failed to return, most shot down
by German night fighters. Cloud cover
Halifax B Mk.III, LV857, of 51 Squadron, was one of the 95 aircraft lost on the costly raid on Nuremberg on the night of March 30-31, 1944. It
was shot down by a Me 110 night fighter flown by Oberleutnant Martin Becker of I/NJG6.The crew of seven, who were only on their third
operation, were all killed.
‘Spitfires Escorting Lancasters on a Daylight Raid’. Operations like this were part of the
massive Allied air effort against German forces after D-Day in 1944, when the hard-won
Allied air supremacy permitted daylight bombing operations by RAF heavy bombers. As the
number of daylight raids increased, the Lancasters received fighter cover from the RAF for
the first time in the war. 617 Squadron Lancaster pilot Bob Knights later said: “The Spitfires
were a very welcome sight and would accompany you to the target; they would hang
around and see you were all right.”Artwork: Gary Eason
Carter’s crew were at least as experienced
and decorated as their pilot and captain; in
all they boasted no fewer than nine
Distinguished Flying Crosses or Medals
between them. The crew consisted of: Pilot
Officer Guy Dunning DFM (flight
engineer), Flight Lieutenant Ron Conley
DFC RAAF (navigator), Flight Lieutenant
Herbert Rieger RCAF (bomb aimer), Flight
Lieutenant Albert Chambers DFC and Bar
(wireless operator), Warrant Officer Frank
Watson DFM (mid-upper gunner) and
Squadron Leader Martin Bryan-Smith DFC
and Bar (rear gunner). Two of the most
experienced of these crew members were
the leaders for their aircrew trades on the
squadron; Squadron Leader Bryan-Smith
was the gunnery leader, and 23-year-old
Flight Lieutenant Chambers, who had flown
58 ‘ops’, was the signals leader.
It was not uncommon for pathfinder
Lancasters to carry an eighth crew member
on some ‘ops’, who sat alongside the
navigator and operated the H2S ground
mapping radar for blind bombing and
accurate target marking. This was the case
in Carter’s aircraft on the night of June 6
and Flying Officer ‘Hank’ Jeffery DFM flew
with the crew as the second
navigator/bomb-aimer in this role, as he
had done on a previous occasion. Jeffrey
had already completed a tour of 30
operations on Lancasters with 9 Squadron at
Bardney, being awarded the DFM in
December 1943. Having been ‘screened’ as
an instructor at the heavy conversion unit at
Winthorpe he was now flying regularly on
Then various other pieces of information
relating to the night’s operations trickled in,
details such as convoys to be avoided,
keeping strictly on track and at the briefed
altitude, news of impending naval actions to
the east, and so on.
It became obvious to those piecing together
the plan for the night that the great day they
had all been waiting for had arrived, the
invasion of Europe was about to commence and
they would have a part to play in it. The
commanding officer of 97 Squadron, 24-year-
old Wing Commander Edward James ‘Jimmy’
Carter DFC, was heard to exclaim: “Thank God
I’m still on ops and not at an OTU (Operational
Training Unit).” He would not have time to
regret that statement and he was not to know it,
but his desire to be involved in the great
enterprise was going to cost him his life.
‘Jimmy’ Carter had been in the RAF
throughout the war; he was now a very
experienced bomber pilot, as his DFC from a
previous tour of operations showed. He had
assumed command of 97 Squadron, which
was then based at Bourn, in January 1944,
after completing a tour as an instructor on a
Vickers Wellington training unit. 97 Squadron
moved to Coningsby in April 1944. Since
taking over the squadron, Carter had led the
unit’s crews on pathfinder target marking
operations to Berlin, Leipzig, Essen, Lille,
Brunswick, Schweinfurt, Kjeller (Oslo), the
Philips Works at Eindhoven and the German
artillery battery at Maisy on the French
coast. For the operation on June 6, Carter was
nominated as the deputy master bomber.
n June 5, 1944, 83 and 97
Lancaster Pathfinder
Squadrons, based at RAF
Coningsby in Lincolnshire,
received the details of the
target for the night at about 1pm. It seemed
like a normal operation to start with, the
target being a battery of coastal heavy guns
on the French coast at a point called St
Pierre-du-Mont, situated on the southeast
corner of the Cherbourg Peninsula.
‘Lost and found’
Lancaster shot down on D-Day
found 68 years later
Lancaster Mk.III PB410‘OF-J’ of 97 Squadron. Note the H2S radar blister under the rear fuselage.
Wg Cdr ‘Jimmy’ Carter, OC 97 Squadron.
‘ops’ again with 97 Squadron, although he
had told his mother that he had volunteered
for just one last flight.
This crew which was, at the time,
probably one of the RAF’s most decorated,
was also a very valuable team of experts.
Excitement among the Lancaster crews was
at a fever pitch as they went through the
routine build-up to a night on ‘ops’,
including the necessary planning and
briefing. The popular station commander at
RAF Coningsby, Group Captain Anthony
Evans-Evans, kicked off the briefing and set
the scene for the crews. Evans-Evans was
one of the great characters at Coningsby, a
big cheerful man he flew on ‘ops’
occasionally, but his age (he was 42), his
rank and his sheer size were against him in
this. Most of the aircrew believed that he
would never fit through the escape hatch if
he needed to bale out! Sadly, he was
eventually killed in an 83 Squadron
Lancaster on an operation over the
Mitteland Canal in February 1945, only a
few days after being awarded the DFC.
The crews of the 18 Lancasters flying on
the operation from Coningsby on June 6,
were driven to their aircraft which were
dispersed around the airfield. Carter and
his crew were flying Lancaster Mk.III
ND739, ‘OF-Z’, which was loaded with 11
1000lb bombs and four 500lb bombs. They
must have been feeling good about their
chances as they lifted off from Coningsby’s
runway at 2.56am, not only because they
were going to be part of a momentous event
but also because the target was barely
inside enemy territory and their exposure
to enemy defences, flak and night fighters
was surely only going to be brief. As they
climbed to their briefed operating height
and cruised southwards over England and
the English Channel the cloud cover below
them did not allow them to see the armada
beneath them.
Across the Channel, at Évreux airfield in
Normandy, Hauptmann (Captain) Helmut
Eberspacher of 3/SKG
(Schnellkampfgeschwader) 10 was on alert.
SKG10 was a Luftwaffe fast-bomber, ground-
attack unit equipped with Focke-Wulf
Fw 190G-3s and G-8s. Twenty-eight-year-old
Carter and his crew had dropped their
bombs on the target and had turned for
home when they were found by
Eberspacher in his Fw 190 shortly after 5am.
It would not be true to say that they came
‘face to face’, because the bomber crew
probably never saw the Fw 190 and never
knew what hit them. Eberspacher spotted
several Lancasters silhouetted against the
moonlit clouds below him. He dived down
on Carter’s ‘Z-Zebra’ and attacked from the
Lancaster’s blind spot underneath, avoiding
engaging the bomber from any other angle
out of a healthy respect for the RAF
gunners. He later said: “Similar to a shadow
theatre, the bombers stood out against the
clouds. However, they could not see me
against the dark ground. We were at war, the
enemy had to be combated and I was in a
favourable position.”
At 5.04am a transmission from Carter on
the Force radio frequency, acknowledging a
message from the master bomber, was
suddenly cut short. Cannon shells and
machine gun fire from the Fw 190 ripped
into the underside of the Lancaster, causing
immediate catastrophic damage, probably
wounding and killing some on board and
setting the bomber on fire. It is almost
impossible to imagine the adrenalin-
pumping terror that would be felt by a
bomber crew on the receiving end of a
Eberspacher, a holder of the Iron Cross first
and second class, had been promoted to
Staffelkapitän to lead the 3rd Staffel of the 1st
Gruppe in May. SKG10 flew ‘hit and run’
fighter-bomber missions with their Fw 190s
over southern England both by day and by
night. Due to the lack of regular night
fighters in France and in view of the
increasing number of night bombing
missions being flown by the RAF over
France, from April 1944 onwards the Fw 190s
of SKG10 were also employed on Wilde Sau
(‘Wild Boar’) free-ranging, night-fighter
missions against the British bombers on the
brighter moonlit nights. It was for this
purpose that Eberspacher and some of his
pilots were sitting on alert at Évreux.
Earlier that night, warnings of enemy
glider and paratroopers landing in
Normandy had reached Évreux, but the Fw
190 pilots that were scrambled had found no
enemy air activity. They were rather
downcast by this lack of success and failure
to see anything of the enemy. Then at about
4.30am information came into the Gruppe
HQ that Allied bombers were pounding the
coast between Carentan and Caen.
Eberspacher was ordered to scramble
with three other Fw 190s into that sector.
There was very limited assistance from
the German fighter controllers whose
radars had mostly been destroyed, while
the surviving parts of the air defence
system were being heavily jammed.
However, there were so many RAF
bombers in such a small area that it was
almost inevitable that the Fw 190 pilots
would stumble across some. Fate was
about to bring Eberspacher’s Fw 190 and
‘Jimmy’ Carter’s Lancaster together.
The heavy bombers’ attack against the
coastal battery at St Pierre-du-Mont started
at 4.50am, about 30 minutes before dawn,
with a red target indicator (TI) which was
dropped accurately on the target by an
‘Oboe’-equipped Mosquito Pathfinder. It
was instantly backed up by green TIs
dropped visually by Mosquito aircraft of 627
Squadron. These latter TIs were not as
accurate as those dropped with ‘Oboe’.
However, by the time the main force came
in to bomb, the target was well marked. The
bombing was extremely accurate and the
whole point was flattened.
Some of Carter’s crew, from left, wireless operator Flt Lt Chambers, second nav/bomb aimer Fg Off Jeffery, bomb aimer Flt Lt Rieger RCAF and
rear gunner Sqn Ldr Bryan-Smith.
Hauptmann Helmut Eberspacher, Fw 190
Sixty-eight years later in 2012, British
aviation historian and archaeologist Tony
Graves was taken to an aircraft crash site in
Normandy by French locals. Some farmers
had found part of a wheel protruding from
the soil and a local metal detector had found
a gold ring, which bore the initials ‘AC’ on
its face, and the inscription ‘Love Vera’
engraved on the back. Some detective work
by Mr Graves led him to realise that the
‘AC’ referred to Albert Chambers (Carter’s
wireless operator) who had married Vera
Grubb, aged 21, at St Giles’ Church,
Normanton near Derby, in October 1943,
just eight months before he died on D-Day.
Permission was obtained from the land
owner and from the French Government to
excavate the site, where some 300 rounds of
British .303 ammunition was still lying on
the surface. The excavation uncovered two
sustained burst of cannon fire from a
completely unseen foe.
Eberspacher reported no return fire
from the Lancaster and knew it was fatally
damaged. He immediately attacked a
second Lancaster and then a third, shooting
down all three within three minutes, with
the loss of all on board except one of the
gunners. One of the other pilots in his flight,
Feldwebel Eisele, claimed another of the
RAF heavy bombers, so when they landed
back at Évreux they were able to claim a
total of four bombers shot down, the first air
combat action and the first kills for the
Luftwaffe on D-Day.
None of Carter’s crew escaped from the
burning Lancaster; the bombing height was
lower than usual and there was little time
for any survivors of the Fw 190 attack to
bale out before the bomber ploughed into
the Normandy fields and exploded. All eight
of the crew were still on board and all were
killed. They were proof that experience,
expertise, skill and alertness were not
enough to survive in the bomber crews’ war
and, in the end, it was just a lottery that
came down to sheer luck. They were lost
without trace.
Many, indeed most, of the heavy bomber
crew members who were killed over enemy
territory during the Second World War
received a decent burial from the Germans.
However, in this instance the location of the
crash site, near Carentan in Normandy,
quickly became a battlefield and was,
therefore, not dealt with in the usual way.
The war rolled over the site and the men’s
bodies were never recovered. Their names
were listed on the Runnymede memorial
which commemorates 20,389 airmen of the
Second World War with no known graves.
of the inner Merlin engines, one outer
engine and several propeller blades, one of
the Lancaster’s wheel hubs, the back of an
armour-plated seat, one of the bomb bay
doors and all the bomb racks clamps.
The fragmentary wreckage that emerged
convinced the aviation archeologists that
these were the remains of ND739, Wing
Commander ‘Jimmy’ Carter’s Lancaster,
which had been missing from Coningsby
since June 6, 1944. A number of personal
items found during the dig were the most
poignant: a silver-plated cigarette case
twisted by the impact, a watch torn from the
wrist of an airman, a mangled Bomber
Command whistle, a forage cap, a silk flying
glove, and remains of wool serge
battledress jackets, one with a DFM ribbon,
one with the remains of a Waterman pen in
the pocket and one with a German 7.92
bullet lodged inside a sleeve. Lancaster
ND739 and some personal reminders of its
crew had finally been found 68 years after
they went missing on D-Day.
The motto of 97 Squadron was ‘Achieve
your aim’. These eight airmen gave their
lives on D-Day doing just that.
(Helmut Eberspacher was later awarded
the coveted Knight’s Cross in January 1945
after he had flown 170 fighter-bomber and
night-fighter missions and shot down seven
enemy aircraft. He survived the war and
died in June 2011). 
Fw 190s of SKG10 in their camouflaged‘hides’ on an airfield in Normandy.
A Lancaster bombing blind through cloud.
he major Bomber Command
effort on the night of June 8-9,
1944 (D-Day +2) involved 483
bombers attacking rail centres
at Alençon, Fougères,
Mayenne, Pontaubault and Rennes. Four
aircraft were lost on these raids. One of the
most significant attacks that night was made
by 617 Squadron against the Saumur
railway tunnel and involved the first
operational use of a new ‘special weapon’,
the Tallboy earthquake-effect bomb.
As the invasion unfolded, the French
Resistance and British intelligence reported to
Allied headquarters that the German
Wehrmacht was planning to move a Panzer
armoured division by rail from the Bordeaux
region to Normandy. If they had succeeded,
this division could have been used to initiate a
powerful counterattack against the break out
from the beaches. The railway line that would
be used to transport the division crossed the
Loire River over a bridge and then immediately
passed through a tunnel near the town of
Saumur in the Loire valley, some 125 miles
south of the battle area. A raid against this
important target was planned in great haste
and was a classic example of the heavy
bombers being used tactically, with the specific
aim in this case being to block the route of the
German reinforcements to the ground battle.
Just after 2am on June 9, the Saumur
target area was illuminated by flares
dropped by four Lancasters of 83 Squadron,
although it was reported that most of them
were dropped inaccurately, too far away, and
only the last two or three were of any use.
Nonetheless, at 2.06am Wing
Commander Leonard Cheshire, the Officer
Commanding 617 Squadron, who was flying
Mosquito VI MS993, with navigator Flying
Officer Kelly, dived on the southern
entrance of the tunnel from 3000ft down to
500ft and released four red spot fire
Twenty-five Lancasters of 617 Squadron
(a new squadron record for an operation),
19 of them carrying the new Tallboy bomb
and the others with eight 1000lb general
purpose bombs each, then bombed the
tunnel and the bridge. The 1000lb bombs
were dropped against the bridge, but the
bombing was inaccurate and the bridge was
left undamaged. The 19 Tallboys which
markers, one of which fell on the railway
cutting just at the mouth of the tunnel.
A second Mosquito, flown by 617
Squadron’s ‘Tom and Gerry’ duo of Flight
Lieutenant Gerry Fawke and Flying Officer
Tom Bennet, dropped flares to illuminate
the target area, followed by three red spots
which landed 50 yards from the north end
of the tunnel.
‘Sledgehammer to crack hard nuts’
Tallboy bomb being manoeuvred for loading by RAF armourers.
Post-raid reconnaissance photograph of the Saumur railway tunnel,
showing the Tallboy craters, two of which are on the line and one
penetrating the tunnel itself.
The hole in the roof of the Saumur railway tunnel cause by a Tallboy
on June 9, 1944, after the debris had been cleared.
Lancaster a sitting target for the defences,
especially radar-directed predicted, flak.
The combination of SABS and Tallboy
was effective only if the aiming point could
be clearly identified and tracked visually by
the bomb aimer. Some missions were
aborted or unsuccessful because this was
not possible and, due to the cost and
complexity of their manufacture, Tallboy
bombs which were not dropped were
brought back to base.
After the initial success at Saumur, Tallboys
were used against a wide range of targets in
France over the summer of 1944, especially
against the German’s heavily hardened
concrete structures, such as U-boat and E-
boat pens and ‘V’-weapon sites.
One such raid, on the evening of June 14,
was Bomber Command’s first daylight raid
over enemy occupied territory since 1941
(actually it was a last-light, dusk raid). A total
of 221 Lancasters bombed the German E-boat
pens at Le Havre, including 22 from 617
Squadron carrying Tallboys. Being relatively
close to the invasion beaches, these fast
German motor torpedo boats were a
significant threat to the hundreds of Allied
ships crossing the Channel daily with men and
supplies for the Second Front. The destruction
of this naval target would safeguard the Allied
shipping. The heavy bombers were escorted
To achieve accuracy with these large single
bombs, 617 Squadron used a special
bombsight – the Stabilising Automatic Bomb
Sight (SABS) Mk.IIA – which, for the first
time in the RAF’s history, permitted true
precision bombing from medium altitude.
These special bomb sights were hand-
made, precision instruments, produced in
small numbers and used only in specialist
roles. With a well-trained and practiced
bomb-aimer, able to keep the SABS aiming
graticule exactly over the aiming point
during the approach to the target, the sight
automatically calculated the aircraft’s ground
speed and wind drift. These were the
principal factors which led to inaccuracies
with earlier bomb sights, like the Mk.XIV in
use with the rest of Bomber Command.
The SABS fed information to a Bombing
Direction Indicator mounted in front of the
pilot, which showed him whether any
course correction, left or right, was
required. It also calculated the bomb
release point and released the bomb
automatically at the correct moment.
Given optimum conditions, a well-trained
crew could reliably place a bomb within 80
yards of the target from 18,000ft. Achieving
this level of precision required extremely
accurate flying. Unfortunately, it also
required a long straight run-up to the target
of between five and 10 minutes, during which
no evasive action was possible, making the
were dropped against the tunnel from
between 8000 and 10,500ft were much more
effective. Although the clouds of dust
caused by the bombs temporarily blotted
out the marker flares and caused some
delays, many of them were dropped with
great accuracy; 50% of the bombs fell within
100 yards.
Reconnaissance photographs taken the
next day showed the full extent of the
damage caused by 617 Squadron’s attack
and the Tallboys in particular. The railway
track at the southern end of the tunnel was
broken by two huge Tallboy craters and a
third Tallboy actually pierced the roof of the
tunnel and brought down a huge quantity of
rock and soil, some 15,000 cubic metres of
it. The tunnel was blocked for a
considerable time and the Panzer unit was
badly delayed in its movement to the battle
area. The Saumur railway tunnel had still
not been completely cleared by the time
that part of France was liberated and this
stretch of line remained unusable to the
Germans. No aircraft were lost on this, the
first Tallboy raid.
Designed by Barnes Wallis, the Tallboy
bomb was a remarkable weapon, combining
the explosive force of a large, high-capacity
bomb and the penetrating power of armour-
piercing munitions. When it was introduced
it was the only weapon in the Royal Air
Force’s inventory capable of breaking
through the thick concrete structures of the
German U-boat shelters, E-boat pens and V-
weapon sites.
Tallboy measured 21ft (6m) long and
contained 5200lb of Torpex explosive. With
a streamlined (ogival) shape, it was fitted
with a long, light-alloy, conical tail with four
small square fins. These fins were offset by
5º, causing the bomb to spin during its fall,
aiding stability and improving its accuracy.
To increase its penetrative power, the nose
of the bomb contained a specially-hardened
and precisely-machined, steel plug. Tallboy
was ballistically perfect and in consequence
had a very high terminal velocity. Released
from an altitude of 18,000ft, a Tallboy took
only 37 seconds to fall to the ground; when
it hit, it was supersonic and still
accelerating. It could penetrate 16ft (5m) of
concrete or 90ft of earth and made a crater
80ft (24m) deep and 100ft (30m) across,
which would have taken 5000 tons of earth
to fill.
The bomb was designed to detonate
below ground, transferring all of its
energy into the target structure. This
earthquake effect caused more damage
than a direct hit, as it shook the whole
target structure, causing major damage to
all parts of it and making repair
impossible or uneconomic.
The fuses in the rear of the bomb could
be set to give it sufficient time to
penetrate before exploding. The time
delay could be set to between 11 seconds
and 30 minutes after impact.
A 12,000lb Tallboy bomb being loaded on to 617 Sqn Lancaster ED763,‘KC-Z’‘Honor’.This
aircraft led a charmed life and served with the squadron to the end of the war.
by Spitfires which prevented any Luftwaffe
fighters from interfering with the raid, but the
enemy flak was still a problem and some
bombers were hit.
Tallboy was on the secret list, so the
other Bomber Command crews had not
been briefed about it. Flight engineer Ken
Down, of 550 Squadron, who was on the
raid said: “...when I saw 617 Squadron’s
bombs explode it was as if the whole
surface had erupted. We hadn’t been told
anything at the briefing about the Tallboy
bombs, but when I saw them go in, it was
obvious that this was something special.”
The long straight run in to the target,
required for the SABS bomb sight to
function correctly, nearly cost Flying Officer
Michael Hamilton and his 617 Squadron
crew dear in their Lancaster DV403 ‘KC-G’,
as he later recalled:
“We went into the target and immediately
the flak started. The first shot burst under
the Tallboy, which deflected the shrapnel
into the aircraft and we lost our hydraulics.
More shots went through the Lancaster; one
bent the bomb bay doors, another broke the
lock on the starboard undercarriage,
causing the wheel to come down. The drag
from that was pulling us to the right. We
were still on our 12 mile bomb run.
“The next flak burst went straight
through the starboard middle tank and we
lost 140 gallons of petrol, which sprayed on
to the rear gunner through his clear vision
panel. It felt like a fortnight, but it was only
14 seconds.
“We dropped the Tallboy and the bomb
aimer (Flying Officer Duck) shouted: ‘We’ve
hit it.’ Just as he said that the nose of the
aircraft was shattered; the escape hatch had
gone and all of the Perspex too. A terrific
draught came in and blew window all over
the place as well as all of the navigator’s
papers. The bomb aimer was writhing around
in agony. The crew tried to help. The
engineer said: ‘I don’t know what he’s making
Two of the 617 Sqn Lancasters that took part in the dusk raid against the E-boat pens at Le Havre, en route to the target on June 14, 1944. In
the foreground is Lancaster DV385,‘KC-A’,‘Thumper Mk.III’, flown by Flt Lt Bob Knights. Leading him is Sqn Ldr Les Munro in his trusty LM482
‘KC-W’. On this raid Thumper Mk.III was hit by flak but only lightly damaged. It was flying again the next day, dropping a Tallboy against the E-
boat pens at Boulogne.
all the fuss about, he’s only got a small hole in
his leg’. They tried to put a tourniquet around
it, but he wouldn’t let them.
“I was now totally engaged in flying the
aircraft. Even though we had climbing
power on, we were sinking. It was chaos
with the drag, the undercarriage half down,
the draught, and the bomb aimer, who in his
writhing had kicked the throttles and pitch
levers. I shouted at them to get him back to
the rest bed. By this time we were down to
about 3000ft over the Channel.”
Hamilton fully expected that he would
have to ditch in the Channel and he put out a
distress call so that an Air-Sea Rescue boat
would be launched. Somehow, though, the
battered Lancaster managed to get its crew
back to England and to RAF West Malling
with its grass runway. The crew blew the
undercarriage down using the emergency
air system and managed to get it locked
down, but it was not possible to get all of the
flap down for the landing. Hamilton was very
concerned about the damaged
undercarriage collapsing and also knew that
they would be coming in to land faster than
normal, so he had all of the crew in their
crash positions. His landing was, “one of the
smoothest I have ever done”, the
undercarriage held and the aircraft rolled to
a halt.
After the Lancaster had stopped and
fallen silent, one of the West Malling crash
crews appeared at the front of the aircraft,
looked up through the wrecked nose and
said: “God, how the bloody hell did you get
this thing back?” The bomb aimer was taken
to hospital, where doctors found he had 27
pieces of shrapnel in his body between his
chest and his legs. He survived. 
Oblique recce photograph showing one of the destroyed E-boat pens at Le Havre after the
Tallboy raid on June 14, 1944.
Lancaster PA474 of the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight which currently represents 617
Sqn Lancaster DV385,‘KC-A’,‘Thumper Mk.III’.The real ‘Thumper’ was the regular aircraft of Flt
Lt Bob Knights and his crew. It flew on the‘spoof’ chaff raid, Operation Taxable, on the eve of
D-Day, and on many of the squadron’s ‘Tallboy’ bombing raids, including the first against the
Saumur railway tunnel on June 8-9, 1944, and the dusk raid against the E-boat pens at Le
Havre on June 14.The real ‘Thumper’ survived the war and was scrapped in after the war
had ended. Photo: John Dibbs,The Plane Picture Company
extreme devotion to duty in the presence of
the enemy”. During the whole of the Second
World War, only 30 awards of the Victoria
Cross were made to airmen serving in the
Royal Air Force, its Volunteer Reserve and
those serving with the air forces of the
Commonwealth countries. The VC awarded
to Andy Mynarski was the only one that was
made to an airman during the immediate D-
Day period.
419 ‘Moose’ Squadron was a heavy bomber
unit of the RCAF, part of the all-Canadian 6
Group, embedded within the RAF and
Bomber Command, based at Middleton St
George (now Teesside Airport). When
Canadian pilot Flying Officer Art de Breyne
and his crew joined 419 Squadron the unit
was still flying Handley-Page Halifaxes, but
soon afterwards the squadron re-equipped
with Canadian-built Lancaster Mk.Xs. The
de Breyne crew actually flew only one
operation in a Halifax with 419 Squadron
before converting to the Lancaster.
Art de Breyne’s crew consisted of flight
engineer Sergeant Roy Vigars (the only
Englishman in the otherwise all-Canadian
crew); navigator, Flying Officer Robert
Body; bomb aimer, Sergeant Jack Friday;
wireless operator, Warrant Officer Jimmy
Kelly; mid-upper gunner, Andy Mynarski
who was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on
June 11, 1944 and rear gunner, Flying
Officer Pat Brophy.
Individually skilled in their own areas of
expertise, the seven members of the
Lancaster crew welded together into a
close-knit, disciplined and professional team
in the aircraft, each reliant totally on the
others not only for success but also for
survival. On the ground they were friends,
especially the two gunners who, despite
their age difference (Mynarski was 27 and
Brophy was 22) enjoyed socialising together
in the English pubs. In early June the crew
was allocated its ‘own’ Lancaster Mk.X,
KB726, VR-A’, making the team complete.
JUNE 12-13, 1944
On June 12-13, 1944, 16 Lancasters from 419
Squadron were detailed to participate in a
night bombing raid on the rail marshalling
yards at Cambrai, as part of a force of 40
Lancasters from 6 Group. It was to be a
relatively low-level attack, bombing from a
height of only 2000ft. For Art de Breyne and
his crew, this was their 13th ‘op’ and they
were planned to be over the target on
Friday the 13th. For the superstitious
among the crew, there were some bad
n addition to the special operations
conducted in concert with 617
Squadron and their ‘Tallboys’, the
Bomber Command ‘Main Force’ heavy
bombers flew a huge number of other
sorties in support of the initial phases of the
Battle of Normandy. They attacked road and
rail targets, enemy troop concentrations,
military barracks, radar installations and fuel
In the week immediately after D-Day, the
Bomber Command Lancasters alone flew
2689 operational sorties, of which 1856 were
flown against road and rail targets. These
operations were not without risk and there
were significant losses to enemy flak and
night fighters; a total of 77 Lancasters were
lost on these raids.
One of the Lancasters lost during this
period was that of Flying Officer Art De
Breyne and his crew from 419 ‘Moose’
Squadron of the RCAF. This Lancaster was
one of three from 419 Squadron shot down
during an attack against a rail yard at
Cambrai, in northern Picardy on the night
of June 12-13, 1944.
The actions that night of one of the
gunners in De Breyne’s crew, Pilot Officer
Andy Mynarski, resulted in his later award
of the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest
award for gallantry in the face of the enemy
that can be made to members of the British
and Commonwealth forces.
The VC is awarded only for “most
conspicuous bravery, a daring or pre-
eminent act of valour, self-sacrifice or
Victoria Cross
Lancaster gunner, Pilot Of ficer Andy Mynarski,
was awarded the VC for his actions on the night of June 12-13, 1944.
omens here. Lancaster KB726, VR-A’, with
de Breyne at the controls, lifted off from
Middleton St George at 9.44pm on June 12.
In the Lancaster’s bomb bay were 16,
500lb GP bombs and two 500lb GP long-
delay bombs; a total of 9000lb of high
explosive. The weather conditions were
favourable, promising good visibility over
the target.
After encountering flak over the coast and
having briefly been illuminated by
searchlights, the Lancaster began its
bombing run. Suddenly, a Junkers Ju 88
night fighter bored in from the Lancaster’s
port beam in a lightning attack, sweeping up
from below and astern, raking the bomber
with its angled-up Schrage Musik cannon
fire. In the rear turret, gunner Pat Brophy
saw the Ju 88 at the last moment, yelling a
command to ‘corkscrew’ to the pilot, he
swung his turret 45º to the port side of the
bomber, depressed his four .303 machine
guns down and fired at the night fighter. It
was too late.
The cannon fire from the Ju 88 tore into
the Lancaster’s port wing, knocking out
both port engines and setting the wing
ablaze. The hydraulic pipes to the rear
turret were hit and a fine spray of hydraulic
fluid ignited, starting a raging fire in the
rear fuselage. All the bomber’s electrics
failed, the cockpit was thrown into darkness
and the intercom, used by the crew to
communicate with each other, also failed.
The captain – de Breyne – realised that
the situation was hopeless and, with no
intercom system available, flashed the pre-
arranged signal of the letter ‘P’ in Morse
code on the crew-station lights, to order the
crew to bale out.
In the rear turret, Brophy was not
surprised to get the bale-out signal, as he
could see the mass of flames spreading
back from the port wing. In the Lancaster Flying Officer Art de Breyne RCAF.
the gunners could not wear their chest
parachutes in their turrets; there simply
wasn’t room. The rear gunner’s parachute
hung on the wall of the Lancaster behind
his turret doors. In order to bale out, the
gunner first needed to get his turret
straight, open the doors, get his parachute
and clip it on to the chest harness, and
then bale out from the aircraft, either
through the main entry/exit door just
ahead of the tail, or by rotating the rear
turret through 90º, so that the back of it
pointed sideways, and then doing a back
flip out into the night sky.
harness, but he could not get out of the
turret either into the aircraft or into the
airflow. He was trapped.
Through the open doors of his turret and
the side Perspex, Brophy saw his friend
Andy Mynarski, the mid-upper gunner,
climb out of his turret, get his parachute off
the wall of the Lancaster, clip it on to his
chest harness and move to the side door. As
he was about to jump, Mynarski looked to
his right and saw the rear turret askew with
no movement in it and realised that his
With this desperate need in mind,
Brophy tried to rotate his turret straight,
but with the hydraulic pipes ruptured it
would not move. No problem, there was a
manual back-up handle, but as Brophy
started to wind that, it snapped off in his
hand. He was now stuck with his turret
pointing 45º to the Lancaster’s port side,
with the guns pointing down where he had
last fired at the German night fighter. He
opened the turret doors, but could only
just get his left arm through the small gap.
He reached his parachute, pulled it into
the turret and clipped it on to his chest
Lancaster Mk.X KB745‘VR-V’ of 419‘Moose’ Squadron, flying over a bomb-cratered Normandy during the summer of 1944.This aircraft was
lost on October 4, 1944, during an attack against the U-boat pens at Bergen; all of the crew were killed.
In the Lancaster, the pilot, de Breyne, with
no intercom to communicate with the crew,
thought he had given enough time for
everyone to bale out, certainly the crew
members at the front had gone. To give
himself a chance of getting out too, he
throttled back the two starboard engines, to
balance the dead engines on the port side,
and he trimmed the aircraft for wings level
and a gliding attitude. He then left his seat
and baled out through the hatch in the
bomb aimer’s compartment.
The Lancaster was now gliding down in the
dark, pilotless, with Brophy trapped in the
rear turret, no doubt expecting to die. The
pilot must have done a good job because the
aircraft remained wings level in a gentle
descent and that was how it hit the ground.
At over 100mph it slid along on its belly and
into some trees. The first thing to hit the
trees was the port wing; this swung the
aircraft so violently that the whiplash effect
freed the rear turret and whipped it round
so that the open doors at its rear faced the
starboard side. Brophy was flung out of his
turret backwards and found himself sitting
against a tree, with his unopened parachute
on his chest and the Lancaster, with the
bombs still on board, exploding some 200
friend Pat Brophy was trapped. With
complete disregard for his own safety and
survival, Mynarski made his way to the rear
of the Lancaster, crawled through the
flames, and started trying to hack a way out
for his friend with the fire axe. When that
failed, he tried to force the turret straight
with brute strength.
As Brophy watched, he was horrified to
see Mynarski’s clothes catch fire up to the
waist, as he became soaked with burning
hydraulic oil. He realised the hopelessness
of the situation and yelled and gesticulated
at Mynarski to leave him and to save
himself. The anguished look on Mynarski’s
face showed how he felt about leaving his
friend, but he knew he had no choice and
backed off through the flames. By the time
he reached the Lancaster’s door, Mynarski
was on fire from head to foot; the parachute
on his chest was also burning. Even so,
before he jumped, he straightened up and
saluted his friend in the rear turret who he
thought was going to die. He then baled out.
When his parachute opened it was on
fire and he descended far too rapidly.
Although Mynarski was alive when he hit
the ground in France, he died shortly
afterwards from a combination of the
impact and the severe burns he had
received. Andy Mynarski is buried in
Méharicourt Cemetery, France.
The crew (l to r): Brophy, Kelly,Vigars, de Breyne, Mynarski, Friday and Body.
Pilot Officer Andy Mynarski VC.
yards away. Miraculously, not only had he
survived, but he was completely unscathed!
Brophy was picked up by the French
Resistance and hidden for six weeks, by
which time the Allies had advanced further
into France and he was handed over to
them. Three other members of the crew, de
Breyne (pilot), Body (navigator) and Kelly
(wireless operator), also evaded capture and
were eventually repatriated. The other two
became PoWs for the duration of the war.
In 1945, Pat Brophy was reunited with Art
de Breyne and the rest of the crew and
the details of the final moments in the
aircraft that night were revealed,
including the valiant efforts made by
Mynarski in trying to free Brophy. In late
1945, de Breyne started the process of
getting Mynarski’s extraordinary deed
recognised with an award. The
recommendation worked its way slowly up
the command structure of the RCAF and
the RAF and, on October 11, 1946, the
award of a posthumous VC to Andy
Mynarski was finally announced, for his
supreme sacrifice in giving his own life to
try to save that of his friend and colleague
on June 12-13, 1944. 
Rear gunner, Flying Officer Pat Brophy.
infrastructure in France, they lost three
aircraft during this time. Taken together,
these day and night operations by the
medium-bomber/intruders added to the
havoc being wreaked in enemy-occupied
Europe by the RAF and Allied air forces.
The ‘Wooden Wonder’, affectionately known
to its crews as the ‘Mossie’ will need no
introduction to most readers. This twin-
Merlin-engine, two-crew aircraft, of almost
entirely wooden construction had originally
daylight operations without too much
interference from the Luftwaffe, but the
enemy ‘flak’ was still very dangerous and
caused some losses.
During the build up to D-Day, the pace of
operations for these units intensified and it
continued to do so after the invasion. To
take just one of the Mosquito FB VI units as
an example, 464 Squadron (RAAF) alone,
flew 350 sorties in July 1944 and another
400 during August.
Concentrating mainly on night-time
intruder attacks on German transport and
he twin-engine medium
bombers and intruders were a
relatively small, but
nonetheless effective,
component of the RAF’s order
of battle during the D-Day period. In June
1944, the RAF’s 2 TAF fielded six squadrons
of De Havilland Mosquito fighter-bomber
FB Mk.VIs, four of North American B-25
Mitchells, and two of Douglas A-20 Bostons.
The Boston was gradually being phased out
and replaced by the other two types; by the
war’s end there was only one Boston unit
still operating (342 Free French Squadron).
These squadrons of Mosquitos,
Mitchells and Bostons conducted tactical
precision-strike, interdiction and intruder
operations by day and by night, during the
build-up to D-Day and the subsequent Battle
of Normandy, frequently operating at low
level. Targets were numerous and varied
and included fuel and supply dumps,
barracks and headquarters, airfields,
communications targets – such as railway
infrastructure, bridges, road transport and
convoys – and ‘V’-weapon ‘Noball’ sites.
Some attacks against pinpoint targets from
very low-level, such as against certain
Gestapo headquarters, were spectacularly
successful. Fighter escorts and the hard-
earned Allied air supremacy allowed
Medium bombers & intruders
B-25 Mitchells of 320 (Dutch) Sqn under attack from Luftwaffe Fw 190s and being defended
by their escort of Spitfire Mk IXs of 602 Sqn (Aux AF) during a daylight raid around D-Day.
Artwork by Wiek Luijken
Mosquito FB VI of 418 Sqn (RCAF).
been conceived as an unarmed fast bomber.
It first entered service with the RAF as a
photographic reconnaissance aircraft in
September 1941, at which time it was one of
the fastest operational aircraft in the world.
By 1942 it was in widespread service with the
RAF and was being adapted to fill many roles.
Its performance remained impressive, later
marks being capable of over 400mph, and it
had a good range and altitude capability.
From late 1943, Mosquito bomber units
were formed into the Light Night Strike
Force often dropping 4000lb (1812kg) HC
blast bombs, ‘cookies’, in high-altitude,
high-speed raids that German night fighters
were almost powerless to intercept. They
were also used as pathfinders for RAF
Bomber Command’s heavy-bomber raids.
As a night fighter, from mid-1942, the
Mosquito not only defended the United
Kingdom against German night bombing
raids, but was also employed offensively as
a night intruder, conducting raids over
Luftwaffe airfields and as a night fighter
supporting RAF Bomber Command’s heavy
bomber raids. In these roles it played an
important part in reducing bomber losses
during 1944 and 1945.
The Mosquito’s survivability was
enhanced not only by the capability of its
wooden structure to soak up battle damage,
but also by its legendary ability to fly on one
engine, quite happily, if required.
The Mosquito FB VI, operated by 2 TAF
at the time of D-Day and the Battle of
fuselage. The ventral bay doors were
divided into two sections; the forward pair
giving access to the 20mm cannon breeches
and ammunition feed, while the rear pair
covered a bomb bay which could hold two
250lb bombs. The top speed of this mark of
the Mosquito, with the more powerful
engines, was over 370mph. As well as being
extremely effective against ground targets
with its bomb and gun armament, the FB VI
was quite capable of holding its own against
single-engine fighter aircraft and ‘Mossie’
crews did indeed claim numerous Luftwaffe
Fw 190s and Bf 109s on their intruder
Normandy, had first entered service in May
1943. Powered by two 1460hp Rolls-Royce
Merlin 21s or two 1653hp Merlin 25s, the
Mosquito FB VI introduced a restressed
and reinforced wing, capable of carrying a
single 250lb (113kg) bomb on racks in
streamlined fairings under each wing
(increased to 500lb (227kg) bombs on
Series 2 FB VIs ), or up to eight 3in rocket
projectiles. Alternatively, a 50 gallon or 100
gallon fuel drop tank could be fitted under
each wing. The usual armament was four
.303 Browning machine guns in the solid
nose and four 20mm Hispano Mk II
cannons under the cockpit section of the
Loading 500lb bombs into the internal bomb bay of a Mosquito FB VI.
A Mosquito FB VI flying effortlessly in close formation alongside the camera ship, with the
port engine feathered.
defensive armament consisted of a dorsal
turret with a pair of 0.5in (12.7mm) heavy
machine guns, a retractable, remotely-
operated ventral turret also fitted with two
0.5s, and a further two 0.5s in the Plexiglass
nose, one fixed forward firing and one
flexible. The Mitchell could carry up to
3600lb (1600kg) of bombs in its bomb bay
The Mitchell was an amazingly sturdy
aircraft that could withstand tremendous
punishment. It was also a safe and forgiving
aircraft to fly. With one engine out, it was
possible to fly 60º banking turns into the dead
engine and control could be easily maintained
down to 145mph. However, the pilot had to
remember to maintain engine-out directional
control at low speeds after takeoff with rudder;
if this manoeuvre was attempted with ailerons,
the aircraft would snap out of control. The
tricycle landing gear made for excellent
visibility while taxiing and on landing. The
only significant complaint from its crews about
the Mitchell was the extremely high noise
level produced by its engines.
The Mitchells were sometimes used on
daylight short-penetration raids with a
fighter escort, and they also flew night
operations, including illuminating targets
with flares for Mosquitos to make night
attacks against ground transport targets. As
the invasion approached, they flew night
attacks against ‘V’-weapon, ‘Noball’ sites and
against communications targets.
After D-Day the Mitchells operated in
support of the ground action, bombing
enemy positions and attacking
concentrations of armour and fuel depots, as
well as making more attacks against ‘Noball’
sites. With air supremacy achieved, the
Mitchell crews found, as did the other
medium bomber crews, that enemy fighters
were not a particular threat, but the ‘flak’
certainly was.
took place on January 22, 1943, when six
aircraft from 180 Squadron attacked oil
installations at Ghent. It was not a good
start to the aircraft’s operational career as
one aircraft was shot down by ‘flak’ over the
target and two others were lost when
attacked by Fw 190 fighters. This was an
aircraft that needed air superiority to
operate without high loss rates.
The Mitchell II was powered by two
Wright R-2600-13 radial engines, producing
around 1700hp each, giving the aircraft a
cruising speed of 230mph and a maximum
speed of about 270mph at 13,000ft. The
The North American B-25 Mitchell was an
American twin-engine medium bomber,
which was widely used by the USAAF and
other air forces during the Second World
War. The RAF received nearly 900 B-25
Mitchells under the Lend-Lease programme
and it was the only air force to operate the
aircraft from the UK on raids against targets
in Europe. The majority of the aircraft
delivered to the RAF were B-25Cs and Ds,
which the British designated Mitchell II.
The first RAF operation with the Mitchell
RAF B-25 Mitchell II with D-Day invasion stripes applied.
RAF B-25 Mitchell of 226 Sqn over the invasion fleet.
Largely replaced by the other two medium
bomber types by the time of D-Day, the two
units still operating the Douglas A-20 Boston
were Nos 88 and 342 (Free French) Squadrons
based at Hartford Bridge, in Hampshire. Along
with No 226 Squadron, equipped with the
Mitchell II, these units made up No 137 Wing,
part of 2 Group of 2 TAF.
Variously known as the DB-7, A-20,
Havoc and named Boston by the RAF, this
was the most-produced American attack
bomber of the Second World War, with over
7000 built. The DB-7B was the first batch of
the aircraft to be ordered directly by the
RAF, in February 1940. Three hundred
were delivered and the British designated
this version ‘Boston III’. Although not the
fastest, nor endowed with the longest range
or great load-carrying capability, the Boston
was a tough, dependable and manoeuvrable
medium bomber with a decent turn of speed
and a good reputation among its crews.
Powered by two Wright R-2600-A5B Twin
Cyclone radial engines producing around
1700hp each, the Boston III had a maximum
speed of just over 330mph and a service
ceiling of over 23,000ft, although it was
more often employed at low level.
The Boston had a crew of three and was
armed with four fixed forward-firing 0.303
Browning machine guns, plus a dorsal turret
with two .303s and a ventrally mounted
Vickers K .303 machine gun. It could carry
2000lb (910kg) of bombs in its bomb bay.
The RAF Bostons took part in a number
of spectacular low-level raids against
targets in occupied Europe. In the first half
of 1944, from their base at Hartford
Bridge, they concentrated on attacking
invasion targets in northern France,
including coastal defences, Luftwaffe
airfields and communication targets. On
RAF Douglas A-20 Boston IIIs of 88 Sqn.
RAF Douglas DB-7 (A-20) Boston III.
D-Day, the two Boston squadrons were
charged with the important and dangerous
task of laying the smoke screen to hide the
first wave of landing craft from the enemy
gunners on the shore. After D-Day, 137
Wing moved to France as part of the
tactical air forces supporting the Allied
armies as they advanced. 
‘RAF Bostons on a Low-Level Strike’. Eight RAF Douglas Boston medium bombers from 342
(Free French) Squadron streak across northern France in loose formation at low level in one
of the many attacks on communications and transport targets in the build-up to the Allied
invasion in 1944. Artwork: Gary Eason
Flying Officer George ‘Jock’ Louden was
the navigator in Boston IIIA, BZ292 ‘RF-L’ of
88 Squadron for the D-Day operation. He
later recalled: “At 0436 hours we were
airborne and heading for the ‘big one’.
“Our task was to lay smoke at sea level
(our aircraft had been specially adapted
with canisters in the bomb bays and
funnels projecting out through holes in the
bomb doors), to protect the Royal Navy
ships and also the invasion troops as they
forged ashore.
“We flew from Hartford Bridge to Selsey
Bill at about 500ft and descended to wave
top height as soon as we reached the Bill,
then on course for the beachhead. I was to
call up the battleship HMS Ramillies on the
radio transmitter while en route and inform
them that we were ready and about to lay
smoke. I am still awaiting their reply!
“However, as we flew below her decks at
sea level the Ramillies’ acknowledgement
He joined 88 Squadron in May 1944 and he
had already completed operational sorties
over France, attacking vital supply lines to
disrupt the transportation of enemy
reinforcements. Describing these
operations, he said: “We flew in very close
formation, an arrowhead of six aircraft. We
had a lead navigator who got you over the
target. He was in charge.
“You needed a very good navigator. You
were always a bit apprehensive, but once
you’d started the job you had to concentrate
on what you were doing.”
On D-Day, Valentine was flying Boston
IIIA ‘RH-E’, ‘E-Easy’. As he roared along the
invasion beaches at 50ft, the trajectories of
shells from the big guns of the naval
gunships offshore arced overhead, and
enemy gunfire came from the other
direction. He later said: “I’d anticipated that
it was going to be a little hairy. I had just 44
seconds to let off four canisters of smoke.
The Germans were only half a mile back
from the beach.
“The noise of the shells was deafening.
Not only was there the chance of being hit
in the crossfire but also, as the Allied
ground forces were unsure who the aircraft
flying so low above them were, they also let
fly with small arms fire. I was flying at
250mph at only 50ft and I had to hold it very
steady, as at that speed and height if I’d
even sneezed that would have been it.”
Valentine returned safely to RAF Hartford
Bridge from the D-Day operation and
subsequently went on to fly many more
sorties against tactical targets by both night
and day. He survived two tours of operations,
60 ‘ops’ in all and said: “After a while you felt
you had become lucky.” Leslie Valentine
celebrated his 95th birthday in 2013 and is
the only surviving British serviceman to
have been awarded the French Croix de
Guerre with Silver Star, one of the country’s
highest accolades, for heroic deeds
performed in the liberation of France.
s the invasion forces on the
surface headed towards the
Normandy beaches at 5am on
D-Day, June 6, 1944, their first
visible evidence of 2 TAF’s
support for them was the arrival of the
Bostons of 137 Wing’s 88 and 342 (Free
French) Squadrons, laying a smokescreen
off the beaches to cover the dash to the
shore by the first wave of landing craft. 88
Squadron covered the eastern half of the
invasion area, while 342 Squadron took the
west. It was a precision operation, with 12
Bostons from each unit arriving singly from
each flank at 10 minute intervals in order to
maintain a continuous smokescreen.
The Bostons hurtled along the
Normandy shoreline at 250mph and at only
50ft laying a thick trail of smoke to shield
their comrades from the view of the enemy
gunners. As they did so, they ran the
gauntlet between the devastating barrage of
naval heavy gunfire and that of the German
artillery defences. The operation was
deemed completely successful in its aims,
although each of the two squadrons
suffered the loss of an aircraft (both
Bostons crashed into the sea with the loss
of all on board).
A second 88 Squadron aircraft was hit by
‘flak’ and shortage of fuel forced the pilot to
land downwind at Hartford Bridge. The
Boston ran off the end of the runway and
into sand pits, killing the navigator.
One of the Boston pilots on the D-Day
smoke-laying operation was 24-year-old
Flying Officer Leslie Valentine. Valentine
had originally joined the army and saw
action in France in 1940 with the Highland
Light Infantry. Gaining selection for pilot
training in the RAF he was sent to Canada
for training, returning to 13 Operational
Training Unit at Bicester in January 1943.
Boston IIIs of 88 Sqn flying low over the sea to avoid detection by enemy radar as they head towards a target in Europe prior to D-Day.
Fg Off Leslie Valentine (Boston pilot).
was to give us everything she’d got by way
of tracer gunfire and what have you, this
despite the fact that we were painted like a
“Our next pin-points on the lead into the
beach area were the battleships HMS
Warspite, Rodney, and Renown, they handled
us more gently, but inevitably we were in
the middle of it and were catching it from
both ‘Jerry’ and our own forces.
“We found out afterwards that
commanders were anticipating 75% losses
from this smoke laying operation. Our final
pin-point before hitting the beaches was a
Naval Monitor, this was merely a barge with
one bloody great gun on it. My memory is
that as we flew below the deck height of the
battleships I could hear their big guns
going, “wuff, wuff, wuff” at the enemy, while
the Naval Monitor was covered in black
smoke and it was delivering a massive,
“crump, crump, crump” towards the
“We were going in to the beachhead at
intervals to lay smoke and, approaching the
Naval Monitor, I could already see the
smoke screen laid by our leading aircraft,
Wing Commander Paddy Maher. We hit the
beach slightly to the North West of Bayeux
turned to port and laid our smoke slightly
inshore of the Wing Commander’s. I’m glad
we were on the deck although I suppose it
didn’t make much difference as we were
getting attention from our own and the
German forces.
“Having pressed the tit and laid the
smoke we turned to port to come home, and
immediately we were over the port entrance
of Le Havre, where we got a rough
I wasn’t in contact with the rest of the crew
inside the aircraft during this part of the
operation, so 44 seconds to me felt like
forever. As Hank pulled away I was glad to
get my mask off and helmet on and to be
back in contact with my mates again.
“It was pretty scary flying so low and
when we started to climb it was a relief. The
pilot Hank said excitedly: ‘Bill, did you see
them?’ (meaning the invasion fleet). I said:
‘Yes! Who the hell’s going to stop that lot?’
“We were all so elated and proud to have
done our little bit on that very special day.” 
reception from German E-Boats and their
harbour defences.
“Then we were home: a cigarette, a pint
and a good meal. A wonderful, hairy, scary
and sad day; a proud success. I shall never
forget the sight of the English Channel that
day, nor of those mates that ‘bought it’.”
Sergeant William ‘Bill’ Morris was a 23-year-
old British wireless operator/Air Gunner
(WOp/AG) serving with 342 (Free French)
Squadron on the D-Day smoke-laying
operation. These are his recollections:
“My crew and I went to breakfast then
gathered in the briefing room. After we
were all settled in and all crews were
present and accounted for the doors to the
room were locked.
“A high-ranking officer said: ‘Good
morning gentleman, today is D-Day. What
you have been trained to do, you will do
today.’ Of course those words provoked a
murmur of excitement from all of us
gathered there.
“At around 5am we took off from
Hartford Bridge aerodrome in our trusty
Boston aircraft, in relays of two, to lay
smoke for the invasion fleet.
“We flew 50ft above the waves and as we
were coming up to our target my pilot Hank
said: ‘Bill, helmet off, gas mask on’, as
sitting in an outside turret I could otherwise
be choked by the smoke. Each aircraft
carried four canisters that were timed 11
seconds per canister to discharge the
smoke. This took 44 seconds and we had to
fly straight and level during this time.
Boston IIIAs of 88 Sqn with smoke laying equipment fitted, at Hartford Bridge.
Sgt Bill Morris (Boston gunner) on the left,
with some of his mates.
‘vic’ formation at 50ft. Leaving the south
coast of England we dropped down to 20ft
over the Channel, cruising along at a happy
“Soon the coast of France loomed up in
front of us, so full bore up to 3000ft, weaving
gently to avoid the ‘flak’, and back down
again at 400mph to 50ft over the fields of
France, heading for our target.
“Five minutes later we saw a long convoy
of German lorries moving slowly along a
road at right angles to our course. Almost
immediately, the flight commander’s
cannons and machine guns opened fire. I
could see that most of his fire was going
over the top of the lorries, so down went the
nose of my Mosquito a little and, with
thumb pressed hard on the firing button,
much havoc and disintegration was caused
trot along at nearly 400mph when in a real
hurry. Although constructed almost entirely
of wood and plywood, I was soon to learn
that this wonderful aeroplane would fly
almost without any visible means of
support. This, coupled with the fact that my
navigator who, apart from being a good
Bridge player, could also navigate and
interpret the complicated ‘Gee’ box really
well, ensured that we always managed to
land on a friendly aerodrome.”
During the build up to D-Day, one of the
tasks given to 487 Squadron was to find and
attack the ‘V-1’ sites that the Germans were
busily constructing in France. Bovet-White
described one such mission that had a
dramatic outcome: “We were part of a flight
of three Mosquitos winging their way to
France one bright afternoon, in a nice tight
light Lieutenant Charles Derek
Bovet-White (RAFVR) was a de
Havilland Mosquito FB Mk.VI
pilot with 487 Squadron (RNZAF)
during 1944. His route to the
Mosquito had been a roundabout one. He
had previously flown Boulton Paul Defiants, a
variety of communications aircraft and, after
recovering from a broken neck suffered in an
accident while flying a Hawker Hurricane
when he had only one hour on type, he
briefly flew the Spitfire.
He was posted to the Mosquito as an
intruder pilot in 1943 and immediately took to
the aircraft, saying: “The Mosquito was one
of the finest twin-engine aeroplanes that has
ever been made. Apart from handling and
aerobatic qualities which were almost as
good as a single-engine fighter, she could
‘On a wing and a prayer’
Mosquito FB VI MM417‘EG-T’ of 487 Sqn
(RNZAF) carrying a 250lb bomb under
each wing.
Crews of 487 Sqn briefing in a huddle prior to flying a mission.Their Mosquito FB VIs are loaded with a 250lb bomb under each wing.
among the German convoy as the deadly
hail of bullets and cannon shells found their
target, and then –‘crunch’!
“The Perspex cockpit cover shattered,
the starboard engine ran very rough and a
quick glance showed masses of wire
thrashing about, flaying the starboard wing,
which was considerably torn and had the
wing tip missing. At one and the same time,
back came the control column to gain
height as quickly as possible and I stopped
the starboard engine and feathered the
propeller. My worst suspicions were now
confirmed, we had hit some French
telephone wires no more than 20ft above
the ground. We had certainly managed to
sever telephonic communications in that
part of France!
gunners very much. So down went the
Mosquito’s nose again and, weaving rapidly,
at 220mph, we dived for the English
Channel. Occasionally, there would be a
noise like hailstones on a tin roof, but
mostly the ‘flak’ was blazing on one side or
the other and quite soon it ceased. Then we
had the serious business of getting back to
England and down in one piece.
“Beachy Head was the nearest bit of
England and Friston, a Spitfire aerodrome,
was very close by. So, steering a steady
course and climbing all we could, which was
in fact only about 50ft a minute, we vibrated
our way to England. The port engine was
taking a beating, running at full bore, and
the oil and water temperature were rising
higher and higher, but at long last beautiful
Beachy Head came into view.
“Obviously, the landing would have to be
made at no less than 160mph, some 50mph
faster than normal, and we were going to
cover a lot of the grass area at Friston before
stopping, but I decided to give it a try. As we
made a circuit I let the wheels down, but the
flaps refused to lower. Settling down to
165mph, I lined up with the grass strip.
“We were certainly moving, and as we
touched down it seemed obvious that we
were quickly going to run straight off the
end at Friston and fall 175ft off the cliffs into
the sea, despite all the brakes could do. So,
off with the fuel tap and up with the
undercarriage lever; the tattered Mosquito
sank on to her belly and scuffed to an untidy
halt. My navigator and I jumped out of the
‘Mossie’ as quickly as possible and then we
realised that there was still 200 yards to go
to the cliff edge. However, a quick look at
the noble old lady showed that she would
never have flown again anyway. The
fuselage and tailplane were riddled with
holes, the starboard wing was torn in
dozens of places and one wondered how she
had managed to stay in the sky at all.
“At the hilarious party in the mess that
evening they told us that we had also
brought back 150ft of French telephone
wire with us.”
(Derek Bovet-White was later awarded the
DFC. He passed away in 1996, aged 83) 
“Fortunately, the Rolls-Royce Merlin
engine on the port side was still singing a
joyous song of power, but the Mosquito was
vibrating quite a bit, with jagged pieces of
the starboard wing flapping in a most un-
aerofoil-like fashion. Using full throttle on
the single engine we were just making
170mph and once, when the speed dropped
to 160, we almost fell out of the sky.
Obviously we only had 10mph above the
new, unorthodox stalling speed of the
reshaped Mosquito.
“As we approached the French coast
heading for home as best we could, the
German light ‘flak’ started. We let the two
500lb, 11-seconds-delay bombs go with a
satisfactory ‘wump, wump’, but these did
not seem to discourage the German ‘flak’
Tight formation of three‘bombed-up’ 487 Sqn Mosquito FB VIs (MM417‘EG-T’ in the foreground with‘EG-V’ and‘EG-D’ beyond).
Mosquito FB VI MM401‘SB-J’ of 464 Sqn with wing damage similar to that experienced by
Derek Bovet-White.This aircraft, flown by Squadron Leader A G Oxlade (pilot) and Flight
Lieutenant D M Shanks (navigator), was hit by anti-aircraft fire while attacking a flying-bomb
site in the Pas de Calais on February 21, 1944.The port engine was shattered, and the port
undercarriage and most of the outer starboard wing was blown off. Despite the damage,
the crew flew MM401 back and crash-landed safely at Friston, where Bovet-White landed his
badly damaged‘Mossie’.
to ensure that the German defences and
the Normandy hinterland held no
secrets. In common with other aspects of
the Allied air campaign prior to D-Day, to
continue the deception campaign against
the Germans, more photographic
reconnaissance missions were tasked to
the north and east of the Seine than in
the actual invasion area.
One of the essential firepower elements of
the D-Day assault was an intense and
devastating naval bombardment, which
commenced at 5am on June 6.
The task of spotting for the naval
gunfire from the ships of the Allied Fleets
against the invasion area on D-Day,
required the ‘pooling’ of resources in a
classic example of the combined
operations that characterised much of
Overlord. A special temporary formation,
known as the ‘Air Spotting Pool’, was set
up at the RN Air Station at Lee-on-Solent,
with squadrons trained and tasked in
ensuring the accuracy of the naval gunfire.
Unsurprisingly, four of the Air Spotting
Pool’s units were RN Fleet Air Arm Seafire
III squadrons, well used to the task in hand.
Two RAF Spitfire Mk.V Squadrons, 26 and
63, were also trained up and drafted into the
pool to increase the number of spotters and
to ensure continuous coverage during the
bombardment period.
The RAF Tac Recce Mustang pilots were
already trained for artillery spotting, and
the Mustang 1/1As of 2, 414 and 268
Squadrons were also used for this important
but dangerous task up to midday on June 6,
before returning to their photo-recce and
armed-recce roles.
shape and configuration of the terrain
they were going to encounter. Closer to
D-Day there was concern over the degree
of flooding the Germans had been able to
achieve and what effect this would have
on movement inland, away from the
beaches. The 2 TAF Mustangs and
Spitfires flew hundreds of dangerous
sorties, many of them at ultra-low-level,
Tactical reconnaissance and
the Air Spotting Pool
he provision of photographic
reconnaissance images to the
Allied commanders was
obviously of vital importance
for their planning and decision
making processes. The RAF’s strategically-
orientated photographic reconnaissance
(PR) was conducted by the specially-
modified Spitfire and Mosquito PR aircraft
of 106 (Photographic Reconnaissance)
Group based at RAF Benson, which was, for
historical reasons, part of Coastal
Command. Meanwhile, tactical
reconnaissance (‘Tac Recce’) in the
European theatre was the business of 2
TAF’s Reconnaissance Wings (34, 35 and 39
(RCAF) Wings) with their five squadrons of
Mustang Mk 1/1As, three squadrons of
Spitfire PR XIs, and a squadron of Mosquito
These Tac Recce units were particularly
heavily tasked as D-Day approached. The
number of reconnaissance requests
increased exponentially as Army and
Navy commanders sought low-angle,
oblique photography to show the latest
beach obstacles and defences, landing
craft approach routes, the routes inland
from the beaches, and the topography,
Oblique recce photograph of German beach defences taken by a 2 TAF Tac Recce aircraft,
clearly from very low level.
Recce photograph of Graye-sur-Mer invasion beach on D-Day taken by a 2 TAF Tac Recce
Once the invasion had occurred and the
Battle of Normandy had commenced, the
TAC Recce units became the eyes of the
commanders at the front, providing
continuous, extensive and rapid intelligence
of enemy movements and of Allied successes.
The Tac Recce pilots had a photographic
task to perform, to bring back images to be
assessed by the expert photographic
interpreters, but they were also trained to
use ‘eyeballs Mark 1’ to gather intelligence.
Anything of importance that they saw on
their sorties, such as the location and
details of tanks, artillery, anti-aircraft sites,
vehicle parks, troop concentrations and any
new construction, was recorded in a written
report. Backing up the courageous work of
the recce pilots were the equally important
skills of the photographic interpreters who
analysed the images and reported the
resulting intelligence to commanders.
In common with most other 2 TAF units,
the Tac Recce squadrons moved to forward
operating bases in France as space became
available from July onwards and then
advanced with the ground forces.
Occasionally, the Tac Recce pilots were
treated to a complete end-to-end cycle of
their work – the ‘before and after’ views. Not
many were as immediate as on the sortie
flown by Flight Lieutenant Larry Seath in a
Spitfire PR XI of 400 (RCAF) Squadron on
July 6, 1944. Having completed his briefed
task of taking vertical shots of bridges near
Caen and at Saint-André-sur-Orne, he set
course for the squadron’s base at Odiham,
just as Allied bombers commenced attacks
on the bridges.
Seath returned to the target area and
recorded the results of the attacks on the
same sortie; the bridge at Saint-André-sur-
Orne had been destroyed and those near
a quick detachable mount and an oblique
camera mounted aft of the pilot’s head,
shooting through a hole cut in the left side
of the canopy Perspex. The cameras were
controlled by the pilot and were automatic
in their operation.
The Mustang 1 carried an armament of
eight mixed machine guns: Two 0.5in
(12.7mm) machine guns were mounted
under the engine cowling firing through
the propeller, and each wing housed two
0.303in (7.62mm) Browning machine
guns and a single 0.5 gun, with the larger
gun mounted between the .303s. The
Mustang 1A was equipped with four
20mm Hispano cannons, two in each
wing, with most of the long barrels of the
cannons protruding well ahead of the
wing leading edges.
From 1942 onwards, the emphasis for the
Mustang Tac Recce squadrons, swung
towards offensive operations and armed
reconnaissance. Taking advantage of
targets of opportunity the Mustangs
attacked railway locomotives, canal
barges, military motor transport vehicles
and enemy aircraft on the ground. By
1944 the RAF Mustang Tac Recce
squadrons were experts at these sort of
Despite the generally ‘bad press’ that
the Allison-engine Mustangs have
received over the years, the RAF actually
found the aircraft to be extremely useful
in the Tac Recce and armed
reconnaissance roles. The final RAF
Mustang 1s were not struck off charge
until 1945.
Caen damaged. The original Allison-engine
versions of the North American P-51
(officially not P-51s, but NA-73s and NA-
83s) were designated Mustang 1 and 1A
by the RAF. The Mustang had first
entered service with the RAF in January
1942, making its combat debut in May that
year with 26 Squadron, from Gatwick.
The single-speed, single-stage
supercharger fitted to the Allison V-1710-39
engine of the Mustang 1/1A had been
designed to produce maximum power
output at a low altitude (the maximum rated
output was 1220hp at 10,000ft). Above
15,000ft, however, the Mustang’s
performance reduced markedly. Rather
than becoming a Fighter Command asset,
therefore, it was initially allocated to Army
Co-operation Command, where its excellent
low-altitude performance and long range
could be utilised effectively for tactical
reconnaissance and ground attack duties.
When it entered service the Mustang 1
had the best low level performance of any
RAF fighter; its maximum speed was
quoted as 382mph at 13,700ft. Its low-drag
airframe gave it a 30mph speed advantage
over the Spitfire Mk.V at 5000ft and it was
actually 35mph faster at 15,000ft, despite
the British fighter’s engine being the
more powerful. The Mustang’s combat
range at low level was impressive too; it
was able to cover 480 miles on its internal
fuel of 180 US gallons, and could fly for
750 miles with two 75 US gallon drop
tanks fitted.
The Tac Recce Mustang 1/1As were fitted
with two F24 cameras; a vertical camera in
Mustang 1/1A
Mustang Mk 1s of 2 Sqn RAF.
Mustang Mk 1 in D-Day invasion stripes over
a column of Allied Sherman tanks.
Spitfire PR Mk.XI
Considered by many to be one of the finest
photographic reconnaissance aircraft of the
Second World War, the Spitfire PR Mk.XI
entered service with 541 (PR) Squadron RAF
in December 1942. This variant of the Spitfire,
modified from the Mk.IX, provided an all-
round improvement in performance over
previous versions, with more powerful engines
(Rolls-Royce Merlin Mk 61, 63, 63A or 70 were
fitted to Mk.XIs) and with aerodynamic
improvements such as a retractable tail-wheel
and flush mounted cameras.
The most powerful of the engines fitted to
the PR XI was the Merlin 63 which produced
a remarkable 1710hp at 8500ft, giving a
maximum level speed of well over 400mph.
The PR Mk.XI was unarmed; in place of the
Spitfire’s normal gun armament it carried
66½ gallons of fuel in the leading edge of
each wing. It also had an enlarged oil tank
under the nose, to provide for the long
duration PR missions, which changed the
profile of the nose from the fighter variants
of the Spitfire. Fitted with a slipper tank
providing a total fuel load of 307 gallons, the
PR XI’s maximum range was 1650 miles.
The standard camera fit was two F24s (later,
F52s) as split verticals plus, in some aircraft,
an oblique F24. In the Tac Recce role the
Spitfire PR XI could be fitted with two five-
inch-lens F8 cameras in a blister under each
wing, which had only minimal effect on its
aerodynamics. These wing cameras pointed
downwards, played out at an angle of 10º
and were used to photograph targets from
medium and low altitudes.
In June 1944, the RAF had five squadrons of
Spitfire PR Mk XIs on it strength. 541 and 542
Squadrons, based at Benson, Oxfordshire,
were part of Coastal Command’s 106 (PR)
Group and were engaged in strategic PR
duties. 400 (RCAF) Squadron based at
Odiham, 4 Squadron at Gatwick and 16
Squadron at Northolt were 2 TAF’s Spitfire PR
XI Tac Recce units, whose work mostly took
place at medium, low and ultra-low altitudes. 
Spitfire PR Mk.XI PL775‘A’, of 541 Squadron RAF.
Spitfire PR Mk.XI in its element.
Spitfire PR Mk.XIs at a forward airfield.
Spitfire PR Mk.XI PL965‘R’ of Peter
Teichman’s Hangar 11 Collection –
the only surviving airworthy PR Mk.XI.
llison-engine Mk 1A Mustangs
were flown by 268 Squadron
RAF as part of 35 (Recce) Wing,
84 Group, 2 TAF. By 1944, 268
Squadron was primarily a low-
level photographic reconnaissance and ‘Tac
Recce’ unit with a mixture of aircrew drawn
from across the Commonwealth, including
Australia, Canada and New Zealand, as well
as British pilots.
Prior to D-Day, the 268 Sqn pilots were
trained (along with other RAF Mustang units
and two RAF Spitfire squadrons) for naval
gunfire artillery spotting duties as part of the
‘Air Spotting Pool’.
These sorties involved pairs of aircraft
operating at relatively low level. The actual
operating height depended on the cloud
base, but was always low enough for the
pilots to be in visual contact with the surface
and with the naval gunner’s targets, which
also put them well within range of light
enemy ‘flak’. Once in position and having
made radio contact with the ship they were
spotting for, the Mustangs generally flew at
high speed, with tight, high G turns, to keep
the target in view.
The lead aircraft was the ‘spotter’ who
called the fall of shells to the ship until the
target was bracketed and then ordered
“fire for effect” to engage and hopefully
destroy the ground target, which would
typically be enemy artillery or bunkers.
The spotter’s wingman was there to ‘ride
shotgun’ and protect his back while the
leader concentrated on map references
and observing the shells landing.
There were occasions when this saved
the formation from attack by enemy
aircraft, but more often it was to provide
warning of an impending attack by Allied
fighters that became suspicious of the low-
flying, circling pair, with a shape quite
similar to Bf 109s, notwithstanding the
black and white D-Day invasion stripes on
the under-surfaces.
painted with black and white invasion
stripes that day. The low level tactical
reconnaissance squadrons had received a
dispensation regarding the extent to which
they would carry the invasion stripes. Most
Allied aircraft were required to carry the
black and white stripes fully encircling the
fuselage and wings of the aircraft. The ‘Tac
Recce’ Mustangs, though, in order not to
compromise the effectiveness of their
camouflage when operating at low level,
were only required to wear the invasion
stripes on the under surfaces of the rear
fuselage and under both wings where they
would be most visible to Allied naval forces
and ground troops beneath them.
The Mustang pilots were up early on June 6,
breakfast was from 3.30am and detailed
briefings for the naval gunfire spotting
sorties were then given by Captain Parish
and Captain Wilson RN. The first pair of 268
Squadron aircraft took off from their base at
Gatwick at 4.55am for naval gunfire spotting
missions, two more pairs took off five
minutes later and a further five pairs were
airborne by 6am. The remaining Mustangs
were flown to Lee-on-Solent from where
operations would continue with other units
of the ‘Air Spotting Pool’.
Initially, the Mustangs were tasked
exclusively with naval gunfire spotting for
British Home Fleet ships operating in
support of the landing forces. As the day
wore on they were also requested to conduct
On the evening of June 5, 1944, Group
Captain Peter Donkin DSO, the Wing
Leader of 35 (Recce) Wing, called his
Mustang pilots to a briefing. Donkin was, by
this stage of the war, a very experienced
Mustang ‘Tac Recce’ pilot and Wing Leader,
who also happened to have the distinction of
having been the very first Allied servicemen
to be attacked by the Germans during the
Second World War. He informed the pilots
that the invasion would begin at midnight
with the first waves of airborne forces and
that the seaborne invasion would land at
first light the following morning. All
personnel were confined to camp and spent
a listless night listening to the constant
drone of paratroop aircraft, glider tugs and
heavy bombers passing overhead on their
way to France.
The news was not a total surprise to the
pilots as the wing’s Mustangs had been
268 Squadron Mustangs
Directing the big guns
A‘Tac Recce’ Mustang pilot makes out his report while the airman waits on the wing with
the film canister in his hand. Note the sideways facing oblique F24 camera poking through
the hole in the cockpit Perspex.
The RN battleship HMS Warspite firing its big guns. It was reputedly the first Allied warship to
open fire against the German coastal defences on D-Day.
measured tone with a single word of thanks
and we were back off to Lee-on-Solent,
airborne for two and a half hours. After a
satisfactory debriefing, a short rest and a
sandwich we were back to Gatwick in 20
minutes. Most of the squadron had a ‘look in’
on this day; we had been waiting for a long
time. Now the first hurdle was behind us and
everything seemed to be going well on the
ground. D-Day was a success for the
squadron, but marred by the loss of a
Mustang with a most experienced and valued
member of the team.”
Australian Flying Officer Basil Rachinger
RAAF flew two missions with 268 Sqn
during the day in Mustang 1A FD476 ‘B’,
both as No 2 to Flight Lieutenant Maurice
Lissner. On the first they took off at 5am for
a naval shoot and on the second they were
retasked in the air for a ‘Tac Recce’, as the
planned target had already been
neutralised. Rachinger’s diary for June 6
gives an interesting first-hand insight into
the day’s action:
“Controlled the bombardment of enemy
coastal defences by Montcalm (a French
cruiser with nine 6in guns) just prior to the
initial landings at Port en Bassin (at 2000ft,
one hour 20 minutes over the target). Had a
box seat view of the whole proceedings
which looked remarkably under control –
also not a Hun in the sky – bags of ‘flak’ and
lots of our own boys though. Quite
impressive watching utter hell let loose on
both sides: ‘Ack ack’, coastal guns, rockets
galore, aerial bombing, naval bombardment
and thousands of ships across the Channel
as far as the eye could see.
“Shell holes, water spouts, smoke,
flames, smoke screens and debris added
impressiveness to the general proceedings.
A destroyer sunk, a battleship hit, a landing
craft vanished leaving a dirty mark in the
water, Spitfire in a death dive, E boats in
Bassin blazing furiously, town razed to
ground level, aircraft burning on the
ground. We flew the second sortie from Lee-
on-Solent at 9am (55 minutes over the
invasion area). Hun coastal resistance
ceased, barges now on a regular shuttle
service to and from the beach. Did a Tac R
trying to find targets for more Naval
Bombardment but without success. Flew
five hours between 5am and 11am when we
returned to base – happy but very tired.”
As the Mustangs landed at Lee-on-Solent
they were refuelled, rearmed and had any
problems that had arisen during the
morning sorties rectified. The pilots
debriefed with the army liaison officers and
the intelligence officers, while grabbing a
cup of tea, a quick cigarette and perhaps a
hot bacon sandwich. There would be a quick
briefing from the Intelligence Officers on
the next sortie, maybe a quick word with the
CO or the flight commander, some flight
planning with the maps and charts,
calculating the headings, the distances, the
time at a given airspeed between each point,
The commanding officer of 268 Squadron,
Squadron Leader A S Mann DFC, flew a
sortie over the beachhead area, taking off at
9.25am, to direct naval gunfire on to two
targets – German coastal defence batteries
in large concrete bunker emplacements –
which were both hit.
This was his recollection of the
momentous day: “D-Day was upon us quite
suddenly. Early naval gunfire direction
sorties were briefed at Lee-on-Solent, and we
flew there at ‘first light’. Bill Tuele, a
Canadian, was my number two, and after the
main briefing we were taken through the
detail of our individual shoots by very
convincing naval experts who also made it
clear that we should make our sea crossing
at 4000ft, not the usual wave-top height,
because the ships were going to be ‘trigger-
happy’ and would take exception to any
aircraft approaching at sea level!
“Once we were airborne, we set off to the
south, and there it was – a fine view of
tremendous activity. Ships, ships, ships and
small craft as far as the eye could see in any
direction, their wakes pointed southwards.
Many thousands at the start of the greatest
sea-borne invasion in the history of the
world. It was the sensation of a lifetime!
“There were one or two ‘puffs’ on track to
our rendezvous, but nothing of concern. We
found our ships, made contact, and set about
the morning’s work. Two coastal gun
emplacements near Trouville were the
targets allocated to my section. After a
couple of good sighting shots our guns were
on number one target, and the first salvo
straddled it; others followed. The second
emplacement got similar treatment. Big guns
really are the best and the Navy were
certainly on form! My happy calls of
congratulations were returned in calm and
tactical reconnaissance of the beaches and
the area beyond, bringing back some of the
first and finest images of the invasion
beaches. Most of the Mustang pilots
experienced intense and accurate, heavy and
light ‘flak’ over the invasion area, much of it
from Allied ships beneath them, despite the
aircraft’s invasion stripes on their
undersides. The squadron’s one recorded
loss for D-Day was Mustang Mk 1A FD495
‘R’ (the 268 Squadron aircraft wore no
squadron code letters only their individual
aircraft letter). This aircraft, flown by Flt Lt
Eric Woodward, failed to return from a naval
gunfire observation tasking over the invasion
area and may have been a casualty of Allied
naval anti-aircraft fire. Eric Woodward has no
known grave and his name is recorded on
the Runnymede Memorial.
All of the squadron’s pilots brought back
with them their own images of the invasion,
both photographic and locked away in their
memories. Each had their own ‘front row
seat’ view as the landings took place beneath
them. Most had vivid memories of the
impact of naval gunfire that they had
directed on to the invasion beaches just
before the landing took place, and on to
remaining pockets of resistance afterwards.
Others remembered the effects of the
German defences, with landing craft
destroyed and crippled, and of the waves of
Allied aircraft prowling over the Invasion
fleet awaiting some reaction from the
Luftwaffe. More than one pair of the
squadron’s Mustangs had to avoid the
attentions of the masses of Allied fighters
over the beachhead, their lack of invasion
recognition stripes on their upper surfaces
requiring closer inspection and confirmation
of their friendly status. Most of the
squadron’s pilots flew twice in the day on
sorties lasting around two and a half hours.
Recce photograph of the invasion beach at Anselles taken by a 268 Sqn Mustang Mk 1A
on D-Day.
Found trains galore at Lisieux which I
photographed – town burning – on to
Evreux where I found five truck-loads of
Hun troops who sure scattered pronto
when I turned four cannon on to them.
“I knocked over quite a few of them and
peppered the trucks, I wish Frank could
have been there to add fire support.
Proceeded on to Bernay, then back to
Trouville without further incident, except
some meagre ‘flak’ from Bernay. Sky was
full of fighters, but luckily they were ours.
Met Frank back at base.”
The following few days saw the squadron
flying sorties at the highest rate possible, in
order to bring back information on the
movements of German reinforcements
trying to get through to the beachhead.
Many times the squadron aircraft
returned with photographs that led to the
despatch of rocket firing Typhoons or
bombers to disrupt the Germans’
reinforcement efforts. A number of aircraft
returned to base showing the scars of
clashes with the German defences, the
Luftwaffe at this stage starting to make its
reappearance over the battlefront, but the
greatest threat still remaining that from
enemy flak. The squadron’s Mustangs also
added to the Germans’ woes, letting loose
with their four 20mm cannon where
appropriate, especially against German
troop and supply transports. 
areas to avoid, and then it was back to the
aircraft and on the way for the next sortie.
Just after lunch time, a BBC Radio recording
team arrived and recorded interviews with
selected pilots, capturing their impressions
of the events they had seen during the day.
In the afternoon 268 Squadron was retasked
with tactical reconnaissance in the areas
behind the invasion beaches, looking for
German reinforcements being moved into
the area, with the naval gunfire spotting task
being continued by other RAF and Fleet Air
Arm units flying Spitfires and Seafires. The
squadron’s aircraft brought back the
required information, including photographs
showing the extent of the Allied advance and
lack of movement from any German
reinforcements trying to move towards the
beachhead. As the Mustangs landed from
recce sorties the cameras were stripped of
their exposed film magazines, reloaded with
fresh ones, refuelled and rearmed if
necessary. The pilots were debriefed by the
intelligence officers on what they had seen
and then they scoured the fresh, wet prints
straight from the mobile film processing
unit, to pick out possible targets for future
sorties and point out features of interest.
On June 7, D-Day+1, 11 pairs of 268
Squadron Mustangs were despatched
during the day for ‘Tac Recce’ sorties. The
primary purpose of all these sorties was to
check for the movement of any German
reinforcements towards the beachhead
area. There was no significant enemy
movement sighted during the sorties
conducted in the morning, while those in
the afternoon and early evening saw a
higher level of ground activity and also an
appearance by four possible Bf-109s on one
sortie. The German anti-aircraft fire during
the afternoon sorties was also much more
active, with heavy ‘flak’ being received from
a number of locations.
One notable sortie for the day was that
by Basil Rachinger in FD506 ‘A’ with Flying
Officer Frank Normoyle RAAF in FD544 ‘V’
as his wingman. They took off from Gatwick
at noon to conduct a ‘Tac Recce’ covering
Trouville – Lisieux – Evreux – Bernay –
Trouville. They were separated over the
coast due to thick cloud cover, but
Rachinger went on alone and on the way
shot up five trucks loaded with German
troops; he also reconnoitred Evreux airfield
seeing no enemy aircraft present there.
He noted the details of the sortie in his
diary at the time: “I got airborne with Frank
Normoyle as my No 2 at midday. Crossed
out of England at Selsey Bill instead of the
usual Beachy Head exit and made landfall
at Trouville across the Seine estuary from
Le Havre. Cloud was ten tenths with a base
of between 1500 and 3000ft, so we had to
stooge under it. Frank lost me just after
crossing into France so I went on alone.
Mustang 1A of 35 (Recce) Group at low level over occupied France.
fighters and few conclusive actions
occurred. Even German reconnaissance
aircraft usually failed to penetrate the
defences beyond mid-Channel. With the
RAF mounting standing patrols by day and
night, Allied mastery of the sky over the
English Channel was now complete.
Although the air supremacy that existed
everywhere by day could not be claimed to
be as comprehensive by night, as witnessed
by the significant losses still being
experienced by Bomber Command, the total
air supremacy over the UK and its
approaches proved to be of incalculable
value to the Allied armies and navies, which
were able to complete their preparations for
the D-Day assault virtually unmolested.
On the night of June 5-6, 1944, the 2 TAF
night fighter Mosquito NF XIIIs conducted
defensive night patrols over the invasion
areas. A standing airborne ‘pool’ of six
Mosquito night fighters was maintained off
Cherbourg, with the aircraft being
constantly relieved so that continuous cover
over the beaches could be maintained.
bombers attacking German night fighter
airfields. From mid-1943 radar-equipped
night-fighter Beaufighters were engaged in
offensive intruder operations in support of
Bomber Command. In November 1943, 100
(Bomber Support) Group was formed to
continue these operations, with Mosquito
night fighters gradually replacing the
‘Beaus’; the group also provided electronic
radar counter measures support to the
Bomber Command operations. These night-
fighter intruders not only had the benefit of
airborne intercept (AI) radars but were also
fitted with equipment that allowed them to
home on to the emissions from the German
night fighters’ radars. Luftwaffe night
fighter losses to the RAF night intruders
steadily mounted and eventually a so-called
‘Moskitopanik’ was induced among German
night fighter squadrons, with just about
every unexplained loss being blamed on the
RAF night-intruder Mosquitos.
During the build-up to D-Day there were
very few nights when the enemy operated
over the areas patrolled by the 2 TAF night
he defence of the UK homeland
against German night-time raids
was, by the time of D-Day, the
responsibility of the RAF’s Air
Defence of Great Britain (ADGB)
and its dedicated night fighter squadrons, now
mostly equipped with de Havilland Mosquitos,
although some Bristol Beaufighters remained
in service in June 1944.
In the spring of 1944, 29, 264, 409
(RCAF), 410 (RCAF), 488 (RCAF) and 604
(AuxAF) Squadrons, equipped either with
Mosquito night fighter (NF) Mk.XII or XIIIs,
formed 85 (Base) Group, within 2 TAF, for
the purpose of providing night fighter cover
leading up to, and in the wake of, D-Day, for
the invasion forces. These aircraft would
operate not in direct defence of the UK, but
as offensive night intruders over occupied
Europe, hunting down Luftwaffe aircraft
which threatened Allied bombers or, later,
the surface forces at night.
The RAF had begun night intruder
operations in May 1942, with non-radar-
equipped medium bombers and fighter
Night Fighters
Mosquito NF XIII of 604 Sqn ready to taxi for a night mission from B51/Lille-Vendeville in late 1944.
One of the ADGB night fighter Mosquito
squadrons, 418 (RCAF) Squadron, was
tasked to perform a secondary role on the
night of June 5-6, acting as ‘flak bait’ and
drawing searchlights and ‘flak’ away from
the more vulnerable paratrooper and glider
dropping transport aircraft. So successful
were they, that two of the Mosquitos were
actually hit by ‘flak’, one so badly that it
crash-landed near its base at Holmsley
South, near Bournemouth, and burned out.
Its crew escaped with their lives.
The Mosquito night fighters maintained
cover over the beachhead from dusk to
dawn from D-Day to D-Day +37. By the end
of June 1944, the combined efforts of the six
Mosquito night fighter squadrons of 85
(Base) Group had resulted in 76 enemy
aircraft destroyed, plus five probably
destroyed. In July these six Mosquito
squadrons downed a further 55 enemy
aircraft and also claimed two ‘probables’.
From mid-June, with the Germans
launching ever increasing numbers of V-1
flying bombs, many of the night fighter
Mosquitos participated in ‘anti-diver’ night
patrols against them, with considerable
success. As Allied ground forces overran
the V-1 launch sites, the night fighters
were able to return to operations over the
continent, finding the night air now full of
aircraft. However, most were Allied
aircraft, and many interceptions ended
The NF XIII benefited from having the
strengthened wing of the Mosquito FB VI,
which allowed it to carry underwing fuel
drop tanks which increased its range to 1800
miles. Powered by two 1460hp Rolls-Royce
Merlin 21 or 23 engines, the NF XIII had a
top speed of 370mph giving it a considerable
speed advantage over most of the German
night fighters and bombers that were its prey.
The NF XIII’s AI Mk.VIII was a
centimetric radar, operating in the 10cm
waveband and employing a dish-based
scanning system in place of the AI Mk.IVs
static-aerial system. The British invention
of the cavity magnetron by the
Telecommunications Research
Establishment (TRE) provided the
necessary leap forward in microwave
technology that led to the centimetric
radar. The AI Mk.VIII’s radar dish was 28in
in diameter and rotated at 200rpm, at the
same time tilting up and down, and from
left to right, thus tracing a spiral scan
ahead of the aircraft at up to 45º. A new
type of indicator display was developed for
the AI Mk.VIII, providing the radar
operator with all the information he
required on one screen.
The very first victim of a Mosquito NF
XIII was a German Me 410 night fighter,
shot down on November 8, 1943, by HK367
of 488 Sqn. Subsequently, the NFXII proved
to be a very capable night fighter and
intruder, it was well-liked by its crews and
met with considerable success. 
with the identification of the target as a
‘friendly’. Some though, resulted in the
destruction of yet another Luftwaffe
As other Allied aircraft, particularly the
fighter-bombers, moved on from the
landing grounds in France with the
advancing Allied ground forces, the 2
TAF night fighter units were able to move
to the airfields they had vacated.
The first to do so was 409 (RCAF)
Squadron, which deployed forward on
August 24. Subsequently, the 2 TAF night
fighter Mosquitos advanced with the
Allied forces and continued to provide the
vital element of air superiority when
darkness fell.
The first unit to receive the NF XIII
Mosquitos was 85 Squadron at the end of
February 1943. By D-Day the six 2 TAF
night fighter intruders squadrons were all
equipped with the Mosquito NF XIII.
The NF XIII was the production equivalent
of those Mosquito NF XIIs which had been
modified to carry the centimetric AI Mk.VIII
radar in a solid ‘thimble’ nose radome in place
of the earlier versions’ static aerial systems.
This arrangement necessitated the removal of
the nose-mounted 0.303 machine guns,
leaving the armament as the four 20mm
Hispano cannons under the forward fuselage.
Later aircraft had the so-called ‘universal’ or
‘bull-nose’ radome fitted.
View into the cockpit of Mosquito NF Mk.XIII HK382‘RO-T’ of 29 Sqn
at Hunsdon in 1944.
AI Mk VIII indicator, with the visor removed, as seen from the
navigator’s seat of a Mosquito NF Mk.XIII.The receiver unit (bottom)
was hinged so as to fold back into the space beneath the indicator
unit in order to render access and egress from the cockpit door.
Junkers aircraft. The third kill that night went
to Flying Officers R L Fullerton and P
Castellan. Fullerton had a little difficulty
getting on to the tail of his target. Finally, after
overshooting and re-setting four times, the
crew got an AI contact at a range of two miles
and this time the interception was
straightforward. Two bursts from the
Mosquito’s four 20mm cannons sent the
German aircraft spiralling earthwards with the
starboard engine on fire.
To add to the night’s achievements
Squadron Leader ‘Johnny’ Hatch, the ‘A’ Flight
commander, returned with one engine
unserviceable and shut down, making a
perfect single-engine landing at West Malling.
first kill over France. Jephson and his
navigator, Flying Officer C D Sibbett, were
flying on a beachhead patrol when the
controller vectored them after a ‘bogey’.
Sibbett’s AI radar soon registered a ‘blip’ and
the navigator brought his pilot on to the tail
of a Ju 188. Following standard night fighting
procedure, Jephson closed in, identified his
target, and then opened fire. His first burst
set the enemy’s starboard engine on fire, the
second started a blaze in the port engine, on
the third burst the Ju 188’s fuselage
disintegrated and the enemy aircraft fell from
the sky, exploding as it hit the ground about
30 or 40 miles south-east of Le Havre.
The next night, 409 Squadron experienced the
satisfaction of shooting down three enemy
aircraft in one night. Flying Officers C J
Preece and W H Beaumont distinguished
themselves on this occasion by destroying two
Ju 188s. Preece knocked down his first victim
with a fine piece of deflecting shooting,
scoring three times with three bursts.
Continuing their patrol the crew were
vectored after another ‘bogey’ about three-
quarters of an hour later. Beaumont got a
contact on his AI showing the target aircraft to
be 2500 yards ahead and he directed Preece
onto it. At 1000 yards the pilot gained visual
contact with the target and, at 800 yards he
was able to identify it as another Ju-188.
Closing to 250 yards, Preece fired a one-
second burst. The enemy aircraft exploded so
violently that Preece had to pull the Mosquito
up sharply, to avoid a wing which broke off the
aving been formed as a night
fighter squadron in June 1941,
409 ‘Nighthawk’ Squadron
(RCAF) was, by D-Day, part of
2 TAF’s 85 Group and was
equipped with the Mosquito NF XIII. In mid-
May 1944, the squadron moved to West
Malling, near Maidstone, Kent, in preparation
for the impending invasion of Europe. In May
the ban on night fighters chasing ‘bandits’
across the Channel (imposed because of the
need to keep the AI VIII radar secret from the
enemy) was lifted and the crews were also
issued with French money and maps. Night
intruder operations were on and clearly there
was more action to come.
On June 5, the squadron personnel were
briefed by the station commander that the
next day would be D-Day. That night, Flying
Officer ‘Red’ Pearce with his navigator,
Flying Officer G W Moores (RAF), scored
the squadron’s first victory in over a year
when they attacked and probably destroyed
a German bomber over the English coast.
On the evening of D-Day, June 6-7,
working with mobile GCI (Ground Control
Intercept) fighter control units that had gone
ashore with the assault forces, 409 Squadron
flew its first sorties over the beachhead.
Patrols on the first three nights after the
invasion were uneventful; it appeared that,
apart from a few scattered raids, the
Luftwaffe was late getting into the fray.
On June 9, Squadron Leader R S Jephson,
the ‘B’ Flight commander, got the squadron’s
409 Squadron (RCAF)
Mosquito NF XIII, with the‘thimble’ nose radome for the AI Mk.VIII and underwing drop tanks, at Hunsdon in 1944.
JUNE 1944
On June 19, the ‘Nighthawks’ moved to join
410 (RCAF) Squadron at Hunsdon,
Hertfordshire, from where they continued
their night-time hunting. In the 25 day
period from D-Day to June 30, 409 Squadron
saw more action than during the previous
three years of its night fighting operations.
It flew a total of 227 night sorties,
destroyed 11 enemy aircraft, probably
destroyed two, and damaged five. It
operated over the Normandy beachhead
every night except one, June 26, when
patrols that had taken off had to be recalled
due to deteriorating weather. During the
month one of the squadron’s Mosquitos was
shot down over France and the crew taken
prisoner of war. Another aircraft’s crew
were killed when their aircraft hit high
tension wires on returning from a patrol.
Two other aircraft were written off in
crashes, although the crews escaped injury.
From the middle of June the squadron
began to fly one or two patrols nightly
against the V-1 flying bombs which were
being launched against England by the
Germans. Flying Officers Preece and
Beaumont were the first to destroy one of
the ‘doodlebugs’ on the night of June 18; a
second fell to Squadron Leader Jephson’s
guns on June 20.
During the first part of July the
‘Nighthawks’ were employed almost
exclusively on night ‘anti-diver’ patrols
against the V-ls. When the squadron
returned to regular night fighting duties
over Normandy in mid-July the number of
these flying bombs launched against
England was reducing as their launch sites
were overrun, although it was October
before the V-1 attacks ceased completely.
JULY 1944
In July 1944, 409 Squadron destroyed eight
enemy aircraft and damaged another. Six of
these were German Ju 88 night fighters. Up
until this time 409 had seen little of these
aircraft, for it was the German’s policy to
use them mainly for home defence. As the
tide of battle rolled towards Germany,
engagements between the intruder
Mosquitos and the Ju 88 night fighters
became more frequent. By the end of
hostilities 409 Squadron had destroyed 20
Ju 88s, probably destroyed two more and
damaged another.
One victory over a Ju 88 on July 26 cost
the squadron one of its most experienced
crews, Squadron Leader Jephson and his
navigator Flying Officer Roberts. They
engaged the enemy aircraft over Caen and
a burst from Jephson’s guns caused it to
explode so violently that the Mosquito was
damaged by the blast and the debris, and
both engines stopped. Jephson reported via
R/T that he and Roberts were going to bale
out, but on discovering that his navigator
was injured and unable to move, Jephson
courageously decided to stay with the
aircraft, informing the GCI controller that
he was going to attempt a crash landing.
This was an extremely hazardous
undertaking in the dark and, tragically,
both of the crew were killed in the
subsequent crash.
On August 6, the squadron suffered
another fatality when Wing Commander M
W Beveridge DFC, the 409 Squadron CO,
was killed when his aircraft (MM587) was
shot down by a Ju 88 hunting in formation
with a Fw 190. Miraculously, his navigator
survived a very low-level bale-out, after
getting stuck in the escape hatch and being
pushed out by his pilot.
Four nights later Squadron leader
‘Johnny’ Hatch and his navigator, Flight
Lieutenant J Eames (RAF), turned the
tables on one of these Fw 190/Ju 88
combinations. As they came within visual
range of the two aircraft the Fw 190 turned
off to starboard; Hatch followed it, knowing
full well that the Ju 88 would be positioning
on his tail.
Before that could happen though, a two
second burst of cannon fire from the
Mosquito sent the Fw 190 spiralling
earthwards in flames. Hatch turned sharply,
looking for the Ju 88, but it had melted away
into the night sky and all further contacts
turned out to be friendly bombers. A week
later Hatch and Eames marked up a double
victory, shooting down a Ju 88 after a
running fight and then blasting another Ju
88 out of the sky.
On August 24, the ‘Nighthawks’ had the
distinction of being the first night fighter
unit to operate from European soil when
the squadron moved to Carpiquet in
France. Two weeks later the squadron
moved on to St Andre and at the end of
September it left that badly battered airfield
for Le Culot. The ‘Nighthawks’ continued to
make night kills and also took more
casualties, but by the end of the war in
Europe the unit had accounted for more
than 60 enemy aircraft.
Mosquito NF XIII (this is actually HK382‘RO-T’, a 29 Sqn aircraft).
A Mosquito NF XIII ready for take-off for a night patrol.
n the months preceding D-Day, there
were signs that the Germans were
reducing the number of U-boats
operating in the Atlantic, presumably
to conserve their submarine forces
for the forthcoming invasion. They also
started to move some of their Norwegian-
based boats into the Atlantic and thence
southwards to the English Channel and to
the French West Coast ports to reinforce
the U-boat flotillas in the Bay of Biscay.
The Allies recognised this and fully
realised the threat that could be presented to
the D-Day invasion fleets by these U-boats. In
addition, the Kreigsmarine had considerable
numbers of small warships – fast motor
torpedo boats, known as E-boats, and the T-
boats, which resembled small destroyers –
plus conventional destroyers, midget
submarines and unmanned radio-controlled
explosive motorboats. If these German
vessels and submarines got in among the
convoys in the English Channel on D-Day or
in the following weeks, as the convoys
steamed back and forth across the Channel
to resupply the invasion forces, it could be
extremely costly and could even threaten the
success of the invasion.
The task of preventing this and of
guarding the flanks of the invasion fleets fell
almost entirely to RAF Coastal Command
with some additional assistance from the US
Navy’s Consolidated Liberator maritime
squadrons, which came under the operational
control of 19 Group, Coastal Command.
Coastal Command
Protecting the Flanks
Coastal Command B-17 Fortress Mk.IIA of 220 Sqn patrolling over the Atlantic Ocean.
Leigh Light under the
wing of an ASW Liberator.
By 1944, Coastal Command was a
formidable force. It now possessed some 24
UK-based, ASW squadrons equipped with
long-range Consolidated B-24 Liberators,
Boeing B-17 Fortresses, Handley Page
Halifaxes and some Vickers Wellington
land-based maritime patrol and attack
aircraft, together with Short Sunderland and
Consolidated PB-Y Catalina flying boats.
These anti-submarine aircraft were
employed in escorting convoys and hunting
U-boats in the Atlantic, the Bay of Biscay
and the Western Approaches.
From January to the end of May 1944,
Coastal Command aircraft sighted and
attacked over 100 U-boats; 24 of which were
sunk outright, while others were seriously
damaged. The tide of war was turning
against the German submariners.
An outstanding part of the operations
prior to D-Day was Coastal Command’s May
offensive in the sea areas between Norway,
Shetland and Iceland, against the U-boats
attempting to redeploy from Norwegian
havens to reinforce the Biscay flotillas. The
first sighting and attack against one of these
U-boats was made on May 16, appropriately
by a Norwegian crew flying with the RAF in
Coastal Command. During the next
fortnight, 12 more U-boats were depth-
charged from the air; six of them were sunk
and some of the others were forced back to
port in Norway.
U-boat hunting at night, when they were
most likely to be on the surface, was aided
by a number of technological advancements
including radar, magnetic anomaly
detectors and the Leigh Light. This was a
powerful carbon arc searchlight fitted to a
number of Coastal Command’s aircraft to
illuminate German U-boats on the surface at
night. The ‘nacelle’ version fitted under the
starboard wing of the Coastal Command
Bomber Command, but they inflicted even
greater damage on the enemy in relation to
their own losses. During the Second World
War, the British public was only vaguely
aware of the dramatic and ferocious events
involving the Coastal Command Strike
Wings and their attacks on enemy shipping.
At the time, anti-shipping attacks came
under the strictest secrecy, with only brief
details being released to the press and the
BBC. This secrecy was in place, not least,
because of the success of the Government
Code and Cipher School at Bletchley Park
in decrypting the ‘Hydra’ code used by the
enemy convoys (after acquiring cipher
material from the captured U-boat U110 on
May 8, 1942).
This intelligence provided accurate and
timely information on the movement of
German coastal convoys, allowing planned
strikes by Coastal Command.
By 1944 the anti-shipping-strike units
had honed their tactics against the heavily-
armed vessels that were their targets. The
concept of operations was to employ closely-
coordinated mass formation attacks.
Anti-‘flak’ aircraft, armed with cannons,
bombs, or rockets, saturated the heavily
Liberators, for example, was a 20in
searchlight mounted in a nacelle of 32in
diameter slung from the bomb lugs under
the wing and producing a maximum beam
intensity of 90 million candles.
In June 1944 Coastal Command also had
under its control nine squadrons of anti-
shipping, strike/attack, fighter-bombers,
mostly Bristol Beaufighters. In a sign of
things to come, one squadron, 248
Squadron at Portreath, had already
re-equipped with the de Havilland Mosquito
in the anti-shipping role. (Coastal Command
also included a number of Royal Navy Fleet
Air Arm squadrons flying antiquated Fairey
Swordfish and also Grumman Avengers
torpedo bombers). These aircraft would be
responsible for protecting the flanks of the
invasion fleets from German surface
raiders, as well as attacking convoys
attempting to re-supply the German forces.
The Coastal Command Strike Wings
fought in some of the bitterest and
bloodiest engagements of the war, all at low
level and at close quarters. They suffered
heavy losses, in the same proportion as
Coastal Command B-24 Liberator GR Mk.V: Equipped with radar, loaded with depth charges and fitted with stub launch rails for rockets, this
was one of the German U-boats crews’ most feared opponents.
Coastal Command 404 Sqn Beaufighters armed with rockets at Davidstow Moor, Cornwall,
June 1944.
Allied navies in a wide and complicated
pattern of patrols which, it was hoped,
would seal both the eastern and western
entrances to the Channel.
An example of this activity was the anti-
shipping strike force of 10 Mosquitos of
248 Squadron from Portreath along with
31 Beaufighters of 144 and 404 Squadrons
from Davidstow Moor, which took off at
6.45pm on June 6, 1944. At 8.15pm the
formation spotted a U-boat, but it crash
dived. About 40 minutes later, the
formation sighted three Seetier Class
enemy destroyers on a northerly course at
15 knots. The Mosquitos climbed to give
between the coasts of Cornwall and Brittany,
and a third from west of the Scillies to
Ushant. From D-Day onwards, for a period of
six weeks, twenty-four hours a day, Coastal
Command aircraft patrolled these belts on
the ‘endless chain’ principle. After dark the
Leigh light carrying aircraft took over.
On D-Day there were 36 U-boats in Bay
of Biscay ports. The submarines began
moving out on the evening of June 6, but
Coastal Command presented a solid wall of
air power to the enemy. The submarines
were harried almost from the hour they
sailed, though at a cost to the aircraft
hounding them. The U-boats carried heavy
‘flak’ defences and, in the first 24 hours after
sailing, they shot down four low-flying anti-
submarine aircraft, including a Wellington
of No 407 Squadron, with the deaths of the
six crew members on board. Two Liberators
were also lost. In the same period, however,
U-955 was sunk and five more U-boats were
so damaged they had to return to port.
As the operations progressed so the
enemy losses mounted and approximately
24 U-boats were lost between D-Day and the
end of June. Total losses to Coastal
Command in the month of June were 10
aircraft and 80 airmen. Overall, during these
operations, aircraft of Coastal Command
flew 2197 ASW sorties in the Channel and
Western Approaches; 72 enemy submarines
were sighted and 40 were attacked.
In the last weeks before D-Day the
Beaufighters flew patrols along the enemy
coast in search of E-boats and other light
naval craft that were operating from bases
between Ijmuiden and Cherbourg. Such
patrols marked the first stage of operations
designed to ensure that the Allied invasion
fleets would not be molested by surface
craft during their passage to Normandy
from ports in southern England.
The main operations were planned to
begin on the eve of D-Day, when squadrons
of Coastal Command and the Fleet Air Arm
would co-operate with surface vessels of the
armed shipping with multiple-direction
diving attacks. This allowed the torpedo-
carrying ‘Torbeaus’ to carry out their
ultra-low-level run-in to their release point
through a reduced ‘flak’ barrage.
Engagements between the Beaufighters of
the Strike Wings and German surface
vessels must be classed as some of the most
dangerous and ferocious encounters of the
entire war. The sky would be full of shells,
bullets and missiles travelling in all
directions, with the opponents in full view of
each other. Inevitably, casualties were
extremely heavy on both sides.
The Allied D-Day assault was unopposed by
German naval forces, not least because total
surprise had been achieved. In subsequent
days and weeks, however, the enemy
attempted to interdict Allied shipping, but
came up against Coastal Command’s aircraft
in the process. The anti-U-boat operation by
Coastal Command was named Operation
CORK and comprised continuous day and
night air patrols between southern Ireland,
the Cornish Peninsula and Brest Peninsula
with the aim of preventing U-boats from
breaking into the Channel and coastal
waters around the South of England.
The plan was that a Coastal Command
ASW aircraft would search with its radar
every part of the CORK area, from southern
Ireland to the mouth of the Loire, 20,000
square miles, every 30 minutes, day and
night for an indefinite period. Thirty
minutes was chosen because a U-boat was
believed to use, in a crash dive, about as
much battery energy as could be charged
into the batteries in 30 minutes on the
surface. If a U-boat had to crash dive every
30 minutes it would show no net gain from
charging its batteries while on the surface
between dives. If it ever arrived in the
fighting-zone it would be with its crew
exhausted, little compressed air available to
surface and its batteries low on reserves.
Three patrol ‘belts’ were laid across the
western end of the English Channel: two
German Navy Schnellboot S-17.
Coastal Command Beaufighters in a co-
ordinated rocket attack against German
shipping, summer 1944.
cover and the Beaufighters attacked with
Rocket Projectiles (RP) and cannon fire
out of the sun. Strikes were observed on
the middle of the first ship which caused
an explosion and fire; the ship stopped.
The rear vessel received numerous
underwater RP hits and sank. The other
was hit by RPs, stopped and was left
smoking. One Beaufighter was lost to the
ships’ anti-aircraft fire. On their return to
base, the formation saw a Ju 188
shadowing six Allied destroyers. Two of
the 248 Squadron Mosquitos attacked.
Hits were observed on the cockpit of the
Ju 188, and the starboard engine caught
fire. The enemy aircraft rolled on its back
and spun steeply into the sea shedding
pieces of fuselage.
The overwhelming Allied air and naval
power entirely prevented daylight surface
attacks on convoys proceeding across the
English Channel. They also limited the
success of nocturnal attacks. In the first
week after D-Day, German E-boats managed
to sink only three small freighters, two LST
(Landing Ship Tank) transports and a half-
dozen small craft; as the enemy surface
vessels were returning to their bases at
dawn, they were harried by the Coastal
Command strike/attack aircraft.
The Coastal Command anti-shipping and
strike squadrons flew 1672 reconnaissance
and 315 strike sorties during the weeks
following D-Day.
At the conclusion of three months of
maritime operations, from D-Day onwards,
the German naval units and merchant
shipping in Western Europe had been
hammered unmercifully and the
Kreigsmarine had been unable to interfere
with the Allied invasion fleets and convoys,
largely due to Coastal Command’s
operations against it. 
‘Protecting the Flanks of the Invasion’. Six Bristol Beaufighters from 236 Squadron, part of RAF
Coastal Command's North Coates Strike Wing, attacking Kriegsmarine E-boats
(Schnellboots) near the French coast in June 1944. Hit-and-run raids by these fast German
torpedo boats could have posed a significant threat to Allied shipping supporting the D-
Day invasion and subsequently resupplying the Allied forces on the Continent.This picture
depicts a typical early morning operation to hunt for them. New Zealand Squadron Leader
‘Bill’Tacon has led the attack with cannon and 25lb rocket projectiles in Beaufighter TF X
NE746‘MB-Q’, sustaining some damage to the aircraft in what the squadron's operations
record book records as “intense and accurate” return fire. Artwork: Gary Eason
sea and homed in on the radar contact. With
two miles to go, he told Foster to switch the
radar off in case the submarine had
detection equipment. As they reached the
position identified on radar, Moore spotted a
U-boat off to one side, riding on the surface,
clearly illuminated in the moonlight.
Swinging round in a gentle turn and letting
down to only 50ft he began the attack run
from the submarine’s beam. The
submarine’s crew had been caught by
surprise and as the sailors ran towards their
large calibre ‘flak’ guns, the Liberator’s front
gunner opened up on them, hitting some.
The big aircraft flashed over the conning
tower of the submarine, and the bomb-
aimer, Warrant Officer Johnston ‘Jock’
McDowell, peering through the low-level
Mk III bomb sight, pressed down on the
release button.
Six depth charges straddled the
U-boat perfectly, three on each side of it.
Seconds later the rear gunner yelled: “Oh
God, we’ve blown her clean out of the
water.” By the time Moore had hauled the
Liberator back round, all that he could see
was the water still heaving from the
explosions, patches of black oil and some
dark objects, which were probably bodies,
floating among the slicks.
His subsequent report grimly noted: “U-
boat was observed to lift out of the sea and
disintegrate and was then hidden from view
as plumes rose up to full height.” U-441 had
been sunk with the loss of all 51 sailors on
board, the day after her crew had shot down
a sub-hunting Vickers Wellington with the
deaths of the six RAF crewmen.
Suddenly, at 2.11am, the voice of the radar
operator, Warrant Officer William Foster,
jolted the whole crew to action stations:
“Contact dead ahead, range 12 miles.” The
crew’s extensive training and regular
practice produced an immediate, calm and
well-drilled response. Moore took the big
four-engine bomber down to 200ft over the
t 10.14pm on June 7, 1944,
Flying Officer Kenneth Owen
Moore (RCAF), known as
‘Kayo’ to his friends, lifted his
heavy, anti-submarine
Consolidated B-24 Liberator GR Mk.V, coded
‘XB-G’ off the runway at St Eval, near
Newquay, Cornwall. Twenty-one-year-old
‘Kayo’ Moore was the captain of a crew of
nine other airmen (six of them Canadians)
who were setting off on a long Operation
CORK patrol. They were playing their part in
closing the English Channel’s south western
approaches to German U-boats from the Bay
of Biscay and, thereby, protecting the flanks
of the Allied invasion shipping steaming back
and forth between England and Normandy.
By now Moore had some 30 operations
under his belt and had already been
credited with crippling a U-boat in action in
March 1944. The long-range, 224 Squadron
Liberator he was flying could carry a
weapon load of 5000lb and had a ferry range
of 3300 miles. Carrying a normal munitions
load of depth charges, the typical sortie
duration for a Coastal Command Liberator
on an Operation CORK sortie was 13½
hours. With an air-to-surface radar fitted
and the huge Leigh Light under the
starboard wing, the aircraft had a genuine
and effective night-hunting capability. The
weather in the early hours of June 8 was
ideal for ‘sub’ hunting. It was a warm night,
the stormy weather of D-Day had
dissipated, the sky was full of stars and the
moon was bright, laying a silver beam
across the calm sea.
“Sighted Two Subs, Sank Same”
Flying Officer ‘Kayo’ Moore DSO RCAF in the cockpit of a B-24 Liberator.
B-24 Liberator GR Mk.V, BZ877,‘2-Q’ of 86 Sqn, the type flown by Moore and his crew on June
8, 1944, and which sank two U-boats on one sortie.
Liberator ‘XB-G’ resumed the patrol and 30
minutes later, the highly improbable
occurred. At a range of six miles, just off the
coast of Ushant, France, a second radar
contact was obtained. At a range of two and
a half miles the crew spotted another U-boat
on the surface, illuminated in the
moonlight, but in a position unsuitable for
an attack. Moore muscled the Liberator
round in a steep turn, descending to 50ft to
attack from the submarine’s starboard
vertically out of the water. Then it slid down
into the sea stern first and was gone. On the
next pass over the spot, the Liberator’s
Leigh Light illuminated three inflatable
dinghies crowded with sailors, floating amid
a cluster of debris on a thick black oil slick.
This U-boat was U-331; four of the
submarine’s crew died but the other 47
Following this second attack and victory,
Moore told his wireless operator to send a
laconic message to base, which simply read:
“Sighted two subs, sank same.” This was
the war’s only double submarine kill by a
single aircraft during one patrol. For his
gallantry and skill, Moore was awarded the
Distinguished Service Order (DSO)
effective from August 22, 1944; a United
States Silver Star also followed. For their
part in the attacks, radar operator, Warrant
Officer William Foster, and bomb aimer,
‘Jock’ McDowell, received the DFC, while
the flight engineer, Sergeant J Hammer, was
awarded a DFM.
The RAF and RCAF public relations
officers and the Press were ecstatic at the
achievement of Moore and his crew; they
were almost equally delighted to learn that
the crew always flew with a good luck
mascot, a stuffed teddy bear named
‘Dinty’, which was dressed in a miniature
battle dress, with Canada shoulder flashes,
an observer brevet and patent leather
flying boots! 
beam. This second attack was almost a
repeat of the first, except that there was
‘flak’ from the U-boat in an exchange of fire
with the Liberator’s gunners. The aircraft’s
depth charges straddled the submarine, two
on one side and four on the other.
This time however, the U-boat seemed
only to drop a little at the stern and list
slightly to starboard. Then mid-upper
gunner Don Griese shouted: “She’s going
down,” and as Moore banked round he saw
the U-boat’s bow sticking up almost
U-441 returning to port in Brest in happier times for her crew. All 51 lost their lives when the U-
boat was sunk on June 8, 1944.
A German U-boat crew frantically
abandoning their submarine, which is
down at the stern and moments from
‘Kayo’ Moore (right) with his arm round the
shoulders of his bomb aimer ‘Jock’
McDowell, in front of their Liberator.
Some other members of Moore’s 224 Sqn crew with‘Dinty’ the mascot. From left they are Fg
Off Gibb (navigator), Fg Off Ketcheson (second pilot), WOs Davison, Foster, Greise and
Werbeski (all WOpAGs).
Airfield Construction and the
RAF Regiment in Normandy
48-53_Airfield ConstructionPE.indd 48 09/05/2014 09:54
ir superiority was vital to the success of
the Normandy invasion. It allowed Allied
aircraft to pound German defences,
infrastructure and reinforcements. It protected
ground troops and, most importantly, the
masses of vulnerable shipping, from German air
attack. Operating from bases in southern
England, Allied fighters and fighter-bombers
cast a protective umbrella over the invasion
fleet and beachheads, but flying across the
English Channel wasted valuable time and fuel.
For air superiority to be maintained, it was
crucial that advanced landing grounds (ALGs)
be established in Normandy as soon as possible.
This was the job of the RAF’s Servicing
Commandos and Airfield Construction Service
(ACS). They built and maintained landing
grounds from scratch in the fields of Normandy,
often within sight and even mortar-range of the
frontlines, and later they repaired captured
German airfields.
The RAF Servicing Commando Units (SCUs)
were specially trained for such frontline work.
Formed in 1943, the units grew out of the RAF’s
experience in North Africa, where it had been
found that ground crews at advanced landing
grounds needed not only technical skills, but
also had to be highly mobile and to know how
to look after themselves. As well as training in
aircraft handling and repair, the Servicing
Commandos were given extensive combat and
fieldwork training to prepare them for their role.
Airfield Construction Service
The Airfield Construction Service had also been
formed in 1943, to take responsibility for
building and repairing RAF stations, a job which
had at least partly been done up to then by the
army’s Royal Engineers. From the beginning, it
had kept one eye on the eventual need to
support landings in France.
Each ACS wing had three
construction squadrons,
supported by a plant
squadron of heavy
machinery, and smaller
specialist flights,
such as a quarrying
flight and a
flight. Efforts were made to keep these units as
light and as mobile as possible, but there was
only so much that could be done in these areas
while maintaining their abilities.
Therefore, an ACS Field Force Wing was
established, with just two construction
squadrons, a construction flight, a workshop
flight (for making or repairing equipment) and a
field plant flight. Smaller and comparatively
light, this unit was designed specifically to
operate in the narrow confines of the expected
beachhead, and be able to keep up with the
rapidly moving frontlines.
The first RAF personnel landed in Normandy
on D-Day, June 6, 1944. They included beach
units and advanced parties to help plan the
RAF’s next moves. On June 7, four SCUs landed
on the beaches, then drove inland to begin
work at a number of sites. Aerial reconnaissance
had identified many potential airfields in
advance of the landings, and the Royal
Engineers had already begun surveying likely
sites, clearing mines, crops, undergrowth and
obstructions, and levelling the ground. They
also began to lay surfaces for runways, taxiways
and dispersal points.
The surfaces could be tarred canvas, or
coconut matting with a metal mesh over the
top, although these were found too fragile for
the heavy use they later came under. Steel
mesh tracking was more durable and pierced
(or perforated) steel planking (PSP) was even
more hardwearing, but it was also much heavier
and in the early weeks of the invasion every
ounce of weight being shipped across the
English Channel mattered.
Working Airfields
As the shape of each runway began to emerge
from the fields, the SCUs turned them
into working airfields.
Camouflaged tents were set
up for use as living areas and
workshops. Protective sites
were dug for airfield defence,
air raid shelters, and to
protect the precious
stocks of fuel,
ammunition and spare
parts carried by the
Royal Air Force Servicing
Commando Units
landed in Normandy on
June 7, 1944 and the
first advanced landing
ground opened on the
8th. Stuart Hadaway
of the Air Historical
Branch (RAF) reveals
this little known episode
in the RAF’s history
Ground crew refuel
and re-arm one of
the first Supermarine
Spitfires to land in France,
a Mk IX of 441 Sqn, RCAF.
The aircraft put down at the
advanced landing ground at
B.3/St Croix-sur-Mer, Normandy,
on the afternoon of June 10,
1944. RAF (AHB)/© UK MoD
Crown Copyright
48-53_Airfield ConstructionPE.indd 49 09/05/2014 09:54
Commandos. After all, many of these sites were
within shelling, mortar, or even small arms
range of the frontlines.
Lorries would bring replacement stores up
from the beachhead on a daily basis, with an
occasional special airlift also taking place; when
stockpiles ran low in the middle of June, 30
Douglas Dakotas flew 75 tons of 500lb bombs
into Normandy. This kept operations going
until a further 1,750 tons of bombs was landed
by sea.
Mobile control vehicles, equipped with radio
transmitters and transportable flare paths, were
used to provide air traffic control. The first to
land, on D-Day, ran over a mine and the vehicle
and equipment were destroyed. The crew
escaped unharmed, however, and managed to
set up a temporary system using equipment
salvaged from crashed aircraft. A replacement
eventually arrived and, within weeks, every
airfield in Normandy had its own control
system. The Flying Control Sections also
included ambulances and fire tenders to deal
with crashed aircraft.
On June 8 the first new airstrip, designated
B.1, opened at Asnelles-sur-Mer as an
emergency landing ground for damaged
aircraft that might not be able to make it back
across the English Channel. The next day, four
more airstrips had been set up for RAF use, by
which time the Service had more than 3,500
men and in excess of 800 vehicles operating in
the beachheads.
By June 20, this had risen to 13,000 men and
3,200 vehicles, operating six advanced landing
grounds with combined stockpiles of 3,000 tons
of petrol, 2,500Impgal (11,365 litres) of oil,
500,000 rounds of ammunition and 1,000
cylinders of oxygen and hydrogen. As well as
the SCUs and ACS units, there was also a Repair
and Salvage Unit to patch up badly damaged
aircraft, and two Air Stores Parks to receive, hold
and then issue stores as needed by the airfields.
To begin with, the advanced landing grounds
provided a temporary base for aircraft operating
from southern England. Squadrons would arrive
in the morning and fly from the ALGs during the
day, being rearmed and refuelled as necessary,
while any minor damage could also be patched
up. Three squadrons usually operated from one
field, supported by half an SCU and often flying
more than 100 sorties each day.
Left: Airmen of
3206 SCU gather
wheat for
transportation from a
dispersal area needed
for aircraft at B.5/
Camilly on July 29,
1944. Behind them,
armourers attend to
Supermarine Spitfire
Mk IX MK940/ZF-B, of
308 (Polish) Squadron,
which had flown in
from Ford, Hampshire.
Crown Copyright 2014
RAF airmen watch while a bulldozer towing a scraper levels ground as work commences on the
construction of the first Allied airstrip in Normandy, on June 8,1944. RAF (AHB)/© UK MoD Crown
Copyright 2014
Left: Dust was a
primary issue on
the ALGs, reducing
visibility and
damaging engines.
Several suppression
methods were
employed, one of
which was to spray a
mix of used engine
oil and water. This
cart was among many
requisitioned from
Bermondsey Borough
Council for work with
the Royal Engineers.
Crown Copyright 2014
Three bulldozers and scrapers, working in echelon, level the area to be used in the construction of
a new, all-weather hard runway at B.10/Plumetot airfield, in July 1944. RAF (AHB)/© UK MoD Crown
Copyright 2014
48-53_Airfield ConstructionPE.indd 50 09/05/2014 09:55
At night, the squadrons returned to
England, until June 15. By then, some of the
airfields were deemed safe enough for aircraft
to spend the night without the risk of being
destroyed by German aircraft, artillery, or
counter-attack. On that day, No. 144 Wing
(Nos 441, 442 and 443 Squadrons) landed their
Supermarine Spitfires at airfield B.3, near St
Croix-sur-Mer, and stayed. By June 29, a total
of nine wings, with supporting units, were
based at ten airfields in Normandy.
Improvisation And Expansion
Many problems had to be overcome by the
SCUs and ACS. Some, such as shelling, snipers
and rough living conditions, had been
predicted and prepared for. Others needed
improvisation on the spot. One major problem
was the dust kicked up by airfield activity. This
proved highly abrasive and began damaging
aircraft engines. The army tried spraying water
on the runways, but this evaporated in
minutes. The ACS instead sprayed oil from the
boiler of a beached Royal Navy destroyer, and
this proved much more effective at keeping
the dust down until filters could be fitted to
aircraft engines.
By the end of June the ACS increasingly took
over from the Royal Engineers in clearing
ground and laying runways. However, it was
also frequently diverted off to support the army.
As well as being used on airfields, ACS heavy
equipment was used to clear rubble and build
or repair roads and bridges for the advancing
British forces, particularly at Conde and in Caen.
As the breakout from Normandy gathered
pace, the ACS kept up with the advancing
forces, building airfields from scratch as it
went. Only in early September did former
German airfields begin to be occupied and
extensive repair work was often needed to
make them operational. By early November,
after the Allies had advanced more than
400 miles (644km) across France, Belgium and
Holland, the ACS and SCUs had helped in
building and operating some 75 airfields, and
had proved crucial in maintaining the air
superiority that was vital to victory.
A pair of RAF Mustangs takes off from an ALG with a Spitfire Mk IX parked off to the right. The ALGs allowed aircraft to be turned around close to the
battlefield, increasing sortie rates and helping ensure close air support was available. RAF (AHB)/© UK MoD Crown Copyright 2014
Right: A load of
recently delivered
bituminous surfacing
(PBS) is stored for
future use at B.10/
Plumetot in July.
The strips were laid
under a tarmac
surface to provide
Crown Copyright 2014
Middle right:
Members of an ACS
lay square mesh
track to create the
runway for the first
British-built strip at
B.19/Lingevres on
August 7. The airstrip
was occupied just
six days later, when
Spitfires of the four
squadrons of 125
Wing – Nos 132; 441
and 453 RCAF; and
602 – landed on its
5,000ft (1,524m)
runway. The scene
looks serene, but
construction of these
temporary strips was
often close to enemy
lines and shelling
was frequent. RAF
(AHB)/© UK MoD
Crown Copyright 2014
Right: A corner
of the ‘plant park’
at Lingevres,
Normandy, showing
some of the heavy
machinery used to
build a new airfield
(B.19) in less than a
week. RAF (AHB)/©
UK MoD Crown
Copyright 2014
48-53_Airfield ConstructionPE.indd 51 09/05/2014 15:00
The role of the Allied air forces during
Overlord was to support the British 2nd
and US 1st Armies of General Sir Bernard
Montgomery’s 21st Army Group, with 2TAF
primarily supporting British and Canadian
ground forces and comprising Nos 83 and 84
(Composite) Groups, No. 2 (Bomber) Group
and No. 85 (Base) Group.
From the earliest stages of preparation in
summer 1943, it was intended that the Royal
Air Force Regiment should be included in the
landings and the Regiment’s Wing Commander
CW Mayhew was included on the planning
staff for Overlord at Norfolk House in St James’s
Square, London. The Regiment’s roles were
to provide light anti-aircraft (LAA) protection
and local ground defence, in coordination with
the army, to the airfields captured or being
constructed in the beachhead.
Colonel RL Preston, Coldstream Guards,
Commander, RAF Regiment, and his staff of
No. 83 Group, RAF, sailed with the first assault
troops, but he was unable to land until 09:00
on D-Day + 1 at ‘Juno’ Beach. They were soon
joined by 1304 and 1305 Mobile Wing HQs,
which arrived the same day, suffering casualties
from a mine in the run-in to the beaches. The
Mobile Wing HQs were to control whatever
mix of squadrons was deemed necessary for
particular operations, the most common being
a rifle squadron and an LAA squadron.
Numbers 2834, 2809 and 2819 LAA
Squadrons also disembarked, 2834 Sqn
having been bombed twice during a night
raid by enemy aircraft. One gunner was killed
and another seriously wounded. With the
need to land 25,000 troops alone on ‘Juno’
beach, there were long delays due to the lack
of ferries to transport the airmen ashore.
Squadrons Ashore
By late on June 7, however, all three LAA
squadrons had moved to their airfields. At
Brazenville, No. 2834 Sqn had six guns in
action by 23:30 that night. By the end of
June 8, the three squadrons were deployed
across Brazenville, St Croix-sur-Mer and Beny-
A further two LAA squadrons, Nos 2817
and 2876, landed after their convoy had
been attacked by ‘E’ Boats off the coast near
Le Havre. The LCT carrying their vehicles and
guns was sunk, three airmen were killed and
three seriously wounded. Number 2817 went
to Camilly and No. 2876 to Coulombs. The
build-up continued apace, and by June 18
there were two Mobile Wing HQs, and ten LAA
squadrons deployed across ten airfields in
the beachhead.
By June 12, British and American forces
had linked up and the port of Cherbourg
had been captured. The Allies now set about
enlarging their foothold and defeating
counter-attacks around Caen and the
Brittany peninsula. Enemy aircraft appeared
in numbers over the airfields throughout
June and July.
In one instance, 50 aircraft attacked
Matragny airfield and by the end of the
month the Regiment LAA squadrons had
claimed 14 enemy aircraft destroyed and 13
damaged. This was only limited by an order to
halt all AA fire, since Allied gunners had shot
down several friendly aircraft. An enquiry
exonerated the RAF Regiment.
Airfield Defence
With the lack of field/rifle squadrons, the LAA
squadrons also had responsibility for local ground
defence and anti-sabotage measures for airfields
and, as the beachhead expanded, the airfield
construction groups moved out to construct
new landing grounds. This was done under the
protection of the Regiment’s 40mm Bofors guns.
Some of the forward airfields were being
shelled and No. 2834 LAA Sqn at Christot
found itself only 3 miles (4.8km) from
the enemy gun line. Snipers were also a
frequent problem. In one instance, fighting
patrols of No. 2876 Sqn were formed to
drive out enemy troops harassing airfield
operations. Although fighting off air attacks,
and patrolling the airfield perimeter, the
Regiment airmen were also called on to
assist with refuelling and rearming aircraft.
While the LAA squadrons had been busy
dealing with enemy air attacks, the rifle and
armoured car squadrons had been held back
in Britain until late July and early August.
Seventeen squadrons and nine Mobile Wing
HQs were then despatched to France. Two
rifle squadrons (a rifle squadron consisted of a
squadron HQ, three rifles flights and a 3in mortar
flight with four weapons) and an armoured car
squadron arrived in late July as reinforcements
for No. 83 Group. The remainder went to 84 Gp,
which was allocated eight LAA, two rifle and two
armoured car squadrons.
Three rifle squadrons were allocated for
special duties with Nos 2 and 85 Groups,
bringing the total RAF Regiment deployment
in France to 19 Wing HQs, 18 LAA, eight rifle
and four armoured car squadrons. The rifle
and armoured car squadrons were employed
in a number of tasks, much of it of an
engineering nature, including assembling RPs,
breaking down and re-belting ammunition
for fightes, laying surfacing materials on new
strips, constructing aircraft dispersals, mine
clearance and escorting the three airfield
construction groups. A rifle flight of No. 2726
Sqn lifted out and neutralised 115 ‘Teller’ and
20 ‘S’ type mines without a single casualty
from the recently captured Villers-Bocage.
ATI Escort
Following the breakout, the RAF Regiment
used fast moving detachments of armoured
car and rifle flights to escort RAF Air Tactical
The RAF Regiment in Normandy: June–August 1944
RAF Regiment gunners
make use of a captured
German MG34 machine-
gun soon after D-Day.
© UK MoD Crown
Copyright 2014
Humber armoured cars with 2806 Armoured Car Squadron in
Eindhoven, as the Allies pushed into the Netherlands. © UK
MoD Crown Copyright 2014
48-53_Airfield ConstructionPE.indd 52 09/05/2014 09:55
Intelligence (ATI) teams investigating crashed
enemy aircraft, captured airfields and radar
installations. After the launch of the British
Operation Bluecoat on July 30, an ATI team was
dispatched with a flight of No. 2806 Armoured
Car Squadron and a rifle flight from No. 2726
Rifle Squadron to examine equipment in a
radar station located on Mont Pincon.
It was not known if the enemy was in
occupation and the airmen came under
mortar and shell fire as they approached
the crest. Assisted by a guide from the
Worcestershire Regiment, they entered the
station. A counter-attack then caused their
withdrawal and it was not until three days
later that they reoccupied the site and set
about de-lousing the area of mines and booby
traps, with the assistance of four sappers.
Spasmodic shelling continued and a sniper
gave trouble, but was located and eliminated.
A few days later, following up on a
Canadian attack, two flights of No. 2827 Rifle
Squadron and a flight of No. 2806 Armoured
Car Squadron escorted an ATI team to a
captured V-1 installation in a quarry at
Haut Mesnil near Caen. The armoured car
squadron’s Humber vehicles moved in the
day after the attack and a complete search
was made, punctuated by mortar, shell and
small arms fire. The force withdrew without
casualty on August 11, only to see the quarry
overrun by a counter-attack.
With the successful Allied breakout from
Normandy in mid-August, the RAF Regiment
deployed detachments of armoured car and
rifle flights to move onto captured airfields.
A flight of No. 2798 Rifle Squadron entered
Paris with the first Allied elements on August
25, 1944 and, assisted by the French Maquis,
secured the Longchamps racecourse as a
possible landing ground. Meanwhile, another
flight was sent with an ATI team to investigate
and occupy 78 potential V-1 launch sites
located around the city.
By September 1944, with the advance
reaching the Netherlands, there were
Regiment armoured car and rifle squadrons
positioned on the frontline alongside
army troops. Other units were involved
in protecting RAF signals units during the
Ardennes offensive and had an interesting
time protecting their charges from
encirclement during the German offensive
that became known as the Battle of the Bulge.
The LAA squadrons continued their vital
work as the Allies advanced into Germany, and
No. 2875 Sqn was credited with destroying
the first jet fighter, a Messerschmitt Me 262, by
ground fire. By December 31, 1944 there were
16 RAF Regiment wing HQs and 45 squadrons
on the Continent. As the war in Europe drew to
a close, RAF Regiment units played a major role
in taking the surrender of the German forces in
northern Germany and Scandinavia.
Extracted from Centurion Journal 2013, by Dr Nigel
Warwick, Official RAF Regiment Historian
The RAF Regiment in Normandy: June–August 1944
Above: A mechanical
excavator operated by
4854 Quarrying Flight
at a quarry between
Carpiquet and Caen
in Normandy, releases
stone for the repair
and construction of
runways and airfields.
Crown Copyright 2014
Right: A groundcrew
man works on the
electrical connections
of a stockpile of 60lb
RPs. The weapons
were almost certainly
destined for use
on Typhoons. RAF
(AHB)/© UK MoD Crown
Copyright 2014
Right: Men of the
Pioneer Corps, an army
unit providing labour
for light engineering
tasks, caulk PBS during
construction of the
hard runway at B.10/
Plumetot airfield. A
‘fairweather strip’ was
located off to the left.
Crown Copyright 2014
Below: A Hawker Typhoon of 198 Squadron at B.10/Plumetot in July 1944.
The blast in the distance was the result of a bomb disposal squad ‘de-
lousing’ the airfield ahead of construction work. Mines and other enemy
ordnance could easily damage or destroy important plant. RAF (AHB)/©
UK MoD Crown Copyright 2014
48-53_Airfield ConstructionPE.indd 53 09/05/2014 09:56
63 JUNE 2014
OR THE Second Tactical Air
Force, including its Typhoon
squadrons, the build up to D-Day,
as well as the events during and after
the landings, was unquestionably a
busy period. The Typhoon pilots were
tasked with attacking a wide variety
of targets in northern France; targets
which included radar stations, road
and rail communication facilities, and
No-ball, or V-weapon, sites.
By 6 June 1944, eighteen squadrons with
around 350 Hawker Typhoons, the majority
of which were equipped with rockets, were
available for close support missions over
Normandy. Indeed, the lead up to, during
and after D-Day was an extremely hectic
period – as Mark Hillier discovered from the
flying log book of one Typhoon pilot,
Pilot Officer Brian Spragg.
For one of the Hawker
Typhoon pilots, 257 (Burma) Squadron’s
Pilot Officer Brian Spragg, just how
busy a period it was can be ascertained
from the entries in his flying log book.
Born at Weedon in Northamptonshire
in 1923, and educated at Daventry
Grammar School, Brian had joined
the RAF in September 1941 having
attended St. Andrew’s University. After
his initial training, Spragg was sent
An artist’s depiction of Hawker
Typhoons IBs in action over
Normandy which is based
around Airfix’s remarkable
1:24 scale Hawker Typhoon
model. For more information
on the kit, or the others in
Airfix’s range, please visit:
JUNE 2014 64
A D-Day Pilot's Log Book
to No.5 British Flight Training School in
Florida to continue his flying training.
Upon his return to the UK he was
posted to an Operational Training Unit
flying Hurricanes. Finally, in October
1943 Spragg was posted to 257 (Burma)
Squadron which was, at that time, based
at RAF Warmwell in Dorset.
By the eve of D-Day, Spragg and his
fellow pilots were aware that the Allied
invasion of France was imminent. Even
257 Squadron’s Operations Record Book
(ORB) notes this fact on 4 June 1944:
“By this morning all aircraft of the wing
bore the black and white stripes which
convey to all that
‘something’s cooking’.
Flying was confined to
quick low circuits.”
The squadron’s
aerial offensive was,
however, resumed
the next day: “Aircraft
of this squadron,
plus eight of No.193
Squadron, continued
the air assault against
radar targets when
they dived and
low-level bombed
installations near
ST. VALERY. Results
were moderate … T/A
[Target Area] was sprayed with 8,700
For Brian Spragg, his log book notes
three flights on 5 June 1944. The first
was a circuit; the second, an air sea
rescue patrol. Whilst 146 Wing was
returning from the attack on St Valery,
193 Squadron’s Squadron Leader David
Ross DFC was observed to bale out
fifteen miles from Sandown on the Isle
of Wight. He was last seen trying to
climb into his dinghy. Spragg (who was
at the controls of Typhoon MN757) and
his fellow pilots, in successive patrols,
hunted in vain for the missing pilot
until a mist which descended over the
water led to the search being abandoned.
Spragg’s final sortie of the day, for which
he and seven other Typhoons took off
at 19.30 hours, was to attack a German
headquarters near Carentan. The mission
was, he noted, “abortive”. In his log book he
also added the comment, “Didn’t bomb”.
“Coming back,” Spragg later informed
the historian Norman Franks, “we went
over a ship that was keel-up in the water
and there were a lot of chaps swimming
about in the sea. We were on strict R/T
silence and couldn’t even call up and tell
anybody. It was about 20-30 miles off St
Catherine’s Point, off the Isle of Wight.”
The scale of the naval and maritime
activity in the English Channel that day
was obvious to the Typhoon pilots, as
another member of 257 Squadron, Flying
Officer S.J. Eaton, later recalled: “We
suddenly became aware of all these boats,
hundreds and hundreds of boats, as far as
Flight Lieutenant Brian Spragg pictured
beside a Boeing-Stearman PT-17 trainer at
an airfield in Florida during 1942.
A pair of 257 Squadron Hawker Typhoon
Mark IBs are pictured waiting on standby,
whilst attended by their ground crews, at RAF
Warmwell, Dorset during 1944. The furthest
aircraft is JP494, coded ‘FM-D’. (WW2IMAGES)
Pilot Officer
Brian Spragg’s
log book
entries for May
1944, during
which month
he attacked
a variety
of targets
in northern
65 JUNE 2014
Airfield … all squadron pilots were told to
attend a large mess tent where a covered
blackboard was set up. We were then
informed by the senior officer present
that tomorrow, the 6th of June, would be
D-Day. The blackboard was then unveiled
to reveal the proposed landings, etc. We
were told to turn in early, as we should
be on call from approximately 4 a.m. the
next morning. Needless to say, the roar of
aircraft going overhead towards France
made sleep almost impossible in our tents.”
The pilots of 146 Wing awoke on the
morning of D-Day to the sounds of the
invasion underway. “We all took an early
breakfast,” continued Trott, “and reported
to our various dispersals, where the
ground crew were already running up the
Sabre engines of our Typhoons and then
refuelling them while we awaited the first
calls to briefing.”
The pilots of 257 Squadron were equally
keen to play their part in Operation
Overlord, but they would have to wait
until the evening. The honour of being the
first Typhoon units to go into action
A D-Day Pilot's Log Book
– 6th June 1944 – was ‘D’ Day. Maps and
data of the invasion plan were displayed
and the assault plan revealed by the W.C.
… Suitable toasts were partaken of, and
the meeting closed in an atmosphere of
eager anticipation of the ‘big party’.”
Flying Officer Ken Trott, a 197 Squadron
Typhoon pilot, was another who recalled
the build-up on 5 June 1944, having
also being tasked with attacking targets
in northern France. “The Channel was
covered with boats of various kinds,” he
recalled, “a fantastic sight and it seemed
impossible that the Germans did not
know what we were up to.
“On our return to Needs Oar Point
the eye could see. It was an incredible
picture and our Wing Leader, Reg Baker,
called up and ordered R/T silence, ‘… not
another word until you land’.”
“Late in the evening,” continued 257
Squadron’s ORB, “all the pilots and
technical people were assembled in the
Officers’ Mess. W.C. [Wing Commander
Ernest] Baker informed us that tomorrow
Personnel of 146 Wing pictured in June 1944, at about the time of the D-Day
landings. Pilot Officer Brian Spragg is circled. This formation was made up of
the following Typhoon units – Nos. 193, 197, 257, 263 and 266 Squadrons.
Brian Spragg
entries in his
log book for
June 1944,
including that
for D-Day, and,
on the right,
those for July.
JUNE 2014 66
A D-Day Pilot's Log Book
fell to three Canadian squadrons of 143
Wing which were over the beachheads
as the first landing craft charged in
towards the shore.
“Der Tag – but ours,” noted 257’s
ORB. “Not such a heavy programme
as anticipated, but almost all our pilots
ranged over the beachhead once.”
first six pilots to take off, Brian Spragg
included, did so at 17.05 hours.
Led by Squadron Leader R.H. Fokes
DFC, DFM, the seven Typhoons headed
south over the Channel. In due course
they came under the control of a ship
which, code-named Baldwin, was
positioned off the French coast. Acting
on Baldwin’s instructions, they attacked
two tanks four miles north-east of Caen
which they raked with cannon fire. In
his log book, Spragg noted that they had
attacked tanks, vehicles and cattle!
“They were on the road but from height
we couldn’t really tell exactly,” Spragg
informed Norman Franks. “By the time
we got down – spraying – we found that
‘they’ were cattle. It was all of a bit of an
anti-climax for we’d been up since 3.45
a.m. waiting for something to happen.”
Two further patrols were duly
completed by 257 Squadron, the other
sorties taking off at 19.45 hours and
21.40 hours respectively. The ORB
states: “A fairly successful bag of
assorted transport including tanks,
trucks and staff cars were ‘britched up’
and a tented Hun camp was strafed.
The occupants of one staff car tumbled
out and sought shelter in a chateau.
This was promptly demolished by a
direct hit with a 500-lb bomb. There
was little flak opposition in all these
prangs.” For his part, in his log book
Brian Spragg made the following
entry: “Invasion – Allied forces
landing in France from Cabourg
to Montebourg. Beachheads well
established. D-Day!!”
Another of 257 Squadron’s pilots
airborne on D-Day was Flight Sergeant
A. Shannon. “On D-Day we went to
Caen and I clobbered two trucks and one
staff car,” he later recalled. “We were a
little over-awed by the occasion, and by
the forecast of events. I was rather set by
Wing Commander Baker who got us all
together on the evening of the 5th and
said the possibility is that I won’t be with
you here tomorrow – but it’s going to be
a great day for all of us. Circumstances
rather overtook us and we were quiet
rather than thrilled or emotionally
affected by it, more or less reflective.
We went to bed early but we didn’t see
a lot on D-Day because it was hazy. We
saw the lines of ships stretching across
the Channel and the movement on the
other side, the smoke and haze rising.”
New Zealander Typhoon pilot
Desmond Scott recalls the efforts of
123 Wing (198 and 609 squadrons)
which flew out of Thorney Island. It
was “extremely busy hammering away
in support of the Allied landing; but
in view of the confused state of the
bridgehead it was almost impossible
to learn exactly what was happening.
Several pilots had been shot down by
Brian Spragg is
sitting in the
cockpit of a
257 Squadron
BELOW: A weather-beaten
Typhoon with underwing
invasion stripes gets bombed-up,
presumably in the summer of
1944. (WW2IMAGES)
Armourers load rockets on
to a Typhoon in the summer
of 1944. (WW2IMAGES)
67 JUNE 2014
A D-Day Pilot's Log Book
Typhoons, Mustangs and Thunderbolts,
all heading for the peace and security of
their home bases on the south coast of
England. For us it was the end of D-Day;
for many it had been the end of a lifetime.
Tomorrow would be D+1, and for our
pilots more targets of interdiction.”
On D-Day, the Typhoons of the Second
Tactical Air Force flew over 400 sorties
at the cost of eight aircraft and pilots.
Four of those had been shot down by
the Luftwaffe, whilst the others had
succumbed to flak or debris thrown up
from the bombing.
D+1 dawned with a solid cloud base over
the North Coast of France from 1,500
feet to 3,000 feet. Indeed, Brian Spragg
recorded in his logbook that the “weather
was pretty poor”. For his flight sortie of
the day, an armed reconnaissance, he
took off from Needs Oar Point at 10.05
flak ... The squadrons had destroyed
their first tanks in an attack on two
enemy road columns. Southwest of
Caen many thin-skinned vehicles had
been destroyed. Until conditions on
the bridgehead had stabilized, thus
establishing a pronounced bombline, our
activities were mainly confined to areas
southeast of the main assault zone.
“It was not until the evening that I was
able to head for the Normandy beaches,
and was just in time to join a sky train
… that reached out southwards from
Selsey Bill as far as the eye could see.
Hundreds of four-engined bombers
were strung in a narrow stream … all
bound for the Normandy bridgehead.”
Overhauling the slower aircraft in the
massive aerial armada, Scott was soon
over Normandy. There was no shortage
of targets.
“Two motorcycles and what appeared
to be a staff car were racing along a road
near Cagny, and I swept down and raked
them with cannon fire. All three came
to a sudden and dusty stop, but I did not
see what became of them … All along
the fringe of the bay [near Ouistreham],
as far as visibility would permit, I could
see smoke, fire and explosions. Inland
some areas were completely smudged
out by evil clouds of smoke. Underneath
it great flashes of fire would erupt and
burst like bolts of orange lightning.
Normandy was like a huge, fire-rimmed
boiling cauldron …
“Like homing seabirds, many aircraft
accompanied me back across the
Channel. At various distances were lone
Spitfires, and here and there a lumbering
four-engined bomber, ragged packs of
hours. As the seven aircraft approached
the beachhead they were diverted by
their control ship to investigate possible
targets on the road south-west of Caen
that runs through to Villers-Bocage.
As the Typhoons flew over the French
countryside, they spotted some German
motor transport. In the moments that
followed a half-track and a truck were
attacked with bombs and cannon fire.
The outcome, noted Brian in his log
book, was “vehicles left burning”. A
concentration of troops was also sighted
but the control ship indicated that they
might be Allied personnel, so no attack
was made. The seven pilots returned to
Needs Oar Point having been airborne
for 1 hour 45 minutes.
There were some 493 Typhoon sorties
flown on D+1. As a result of stronger
German resistance, fifteen Typhoons
were shot down.
The following day Spragg took part in
another armed reconnaissance. The four
Typhoons involved, having taken off at
15.30 hours, headed just to the south of
the beachheads, patrolling from Saint-Lô
onwards to Caumont. Locating tanks
which they believed to be Panzer IVs, the
pilots rolled in to attack with bombs. One
tank immediately blew up, whilst the
other was left smoking. Three German
trucks were also attacked, this time with
cannon, and though the ORB reports that
strikes were seen, “no conclusive results
could be observed”. Spragg recorded in
his log book: “2Pz Mk IVs destroyed, 3 MT
damaged. Bags of joy.”
Though the weather on 9 June 1944,
prevented operations, many of the
sorties flown by 257 Squadron over
TOP: Wing
R.E.P. Brooker,
the No.123
Wing Leader,
takes off from
RAF Thorney
Island in
his Hawker
Typhoon Mk.IB,
MN570 ‘B’,
to carry out
a sortie over
the Normandy
beachhead in
company with
seven more
Typhoons of
198 Squadron.
They attacked
and destroyed
several German
vehicles on the
Even whilst
the battle
was raging
in Normandy,
there was still
training to be
of Wing
Brian Spragg
JUNE 2014 68
A D-Day Pilot's Log Book
1. Norman Franks, Typhoon Attack (Stackpole,
Mechanicsburg, 2010), p.115-6.
2. Ibid, p.115.
3. Quoted on:
4. TNA Air 27/1528.
5. Norman Franks, Ibid, p.116.
6. Desmond Scott, Fighter Pilot (Arrow, London,
1982), pp.109-10.
7. Chris Thomas, Typhoon Wings of 2nd TAF

the next few days continued to be
directed by the control ship code-named
Baldwin. The actual targets included
troop concentrations, motor transport,
tanks, and railway or road centres. At the
same time, losses amongst the Typhoon
units continued to mount.
On 12 June, D+6, seven 257
Squadron pilots undertook an armed
reconnaissance led by Battle of Britain
veteran Squadron Leader Ronald Fokes
DFC, DFM. Splitting into two sections,
the Typhoons ranged out across the
area between Falaise and the south of
Caen. The ORB notes that six German
vehicles were hit, four of which were left
smoking. One staff car was also left in
flames. One section spotted and attacked
some railway wagons loaded with tanks
near St Pierre: “Two bombs dropped with
unobserved results.”
At one point, however, Squadron
Leader Fokes’ aircraft was hit by flak
eight miles south of Caen. He was seen
to bale out at 1,000 feet. Flying Officer
“Paddy” Carr, Fokes’ wingman, was
orbiting overhead and saw 257’s CO
hit the ground hard, after which he lay
motionless in tall grass near his aircraft.
Fokes’ Typhoon was not the only one to
be hit. Having also suffered flak damage,
Carr managed to land at airstrip B3 near
The following day Spragg was also hit
by German fire during a sortie that he
described in his log book as “low level
bombing and strafing south of Caen”.
A total of eleven aircraft led by Wing
Commander Baker were briefed to attack
a German HQ near a wood south west of
Troarn. All aircraft successfully dropped
their bombs in the target area from
heights of 2,500 feet down to 1,500 feet,
following up the attack with strafing
runs. Flak was noted as being “meagre”
but Spragg was unfortunate and records
in his log book being “hit by flak, wing
tip blown off”. Spragg was the first to
return, landing back at Needs Oar Point
at 18.30 hours.
On the evening of 20 June 1944, 257
Squadron was tasked with attacking a
tunnel on the railway line south-west of
Pont l'Éveque. “We attacked the target
in two waves,” states the ORB, “one
wave against each end of the tunnel.
The results were considered very good;
several bombs going through the tunnel
mouth at S.W. end and two near misses
at N.E. end successfully closed the tunnel.
All attacks were carried out at zero feet.”
Spragg noted in his log book that he had
“lobbed bombs in tunnel”. The attack was,
he added, a “Wizard prang”.
By the end of June 1944, Spragg
had completed twenty-one hours of
operational sorties. He served with the
squadron right through until February
1945 completing 187 hours of operational
flying on the Typhoon and having, by
the 15th of that month, flown no less
than 163 sorties. Awarded the DFC in
1945, he had survived being shot down
twice and force landed his aircraft,
gaining two “Green Endorsements” in
his log book for exceptional flying skill
and judgement.
One of the
undertaken by
Flying Officer
Spragg (he
was promoted
in October
1944) was an
attack by 146
Wing (led by
Group Captain
D.E. Gillam) on
the Sicherhe-
headquarters in
Amsterdam on
26 November
1944. A total
of twenty-four
Typhoons were
involved, with
Spragg leading
a section of four
aircraft. Smoke
from the attack
can still be seen
in this aerial
The successful
attack destroyed
German records
on the Dutch
BELOW: The open farmland that was RAF Needs Oar Point - Pilot Officer Brian Spragg’s base for his
D-Day operations. This Advanced Landing Ground was constructed in 1943, the first aircraft of 146
Wing arriving on 10 and 11 April 1944. (COURTESY OF STUART LOGAN; WWW.GEOGRAPH.ORG.UK)
NEXT MONTH: In next month's issue,
Mark Hillier details one of Brian
Spragg's post-war actions which
involved a future Israeli Prime Minister.