D-DAY--June 6, 1944
Surely, every school--child and every adult who reads this account of First Lieutenant Herbert A. Bradley, Jr.'s service in World War LI will recall the words of our nation's great poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, writing of the midnight ride of that great patriot of the American Revolution:
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
. . . . .
And Longfellow concluded,
You know the rest. In the books you have read,
. . . through the night went his cry of alarm
. . . a cry of defiance, and not of fear,
. . . a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last.
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoofbeats of that steed.
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
Yes, the poet had it right--as our people have proven in times of war, in times of civil strife and economic depression, and in the time to which this story relates--World War II. The people awakened once again on December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. They saw then the peril that faced the peoples of the free world--the light of freedom had been extinguished in much of the world--the hour of darkness had come!
In Europe, Britain stood alone. The "blitzkrieg" of the armies and air force of Nazi Germany had overrun and overwhelmed Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, and Norway--and Belgium, Holland and France, too, had been conquered. And, in due course, Russia was attacked. Germany, Italy and Japan had formed an unholy alliance. America was the last great hope of the peoples of Europe.
There is no need here to write of the mobilization of the manpower and industrial might of the United States; of the Battle of the Atlantic; of Operation TORCH, the invasion of North Africa; of Operation HUSKY, the invasion of Sicily; or of the surrender of Italy and the Italian Campaign that followed. Nor is it necessary to write more of the initial steps taken to defeat Nazi Germany--the great aerial campaign, AIR OFFENSIVE--EUROPE, 4 July 1942 to 5 June 1944, and the role of the MIGHTY EIGHTH, of the 453rd Bombardment Group (H) and of Bradley and his fellow airmen in that phase of the war.
Now, at long last, Operation OVERLORD was to be undertaken by the American, British, Canadian, and Free French Allies. D-Day June 6, 1944 was at hand. Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower had assembled a multitude of soldiers, sailors, and
airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force and to them he addressed this D-Day message:
You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle--hardened. He will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940--41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!
I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!
Good luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Across the Channel lay the land of France, only slightly larger than our two states of Nevada and Utah, with a population of some 40,000,000 people. Conquered by Nazi Germany in May 1940, they had suffered long months and years of enemy occupation and oppression. The people of France had survived as best they could, carried out heroic acts of resistance at the cost of many lives, and awaited eventual liberation. It was a long, long wait . . . but at last the day of their deliverance was at hand. It came in the pre-dawn hours on the morning tides and from the skies on June 6, 1944. As a French poet wrote at the time.1
The wind is whispering through the land of France,
Rising and singing with the channel tides,
Sweeping across the poplar'd plains of Normandy,
Breathing the word along the unconquered coasts,
Stirring to life the hope in every heart, The wind
Is whispering to the waiting land of France:
Awake! They come upon the north-west wind!'
"All southern England was one vast military camp, crowded with soldiers awaiting final word to go, and piled high with supplies and equipment awaiting transport to the far shore of the Channel. The whole area was cut off from the rest of England. Every separate encampment, barrack, vehicle park, and every unit was carefully charted on Headquarters master maps. The scheduled movement of each unit had been so worked out that it would reach the embarkation point at the exact time the vessels would be ready to receive it The southernmost camps where assault troops were assembled were all surrounded by barbed--wire entanglements to prevent any soldier leaving the camp after he had once been briefed as to his part in the attack. The mighty host was tense as a coiled spring, and indeed, that is exactly what it was--a great human spring, coiled for the moment when its energy should be released and it would vault the English Channel in the greatest amphibious assault ever attempted."
So wrote General Eisenhower of his ground forces in Crusade in Europe.2
And in all of East Anglia in the southeast of England, another spring was coiled--that of the air forces of the United States and of Britain. The reader's attention is called to Fig. 5, U.S. 8AF Deployment, July-August 1944. All of the fighter and bomber groups located on bases in East Anglia were preparing for their role in the invasion of Normandy.
Late in the afternoon of Monday, June 5, Colonel Potts returned to Old Buckenham from a meeting at Kettringham Hall, the 2nd Air Division Headquarters. Orders were immediately issued, restricting everyone to the base. Liberty passes were cancelled. The air crews were urged to stay near their quarters and await further orders.
The Headquarters Staff of the 453rd then huddled with Colonel Potts and received his report of the 2nd Air Division meeting. Potts made decisions of the immediate preparatory actions to be taken. They had then only to await the Field Order from Kettringham--the signal to put the whole plan into action. When the Field Order came in, Colonel Potts ordered his people to send the message out across the base, "Lead crews, pilots, bombardiers and navigators report to S-2 immediately for special briefings."
At dusk the air above began to tremble with the sound of hundreds of in-line engines, the RAF bombers: Lancs and Halifaxes. Earlier than ever before, the tannoy announced the customary "Standby, everyone alerted!" Invasionitis spread like a flood! At 2000 hours came the exciting announcement, "All combat crews check with Operations immediately . . . waves number 1, number 2, number 3, 4, 5 and 6 of A Flight--briefing at 2300." "Waves," "Flights,"--those were new terms in the flier's vocabulary. "B Flight--all waves, briefing at 0300; C Flight--all waves, briefing at 0400" the announcement continued. THIS WAS IT!
Now, to describe the briefing for the D-Day missions of the Eighth Air Force Bomber Command, the author has drawn upon Hoseason's, The 1000 Day Battle and Low's Unit History of the 453rd. Hoseason wrote of the 448th Bombardment Group and of its CO, Colonel Mason; the Air Executive, Lt. Colonel Judy, and the briefing of their airmen. For the Bradley story, the account is of the briefing of the 453rd Bombardment Group airmen by Colonel Potts and Operations Officer, Lt. Col. Stewart. Many details of the 448th briefing as described by Hoseason are borrowed (generally in quotes) as the same or very similar descriptions apply equally well to the 453rd experience. Thanks to Hoseason! Some additional detail is from Low's writings.3
At 2315, the doors of the Briefing Room were locked and the roll was taken. The
CO spoke, ".. . . . Within the next hour, 1,100 Royal Air Force bombers will drop
6,000 tons of bombs on the beach defenses. Then at first light, the Eighth will go in with 1,300 bombers and 7,000 tons of bombs. After the Heavies are finished the B-26s and B-25s will take over. Then when they are done, the fighters will go in under tactical cover and attack anything that is left."
Colonel Potts continued his briefing with a wire from General Doolittle, himself, "We are summoned to participate in a history-making invasion . . . " A message from General Hodges, CO of the 2nd Air Division, was read. Lt. Colonel Stewart was busy checking the formation diagrams.
The briefing staff continued their presentations to the airmen, "The zero hour for dropping bombs is 0630, June 6; code word, 'Mairsey--Doats'; Target--complete destruction of the enemy forces' installations on the shore line between Le Havre and Cherbourg and as far inland as Caen. Secondary targets--any railroad, enemy troop concentration, or road junction further inland. Precise timing is of utmost importance.
"Bombing is to be done in six-plane flights, in-line abreast, with an H2X Pathfinder in every third flight just in case of bad weather. No second runs will be made.
"If there are any aborts they are to leave the formation before crossing the English coast and fly back under 14,000 feet. The sea traffic to the invasion coast is one-way. If you ditch, then only ships returning to England from the beach-head will pick you up.
"Because of the congested air space over England the 450-plane first wave of the 2nd Air Division B-24s will take off, turn northwest, and form in a specially designated area stretching south from Liverpool. To assist the bombers to assemble in darkness, searchlight beacons have been set up to mark the limits of the assembly area. 2nd Air Division western boundary is a string of lights between Worcester (52 12N 02 12W) and Swindon (51 33N 01 47W). 1st Air Division and 2nd Air Division boundaries are marked by a cluster of six lights at Leicester (53 36N 01 05W), and a cluster of six at Wallingford (51 36N 01 07W) with a string of lights between them. Searchlights will intersect at 18,000 feet.
"Separate elements, each of six B-24s, will take off at six-minute intervals. The 2nd Air Division will be led by the 20th Combat Wing, the 46th Group as lead. The 2nd, 14th, and 96th Combat Wings will follow.
"Aircraft aborting must make the decision before departing the coast. All aircraft returning over the Channel through 1st, 2nd or 3rd 'B' corridors will be fired on, regardless. H2X 'Mickey' operators have been warned to expect large masses of surface vessels to appear on screen near the shoreline.
"A white star--the Allies' star--will be displayed on the largest horizontal surface available on all friendly ships participating in D-Day missions."
There followed the details of the color codes, radio call signs, and all the paraphernalia of the massive plan.
Briefing continued smoothly. The 453rd was to fly four complete missions--against targets at St Laurent, St. Lo, Caen, and Coutances. A total of 75 ships would be dispatched. The Jones crew drew the second mission--twelve ships against St. Lo.
Colonel Potts concluded the briefing by reading the letter of the Supreme
Commander to all soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force.
Trucks waited in a long line outside the Briefing Room to carry the crews to their planes. The aircraft were being pre-flighted and the early morning stillness of the countryside was broken by the crescendo of roaring engines. At 0140 in Norwich the roar of the Liberator's Twin Wasp engines could be heard corning from all directions. The great roar ranged across the whole of East Anglia--5,000 engines! The vibration and roar of that mighty power force continued all that night. The noise never ceased. There was a bright moon with a thick black undercast rolling in from the distance.
By just after two o'clock the planes were formed in two lines converging at the head of the runway. Each had its navigation lights on.
Up in the tower, Flight Control kept tabs of the time. 'Give 'em the green light.' In bright moonlight the first B-24 raced down the runway.
Just before 0600 clouds moved in and this necessitated radar bombing by the Liberators. The overcast worsened during the day.
See Figure 25, Routes of D-Day Missions.
June 6, 1944. ST. LO, FRANCE: 8AF 394, 453rd 70, Bradley 25.
For the 453rd, zero hour was 0628 June 6, 1944. Take-off was at 0327 as briefed. Low wrote, "Throughout the whole of June 6, despite the worsening weather, planes took off and returned, making this day the greatest in the history not only of the Group, but of the Eighth Air Force as well. In all, four complete missions were flown by the 453rd. A total of seventy planes were dispatched against the targets of St Laurent, St. Lo, Caen, and Coutances. The twelve ships sent against St. Lo were forced by weather to return without dropping their bombs. The remaining 58 bombed by H2X radar instruments with unobserved results." Once again the gremlins were out in the form of cloud cover over the target Weather that handicapped the bombers and fighters was once again an ally of the enemy.
Navigator Fred Stein wrote of this mission,
XXV St. Lo, June 6, 1944
Form Time, 0550
Bombs--12--500 lb GPs
Remarks--Invasion started this morning. We should have bombed the village of St. Lo about 15 miles inland on the invasion coast. 10/10 cloud cover obscured all of the Continent so we didn't drop our bombs. The Channel was swarming with boats and barges all along the way. Not much flak.
It has been written of the role of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force on D-Day that 11,000 aircraft were dispatched on the many and varied missions required that day. Many crews flew several missions and, in all, 14,000 sorties were flown!
Of the United States Air Forces based in England--the Eighth and Ninth--both their bomber and fighter commands--Robert H. George wrote, ". . . both Air Forces engaged in an all--out effort . . . 528 of the Eighth's heavies were dispatched against chokepoints in towns such as . . . St Lo and Caen in the immediate vicinity of the assault area, but target--obscuring cloud, coupled with the lack of pathfinders, caused all save three groups to return their bombs to base. . . . The fourth and final mission of the Eighth again sought out transportation targets proximate to the assault area, ranging from Coutances in the west to Lisieux in the east which over 550 aircraft bombed. . . .
VII Fighter Command carried out operations designed to interfere with enemy ground movements and to smash any action by the German Air Force. . . . the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces dispatched 8,722 aircraft . . . with losses, including those attributed to flak as well as to air combat, . . . of 71 planes . . . A modest total of 33 enemy planes were claimed destroyed . . . emphasizing the slight opposition put up by the GAF . . . German statements that only twelve fighter-bomber missions were mounted on D-Day, with all save two forced to jettison their bombs and fight before arrival in the battle area, and that the GAF attempted only 250 sorties against the landings, was fully credible. . . . The Allies displayed an overwhelming and universally acknowledged air superiority. . . ."4
The Air Forces had delivered fully on General Eisenhower's pledge to his troops that any plane seen over the beaches on D-Day would be ours!
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