Para Afshar
Jorge Lorenzano

Decision to Go

The date of the invasion of Normandy was not set within the plans of Operation Overlord. It was a decision which General Dwight David Eisenhower, Supreme Commander allied Expeditionary Force, had to make depending on circumstances. Eisenhower was face with problems such as weather, pessimism and the secrecy of Operation Overlord to make his decision on when the landing would take place.

The loading of the troops began in late May and by June third, all troops had been loaded. However, they had not been cleared to go by Eisenhower. Eisenhower was plagued with bad weather which grounded the airforce and para-troopers and therefore the whole operation. On June 4, Eisenhower was forced to postpone the invasion for twenty four hours, due to increasing winds, waves, and rain. With his ships at sea, the order was a “post mike one” (Ambrose 184) which was an order to return to port. This caused a jam in the ports and a welcoming target for the Lutfwaffe.

With hundreds of ships crowded together, it did not take long for German fighters to appear. The bombing mission which had an air of fatality, however, was greeted by [a] sky [that] was a blaze with anti-aircraft fire” (Ambrose 186). Another factor haunting Eisenhower was Air Vice Marshall Traford Leight-Mallory who doubled the para-troopers would be successful. He predicted a seventy percent glider and fifty percent para-trooper loss before touch down (Ambrose 178).

More catalyst for Eisenhower’s decision were with the thousands of men under has command. Most of them had been boarded for many days, and as a result were anxious and sea sick. It he decided to postpone the invasion, there would not be another favorable tide until June 19. This would leave his men who were in a “high pitch of redness” (Bliven 42) either at sea for over two weeks, or free to leak information of the operation to the enemy. To help Eisenhower decide however, came the SHAGF’s chief meteorologist Captain J.M. Stagg on June 4, at 2130, anticipating “ a break in the storm” (Ambrose 187). With this information, Eisenhower asked his top officials their opinions. Montgomery said go while Tedder and Leight-Mallory asked to postpone. Admiral Sir Bertrau H . Ransay, said to go but expect inaccuracy from bombers due to visibility.

On June 4 at 2145, his mind was made up by saying “I am quite positive the orders must be given” (Ambrose 186). And soon after the words came “Ok, lets go” (Ambrose 189).

Standard Parachutist Pack
1. M-1 Garand Rifle with 8-round clip
2. Cartidge belt with canteen
3. Hand Grenades
4. Parachute and pack
5. Anti-Flash headgear and gloves
6. Pocket Compass
7. Machete
8. .45 caliber colt automatic rifle
9. Flares
10. Message book

Officer Pack: (British, but similar to American officer pack):
1. Sten gun
2. Spare magazines with 9 mm ammunition
3. 2lb. plastic high explosives (HE)
4. 2-36 primed hand grenades
5. Two full belts of Vickers
6. .303 ammunition
7. Wire cutters
8. Radio batteries
9. Small-pack
10. Basic equipment webbing
11. 48 hours worth of rations
12. Water
13. Cooking and washing kit

Spread throughout pockets:
1. Loaded .45 automatic pistol
2. Medical kit
3. 2 additional lb. HE
4. Knife
5. Escape/survival kit
6. Toggle rope
7. Additional personal items

Emergency Rations
1. 4 pieces of chewing gum
2. 2 bouillon cubes
3. 2 Nescafe instant coffees, 2 sugar cubes, and creamers
4. 4 Hershey bars
5. 1 package pipe tobacco
6. 1 bottle of water purification (Halazone) tablets to purify water (Cosely)

Airborne Attack

First Wave

The invasion of Normandy did not begin at the beaches. The air division was the first on the scene with the para-troopers. The mission was to prepare the scene for the amphibious attack. The mission was, however, was handicapped by blunders of the pilots due to darkness and confusion.

The airborne attack was led by the Pathfinders who were burdened with marking the drop zones for the main thrust of paratroopers. Their equipment included “automatic direction-finder radios, Eureka sets and Holophare lights formed into T’s on the ground” (Ambrose 196). This drop was made difficult by clouds and darkness as well as German fire. As a result almost all of the teams did not land where they were supposed to. This caused much confusion and many men finding themselves alone and searching for other para-troopers.



Horsegliders pulled behind Halifaxes on the
early morning of June 6, 1944, as the invasion
begins. (Animation by Ken Blandon)

Within the confusion, there was one “brilliant feat of arms” (Ambrose 197). The D. Company along with two other platoons had taken the Orne River Bridge.

Plans for Attack

Following the Pathfinders was the main force of troops. This force consisted of 20,400 men and thousands of planes and gliders. This force was divided into two “drops”; one behind Utah beach and one behind Sword beach.

The larger force was headed for Utah beach. This drop was made up of 12,000 men jumping from 925 planes and an additional 4,000 men jumping from 500 gliders (Bliven 47). Their mission was to take control of the roads leading to the beach in order to prevent German forces from getting to the beach once the invasion began. In addition, to blocking German forces, the seizure of the roads would also allow the allies to move inland once the invasion was complete.

The second force was to be drooped behind Sword beach. This force was not as impressive as the first, however, it had as much to accomplish. Their mission was to take bridges over the Orne River and Caen Canal. They were also supposed to destroy bridges over the Dives River to block the German forces. In addition to this, they were supposed to capture a German arm deposit in Merville. These men were expected to conquer an area of twenty-four square miles (Bliven 47).

Problems

Problems with the drop were nothing short of plentiful. Problems in lack of visibility, communication and lack of pilot training were only additions to the problems brought by heavy German fire.

Clouds over the landing area made the landings difficult. Word of the clouds was not given to the pilots by the Pathfinder mission, because pilots were not allowed to use radio. In addition to this, much of the Pathfinder mission had not been successful in marking the landing sights for the troops.

Other problems affecting the landing was the pressure upon the pilots. The pilots were supposed to drop to 600 feet at 90 mph, as they descended to 300 feet or ascended to 2,000 (Ambrose 199). The low altitude did not give the paratroopers enough time to make a good landing while a hump at 2,000 feet left the paratroopers hanging in the sky long enough to be wonderful German targets.

In addition to having no radio and being under heavy fire, the pilots had no lights to light them and avoid a collision with other planes. The pilots found themselves breaking the light V-to-V formation for protection. This added to the terrible spreading of the troops. Men in the 101’st division were found scattered twenty miles away from their proposed landing zone (Bliven 48). The darkness also caused paratroopers to hit planes as they were falling. When a pilot complained of “a paratrooper upon my wing” he was advised “slow down and he’ll roll off” (Ambrose 200).

Once on the ground the problems were not over. The 82 airborne division which landed next the Merderet River had a terrible surprise. The valley was flooded, but it was not visible from above because the grass had outgrown the water. The water was not extremely deep, but it “was deep enough to drown and overloaded paratrooper who couldn’t get up or cut himself out of his harness” (Ambrose 212).

Many soldiers were also shot down either while coming down or while cutting themselves loose. Men being pulled into a massive tires lit by the Germans were common. Once they landed, if they did not cut themselves loose, the paratroopers risked getting shot and appear” like they were crucified there” (Ambrose 210). With the spaced landings, more than often, a paratroopers found themselves alone. They searched for each other using crickets, a small sound-making device. One soldier would make a single “click” and if the other soldier did not respond with a double click, he was assumed as an enemy and shot. The problems with this were mainly two. The first was that many of them lost the crickets and had to talk their way out of getting shot. The second problem was that “there were so many clicks and counter-clicks, that night that nobody could tell who was clicking at whom” (Ambrose 206).

There was another problem brought on by the spaced landings. The supply packs, which carried such things as extra ammunition and weapons, were dropped at a distance from the soldiers. If a soldier found himself close to one if usually meant he should abandon it and find other soldiers to avoid being alone.

In many aspect, the air invasion of Normandy was tragic. One in every five men were killed, wounded, or imprisoned. As Sergeant James Elmo Jones put it “[it] was tragic. There is never been a greater slaughter than what took place that night. it was the most horrible thing that a person could see” (Ambrose 220).

Success

Although the air invasion had much tragedy and many flaws, it did have some successes. Some battalions were configured and some mission were accomplished. The third battalion of the 505 division was able to land together on their “T.” They managed to get together and accomplish their mission.

A simple deception was also used to confuse the Germans. They were dropped and the Germans spent much time hunting for them and shooting them while the real men did their job. Another device to confuse the Germans was made by the P.O.W.’s. When they were interrogated about the number of men in the invasion, they gave answers such as “Jus’me” or “millions and millions” (Ambrose 215). They gave no vital information a varied so much that the German command was very confused.

The destruction of German communication lines was also an achieved goal of the paratroopers. They successfully destroyed the German secure line by cutting wires and destroying poles. The last success of the paratrooper’s was accidental. Due to the spread landings, the Germans could not figure out a pattern. They were so confused that in many instances, they did nothing to combat the attacking paratrooper’s. The strange landings left the Germans “held up, [and] badly confused” (Ambrose 224).

Through problems and unplanned ways, and massive tragedy, the air invasion was able to achieve many goals. It also gave a lesson on what not to do during the August 1944 mission.

Works Cited

Ambrose, Stephene. D-Day. Simon and Schuster. New York, 1956.

Bliven, Bruel Jr. The Story of D-Day. New York: Landmark books, 1994.

Cosely, David. “The American Experience” http://www.phs.org/wghh/pages/ames/dday/paratrooper.html.

Video:
World War II Battle for Europe. Madacy Music Group, Inc. Vol.7, 1995.