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 Eisenhowers 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 SHAGFs 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
8. .45 caliber colt automatic rifle
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
10. Basic equipment webbing
11. 48 hours worth of rations
13. Cooking and washing kit
Spread throughout pockets:
1. Loaded .45 automatic pistol
2. Medical kit
3. 2 additional lb. HE
5. Escape/survival kit
6. Toggle rope
7. Additional personal items
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
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 Ts 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
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 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 101st division were found scattered twenty miles away from
their proposed landing zone (Bliven 48). The darkness also caused
to hit planes as they were falling. When a pilot complained of a
paratrooper upon my wing he was advised slow down and hell
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 couldnt 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
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).
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
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 Jusme
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
paratroopers 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 paratroopers.
The strange landings left the Germans held up, [and] badly confused
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.
Ambrose, Stephene. D-Day. Simon and Schuster. New York, 1956.
Bliven, Bruel Jr. The Story of D-Day. New York: Landmark books,
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,