Halifaxes tow gliders over landings

June 5

Listed below are some of the most significant organisations the RAF commited to support the actual D-Day operations. Included with these are their strengths at the beginning of June and a description of how they operated to support the invasion.

The 2nd Tactical Air Force (2nd TAF), Allied Expeditionary Air Force, consisted of a front-line strength of 80 squadrons, or some 1,348 serviceable aircraft as of 1 June 1944. This was made up of 33 fighter squadrons; 18 fighter-bomber; 12 light bomber; 5 tactical reconnaissance; 5 photographic reconnaissance and 7 artillery observation. Additional RAF, Fleet Air Arm and US Navy squadrons were also under 2nd TAF control as an Air Spotting Pool for Royal Navy and US Navy gunfire support. Attached to the 2nd TAF were a number of Free French Squadrons, a list of which is available here, along with the recollections of an anonymous Free French pilot on D-Day minus one.

RAF Bomber Command committed 82 squadrons consisting of 1,681 serviceable aircraft in support of the invasion. During invasion period, virtually all of Bomber Command’s operations concentrated upon supporting the assault and the beachhead. Bomber Command flew a wide variety of operations prior to this. Firstly there were attacks against rail and road communications, in order to isolate the invasion area as part of the Transportation Plan. As the date of the invasion approached, targets changed to include German troop and gun positions, ammunition and fuel dumps, and the French ports in which German Navy fast attack craft, E-Boats and other coastal vessels, had been concentrated to interdict Allied invasion fleet. Bomber Command aircraft also dropped personnel and supplies to support Special Operations Executive, Resistance and Special Intelligence Service operations in connection with the invasion.

No 38 Group, Allied Expeditionary Air Force and No 46 Group, RAF Transport Command were vital parts of the initial assault on the Normandy beach-head. On 6 June 1944, the Groups consisted of 15 squadrons with a total of 478 serviceable transport aircraft and 1,120 assault gliders. 38 and 46 Group were to to deliver, and then supply, the British 6th Airborne Division by parachute and glider to Drop Zones and Landing Zones in Normandy in support of British and Canadian amphibious landings. The Airborne Division was to protect the flank of the main landings.

5 June - D-Day minus one

Night 5/6 June No 2 Group light bomber sqns flew 150 interdiction/night recce sorties this night.

Night 5/6 June As part of the air cover for the invasion forces, Sqn Ldr R G Woodman of 169 Sqn was flying a Mosquito, patrolling over France hunting for enemy night fighters that might spot the invasion forces crossing the Channel. He described the evening as "the quietest night of the year" and the sight of the invasion fleet from the air was astounding.

Night 5/6 June Normandy Coastal Batteries - 1,012 aircraft sortied (551 Lancaster, 412 Halifax, 49 Mosquitoes), to attack 10 coastal gun batteries in the invasion area. Only 946 ac actually bombed the following targets: Fontenay, Houlgate, La Pernelle, Longues, Maisy, Merville, Mont Fleury, Pointe-du-Hoc, Ouisterham, St Martin-de-Varreville. Only 2 targets were free of cloud the rest were marked by Oboe sky markers. At least 5000 tons of bombs were dropped, the greatest tonnage in one night so far in the War. Three aircraft were lost, 2 Halifaxes of 4 Group on Mont Fleury and one Lancaster of 6 Group on Longues.

Night 5/6 June Deception Sorties - The following deception sorties were flown by Bomber Command assets:

Operation TAXABLE. 16 Lancasters of No 617 Squadron dropped precise Window (chaff) patterns at low level, in conjunction with a Royal Navy deception operation, to simulate the invasion convoy approaching the coast at Cap d’Antifer.

Operation GLIMMER. 6 Stirlings of No 218 Squadron conducted a similar Window dropping operation to that of No 617 Sqn, to simulate an invasion convoy approaching Boulogne.

Operation TITANIC. A force of 40 Hudsons, Halifaxes and Stirlings dropped dummy parachutists, rifle fire simulators, Window and two SAS teams to simulate airborne landings away from invasion area. 200 dummy parachutists were dropped near to the base of the Cotentin Peninsula, 50 more east of the River Dives, and 50 to the south west of Caen. 200 more dummy parachutists and the SAS teams were dropped at Yvetot, 30 miles south west of Dieppe. The SAS had orders to allow some of the enemy to escape to spread alarm by reporting landings by hundreds of parachutists. Two of the Stirlings were lost in this operation. The dummy parachutists were crude cloth representations of a human figure, a simple series of cloth bags and strips connected in a roughly cross-like shape to give the impression of a parachutist, certainly they were not accurate rubber figures suggested in some accounts. The dummies were equipped with a device that would prevent the enemy discovering that they were a deception. This was an explosive charge that destroyed the cloth figure by setting it on fire, which suggested that the man had burnt the parachute and lay hidden, ready for action or sabotage.

Over the SOMME ESTUARY. 24 Lancasters of No 101 Squadron and five B-17 Flyign Fortresses of No 214 Squadron established an Air-Borne Cigar (ABC) ground-air radio jamming and Window barrage along the line of the Somme Estuary to distract enemy nightfighters away from the transport aircraft carrying airborne troops. One Lancaster was lost.

Over LITTLEHAMPTON. 16 Stirlings of No 199 Squadron, accompanied by four 8th Air Force B-24 Liberators, established a jamming screen using Mandrel EW radar jammers. The screen was established between Littlehampton and Portland Bill, to hide real invasion fleet from German EW radar.

Night 5/6 June During the night a number of aircraft were lost to reasons other than enemy fire. Aboard a 75 Squadron Lancaster, Flight Sergeant W E Barker witnessed a mid-air collision between two Halifaxes. Sadly, there was also a friendly fire incident. Flight Sergeant Douglas in a 15 Squadron Lancaster was fired upon by ships of the US Navy. The fire missed his aircraft by a narrow margin, but hit and destroyed two other Lancasters in the formation.

Night 5/6 June Glider Operations - Engineers and paratroops were dropped over Normandy to carry out a variety of roles. Capturing strategic and tactical objectives, destroying enemy gun emplacements and setting up flarepaths that would guide the glider-towing aircraft were the most important among these which were all part of:

Operation TONGA. The 3rd and 5th Parachute Brigade Groups dropped on early hours of D-Day with six primary objectives. The first was to seize and secure the Landing Zones for the subsequent glider deployments. The paratroops also had to seize the high ground at Ranville, destroy the enemy batteries at Merville and opposite Ouistreham and destroy the bridges over the River Dives. Gliderborne troops were to assist with the assault on the Merville battery and to seize the vital bridges over the River Orne and Canal de Caen at Benouville.

A total of 266 aircraft, largley Dakotas and Albemarles, were detailed to carry paratroops. Of these, 264 took off and 255 reported successful drops with 4,310 of 4,512 of the paratroops carried being delivered. Only seven aircraft were lost during the paratroop delivery part of this operation. The called for the transport aircraft to be followed by 98 glider and tug combinations, all which took off. 74 gliders were successfully released of which 57 landed on or near their designated Landing Zones. Altogether 611 troops were carried by glider and 493 successfully released.

The first action took place at the now famous Pegasus Bridge. Shortly after midnight Halifaxes towed six Horsa gliders containing a company of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Regiment, a part of the 6th Airborne Division, across the Channel to the mouth of the Orne River. The mission was to seize and hold the key bridge across the Orne River and canal between Benouville and Ranville. These glider-borne troops, lead by Major John Howard, were the first Allied troops to see action on D-Day. The small force took and held the bridge for 24 hrs. The bridge was preserved for allied use by a daring aerial coup de main.

See June 6

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