Friday, June 06, 2014

TOP STORY >> D-Day 70th anniversary

19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Honor. Valor. Bravery. D-Day evokes images of men storming the beaches and paratroopers piercing the skies. Without the efforts made by allied air forces, D-Day would not have been possible.

On June 6, 1944, several squadrons that would later be assigned to Little Rock Air Force Base participated in one of the most significant operations of the Second World War. With approximately 13-18 C-47 aircraft per squadron, the 314th Troop Carrier Group had a significant role in D-Day’s success.

Under the watchful eye of the 314th TCG, the 61st Troop Carrier Squadron, 32nd TCS, 50th TCS, and 62nd TCS, all contributed to the success of the invasion of Normandy. The squadrons carried out more than 100 sorties between them, distinguishing their organization through extraordinary heroism and determination.

The day the entire world had been anticipating for four long years had finally come. This would be the first phase of one of the greatest military operations of World War II.

The history of these Team Little Rock units is a reminder of a rich heritage and a reminder also that history is made every day.

Each squadron played a significant role in the success of D-Day. Their actions are recorded by World War II veterans and the squadrons at LRAFB who strive to keep the heritage strong.

Although the mission was completed, it was done at a steep cost. Many men died and aircraft were shot down or damaged and rendered unflyable.

According to a citation written to the 314th Tactical Carrier Group, the pilots and paratroopers all risked their lives at Normandy.

“The troop-carrier planes moved thousands of Allied troops over the beaches of Normandy, ensuring the Allies had as many men and advantages as possible during the significant battle. While the squadrons from the 314th TCG were accomplishing their mission, they did it selflessly while unarmed and unarmored, flying at minimum altitudes and air speeds over water and into the face of the enemy,” the citation reads.

61st TCS

D-Day and the preparation necessary for the invasion gave the 61st Tactical Carrier Squadron the opportunity to utilize the training they had received since arriving in the United Kingdom.

Changes in the daily operations included using black-and-white stripes as additional identification on all the aircraft, which gave the members of the 61st TCS the nervous anticipation of involvement in the event.

On June 5, 1944, the aircraft departed, carrying many paratroopers ready to open the western front. At 4:45 a.m., the 61st TCS planes dotted the dark sky.

After the successful drop of paratroopers, 17 aircraft assigned to the 61st returned with minimal damage to aircraft and no injury to any combat personnel.

Only one aircraft was severely damaged, and it was flown to England, where repairs were made.

The 61st Airlift Squadron at LRAFB is the 61st TCS’s successor. The Green Hornets are now a 19th Airlift Wing unit and transitioning from the C-130H to C-130J aircraft.

50th TCS

D-Day found the 50th TCS trained and ready. Many of the pilots and crew were veterans of the campaign in Italy. The operation began, as all similar operations do, with a restriction; passes were revoked, visitors kept away and outside phone calls were diverted.

The crews of the 50th TCS were given a preliminary briefing on the night of June 3, 1944, but weather prevented the team from taking action.

Knowing that every hour wasted was one hour of opportunity for German forces to get closer to the Allied forces at the demilitarized zone, leadership began to express deep concern and anxiety over the mission to follow.

Finally, after much anticipation, 18 of the 50th TCS’s C-47s took off for France carrying men and equipment from the 82nd Airborne Division. As the paratroopers came closer to the drop zone, they grew increasingly quiet. Each paratrooper jumped out of the back of the C-47, hoping and praying that they would not become susceptible to the bullet-riddled sky.

Only one fatality occurred during the late hours of the night. First Lt. Sidney Dunagan was fatally wounded from a shot through his chest while running a second pass over the drop zone to drop off the remaining paratroopers.

The 50th Airlift Squadron is the 50th TCS’s successor. The Red Devils are now a 19th AW unit that employs the mighty C-130H3.

62nd TCS

June found the 62nd TCS anxiously awaiting their role on D-Day. The 62nd TCS supplied 18 aircraft with crew members, 44 officers and 36 enlisted men for the mission, dropping paratroopers on the Cherbourg Peninsula in the early morning hours of June 6.

After the drop, only 16 aircraft returned to the base. One aircraft, piloted by Capt. Charles Cartwright, did not return, and it was last reported by pilots of the same element making a second pass over the drop zone.

The other aircraft were damaged during flight and made emergency landings at Keevil, England. First Lt. Glemm Grimes and 1st Lt. David Mondt, the pilots of the damaged aircraft, suffered head wounds from enemy machine gunfire.

The 62nd Airlift Squadron is the 62nd TCS’s successor. The Blue Barons are now a 314th Airlift Wing unit with the C-130H2.

32nd TCS

The 32nd TCS had only six planes for the first mission to France with only six crews to participate in what is often referred to as history’s greatest military undertaking.

The troops of the 32nd TCS had many questions. The crew members and participants did not know how long the flight would be, whether the mission would be during the night or during the day, where the drop zone was or how long they would be over land.

During the briefing just hours before the mission, their questions were answered. As the aircraft from the 32nd TCS flew over the water, they could see all the reassuring lights from the Navy vessels at sea.

After jumping, paratroopers recalled seeing parachutes all around them in fields of orange, green, red and white. One crew member recalled that, while he saw all the parachutes, he did not notice any people moving and it all seemed unreal.

No paratroopers were shot while leaving the aircraft and the bundles unloaded by the crew chiefs reached the ground safely, providing much needed supplies for troops on the ground.

The 32nd was deactivated Nov. 1, 2005, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

More than 156,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy during the invasion. By the end of June 11, 1944, approximately 326,000 troops, 54,000 vehicles, and 104,000 tons of supplies had successfully entered France.

According to the D-Day Memorial Foundation, the Allied forces lost 4,413 troops on D-Day alone. Over the course of the Battle of Normandy, the Allies would eventually suffer more than 209,000 casualties.

While the battle took its toll on the 314th TCG and many other forces, numerous instances of individual heroism and collective efforts of the group earned a Distinguished Unit Citation for the second time.

Before the invasion, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower sent a message to the troops:

“You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven the many months. The eyes of the world are upon you,” he said. “Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened; he will fight savagely….I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!”

With the help of forces like the 314th TCG, full victory was what the Allies got. The 314th TCG helped the Allies seize a valuable piece of French territory, providing a turning point in the war.