The Hour Is GoJun 5th, 2006
The Hour Is Go
One's eye close tight and families fade,
When going to war which evil men made.
Though anxious and frightened, we don't let it show,
For the day is approaching, when the Airborne must go.
Each day now rolls past; we wait just the same,
But D-Day is near, and for this we all came.
The hour grows near; each man feels it inside,
And soon we'll be falling, with nowhere to hide.
Our eyes are now down and the chatter the same,
Each weapon now loaded, no longer a game.
Jumpers gather round and bow your heads low,
Europe awaits and the hour is go.
Planes rumble past as we wait for our turn,
To fly over waters we have yet to each earn.
Checked buckles and straps, left nothing to chance,
The Jumpmaster stands, calls "Welcome To France."
Flak turns to fire in the blackest of night,
Too low, too fast, can't jump from this height.
There's no turning back, the risk has been taken,
Free fall into hell, paratrooper's forsaken.
Jumpers hold tight, scattered prayers to survive,
We'll hit the ground soon, whether dead or alive.
As feet touch the ground, each soldier turns on,
Confusion and fear are beaten and gone.
The enemy is close and sad they don't know,
The Airborne is here, it's time they must go.
The hour is now, Hitler's had his last chance,
On St. Michael's wings, we're taking back France.
American 101st Airborne Division (6,789 men) – The 101st Airborne was to land just after midnight on the 6th of June. Their objectives were:
•Secure the four causeway exits behind Utah Beach
•Disrupt German communications
•Setup roadblocks to hamper German movements
•Destroy coastal batteries including the Saint-Germain-de-Varreville battery
•Capture and destroy bridges on the Carentan causeway, and those spanning the Douve River at Brevands
•Capture Douve River lock at la Barquette
•Reach Highway 13 at Les Forges
•Link up with the 82nd Airborne
•Secure the Douve River valley
Unfortunately the planes ferrying the 101st to their intended drop zones flew off course over a large group of German anti-air batteries. As a result 38 C-47’s were shot down before being able to unload their paratroopers. In the resulting chaos, the 101st Airborne Division was scattered all over the Cotentin Peninsula. The men were dropped everywhere, often in to fields flooded by the Germans, where they drowned due to the weight of their equipment. These missdrops lead to mass confusion amongst the “screaming eagles”, however that is not to say they didn’t fight hard. The causeway exits from Utah Beach (the most important objectives) were captured just before the seaborne infantry landed, and Sainte-Come-du-Mont was largely in American hands by noon on the 6th of June. Due to their excellent training, even though widely scattered, the men formed mixed units (just stumbling across each other in the night) and worked to find the nearest enemy target. There are even reports of men from the 101st linking up with men from the 82nd Division up near St. Mere-Eglise. Sadly the miss drops did take their toll on the effective fighting strength of the 101st. An excellent example of the miss drops is the fact that by the morning of June 7th 1944 (24 hours after the invasion), only some 2,500 men of the over 6,000 who jumped in to Normandy were accounted for. To this day, the fate of literally hundreds of men from the 101st Airborne is still unknown. Regardless of the disaster that was the drops, the 101st Airborne worked hard through the night to meet their objectives, although they suffered heavily for their actions.
American 82nd Airborne Division (4,832 men) – The 82nd Airborne Division is often overshadowed by the more popular 101st, even though the 82nd Division was created first, and saw action in Italy at the Gulf of Salerno (it should be pointed out however that the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment fought at Anzio in January 1944, and did not participate in the D-Day Invasion). Regardless of their inconspicuous status, the 82nd had several important objectives on D-Day:
•Mark Landing Zone W at Les Forges
•Capture bridges over the Merderet River at La Fiere and Chef-du-Pont
•Prepare defenses on the west bank of the Merderet River
•Capture and destroy bridges over the Douve River at Beuzeville La Bastille
While no where near as bad as the miss drops of the 101st, elements of the 82nd Airborne were still caught in the anti-air fire that decimated the screaming eagles. The miss drops that resulted still managed to hamper the effective fighting ability of the 82nd. However the 82nd Airborne was able to accomplish all of their objectives save for destroying or capturing all the bridges over the Douve River. The town of St. Mere-Eglise was captured in the evening of June 6th, albeit at a heavy cost to the 82nd Airborne.
British 6th Airborne Division (10,300 men) – The British 6th Airborne Division was the largest airborne force to land in Normandy. While the original plan was to land both the British 1st and 6th Airborne Divisions, the idea was later formulated to hold the 1st Division (The Red Devils) in reserve, albeit pad the 6th Division with some of it’s men, hence the bloated status (over 10,000 men) of the 6th Division. Also, it should be pointed out that the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was a part of the British 6th Airborne (see more on that unit below). On D-Day, the 6th Airborne was given several objectives:
•Capture the Bridges over the Caen Canal near the town of Ouistreham (Pegasus Bridge)
•Defend the right flank of the seaborne infantry
•Capture and destroy the Merville Gun Battery (1st Canadian Parachute Battalion)
•Tie up German garrisons in the area
The 6th Airborne was the first allied unit to go in to action on D-Day, dropping in to Normandy at 16 minutes past midnight on June 6th, 1944. Unlike their American counter-parts, the 6th Division landed in relative calm, amongst utterly unprepared German garrisons. In fact, the glider-borne infantry at Pegasus Brigade landed 65 meters from the bridge and the Germans didn’t even notice. However the calm was short lived, and within minutes the garrison was alert and fighting hard. The British managed to capture Pegasus Bridge and anchor themselves for an expected counter-attack along the right side of the beachhead. Their location on the flank was crucial to the success of D-Day. If the 6th Airborne could not hold the flank, then German armored reinforcements could drive right through the five allied landing beaches, decimating the invasion. Other units assaulted several coastal batteries in an attempt to knock their guns out of action, and several units that were miss-droped took it upon themselves to blow up railway lines. The Merville Gun Battery was successfully captured by the Canadians, albeit at horrendous costs.
1st Canadian Parachute Battalion (885 men) – By June 1942, Canada was deeply entrenched in World War II. With well over 1.5 million men and women in uniform, the nation of less than 12 million was at its limits in terms of manpower availability. Canada currently had trained and deployed 4 Infantry Divisions, 2 Armored Divisions, and 3 Independent Armored Brigades, there simply wasn’t enough men in Canada left to create a full Airborne Division, even though the desire was there. Canada therefore settled for the creation of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. This unit was trained and equipped to British Airborne standards, and thus was easily incorporated in to the British 6th Airborne Division. As a result, when the 6th Airborne jumped in to Normandy, so did the Canadians. The battalion was given the task of capturing and destroying the Merville gun battery. This battery presented a threat to the allied forces landing on Sword Beach of the Normandy Landing, and thus could not remain in German hands. The plan was complex, and called for careful timing on the parts of the glider-borne infantry, and the 591st Engineers (see below). However, as in war, the plan went awry. By 02:50 in the morning, only 150 or so of the planned 600 men had shown up, the rest either lost, killed, or simply missing as a result of miss drops. The plan had been to utilize A, B, and C companies to encircle and assault the massive battery, however sadly, there simply weren’t enough men to accomplish this. To make matters worse, many of the men from the 591st, hadn’t shown, therefore the assault force was desperately short of engineers. At 04:30, the assault force had been reorganized and the assault began with bangalore torpedoes blowing huge holes in the barbed wire around the barrier. The men of 1 Can Para, 591 Engineer Squadron, and several British from the 6th Airborne, surged forward in to a hail of machine gun fire. By 05:00 it was all over. Of the batteries 135 defenders, only 6 were still alive. The assault force had taken considerable loss, 65 killed or wounded, almost 50% of the force. Even though they suffered heavily, the assault on the Merville battery has been deemed one of the most effective assaults in the history of warfare. Given the immense size of the battery, defensive lay out, and shortage of explosives and trained engineers, the assault force utterly triumphed and managed to destroy the battery before the invasion began.
591st Canadian Parachute Squadron Engineers (214 men) – The 591st Squadron was created shortly before the Invasion of Normandy. Allied Command had noticed a severe shortage in the number of Airborne engineers. Knowing that the invasion would require demolitions of several key bridges and/or installations, the idea was floated to take combat engineers from the 4th Canadian Infantry Division, and train them in Airborne operations. The end result was the 591st Canadian Parachute Squadron Engineers. The Squadron landed with the 6th Airborne and 1 Can Para on D-Day, on or around the Merville Battery. Their main objective was to aid in the utter destruction of the batteries and its guns. Sadly, much of the Squadron was scattered and a pitifully small amount of engineers actually arrived at Merville. In one instance, at 04:34 two gliders carrying follow up members of the 591st landed at Merville in the middle of the assault. The gliders were peppered with machine gun fire, killing many occupants. However, the gliders successfully landed within the battery walls and the engineers spilled out to aid in the assault. By sunrise on the 6th of June, the 591st, along with 1 Can Para had captured Merville.
The above listed units were the vanguard of a massive invasion force, that was, at the very moment of their falling from the sky, steaming en mass across the English Channel. This invasion force consisted of some 135,000 Americans, British, Canadians, and Free French Commandos. They were about to take part in the largest amphibious invasion in history; Operation Overlord.
More to follow.
Paratroopers of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, Bastonge, 1945