From dawn to dusk, the fire and smoke from the beachheads in Normandy and Brittany could be seen in every direction. The best soldiers knew the importance of getting the job done, and the men and women of the 352nd, along with their supporting troops, did everything they could to achieve the ultimate goal. Their bravery, and the sacrifices they made, helped secure the Allied victory in Europe.
Along with the D-Day invasion, the Allies also had to prepare for D-Day support missions such as the drop of the paratroopers in Operation Overlord. The planners of Overlord knew that there was a chance that airborne troops could be forced to fight in the open.Carrier Command played a crucial role in Normandy and beyond, quickly putting boots on the ground behind enemy lines with massive airlift.
On the eve of D-Day, 75 years ago, two colonels of the US Army made a bet. Lieutenant Colonel Charles Young, 39, commander of the 439th Transportation Group, 9th Air Force, was confident that he could get his paratroopers within 300 yards of the desired landing zone in Normandy. Colonel Robert Sink, who commanded the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) of the 101st Airborne Division, was skeptical. He took the bet: five English pounds.
This exchange during the final briefing on Operation Overlord reflects the close relationship between Army Air Forces Command and the airborne soldiers the TCC has flown to landing zones around the world.
If there is one combat aviation unit from World War II that is underestimated to this day, it is the Aircraft Carrier Command. While the Marine Corps’ black sheep, the Air Force’s Tuskegee, and the Air Force’s female pilots are constantly praised, the TCC’s contribution to winning the war goes largely unnoticed. Nevertheless, Troop Command fought a real world war, and the numbers are staggering: about 30 major combat missions conducted by 21,800 paratroopers, not counting glider infantry and OSS agents.
TCC’s workhorse was the Douglas C-47 Skytrain, including some 380 C-53 Skytrooper transport aircraft. The Skytrain had an average payload of 18 to 22 paratroopers, while the C-53 could carry 28 soldiers. Based on the legendary 1935 DC-3 aircraft, the Gooney Bird remains one of the most important aircraft in history.
Paratroopers climb to the top of the hill on the 9th. July 1943, a C-47 for the Allied invasion of Sicily. (Keystone/Getty Images)
The US Army formed a test parachute unit in May 1940, but did not establish a TCC until two years later. Although the TCC was separate from the Air Transport Command, it also flew aircraft throughout the war and delivered cargo to ATC. Nevertheless, the TCC quickly developed doctrine and methods for bringing airborne infantry behind enemy lines. Paratroopers were only part of the equation, however, as equipment, procedures and tactics for towing gliders were also developed.
The first three American airborne operations took place in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia in November and December 1942, with the 509th PIR making 938 jumps. The first two landings in North Africa were classic airfield conquests, while the third, involving only 32 men, blew up an important bridge. From then on, troop transports became increasingly important.
In July 1943, the Allies launched Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily. On the night of the 9th to the 10th. July, units of the 82nd Airborne Division boarded 226 Skytrains Tunisia to guard the roads and plateaus within the port of Gela. This was the first major airborne operation ever conducted by American troops, and the 2,700 paratroopers faced great challenges. Due to navigational errors and high winds, the paratroopers were scattered over a distance of 50 to 60 miles, and only part of one battalion landed near the target. Yet the outnumbered heavenly soldiers held out until they were relieved.
On the 10th, American and Royal Navy forces landed with about 170,000 troops to take a vital island that dominates the central Mediterranean. Air Force planes attack the invasion fleet, sinking three ships and straining the sailors’ nerves. Marine gunners tended to fire at all aircraft in sight, with poor guidance and control.
As Gela has been secured, the release, originally scheduled for the 10th, has been delayed. July was scheduled for the night of the 11th. July postponed. Allied air force commanders have already sent out warnings to their naval counterparts, informing ships of the change in schedule.
But, as is inevitable in the military, some people didn’t hear it. And to make matters worse, the Air Force made its strongest attack on the task force just before midnight on the 11th, just before the C-47.
That night, observing radio silence, the 144 C-47s flew in a formation of nine aircraft at an altitude of 400 feet, the desired drop height. The first two groups followed the prescribed route and landed their soldiers on the southern coast of Sicily as planned.
As the motorcycles following them approached the bank, a nervous or ill-informed gunman opened fire. Today’s sentence is a fiery contagion. As soon as one arrow opens, all the others open too.
It was a disaster.
A Coast Guard officer aboard the aircraft carrier SS Leonard Wood said: We shot down a lot of planes, but we didn’t know whose they were. This is the end of the official history of the AAF: The majestic, slow-flying pillars… were easy prey. And like birds hit by wings, the planes spewed flames, tore apart and crashed into the water.
The pilots were faced with radical choices: turn back, drop the troops off early, or risk a night jump. Eventually eight C-47s managed to return to Tunisia with soldiers on board.
By the time the count was completed, the toll was 23 vehicles shot, crushed or shelled, 318 soldiers killed or wounded and 60 airmen killed. More than half of the surviving C-47s sustained battle damage.
The report of the theater commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, notes: The flight path is about 35 miles along the battlefield; the anti-aircraft gunners on the ship and on land have been trained by two days of air attacks to fire at close range. Marine historian Samuel Eliot Morison wrote: It seemed incredible that the Luftwaffe would make such a dangerous flight at low altitude – over an area of heavy fighting, with frequent enemy attacks over two days, and without a reasonable target.
At full moon, on the night of the 5th. June 1944, the Skytrains break loose from the English coast and head south to Normandy. Within six months, the Ninth Air Regiment’s strength increased dramatically from less than 250 crews in January 1944 to 1,115 in May.
Paratroopers in a C-47, waiting to take off on the night of the 5th. June 1944. (National Archives)
For its combat debut, Carrier Command IX had approximately 1,200 transports and 1,400 gliders in support of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. Airborne Division on D-Day. The athletes represented 14 groups with four relays each. In total, the Americans and British supplied some 24,000 troops in transports and gliders.
Time has been an issue. Clouds over the Channel and France obscure checkpoints, and coastal fog blocks many landing areas. Still, Skytrain crews continued, many of them facing a deadly fire. Approaching their DZ, the 435th Group blew up three planes in a matter of minutes.
Meanwhile Col Bob Sink’s 506th PIR jumped into LZ C, about 6 km off the coast. Lt. Col. Young and the 14 paratroopers in his squad shot down almost all of them – one of them stuck to a tree behind the house that was to become Sink’s command post.
One of Young’s sailors, Lieutenant Robert Danes, recalls: Our group has 81 ships assigned to the mission. We were the 79th plane. I had a pretty good view of the show from the front. As we crossed the French coast, we came across a cloudy bridge. Some planes rose above the clouds. We stayed down so I could see the checkpoints to get to the drop zone. Suddenly, paratroopers appeared in the air around us. A plane overhead dropped its soldiers. Fortunately, we didn’t run into anyone.
The machine gun emplacement right in front of us started firing at the planes flying in front of us. He hit the front plane; it bent its nose, its landing lights flashed, and it fell on its left wing and crashed to the ground in a ball of fire. All I could see sticking out of the fireball were the wingtips and armor.
Then it was time to come under fire from a machine gun position. He fired green flares and aimed them at our plane. They were approaching the right side of the plane. I thought we were going to make it. The first officer raised his arms to protect himself. I was wearing a helmet and an armor suit. I lowered my head, expecting a blow. The tracers were so close that they illuminated the cockpit with a green beam, then stopped. We don’t have a single scratch. Another second and the shells would have gone through the gas tanks. I won’t be there to tell that story.
C-47A 43-15665 of the 434th Troop Carrier Group, en route to Normandy with parachutes under the wings, later became the first aircraft to land at the North Pole, 3. May 1952. (National Archives)
Eleven American VTS groups lost 20 aircraft, including four aircraft from Lieutenant Colonel Young’s 439th Group. However, after the 506th Infantry returned to England in July, an officer appeared on the field of the 439th Infantry near Upottery. When most of Sink’s command lands within 200 yards of the gate, Private Young hands Bob Sink a £10 note, double the amount of the bet.
Troopships also participated in Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of southern France on the 15th. August 1944. Three TCC squadrons with 396 aircraft from Italy brought some 5,600 troops to the Riviera, by far the most glamorous place in the war effort. The landing forces included a parachute regiment, two separate battalions and a glider battalion, as well as artillery and sappers. The Americans also moved the 2nd British Parachute Brigade, consisting of three battalions. Despite the cloudy and foggy weather, the P-47 crews carried their loads with precision. The airborne force then covered Seventh Army’s right flank in the offensive against Nice, which was taken at the end of the month.
Three months after D-Day, Operation Market Garden was intended to shorten the duration of the war in Europe. But the air-land offensive against Holland from the 17th to the 25th. September was met with one stalemate after another, leading to the crushing defeat of British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, who had orchestrated the operation.
The First Allied Airborne Army deployed 36 infantry battalions with 1,274 American and 164 RAF C-47s and Dakotas, and more than 3,100 gliders. But aircraft carriers could only deliver 60 percent of the ground forces in a mission. On the first day, 90 percent of 9th Air Force planes dropped paratroopers; on the second day, 90 percent of gliders did.
Operation Market Garden, an airborne assault on Holland and Belgium involving over 1,400 C-47 aircraft and over 3,100 gliders that delivered 36 infantry battalions. Unlike the night landings on D-Day, these missions were conducted in daylight. (National Archives)
Carrier Command delivered nearly 90 percent of its paratroopers within 1,000 yards of landing zones and 84 percent of its gliders. This record stands in stark contrast to the Normandy landings, where some soldiers went nearly 12 miles off course.
Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence McMurtry of the 15th. Carrier Squadron 61. Recalled group: We left Barkston Heath at 11:50. No difficulties were encountered as all aircraft accepted the training without difficulty. The weather was excellent during the flight and return journey, a factor which played a large part in the passage of our troops with a minimum of inconvenience to them. There were very few planes in the air and the troops were all dropped.
Good weather conditions and a good briefing ensured that all aircraft reached our DZ on time, and a very effective blue smoke marked our DZ in a positive way. All aircraft – 18 C-47s – reported to the DZ.
Heavy and light anti-aircraft fire was observed in a four-mile radius around the DZ. Several aircraft were shot down and one had to be grounded at its base. We had no losses and all our planes were back by 4:45.
Several aircraft were having difficulty detaching the packages of supplies and radio silence was broken to let these aircraft know that they could not detach the packages. An aircraft made a second approach, but the package did not come off. Ten rolls were returned. The cause of the failure was : Lack of experience in securing packages in the airborne troops.
The TCC lost 27 C-47s on the first day and 17 on the second, and another 21 aircraft were lost for the 25th, for a total of 65 transports. But these losses were absorbed and operations continued.
After Overlord and Market Garden, the involvement of airborne troops was expanded. In 1945, the carrier group’s four squadrons consisted of between 80 and 110 aircraft with 128 crews out of a total of 1837.
The Rhine was opened on 24. March 1945 in the autumn, when the Allies launched Operation Varsity and advanced in Germany. Airborne troops were used to secure the bridges and the eastern shore areas around Wesel while the amphibious units made the crossing. But nine months after D-Day, the Allies still had no air transport. Therefore, the 13th U.S. Airborne Division was dropped from the plan and the operation was reorganized with the 17th Airborne Division. (9,400 men) and the British 6. (7,200 men) continued. The total volume of air transport was more than 1,600 vehicles and 1,300 gliders.
Paratroopers of the 17. 24th Airborne Division prepare to board their new Douglas C-46 aircraft of the 52nd Airlift Wing for Operation Varsity. March 1945. (National Archives).
The TSS groups operated in the Paris area, where the 17th. The plant is saved. Wesel, the target area, was 270 miles to the northeast. Part of Group 17 was carried by 226 C-47s and 72 new Curtiss C-46 Commandos, which towed more than 900 gliders, and 750 RAF Dakotas towed another 420 gliders. Coordination was very important: Most American production aircraft fly at 140 mph, with Dakotas pulling Airspeed Horsa gliders at 115 mph.
Varsity was the first European mission for the C-46 and the last. Although the Commando was larger and faster than the C-47 and had a higher altitude (which was irrelevant to air operations), it was very high maintenance and underwent a number of later modifications by Curtiss that caused many problems. Lieutenant Colonel William Feeler’s 313rd Troop Carrier Group was the only unit to use C-46 aircraft during the Eastern War.
Nearly 900 American fighter planes flew over the area and established air superiority. Meanwhile, observers at the scene noted that the procession stretched for nearly 200 miles and took 2.5 hours to pass.
Unlike most previous airborne operations, the Varsity troop carriers flew low in daylight, within range of German light and medium defensive artillery. In anticipation of war damage, many C-47s were equipped with self-closing fuel tanks, but the C-46 retained its standard equipment. This probably explains the high number of C-46 casualties: 19 out of 72 Commando units, or more than one in four.
Captain Victor Anderson of the 61st Troop Carrier Group transported 16 British soldiers in his Skytrain. This was after my second passage through the DZ and after turning left ….. I came under concentrated small arms fire, he recalls. One of the shells penetrated the cockpit on the right side and smashed the pressure gauge, releasing the hydraulic pressure. The infiltration point was on the right and under the first officer’s chair. Before takeoff, the first officer, Second Lieutenant James A. Oyen, and I noticed two additional armor suits in our plane. Oyen, and I saw two extra suits of armor in our plane. We used them to improvise additional armor by placing them under the seats and on either side of the cockpit. It was the part of the armored suit that Lieutenant Oyen placed to the right of his seat and to the side of the cockpit that finally stopped the projectile, avoiding possible casualties. The grenade was recovered and turned out to be a German 30 caliber grenade. On landing in France, the Anderson crew noted damage to the elevator, rudder, belly and dented gas lines.
In addition to the 19 commandos lost by the 313th Group, the 315th wrote off seven Skytrains. A total of 30 American transports from nine groups were lost. Varsity remains the largest airborne operation ever, with 16,600 soldiers delivered by transport and glider.
Given the insular nature of the war in the Pacific, airborne operations were necessary to support Allied landings. The first major deployment to the Pacific took place on the 5th. September 1943 in New Guinea. General Douglas MacArthur ordered a battalion of the 503rd PIR to take Nadzab ahead of an Australian brigade that was on its way to take the strategically important Markham Valley. The 317th Troop Carrier Group trained with the 503rd PIR in Australia and formed a strong team. In daylight, the 317th Fighter 24 of 84 aircraft and carried elements of the 375th and 403rd. Group on. Captain Herbert Waldman, a 24-year-old statistician from New York, said that when he looked over the runway in Port Moresby, he saw skytrains as far as the eye could see – an amazing sight!
Bad weather delayed the start, but the procession eventually crossed Owen Stanley Ridge under the umbrella of P-38s, P-39s and P-47s as B-25s and A-20s prepared to suppress the Japanese defenses. The goggles flew at an altitude of 400 feet above the target, reducing speed from 155 to 100 mph.
inspect the anti-aircraft damage to a C-47 Jungle Skipper of Troop Carrier Group 317 after dropping paratroopers over Corregidor Island on the 16th. February 1945. (US AIR FORCE)
In close formation, aircrews dropped 1700 paratroopers into the tall grass of Nadzaba. There was no resistance from enemy aircraft or anti-aircraft artillery. MacArthur observed the case and wrote: Gentlemen, that was the best example of discipline and learning I have ever seen.
The next major airborne operation in the Pacific took place 10 months later on the island of Noemphur off the northwest coast of New Guinea. On 3 and 4 July 1944: transports brought two battalions of the 503rd PIR as part of Operation Table Tennis, to reinforce the amphibious forces already ashore.
Japan has owned the Philippines since May 1942, but the archipelago is still vital to the United States. American troops returned in large numbers to the Philippines in October 1944, and fighting continued until June 1945. A small but important destination was the island of Corregidor, at the entrance to Manila Bay.
The veterans of the 317th Jungle Zippers took the paratroopers over two square miles of Corregidor, a challenging terrain with canyons and cliffs 500 feet high. The planners chose two small landing zones, in each of which two squadrons of troop carriers were placed.
Fifty-one Skytrain of the 317th Battalion delivered on the 16th and 17th. February 1945, 2,000 soldiers were withdrawn in four waves. Because of the extremely small targets, the transports dropped only six to eight soldiers per pass to keep them focused on the ground. The result was that most aircraft had to go through ground fire three times to make the delivery.
Half of the planes were hit, and despite a small descent, 12 paratroopers died on their parachutes. But the mission succeeded, and 10 days later Corregidor was taken.
Command of the aircraft carriers was relinquished at the end of 1945, but amphibious assaults continued during the Korean War. The transport aircraft flew 19 missions with 7,000 jumpers, with two major operations in 1950 and 1951.
During the Cold War, the task of troop transport was taken over by the Air Mobility Command. Today it is owned by the Air Combat Command, heir to a historical legacy that goes back seventy years.
Barrett Tillman is the author of more than 40 books on military history, including Encyclopedia of the Day. Read more: In the valley: The Untold Story of USAAF Troop Carriers in World War II, by Colonel Charles H. Young; and World War II Army Airborne Troop Carriers, by David Polk.
This article was originally published in the July 2019 issue of Aviation History magazine. Sign up here!From June 6th, 1944, twelve long years of preperations and military planning finally culminated in one of the most momentous days in the history of the world. The date was 6th June 1944 and the occasion was the D-Day landings in Normandy during World War II . This was the single most important day for the allies in the whole war.. Read more about what was the job of the paratroopers on d-day and let us know what you think.
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