The American airborne operation, which happened behind UTAH Beach by the 82nd and the 101st Airborne divisions was near to a disaster. Besides that, there was the OMAHA beach landing which was considered worse.
It never happened before that so many soldiers dropped in such a small area with hardly a good plan and therefore many deaths.
The fighting heart of younger officers and sturdy troops saved the operation.
When General Bradley’s decision got approved by General J. Lawton Collins, to use both American divisions at the base of Cotenin Peninsula, the trouble started.
Leigh-Mallory didn’t like the plan: he thought there were too many gliders (which were actually 700 by the even of D-Day), it would be too much of a risk for the 82nd division.
Mallory insisted that that predawn glider operations should be cut from 260 to 100 tugs and gliders predawn. For the evening waves from 400 to 200. Bradley made the change.
The battle would be fought by some 13,000 paratroopers of six airborne divisions of six airborn regiments wedged between the beach marshes and flooded Merderet River valley.
82nd airborne division
By midnight June 6 in a clear, moonlit night, the American aerial armada (917 transports with 96 towing gliders) formed up over the channel, then turned south away from the invastion fleet below it. In a ‘’V’’ formation the transport groups moved on at 1,500 feet above the water.
The transports dropped to 600 feet and slowed down – they ran into a dense could bank. The Germans were alerted by their radars and the flak batteries (anti-aircraft) fired at the passing airplanes. The leading waves weren’t damaged much but the rear serials got shot down (21 transports). The clouds and the anti-aircraft fire broke up the neat V formation as some of the climbed as high as 2,000 feet and others dropping to 500 feet. While others increased their airspeeds to above 120 knots. Many of the transports, overloaded at take-off, had to increase their airspeeds to avoid stalling.
It seemed to become a nightmare. Individual air crews had less than ten minutes to plot adjusted courses. Dropping bundles contributed to the miscalculations. Confused and terrified air crews missed or misread terminal guidance, beacons and lights.
There was only 1 pilot that actually passed through the dangerous zones of anti-aircraft fire 3 times to find the right landing zone. The rest were too terrified, nonetheless brave.
There were 5,436 casualties of the division. 272 were lost in the drop itself, but the scattered drop doomed hundreds more.
The experiences of the three parachute regiments of the 101st division was quite alike of those of the 82nd Division. This was discussed in the previous article. But it was different in the way of confusion. In a general view, the division accomplished one of its two missions, eliminating the German positions at the western ends of the Exits Four-One Causeways.
It wasn’t possible for them to take Carentan or stop the German 6th parachute Regiment from counter-attacking deep into the division’s position.
The paratroopers did capture or isolate six artillery batteries of the German 709th Division and neutralizing that division’s infantry to such a degree that it posed no threat to the landing.
It was the tactical skill and the initiative of the leaders and the fragments of companies and battalions that made the day a success. Because eventually General Taylor and his regimental commanders never controlled their organizations.
Here’s an interesting story about a couple of paratroopers:
A handful of paratroopers outfought a lot of Germans, even when they were severely outnumbered. The best example of was the feat of Staff Sergeant Harrison Summers, who almost singlehandedly killed or captured the 150-man garrison of La Mézieres in five hours of house-to-house fighting. Summers then admitted: ‘’I’m sure I’d never do anything like that again.’’