USAAF Chronology:

FROM THE AIR FORCE NEWS AGENCY


Part I
052.  Army Air Forces and the Normandy Invasion, 1 Apr - 12 Jul 44
053.  D-Day remembered
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052.  Army Air Forces and the Normandy Invasion, 1 Apr - 12 Jul 44
12, 1944
by Frederick J. Shaw
     On 1 Apr 44, more than 10,000 British and American aircraft within range
of western European targets began operations in support of Operation Overlord,
the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe set for early June.
     Preparatory efforts consisted of isolating and weakening the Nazi
defenses on the coast of Normandy.  Over the next two months, American B-24
and B-17 heavy bombers, B-26 medium bombers, and P-47 and P-51 fighters, and
RAF aircraft struck transportation targets in France, Belgium and Germany.
Their raids ended daylight railroad traffic in France and rendered impassable
critical Seine River crossings below Paris leading to Normandy.
     Denying the skies to the German air force was as important as denying
roads to the German army.  Although few German aircraft were based within a
350-mile combat radius of Normandy, they might deploy to approximately 100
empty bases within this radius.  During the last three weeks before D-Day,
Allied heavy bombers, medium bombers, and fighters struck vacant airfields
throughout France, hitting more targets outside the 350-mile radius than
within it to avoid disclosure of the invasion area.
     The Allies rendered the enemy bases within range of Normandy incapable of
sustaining major operations.  Allied heavy and medium bombers employed similar
deceptions while damaging coastal batteries guarding the invasion beaches.
During early June, Allied reconnaissance aircraft photographed the invasion
area from various altitudes and distances.
     The invasion of Normandy began before dawn on June 6 (D-Day) when 900
aircraft and 100 gliders of the IX Troop Carrier Command dropped the 101st
and 82d Airborne divisions behind enemy lines.  As Eighth and Ninth Air Force
P-38s covered convoys approaching the Normandy beaches, more than 2,300 B-17
and B-24 heavy bombers loosed 2,944 tons of bombs on coastal batteries and
other shore defenses.  B-26s and fighters supplemented the work of the heavies,
also attacking transportation targets and airfields.  Later in the day, the
heavy bombers struck major choke points close to the invasion beaches.
     Forward air controllers landing with the infantry directed fighter-
bombers to enemy targets with pinpoint accuracy.  Other fighter bombers flew
armed reconnaissance against trucks, armor, and troop concentrations.
Advancing under this friendly canopy, the Allied armies placed the invasion
beaches beyond the range of enemy artillery, obtained room for maneuver, and
linked their beachheads by mid-June.
     The D-Day effort of the Army Air Forces and its Allies was one of the
mightiest demonstrations of air power.  Nearly 13,000 aircraft, 8,722 of them
American, directly supported the invasion.  Their work yielded impressive
results.  Allied air superiority was so overwhelming that only three German
fighters challenged the invasion convoys.  An additional 12 German fighter
bombers sortied against the invasion beaches, most jettisoning their bombs
as Allied fighters intercepted them.
     The interdiction of the transportation network delayed the timely arrival
of German reinforcements.  One German commander described the route over which
his armor traveled as a "racecourse" for American fighter bombers.  Forced to
travel in small units over secondary roads at night, German divisions arrived
in the battle area exhausted, disorganized, and demoralized.  Unable to drive
the Allies from the beaches, the German army now faced an unequal, two-front
war against powerful foes.  (Shaw is a historian with the Air Force Research
Agency, Maxwell AFB, Alabama)
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053.  D-Day remembered
by TSgt. David P. Masko
     It is appropriate that after 50 years, Vito Pedone should return to
Normandy for the anniversary of D-Day.
     In 1944, Pedone was 22 and a captain in the Army Air Forces.  He
completed pilot training a few months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and
prior to D-Day was directing C-47 "pathfinder" training for the Ninth Air
Force in England.
     On 6 Jun 44, Pedone and Lieutenant Colonel Joel Crouch, led the tactical
beginning for the liberation of Europe.  Their mission was to cross the enemy
coast on the west shore of the Cherbourg Peninsula, France at 0006 hours on 6
Jun.  At 0016 hours, their C-47 dropped 18 paratroopers on Normandy beach.
     The specially trained crews of airborne infantry set up radio
navigational aids on six drop zones, along with marker lights to guide the
main column of assault planes.
     Pedone said the weather varied throughout the operation, but overall it
was favorable.  Air Force historical reports say the "pathfinders" had no
way of knowing what to expect from the Germans who guarded the Normandy
beaches with heavy defenses.
     Today, Pedone still has a dauntless air about him.  At 74, the retired
Air Force colonel -- who served in three wars and completed 35 years on
active duty -- is the owner of a successful wine import company in Arlington,
Virginia.
     But wine is not on Pedone's mind these days.  He's more interested in
plans for the second Normandy invasion; when he and other veterans will
return to France and celebrate the 50th anniversary.
     Tall, with an easy smile, Pedone says World War II is still a vivid
experience.
     On the eve of D-Day, moonlight flooded the cockpit where Pedone and
Crouch readied their C-47.  Like everybody else on the English airfield,
Pedone was looking at his watch and waiting for the signal to go.
     "As we neared the English Channel, I remember turning the planes lights
off," Pedone said.  "We stayed dark until we hit the drop zones and were
headed back over England."
     Following Pedone and Crouch was an armada of 1,500 other C-47s and a
couple hundred gliders.  The task of this advance invasion party was to mark
drop zones in a 55-mile-square area on the Cherbourg Peninsula behind Utah
beach for the 82nd and 101st Airborne Division paratroopers.
     During the early hours of Operation Overlord, 18,000 airborne troops
would be dropped from planes and land in gliders brought to the drop zones
by a never ending stream of C-47 transport aircraft.
     All over England, state historical records, people watched the airplanes
in wave after wave passing overhead.
     During the assault, 8th Air Force bombers were neutralizing the coastal
defenses and attacking German front-line troops.  Other missions were
directed at severing communication lines between the beachhead defenders and
reserve elements.
     Meanwhile, fighter operations over the battle area became the
responsibility of the Ninth Air Force and the RAF 2nd Tactical Air Force.
     According to Air Force history reports, Pedone and other C-47 pathfinder
crews swept in over the targets so fast that the Germans at first thought
they were fighter planes.  Surprised by the suddenness of the attack, the
German missed their opportunity to shoot down many of the C-47s.
     Pedone remembers seeing explosions and streams of tracer bullets all
around his aircraft.
     "Many of our transport pilots worked in the airlines before the war...
up until D-Day they'd never seen combat before," said Pedone with a
compassionate, yet troubled look.
     "You have no time to think about the big picture -- D-Day," he said.
"You think about the people in your plane and do your job.  There's no time
to be scared.
     "But if you are afraid, you might as well get right out of the (expletive)
airplane and go back to the BAQ because you must take control of your senses."
     Pedone explains that a pilot who experiences combat is "always
anticipating," and must keep a positive attitude.  "Only when you get back
and sit down can you be scared and say what (expletive) happened?"
     After Pedone and Crouch finished their pathfinder mission, they were
ordered back to London.  With all Allied aircraft ready and invasion troops
on their ships, Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower wanted
a first-hand assessment of the conditions on Normandy beach.
     "We reported to Eisenhower and told him the pathfinders did their job,
and explained what we saw," Pedone said.
     After seeing Eisenhower, Pedone and Crouch got their C-47 back in the
invasion line so they could carry more troops to the invasion beaches.
     Prior to their D-Day assault, Eisenhower had told the C-47 aircrews and
grease-painted paratroopers that "the eyes of the world are on you tonight."
     Air Force history records show how all Allied aircraft were painted with
"invasion stripes" of alternating black and white bands completely around
fuselages and wings.  Pedone said the stripes on his C-47 and other aircraft
would easily identify them as friendly to ships and troops below.
     He said both the aircraft markings and the pathfinders lighting the
beaches were important because of lessons learned from previous invasions.
For example, during the Sicilian invasion, U.S. forces had tragic losses due
to friendly fire and missed drop zones.
     Although there were some mistakes with airborne landings on D-Day,
history records it as a huge success.  In fact, Air Force history states
aircraft losses as "not inordinately high."
     Of the 821 troop carriers dispatched, 805 reached their dropping zone
and 21 were lost.  Of the 104 tugs and gliders, all but one reached the
landing zone and only two aircraft tugs were lost.
     From the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 and the subsequent
enslavement of most of Europe by Nazi Germany, an invasion of western Europe
leading to the complete defeat of Germany had been a prized goal of Great
Britain.  It also became a goal of the United States when it entered the war
in December 1941.
     The purpose of Overlord was simple, state history reports.  The goal was
to free Europe of Nazi forces. Now, 50 years later, the anniversary of this
"unanimity of purpose" is celebrated.
     But for Pedone, surrounded by artifacts and photographs of D- Day in his
comfortable home, the anniversary is bittersweet because many of his war
buddies are gone.
     "A lot of the people I used to serve with have died," said Pedone, who
was a friend of General Curtis E. LeMay, one of the D-Day planners.
     Pedone is especially mournful for his wife, Geraldine, who died a few
years ago.  He met and married Geraldine when she was a second lieutenant
serving in England.
     "She was a nurse and assigned to the 806th Air Evacuation Squadron...
her squadron was the first to support the buildup for the war."
     Although saddened by losses of family and friends, Pedone's philosophy
is to move on and be thankful.  For example, he said he's thankful to the Air
Force for giving him a rewarding career.
     "When I was growing up in New York City in the 1930s, the only choice I
had for an education, being a minority, was to be a gangster, a priest or a
musician -- in that order."
     Pedone went to music school for two years, which at the time, was enough
college to become an aviation cadet with the Army Air Corps.
     "After I was commissioned, we went from a few thousand to almost a
million people.  In those days you'd fly one mission as a first lieutenant and
in a few months you'd be a lieutenant colonel."
     Although Pedone did make rank fast during World War II, he didn't put on
full colonel until his 12th year of service.
     "It was only because of World War II that we developed all the concepts,
the traditions, the historical data, the heroes that we honor today," he said.
     "This war was the legacy of the Air Force tradition.  It's the basis of
the Air Force and how we split off from the Army."
     He went on to explain the importance of D-Day in this context and
challenged Air Force people to keep this history alive.
     For Pedone, and other World War II veterans in their twilight years, the
D-Day anniversary might be their last great assembly.  (Masko is assigned to
Air Force News Service in the Pentagon)
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