Tuesday, June 06, 2017

June 6, 1944

Today is anniversary of D-Day—the day British, Canadian, and American troops landed on the beaches of Normandy.1

For baby boomers it means a day of special significance for our parents. In my case, it was my father who took part in the invasions. That's him on the right as he looked in 1944. He was an RAF pilot flying rocket firing typhoons in close support of the ground troops. During the initial days his missions were limited to quick strikes and reconnaissance since Normandy was at the limit of their range from southern England. During the second week of the invasion (June 14th) his squadron landed in Crepon, Normandy and things became very hectic from then on with several close support missions every day.

I have my father's log book and here (below) are the pages from June 1944. The red letters on June 6 say "DER TAG." It was his way of announcing D-Day. On the right it says "Followed SQN across channel. Saw hundreds of ships ... jumped by 190s. LONG AWAITED 2nd FRONT IS HERE." Later that day they shot up German vehicles south-east of Caen where there was heavy fighting by British and Canadian troops. The next few weeks saw several sorties over the allied lines. These were attack missions using rockets to shoot up German tanks, vehicles, and trains.


The photograph on the right shows a crew loading rockets onto a typhoon based just a few kilometers from the landing beaches in Normandy. You can see from the newspaper clipping in my father's log book that his squadron was especially interested in destroying German headquarter units and they almost got Rommel. It was another RAF squadron that wounded Rommel on July 17th.

The colorized photo on the left is my father in his Typhoon.

The log book entry (above) for June 10th says, "Wizard show. Recco area at 2000' south west of Caen F/S Moore and self destroyed 2 flak trucks, 2 arm'd trucks, and i arm'd command vehicle, Every vehicle left burning but one. Must have been a divisional headquarters? No casualties."

Here's another description of that rocket-firing typhoon raid [Air Power Over the Normandy Beaches and Beyond].
Intelligence information from ULTRA set up a particularly effective air strike on June 10. German message traffic had given away the location of the headquarters of Panzergruppe West on June 9, and the next evening a mixed force of forty rocket-armed Typhoons and sixty-one Mitchells from 2 TAF struck at the headquarters, located in the Chateau of La Caine, killing the unit's chief of staff and many of its personnel and destroying fully 75 percent of its communications equipment as well as numerous vehicles. At a most critical point in the Normandy battle, then, the Panzer group, which served as a vital nexus between operating armored forces, was knocked out of the command, control, and communications loop; indeed, it had to return to Paris to be reconstituted before resuming its duties a month later.
My father was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for his efforts during the war.

(This article was first posted on June 6, 2014.)

1. The British landed at Sword Beach and Gold Beache, the Canadians at Juno Beach, and American troops landed at Omaha and Utah Beaches.

27 comments :

  1. I've been to Omaha and Utah, though not Gold, Sword, or Juno. The American cemetery at Omaha shows the cost paid dramatically (though not all those buried there are casualties of the beaches).

    My father was in the 8th Air Force, though he didn't arrive in England until November. He flew somewhere over 25 missions as a B-17 navigator. I still have some photos of mission planning maps.

    Tac air was a big deal during the campaign, and especially in the months after the breakout. No German vehicles could move during the day at all.

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    1. My colleague Stan Gartler was a gunner on a Martin B26 operating over western Europe in the late part of the war, though I don't know whether he was there on D Day.

      The extraordinary pioneer of molecular evolution Morris Goodman was navigator/gunner on a B17 bomber.

      As dramatic as D Day was, we should acknowledge that 75% of German casualties in the war were on the Eastern Front. My father spent the war at Baldwin Locomotive Works near Philadelphia, where they were building steam locomotives, many of which were shipped to Russia. In 1968 I traveled on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. In the middle of the long journey they put on a steam locomotive. At one long scheduled stop I wandered forward to see the locomotive. The plaque on it said that it was a 1942 Baldwin.

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    2. My dad flew 45 missions as a nose gunner in a B-24 (he was in the big glass cage on the nose - nice feeling to be in a glass "house" with flak and fighter fire around you). He said when he originally got into the Army Air Corps it was supposed to be 30 missions, but they kept upping it by 5 until it hit 45. :-)

      He was in one of the Ploesti bombing missions, where 300 bombers were sent out and only 100 (thankfully including him) came back. Some of them were shot down by anti-aircraft emplacements on mountainous terrain along the approach; others were not given enough fuel to make the round trip (yes, really) and had to ditch nearby and hope they were captured rather than killed attempting to ditch or shot.

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    3. Joe, I think you understate the Western allies' contribution to the war. Modern war is as much, or more, a conflict of industrial capacity. 75% of the German casualties may have been in the East, but the death of the Luftwaffe, German oil industry, etc. happened in the West, and was more important to the war than counting bodies would indicate.

      By the way, does that number count prisoners?

      judmarc, I was reliably informed, by a source I trust implicitly, that the B-24 was a vastly inferior machine to the B-17.

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    4. John, you are right about air power, but the Soviets could have beaten Hitler on their own. After Stalingrad (Jan. 1943), there was no stopping the Soviet advance to Berlin (or Lisbon if there were no D-Day), Luftwaffe or not. On the other hand, the railroad rolling stock 'given' the Soviets (and not weapons) was critical for supplying the Red Army and moving it around. After VE day, Stalin, per agreement with Roosevelt and Churchill at Yalta, shipped the Red Army to Manchuria where it, under the command of some brilliant generals, defeated a Japanese force of a million men in two weeks flat, bring WWII to a close.
      Stalin, of course, was a monster, but he made the Soviet Union do what it needed to do to defeat Hitler.

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    5. That's an interesting claim, and we will never know whether the Soviets could have won the war on their own. Pretty sure the war against Japan wasn't brought to a close by the Red Army, though.

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    6. judmarc, I was reliably informed, by a source I trust implicitly, that the B-24 was a vastly inferior machine to the B-17.

      Dad wasn't given his pick. :-)

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    7. No, the proper answer would have been "I was informed of the opposite". Here, this will get you up to speed.

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    8. Japan's last advance in Manchuria did have a good deal of influence on Japan's actions at the end of the war.

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    9. Rats. This should be with my previous post.

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_invasion_of_Manchuria

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    10. Ha! A lot of that campaign came after Japan had already decided to surrender and even after the surrender was announced. If anything, it wasn't the campaign but the decision of the Soviets to enter the war. And the bomb was a greater factor.

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    11. Its a moral issue in war. The English-speaking peoples fought nazi's for moral reasons. The soviets only because they were invaded.
      The Soviets would not of fought germany if Germany had left them alone. The Soviets didn't mind nations being invaded since they did it themselves.
      So D-Day observance rightly not only is about D-day but about the good guys.
      We don't need to remember 75% of German causalities if its about moral reasons for why fighting.

      Remember the famous dinner victory of Churchill and Stalin, just them, when Stalin played down wwii in deaths because he said he killed more people in the soviet peasantry in certain areas because they were uncooroperative in some way. Churchill said he held his tongue.
      Stalin was as much, possibly more evil then Hitler if murdering people is the way to score it.
      The people of the Soviet Union supported stalin and are responsible for the trouble they brought and received. Let every mans case be his own but they were not ignorant of what was going on.

      Its like how some say italy was liberated. they were not. They were alloes of Germany and when surrendered simply for stragegy reasons germany held italy. however not to rule it.
      Only the Anglo-american coalition has a moral right to the moral claim of being the good guys and the victory from good motivations.
      As long as motives were self defence of physical life.

      I see all the time this claim to remember the soviets fighting story.
      i say don't remember as its not worthy. Thier cause, moral, was not ours.
      Remember also that always germany was fighting us before the Normandy invasion and so not able to throw their whole weight against the Soviets.
      The soviets eventually fought well but the gErmans were more intelligent soldiers and Officers and better in every way. Better supplies. Hitler interfered with key decisions also.
      I don't think the Soviets could of beat the Germans without us.
      We could beat the germans without them as long as america was involved.

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    12. Britain, France etc. tried hard to avoid war even after Germany occupied the Saar, annexed Austria, and invaded Czechoslovakia. They declared war when Germany INVADED Poland.

      The USA did not enter the war until it was attacked by Japan. I don't see why this makes the Western allies' reasons for entering the war more "moral" than the Soviet Union.

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    13. One might argue that Britain and France were more moral than the rest because they entered the war in defense of another, while Russia had no choice, as it was attacked directly. Nor did the U.S.; Germany declared war on us first, not us on them. Though I suppose in theory we could have ignored them. Anyway, Japan attacked us, not Germany.

      Canada, of course, entered the war out of loyalty to the Empire. I guess.

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    14. "I don't think the Soviets could of beat the Germans without us."

      Your dismissal of the Soviet effort shows you could have stopped with the first three words of that sentence.

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    15. @John Harshman

      Canada entered WWII, in part, out of solidarity with the UK and the Commonwealth - not the Empire.

      None of the countries declared war because they were particularly "moral."

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    16. Everybody was saying it was a moral cause. they were already saying, not just Churchill , that Germany was evil and seeking to conquer.
      I understand motivations at the top is a issue for historians.
      Yet defending Poland was presented as the RIGHT thing to do.
      it was presented to canada also although , of coarse, we had a identity that binded us to Britain.
      America was constantly being told they should morally wage war against Germany. This was the talk.
      so while germany did declare war first against America it was clearly to beat them to the punch , probably, to not have the german people dispirited. America was most likely to wage war against Germany, and of coarse, Japan was already fighting the British empire.
      so our side was fighting, risking our lives, solely on behalf of other peoples. We were not attacking other peoples neither.
      so we were fighting a moral war of self defence of human life(by way of defending national boundaries).
      the soviets were attacking peoples, were content with the Germans attacking peoples, and only fought Germans because they invaded the Soviets. ONLY!
      They did not fight for moral causes.
      In war, killing people, the moral cause is the great cause and how judging and celebrating the combatants should be defined by.
      By the way annexing is not important. they did not kill people to annex. threatened but not done. so britain/France can ignore so as to do the priority thing. Stay alive. Make boycotts or something.
      Poland was a contract but the gErmans did kill their way into Poland.



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    17. Lee Witt.
      I'm not dismissing the soviets efforts. just not overexalting them.
      In fact after watching youtube histories of it I was persuaded the soviets did beat the germans by generalship, supply, and the common soldier.
      it was not the weather as was always said.
      The Soviets copied quickly German fighting concepts. The Soviets had a great new tank and other weapons.
      It was really ugly/evil how the soviets fought because of Stalin etc etc and everyone was ugly/evil to such an extent as to throw shame on all sides uniquely in human history.
      nevertheless the speed of the victory, and the victory, was due to the Anglo-American armies and supplies in practical terms and showing the Germans their was no hope.
      The soviets , i think, would of lost without us.
      Everyone on this thread wants to be seen as on Anglo-american side and not on the soviet side. We are all right.
      Its the GOLD in moral and practical reward for our war efforts.

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    18. Every war ever fought has been declared, by all sides involved, to be for a moral cause. Sometimes, it just turns out to be true.

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  2. I should know, but think I'm educated, that rockets were being used by planes. i know they used them on the ground. I watch lots of wwii videos and should know this.
    It still was hard to hit things and probably mr Moran's father was awarded his medal because of his success. however it might just because it was a very close dangerous place. hitting German headquarters would be a top priority too.
    Four of the beaches went "smoothly' enough. One american one had very difficult resistance.
    It was crazy this all went on. Everyone is friends now.

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  3. Yup... Awesome times.

    Nice colouration on the cockpit pic too.

    Had a chat with a chap last year who, as an airmechanic apprentice, flew on a trip dropping food on Holland... escorted by Luftwaffe fighters for some reason.

    But of course not a patch on Normandy.

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  4. As a west coast family, my relatives didn't go to Europe -- they got shipped off to the Pacific war. My grandfather was an army corps of engineer guy who built runways under fire on exotic tropical islands; my father-in-law was a Marine sniper; I had one uncle in the Navy who had two ships sunk under him.

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    1. My father-in-law was also in the Marines, a sniper I think. He was involved in several of the major landings, including Tarawa. That is still studied as how NOT to do an amphibious assault. (They even got the tides wrong.)

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    2. I never knew that it was a geographical influence that determined which americans went where.
      In fact, nOT SURE, but i thought it was likely they aimed "ethnic" men towards certain areas. So Germam, Italian, others were aimed at the pacific while the Southerners and mid westerners, etc were aimed at europe.
      i know these issues came up with bios on General Patten.
      Possibly this is not true at all but i can imagine the top brass considering these things.
      In WWi it was considered very important about the German and Irish catholic opposition to war on behalf of Britain .
      In the end it didn't matter as , rightly, the citizens put thier nation first.

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    3. No. There was some limited ethnic stereotyping -- Japanese-Americans were sent to the European theater because people feared they wouldn't be as loyal -- but otherwise it was convenience and geography. You've got a mess of men signed up in Philadelphia, with a high number of Italians, they got shipped east, to Europe. You got a mess of men gathered in Seattle, with a relatively tiny Italian community, they got sent west, to the Pacific.

      My father-in-law was kind of a scary badass. He was in all of the major island invasions, and was at Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, etc., serving with James Roosevelt in the Marine Raiders. I found out about this after starting to date his daughter.

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  5. My dad trained as a B-17 radio operator, but spent the war in Yuma as a radio instructor, suggesting that the Army Air Force didn't subscribe to the notion that "Those who can, do, those who can't, teach."

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  6. "The Soviets would not of fought germany if Germany had left them alone."
    Of course they'll treat you fairly if you don't provoke them! Lenin, Mao, Napoleon, Mohammed all made that very point very clear. Their primary objective was not to annihilate the enemy, but to prepare them for defeat.

    Dr Larry Moran write,
    "Britain, France etc. tried hard to avoid war even after Germany occupied the Saar, annexed Austria, and invaded Czechoslovakia."

    Those efforts didn't work out well, did they? Sometimes being the aggressor really is the easier, softer way. Our moral agonies are a fig leaf for dysfunctional time-preferences

    I suspect we'll do as England and France did and is doing. Our strategy will be to find peace, peace in our time. The religious people are wiser in this regard. They pursue peace, peace for ALL time.

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