American paratrooper James Flanagan (2nd Platoon, C Co, 1-502nd PIR), among the first to make successful landings on the continent, holds a Nazi flag captured in a village assault. France. 6 June 1944

Into the Cotentin – American Paratroopers jump into Normandy

As part of Operation Overlord, there was a sizeable airborne landing. This was to tie up German re-enforcements to the beaches, distracting them away from the seaborne landing force and onto the paratroopers dropped throughout the Normandy countryside behind the lines. The United States used two divisions of Paratroopers in jumps on the morning of D-Day itself, around 13,000 men of the U.S. 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne Divisions jumping at night followed by just under 4000 glider troops during D-Day itself. This article will focus on these units and their operations in Normandy durign the first 24 hours.

The Planned drop zones of the Americans in Normandy for D-Day.

The Planned drop zones of the Americans in Normandy for D-Day.

The plan itself was simple: The 101st Airborne (part of Mission Albany) were to drop in around Carentan on 3 drop zones, securing the approaches to the town and then the town itself, destroying the garrison and opening it as an escape route from the beaches. Mission Boston, which was the name given to the 82nd Airborne jump, had the same basic objectives but were dropped in around the town of Sainte-Mère-Église.

Gen. Eisenhower speaking with 1st Lt. Wallace C. Strobel and men of Company E 502nd PIR on June 5. The placard around Strobel's neck indicates he is the jumpmaster for chalk 23.

Gen. Eisenhower speaking with 1st Lt. Wallace C. Strobel and men of Company E 502nd PIR on June 5. The placard around Strobel’s neck indicates he is the jumpmaster for chalk 23.

The American parachute operations did not get off to the best of starts – On Albany, the first wave, an incredibly large number of paratroopers of the 101st didn’t make their drop zones, either due to pilot error and jumping into the wrong drop zones or flak disrupting the jump pattern. The artillery failed to arrive at all, with all but one parachute howitzer being lost.  Some of the Paratroopers from Albany had jumped so far to the east they linked up with the 82nd Airborne rather than their own men! Boston wasn’t much better, with the 82nd scattering their troops all over the place, including depositing one on the spire of the church! A parachute with dummy paratrooper still hangs there to this day in tribute to this.

Paratrooper om Sainte-Mere-Eglise

A dummy Paratrooper on Sainte-Mere-Eglise church spire, in memory of the American paratrooper who got stuck there for real in 1944.

The glider borne operations were a little more successful, with missions ‘Chicago’ and ‘Detroit’ landing their troops almost without loss on their designated drop zones. Only 8 passengers of these gliders were confirmed killed; one of them being the assistant divisional commander. Carrying heavier weapons, these gliders were instrumental to making up the loss of the parachute artillery lost in the parachute landings.

Allied glider that crash-landed during the early stages of the invasion of France, near Hiesville. 6 June 1944

Allied glider that crash-landed during the early stages of the invasion of France, near Hiesville. 6 June 1944

Despite these shortcomings, the landings did succeed in disrupting the Germans behind the beaches, with the scattered nature of the American drops and the bocage terrain conspiring to confound and confuse German efforts to effective respond to the landings.  The casualties for the airborne divisions were surprisingly light considering the fragmented drops, and stand at 1,240 for the 101st Airborne Division and 1,259 for the 82nd Airborne.

Next Week: Operation Tonga

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