Chapter 5: D Day
On Thursday, 1st June, 1944, Group Captain J. M. Stagg arrived at Southwick House, Portsmouth, the Advance Command Post of the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force. It was half past five in the afternoon and he was due to attend what was known as the Long Range Development Conference, a meeting of meteorological experts, British and American, whose difficult task it was to prophesy weather conditions. Upon these depended initial success or failure and they had to be known in sufficient time in advance for the Supreme Commander to give the order which would launch the invasion. The conference showed itself to be on the whole optimistic and this optimism was confirmed at nine o’clock that evening, but, the forecasters noted, ‘the cloud situation was very uncertain’. On the next day they were more gloomy. There was a risk of high wind in the Channel and of ‘big stretches of stratus cloud’. This news, together with other equally unreassuring information, was laid before General Eisenhower and his commanders at their weekly weather meeting. This had by then become a matter of routine, for it had been held throughout the month of May, and at it the forecasters, Group Captain Stagg who was a member of the Meteorological Office at the head of the British, Colonel Yates at the head of the American, had been required to forecast the weather ‘for a dummy D Day’. Having heard their views, the Supreme Commander would then take a ‘dummy’ decision and on the following week the meteorologists pointed out whether their forecast had been accurate and whether, therefore, the ‘dummy’ decision had been sound.
The period of rehearsal was now over. Five days would pass and then the greatest sea and airborne invasion ever attempted was due to start. The responsibility laid upon Stagg and his staff, with their American colleagues, was therefore of the gravest kind. The business was, moreover, exceedingly complicated. The naval, army and air commanders each needed a special type of weather. The navy, for example, would be unable to operate if the wind in the Channel was in the wrong quarter and if its force was above a certain strength. A
minimum degree of visibility landward was necessary for the bombarding ships, or they would not be able to see their targets. The requirements of the air forces were even more exacting. They needed to know the ‘amount and height of cloud at definite times for the various waves of air attacks. The best conditions for heavy bombers at one phase were not necessarily the best for medium bombers at a later phase. For complete success, the airborne operations required still further conditions, particularly as regards wind and visibility over the dropping area. These and other critical conditions had to be met at precisely scheduled hours before and following the hour of actual beach landings’.
The problem was indeed complex, and it is small wonder that on the Friday afternoon of 2nd June, Stagg records in his diary that he ‘went for a walk alone to ponder’. His mind was exercised by two main problems. First, preliminary investigations had shown ‘that the chances of even a majority of the requirements being fulfilled in normal English June weather were at least fifty to one against, and when all the requirements were included, the odds rose to several hundreds’. That was, as it were, the background problem. Against it, in the forefront of his mind, was the grim fact that a change in the more or less settled fine weather, which had endured throughout the month of May, was about to occur. During the day, frequent conferences confirmed this view. The wind was west-south-west rising to force between four and five. Ten-tenths stratus cloud with fog patches was imminent. That, at least, was the general opinion, though—a fact which greatly added to Stagg’s difficulties—the forecasters, British and American, were far from unanimous. At 9.30 that night Stagg faced the Commanders-in-Chief and the Supreme Commander. ‘Gentlemen’, he said, and he wrote the words down that night in his diary,’ the fears, which I hoped you realised we had yesterday morning at the first conference, were confirmed. The high pressure area over the Azores is rapidly giving way and a series of depressions will bring bad weather to the Channel areas’. He then described just how bad that weather would be, and in answering the many questions addressed to him, assured Leigh-Mallory that on Monday morning the cloud base would be from 500 to 1,000 feet and that the clouds would be 3,000 feet thick. Conditions for the navy were equally unpromising. ‘No wonder, when I had presented the main picture, there was grave gloom over the place’. The lion-hearted Eisenhower pressed him still further. ‘Isn’t there a chance that you may be a bit more optimistic tomorrow?’ ‘No, sir’, replied Stagg. ‘I was very unhappy about the position yesterday morning. The whole picture was extremely finely balanced. Last night there was a slight tip in the
balance on the favourable side, but the tip tonight is on the unfavourable side and is too big to be overbalanced overnight’. He left the room, and one of the admirals was heard to mutter, ‘Six foot two of Stagg and six foot one of gloom’, a remark which seemed to sum up the situation.
Stagg’s main sources of information were naval vessels specially stationed out in the Atlantic and meteorological reconnaissance aircraft of the Royal Air Force. The news at this stage was most dispiriting. At least two deep disturbances were moving rapidly eastward towards the British Isles and it was inevitable that they would bring strong south-westerly winds and low cloud into the channel. At his evening conference on Saturday 3rd June the Supreme Commander postponed the start by twenty-four hours. That night Stagg and his staff did not quit their charts. These showed ‘a seemingly endless succession of deep depressions’. If conditions remained unchanged or grew worse the invasion would have to be deferred not merely for another twenty-four hours, but until Thursday 8th June, for some of the ships taking part would have to turn back to be refuelled; and if on Thursday the weather was again too bad ‘a period of about a fortnight would elapse before conditions were again suitable’. Sunday was therefore the most anxious day of all; disturbances of an intensity appropriate to mid-winter seemed to fill the weather chart and just when every available observation was needed from the Atlantic to define their movement the observations from one of the ships went awry and an uncertainty of as much as twenty millibars appeared in the pressure readings from a most critical area. The position of the forecasters was far from enviable but by the afternoon of Sunday they began to foresee the possibility of a temporary slackening of the intensity of the disturbances setting in early on Tuesday morning. If this could be confirmed there should be ‘a short spell of fairly clear sky, diminished wind and good visibility from the early hours of the morning of Tuesday until possibly the evening or early morning of the 7th’. By the late afternoon of Sunday, at a meeting which took place in ‘a howling gale and heavy rain’ the commanders were informed of this new and more promising development. It persisted. The final conference opened at 0415 hours on the morning of Monday. Stagg was guardedly optimistic. ‘There will be considerable fair to fine periods’, he said, ‘during Tuesday and Wednesday’. ‘It was a joy’, he recalls, ‘to see the relief caused by this statement’. Having heard it, the Supreme Commander gave the final order and very soon the appropriate message had been despatched to those entitled to receive it. Tuesday, 6th June, was to be the day of the invasion.
Of all the commanders of this great enterprise none was more dependent on the weather than Leigh-Mallory. Now that the moment had come, the Allied Expeditionary Air Force had two main tasks: to cover the landings by every means at its disposal and to take to their destination the parachute and glider-borne forces whose task it was to secure the flanks of the invading army. The plan was, in essence, simple enough. A sector of the coast of Normandy running from Varreville, a point almost opposite the town of Montebourg on the Cherbourg peninsula, eastwards to Ouistreham on the mouth of the river Orne, had been chosen for assault by the main forces. To aid them on the right flank ‘it was believed’, states Eisenhower in his despatch, ‘that two airborne divisions should be employed... still leaving one airborne division to hold vital bridges in the Orne/Dives rivers area to the north-east of Caen’. This plan was viewed with some apprehension by Leigh-Mallory, who was of opinion that there was no certainty that airborne divisions dropped on the south Cotentin Peninsula, on the extreme right of the Allied invasion, would be able to muster even half their number when the battle was joined. Despite his forebodings, Eisenhower overruled him and took upon himself the heavy responsibility of deciding that the airborne operation’ should be carried out. On the extreme left of the Allied line it was entrusted to the British 6th Airborne Division.
Once he was committed to the plan of using airborne troops, Leigh-Mallory did all he could to ensure its success. Rehearsals were frequent, the planning was comprehensive, and as little as possible was left to chance. As the evening of 5th June deepened into night, the Air Commander-in-Chief flew from airfield to airfield to speak with those committed to this high and formidable undertaking. ‘I would describe their demeanour’, he recorded, ‘as grim and not frightfully gay, but there was no doubt in my mind of their determination to do the job’. In the event, Leigh-Mallory’s forebodings appeared on the evening of 6th June to have been unjustified. The casualties incurred on the Cotentin Peninsula, which the aircraft carrying the United States 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions traversed from west to east at a height of 500 feet, were small; so small, indeed, that Leigh-Mallory hastened to write to the Commander-in-Chief on the next day acknowledging that his fears had been vain. In fact he did himself less than justice, for his original estimate was, if anything, too optimistic. Though the casualties suffered in killed and wounded by the 101st Airborne Division were, it is true, very light, only some 1,100 out of 6,600 men landed on, or near, the chosen zones and even they were not able to recover
more than about two fifths of their equipment. The 82nd Division which dropped with them was in similar case and neither can therefore be said ever to have been complete as a fighting force.
Nos. 38 and 46 Groups of the Royal Air Force, who were to carry the 6th Airborne Division, had undergone many weeks of intensive training which culminated in Exercise MUSH, carried out on 21st April over an area stretching from the Severn estuary to the borders of Wiltshire and Oxfordshire. Such exercises, of which the frequency increased as ‘D Day’ drew nearer, were difficult and dangerous; but both Lieut-General Browning, commanding the airborne forces, and Air Vice-Marshal Hollinghurst, commanding the air transport groups, took the view that it was better to run considerable risks rather than to send half-trained and inexperienced soldiers and air crews into battle. This decision was abundantly justified, for the task facing the Groups was heavy. Not only must the 6th Airborne Division be taken to the right place, it had also to arrive at precisely the right moment, if surprise, essential to success, was to be achieved. All turned therefore on correct timing. ‘ he interval between take-offs’, said Hollinghurst, ‘was of paramount importance, as we were working with very little margin of range. The use of different types of aircraft and different types of combinations complicated matters because of the different speeds’.
Dusk had fallen over England when the first aircraft, piloted by Squadron Leader Merrick, with Hollinghurst on board, took off from Harwell at 2303 hours. The pathfinder aircraft, six Albemarles, carried the 22nd Independent Parachute Company to the three main dropping zones in the neighbourhood of the Orne. All went well until the areas were reached, when one of the aircraft mistook its own zone and dropped its passengers on the south-east corner of the neighbouring zone, where they erected lights and beacons. The result was that in the main drop fourteen ‘sticks’ of the 3rd Parachute Brigade arrived at the wrong zone and the situation was for a time confused.
Out of the three zones chosen, the third, known as ‘V’, was situated in a valley with a wet and treacherous surface, for the River Dives, which ran through it, had overflowed its banks. At this zone the advanced guard composed of part of the 3rd Parachute Brigade was dropped from fourteen Albemarles belonging to Nos. 295 and 570 Squadrons. One, unable to find the dropping zone after seven unsuccessful runs, was hit by anti-aircraft fire and returned to base with Major W. A. C. Collingwood, the Brigade Major, jammed in the exit hole. There was a sixty-pound kit-bag attached to one of his legs, but despite this handicap his men heaved him on board
and he arrived in Normandy later in the day by glider. Other aircraft loosed their cargo of parachute troops too soon. In the event, 106 out of 140 of the men of the advanced guard were dropped accurately.
The main body of the 3rd Parachute Brigade was carried into action thirty minutes later in 108 Dakotas belonging to Nos. 48, 233, 271, 512 and 575 Squadrons. Seventy-one of these conveyed the principal group to zone ‘V’ by the River Dives, but only seventeen aircraft dropped their passengers on the correct spot, nine within one mile and eleven within one and a half miles. Two-thirds of the strength of the brigade were dissipated over a wide area and its most vital task, the destruction of a battery of four coastal guns near the village of Merville, which had been allotted to the 9th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, was thus rendered even more hazardous than had been expected. Only about 150 men out of 600 were dropped close enough to the battery to be able to assault it. They did so with complete success, destroying, under the leadership of Lieutenant-Colonel T. B. H. Otway, two of the guns altogether and putting the two others out of action for forty-eight hours.
The landing of six Horsa gliders, one of them within fifty yards of the swing bridge across the Caen canal, had been equally successful. The men manning them, under Major R. J. Howard, seized this vital objective and thus fulfilled one of the principal tasks of the airborne troops.
The 5th Parachute Brigade, taken into action by 129 aircraft from Nos. 38 and 46 Groups, fared better. They found their dropping zone correctly marked. One hundred and twenty-three aircraft dropped their loads accurately, though a high wind scattered the parachute troops far and wide. Two thousand and twenty-six out of 2,125 parachute troops belonging to this brigade were dropped and 702 out of 755 containers.
A total of 264 aircraft and 98 glider combinations was despatched by Nos. 38 and 46 Groups. Altogether 4,310 paratroops were dropped and gliders carrying 493 troops, 17 guns, 44 jeeps and 55 motor cycles successfully released. Seven aircraft and twenty-two gliders were lost. One of the lessons learnt and applied in future operations was the importance of maintaining a steady course when near the dropping zone in face of anti-aircraft fire. There is abundant evidence that ‘jinking’ threw many of the parachute troops off balance at the critical moment when the red lights had been switched on and they were preparing to jump.
While the airborne forces were being conveyed to France, away to the north of them another operation by sixteen Lancasters of the
renowned No. 617 Squadron was taking place across the narrowest part of the Channel between Dover and Cap d’Antifer. It was led by Group Captain G. L. Cheshire, V.C., and the object of operation TAXABLE was to induce the German crews manning the radar installations on that part of the French coast, designedly left intact for the purpose, to believe that a large convoy was proceeding at seven knots on a fourteen mile front across the Channel, and heading straight for them. The necessary reaction on the radar screen was to be reproduced by the sixteen Lancasters and by eighteen small ships, of which some towed balloons fitted with reflectors to simulate echoes given off by a large ship. The Lancasters, flying at 3,000 feet, in a series of elliptical courses, circled these ships again and again, at the same time releasing WINDOW, the metallic strips first used by Bomber Command in the summer of 1943 to jam the German fighter control apparatus, and now serving the same purpose for a different reason. Cut to a special length and pattern, it was found that, when dropped, they would produce a response similar to that created by an aircraft or a ship. Intense rehearsals, in which the crews of the Lancasters flew some fifty hours, made them as nearly as possible word-perfect, as it were, in their roles. These were exacting enough. ‘The tactics’, Cheshire explained later, ‘were to use two formations of aircraft with the rear formation seven miles behind the leaders, each aircraft being separated laterally by two miles. Individual aircraft flew a straight course of seven miles, turned round and flew on the reciprocal one mile away. On completion of the second leg it returned to its former course and repeated the procedure over again, advancing far enough to keep in line with the convoy’s speed of seven knots’. The task set the navigators was one of extreme difficulty. A ship cannot suddenly alter its position on the sea, but an aircraft, flying at three miles a minute or more has only to maintain its course for ten seconds too long for it to be seen much too far forward on the screen and thereby to ruin the deception. WINDOW had to be discharged with the same accuracy and twenty-four bundles were thrown overboard on every circuit at twelve second intervals.
Operation TAXABLE began soon after dusk and ‘went steadily and mercilessly on through the night’. With curtains drawn and nothing but instruments to guide the navigators, the aircraft moved round and round their orbits. At the same time, in order still further to heighten the illusion, the German radar was jammed, but not too heavily.
A similar operation was carried out by No. 218 Squadron, off Boulogne, while Halifaxes and Stirlings of Nos. 138, 149 and 161
Squadrons dropped dummy parachutists, rifle fire simulators and other devices, such as squibs and fireworks, which reproduced the sound of gunfire. The object, which was largely attained, was to create the impression that an airborne landing near the village of Yvetot in north-west France was taking place. While this manoeuvre was pursuing its monotonous and wholly accurate course, 1,136 heavy bombers of Bomber Command were playing their part in the prologue to the invasion. The crews, who had been standing by for some time, had been carefully briefed, and were unaware that the operations were their share in the prologue to the invasion. ‘We were told’, stated a member of one of the crews, ‘we must press ahead, whatever happened, regardless of losses ‘. These, as it turned out, were very small—5 per cent.—and 5,267 tons of bombs were directed against ten of the principal coastal batteries. These were also shelled, as soon as it was light enough for the gunners to see, by warships of the Allied navies. To assess with accuracy the damage done by Bomber Command in this attack—the largest quantity of bombs which had ever been allotted to so small a target—is impossible, despite the very full investigations made during the latter stages of the war and afterwards. Many of the guns were protected by the enormous thickness of their concrete casemates which with some exceptions could not be penetrated either by shells or bombs. ‘The pre “D Day” bombing had’, records Eisenhower, ‘delayed the completion of the defence works and the unfinished state of the gun emplacements rendered them considerably less formidable than anticipated’. This is certainly true. Some batteries did not fire at all, some fired only spasmodically, and some seem to have engaged the invaders to the full extent of their ability. Yet even these did not do so during the most critical period, the moments when the assault craft were being lowered from their parent vessels which were necessarily stationary. Harris may have been right in his contention that his bomber crews were not trained to hit such targets, but his conclusion that they should not, therefore, have been used has been proved wrong. For the German gunners were for a time—and a most critical time—stunned by the onslaught and not able to perform their office. That is all the Royal Air Force claims to have achieved on ‘D Day’ against the coastal batteries, but the achievement was of great service. Yet it must be made clear that the bombing was in certain places very far from accurate. A party of the 9th Parachute Battalion on their way to join the main body in the assault on the battery at Merville ‘suffered heavy casualties in killed and wounded from our own bombing’. Such tragic mishaps were inevitable. They are none the less to be deplored.
As dawn broke and the summer sun began to shine uncertainly upon the coast of Normandy, Flight Lieutenant R. H. G. Weighill of No. 2 Squadron, 35 Wing, flying a Mustang to spot the fall of shot of HMS Glasgow, looked down upon a scene so often imagined, so earnestly longed for by millions—a scene which at that golden moment became an accomplished fact.
The sea was littered with ships of all descriptions [he reported afterwards] ploughing doggedly towards the enemy’s coast, looking very grim and very determined. The bombardment was terrific and one could actually see the shells in the form of red and white lights as they left the ships and flew towards the shore. ... I stayed at 1,000 feet and watched five of the naval vessels, which were about a mile from the beach and turned broadside on, proceeding to belch flame and destruction. It was a most terrifying sight, for as they fired what I now know to be rockets, a sheet of flame fifty yards long completely enveloped the ship. By this time, the first boat was almost ashore, and, as I watched it, the front came down and the men inside jumped into the water and ran towards the beach. It was a wonderful moment when I reported that the first men had actually landed.
Flight Lieutenant Weighill was probably the first eye-witness of the landings. By 1015 the invaders were firmly ashore and fighting their way inland. At that hour the Deputy Senior Air Staff Officer of the Second Tactical Air Force, Air Commodore Geddes, traversed the beaches from end to end in a Mustang fitted with an 8-inch lens camera. He photographed the scene from a height of between 800 and 1,000 feet, and thus provided the Commander-in-Chief with a valuable panorama. The village of Le Hamel was shrouded in smoke and dust from which emerged the purposeful figures of the attacking troops. At some places they were already three miles inland; at others, half that distance. As Geddes approached the Cherbourg Peninsula, he perceived a place where the shore ‘seemed to be congested with vehicles, craft and men with no sign of penetration beyond the sea wall. Fire could be seen within 500 yards of the beach’. This was OMAHA beach where the 116th American Infantry of the 29th Division and the 16th Infantry of the 1st Division were fighting a desperate battle to reach the land and stay there. Back again over the heads of the invaders he flew, taking note of everything: a direct hit on a house near the harbour mouth of Port en Bessin; spouts of water where shells were falling near some of the ships; one or two fires a short distance inland; a damaged landing craft, half awash; ‘a most majestic sight, HMS Warspite bombarding at anchor with her attendant small craft laying a smoke screen round her’; but above all, the figures of men, the morning light upon their bayonets, moving slowly, remorselessly, forward.
The air was very bumpy, and since the cloud base was below 2,000 feet, the sky was congested with aircraft, because the top cover, the low cover and the naval spotting aircraft were all working at the same approximate height. From time to time pilots could be heard on the Very High Frequency telephone, saying “Going down to investigate”‘.
Congested was indeed the right word. That day the full strength of 171 squadrons was in the sky above that short stretch of French coast. Controlled from three Fighter Direction ships, one in the American, one in the British area, and the third on the route followed by the shipping, and under the general direction of Air Commodore C. A. Bouchier, they were providing cover for the men and stores on the beaches and for the ships unloading them. They were also there to drive off the Luftwaffe should it dare to appear. The general direction of all these forces had been established in a Combined Centre in the Operations Room of No. 11 Group at Uxbridge, whose staff had handled a similar, though smaller, operation during the raid on Dieppe less than two years before, and who had fought so much of the Battle of Britain in 1940. The squadrons of fighters and fighter-bombers detailed to give close support to the invading troops, were controlled from the headquarters ship HMS Bulolo. On board were a number of air force officers whose duty it was to despatch the squadrons in the air above them against targets indicated by the army. Such was the theory, but in practice the number of requests for air support proved unexpectedly small. Whenever a target, such as enemy fighting vehicles or transport, or a strong point, was pointed out, it was attacked, usually with excellent results. That the army should not have found it necessary to call for a greater measure of support is proof of the surprise of the assault, of the effectiveness of the preliminary bombardment and of the stout hearts of the troops. The fighter cover provided was indeed overwhelming, and Leigh-Mallory, in his lofty office in Bentley Priory, with its tall windows looking on to rhododendrons in full bloom, paced the floor in mounting disappointment as he exclaimed, over and over again, ‘Where is the Luftwaffe?’.
The fact was that, taken by surprise and faced with the winged inhabitants not of one but, it seemed, of a hundred hornets’ nests, it dared no more than a few uncertain sorties. By the afternoon it had lost four Junkers 88’s and one Focke-Wulf 190, which, before it hit the sea, dropped a 250-pound phosphorus bomb on the deck of the Bulolo causing casualties and damage. The Luftwaffe was overwhelmed. On the whole west front, the area allotted to Luftflotte 3, it had no more than 500 serviceable aircraft, and of these only 160 were day and 50 night fighters. They were especially short of
bomber strength. Out of 400 on strength, only 185 were able to take the air; very few did so.
Our own losses, caused for the most part by anti-aircraft fire, were negligible, reaching a total of 113 in the 14,674 sorties, 5,656 of them British, which the Allies put into the air between midnight on 5th June and midnight on 6th June.
The programme of Coastal Command was as heavily charged as that of the others. CORK patrols had been flown for some days and on 6th June all crews were especially vigilant. During the course of that day, Coastal Command aircraft sighted eight submarines proceeding from Bay ports in the direction of the assault area. They were attacked the following day. Attacks were also delivered by Nos. 144 and 248 Squadrons and No. 404 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force, on three heavy enemy destroyers while they were still south of Brest, but the damage inflicted was not enough to stop their progress. After spending two days in Brest, the three destroyers and a torpedo boat put to sea once more and were again sighted by aircraft of No. 19 Group. On the night of the 8th/9th an Allied destroyer force engaged them. One was sunk outright, another was driven on to the rocks at the Ile de Batz and the third turned back to Brest.
As ‘D Day’ wore on, the controllers of the night fighters, which were to provide protection during the hours of darkness, went ashore. The first echelon of No. 21 Base Defence Sector Control had made an attempt to land at 1130 in the morning, but was met with machine-gun fire and withdrew until five in the afternoon. It then went in again, but many of its vehicles, driven into over four feet of water, were drowned when they encountered a deeper patch. Only eight remained serviceable, though a number of others were subsequently salvaged. After further tribulation and much exertion, the unit was established in the small hamlet of Les Moulins, but was not able to come into action for four days. The advance elements of No. 24 Base Defence Sector, including No. 15083 Ground Control Interception Unit drawn from No. 85 Group, was more fortunate. Landing near Meuvaines at about noon, it intended to be ready to control night fighters that same evening. By the time night had fallen and the Luftwaffe made a series of spasmodic attacks on the shipping and beaches, the sector, despite technical difficulties, was in operation, though able to control only one fighter at a time.
‘D Day’ closed with operation MALLARD, the flying of 256 gliders bearing reinforcements and stores to the British 6th Airborne Division. Two hundred and forty-six of them arrived at the chosen landing zone. Close fighter escort by fifteen squadrons of No. 11
Group was given to this slow-moving force dragged to its destination by Nos. 38 and 46 Groups. The men travelled in Horsas, the jeeps, trailers and other stores in lumbering Hamilcars each capable of sustaining a load of eight tons. They landed partly north of Ranville and partly between Ouistreham and Benouville. The operation was singularly successful, 95 per cent. of the gliders reaching their destination, to the joy of the hard-pressed men of the 6th Airborne Division, who watched their advent with lightened hearts. In the soft light of the sunset the gliders came in ‘swaying and rustling’ through the evening air. ‘This sight’, said Private Owen, a parachute soldier who with his comrades had been in close action for above twelve hours, ‘was the happiest I ever saw’.
Thus ended ‘D Day’; the most momentous in the history of war since Alexander set out from Macedon ‘to ride in triumph through Persepolis’. To say that the Allied air forces were omnipotent, omnipresent, overwhelming, is no more than the truth. That was precisely what they were. Leigh-Mallory swept the skies and carried all before him. From dawn till long after dusk the Norman air was vibrant with the sound of aircraft passing to and fro. ‘The sky seemed to be full of our fighters the whole time, even in weather which seemed scarcely fit for flying. It was a most inspiring and comforting sight’, said a sailor on the deck of one of the hundreds of ships discharging men and stores.
‘The regularity’ reported Wing Commander A. H. D. Livock, controller on the Bulolo, ‘with which large formations of our own aircraft of every type flew over reminded one of Clapham Junction during a Bank Holiday week-end’.
What he saw that day was but a prelude to what was to follow, for at last the Allies were able to apply the lesson that, in the air age, dominance in that element is indispensable to the winning of wars. For many weary months they had had the will; now they had the means. The initiative was theirs at last, won by the toil and sacrifice, the courage and cold fortitude of bomber crews who, night after night for four long years had pursued their steadfast path to the heart of Germany, by the skill and patience of U-boat hunters quartering inhospitable seas, by the dash and ferocity of fighter pilots for whom the Battle of Britain was a glowing memory or a burning example. For all three arms of the service ‘D Day’ was a glory and a crown. For the enemy it was a portent; for the air staffs a vindication of plans and policies now seen to be mature and sound. At last the hour had struck and the wheeling squadrons, as they flashed between sunlight and shadow, were evidence, which all could see, that Victory was Winged.