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Thursday, June 06, 2019

My father on D-Day: 75 years ago

Today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day—the day British, Canadian, and American troops landed on the beaches of Normandy.1

For us baby boomers it always meant 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. His missions were limited to quick strikes and reconnaissance during the first few days of the invasion because 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 [see Hawker Hurricanes and Typhoons in World War II].

I have my father's log book and here are the pages from June 1944 (below). 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 mostly 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 1 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 Beach, the Canadians at Juno Beach, and American troops landed at Omaha and Utah Beaches.


John Harshman said...

I have some of my father's records too. He didn't get to England until October, well after the landing and long after the breakout. He was navigator on a B-17 and few 40 or so missions over Germany and France. Shout-out to the 490th Bomb Group (H).

Robert Byers said...

Yes D day matters and always will. i'm glad cAnadians had our own beach and did well without too much triuble. its still a recent new fact to me that planes were firing rocket propelled bombs. The war made innovation move along fantastic quick.

Donald Forsdyke said...

My father was Captain of a tanker bringing high octane aviation fuel to the Normandy beaches. Some of this cargo may have found its way to your father's typhoon. Decades later his grandson, Jonathan Fennell, having explored the archives containing letters written home by combatants, produced Fighting the People's War. The British and Commonwealth Armies and the Second World War (Cambridge University Press, 2018). His sources reveal ordinary rank-and-file experiences that came to strongly influence post-war politics.

Diane L said...

My mother has most of my fathers records and medals. I regret not paying more attention to his stories while he was alive and I live halfway around the world from my mom now. This digital ages is pretty amazing as my sister, who lives by our mom; can scan everything and send files online to me nearly instantly. I hope to honor pops' memory and brave deeds during his lifetime.

John Harshman said...

Incidentally, your father and others with the same job were the reason German troops could only travel at night or under heavy overcast, which really cramped their style. Good work.

William Spearshake said...

I’m named after two of my father’s friends who were killed in the war (I don’t know if it was during the invasion). The three of them went to the recruitment office together and my father was found unfit due to a heart murmur. The selfish part of me is glad that he was 4F, but I can only imagine how this affected him.