Following is an excerpt from the wartime diary of
Col. Charles H. Young, CO of the 439th Troop Carrier Group. The diary entry is dated 5 June, which is when the D-Day
takeoffs began for IX TCC units, then stationed in England. Col. Young reached
his Normandy DZ at 0108 on 6 June.
f the weather had been good, the invasion would have
started last night, but about noon I got word that it had been postponed
24 hours. We had the final briefing for pilots tonight at 2030, at which
there were many photographers, movie cameramen, and war correspondents.
Col. Harlan Miller and a crew of six, and Mr. Munn of United Press, among
Stations time at 2200, take off with 81 ships
started at 2313. We left England at the Bill of Portland on a course
of 213 degrees magnetic for 55
miles, then on 132 degrees for 57 miles, then east on 93 degrees across
the Cotentin peninsula in Normandy.
The horseman guiding his steed sideways to get him
squared away for his jump over a high bar and broad pit, then turning,
loosens the reins and feels the surge of power ripple through his
spirited mount. That is how I felt on the night of June 5th, 1944 as I
turned our formation of 81 C-47s at the last check point in the English
Channel, leading in the first group of the 50th Troop Carrier Wing, and
started on the final straight run-in to German-held Normandy. Not that
I’m kidding myself about the lumbering old C-47 Skytrains being
powerful or spirited, but the potent fighting cargo we carried, the
eager tough young paratroopers of Colonel Sink of the 101st Airborne
Division, gave us that sense of power and spirit.
Crossing the coast at 1,500 feet, I saw a cloud
bank too late to get under, so started over, and the group was on
instruments temporarily. I had formed the habit of leading a formation
with the auto-pilot engaged, as it made it possible to lead more
smoothly. When we hit the clouds, I disconnected only the altitude
control and started climbing, hoping to break out on top so we could
keep our formation together. We shortly broke out on top, and a few
miles inland some breaks began to appear, and we were able to start a
gradual descent down to about 700 feet.
Since we had not changed our heading, we were still
on course and shortly I began to recognize some of the features of the
landscape and knew where we were. Our navigators (Paterno, radio/radar;
Foynes, pilotage) confirmed that we were on course, and soon I could see
the pattern of the flooded areas in the reflected moonlight which was
filtering through the clouds somewhat. By the time we were halfway
across the peninsula, I picked out the road that ran through the north
part of our assigned drop zone, DZ C. I made a slight course correction
to the right, and we went directly over the DZ, which was located about
three miles southeast of Sainte-Mère-Église, three miles west of the
east coastline and close to Sainte-Marie-du-Mont and north of Hiesville.
We had been receiving some fire, evidently from
machine guns and some heavier flak from the time we had crossed the west
coast. As we were approaching the DZ machine gun fire and flak began
increasing, and a ship in our 45-ship serial, flown by 2d Lt. Marsten
Sargent, was shot down. The
intense flames from the gasoline fire lit up the lower cloud layer above
us and gave an eerie orange-yellow cast to the formation and to the
scene below us.
Machine gun fire with yellow tracers came from the
right rear where we crossed the railroad that ran from Cherbourg to
Carentan. The tracers went by the
nose of my ship so thick at this point that they lit up the inside of
the cockpit. Later I found out
that much of my No. 2 element had been shot up, though none were shot
down by this fire. Tracers of
green, blue, and orange—came
from guns two to three miles from the north in a head converging on our
column and by now tracers were crossing in front of us and around us,
and large explosions were occurring along the coastline ahead of us.
The combination of these several guns shot down two more ships of
our second serial of 36 ships, led by Major Tower.
The two that crashed were flown by Lt. Harold Capelluto and Lt.
Marvin Muir. Lt. Muir was able to
hold his plane in the air long enough to jump their stick of troopers,
and he and his crew sacrificed their own lives to do so.
After our troopers were dropped and the area
cleared, we turned northeastward to cross the St.-Marcouf Islands.
North of the islands I got up and looked back through the
astrodome to check on the formation. Tracers were coming from a point about six miles behind us, up
through and among us in a huge, snake-like arc, so I climbed back into
my seat with some speed where I had a little protection from some armor-plate
I’d had installed there.
Passing Cherbourg, well offshore, shells started
lobbing out at a point ahead and getting nearer our course with each
shot. I veered slightly to the
far side of the course to make it more sporting.
As we intercepted the course that we had taken from the
Bill of Portland, on the way in, other formations could still be seen
going in, as the airborne train was several hundred miles long.
I called those formations—breaking
radio silence for what I was certain now to be an emergency—and
told them to hit the coast at 700 feet instead of 1,500 feet.
These were some of the serials bringing in the 82d Airborne
to Col. Sink and
"Fermez la Porte"