INTO THE VALLEY The Untold Story of USAAF Troop Carrier in World War II From North Africa through Europe
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War Diary, Col. Charles H. Young

The Run-In to DZ-C, Normandy, D-Day, 0105.

5 June 1944, D-Day Mission

Note: Col. Young, as commanding officer of the 439th TCG, flew the lead ship in the 50th Wing’s formation during Operation Neptune-Bigot, the air assault phase of Operation Overlord. The 439th was the third group into Normandy and the first to draw heavy German fire. Their target was Drop Zone C, near Ste Mere Eglise. Jumpmaster was Col. Robert F. Sink, CO, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. Ste Mere Eglise was the first French town liberated by American forces. Today, a C-47 from the 439th Group has been restored as The Argonia, flown by Col. Young and crew, and is housed in the Airborne Museum in Ste Mere Eglise. This passage from Col. Young’s diary gives you a first-hand view of what the run-in to DZ-C looked like during the invasion. The airborne assault came in ahead of the amphibious landings. Young dropped Sink at 0108 – about five hours before U.S. Army troops began landing at Utah and Omaha beaches.

If 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 others.

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 Eng¬lish 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, until 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 various colors--red, 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 off-shore, 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 Division.