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The Sky Above Us – Tour: D-Day in the Air

Celebrating the release of The Sky Above Us! Today I’m featuring historical photos plus photos from my research trip to England and Normandy that relate to the aerial aspect of D-day.To celebrate the release of The Sky Above Us, I’m conducting a photo tour of locations from the novel that I saw on my research trip to England and Normandy.

London!

Today—D-day in the Air

Duxford Air Museum

The Queen Mary (sister ship of the Queen Elizabeth)

Don’t forget to enter The Sky Above Us Release Day Giveaway, which includes lots of items I picked up on the trip! Giveaway runs Feb. 5-12, 2019.

US poster featuring the North American P-51B Mustang, WWII

US poster featuring the North American P-51B Mustang, WWII

In The Sky Above Us, US fighter pilot Lt. Adler Paxton flies a P-51 Mustang in treacherous dogfights with the German Luftwaffe as the Allies battle for air superiority in the days leading up to D-day. Then on D-day, he flies over the landing beaches in Normandy. Today I’m featuring photos from my research trip to England and Normandy that relate to the aerial aspect of D-day.

D-day, Operation Overlord, is one of the most pivotal events of World War II and modern history. For four years, Hitler’s Nazi Germany had occupied most of Europe. During that time period, the Allies slowly regained strength and weaponry. On June 6, 1944, 156,000 British, Canadian, American, Free French, and other Allied troops invaded northern France in Normandy, supported by almost 200,000 Allied naval personnel, while 11,000 aircraft flew overhead.

Allied aerial operations on D-day were complicated, but largely successful, with notable exceptions. The transport planes dropped paratroopers. The bombers targeted German transportation, communications, and strongpoints. And the fighters covered the invasion area, strafed ground targets, and kept the Luftwaffe away from Allied troops.

Map of the Allied air plan for the landings in Normandy, 6 June 1944. (From Saunders, Hilary St. George. Royal Air Force 1939-1945, Volume III: The Fight Is Won. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1954. Public domain via Hyperwar website).

Map of the Allied air plan for the landings in Normandy, 6 June 1944. (From Saunders, Hilary St. George. Royal Air Force 1939-1945, Volume III: The Fight Is Won. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1954. Public domain via Hyperwar website).

Map of the US Eighth Air Force plan for 6 June 1944 (From Sunday Punch in Normandy: The Tactical Use of Heavy Bombardment in the Normandy Invasion. Washington, DC: Center for Air Force History, 1992 (new imprint). Public domain via Hyperwar website)

Map of the US Eighth Air Force plan for 6 June 1944 (From Sunday Punch in Normandy: The Tactical Use of Heavy Bombardment in the Normandy Invasion. Washington, DC: Center for Air Force History, 1992 (new imprint). Public domain via Hyperwar website)

Map of Allied aerial operations from March-August 1944, Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, Colleville-sur-Mer, France, September 2017 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

Map of Allied aerial operations from March-August 1944, Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, Colleville-sur-Mer, France, September 2017 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

The first planes aloft were transport aircraft and gliders carrying the paratroopers of the British 6th Airborne Division and the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. Over 1400 US C-47s, C-53s, and gliders, and 364 RAF Dakotas, Albemarles, and gliders participated. The paratroopers secured crucial bridges and gun batteries and towns and generally confused the Germans before the landings. The landings in the British sector went extraordinarily well, but low clouds and heavy antiaircraft fire caused chaos in the American landings. Despite being scattered and mixed, the paratroopers showed incredible ingenuity and courage and fought where they landed.

US C-47 Skytrain and representations of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and US paratroopers at the Airborne Museum, Sainte-Mère-Église, France, September 2017 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

US C-47 Skytrain and representations of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and US paratroopers at the Airborne Museum, Sainte-Mère-Église, France, September 2017 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

Waco glider (2 photos superimposed) at the Airborne Museum, Sainte-Mère-Église, France, September 2017 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

Waco glider (2 photos superimposed) at the Airborne Museum, Sainte-Mère-Église, France, September 2017 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

Church of Sainte-Mère-Église, France, where US paratroopers landed on D-day. (Photo: September 2017, Sarah Sundin)

Church of Sainte-Mère-Église, France, where US paratroopers landed on D-day. (Photo: September 2017, Sarah Sundin)

Close-up of church of Sainte-Mère-Église, France, showing memorial to paratrooper John Steele of the US 505th PIR, whose parachute caught on the steeple. He was taken prisoner by the Germans, but later escaped to fight again. (Photo: September 2017, Sarah Sundin)

Close-up of church of Sainte-Mère-Église, France, showing memorial to paratrooper John Steele of the US 505th PIR, whose parachute caught on the steeple. He was taken prisoner by the Germans, but later escaped to fight again. (Photo: September 2017, Sarah Sundin)

Memorial window for US paratroopers in church of Sainte-Mère-Église, France. (Photo: September 2017, David Sundin)

Memorial window for US paratroopers in church of Sainte-Mère-Église, France. (Photo: September 2017, David Sundin)

On the night of June 5-6, 1136 heavy bombers of the British Royal Air Force hit ten Nazi gun batteries on the coast of France. Later analysis showed the reinforced concrete gun casemates were not destroyed; however, damage to supplies and rattling of the crews did impede German activity during the landings.

During the day, the bombers of RAF Coastal Command guarded the English Channel to prevent German submarines and surface craft from reaching the fleet.

At first light on D-day, the B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators of the US Eighth Air Force targeted German strongpoints behind the beaches as well as the beaches themselves. Due to low clouds, they had to use blind radar bombing. To avoid short bombing, in which they might have hit the landing craft speeding toward shore, they delayed bomb release. As a result, German defenses on the beaches, particularly at Omaha, were undamaged, and the GIs didn’t have the craters they’d been promised for hiding. However, the bombs falling farther inland probably hindered German reinforcement.

B-17 Flying Fortress “Sally B” (also painted as the “Memphis Belle” on one side), Imperial War Museum, Duxford, England, September 2017 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

B-17 Flying Fortress “Sally B” (also painted as the “Memphis Belle” on one side), Imperial War Museum, Duxford, England, September 2017 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

The medium bombers of the US Ninth Air Force did phenomenal work on Utah Beach. In an incredibly dangerous low-level run, 293 B-26 Marauders blasted the beach, damaging fortifications and leaving plenty of protective craters.

More medium and light bombers and fighter-bombers of the US Ninth Air Force and the RAF 2nd Tactical Air Force hit vital German road, rail, and bridge targets, making communication and reinforcement impossible.

B-26 Marauder “Dinah Might,” Utah Beach D-Day Museum, Sainte Marie du Mont, France, September 2017 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

B-26 Marauder “Dinah Might,” Utah Beach D-Day Museum, Sainte Marie du Mont, France, September 2017 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

Over 4000 fighters of the US Eighth and Ninth Air Forces, plus thousands of RAF fighters flew on that day. US P-38 Lightnings were chosen to cover the shipping lanes. Their unique twin-boomed silhouette was easily recognizable and less likely to be shot down by trigger-happy Allied sailors and soldiers. RAF Spitfires flew cover high above the landing beaches, and US P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs, both of which had longer range than the Spitfire, maintained a defensive perimeter in a broad semicircle around the invasion area. Later in the morning and throughout the day, US and RAF fighters strafed German road, rail, and bridge targets.

RAF Spitfire, Imperial War Musuem, Duxford, England, September 2017 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

RAF Spitfire, Imperial War Musuem, Duxford, England, September 2017 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

US P-51 Mustang, Imperial War Museum, Duxford, England, September 2017 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

US P-51 Mustang, Imperial War Museum, Duxford, England, September 2017 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

What didn’t happen on D-day is particularly notable. The German Air Force was essentially absent. This was due to months of the Allied pre-invasion campaign, which sought to destroy the Luftwaffe in the air, on the ground, and in the factory—and to bomb German airfields in the weeks prior to the landings. Indeed, the Luftwaffe only managed to fly 319 sorties in the entire Normandy region that day, with only a single strafing run over the landing beaches by two particularly brave Focke-Wulf Fw 190s. We can only imagine what might have happened if the Allies had not obtained air superiority.

Please join me tomorrow when we’ll tour the Imperial War Museum’s air museum at Duxford, England.

9 Responses to “The Sky Above Us – Tour: D-Day in the Air”

  1. Cathy

    Thank you for this fascinating, first person view of D-Day! I even spotted a B-26; a family member flew the B-26 from a base in England, including a mission shortly before our guys landed on D-Day. Please continue to share your knowledge and pictures, as it is greatly appreciated by those of us who want to never forget.

    Reply
  2. Kaye Whitney

    I appreciate your novels, because I remember the sirens and the blackouts every night. My dad was a neighborhood Air Raid Warden.

    Reply
  3. Lisa Hudson

    Thank you so much for this fascinating look at Operation Overlord! You have presented it in such a condensed and understandable form. Excellent Research & Presentation!

    Reply
  4. Rose

    Love the pictures, thank you. I thought I commented before but I do not see it. My dad served in ww2 and D-Day

    Reply
  5. stella gustafson

    Love touring and looking at all the photos how neat that could have been for you to actually get to see what you where writing about. Love your books

    Reply

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