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D-Day: Night landings vital to mission's success: 'Blueprint' published pre-war showed how and where paratroopers should be deployed

TO SECURE the flanks of the D- Day landings and knock out German defences, glider-borne and airborne troops were dropped or landed on either side the preceding night. The US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions attacked to the west and the British 6th to the east, writes Christopher Bellamy.

Two years previously Ferdinand Otto Miksche, a Czech officer working for the Allies and prominent military writer, had published the first serious study of the employment of such forces in English, in which he showed a 'hypothetical' landing on the same piece of Normandy coast, with paratroops landing in almost exactly the same places.

The map was published long before the final invasion plans were drawn up, and is unlikely to have been a deliberate double-bluff. Fortunately for the Allies, the Germans, who believed the main landings would come in the Pas de Calais, assumed the British would not have been so foolish as to allow publication of such an accurate military theory.

In the run-up to D-Day, Air Chief Marshal Trafford Leigh- Mallory, commander of the Allied air forces, feared that the planned drops would lead to catastrophe, with the troops unable to assemble on the ground, and urged General Eisenhower to cancel them.

On the night of 5-6 June, flying with no ground control or airborne radar, 900 transports and 100 gliders carrying 17,000 troops headed towards the drop zones. The main drops, from just after midnight until 0400 were scattered. Both regiments of the US 82nd Airborne and 4,000 out of 6,000 troops in the 101st Airborne were thrown into disarray. By the end of D-Day, 1,000 troops out of 6,400 of the 82nd were dead, wounded or missing.

It had become obvious that paratroops could not carry enough heavy equipment and that it took time for them to shake out into formation after landing. Gliders solved both these problems. The British Hamilcar could carry two armoured scout cars or 40 soldiers and the troops landed in organised units. The first British glider mission was successful, seizing two bridges over the Caen canal and river Orne. In spite of being scattered through marshy terrain, the US 82nd seized all its objectives, including St Mere Eglise, the first French village to be liberated.

The glider and parachute landings were vital; without them, the assault on Utah beach might have been repulsed. Although many units landed in disarray, counter- attacks were similarly scattered.

(Photographs omitted)