Airborne during World War II Campaigns - Normandy (D-Day)
peration Overlord - the invasion of Normandy commenced on June 6th, 1944 -
"D-Day". The Allied assault from Britain across the English Channel onto the beaches of France
would be the greatest seaborne military operation in history. However, an integral part of the D-Day
assault was its initial airborne operation.
Operation Neptune was the name of the initial airborne operation for the invasion
of Normandy. The 82nd Airborne was assigned the task of destroying vital German supply bridges and
capture causeways leading inland across the flooded areas behind the Normandy beaches where seaborne
forces would land to gain control of roads and communications. Hear a
BBC Broadcast of the Allied Landing at Normandy.
The execution of this assignment was hampered by the early-morning darkness and low hanging
clouds. The poor weather conditions diminished the visibilty of the initial "Pathfinder"
aircraft. Many were unable to locate their designated drop zones. Only the battle-tested 505th PIR
Pathfinders were accurately dropped into their Drop Zones(DZ). Some of the Pathfinders
that went astray didn't activate their equipment in order to avoid misleading their regiments.
In other cases, the presence of enemy troops precluded the use of guidance devices. Consequently, only
10 percent of the troopers landed on the proper DZs. This scattering of troopers played to the
All-American advantage since they were engaging a force of from 4 to 10 times their number. The German
perception of Paratroopers being everywhere forced the Germans to hold back their reserves and gave the
82nd a chance to regroup.
Other problems such as hedgerows, flooded fields and fields sown with mines attached to
poles driven into the gound compounded the airborne assault. Nonetheless, one of D-Day's major objectives
- the town of Sainte Mere-Englise - was captured before dawn by the 505th PIR under the command of
Lt. Col. Benjamin Vandervoort (picture right). It was the first town
liberated on the Western Front.
Meanwhile, two key bridges on the Merderet River - the LaFiere and Chef-du-Pont -
proved difficult to take. Brig. General Gavin, who led the 82nd's assault contingent into Normandy as
Assistant Division Commander, gathered about 500 paratroopers from various regiments and split them in
half to secure the bridges. After intense fighting, the Chef-du-Pont was taken. The LaFiere was taken
once, then reoccupied by the Germans. It was another two days of fighting before it was controlled again
by the Americans.
Once on the ground the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment reinforced the troopers on the
Merderet River. On June 9th, three days after the invasion, Pfc Charles N. DeGlopper of the 325th's
Company C became the first 82nd Airborne Division member to win the Medal of Honor in World War II.
Weighing 240 pounds and standing 6 feet seven inches tall, PFC DeGlopper allowed himself to become a
target for a large force of Germans while other platoon members broke free and formed the first
bridgehead across the Merderet River at LaFiere. PFC Deglopper of Grand Island, New York was already
wounded several times when he made his gallant move inflicting many German casualties before being killed.
Another group from the 508th PIR, whose mission was to seize a bridge over the Douve River,
at Pont L' Abbe, was stopped by a German battalion just before reaching the town.
Realizing that they were vastly outnumber, the 508th group withdrew to Hill 30. For two days
Lt. Col Thomas J.B.Shanley and his men fought off strong German units trying to overrun the main
paratrooper landings. This action has been considered decisive in helping the airborne meet its
objectives at Normandy.
The airborne troops continued their ferocious fight as infantrymen for 33 days after landing
at Normandy. By the time the 82nd Airborne was relieved to return to England nearly half of the original
contingent had either been killed or wounded. They had cost the Germans dearly by inflicting many more
casualties and destroying a large amount of neede equipment. But most important, the 82nd Airborne had
choked off reinforcements for the Germans defending the French Coast. Instead, the All Americans'
presence provoked panic and prevented 35,000 to 40,000 enemy troops from rushing to the sea where they