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Veterans Stories

D-Day, Tuesday 6th June 1944

The 489th Bomb Group arrived in England in time for D-Day and were part of this historical operation.

The following accounts of D-Day were gathered together and published by 489th veteran, Charles Freudenthal, in his book ‘A History of the 489th’.

Page 61:

Tom Baker, Base Defense, recalled the evening before: “Every soldier in our camp was called in tonight. Our lieutenant told us to be ready. He had to give our squadron eight more Tommy guns. We exchanged carbines for them. We think the invasion starts tonight.”

Arvo Lohela remembers: “Some time before D-Day the squadron commanders were informed confidentially of Allied invasion plans — date, time, and location. For security reasons, we were grounded until that time. The night before the Normandy invasion was clear and still. From the control tower I could hear and see the lights of the RAF heading for the continent to carry out its usual night bombing attacks. I told myself, ‘This is an historic night, remember it !’ And I have. It was the beginning of the end of Hitler’s dream. By morning of the 6th the weather had turned ‘stinko’ and the 489th was denied its scheduled opportunity to provide air support to invasion forces. On succeeding days, however, it did.”

Bill Wilkinson’s impressions: “We spend from before midnight until noon planning and executing our part in the great D-Day push, only to be frustrated by weather . . . We form with thousands of planes over literally acre upon acre of ground support camps and equipment depots covering huge estates and farm lands. Partial cloud cover allows impressive sightings of the many watercraft of all sizes and descriptions massing in the English Channel. But as we approach the French coast, the land, together with our target, the village of St Lo, disappears under complete cloud cover. We dare not chance a bomb drop anywhere near the active front for fear of hitting friend as well as foe. We return to base still loaded with bombs . . . and feel as weary as if we had actually contributed to … the greatest landing effort in history.”

Part of the D-Day Invasion Fleet from 'A History of the 489th'Part of the D-Day Invasion Fleet from 'A History of the 489th'

The 489th’s contribution to the invasion turned out to be less than hoped for or expected. The St Lo area was overcast during the morning mission, when bombing was to have been visual, and the second effort of the day was abandoned when the lead Pathfinder aircraft failed to appear. Three planes did tack on to a B-17 formation and bombed an unknown target. Forty-eight aircraft were dispatched on the first mission and 26 on the second. In both cases they carried 500lb GPs. Field Order instructions for the early mission were specific; no flares were to be fired, and there were to be no control point or bomb strike reports.

“We were awakened at 0030 for an 0130 briefing”, Frank Skrzynski wrote: “That’s when we found out the invasion was starting and we were to play a part in it. All morning long airplanes were forming up above, leaving for France before us. We were to bomb a road intersection at St Lo, and the prospect of seeing great things in the making enthralled . . . We passed over the Channel about 0900, and through breaks in the undercast we were able to see part of the invasion fleet. There was solid undercast at the target, so we were unable to drop our bombs . . . We landed about noon and prepared to take off again. We got credit for this mission, but about all I did on Invasion Day was to act in my capacity as an aerial observer. We took off again at 1600 for the same target, and this time we were to have a PFF ship . . . The weather got worse over the field and we had to climb to 24,000 feet before we broke through. The PFF ship wasn’t there, so we formed on the deputy leader and flew to the Channel. Here we began to circle around, waiting for the Pathfinder to arrive, but it never did. We couldn’t go without it, so it was a sorry bunch of fellows who came back to base . . . We got to bed after 2300 and were pretty tired.”

Lieutenant Chester Weaks, bombardier on Warren Conrad’s 847th crew, recalled that take-off was held up for a couple of hours. “We received word that 12,000 other planes were in the air over the invasion coast, and that traffic was congested. Seventeen hundred bombers had already bombed in the general area of our target. They told us at briefing to concentrate on ground observation and to ignore enemy fighters — that any aircraft in the air would be our own. We didn’t believe it, but it turned out right. There wasn’t room for anyone else. All available RAF planes were there too.”

Colonel Napier was the command pilot. Lieutenant Carl Hillstrom flew Group lead, with Lts. Mitchell and Gaczi leading the high and low squadrons.

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