D-Day and the 406th Fighter Group
Outside it was pitch black, cold, rainy and down right "miserable". Crew chiefs, armament specialists, mechanics and the full range of men who made the planes fly went to work in preparation for the pre-dawn take off. The bad weather had the enemy thinking an invasion to be unlikely and Ike was sweating that he had made the right choice when he said "ok, let's go".
The 406th flew 4 missions that day with a full compliment of 48 planes. The lead mission took off at 4:30 AM into total darkness and an overcast of 600 feet. They formed up carefully under the clouds—even as the fighter group stationed just down the way—the 405th—was doing the same thing. This was tricky business.
Once gathered into formation they proceeded to climb through the thick overcast. Note: this was the first time the entire group of 4 dozen P-47's flew combat in night instrument conditions! You had to watch the Thunderbolt next to you (sometimes only seeing its running light) because there was no visibility in the dark and clouds. It took all their skills—and was really "hairy!"
Several anxious moments crawled by when the group suddenly broke through the cloud cover. To each man's amazement, all 48 planes of the 406th fighter group were in near perfect formation! That was a good bit of flying. I don't think they wanted to go back and try it over again!
Most recollect that at some point group commander A V Grossetta experienced engine trouble and was forced to return to base—turning over the reins to John Locke. The P-47's continued to climb heading directly to Normandy.
The assignment was to fly top cover, which meant bringing them to their position over the beaches at 25,000 feet. Clouds remained thick as the sky turned slowly from dark to hazy light.
For perhaps 40 minutes they patrolled the sector. Back and forth flew the 512th, 513th and 514th squadrons — keeping in formation and on the lookout. They could see a multitude of flashes reflecting on the clouds from bombarding ships, but little else. There were no enemy aircraft. With the situation looking under control, Locke decided to ask fighter command for permission to go down below the overcast.