The 406th Occupier

Page 7

Rockets — First For Yanks (continued)

A fter an overnight trip across the channel first elements of the air echelon came alongside Omaha beach on July 24, to be followed the next day by the vehicle serials on Liberty ships. With backs bent under full pack and hands full of gas masks, protective clothing and extra rations, the party was unloaded in land craft and marched up the long and unmercifully steep hill connecting the beach and assembly area in an apple orchard that was to be the first bivouac area on the continent. On the same day the Squadrons back in England were participating in the first of a 2-day saturation attack on enemy lines below St. Lo. In addition the rocket firing aircraft of the 513th Squadron had moved to the continent to operate separately from an advanced landing strip. On the morning of the 25th the air echelon started out in search of its assigned air strip in the vicinity of Bayeux, the Group flew its part of Operatic Cobra again and the Thunderbolts with the secret weapon hunted the hedgerows for enemy tanks.

Thus the first phase described in the beginning came to a close with the 406th Fighter Group in a state of separation and suspended mobility that was to characterize its existence for the next two months through the passing of two other phases and from which it was never to entirely recover. The gypsy spirit as well as the gypsy habits became a part of our makeup during that week and was to sustain us during our later wanderings up and down the beach head, into Western France and across the Seine.

Normandy — And Busy Days

Omaha Beach Here's how Normandy looked to the personnel of
the 406th as boats are shown arriving at Omaha Beach.

The Group was first assigned to Strip A-13 near Bayeux on the continent and first elements of the Air Echelon arrived there by noon of the 25th. At first all was confusion but before another day had passed the tents were pitched, areas assigned, and some resemblance of order achieved. In a couple of days the 513th moved down from A-2, Col. Grossetta flew in from the United Kingdom, communications were established with the 70th Fighter Wing and the place was ready to receive airplanes. A-13 was a beautiful field of its kind then consisting of two long pierce planks runways cut out of the tall trees and interlocking hedgerows within sight of the barrage ballons protecting the British beach nearby. With the arrival of the flight echelon, mostly by July 30 and 31, the green foliage and landscape became yellow from the great fogs of dust that hung over the despersal areas and blew across the field to settle inches thick on everything and everybody.

Operations from A-13 quickly conformed to the pattern of the new phase in ground operations. Under control of the 70th Wing and Ninth TAC during the first two weeks of August the Group ran column cover for the armored units fannings out below St. Lo toward Carentan and Avranches, close cooperation missions of eight ship flights against M/T, armored concentrations, and gun positions in the vicinity of the Fire pocket, and armed recces nearly to the Seine. The pilots learned to use large scale maps in pinpointing targets, had many humorous and highly satisfactory experiences with the ground controllers operating with the armored and infantry units. The operations and intelligence sections quickly adjusted to scheduling and briefing many separate squadron flights each day as well as maintaining sufficient map coverage to show the fast changing ground situation. The ground liaison officers came into their own as the entire group's attention centered on the bombline and front line of troops which they kept up-to-date.