The controversy over
Visitors to this website may be unaware that WW2 survivors of the various Troop Carrier Groups are contemplating a lawsuit against preeminent WW2 author and historian Stephen Ambrose. It seems they are offended by what they perceive as Mis-truths
in what he wrote about the performance of T.C. pilots in delivering paratroopers to Normandy. The books in question are Ambrose's "D-Day:June 6, 1944-The Climactic Battle of WW2", and "Band of Brothers", his company history of E/506th which was recently translated into a 120 million dollar miniseries for H.B.O.
The primary allegations of the Troop Carrier people are mainly that: 1) Ambrose flatly stated that the T.C. pilots participating in the Normandy drop were inadequately trained prior to that mission. 2) Ambrose broadly generalized by writing that all the pilots took evasive action to save themselves.
3) Ambrose broadly generalized that all paratroopers were mis-droppped because of pilot mis conduct, and 4) Ambrose insinuated that all of these pilots 'chickened-out', or performed in a cowardly manner on that drop.
In early 2000,
Ambrose left a telephonic message with T.C. historian Lewis Johnston, apologizing for any slights against Troop Carrier veterans. Subsequently, Mike Ingrisano posted a transcript of that message over the Internet via e mails. But since that time, Ambrose has refused to engage in any dialogue with the T.C. veterans over these issues. As a result, the T.C. vets and their families are still not satisfied because: A) It is evident that Ambrose has no intention of ever revising what he wrote in the above-captioned books in future printings of same and: B) Ambrose has admitted that during his research for those books he did not interview a single Troop Carrier veteran. In his D-Day book, Ambrose quotes from four T.C. pilots whose statements are on file in the Eisenhower Center. This means he didn't interview them personally, but simply lifted some quotes from their transcripts.
In speaking to one of the proponents of a litigation on this matter, I've also heard the concern that: "Since Ambrose enjoys such an awesome reputation as an authority on WW2 facts, people accept everything he puts in his books as "carved in stone". Therefore, what will our great grandchildren and their offspring think many years from now, when they read this blanket condemnation of T.C. pilots in
I would interject a personal observation at this point. From reading Professor Ambrose's books, I've concluded that much of his writing does contain broad, blanket statements which tend to lump things together, resulting in sometimes inaccurate over-simplifications. In this case, it brought him some grief and controversy. I would even venture to say however, that much of Ambrose's mass appeal is due to giving generalized, pat answers to complex issues. Evidently that is what the public at large wants: simple explanations, which can be easily digested, assimilated and on occasion, reiterated at cocktail party discussions. Also, a considerable amount of partisan, personal opinion creeps in, giving the public what they want to hear. He has become what one T.C. veteran calls a "Pop Historian".
Although not a big fan of Ambrose, I must state that he is not totally wrong on this particular Troop Carrier issue-far from it. I learned several decades ago that there are two vastly different perspectives on the Normandy Drop issue-that of the paratrooper and that of Troop Carrier. I see a danger here of going too far in the other direction. This is 'Revisionism' of another sort. Not the sort that casts the Nazis as the true good-guys of WW2, but the kind of feel-good non-offensive tripe that tells the equally false story that all Troop Carrier pilots performed up to par on the D-Day drops. We must not accept that equally false assertion. That might make some people feel good, but it is as false as saying that they ALL fouled-up. When taking a true, factual look at the drops, it becomes evident that there were near-perfect drops, mixed drops, and totally disastrous drops, some attributable to entire squadrons and others to individual pilot error.
Mike Ingrisano writes: "the most important issue TC has with Ambrose is that he refused to engage in a dialog with us to examine the entire D-Day drop." The TC people say that if their proposed litigation meets with financial success, the proceeds will be donated to the WW2 Memorial in Washington D.C.
I had originally intended to avoid this controversy altogether.
But, in late 2000, certain proponents of the lawsuit idea contacted me to get my perspective. The wife of a Troop Carrier pilot, who is a former consumer advocate, spoke to me twice by phone. Her attitude on these issues is nothing less than fanatical, and after our conversations, I decided to present the 'Worst Case Scenario', which you will find on page two of this chapter. Her husband is a veteran of the 77th squadron, 435th TCG, and among other things, she told me her opinion that no pilot of the 435th Group mis dropped paratroopers in Normandy. I don't know where she got her information, but this is patently untrue.
Stick landing pattern map overlays, as well as survivor testimony confirm that at least eleven sticks of 3/501 PIR paratroopers were dropped in the area between Baupte and Pretot, France, many miles southwest of the intended landing area at Drop Zone 'C'.
When I tried to discuss that with this lady, she said "You're not old enough to have been there!", and slammed the phone down on me.
If the T.C. forces are going to go up against Ambrose, I trust that the Troop Carrier factions have better ammunition than arguments based on a wishful pipe dream that contradicts the known facts, or the age of a researcher. Furthermore, this kind of blind antagonism, which ignores the evidence, can only serve to alienate any potential allies to the T.C. cause. Her attitude also made me fear that those factions behind the lawsuit would accept nothing less than the false rewriting of history, to state that no misdrops occurred. Having said that, my discussions with this lady made me decide to present a well-documented example of the worst drop by any single Troop Carrier Squadron on D-Day. The lady who hung up on me would also probably deny that those misdrops ever happened. I don't want history to be re written by fanatics like her, who would ignore well-documented facts.
T.C. veteran Mike Ingrisano is one of the main forces behind the proposed litigation against Ambrose. He writes:
"We know, and the record shows, that Troop Carrier's Performance on that day was mixed. There were perfect drops, near perfect drops, mixed drops, and bad drops. WE KNOW THAT. Hence, we want the entire, true story told. We are not afraid of the TRUTH."
In a lengthy e mail to me, he pointed out that this subject is so complicated that a study of the experience and performance of each and every pilot who participated in the D-Day night drop would be necessary to depict what actually went on. But how much could be learned from reading about a bunch of pilots who all dropped right on target? The many individual experiences of men from squadrons which uniformly dropped right on target would sound very much alike, and each successive account would add little to our knowledge of the more important questions. Who mis dropped? Why ? Where? Each individual pilot who misdropped affected the fate of anywhere from 9-20 paratroopers, simply by where he was, when he turned on the green light. T.C. historian Randy Hils sent me a communication which reads in part:"Official documents should be considered as your primary sources, as the info obtained was gathered within hours of missions, not fifty years after the fact.'
While it is probable that the memories of the dozen or so pilots I've interviewed lately have diminished regarding minor details, I believe that they can still recall basic larger truths. I must say that at least four pilots told me that they simply weren't sure where they were, when they turned on the green light. A simple truth like that would not be forgotten, even after fifty-six years. Back in England, they were required to guess at the locations where they had made their drops. Many pilots had to make their best guess, which I would suggest could've easily been much less accurate than the estimations made by the men they dropped. Most pilots tried to figure out where they were after emerging from the cloudbanks, by looking down at highways, railroad lines, lakes, or other landmarks. But most of them either turned on the green light after seeing a plane ahead of them turn theirs on, or when in sight of the east Cotentin coast. It is a fact that some were not where they thought they were (see next page). Also, the paras could know at least the name of the first town they entered after landing.
It is not and never was my intention to do a detailed study of
Troop Carrier experiences-I mainly write about paratroopers. It seems that historian Randy Hils is already well on the way to being capable of producing a comprehensive T.C. history, and I hope he does. I only want to demonstrate that some disastrous misdrops DID occur, some attributable to certain pilots and some to entire squadrons. There is no purpose to do this, other than to protect that infomation from being lost or denied. This is also no reflection whatsoever on the hundreds of pilots who delivered their human cargoes precisely on target.
Before I present the 'Worst Case Scenario', I'd like to share some of the many factors that the Air Corps Crews and historians have told me, to give their perspective. As Randy Hils says "these well-trained pilots had too many factors against them that night, from planning on down, and they did the best they could."
When I attended the reunion of the 438th TCG in KY last October, I was given some of the basic facts which are excluded from most accounts of the night drop on Normandy. These have more recently been supplemented by info from Randy and from Mike Ingrisano, and include:
1) A shortage of Navigators-only about two planes in five participating in the D-Day night drop had a navigator aboard.
This ratio of navigators was not a sigificant problem in training, when daylight drops were made under relatively ideal conditions. But a navigator on every plane might have been an asset after the formations broke up in the clouds on D-Day.
2) Radio Silence-When dense cloudbanks were encountered over the west coast of the Cotentin peninsula, the Pathfinders were not permitted to radio that information to the main serials of following planes. Also, when pilots of the main serials flew into the clouds, they could not talk from plane to plane to
confer on alternate plans/altitudes/courses. It has been suggested in retrospect, that a Recon plane should have preceeded the main serials to troubleshoot such problems in advance. A coded message could then have been sent back to warn the following planes of what they were about to encounter. That this was not done comes under the heading of poor planning.
3) Uncontrollable external conditions-such as weather: there was a 20-30 knot wind blowing over the drop areas that night. Sudden
areas of turbulence were encountered unexpectedly, and in some cases, flak buffeted the planes. (Most of the ground fire received however was M.G. and rifle fire.)
4) Gross weight overload for that mission. Randy Hils provided the following facts: The recommended safe maximum weight for a C-47 with cargo aboard is 27,900 lb.
Troop Carrier planes routinely flew ETO mission at 30,000lb.
On the D-Day night drop, the C-47s were hauling equipment and overloaded paratroopers, which brought their weight up to as much as 34,000lb.
How did this additional weight affect the flight characteristics of the planes? For one thing, the planes normally slowed to 90mph and lifted the tail when the paratroopers exited on the green light. Slowing to 90mph with a D-Day weight load would've stalled the planes in middair. Hence, the recommended speed at exit time for the Neptune drop was 20 mph faster than usual:110MPH. Many paratroopers have complained that their pilots flew too fast (didn't slow down) at the time they jumped, and viewed this as just one more type of evasive action. Of course the paras could only guesstimate the speed at which they were traveling, but could surely judge that they were going significantly faster than usual by the intensity of the 'opening shock' they received, and by how much equipment was torn loose as a result. Naturally, the paras were not looking at a speedometer at that moment, but then the pilots probably weren't either. Some paras allege that their plane was going closer to 150 MPH when they exited-we will never know for certain.
Each overloaded paratrooper made a significant contribution to the weight/balance characteristics of the planes that night. Pilots have told me that they could feel the plane move as each jumper exited the door on the Green Light.
5) Plane speed and altitude:The planes approached the peninsula at 1500 feet, later dropping down to about 600 feet for the drop. Formation speed to the DZs was about 140 mph. Total flying time over this 22 mile wide peninsula (going west to east) was 9-1/2 minutes. Once the pilots had emerged from the clouds they had less than four minutes to recognize where they actually were, and to make any necessary course corrections before the green light.
To all the above, Randy adds:"The records contain accounts of Troop Carrier bravery on D-Day too. Crewmen killed making multiple passes on DZs, pilots taking heavy fire on multiple runs to execute their orders that no troopers be returned to England...Consider also that pilots crisscrossed the peninsula and DZs, searching for the DZs with the full knowledge that successive waves of aircraft were incoming just minutes apart! 821 C-47s in the same airspace with no airtraffic control and marked with dim blue lights meant to be viewed from behind. It amazes me that there were no middair collisions!
In the past several months, the webmaster has interviewed about a dozen WW2 C-47 pilots as well as a like number of crew members and several Glider pilots. I also attended the Oct. 2000 reunion of the 438th TCG. They told me that their group received extensive pre invasion training in instrument-only flying, in conditions of poor visibility. They claim they were the only group which received hours of this training, which was why they were chosen to fly the lead serials out of Greenham Common on D-Day. Their passengers on that night drop were of 2/502 and 3/502.
It is interesting to note that the 438th
was able to remain in formation for 3-4 minutes in conditions of
almost total fog, when they entered the unexpected cloudbanks at the west edge of the Cotentin that night. However, it is worth mentioning that although many of their passengers were dropped in the DZ 'A' area, that elements of the 438th dropped the entire 2nd battalion of the 502 PIR on the wrong DZ. Instead of landing near their objective at St Martin de Varreville, the 2/502 was dropped in a neat and concentrated area on Drop Zone 'C', between Hiesville-St Marie du Mont. The ill-effects of that misdrop proved minimal because:
a)The group landed within the consolidated Airborne bridgehead, making them less vulnerable to enemy reaction, and
b) Their assigned objective, the artillery battery near St Martin, had already been neutralized as a result of pre invasion bombing.
BEST CASE SCENARIOS
The entire 505 PIR experienced an accurate landing near their objectives at St Mere Eglise. LTC Ballard's 2d Bn of the 501 PIR had an excellent drop in a concentrated area on DZ 'D', near Angoville au Plein. The 2/501's accurate drop is difficult to explain, because it was among the last of the 101st serials to drop. This means that anti aircraft fire was heavier from the alerted German A.A. crews. Also, DZ 'D' was without Pathfinder lights or radar.
Virtually all of the other Airborne units experienced mixed drops that night, with some landing on or near the DZ, and others landing varying distances away. LTC Charles Young's 439th managed to drop most of the 1st and 2nd Bns of the 506th on DZ 'C', even with the absence of a lighted 'T'. But a number of sticks from this serial were misdropped far north near Ravenoville, which is even north of DZ 'A'. My research still hasn't disclosed how and why the entire 85th squadron drifted to the left, resulting in a mis drop too far north of the DZ. Most formations, upon entering the clouds, dispersed in several different directions to avoid mid air collisions. Why would one squadron go off course uniformly in the same direction?
VARIOUS TROOP CARRIER CONTENTIONS T.C. writers, including Sgt Martin Wolfe, author of 'Green Light' have raised the following points:
a) Perhaps the Pathfinders should have been dropped even earlier,
to allow them more time to set up lighted 'T's and radar.
b) Paratroopers were lost in the dark maze of hedgerows that night, so their estimation of where they landed is not reliable
Regarding Pathfinder lights and radar, on DZ 'C' they were not ready in time for the main serials. On DZ 'D', enemy action had prevented the Pathfinders from assembling and performing their job. But on DZ'A', lights were set-up by Captain Lillyman's team-in time for the 2d flight of planes. Lt Delmar Idol of A/502, arrived with the Membury-launched planes of the 79th-82nd TCS and came to ground a few feet away from Lillyman's lights in an orchard near St Germain de Varreville. But, two pilots from that serial turned on their green lights too late, causing about ten troopers of 1/502 to drown in the English Channel. This included Captain Richard L. Davidson, commander of Co.'A'.
Also in the Membury-launched serials were the 80th, 81st, and 85th TCS, carrying LTC Ben Weisberg's artillerymen of the 377th PFA Bn. Although Lillyman's lights were set up and radar functioning by the time these planes were approaching the east coast of the peninsula, some, like the 85th pilots, were an average of eight miles north of the intended DZ, and unable to even see the lights.
Some paratrooper vets (mainly non coms and officers who had served as jumpmaster or assistant jumpmaster) told me that after the situation stabilized in their assigned area, they were summoned to HQ and asked to stick a pin in the map at the place where they had come to ground on D-Day. While these guesstimates were subject to the dark hedgerow maze confusion, never forget that these men could at least know the name of the first village they entered on that night or the following morning. That information is more reliable than the guesses of stray pilots who had lost contact with other planes of their formation and were relying on railroad lines, main roads and lakes to figure out their location.
Because of the shortage of navigators, as well as the fact that only the lead plane of each serial was equipped with the 'GEE' radar equipment, most pilots that night were following the leader and depending on them to signal when the Green Light would be activated. An excellent example of the confusion and chaos wrought by the cloudbanks on pilots of the 85th TCS, is provided by the testimony of pilot James C. Shive of that squadron.
Flying plane #75 of that serial, Shive's plane entered the cloudbanks flying to the left rear of the lead plane, #73. Suddenly, Shive could no longer see the blue formation lights of plane #73. Four to five minutes later, when he emerged from the clouds, there was still a plane flying to his right front. However, he could see no other planes in the sky. He followed the plane to his right front, turning on his Green Light when he saw jumpers leaving that plane. He followed that plane across the Channel and all the way to England. As the leading plane circled to land, Shive realized that this was not the same airfield he had departed from. Since leaving the clouds, he had been following a plane not from his squadron-not even from his group!
LTC WEISBERG'S LEGACY
As alluded to previously, the 377th PFA Bn, commanded by LTC Benjamin Weisberg, experienced the single worst misdrops of any Airborne unit on D-Day. This resulted in high casualties, and only one of the twelve 75mm pack howitzers which were dropped was recovered and used. The calamitous mis drops also contributed to Weisberg's eventual relief as C.O. of the 377th.
After returning to England, Weisberg made a point of obtaining complete air crew rosters for the three squadrons which had flown his battalion to France, along with the chalk numbers used on each plane that night. From 101 HQ, he obtained map overlays showing where all the numbered sticks landed. The particular overlay which shows where Weisberg's 377th sticks landed, is scaled to the 1:50,000 maps of Valognes and la Haye du Puits, France. As DZ 'A' was the intended target, all of the sticks should have landed on the latter map. However, the vast majority came to ground on the wrong (Valognes) map. Although Ben Weisberg passed on in the early 1980's these materials came into my possession in 1999. Some of the findings of my subsequent research will be found on the following page.