June 6th 1944: the war in Europe had turned in the favour of Allied forces in the five years since Neville Chamberlain announced that Britain and France would lead a second conflict against German led Axis forces after the invasion of Poland.
In little over a year National Socialist Germany (aka the Nazis) had swiftly used their "Blitzkrieg" tactics to invade France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Poland and Norway, leaving the British fighting for survival.
After the Battle of Britain in 1940, Germany refocused efforts the following year on the Russian Front and defending their North African empire from British Special Force sabotage. At the end of 1941, the United States of America joined the war after the Japanese surprise attack of Pearl Harbour.
By 1944, Italy had fallen out of the war with the Fascist Government lead by Bunito Mussolini fighting a civil war with a growing Italian movement who felt the war wasn't going to help them after the Allies landed in Sicily in mid-1943. The German forces in Africa had been defeated by this time, leaving the Germans fending off advancing and vengeful Russian forces as they broke out of Russia and began charging through Poland, Latvia, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and in June 1944, the once mighty Third Reich was facing attack by the Russians from the east and from the West, a combined allied attack on France was imminent.
Operation Overlord was confirmed for June 6th 1944, and was to be led by the Americans, British, French and Canadians. Other countries that provided various support roles in the Air and Sea for the invasion included: Poland, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway and Denmark.
Known since as the 'Longest Day', the invasion of France from the United Kingdom remains the largest military invasion for 100 years. The allies landed on five Normandy beaches: Omaha and Utah with the US Forces, Sword and Gold with British Forces (aided by Commonwealth nations) and the Canadians landed on Juno beach. The worst casualties were seen on a heavily defended Omaha beach. By the time the invasion ended officially on August 30th 1944 when the Allies liberated Paris, the mission had seen at the highest estimates around 39,000 people killed, including Allied, Axis and Civilian casualties.
75 years on, the D-Day landings and the subsequent battle for Normandy has been the subject of remembrance across the Allied countries and included extensive media coverage. However with the 75th Anniversary coming on June 6th 2019, this was considered to be the last time a suitable tribute to the sadly dwindling number of veterans could be mounted.
Left - the last Li-2
The Daks Over Normandy group set out to retrieve up to thirty-five Douglas DC-3/C-47 aircraft to take part in a fly past from the Imperial War Museum (IWM) airfield at Duxford to Normandy, thus retracing the airborne elements of those divisions who took part.
One of the best selling and most iconic aircraft, the 'Dakota' as the plane was known in RAF service or the C-47 'Skytrain', and based on the civilian Douglas DC-3, was an ideal transport aircraft. The Dakota would perform various drops of SOE and SAS agents into occupied Europe, and in Holland, mere months after D-Day, they would be called on to provide drops for the failed Operation Market Garden. Although its transport qualities were outstanding, its main weakness was lack of defence guns, which meant it stood little chance against German fighters like the Messerschmidt ME-109 or Focke-Wolf FW190, or for thsat matter, any suitably armed enemy aircraft. In 1943, British actor Leslie Howard was on a civilian BOAC DC-3 when it was intercepted and shot down by German Junkers JU-88s. The flight was flying to London from Lisbon and the incident caused outrage and controversy.
The 75th Anniversary commemoration saw Dakotas from the USA, UK, France, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary and Switzerland all take part, with twelve planes dropping almost 100 parachutists in tribute. A unique sight in the formation was the inclusion of the Hungarian Lusinov Li-2, a Soviet licence built Dakota plane - the one involved is the last airworthy example in existence.
Three guests were notable for their inclusion. Defying the odds, American 101st Airborne Veteran Tom Rice, at 97, and two British veterans Harry Read, 95, along with 94-year-old John Hutton, jumped in tribute to their comrades who fell in battle over seven decades ago - a remarkable achievement for all three. Parachuting in tandem with younger parachutists, it took months of training and medical checks to ensure they were fit and fine to carry out their tributes.
After an extended delay of 2 hours, the Dakota fleet was airborne. Out of 35 planes the organisers had sought, 21 of the planes were able to make the fly past. An impressive achievement for this day and age.
The twenty-one aircraft that would make the formation included:
F-AZOX DC-3 Chalair, HA-LIX Li-2 Malev, LN-WND C-53D "Little Egypt" Dakota Norway, N62CC C-47 “Virginia Ann”, N103NA C-47 “Flabob Express”, N147DC C-47, N150D C-47 N18121 DC-3A Polished metal, N24320 DC-3 “Miss Montana” Johnson Flying Service, N25651 DC-3A “Liberty” Legend Airways, N33611 DC-3 “Clipper Tabitha May” Pan American, N341A C-41A, N431HM DC-3 Swissair, N45366 C-53D “D-Day Doll” USAF, N473DC C-47 “Drag ’em Oot”, N47E C-47A “Miss Virginia”, N47SJ C-47 “Betsy’s Biscuit Bomber”, N534BE C-53 “The Duchess of Dakota”, N74589 C-47 “Placid Lassie”, N8336C C-53DO “The Spirit of Benovia” Civil Air Transport, N836M C-47B “Luck of the Irish”, N877MG DC-3 Pan American. N88874 C-47 “That’s All Brother”, OH-LCH DC-3A Finnish Airlines, OY-BPB DC-3 “Gamle Dame”, SE-CFP DC-3 Scandinavian Airlines.
© Tyler McDowell 2019.
All images - © George McDowell 2019.