P-51st Return to Normandy for the 70th Anniversary of D-Day


06/11/2014: Historic P-31 Mustang aircraft fly by Gray Army Airfield at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in a “Victory” formation, June 6, 2014.

Greg Anders (wing) is flying a P-51D from Heritage Flight Museum; John Sessions (lead) is flying a P-51B from Historic Flight Foundation; and Carter Teeters (wing) is flying a P-51D from Flying Heritage Collection.

The Historic Flight Foundation in Mulkiteo coordinated the overflight to observe the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

Credit:Joint Base Lewis-McChord – Enterprise Multimedia Center (EMC):6/6/14

During the June 6 D-Day assault itself, a total of 171 squadrons of British and AAF fighters undertook a variety of tasks in support of the invasion.

Fifteen squadrons provided shipping cover, fifty-four provided beach cover, thirty-three undertook bomber escort and offensive fighter sweeps, thirty-three struck at targets inland from the landing area, and thirty-six provided direct air support to invading forces. The Luftwaffe’s appearance was so minuscule that Allied counter air measures against the few German aircraft that did appear are not worth mentioning.

Of far greater importance was the role of aircraft in supporting the land battle.  As troops came ashore at Normandy, they made an unpleasant discovery all too familiar to the Marine Corps and Army operating in the Pacific campaign. Despite the intensive air and naval bombardment of coastal defenses, those defenses were, by and large, intact when the invasion force “hit the beach.”

This was particularly true at OMAHA beach, where American forces suffered serious casualties and critical delays. Despite a massive series of attacks by Eighth Air Force B-17s, B-24s and medium bombers in the early hours of June 6, the invading troops were hung up on the beach.

The air commanders themselves had, in fact, predicted that the air and naval bombardments would not achieve the desired degree of destruction of German defensive positions. The Army’s general optimism that air would cleanse the beaches before its approach, however, was shattered.

Only the subsequent success of fighter-bombers operating against the battlefield would revive the Army’s confidence in air support.

Indeed, throughout the post-Normandy campaign–and in the Second World War as a whole–the fighter-bomber proved overwhelmingly more valuable in supporting and attacking ground forces in the battle area than did the heavy or even the medium bomber.