My Longest Day: The Veterans Remember ; What Happened in Normandy on 6 June 1944 Was the Most Audacious Invasion in History. Here the Participants in Operation Overlord Tell the Story a Brutal, Bloody and Brilliant Day

The Independent (London, England), June 3, 2004 | Go to article overview
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My Longest Day: The Veterans Remember ; What Happened in Normandy on 6 June 1944 Was the Most Audacious Invasion in History. Here the Participants in Operation Overlord Tell the Story a Brutal, Bloody and Brilliant Day


BILL STONEMAN

Sergeant, 20, 138 (Special Duties) Squadron

We didn't know that it was D-Day and took off from RAF Tempsford at 11.15pm on 5 June. We were over the target area - beyond the Normandy beaches and behind the German lines - from about 1.30am to about 4am.

First of all we dropped agents and saboteurs - a mixture of British and French - with supplies such as ammunition, guns and explosives. Then we released these decoy parachutists. They were about three feet high, made of canvas and rubber with actual parachutes, and they were dropped to confuse the enemy and make them think they were British or Allied paratroopers.

The British called them Ruperts. Some of them exploded on impact, and others made a noise of gunfire when they landed. They enticed the Germans to send their troops and armoured vehicles to attack them. There was gunfire from the enemy positions, but no one hit us.

You don't have time to be scared. I had done 13 operations before, so I was quite hardened and professional by that stage. As the rear gunner, I was searching the skies for any German night fighters. The pilot gave me the instruction to lower my guns as there was a convoy coming up beneath us.

We were extremely low, only about 50 to 100 feet from the ground. I didn't see any fires or anything explode, but I must have done considerable damage because I had four guns and each fired 1,150 bullets per minute. It must have been quite terrifying for them.

We didn't hang around and immediately set course for home as we'd done our job. We got back about 5.30am. We were certainly excited when we were told that it was D-Day. I was thrilled to have been in on the action. But I was anxious for those chaps who were about to go up the beaches - I had come back to a nice warm bed and an eggs and bacon breakfast.

ALEC McCALLUM

Flight engineer, 21, on the aircraft that released Lady Irene, the first glider to land at Pegasus Bridge

I was stationed at Tarrant Rushton airfield in Dorset. There had been hints that we were involved in something important, but it was all very secret. A few days before D-Day, we had a visit from [US President] Eisenhower. He was very friendly, and I remember him saying that we were going to meet our wicked enemy and that the eyes of the world were upon us.

On the evening of 5 June, we saw that there were six Halifax aircraft and six gliders on the runway, so we knew something was happening. We were just told we would be flying at 11pm. It was a beautiful evening, quite still, and we just started up our engines and off we went. Not a word was said in the aeroplane. I was glad I was there. I wouldn't have missed it. I realised that it was history in the making.

There was patchy cloud, and I could see a glint from the Channel below. As the flight engineer, I had to monitor engine temperatures. By the time we got to the French coast, they were at the limit because of the strain of pulling the glider. There was nothing I could do about it. I just had to hope they didn't go any higher. We released the gliders as we reached the coast, at nine minutes after midnight. It took ours seven minutes to land, and it did so within 50 yards of Pegasus Bridge. They took the bridge in 15 minutes. There was one fatality, Lieutenant Brotheridge - the first casualty on D-Day.

We got back to base at about 2.30am, had breakfast - bacon and eggs, I imagine - and went to bed. In some ways, it felt like just another day. We had been flying missions over France for months, dropping agents, SAS troops and supplies for the resistance. It was dangerous, but no one talked about that. One day, someone would be riding his bike around the airfield; the next you'd be sending it back to his family. That was just the way it was.

CHARLIE JACKSON

Private, 25, 2nd Battalion, Royal Lincolnshire Regiment

We left from Portsmouth in the early hours of the morning.

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My Longest Day: The Veterans Remember ; What Happened in Normandy on 6 June 1944 Was the Most Audacious Invasion in History. Here the Participants in Operation Overlord Tell the Story a Brutal, Bloody and Brilliant Day
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