Text & Pictures: Serge Van Heertum  © sbap 2014

Let's go back to the 30's when the economical and social crisis shook Europe after the Wall Street stock market crash in 1929... This situation led to unprecedented precariousness and unemployment mostly in Germany encouraging the rise of the Nazism, which resulted in the takeover by Adolph Hitler. The desire for expansionism soon caused the start of military forces, secretly reconstituted with an invasion in mind. After taking Poland, Hitler turned towards Belgium, France, Luxemburg and Holland. On May 10, 1940 Belgium and France were under attack and led to the “Bataille de France”. Despite a fierce resistance on the ground as well as in the air Belgium followed by France had to surrender without conditions.

The French Air Force during the Battle of France

The Germany took on England with the purpose to invade the island and this was the start of the Battle of Britain. Thanks to the tenacity and courage of some few English and foreign pilots, Hitler's plans were grinded to dust and his operation 'Seelöwe' simply abandoned.
The occupation of continental Europe was consolidated and Hitler decided to go for Russia. This was his first strategic error as England was almost due to surrender lacking men and material. Going against Russia was the error Napoleon already made...

After the continental invasion, the Battle of Britain was started

In 1941, the Japanese felony compelled the United States to enter the conflict after the attack on Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian islands. At this moment, the American authorities decided to come to Europe's assistance in deploying USAF fighters and bombers. The allies started to harass the German forces all the way to Germany by bombing raids during the day (USAF) as well as during the night (RAF). The famous phrase from Hermann Göring 'No enemy plane will fly over the Reich territory' lost its content...

United States enter in the World War II... ...and sended fighters and bombers to help Great Britain

The years of war in Europe or elsewhere knew sad moments, battles to fill history books and then came the famed month of June 1944. 'Les sanglots longs des violons de l'automne blessent mon coeur d'une langueur monotone'. These verses from the Verlaine's Saturnine poems were the coded phrase broadcasted by Radio London to inform the French Resistance of the imminent landing.
On the night of June 05 to 06 1944, the biggest operation in military history was launched. All started with a large scale pounding by the ships located in the Channel, followed by the British and American airborne forces. Some 23.400 paratroopers were dropped or flown in by gliders in Normandy to take over or destroy strategic locations before the actual landing. 832 C-47 'Dakota' took part in these D-Day operations. 9.500 allied fighters and bombers faced the 815 aircraft of the Luftwaffe in this part of France.

The landing in Normandy was a success despite the great losses.

June 6th, 1944...The operation "Overlord" was launched
Reconnaissance was really important before and during the operation... ...to collect as more as possible informations to prepare and follow the invasion
Low level observation was also mandatory but really dangerous
Hand by hand between USAF and RAF
9500 fighters and bombers were engaged during the D-Day
Back from mission
The Royal Navy was also involved in the operation
832 Douglas C-47 "Dakota" were involved in the operation "Overlord"
En route to Normandy
Back to base after overflying Normandy
The operation map of the D-Day

To conclude, please do find two part of interviews, the first taken from Robert 'Bobby' Bladt, at that time newly graduated pilot in the RAF which integrated the 350 Squadron and fought during the Normandy landing departing from Friston airbase in Sussex. The second one is from Pierre Vivier, French citizen, who lived these historical moments as a child.

Robert "Bobby" Bladt

 

"On the day of the landing I was tasked with a surveillance and protection mission at altitude. After take-off we had to cross the Channel and the sight beneath us was simply Dantean. It was incredible to see so many ships and one could even see the rounds fired from these ships. As soon as we reached the French coast, we were welcomed by anti-aircraft machinegun fire... A real wall of tracing rounds... If you know the Germans fired alternately one tracing, one explosive and one incendiary round, I can say that it was a real miracle I passed through this hell without any damage.

Thinking back, it still gives me the shivers we only could see the tracing rounds..."

 

Part of interview of February 10th,2013

Friston Airfield in the Sussex
Incredible view of the armada in the channel Sword during the D-Day

Pierre Vivier

As a native from Northern France my father was sent to Normandy and constrained to work for the German invader. My family has had the chance they could follow my father so we moved to a small village in the Normandy country side. The occupation was not a very bright period and we had to accommodate oneself to this life. On D-Day I was just 10 years old and despite my age, my memory has never erased this period of my life or this particular day. It was an overall flood of fire, noise and explosions which lasted for hours... an eternity. Aircraft flying overhead going to or coming back from their missions. By chance, our little Landigou village escaped the destruction but the neighbouring city of Flers, 10 kimometers away, was not so lucky and was completely devastated like it was also for Condé sur Noirau.

All this followed by the progress of the allied troops liberating us from the German yoke.

It is in memory of those men who came across the Channel and the Atlantic to free us that I take part in the commemoration of D-Day with a Willis-jeep. At 80 years old, I have never forgotten anything and we clearly have an obligation to remember all the soldiers, marines, tank drivers, aviators,... In short to remember all of them who treaded the Normandy soil to cast out the 'Nazi' invader.

Part of interview of April 27th, 2014

Lest we forget!

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