Hope you enjoy my Grandfather Eddie Allen’s unpublished DDay diary. He was a glider pilot on D-Day on June 6, 1944. He wrote by hand and my father transcribed it a few years ago. Unfortunately, my Grandfather died in 1970 before I was born. Hope you enjoy!
May 29, 1944. This was the day the first real hint came along that the invasion of FRANCE would take place in a matter of days. Of course no one knows the exact hour or day, but we are quite sure it is close.
May 31, 1944. Today all of us Glider pilots were assigned to gliders. I will be the pilot of a Horsa Glider in the biggest invasion of it’s kind in the history of the world. That’s big talk, but this is a big affair too. I am mighty proud to be able to take a part in it.
(Assault glider used in many WWII airborne attacks, including the landing on Sicily and Normandy. The Horsa was a wooden high-wing aircraft, that was used on a large scale in the invasion of Sicily, Normandy and Germany. As well as troops, it could carry a jeep or a 6lb gun – the Mk.II had a hinged nose section. The Horsa was sturdy and maneuverable.)
June 3, 1944. Everything is set for the big show now. We have been briefed and know exactly what our job is. We are to carry an outfit of medics in on “D” Day the north coast of France. It may be a little hot around there, but then again everything may come off smoothly. We will be going in prepared for anything that might come up. I have 96 rounds of ammunition for my Garand M-1 and bayonet. Have my trench knife (can shave with it) 3 grenades. That should hold me for awhile. We will be wearing pregnated clothing in case of gas.
There is a barbed wire fence all around the officers BOQ. No one can enter or leave with out a special pass—only 4 persons have these passes so they are the only ones that can get us in or out the gate. That’s to safe guard the information we know so that no wrong persons learn anything.
As yet there is no feeling of nervousness, or excitement. I am darn happy that this thing is getting started, though.
This is one job I want to do perfect, if I fail I will never forgive myself. So much counts on everything coming off the way planned that a mistake might set things back for days. This will be the last time for some time I will be able to write in this book. If I shouldn’t come back I would like to have this book given to my niece Miss Bonnie Gibbs. I believe I promised it to her if something happened.
(The D-Day Invasion that Eddie Allen was about to embark on was the culmination of intensive Anglo-American planning and preparation. By dawn on June 6, 1944, 18,000 American, British and Canadian paratroopers were ashore. By midnight 73,000 American, 61,715 British and 14, 000 Canadian troops had landed. The numbers killed that day included 2,500 Americans, 1,641 Britons and 359 Canadians.)
June 10, 1944. We have been given seven day leaves today and we plan to leave this evening for Scotland to spend them. 4 of my buddies are going with me.
Now I want to go back to June 5. The date the paratroopers took off for France. It was our group that led the whole Invasion, General Eisenhower was at our base when they took off. We knew then that our turn came the following day.
D-DAY JUNE 6, 1944. We checked and rechecked our packs and equipment during the day. Everyone was doing their best to keep calm. I know I was trying my best just the same a lot of thoughts were in my mind. The last minute intelligence report said the territory we would land in was in our hands.
At 1800 o’clock (6:00 p.m.) after everyone had wished us luck we got on trucks and went to our gliders that were loaded and lined on the runway. Pictures were taken and a few talks given. After checking my glider I gave last minute instructions to the airborne troops (besides the medical equipment, jeep and trailer I had 7 men not counting the co-pilot) and then the co-pilot and myself got in our seats and put on our flak suits and fastened our safety belts. We were all set.
I believe at that point was the only time I was nervous or scared. There seemed to be a lump in my stomach or something. It was then I said my prayers. It seemed like a long time before I could see the C Gs taking off. I was number 11 in the Horsas. At last I saw the first Horsa take off so got set. The minute the tow ship started rolling I got a hold of my self and as we gained speed I knew I was okay. I made a good take off, but could feel the extra weight of the load.
Once in the air I soon found the battle was started. In forming the circle became too tight and several times I stalled out completely and just caught it in time. It was about the roughest forming I had ever experienced.
We finally got on our course and then the flying became a snap. Got a chance for a smoke before reaching the Channel. As we started over the channel I could see many boats; also I noticed our escort—P-51s and P-47s. It was a very comforting sight to see. The trip over the water was very smooth.
Finally we saw land. It looked beautiful in the early evening like that. Finally we got the 10 minute signal—then the 1 minute. As yet I couldn’t see my field. The first ships started to cut—I kept watching until my turn came and then I cut and fell in line with the ships ahead of me.
I didn’t see any guns firing (later I learned plenty of them were though). I wasn’t a bit nervous. I guess I was too busy flying to be scared. Right away I noticed no one was making a 270 degree approach we had planned on making. I then saw they were headed for a field of good size and flat as a pan cake. When the first glider landed I saw water spewing so got set to land in water. I asked for 40 degree flaps then 80 degree and just before we touched I pulled the wheel in my lap. Made a good landing.
That was my first touch of France—in about 2 ½ feet of water. As soon as I stopped I could hear the firing of all size guns—naturally I thought they were enemy guns firing on both sides of us.
As soon as we had picked up our equipment my co-pilot and I got out of the glider and headed for shore. The water was up to our stomachs and very cold. (This was part of the reason that had been flooded in case of an invasion by the Germans—guess we hurt their feelings, by using it anyway). When reaching shore I located the Captain that rode with me and waited with him to see if it was clear to unload equipment. We waited about an hour and then started to unload. It wasn’t too easy in water like that to get the jeeps and trailers out, but in the end we succeeded—in fact we got out every bit of our equipment that the 87 TC Squadron carried in. That’s a nice record for any outfit. No personnel were injured or equipment lost.
We sent out scouts to find the C.P. and dug in and waited for their return. While waiting we saw other gliders coming in and landing in other fields around us. Those coming after us in CE-4As weren’t as lucky as us. We saw a number of them get shot down and crash into the trees. Others missed their fields completely and crashed into the trees. Several tow ships were shot down in flames. It wasn’t a very nice sight to see your buddies get it like that.
Around 2400 (midnight) that night our scouts came back and we loaded on the jeeps and headed for the CP they had found. It was very dark then and we were told we might run into a lot of snipers further on so we had to turn the lights to real dim on the jeep. We also had our fingers on the triggers of our guns—naturally the glider pilots were the only ones who had guns. The medics were unarmed. We were stopped several times by different groups of paratroopers along the way, but were allowed to pass when they found out who we were.
We had gone about 5 miles when the lead jeep stopped. I was in the 3rd one and as we pulled up to it I noticed it was surrounded by Germans. More were coming out of the bushes on both sides of the road. All of us with guns jumped out of the jeeps and got set for some battling. (We wouldn’t have had a chance I know if the Germans had wanted to kill us). The minute we got down they started to throw down their weapons, guns, grenades, knives, pistols and etc. and put their hands over their heads. We lined them up and headed them down the road with a paratrooper and 9 GPs in charge of them. There were 43 of them, only a few of which were real Germans. The rest were Russian Polish Czechs.
Our jeep convoy then proceeded down the road until we arrived to our C.P. When we got there we dug fox holes and tried it to get some sleep. It was just about impossible because of the noise of battle and the cold but some did get some rest. Our clothes were still wet so most of us changed our socks before trying to sleep. I thought I would freeze before morning—just couldn’t stop my teeth from chattering. If there was a sniper around he must have thought we had a new weapon.
When morning came all of the Glider Pilots got together and waited for orders to do something. We were told to stand by until we could head back to the beach for evacuation. As yet no line had been formed and there were scattered groups of Germans all over this country. Snipers were everywhere and there was the constant sound of firing. While waiting for orders to move back we helped the medics who were set up at this C.P. to receive wounded. There wasn’t much we could do except carry stretchers and that’s what we did. It was there that I saw the real horror of war. Wounded were coming on jeeps in a steady line. The medics were doing a wonderful job of taking care of them. Some of the cases were mighty bad. It nearly made me sick seeing so many fellows wounded—many dying . I knew a lot of them because many GPs were hurt or wounded. I saw one fellow who flew with Clem (Robert L. Clement) on that mission. He told me Clem was dead—was shot before he got out of the pilot’s seat. He was one of the best buddies I ever had. It was hard to believe he was dead. I pray to God I get a chance to revenge his death.
Late that afternoon a group of us glider pilots started back to the beach. As we walked we passed lines upon lines of prisoners. Also saw all kinds of equipment headed towards the front where our troops were forming a line. Along the roads were many dead Americans who hadn’t as yet been removed. There were more dead Germans, their equipment was scattered every place. It was a terribly hard march because we only had one break on the whole 9 miles and we walked so fast. When we finally reached the beach all of us were on the verge of collapse. Then we had to wade out in the water to the boats. When I reached the boat I barely had the strength to climb on it. We changed boats three times after that before starting for England the following day. It took us 12 hours to cross the Channel by boat—we crossed it in 45 minutes by plane. We saw two boats explode and sink after hitting mines. We got to our base late that evening. Everyone welcomed us and joined in the celebrating. Everyone got drunk! It was wonderful to be back.
June 10, 1944 to September 8, 1944 Everything went on as usual. Didn’t get too much flying except ferrying gliders from one base to another.
August 2, 1944 A group of my buddies took off for Italy. They took part in the invasion in southern France. A few days after they left those of us that were left cut cards to see who would be sent to another base for some reason or other. We didn’t know what the deal was. I was one that went. It didn’t take long to realize we were preparing for another invasion. We were to help close a gap in France that the Yanks had the Germans in. It never came about. The boys in Italy had theirs and it was a success.
September 15, 1944. After we had gotten back to our base and the boys had come back from Italy we were told another mission would take place. We were alerted and restricted to the base and given all the information. We were to help hold a road running through Holland right into Germany.
September 18, 1944. We took off similar to the trip into France only we flew CG-4As and had no co-pilots. It was up to each pilot and he alone. I carried a trailer filled with equipment and four men. It was close to a four hour trip and believe me, I was just about dead by the time we reached the drop zone. Flak was very heavy and my glider was peppered with small arms and flak holes. None of my men were hit. I got down okay and got all of my equipment out. We moved to our P2 immediately and I joined up with my buddies. Several were missing—some never could come back.
I stayed in Holland for 6 days doing all types of jobs. The glider pilots were used mostly as guards for prisoners and as perimeter guards.
Had a few close calls but came out without a scratch.
Had a real drinking celebration when we arrived back at our base.
The Long Flights to the Insertion Points
Landing safely at planned insertion points during Market Garden (and all the other long-range missions the Glider Pilots flew) was fraught with dangers. For example, because the airborne assault was so huge, there were not enough Glider Pilots to allow for a pilot and co-pilot in each glider. Most, if not all, gliders took off for Holland with only one pilot. A seriously injured or dead pilot meant the only option was for the Glider Infantry trooper riding in the co-pilot’s seat to try to land the glider with his only flight training being what he had learned in the short time during the flight.
On September 19, 1944, the third day of Market Garden, the weather was so poor that tow ships and gliders flew at very low altitude across the English Channel, sometimes so low that the prop blast from the tow ships blew salt water back to the gliders. Tow ships and gliders crossing the Continent’s shoreline at cities and towns sometimes had to gain altitude to clear the buildings. These low altitude flights frequently resulted in gliders plowing into the water if wind and prop blast caught the pilots before they could correct and remain airborne.
Some of these flights took as long as three hours. The gliders were not easy ships to fly and long flights were physical marathons for the pilots. The air control surfaces – flaps, rudder, spoilers, etc. – were all directly wired to the pedals and steering yoke. They were not hydraulically-assisted like many other aircraft. This meant that the Glider Pilots spent hours on the equivalent of a modern day exercise machine before they got to their insertion points. If they survived the poor weather and intense anti-aircraft fire, pilots, nearly exhausted from hours of keeping their craft under control without co-pilot relief, had to call on all their diminished physical abilities to land safely.