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Ready For Takeoff - Turn Your Aviation Passion Into A Career

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Jun 6, 2019

Operation Overlord was the codename for the Battle of Normandy, the Allied operation that launched the successful invasion of German-occupied Western Europe during World War II. The operation was launched on 6 June 1944 with the Normandy landings (Operation Neptune, commonly known as D-Day). A 1,200-plane airborne assault preceded an amphibious assault involving more than 5,000 vessels. Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on 6 June, and more than two million Allied troops were in France by the end of August.

The decision to undertake a cross-channel invasion in 1944 was taken at the Trident Conference in Washington in May 1943. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), and General Bernard Montgomery was named as commander of the 21st Army Group, which comprised all the land forces involved in the invasion. The coast of Normandy of northwestern France was chosen as the site of the invasion, with the Americans assigned to land at sectors codenamed Utah and Omaha, the British at Sword and Gold, and the Canadians at Juno. To meet the conditions expected on the Normandy beachhead, special technology was developed, including two artificial ports called Mulberry harbors and an array of specialized tanks nicknamed Hobart's Funnies. In the months leading up to the invasion, the Allies conducted a substantial military deception, Operation Bodyguard, using both electronic and visual misinformation. This misled the Germans as to the date and location of the main Allied landings. Führer Adolf Hitler placed German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in charge of developing fortifications all along Hitler's proclaimed Atlantic Wall in anticipation of an invasion.

The Allies failed to accomplish their objectives for the first day, but gained a tenuous foothold that they gradually expanded when they captured the port at Cherbourg on 26 June and the city of Caen on 21 July. A failed counterattack by German forces on 8 August left 50,000 soldiers of the 7th Army trapped in the Falaise pocket. The Allies launched a second invasion from the Mediterranean Sea of southern France (code-named Operation Dragoon) on 15 August, and the Liberation of Paris followed on 25 August. German forces retreated east across the Seine on 30 August 1944, marking the close of Operation Overlord.

Invasion stripes were alternating black and white bands painted on the fuselages and wings of Allied aircraft during World War II to reduce the chance that they would be attacked by friendly forces during and after the Normandy Landings. Three white and two black bands were wrapped around the rear of a fuselage just in front of the empennage (tail) and from front to back around the upper and lower wing surfaces.

After a study concluded that the thousands of aircraft involved in the invasion would saturate and break down the IFF system, the marking scheme was approved on May 17, 1944, by Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, commanding the Allied Expeditionary Air Force. A small-scale test exercise was flown over the OVERLORD invasion fleet on June 1, to familiarize the ships' crews with the markings, but for security reasons, orders to paint the stripes were not issued to the troop carrier units until June 3 and to the fighter and bomber units until June 4.

Stripes were applied to fighters, photo-reconnaissance aircraft, troop carriers, twin-engined medium and light bombers, and some special duty aircraft, but were not painted on four-engined heavy bombers of the U.S. Eighth Air Force or RAF Bomber Command, as there was little chance of mistaken identity — few such bombers existed in the Luftwaffe and were already quite familiar to the Allies. The order affected all aircraft of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force, the Air Defense of Great Britain, gliders, and support aircraft such as Coastal Command air-sea rescue aircraft whose duties might entail their overflying Allied anti-aircraft defenses.

One month after D-Day, the stripes were ordered removed from planes' upper surfaces to make them more difficult to spot on the ground at forward bases in France. They were completely removed by the end of 1944 after achieving total air supremacy over France.

The stripes were five alternating black and white stripes. On single-engine aircraft each stripe was to be 18 inches (46 cm) wide, placed 6 inches (15 cm) inboard of the roundels on the wings and 18 inches (46 cm) forward of the leading edge of the tailplane on the fuselage. National markings and serial number were not to be obliterated. On twin-engine aircraft the stripes were 24 inches (61 cm) wide, placed 24 inches (61 cm) outboard of the engine nacelles on the wings, and 18 inches (46 cm) forward of the leading edge of the tailplane around the fuselage. American aircraft using the invasion stripes very commonly had some part of the added "bar" section of their post-1942 roundels overlapping the invasion strips on the wings, however.

In most cases the stripes were painted on by the ground crews; with only a few hours' notice, few of the stripes were "masked". As a result, depending on the abilities of the "erks" (RAF nickname for ground crew), the stripes were often far from neat and tidy.

Plans for the invasion of Normandy went through several preliminary phases throughout 1943, during which the Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) allocated 13½ U.S. troop carrier groups to an undefined airborne assault. The actual size, objectives, and details of the plan were not drawn up until after General Dwight D. Eisenhower became Supreme Allied Commander in January 1944. In mid-February Eisenhower received word from Headquarters U.S. Army Air Forces that the TO&E of the C-47 Skytraingroups would be increased from 52 to 64 aircraft (plus nine spares) by April 1 to meet his requirements. At the same time the commander of the U.S. First Army, Lieutenant General Omar Bradley, won approval of a plan to land two airborne divisions on the Cotentin Peninsula, one to seize the beach causeways and block the eastern half at Carentan from German reinforcements, the other to block the western corridor at La Haye-du-Puits in a second lift. The exposed and perilous nature of the La Haye de Puits mission was assigned to the veteran 82nd Airborne Division ("The All-Americans"), commanded by Major General Matthew Ridgway, while the causeway mission was given to the untested 101st Airborne Division ("The Screaming Eagles"), which received a new commander in March, Brigadier General Maxwell D. Taylor, formerly the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division Artillery who had also been temporary assistant division commander (ADC) of the 82nd Airborne Division, replacing Major General William C. Lee, who suffered a heart attack and returned to the United States.

Bradley insisted that 75 per cent of the airborne assault be delivered by gliders for concentration of forces. Because it would be unsupported by naval and corps artillery, Ridgway, commanding the 82nd Airborne Division, also wanted a glider assault to deliver his organic artillery. The use of gliders was planned until April 18, when tests under realistic conditions resulted in excessive accidents and destruction of many gliders. On April 28 the plan was changed; the entire assault force would be inserted by parachute drop at night in one lift, with gliders providing reinforcement during the day.

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