The eagerly-anticipated flying display at The D-Day Anniversary Air Show features fighter, bomber and transport aircraft that would have been seen over the beaches of Normandy. It presents over 20 aircraft carrying invasion stripes; a spectacular sight.
Amongst the many Supermarine Spitfires, Douglas C-47 Skytrains and Piper L-4 Cubs flying in this evocative display are aircraft that saw service during the D-Day landings.
Supermarine Spitfire IXT ML407 (The Grace Spitfire) was built at Castle Bromwich in early 1944 as a single-seat fighter. It served on the front line of battle throughout the last twelve months of the Second World War with six different Allied squadrons of the Royal Air Force’s 2nd Tactical Air Force.
ML407 flew a total of 176 operational combat sorties, amassing an impressive 319 combat hours. The aircraft was delivered to No 485 (New Zealand) Squadron on 29 April 1944 by Jackie Moggridge, one of the foremost female pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). It became the ‘mount’ of Flying Officer Johnnie Houlton DFC who was credited, whilst flying ML407, with the first enemy aircraft shot down over the Normandy beach-head on D-Day.
Johnnie recounted: “In mid-afternoon I led Blue Section during the third patrol of the day…I glimpsed a Ju88 above cloud, diving away fast to the south. Climbing at full throttle I saw the enemy aircraft enter a large isolated cloud above the main layer, and when it reappeared on the other side I was closing in rapidly. I…positioned the aiming dot on the right-hand engine of the enemy aircraft and fired a three-second burst. The engine disintegrated, fire broke out, two crew members bailed out and the aircraft dived steeply to crash on a roadway, blowing apart on impact.”
“As I turned back towards the beach-head I sighted a second Ju88 heading south and made an almost identical attack, which stopped the right-hand engine. This aircraft then went into a steep jinking dive, with the rear gunner firing at the other members of my section, who all attacked, until the Ju88 flattened-out and crash-landed at high speed. One of its propellers broke free, to spin and bound far away across the fields and hedges like a giant Catherine wheel. As we reached the beach-head radio chatter indicated that other pilots were dealing with another German bomber…”
“Supreme Headquarters nominated the first Ju88 I had destroyed as the first enemy aircraft to be shot down since the invasion began, putting 485 (NZ) Spitfire Squadron at the top of the scoreboard for D-Day.”
The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Supermarine Spitfire LFIXe MK356 was heavily involved in fighter and fighter-bomber operations over France during the prelude to the invasion. The day after D-Day, its pilot claimed a half-share in a Messerschmitt Bf109.
The National Warplane Museum of Geneseo, New York, sends its flagship Douglas C-47 Skytrain across the Atlantic on a pilgrimage to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Affectionately known as Whiskey 7 from its distinctive squadron markings, it served with the 12th Air Force in the Mediterranean during 1943 before transferring to the UK. In the early hours of D-Day itself it was the lead ship of the 37th Troop Carrier Squadron, dropping paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division near St-Mère-Église.
Tradewind Aviation’s C-47 Skytrain is another visitor from the USA. On D-Day it was based at RAF Aldermaston in Berkshire with the 73rd Squadron of the 434th Troop Carrier Group, from where it towed a Waco glider into the Normandy battle zone. Now known as the ‘Union Jack Dak’, having been returned to flying condition in 2010 by a team from Britain, it also saw action at Arnhem and during the Battle of the Bulge.
Dakota Heritage’s C-47 Skytrain ‘Drag-em-oot’ came to the UK in 1943. It flew on Operation Elmira on the afternoon of D-Day with the 87th Troop Carrier Squadron, the lead United States Army Air Force squadron on D-Day. Used by a specialist unit to recover gliders from Normandy, the aircraft still bears the scars of its wartime career in the shape of numerous bullet hole patches on its fuselage and around the cockpit.
The C-47 Skytrain operated by Aces High was in the UK with the 8th Air Force from mid-1943 to September 1944. It is believed to have flown on glider-towing operations, possibly from Tarrant Rushton, over the D-Day period and was later involved in the Arnhem operation before being transferred to the 9th Air Force.
Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar’s Piper L-4 Cub was built in 1943 and shipped to England in January 1944, where it was initially assigned to the United States Army Air Force’s 8th Air Force. After D-Day, it took part in operations alongside US ground troops.
The same organisation’s Supermarine Spitfire IX MK912 was allocated to No 312 (Czechoslovak) Squadron in 1944. It was flown by Squadron Leader M A ‘Tony’ Liskutin DFC AFC, who was born in Czechoslovakia and escaped the German forces by crossing the Channel in 1940 to fly with the Royal Air Force. He was the Commanding Officer of his squadron, which flew from Appledram in Sussex, an Advanced Landing Ground established specifically for the period around D-Day.
Tony was airborne in Spitfire MK912 over the D-Day period, and together they became the first Allied pilot and aircraft to land on French soil after D-Day +1. He was awarded the Czechoslovak War Cross and Medal for Valour, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Force Cross.
The Piper L-4 Cub owned by Robin Roberts is of the type flown by his father, 2nd Lieutenant George W Roberts. George was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division. His L-4 was attached to the 456th Parachute Field Artillery (PFA) Battalion, one of three parachute artillery battalions that belonged to the 82nd Airborne Division.
George was best friends with the pilot of the L-4 coded 57-G. They both took part in the Sicily invasion, led by the 82nd Airborne Division. The 82nd Airborne Division was withdrawn from Italy and sent to Leicester, England, to prepare for the D-Day landings. George Roberts and his friend were both engaged to young Leicester girls in the few months during which the Division was stationed in that area. Their plan was to get married on the 82nd Airborne Division’s return from Normandy after the invasion.
L-4 Cub 57-G was shot down in the first few days of fighting at St-Mère-Église, where the 82nd Airborne Division was dropped into battle. Its pilot and observer were killed. George Roberts returned to Leicester to marry his fiancée. After the wedding and a single night’s honeymoon at the Ritz Hotel, he was sent with the 82nd Airborne Division to take part in Operation Market Garden.
Robin Roberts’ L-4 Cub is painted to represent his father’s aircraft, coded 57-H, while the L-4 of FrazerBlades depicts 57-G, in honour of George Roberts’ best friend, who died at St-Mère-Église.