Πέμπτη, 4 Αυγούστου 2016

Paying the ultimate price for freedom: Gliders, the Flying Coffins of World War II

Eight members of an Airborne Division, their faces covered with parachute shrouds, lie dead beside the wreckage of their glider, near Hiesville France. 6 June 1944

Signal Corps Photo #ETO-HQ-44-5112
Photo taken by RUNYAN Photo released 17 June 1944.
[This is the 437th TCG glider #1, 7 June 1944 flight. Glider Pilots were F/O Richard G. Mercer T-60767 Pilot and 1st Lt. George G. Parker O-349331 as Co-Pilot. Lt. Parker later went on to fly a glider into Holland (Market Operation) in September '44 and Germany (Varsity Operation) in March '45.]

"Flying coffins." "Tow targets." Pilots and glider-borne infantry had colorful and well-earned nicknames for their ungainly planes. But according to at least one veteran flight officer, the most common moniker for the combat glider was way off base: "Silent Wings."

Without a doubt, the Normandy invasion was the most important operation in WW2. After invasions in the "soft under belly" of the German Fortress Europe, an attack on the west coast was imminent. The idea of where and how was the biggest secret.

That airborne troops were to be used was no secret. 

Since the development of Airborne operations by the German in 1940, almost all major invasions and campaigns were executed with the use of airborne forces. 

Now, the largest airborne operation up to that time was planned. 

A British Airborne Division was to land on the east side. Their goal was to protect the flank of the invasion beaches, to capture some bridges and German batteries. 

This resulted in one of the best glider landings throughout the war as in the opening stage of the invasion, British gliders landed yards from the bridges that were to be captured by the Glider Infantry carried in by the gliders. 

Today, the Pegasus Bridge is one of the most important historic places in the area of the British landings.

On the other end of the invasion beaches were the landing grounds of the US Airborne Divisions. 

Two divisions were to land on the Cotentin Peninsula. The focus was to capture important bridges and causeways. 

The causeways were the routes for the invasion forces to get out of the beach area and reach the hinterland. Bridges are important as they are needed in offensive operations to advance or in defensive operation to block the enemy from crossing a river.

The first gliders were to arrive in this area in the early hours of June 6, 1944; in two lifts, one flown by the 434th Troop Carrier Group and a second by the 437th Troop Carrier Group. 

These glider missions each had their own code name. The first two were Chicago (434th) and Detroit (437th). 

The gliders all landed in the dark. Without all the Pathfinder beacons set, flying through a cloudbank and enemy fire and the darkness, it was difficult to find the landing zone. 

The presence of trees, hedgerows and Rommel Asparagus made these night landings difficult to carry out. 

The lead glider of the mission crashed into a hedgerow, killing two of the four occupants, including General Pratt of the 101st Airborne Division. 

German reactions, the dark, all contributed to a hectic appearance of the Normandy battlefield where small groups of Airborne roamed around to find their units and objectives. On these first two missions, American CG-4A Waco"s were used.

Later on the same day, more glider missions were flown, (437th,  436th and 435th Troop Carrier Groups). 

These landings were met by stiff German anti-aircraft fire. This, and small fields with hedgerows caused many problems. This was also the first time that the Americans used British Horsa gliders in an airborne operation. 

The wooden Horsas cracked up in hedgerows and trees. With a larger load then the CG-4A Waco, the number of casualties in the Horsa crashes were higher.
"We had dropped down to about 100 feet as we crossed the beach and had climbed to between 400 and 500 feet over our "landing zone" (really no landing zone as it was up to us to pick any field we could get into)...

We made one 90 degree turn to the left, we passed over a glider that had already landed.

It evidently had hit a mine or something; anyway the whole glider was enveloped in flames. It was then, I became aware of the enemy firing at the gliders and tow ships...

The damn trees were about 50 feet tall (as in all the hedgerows) and I was about five feet too low to clear them. A tall limb hit my left wing about the same time as my undercarriage snagged in the tops of the trees.

The left wing, catching as it did, pulled us in a turn of 90 degrees and we stopped at the base of the trees with the left wing still tangled and the tail section twisted upside down. Not one of us got a scratch."

Normandy fields.
Courtesy of the National Archives / NWWIIGPA Collection
This picture back from Northern France shows gliders of the 9th AF initial assault for the liberation of Europe..

"When given the green light, I could see two gliders ablaze on the ground and others that had cracked up.

No suitable LZ's were visible to my left or right. I picked a half-ploughed field half the size of a football field. Upon landing, my glider lost part of its right wing and received damage to the nose section."

On the 7th, missions Galveston (437th and 434th) and Hackensack (439th and 441st) were executed. 

The circumstances of these glider landings were not much different from those of the previous day. 

These last missions were to bring in elements of the 82nd Airborne Division. Again CG-4A and Horsa gliders were used. This was the last time that the US used Horsa gliders in a combat operation.

These glider missions were not the end of glider landings in Normandy. 

Some days after these missions, the 436th Troop Carrier Group executed resupply missions to Normandy with gliders landing on an airstrip. 

Among the glider pilots who flew this resupply mission were also pilots who had landed in Normandy a few days earlier. This was their second trip to Normandy. These later missions were without casualties.

Courtesy National Archives/ NWWIIGPA Collection
ALLIES LAND IN FRANCE.....Gliders loaded with essential supplies land on a partially completed airfield somewhere in northern France. Despite the steady stream of gliders bringing in men and equipment from England, the work on the airfield goes on uninterrupted. 15 June 1944

Τετάρτη, 3 Αυγούστου 2016

A Greek PZL P24 fighter aircraft, 1940-41

The Royal Hellenic Air Force (EVA) is the only air force during WW2 to operate the PZL.24 as its main fighter type. 

Two subtypes, thirty P.24F and six P.24G, were ordered and delivered in 1937-38. 

They were split between three Mirae Dioxeos (Fighter Squadrons): the 21st at Trikala, 22nd at Thessaloniki and 23rd at Larissa. 

The only other operational Greek fighters, stationed further south, were eight Bloch MB.151s and two each Gladiator Mk I and Avia B-534 II, both of which were of limited value. 

When Italy attacked in October 1940, the Polish fighter was the Greeks' only modern type in adequate numbers. 

However, by 1940, the PZL.24 was no longer a front-runner despite a powerful powerplant and satisfactory armament. 

It had no speed advantage over the Fiat Cr.42 nor could it outfly the nimble Italian biplane, while it was much slower than the Macchi MC.200 and the Fiat G.50 it was pitted against. 

Its armament was the only real advantage against the Italian fighters whose reliance on the slow firing Breda-SAFAT 12.7mm machine guns proved detrimental. 

The PZL.24F armed with two 20mm Oerlikon FF cannon and two MGs gave the Greeks a temporary edge in combat until lack of ammunition and spares forced EVA to re-arm all P.24Fs with 4x Colt–Browning 7.7 mm MG40 machine guns. 

Overall, the PZLs performed gallantly during the early period of the conflict, holding their own against impossible numerical odds and despite the fact that their main target were enemy bombers which forced them to fight at a disadvantage against enemy fighters. 

Italian claims of easy superiority over the Albanian front were vastly over-rated and their kill claims even exceeded the total number of operational fighters on the Greek side. 

Total Greek fighter losses -in combat- came to 24 a/c with the Greek fighter pilots claiming 64 confirmed kills and 24 probables (about two third bombers). 

By April 1941, however, lack of spares and attrition had forced EVA to merge the five surviving PZL.24s into one understrength squadron supported by five Gloster Gladiators Mk I and II and the two surviving MB.151s. 

These fought hopelessly against the Luftwaffe onslaught in April 1941 scoring 4 kills (two Hs-126, one Ju-87B and one Do-17) and losing most of their surviving a/c on the ground. None of the Pulawski fighters survived.

FOUND! A WW2 Italian fighter Macchi C202 "Folgore" wreck in Sicily (VIDEO)

The ROV Hercules came across the remains of a downed aircraft in Sicily, Italy. 

The Wing Roundel on this Regia Aeronautica's aircraft is still visible after 70+ years at the bottom of the sea!

This fighter aircraft is a WW2 Italian fighter Macchi C.202 Folgore.

Τρίτη, 2 Αυγούστου 2016

The lost Spitfires: Searching for the aircraft wrecks of the WW2 legends

WW2 Aviation enthusiasts in Greece, members of have initiated a search for the Spitfire wrecks lost between April 4th to August 7th, 1945.

Those three Supermarine Spitfires crashed in the area of Vari (see map below) and belonged to the 335 and 336 Fighter Squadrons of the Royal Hellenic Air Force (RHAF). 

According to official reports, two of them crashed at sea, while the details for the third aircraft do not specify the exact crash site.

The researchers were motivated from the reports presented in "Supermarine Spitfire losses in Greece 1942-1953", edited by respected researcher Manolis Bardanis and the official website of  the Hellenic Air Force. 

An initial assessment of the survey area

In November 1944 the Greek squadrons returned to liberated Greece, where they engaged in operations against the remaining German garrisons in the Aegean islands and Crete.

335 Fighter Squadron emblem

Nikos Karatzas, team leader of the project, said to WW2 Wrecks in Greece

"The detection of aircraft wreckage at sea is difficult and this is mainly due to the size of the Spitfire, as well as because of the absence of information or indications on the exact crash sites. 

The depth at the areas we are conducting our research ranges from 20 to 65 meters." 

Aviation Archaeology experts during a survey expedition

336 Fighter Squadron emblem

No 335 (Greek) Squadron

Formed on 10 October 1941 at Aqir airfield in Palestine.

Initially it was equipped with Hurricane Mk I aircraft. 

The squadron began operations over the Western Desert, where it operated continuously until late 1942, participating in convoy protection,
bomber escort and ground attack roles. 

It remained there on offensive operations until after the Battle of El Alamein when it moved into shipping protection duties along the Libyan coast.

In January 1944 it was re-equipped with the newer Spitfire Mk Vb and Vc aircraft. 

In September 335 Squadron moved to Italy, where it conducted operations over Albania and Yugoslavia. 

In November the squadron returned to its homeland, from where it attacked German forces in the Greek islands of the Aegean and Crete.

On 15 September, the squadron was moved along with its sister unit to the Italian theatre, from where it carried out operations primarily over occupied Yugoslavia.

The letter codes allocated to this squadron were the FG - possibly meaning "Free Greeks".

Operations Record Book with details on P/O Nikolopoulos sorties on 4.4.1945 and his crash. His body was found on the following day.

Official report related to the loss of P/O Georgios Nikolopoulos
No 336 (Greek) Squadron

The second Greek squadron was formed in the Western Desert on 25 February 1943.

From then until February 1944 the squadron was involved in shipping protection and air defense
duties along the Libyan coast. 

Together with 335 sq., both units moved to Italy in September 1944, from where they operated over Albania and Yugoslavia.

In November 1944, 336 returned to its homeland and carried out attacks against German forces in the  Greek islands of the Aegean and Crete.

The squadron moved to Thessaloniki in May 1945.

A Greek Spitfire

The research conducted by respected historian Manolis Bardanis

Greek Spitfires

The survey area

Pilots and ground crew of 336 Fighter Squadron

Members of Aviation Archaeology during a previous survey.
A German Bf109 wreck in Crete

Δευτέρα, 1 Αυγούστου 2016

Locating and identifying WW2 aircraft wrecks: The Kwajalein Missing in Action (MIA) Project

Flight deck of the PBM-3D which crashed at Kwajalein on February 16, 1944

Kwajalein Atoll is part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The southernmost and largest island in the atoll is named Kwajalein Island.

"The Kwajalein MIA Project (KMP) is all-volunteer team which is made up of 28 members. 

Of that number, 22 of us live here on Kwajalein full-time. Six members live in the continental United States, and fulfill such critical roles as research, public relations, and assisting with fundraising. 

Of the 22 team members who live here at Kwajalein, 17 are divers. 

The rest comprise research and archeology advisors. 

We also have members on the team who are experts in aviation, unexploded ordnance (UXO), and side-scan sonar operations."

The Kwajalein Missing in Action (MIA) Project is dedicated to finding World War II aircraft lost in the Kwajalein Atoll lagoon between 1942-45. 

The goal of the Kwajalein MIA Project is to locate and identify WWII aircraft wrecks within the Kwajalein Atoll lagoon for maritime heritage discovery, preservation and education. 

The primary mission is to help facilitate the recovery of American MIA servicemen from WWII. 

The project will include education with emphasis on Operation Flintlock. 

Wreck sites are not disturbed in any way by the Kwajalein MIA Project team. 

No pieces of wreckage will be removed, moved or sand sifted to attempt to ascertain whether human remains are contained in the wreck or nearby. 

The dive team on this project is not trained or certified for recovery.

In late January 1944, a combined force of U.S. Marine and Army troops launched an amphibious assault on three islets in the Kwajalein Atoll, a ring-shaped coral formation in the Marshall Islands where the Japanese had established their outermost defensive perimeter in World War II. 

Kwajalein Island and the nearby islets of Roi and Namur were the first of the Marshall Islands to be captured by U.S. troops, and would allow the Pacific Fleet to advance its planned assault on the islands and its drive towards the Philippines and the Japanese home islands.

On January 30, 1944, after a massive air and naval bombardment lasting some two months, a U.S. Marine and Army amphibious assault force of 85,000 men and some 300 warships) approached the Marshall Islands. 

On February 1, the 7th Infantry (Army) Division landed on Kwajalein Island, while the 4th Marine Division landed on the twin islands of Roi and Namur, 45 miles to the north. 

A single Marine regiment captured Roi on that first day, while Namur fell by noon of the second day. 

The battle for Kwajalein would prove more difficult, as the 7th Infantry pounded the Japanese garrison there for three days until the island was declared secure on February 4.

Though greatly outnumbered from the start (by more than 40,000 on Kwajalein) the Japanese chose to fight until the bitter end. 

Japanese casualties on Roi and Namur numbered more than 3,500 killed and around 200 captured, with less than 200 Marines killed and some 500 more wounded. 

On Kwajalein, close to 5,000 Japanese defenders were killed and only a handful captured; the 7th Infantry counted 177 soldiers killed and 1,000 wounded.(SOURCE)

Wing section of the PBM-3D which crashed at Kwajalein
on February 16, 1944
PHOTO: Dan Farnham/
Kwajalein MIA Project (KMP) 
Here is what Dan Farnham has to say about the Kwajalein MIA Project:

What is your current status? Any specific wrecks you are looking for right now?

We are a very active group. Currently, we are looking for the following planes:

1) OS2N-1 ‘Kingfisher’, shot down on 31 Jan. 1944 with the loss of the pilot, LT Forney Fuqua.

2) SOC-3A ‘Seagull’, shot down on 1 Feb. 1944, with the loss of the pilot, ENS William Sayers and US Army artillery spotter CPT George Tyson. 

3) PB2Y-3 ‘Coronado’, which crashed during landing on September 14, 1944 with the loss of Pharmacist’s Mate 1st Class Fred Matson. 

The plane broke in half behind the wing during the crash. 

Both halves of the plane floated on the surface of the lagoon for about half an hour before sinking. 

The back half of the plane was found in August 2015, and another piece from the front half of the plane was found in July 2016. 

Matson was in the forward bunking compartment at the time of the crash, and the remainder of the front half of the plane has not been found yet. 

4) SBD-5 ‘Dauntless’, shot down on December 4, 1943 with the loss of the pilot LT William Fitch and rear-gunner ARM1c John Linson. 

The plane had been taking part in a softening up attack on Kwajalein Atoll, prior to the invasion the following month.

5) SBD-5 ‘Dauntless’, which went down following a mid-air collision with two other SBD’s on 31 Jan. 1944. 

The collision resulted in the deaths of four of the six aircrew involved. One of those killed was a rear-gunner, ARM2c Phillip Barton, and he was declared missing-in-action.  

A U.S. Navy Martin PBM-5 Mariner in flight. U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation photo No. 2011.003.137.014

You've found several aircraft so far. Which story is the most striking and why?

We’ve found the following three planes so far:

1) F6F-3 ‘Hellcat’ fighter plane which crashed off Bigej Island on 1 Feb. 1944 after getting caught in the explosion of an ammunition dump on the island. 

The pilot, ENS John Clem, went in with his plane. Divers from our team found that wreck in October 2011. 

2) PB2Y-5R ‘Coronado’ which crashed while landing on February 12, 1945. 

That crash resulted in one of the flight crew, LT Harold Bowman, and one of the passengers, LCDR Samuel Givens, being listed as missing-in-action. 

The nose of this plane was found in 2011 and verified in October 2015. The rest of the plane had been salvaged and towed to Ebeye Island, where it was subsequently cut up and disposed of in the lagoon. 

Only the front of the plane forward of the wings was not recovered at the time, and this was the piece that divers finally discovered in 2011. 

3) PBM-3D ‘Mariner’ which crashed while landing on February 16, 1944 shortly after the conclusion of Operation Flintlock. 

The crash resulted in one of the pilots, LT(j.g.) Wilburne Piercy, being listed as missing-in-action. 

The wreck of this plane was found in 2009 by several former Kwajalein residents, one of whom is a member of our project. 

I don’t personally feel that any one wreck is more striking than another. Each one has its own story of tragedy and loss of life. 

And each one represents one or more servicemen who never made it home to their families. For the wrecks we’ve found, we’ve reported them to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), in the hope that a properly-trained underwater team can be sent in to excavate the wrecks and possibly recover the remains of the missing crewmen, so they can finally go home to their families. 

How important is it for you to bring closure to the families of the MIA?

I don’t think that “closure” is quite the right word. 

How can family members, especially those who are old enough to have been alive at the time these men died, ever really have full closure on a loss like what they endured. 

I prefer to describe it as “bringing answers” to the families. 

When their loved one died, all the families received was a telegram that said something along the lines of “we regret to inform you that (insert name here) has been declared missing in action in the Pacific.” 

They were rarely given any more details due to wartime secrecy, and they’ve had to go decades without knowing what really happened or where. 

One of the really rewarding aspects of our project is when we get to provide the families copies of the WWII action reports and deck logs that we find in the course of our research. 

Because that gives them answers as to what exactly happened and where, which is information they haven’t had before. 

ARM1c Linson- Linson is shown at left with his two brothers in late 1943. This photo was taken at Pearl Harbor, shortly before the USS Lexington sailed for the battles in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands.
Linson died along with his pilot, LT William Fitch, on December 4, 1943 when their SBD-5 Dauntless was shot down at Kwajalein Atoll.
Photo courtesy of the Linson family.

Why Kwajalein? Why did you choose this specific Pacific area?

Kwajalein was a natural choice for us, as most of us already live here. 

Left wing root of a F6F-3 ‘Hellcat’ off Bigej Island. The plane hit the water at over 250 knots and the debris field is spread over a wide area. This crash took the life of Ensign John Clem.

Most of us work as contractors at the US Army base here, so the lagoon is literally our back yard. 

Those of us on the team who are divers are already history buffs, so took our love of wreck diving and history, and focused it towards the search for plane wrecks that are believed to contain missing-in-action servicemen
    LT William Fitch aboard the USS Lexington in early 1943. Fitch died in the crash of his SBD-5 Dauntless at Kwajalein Atoll on December 4, 1943. Photo courtesy of the Fitch family.

Lt. Forney Fuqua, pilot of a OS2N-1 ‘Kingfisher’ scout plane, which was shot down at Kwajalein on January 1, 1944.
Fuqua went down with the plane, but his radioman, ARM3c Harrison Miller, survived and passed away in July 2014.

Vought Kingfisher from the USS New Mexico (BB-40) in flight somewhere over the Pacific.
This plane is believed to have been flown by LT Forney Fuqua and ARM3c Harrison Miller at the time the photo was taken.

            Tail section of the PB3Y-3 ‘Coronado’ which crashed at Kwajalein on September 14, 1944. 
The front half of the plane, believed to contain the remains of PhM1c Fred Matson, has not yet been found.

And since we live here already, we don’t have the overhead costs of things like lodging and air travel, therefore over 90% of the funds we raise for this go directly into search operations.

Nose section of the PB2Y-5R ‘Coronado’ which crashed at Kwajalein on February 12, 1945.
The nose section broke off in the crash and sank with LT Harold Bowman and LCDR Samuel Givens.
The remainder of the plane was towed to Ebeye where it was later cut up and dumped into the lagoon.

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