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Imperial War Museum Duxford - Press Release

Imperial War Museum Duxford - Press Release

Duxford’s D-Day

Follow the 78th Fighter Group’s D-Day missions with our real-time twitter feed

In June 1944, RAF Duxford was home to the 78th Fighter Group of the United States Army Air Forces. Equipped with P-47 Thunderbolts, its pilots flew missions on D-Day and many more in the days, weeks and months that followed.

Throughout May and June, IWM Duxford is tweeting, in real time, summaries which show how the 78th Fighter Group built towards D-Day operations, what they did on 6 June 1944 and how they supported the fighting in France. The summaries also show how daily life continued at RAF Duxford, with a surprisingly large number of social activities on offer during this hectic time.

Captain John E Lingenfelter was in charge of the 1042nd Signal Company Service Group based at RAF Duxford. His company’s report detailed how it became clear that D-Day was underway:

“…That evening, the majority of men headed for the theatre and the Red Cross and it was during the movie that the “wheels began to spin.” Tannoy after tannoy was made for all of the Officers from the Commanding Officer on down to the Medical, Ordinance, and Mess Officer, together with various crews of the squadrons.”

“With all of the interruptions the movie finally ended and when the men filed from the theater they beheld a sight they would never forget. All of the planes were parked into groups and all were moved from the revetments to the center and edges of the field where the crews had already begun to paint the invasion stripes across the wings and fuselages. Ordnance trucks were rushing back and forth between the bomb and ammunition dumps and the revetments with their loads of bombs and ammunitions. Activity was everywhere and our telephone operators and teletype men were getting the heaviest load of traffic in all of the time that the board had been in operation under our supervision. Additional men were sent to the radio room, switchboard and teletype rooms to stand-by and give relief to the men who snatched a few breaks to sip coffee and snacks distributed by the Red Cross.”

“By the time the morning rolled around the news was pretty well known that the invasion was in progress and all men not on duty were huddled around radios to soak up every bit of news that came across. Finally the voice of the Supreme Allied Commander was heard issuing instructions to the French underground and to our own Allied Expeditionary Forces. The invasion was on and the pressure was off after many long months of waiting…”

The summaries for 6 June 1944 show the urgency of the situation for RAF Duxford.

0900 78th FG [Fighter Group] crew chiefs are each issued with a submachine gun and and a pistol. Pistol worn all the time on flightline.

1700 Warning from the 78th FG Daily Bulletin: ‘no photographs’ are to be taken ‘of the landing field and/or Technical Site.’

Veteran pilot Hayden Richards said: “We suspected the evening before; there was a lot of activity, of course the base was closed and no one could go anywhere. And the aircraft were being painted with what we eventually called ‘the invasion stripes’. We were awakened early on the morning of the 6th for the briefing, of course the weather was terrible and we were a little concerned about the take-off because of that. But eventually it turned out fine and we had the weather and were able to break through and didn’t see a German aeroplane.”

Veteran pilot Frank Oiler added: “Lieutenant Dacci, who was not on that mission, was assigned to take all the new replacement pilots to the beach head. “Don’t let them fire their guns, but let them just see what’s going on.” We flew up and down, I couldn’t believe what I saw, it looked like you could walk across the Channel on the boats.”

Hayden Richards agreed: “I just had one glimpse of that armada, which was a spectacular sight, you know, one I’ll never forget.”

Frank Oiler remembered: “And of course, the Navy was firing cannons at the German placements on the cliffs, and it was just total chaos.”

There was some respite for the 78th Fighter Group on the evening of 6 June 1944. As the summary for that evening shows:

1900 Tonight’s movie at Duxford is ‘Dangerous Blondes’.

The commanding officers of the 78th Fighter Group took social responsibility seriously as the following summaries show:

7 June 1944

1900 From the 78th FG Daily Bulletin: ‘A film on venereal disease will be shown in the Theatre Hangar…All…required to attend.’

8 June 1944

1730 From the 78th FG Daily Bulletin: ‘Tonight in the Chaplain’s Office, a meeting on ‘the psychology of Drunkenness…Why men drink.’

10 June was one of the costliest days recorded by the 78th Fighter Group at RAF Duxford. Ten pilots, including Major Harold E Stump, Commanding Officer of the 84th Fighter Squadron, were lost; nine missing in action and one killed in a mid-air collision.

As our daily summaries for 10 June show:

0700 The 78th Fighter Group launches an attack on targets in support of the Allied advance in Normandy.

0820 The 78th FG’s 2nd Lt Daniel T Loyd is killed near Argentan, France.

0830 The 78 FG’s 1st Lt Robert L Baker is killed while low-level strafing.

0930 2nd Lt Richard S Kuehner, is killed in action at Beaumont Le Roger, France.

1245 The 78th Fighter Group launch their second mission of the day against targets behind Allied beaches.

1315 1st Lt James F Casey, 78th FG, becomes prisoner of war after being shot down near Argentan, France.

1400 1st Lt Robert J McIntosh is shot down near Argentan, France. He evades capture.

1401 Major Harold Stump of the 78th Fighter Group is shot down and killed near Argentan, France.

1405 Captain William F Hunt, 78th FG, is shot down and killed near Argentan, France.

1430 Major Donald W McLeod of the 78th FG is shot down near Argentan, France. He evades capture.

1435 1st Lt Vincent J Massa is shot down and killed near Argentan, France.

1730 78th Fighter Group conduct evening fighter-bomber attack against targets near Falaise, France.

1800 1st LtWilliam M McDermott, 78th FG, is killed after his P-47 collides with 2nd Lt Francis Kochanek’s. Kochanek is injured.

On 11 June 1944, 1st Lieutenant Lawrence Casey, of the 78th Fighter Group, is shot down and evades capture. His A2 flying jacket, and his story, can be seen in our Historic Duxford exhibition.

Despite difficult weather conditions, the 78th Fighter Group took part in 45 missions during June 1944.

On 27 June 1944 at 1832:

The 78th Fighter Group dive-bomb Villeneuve/Vertus Airfield in N France, in the face of intense flak, without loss.

The Duxford Diary, issued in 1945, reports:

The 84th Service Squadron…was presented with the Meritorious Service Unit Plaque “for superior performance of duty in the accomplishment of exceptionally difficult tasks and achievement and maintenance of a high standard of discipline for the period for 1 March to 7 June, 1944.”

The citation also said: “Working day and night, often under the most adverse weather conditions, the personnel of the 84th Service Squadron accomplished ninety percent of all the repairs” on aircraft of the 78th Fighter Group, which flew approximately 4,400 sorties during the period. The service unit made those repairs, the citation said: “in the minimum of time, thus contributing much to the (fighter) group’s success in combat and to the prosecution of the war against Germany.”

One of our final summaries, on 30 June 1944 states that at 1900:

Tonight at Duxford, ‘Cpt MacDonald who landed on the beaches…will give a talk about the Allied landings prior to show…’

Follow @I_W_M to read the summaries from the 78th Fighter Group D-Day operations and look out for related posts on our Historic Duxford blog at https://www.iwm.org.uk/exhibitions/iwmduxford/ historic-duxford

Photographs courtesy of IWM.

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