Monday, June 6, 2016

Recollections and Experiences of a United States Troop Carrier Squadron Officer in Normandy

Most people know that the June 6th, 1944, D-Day invasion was one of the great turning-points of WWII. The successful Allied assault against the German defenses in Normandy would set the stage for the retaking of France and an offensive against Germany. While many know of D-Day, it is difficult to understand the thoughts, feelings and experiences of those who actually lived the events. Statistics of manpower and casualties can convey scale, but lacks in emotion. Fortunately, many brave warriors of WWII had the foresight to put their thoughts on paper, allowing future generations to gain insight into the greatest moments of the Second World War.

Col. Frank W. Hansley was one of these thoughtful soldiers. He was the CO of the 72d squadron of the 434th Troop Carrier Group. During the Normandy invasion, Hansley's squadron flew in missions Chicago, Keokuk and Galveston. Col. Hansley wrote of his experiences in the assault, resupply and medical evacuation missions of the Normandy invasion in the George Field News and the Silent Wings newsletter.

Read a brief biography of Col. Hansley and his accounts of the D-Day invasion of Normandy HERE, written by The Historian's Hut's C. Keith Hansley and published by

Below is a copy of Col. Hansley's article, courtesy of Silent Wings (Volume 26), published March of 1999.

CO of the 72nd TCS/434th TC Group Recalls Details of Normandy Missions

“When we contacted Colonel Frank W. Hansley for permission to publish his Normandy article in SILENT WINGS, he advised us he had written it just to refresh the minds of the 72nd TC Squadron members of the outstanding performance of duty each and every person played – perfect team work. And he added ‘if you considered it worth publishing, go to it!’”

“He also said, ‘I feel all of those glidermen need special recognition for carrying out so well an almost impossible assignment. The results were much more positive than was either expected or for which they were given credit for by news sources.’”

“’I also need to commend the exceptionally well-qualified Pathfinder crew members who performed their duties with perfection during the Chicago mission. We were where we were supposed to be at all times.’”

“’My feeling about the liberation missions became serious shortly before those events took place when Colonel William B. Whitacre, CO of the 434th TC Group, called me into his office and unexpectedly asked if I thought I could command the 72nd TC Squadron. I assured him that it would not be a problem with the quality of people we had at all functional levels.’”

“Mission Chicago”

“Cockpit activity started by wearing special goggles to build up visual purple in the eyes for better blackout flight capability. Colonel Whitacre, as the mission commander, flew the lead aircraft and started rolling at 1:19 a.m., 6 June 1944. As the Deputy Mission Commander, I was at the controls of the third aircraft echelon to the right front. The mission called for us to lead the right two columns to a different landing zone than the left two columns.”

“We descended the entire formation down to 500 feet while flying over the English Channel. This was to better evade enemy electronic detection. We were relieved when we flew by the British Channel Islands of Gurnsey, Sark and Jersey (then occupied by Germany) without any enemy response.”

“As we approached the French coast, I hoped the many fires I saw ahead were a good sign that the fighters/bombers had knocked out most, if not all, enemy gun emplacements. That hope did not last long! Our lead aircraft flew a very short distance over land before streamers of tracer bullets started whizzing around the aircraft and gliders. I started telling myself, ‘keep the faith, keep the faith!’ I then added and repeated my version of the 23rd Psalm which was 'Yea though I fly through the valley of death I fear no evil for Thou art with me.’ With this true belief, it proved most calming! I am positive many others in our formation were doing much the same – all stayed the course!”

“As one string of tracers moved within inches of my aircraft, a strange question flashed through my mind – how will it feel when the bullets rip through my body? The firing stopped just before striking the aircraft!”

“I glanced around at the aircraft crew and found each of them calm and doing his job. My version of the 23rd Psalm became plural: ‘Yea though we fly through the valley of death…etc.’”

“I was concerned about others in our formation. If we in the lead aircraft were attracting so much enemy fire power, what is happening to those following us? There was no way of checking! We had to maintain radio silence; however, those aircraft flying off of our wings seemed to be faring well.”

“We came to the predesignated point at which we would lead approximately 50% of the mission aircraft and gliders to a secondary landing zone. With the blackout, it was impossible to see good navigational landmarks as it was 4:00 a.m. No problem! Our aircraft had one of the latest electronic navigational units – known today as LORAN. By automatically calculating the triangulation of three English-based radio station signals, it could indicate our location within an acceptable few yards.”

“As we approached the landing zone (LZ), we anxiously looked for the ground signals from the Path Finder Troops that had been dropped earlier by another unit. As we prepared to release our gliders without that verification, their signals were activated. They were a radio beacon and the lighting of a landing tee.”

“Those signals were wonderful assurances, but it did not relieve my great concern for the glider crews and troopers. Darkness would not give the glider pilots the visibility to select the safest landing routes. I truly regretted they had to release. The odds were very high against them.”

“We intercepted and then accompanied Colonel Whitacre’s two columns for the flight over UTAH Beach and the mammoth Allied landing fleet – IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe) assuredly turned on! The return flight to Aldermaston was uneventful.”

“Mission Keokuk”

“After a short relaxing nap at the flight line, it was time to man the 32 tow planes and the English-made Horsa gliders for the Keokuk mission. Take off started at 6:30 p.m., 6 June 1944. As deputy mission commander, I took off in the second aircraft and flew off the lead aircraft’s right wing. Lt. Col. Steve Parkinson was flying the lead aircraft as mission commander.”

“Nothing unusual happened en route. My memory flashes back to a rather open route leading over Utah Beach and a trail way pretty well controlled by advancing American troops. Appreciatively, we received much less ground fire on this mission, even after we arrived over the glider landing zone area. We were later informed that the Germans saved their ammunition to use on the attacking glider men during their approach and landings. I sure saluted the glider men; they again took the brunt of the mission.”

“Once again, the return flight to Aldermaston was uneventful.”

“Mission Galveston”

“The first tow planes with gliders took off at 4:32 a.m., 7 June 1944. We had rain, gusty winds and poor visibility. I was leading the 72nd Troop Carrier Squadron element, which was the third unit in our train of 50 towed CG4A gliders. The weather cleared for much better visibility over the channel. Unlike Keokuk, we received much enemy ground fire as we entered French territory. I do not remember many other details of this mission, except that some earlier gliders had landed in deep marshlands. I tried to give the glider pilots the best possible landing approach over land, yet keep them together as one fighting unit.”


“We started within days, landing on rapidly built strips near the battle front lines. We flew in food, ammunition, blood plasma, gasoline, and other required materials. Flight nurses became very important members of the aircrews.”

“Two incidents still stay strong in my mind. I led a flight onto a strip with enemy guns flashing just off the east end of the strip. As we started unloading the aircraft, the Germans started dropping .66 mm mortar rounds onto the strip. Crew members hit the troop trenches! No persons or aircraft were lost, so we finished unloading supplies, then loaded battle-wounded personnel for the flight back to England and hospitals.”

“Another well-remembered resupply mission was one to the Canadians near Caen, France. I could not believe the number of burning tanks, most of them from the 21st Panzer Division. It was a frightening sight of destruction.”

“The 72nd Troop Carrier Squadron men, of all specialties, performed superbly! A true top-performing unit!”
“We appreciate receiving permission from Colonel Hansley to publish this excellent summary of the early Normandy missions. The Chicago mission was flown by 52 CG4A gliders from the 434th TC Group. 72nd TCS personnel flew 11 of the 12 gliders flown by the squadron. The lead glider was flown by Colonel Mike Murphy, with 2nd Lt John M. Butler as co-pilot.”

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