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Commentary: The Sounds And Stripes Of D-Day Aircraft

A few weeks ago, the skies over Greene County were filled with sights and sounds of American cargo transports from WWII. Aviation photographer and author Dan Patterson has some thoughts about that.

The sound of radial engines was heard near the Greene County Lewis Jackson Airport, and if you were lucky, you could see the Douglas C-47 transports above the trees and circling towards the Greene County Skydiving Center east of Xenia. There were three of the vintage planes restored to their wartime colors of olive drab and gray. They also carried the stark black and white stripes, which are unique to aircraft flown in the 1944 invasion of Hitler's Europe, now known as D-Day.

Invasion stripes being painted onto Allied aircraft.
Dan Patterson Archival Collection
Invasion stripes being painted onto Allied aircraft.

The stripes were added to the wings and rear fuselage on all Allied aircraft the day before the invasion. The ground forces were briefed that any aircraft that did not have the stripes was the enemy and go ahead and shoot at them.

Now, the stripes are part of the legend.

Just for a moment, think about the daunting numbers of Allied aircraft which had to have the stripes added. And consider that two days before, they didn't have them, almost 12,000 airplanes. That's why the generals had several million troops who could be ordered to paint the black and white stripes. They used mops and brooms and rags in addition to paint brushes to get the job done overnight. Of that number, there were 1,200 C-47s.

The Air Transport Command's job was to fly the parachute and glider forces into the war. The mission was dangerous and the losses were expected to be severe.

General Eisenhower, in his D-Day message to the forces, said this, "Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well-trained, well-equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely."

Over Greene County, we saw three C-47s in close formation, flying pretty low and out of each transport, paratroopers jumped into the sky, their parachutes pulled open by a static line attached to the airplane. The parachute streamed open behind the planes. And for a moment we saw the remarkable sight of round green parachutes invading Ohio for just a few minutes. The farmland we know, could have been France 77 years ago.

Paratroopers "invade" Ohio April 2021.
Dan Hutcheson
Paratroopers "invade" Ohio April 2021.

I close my eyes and try to imagine the sound of those round engines multiplied by 400. The number of C-47s carrying paratroopers that night was over 700. They dropped about 15,000 American paratroopers into France from the American Airborne Division. Added to that cacophony were the British Airborne Forces and the glider forces flying across the English Channel into war.

The airborne assault was behind the German-held beaches. Their orders were to attack and hold the flanks of the invasion areas and create confusion and mayhem.

While the casualties were high, they were not nearly the 50 to 70 percent that Eisenhower feared. D-Day was the largest combined invasion operation ever. The airborne element was only one part of a complex amphibious effort with 5,000 ships and several hundred thousand troops that went ashore that day. The attack was successful on June 6, 1944, but only just.

General Eisenhower closed his message with these words, "I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle, We will accept nothing less than full victory."

Dan Patterson is an aviation historian and photographer. You can see more of his photos at his website, www.flyinghistory.com