1st Airborne Task Force, 15th August 1944

The 2nd Parachute Brigade, 15th August

The Air Plan



Soldiers of the 1st Airborne Task Force say a prayer before boarding a Waco glider

A formation of C-47 aircraft on their way to Southern France

A formation of C-47's flying over the Mediterranean

Two C-47's flying over Southern France

Paratroopers preparing to jump

American paratroopers preparing to jump

Parachutists dropping in Southern France

Parachutists dropping over DZ-A

Parachutists dropping on DZ-A

Parachutists landing on DZ-A

C-47's towing Waco gliders

Horsa gliders crossing the French coast

A Horsa glider landing on LZ-O

Horsas landing on LZ-O

A wrecked Horsa on LZ-O

A Waco glider coming in to land

A Waco glider makes a rough landing

Gliders on a Landing Zone


The engineers of the 2nd Parachute Squadron had numerous tasks to contend with after landing, with each of its three Troops being attached to the parachute battalions to establish road blocks, lay mines, and prepare the captured bridges for demolition. Their most important task, however, was to clear DZ-O of obstacles in time for the first glider lift, which was expected at 08:15. The zone was found to be covered in anti-glider poles, buried deep into the ground to damage any craft attempting to land, but fortunately none had been mined and so "B" Troop proceeded to clear landing strips as well as they could in the very limited time available. They were helped in this by the 1st Independent Parachute Platoon, who also set up their Eureka and Crest beacons, and used red flourescent panels to mark the zone with a "T" and each of the landing strips with roman numerals. As the aircraft approached, the Platoon also used green smoke to indicate the wind direction.


Operation Bluebird


75 aircraft of the 53rd Troop Carrier Wing participated in Operation Bluebird; 35 of these towed Horsa gliders carrying men and guns of the 64th Airlanding Light and 300th Airlanding Anti-Tank Batteries, while the remaining 40 towed Waco gliders containing the balance of the gun crews and a small American contingent of Task Force Headquarters and the 512th Airborne Signal Company. At 05:19, the 435th Troop Carrier Group took-off from Tarquinia with the Horsas, followed at 05:58 by the 436th Troop Carrier Group at Voltone with the Wacos, although of the latter only 37 of the 40 became airborne, and another returned to base when its tug developed engine problems.


The formation followed the same route as the parachute lift and proceeded without incident until they drew near to the French coast, when their headquarters in Italy ordered them to return to base as the landing zones were still covered by dense fog. The Waco-towing aircraft chose to wait in the hope that conditions might improve, but those carrying the much heavier Horsas had to return to Tarquinia as they were running out of fuel. Two aircraft developed engine problems and had to release their gliders over Corsica; one of which was able to take-off again and join the main glider lift that evening while the other flew to France on the morning of the 16th August. As the Wacos circled, one carrying men of the 512th Airborne Signal Company suffered a broken tow rope and had to ditch in the Mediterranean, but all were rescued. Another Waco disintegrated in the air due to a structural failure and all aboard were killed, including two men of the 64th Airlanding Light Battery.


After circling for over an hour, a message was received that the conditions around Le Muy had improved, and at 09:26 the first of the 34 Wacos began to land on LZ-O, although one fell short. The landing was extremely hazardous as the zone was still covered in anti-glider poles despite the best efforts of the 2nd Parachute Squadron, yet casualties were remarkably light even though there were a considerable number of crashes. As all of the Horsas had to return to Italy, the men of the 64th Airlanding Light Battery found that they had no guns to operate, and so they were briefly deployed as infantry to the rear of the 5th Parachute Battalion at Le Mitan. Shortly after, however, an American major informed them that there were a few spare guns inside their Wacos and they were welcome to help themselves. Within a few hours, the Battery had three 75mm Pack Howitzers ready for action, manned by mixed British and American crews, with US glider pilots organised for their defence.


Throughout the afternoon, the 2nd Parachute Squadron and 1st Independent Parachute Platoon continued to cut down anti-glider poles in preparation for the main lift which was expected 18:00. The Brigade area was quiet at this time, though the peace was occasionally shattered by the Squadron detonating explosives inside the abandoned Wacos to set them alight, enabling them to easily drag the wreckage aside.


The Horsa Lift and Operation Canary


Of the 35 Horsa gliders which had set out for Le Muy that morning, two cast-off over Corsica while the remainder returned to Tarquinia in radio silence, quite unaware of what had happened or where they were going. When they were cast-off over the airfield, some were even under the impression that they were about to land in France, and one gun crew was ready to make a rapid exit and smash their Jeep and gun through the unopened tail, but were fortunately stopped before they could reduce the craft to a wreck. The crews were informed that they would be leaving for France again in a few hours, and the airfield became a scene of frenzied activity as the C-47's were refuelled and the Horsas were dragged back into position and made ready for take-off. Two reserve gliders were acquired to replace those which had been lost over Corsica, and at 15:04 the full complement became airborne again.


On reaching Corsica, the formation was joined by one of those Horsas which had cast-off over the island. The flight was otherwise uneventful until they crossed the French coast, where they encountered slightly hazy conditions and smoke rising up from the beaches. To complicate matters further, the beacons on LZ-O were not detected until the aircraft were four miles from the zone, yet they proceeded in good order and the first Horsas touched down at 17:49. There were several heavy landings resulting in nine injuries to the 1st Independent Glider Pilot Squadron, one of which proved fatal.


The 300th Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery suffered eight casualties on landing, but none were serious and all but two were back at their posts in 24 hours. Within an hour, ten of the seventeen 6-pounder guns flown out were ready for action, with a further four becoming available by nightfall and all bar one on the following day. All of the initial batch of ten were sent out to the parachute battalions; one gun of "A" and three of "C" Troop went to the 6th Battalion, three of "B" Troop to the 4th Battalion, and three of "D" Troop to the 5th Battalion. The four guns recovered by nightfall, three of "A" Troop and one of "C" Troop, were placed under the command of Captain Tansley to support the attack of the 550th Glider Infantry Battalion on Le Muy.


The 64th Airlanding Light Battery safely unloaded all eight of its 75mm guns and these were ready for action by 19:00. The three American guns which their Waco-borne personnel had been manning since midday were returned to their owners.


Close behind the Horsa lift was Operation Canary, with 41 C-47's of the 437th Troop Carrier Group carrying the remainder of the parachute element. The beacons set up on DZ-A by the American pathfinders were detected at a distance of some 35 miles, and as such the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion made a completely accurate and concentrated drop at 18:04. They quickly assembled, and by midnight had relieved the 2nd Battalion, 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment in their positions astride the Le Muy - Draguignan road.


Operation Dove


Shortly after, Operation Dove arrived, bringing with it the impressive spectacle of a mass glider landing of 335 Wacos, containing the 550th Glider Infantry Battalion and the balance of the American supporting arms. Most of the C-47's were from the 50th Troop Carrier Wing with the 51st following in their wake. The 442nd Troop Carrier Group led the way, but experienced a series of misfortunes which delayed their progress and bunched up the entire formation behind them. They had taken longer to take-off than planned due to heavy dust kicked up on the airfield, and on crossing the Italian coast claimed to have been impeded by another formation in front of them. They believed this to have been the Horsa lift, but as this was some 20 minutes ahead of them it is more likely that it was the Operation Canary aircraft, although as these were not towing any gliders it is to be wondered how they could have been misidentified. As the 442nd passed Corsica, the leading C-47 was forced to ditch its glider in the sea because of a structural weakness in its tail section; this was one of three or four Wacos to come down off the French coast, but most of the occupants were rescued. To release the glider safely, the aircraft dropped out of formation and started to perform a full turn, but it was followed by the entire Group, and so much time was lost in the process that they were overtaken by the 441st Troop Carrier Group.


As the formation crossed the French coast it ran into the same smoke and haze as the Horsa lift, and could not detect any of the beacons on either LZ's A or O. Even so, the aircraft successfully made their own way forward until they were able to see the flourescent "T"s marking both zones. It was at this moment that the consequences of the numerous delays began to tell, as the 441st and 442nd Troop Carrier Groups arrived above the zones at the same time and they, together with the 440th behind them and for a brief moment even the 439th behind them as well, were all releasing their gliders simultaneously. The 440th spotted the congestion ahead and attempted to avoid it by making a 180 turn and then flying East across the landing zone, but arrived to find that the 441st were still releasing their gliders, creating the alarming spectacle of the two groups flying across each others flight path. Behind them came the 62nd and 64th Troop Carrier Groups of the 51st Wing, and although they arrived in better shape, they discovered that the spacing allowed between aircraft was insufficient, and some were forced to climb above the ones in front to make their release, resulting in gliders coming in to land with others directly above them.


Flying through this uncomfortably crowded and precarious airspace, the American glider pilots attempted to make sense of the pandemonium; one later said that it was "like Piccadilly Circus at high noon with traffic being directed by an insane policeman". As they tried to pick out a landing point amongst the menagerie of gliders already on the ground, the pilots were alarmed to spot anti-glider poles on the zone, something which they had not been briefed to expect. With enormous skill, the pilots weaved their way amongst this plethora of obstacles, both in the air and on the ground, and even though almost all of the gliders were completely written off as they bumped and crashed their way to a halt, casualties were slight in comparison to what they might have been. In all 11 pilots were killed and over 30 injured, with some 100 of their passengers seriously hurt. Remarkably almost all of the cargo was undamaged, although in many cases it took some hours to cut it from the wreckage.


Of all the aircraft involved in transporting the 1st Airborne Task Force to France, only one C-47 was lost when it ditched in the sea after being hit by anti-aircraft fire on the return flight from Operation Dove, but all aboard were rescued.