Staff-Sergeant R. C. Downing
Unit : "D" Squadron, No.1 Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment
Army No. : 5252854
Staff-Sergeant Downing and his co-pilot, Sergeant Elliott, flew to Normandy with the first glider lift in the early hours of the 6th June, carrying a Jeep, 6-pounder anti-tank gun and five men of the 4th Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery. The following is his official report on the flight and the subsequent events that took place on the ground.
Report on Operation "Tonga"
S/Sgt Downing R.C.
I took off from Tarrant Rushton at 0130 hrs on 6 June 44 on Operation "Tonga" in Horsa No.118. Our dinghy was inflated and burst by a member of the gun det. [detachment] some 10 minutes before take-off. No replacement was available so we took off without a dinghy. My Mae West was u/s [Unserviceable] also.
The journey was uneventful and the tow good until we reached the French coast when we ran through a fair amount of cloud and smoke and were fired upon and hit by light flak. We were then some 4 miles to part of track, the flak then faded out. When we caught sight of the L.Z. [Landing Zone] there was one light only showing - the winking one at the base of the 'T' - and that one went out as soon as I had cast off. After release I found that I was undershooting and was approx. 2 miles to part of the release point. I maintained my best gliding speed and headed direct for the nearest part of the L.Z. We were fired on by more light flak and were hit in the fuselage, wings and cockpit and the spare petrol can of the jeep was holed and flooded the glider with petrol.
I landed 50 yards inside the L.Z. without flap at 6 minutes behind the E.T.A. [Estimate Time of Arrival]
I covered the unloading operation with the Bren gun and encountered no opposition, but just paratroops of the L.Z. force. The crew experienced some difficulty with unloading and it was an hour and a half before we moved off, but were met on the road by an R.A. [Royal Artillery] major who diverted us to a position in a wheatfield 1 mile due south of Ranville and about 500 yards east of the road running south from the village.
We dug into position and were not bothered by E/A [Enemy Activity] until about 1030 hrs when an enemy mechanized (2 tanks and 2 self propelled guns) and infantry. Our 6 pounder scored a hit on one of the tanks with the first round from about 600 yards and the second round blew it up. The infantry were repulsed and mainly by the 13th Para. Bn. [Parachute Battalion] but I'm certain I nailed one Jerry, and possibly two.
For the remainder of 'D' Day we were fired on spasmodically by snipers, light and heavy M/G [Machine Gun] fire, mortars and light artillery. Our jeep suffered a direct hit from mortars and although we saved the jeep by throwing off the burning kit, a great deal of equipment and ammunition (including my ammunition) was destroyed.
In the evening we were subjected to heavy mortar fire until the enemy were driven back from the crest in front of our position by the reinforcements landed by gliders on L.Z. 'N'.
At 2330 hrs we were withdrawn to B.H.Q. [Battery Headquarters] and were returned to our position at 0330 hrs. From then on, things were fairly quiet, apart from some intermittent mortar fire until the replacement Nos.2 and 5 on the 6 pounder arrived at about 1030 hrs.
My second pilot Sgt. Elliott and I then made our way back to B.H.Q. in Ranville and from there, in a party headed by Lieut. Muir, to Oustreham and the U.K.
A good time was had by all.
I am, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
(Signed) R.C. Downing, S/Sgt.
25 June 1944.
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