World War Two - Battle Staions
The fourth chapter of Lost Films, this unique series of life on the frontlines during World War 2, centres around the planning and preparation for the Allied invasion of France on D-Day, 6th June 1944 and the 8th Air Force's attempts to clear the Normandy skies of enemy aircraft.
"This is not the end, and it is not even the begiining of the end, but it is perhaps, the end of the beginning"
"Without victory there is no survival, let that be realised, no survival"
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
For the past two and a half years the Allies have confronted one indisputable fact.
If they are to defeat Hitler, they must invade and retake 'Fortress Europe'.
After victories in North Africa and Italy they feel the time is now right to launch their anticipated invasion of France.
The Cental Pacific
Late January 1944
As Allied forces in Europe prepare for the Normandy invasion, military planners in the Pacific are setting in motion their own massive assault against the Japanese. A force of 85,000 U.S. soldiers and marines are heading towards the Marshall Islands, the mission of the taskforce is to to take control of an atoll of 97 small islands named Kwajalein.
The marines will assault Roi and Namur in the north while the army assault Kwajalein in the south. The capture of this atoll will pave the way for the ultimate assault on the primary Pacific target of the Marianna Islands. From airfields on these islands just 1,300 miles from Japan, American B29 bombers will be able to strike Tokyo.
Kwajalein Atoll - February 1st, 1944
The fortress island is defended by 5,000 Japanese troops who have a formidable array of fighting positions and bunkers. At 0545hrs, American naval ships begin shelling the island with a barrage of 7,000 shells, by 0900hrs, the island lays in ruins....the landings begin.
At 0930hrs 5,000 soldiers from the 7th Armoured Division assault the west end of Kwajalein. By 1040hrs, reports indicate that only 1,500 of the island's 5,000 defenders remain alive.
April 19th, 1944
The 8th Air Force's 91st Bomber Group, which just 12 months previously had lost an average of 2 out of 3 aircrewmen inside their first 25 missions, are preparing for their first mission when at 0200hrs they are summoned to the operations area for their mission briefing.
If the Allies are to have any hope of succesfully landing on Normandy's beaches, they must first eliminate the German Luftwaffe from the skies above the English channel and France. A massive fleet of bombers set off for western Germany on a mission to target factories where German fighters are being manufactured. Flying at a height of 25,000 feet , temperatures can plummet inside the aircraft to -60 degrees below zero. The crewmen have to wear restrictive and bulky electrically heated suits to avoid frostbite, but which can seriously impare mobility and slow the crewmen's reaction time.
After nearly 2 hours in the air the aircraft's navigator confirms to the crew that they have crossed into Germany and are nearing their target.As the aircraft approachesthe target, they come under intense flak from the German anti-aircraft guns. For almost 30 minutes the bombers must navigate through the flak until it is time to unload their 5,000 pound bombs.
After nearly 6 hours the planes finally return to base, in all 27 of the 39 aircraft return safely and 30 crewmen are lost.
For the past month, B-17s and other bombers have been flying two or three missions a week as the pace of operations intensify. Casualties, however, are mounting, in the past month alone the 8th Air Force have lost 409 aircraft, now with the Normandy invasion only a month away, they must step up their campaign. In an attempt to keep the Luftwaffe deployed away from the coast of Northern France, the Air Force are striking targets deep inside Germany.
Over Berlin - May 1944
The 8th Air Force is on a mission to Berlin, one of the most heavily defended targets in the Third Reich. Unknown to the bomber crews, the real purpose of their mission is to act as bait to draw out the Luftwaffe, of which 70% are stationed in the area around Berlin. Once the enemy is engaged with the B-17s, squadrons of the newly developed long range P-51 fighters can execute a surprise attack and destroy the German aerial forces. Allied command deems the loss of the bombers as a strategic sacrifice.
When their bombing run is complete, the bombers are turning for home when out of nowhere dozens of enemy aircraft appear. The weight and slow cruising speed of the B-17s make evasive manouevres virtually impossible. There is nothing that the crewmen can do but hold their formation and wait for their P-51 escorts. . Thankfully they arrive in the nick of time and the bombers are able to limp back home to England.
Out of the 459 Allied aircraft that attacked Berlin, 32 were shot down and 256 airmen are missing and presumed dead.
After the 7th Infantry Division have overpowered the Japanese on Kwajalein, American forces are trying to secure the rest of the atoll. Japanese-American translators are trying to persuade the the Japanese to surrender, but rather than suffer the 'shame' of surrendering, they set fire to their supplies and blow themseves up.....there are no survivors.
After a further 4 days of fighting the Americans finally secure the Kwajalein Atoll, with this battle the Allies have advanced the Pacific front 500 miles closer to Japan and now have a staging area where they are able to launch a massive assault on the Marianna Islands.
June 6th, 1944- D-Day
After just 30 minutes sleep, bomber crews are awoken, the camp chaplain is conducting a special service, the officers are in dress uniform, the base commanding officer gets the men together and informs them "gentlemen, this is it, this is invasion".
The first attack wave of 659 B-17 Bombers prepare for take-off, each is fitted with 8,000 pounds of bombs. They are joined by 418 B-24 bombers and 10,000 other Allied aircraft sent to pummel strategic targets on and behind the invasion beaches.
Southern England - D-Day
The men of the 39th Infantry Regiment are inching their way through crowded roads and streets en-route to to their rendezvous point where they will ship out to Normandy, there they will act as re-inforcements in the second wave.
Over France - D-Day
Above the English Channel the bomber crews strain to see through the clouds and mist to survey the scenes on the beaches below.
"Soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force, you are about to embark upon the great crusade toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you, the hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. You will bring about the destruction of the German war machine. The elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely. The tide has turned, the free men of the world are marching together to victory. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory"
General Dwight D. Eisenhower
Over 150,000 Allied troops assault a 50 mile wide beachhead in upper Normandy. Four German Infantry Divisions and one Panzer Division are waiting for them. On the first day Allied caualties reach 10,000, by midnight 175,000 soldiers and 50,000 combat vehicles are ashore. The western Allies are now fighting on the soil of 'Fortress Europe'.
Dave Harris Art
- Limited edition prints of World War 2 pencil drawings
Highly detailed World War 2 pictures are available online as limited edition Fine Art Giclee prints. A special gift for anyone interested in the second world war. Prints available include: El Alamein, the Dambusters, Band of Brothers and Day of Days.
More by this Author
It is now 70 years on from the Battle of Britain and the experiences of the men, women and civilians of Biggin Hill in the Kent countryside encapsulated the drama of this critical period in Britain's history. Repeatedly...
At midday on the 20th July 1944, Colonel Claus Von Stauffenberg walked uneasily through the heavily guarded forest complex of FeildMarshall Keitel at the Wolfschanze, Hitler's headquarters for the eastern front in East...
By 1940, Poland, Czechoslovakia, France and all the other occupied countries of Europe, had fallen under the tyrrany of the Nazi jackboot. If Britain didn't defend itself, it would surely suffer the same fate. Everyone...