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NEWS | June 3, 2014

Operation OVERLORD – D-Day: the 437th was there!

By Stanley D. Gohl 437th Airlift Wing Historian

June 6 marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, a very special day for all Americans but a day with particularly significance for Joint Base Charleston and the 437th Operations Group.

Today's 437th Operations Group is a lineal ancestor of the 437th Troop Carrier Group which played a pivotal part in Operation OVERLORD June 6, 1944. The group was structured much the same as it is today and accomplished a mission similar to the mission of today's 437th. The group consisted of four squadrons; the 83rd Troop Carrier Squadron, the 84th TCS, 85th TCS and 86th TCS. The Airmen were trained to operate the C-47 and to pilot and tow the Waco CG-4A glider.

The 437th TCG arrived at Ramsbury Airfield, England in Feb. 1944, and immediately began training operations to become proficient in the European Area of Operations. Although they were trained to pilot and tow the Waco glider, once in England they were introduced to the British Horsa glider which was larger, heavier and more difficult to fly. They also began extensive nighttime training which was further complicated by the infamous dense fog in England.

On May 29, the 85 TCS departed Ramsbury to Membury where they were on-loan to the 436 TCG. Three days later, on June 1st, Ramsbury was officially placed on lockdown status. No one was to enter or depart including a few local English nationals who worked on base. The day prior, the 82nd Airborne Division arrived at Ramsbury and was bed down in a tent city across from the Women's Auxiliary Air Force compound. All combat crew members were also moved to the WAAF compound to further ensure operational security. As yet another measure of security, the entire WAAF compound was encircled by barbed wire and patrolled by armed guards. The crews were restricted to their compound until the final go for Operation OVERLORD was given.

The following days were consumed with briefings and mission planning. The 437 TCG were tasked to deliver the 82nd Airborne Division. Their destination was an area between the villages of Ste Mere Eglise and Neuvill-Au-Plain, to the rear of Utah beach. The area was less than ideal, with a very swampy estuary just to the west of the designated landing zone. The landing zone assigned to the 437th TCG was of the utmost importance and deemed a strategic necessity for the success of the entire invasion. Once on the ground the members of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were to capture the local bridges and secure the port of Cherbourg.

On June 3, the men of the 437 TCG marched to the airfield where they began to paint those now-famous white stripes on the C-47s and gliders. All allied aircraft involved in Operation OVERLORD bore those three white stripes to help allied gunners identify friendly aircraft. Air Marshall Leigh-Mallory of the Royal Air Force pleaded with Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Forces, to cancel the airborne portion of the operation. He felt the mission to deliver the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions was too risky and the projected losses were unacceptable. Eisenhower contemplated the scenario for hours, but made the final decision: the airborne assault was a go. The announcement came at 10:30 p.m., June 5.

In the early hours of June 6, the lead aircraft, Feeble Eagle, flown by Col. Cedric Hudgens, 437 TCG commander, and towing glider number 24-46521, flown by Captain Will Evans and Flight Officer Ralph Toms, took off from Ramsbury destined for France. Fifty-one other C-47s and their gliders followed. The group flew a second round of sorties during daylight hours on June, followed by resupply missions in the days that followed. Although not all members returned home, the losses were less than expected and the dire prediction of Air Marshall Leigh-Mallory for the 437 TCG did not come true.

The 437 TCG went on to support operations in Holland and at the Battle of the Bulge.
In Sept. 2012, the remaining members of the 437th Troop Carrier Group held their final reunion here at JB Charleston. It has been 70 years since the men and women of the greatest generation fought the war to end all wars. Their story is part of our heritage as Airmen of the 437th Airlift Wing and 437th Operations Group. The courage, bravery and patriotism of the 437th Troop Carrier Group lives on at JB Charleston as we continue to bring the fight to our nation's enemies.