Voices of D-Day: Allen W. Stephens
We awakened at two o'clock in the morning on June 6th. This was my twenty-first mission, and take-off was at 4:20 in the morning. It was still dark. A steady rain was falling and we could hardly see to taxi, much less fly. But there was no holding back and we poured on the coals, taking off at twenty-second intervals between shifts.
By the time we cleared the end of the runway, we could barely see the lights of the airplane ahead of us. We climbed on instruments, and when we broke out on top of the cloud bank, we could see B-26s and all kinds of other airplanes circling around, and it was really a beautiful sight.
By following prearranged signals, we tacked onto our squadron leader and subsequently were on our way across the Channel. We were part of the spearhead of the invasion, entering the coast of France near Cherbourg over Utah Beach. Our targets were coastal guns and blockhouses along the beach, which we were to hit in collaboration with shelling by naval vessels. We were among the very first aircraft to hit the invasion target.
As we moved in toward the beaches, we could see an armada of invasion vessels in the channel below us, their courses converging toward the several invasion beaches. I had the surging feeling that I was sitting in on the greatest show ever staged -- one that would make world history. As we flew nearer to the target, that feeling increased to exhilaration and excitement, for it was truly a magnificent operation. We saw hundreds upon hundreds of ships below, moving toward the coast of France, and when we approached the target area, we could see the big naval guns shelling the coast. The Germans were not idle, however, as they threw heavy barrages at the landing craft. I saw one large ship going down but still throwing shells at the coast. We saw hundreds of discarded parachutes that had been thrown off by paratroopers who had landed simultaneously with the other attacks. These were quite a ways inland from the beachhead. I saw one B-26 Marauder explode in midair near the target area.
We went through the heaviest concentration on antiaircraft fire I had yet seen. Tracers and flak explosions were so thick that it looked impossible to get through without being hit, especially knowing that for every tracer there were six other rounds. The barrage literally filled the air all around us, and the flak explosions made the air alive with fire.
On the beachhead, there was a tremendous wall of smoke all along the shore where the bombs and the shells were exploding. The landing craft were moving up as we turned off the target area after dropping our bombs. Every move was timed to the split second. We went in at 4,500 feet on this first mission. Our bombs went away at 6:30 a.m., the precise time planned.
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