Friday, June 5, 2020

World War II 'Operation Chicago' on D-Day (June 6, 1944) where Allied forces invaded northern France by means of gliders providing reinforcements and artillery in Normandy.

Operation Chicago (or Mission Chicago) was a pre-dawn glider-borne combat assault in the American airborne landings in Normandy, made by elements of the 101st Airborne Division on the early morning of June 6, 1944, during the Normandy landings of World War II. It was part of Operation Neptune, the assault portion of the Allied invasion of Normandy, codenamed Operation Overlord. Originally slated to be the main assault for the 101st Airborne Division, the glider operation instead became the first reinforcement mission after the main parachute combat assault, Mission Albany. Because the area of responsibility for the division was in close proximity to Utah Beach, the use of glider reinforcement was limited in scale, with most division support units transported by sea.
Troops from the 101st Airborne with full packs and a bazooka, in a C-47 just before take-off from RAF Upottery Airfield to Normandy, France for “Operation Chicago. June 5, 1944.
The 101st Airborne Division's objectives were to secure the four causeway exits behind Utah Beach, destroy a German coastal artillery battery at Saint-Martin-de-Varreville, capture buildings nearby at Mezières believed used as barracks and a command post for the artillery battery, capture the Douve River lock at la Barquette (opposite Carentan), capture two footbridges spanning the Douve River at la Porte opposite Brevands, destroy the highway bridges over the Douve at Sainte-Come-du-Mont, and secure the Douve River valley.

In the process, units would also disrupt German communications, establish roadblocks to hamper the movement of German reinforcements, establish a defensive line between the beachhead and Valognes, clear the area of the drop zones to the unit boundary at Les Forges, and link up with the veteran 82nd Airborne Division.

Operation Chicago was the 27th serial of the airborne assault and was flown by the troop carrier C-47 Skytrains of the 434th Troop Carrier Group at RAF Aldermaston. 52 aircraft acted as tugs for an equal number of CG-4A Waco gliders carrying 155 troops, a bulldozer, sixteen 57-millimeter (6-pounder) antitank guns, and 25 small vehicles. 2.5 tons of ammunition and 11 tons of equipment were also transported, including an SCR-499 radio set for the division headquarters command post.
Glider Waco CG-4A “Hadrian” in flight. US National Archives.
Chicago was primarily an artillery reinforcement mission. Aboard 44 gliders were Batteries A and B of the 81st Airborne Antiaircraft Battalion. The other 8 gliders carried small elements of the 326th Airborne Engineer Battalion, the 101st Signal Company, the antitank platoon of the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment (GIR), and a surgical team of the 326th Airborne Medical Company. Also accompanying the glider serial in a last-minute change was the assistant division commander (ADC) of the 101st Airborne Division, Brigadier General Don Pratt, who had been designated to command the seaborne echelon.
A damaged Waco glider on LZ “E”. US National Archives.
The mission had originally been planned for glider release at civil twilight on the evening before the amphibious landings, but to protect the gliders from ground fire the time was changed on May 27 to 04:00 on D-Day, two hours before dawn. The designated destination in France was Landing Zone (LZ) E, an area co-located with and slightly overlapping one of the paratroop drop zones, DZ C. The area was chosen as central to the operations of the division and because a BUPS beacon ("Beacon, Ultra-Portable S-band") was to be in place thereon which the serial commander could guide using the SCR-717 search radars installed in the aircraft of flight leaders.

The landing zone was a triangle-shaped area a mile in width at its mile-long base along the road connecting les Forges (a hamlet south of Sainte-Mère-Église) and Sainte-Marie-du-Mont. The zone was 1.5 miles in-depth and its eastern edge ran through Hiesville, the division command post two miles west of Ste. Marie-du-Mont. In addition to its central locality, the fields within the zone were on average twice the length of most others in the vicinity. Many of the fields, however, were bordered by trees 40 feet in height and not hedgerows, a fact that did not show up well on aerial reconnaissance photographs.

Paratroops from 101st Airborne were dropped beginning around 01:30, tasked with controlling the causeways behind Utah Beach and destroying road and rail bridges over the Douve River. The C-47s could not fly in a tight formation because of thick cloud cover, and many paratroopers were dropped far from their intended landing zones. Many planes came in so low that they were under fire from both flak and machine gun fire. Some paratroopers were killed on impact when their parachutes did not have time to open, and others drowned in the flooded fields. Gathering together into fighting units was made difficult by a shortage of radios and by the bocage terrain, with its hedgerows, stone walls, and marshes. Some units did not arrive at their targets until afternoon, by which time several of the causeways had already been cleared by members of the 4th Infantry Division moving up from the beach.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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