On D-Day, Fairford Fights

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt. Aaron Thomasson
  • 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs

In light of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this feature is part of a brief historical series highlighting the 501st Combat Support Wing’s storied legacy supporting D-Day operations in World War II.

The world was on fire. War raged in the North Atlantic, the Pacific, across the snowy plains of Russia and in the deserts of North Africa. Allied forces looked to open up another front in the war, a direct strike at the Nazi Reich’s “Fortress Europe.” To do this would require the United Kingdom to play host to the greatest concentration of men and materiel to ever conduct an amphibious assault. For this assault to be successful, the skies would have to be clear of enemy fighters and the roads leading away from the beachheads secured.

In the months leading up to the invasion, new airfields sprang up all across the southern and eastern regions of England. One of these airfields was RAF Fairford. It was specifically designed to support Operation Tonga, the troop transport and glider flights that would pierce the heart of darkness in Europe. The airborne soldiers on these flights were tasked with protecting the beachhead’s eastern flank near the city of Caen.

“I jumped with a kitbag containing a reserve Bren Gun, rifle, ammunition, explosives and my 48 hour ration pack,” said Sapper Ivor Anderson, just 19 years old when he jumped into the inky night over Normandy. “We were being blown about all over the place with the ACK-ACK fire and my exit was all over the place. When I landed the only weapon I had was a para knife. I was not so scared that I had landed in enemy territory, but more so thinking I'd be court-martialed for losing my weapons!"

Despite the difficult conditions, the British parajumpers excelled in their mission. Aided by surprise, the squads rapidly cleared out the defenders of their designated landing area near Pegasus Bridge. Once they had established control of the area, they began removing field obstacles placed there by the Nazis to prevent glider landings. With the site ready to receive gliders, the second wave of troops from Fairford arrived. These troops set up defensive positions to prevent counterattacks against the D-Day beachheads, only five miles away and still just a fragile Allied foothold on the mainland.

Fighting, and fighting jointly, has been part of the mission of RAF Fairford from its beginnings in 1944. The partnership between the United Kingdom and the United States is something that endures in its very bones, and as we approach the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we are reminded that this partnership has been sealed many times since in the blood of our two nations’ brave Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen.