D-Day and the RAF
With the anniversary of the D-Day landings upon us, many thoughts and much attention (quite rightly) is directed to the seaborne assault onto the five invasion beaches (Juno, Sword, Gold, Utah and Omaha). However, while it was all kicking off on the beaches, there was significant air activity led by the Royal Air Force – before, during and after the initial landings.
For example; before anyone had set a single foot on a Normandy beach on 6th June 1944, Bomber Command had already lost 300 aircraft and 2,000 men attacking invasion targets – which they had been hitting for weeks before the invasion. By dawn on D-Day, Bomber Command had sent over a thousand heavy bombers to smash the beach defences in and around the invasion zones with over 5,000 tonnes of bombs.
On the day of the invasion itself, 5,656 RAF aircraft were involved and 1,800 RAF personnel (along with 456 RAF vehicles) landed ashore, side-by-side with the infantry. By 9th June that number had risen to over 3,500 personnel and 815 vehicles – they started work immediately on airfield construction, aircraft servicing and maintenance as well as setting up control and communication points. Among the first RAF members ashore were a small radar unit that landed at Omaha Beach, they were tasked with setting up radar and radio facilities to help direct RAF Fighter Command who were helping to defend the beaches from enemy air attack. This tiny unit won 4 Military Crosses and 2 Military Medals on D-Day.
One of the great triumphs of D-Day was that not one single Allied ship was sunk by the German navy. This was largely down to the fifty squadrons of RAF Coastal Command that were busy sweeping the English Channel to keep if free of enemy ships and submarines. In partnership with Coastal Command, Fighter Command sent out squadrons to help protect the fleet and the beaches. They were so effective that only two enemy aircraft managed to successfully attack the beaches during the first day of the landing. They worked around the clock to keep the area clear and were definitely some of the unsung heroes of the Invasion.
To find out more about D-Day and the RAF, check out my latest book: Reaching For the Sky – One Hundred Defining Moments from the Royal Air Force. Available on Amazon and all good bookshops.