‘D-Day’ is widely used to describe the momentous day on 6 June 1944 when the Allies invaded Occupied Europe with landings off the coast of Normandy. However, the thirteen troop carrying and resupply operations for the invasion were actually flown over three days: 5/6 June, 6 June and 6/7 June.
Three of them were mounted by the RAF (‘Tonga’, ‘Mallard’ and ‘Rob Roy’) and ‘Albany’, ‘Boston’. ‘Chicago’, ‘Detroit’, ‘Freeport, ‘Memphis’, ‘Elmira’, ‘Keokuk’, ‘Galveston’ and ‘Hackensack’ were flown by the C-47s of US Troop Carrier Command.
It is not widely known either that not all were American C-47 crews and their US paratroopers and RAF crews and their British paratroopers. Many of the operations involved American crews carrying their British allies from bases in Lincolnshire because the RAF simply did not have enough Dakotas on hand.
Our story though, is about one American air crew that took part in Operation ‘Freeport’, the re-supply mission carried out in the early morning of ‘D+1’, 6/7 June by C-47s in the 52nd Wing to supply the 82nd Airborne Division.
At Saltby at 1530 hours on 6 June, following their first mission the previous evening, crews in the 314th Troop Carrier Group were assembled for a briefing for ‘Freeport’.
‘Freeport’ was scheduled with the time of the initial drop set at 0611. Cargoes were to consist of six bundles in each aircraft and six more in pararacks in all aircraft equipped with SCR-717. The normal load thus carried was only slightly over a ton, although a C-47 could carry almost three tons.
The difference lay in the need to get the cargo out within half a minute so that it would all land on the drop zone. No real difficulties were anticipated. The drops were to occur at daybreak. The men of the 314th returned to their Quonset barracks with the mission on their minds.
An ominous sign
In the barracks later in the evening after the briefing Staff Sergeant Mitchell W. Bacon, the radio operator on C-47 42-93605 in the 50th Squadron piloted by Captain Howard W. Sass was observed going through his barracks bags.
As he began to separate items and place them in different places on his bed, a few of his barracks mates approached to ask what he was doing. It was apparent he had something in mind as he placed items in various stacks.
Bacon replied that he knew he would not be returning from the mission that was to take place the next morning and was separating his personal belongs from those issued to him by the army. It would be easier, he said, for someone to send his personal items home when he failed to return the next morning.
This was not the kind of talk men anticipating a combat mission wanted to hear. Others in the barracks heard the exchange. They quickly joined in the conversation.
‘You can’t possibly know that!’ said one.
‘You shouldn’t even be thinking like that,’ others observed.
‘You’re crazy, ‘Mitch’. Forget that stuff’ said one, half jokingly.
‘Come on, man,’ another suggested, ‘Get that out of your head!’
By various means his friends in the barracks tried to dissuade Bacon from what he was doing but he kept at it until he had his belongings in the stacks he wanted.
‘I have this premonition,’ he kept replying.
‘I believe my plane will not return from the mission in the morning.’
‘I just want to tell you goodbye…’
Breakfast the next morning was at 0300. As men were leaving the mess hall to board their planes, Bacon placed his arm around the shoulders of his friend, Andrew J. Kyle, a crew chief and said,
‘I just want to tell you goodbye. ‘Andy’, I am certain I won’t be returning from this mission.’
As the 314th TCG’s C-47s approached the drop zone, 42-93605 piloted by Captain Howard W. Sass was hit by anti-aircraft fire and caught fire underneath the fuselage. The radio operator in another of the planes momentarily saw through the door of Sass’ plane and described the crew compartment as a ‘sheet of fire.’
Para-packs inside the plane were seen going out the door. Pilots, witnessing Sass’ plane on fire, screamed to him on their radios for the crew to bail out. No parachutes were seen departing the plane. Sass went down with his burning plane, was catapulted into a hedge when it crashed and survived with comparatively minor injuries.
As late as 10 June Captain Henry C. Hobbs, a glider pilot reappeared at Greenham Common after several ‘adventures’ during which he had noticed a crashed C-47 with only the tail left. The last three numbers were ‘605’ and a flight jacket near it with the name ‘Bacon’ was the only identifying feature.
Martin Bowman is one of Britain’s foremost aviation historians. His most recent books are Airmen of Arnhem and Hitler’s Invasion of East Anglia, 1940: An Historical Cover Up?, published by Pen & Sword Books.
Featured Image Credit: ‘D-Day Dakotas’ jacket design by artist Jon Wilkinson.