Control of skies assured in first hour of battle

By Walter Cronkite  |  June 6, 2014 at 9:11 AM
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LONDON, June 6, 1944 (UPI) -- Drawing upon the reservoir of 11,000 first line planes, the supreme Allied command Tuesday sent the greatest air fleet in history over the French coast in support of the invasion, winning complete mastery of the air within the first hour of the landings.

In one eight-hour period alone -- from midnight to 8 a.m. -- planes manned by airmen of the United Nations flew 7,500 sorties and dropped 11,120 tons of bombs on enemy coastal installations.

By early evening, it appeared that despite bad weather which hampered U.S. heavy bomber operations, the Allied air forces had run their sorties to at least 10,000 and their tonnage to well over 14,000 tons.

By day's end, with clearing conditions over the English channel favoring operations, it seemed possible that 20,000 to 25,000 sorties might be flown. If the attacks go on relentlessly until midnight, the figure might grow to an all-time high of 30,000 sorties. (A sortie is a single flight by a single plane.)

The impact of Allied air might staggered the Luftwaffe, outnumbered by more than three to one.

Reichsmarshal Herman Goering issued a desperate appeal to Nazi airmen. "The invasion must be fought off even if it means the death of the Luftwaffe," he said in an order of the day.

Despite his plea, however, the Luftwaffe apeared over the beachheads only momentarily and in strength only 1/40th of what is believed to have available.

During the first landings, about 50 Nazi single-engined fighters appeared briefly. They soon vanished, however, and mastery of the skies was ours. By mid-morning Allied fighters swept 75 miles inland without encountering a single German plane.

The German D.N.B. agency, heard in New York, claimed that five Allied planes were shot down over the French coast, and asserted that "visibility in the Channel handicapped German fighters very much."

Coinciding with the western invasion, U.S. heavy bombers based in Russia flew over their first combat mission from Soviet bases and returned to Russian territory after bombing an airdrome at the Danube river port of Galati in Romania. Escorting Mustang fighters, two of which were missing, shot down six enemy planes.

Another Nazi broadcast reported air battles over Romania this morning between U.S. heavy bombers and enemy fighters, possibly indicating an American attack, from bases in Italy or Russia.

An official announcement from supreme headquarters reported the greatest eight-hour blitz ever directed against tiny stretch of territory. Swarming in endless streams over the French coast from midnight until 8 a.m., Allied bombers hurled 1,300 tons of high explosives an hour on coastal defenses -- more than 25 tons a minute.

The assault was the climax of almost daily poundings of the invasion areas since mid-December, a pounding that rocketed to its apex of intensity during the past week.

The hammering of the coastal installations began just a few minutes before midnight and continued all day. At the same time, medium bombers, fighter bombers and fighters roamed far behind the beachheads to shoot up and bomb railways and roads, bridges, highway junctions and Nazi troops rushing to invasion areas. Air opposition was slight, a communique said.

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