As we near the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day landings which occurred on June 6th, 1944, several manufacturers have marked the date by releasing commemorative versions of some of their most popular subjects. Corgi, affectionately known by many as “the Pooch”, has certainly seized the day, if you don’t mind us capitalizing on a phrase, by offering a complete stand-alone collection of some of the most iconic aircraft to participate in the battle. In no particular order, here’s what you can expect from the boys at Corgi over the course of the next few months:
One of the most crucial elements of the D-Day air campaign was the gathering of detailed reconnaissance photographs of the entire intended invasion area, which included the assessment of previous bombing raid effectiveness and the identification of future targets. In lessons learned during the disastrous Dieppe raid of 1942, military planners knew they had to have the very latest intelligence information in order to prepare for invasion, disrupting enemy communications and destroying defensive strongholds overlooking the invasion beaches. One of the most effective aircraft in securing this information was the Lockheed F-5E-2 Lightning, the photographic reconnaissance version of the distinctive twin boom P-38J variant. Undergoing modification at squadron level, these aircraft featured enlarged camera windows for more effective information gathering, with this bigger window featuring a teardrop fairing to minimize the impact of addition drag. Lightning 43-28619 was unusual in that it made a feature of this enlarged eye in the sky by the artistic addition of sharks teeth, with the camera windows serving as eyes for the flying beast. Wearing its overall PRU blue color scheme, nose artwork and D-Day identification markings, this must have been one of the most distinctive aircraft in the skies above the Normandy beaches, even though its mission profile was for the Lightning to remain undetected. On November 26th, 1944, this aircraft was intercepted and shot down by a Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter flown by Luftwaffe ace Hermann Buchner, with its unfortunate pilot becoming a prisoner of war.
The aviation pedigree of the Supermarine Spitfire is second to none. Produced in greater numbers than any other British aircraft, the Spitfire was in constant production throughout the Second World War, with the basic air frame capable of readily accepting upgrades and improvements which maintained the aircraft’s position as one of the most capable single-engined fighting airplanes of WWII. The combination of the classic Spitfire air frame and the new powerful Rolls Royce Griffon engine produced a “Super Spitfire” and what was regarded by many aviation historians as the finest low altitude interceptor available to Allied air forces during WWII.
Having contributed to offensive operations in support of the D-Day landings, the speedy Spitfire Mk. XIVs of RAF No.322 Squadron were given a dangerous new task in the weeks which followed, intercepting the indiscriminate V1 “Doodlebug” flying bombs which were hurled against Southern Britain from their launch sites in France, in the weeks following the successful Allied landings in Normandy. The squadron proved extremely proficient in these ‘Anti-diver’ sorties, with no fewer than 108.5 Doodlebugs falling to the guns of their mighty Griffon powered Spitfires, before advancing Allied ground units could overrun the launch sites, thus taking these terrifying weapons out of range of their intended target areas. Released from their Doodlebug duties, the Griffon Spitfires of No.322 squadron were sent to operate from recently liberated bases in Europe, as Allied air forces continued to take a heavy toll of German forces, both on the ground and in the air.
If the Douglas C-47 Skytrain is considered the most famous multi-engine aircraft of D-Day aerial operations, then the single-engine equivalent must be the fearsome Hawker Typhoon. Agile and extremely heavily armed, the Typhoon was to see plenty of action during the summer of 1944, either attacking strategic targets in the weeks prior to invasion, such as German radar sites or providing invaluable close air support to ground units breaking out from the landing beachheads.
With forward air controllers installed with ground units throughout Normandy, RAF Typhoons were ready to respond to any request for aerial support, with aircraft not already engaged in strike missions holding off the coast of Northern France, ready to be called into action. These missions proved to be incredibly hazardous for Typhoon crews, not so much down to the attention of Luftwaffe fighters, but from the murderous anti-aircraft fire hurled in their direction from seemingly every German gun in the Normandy region. Indeed, in the weeks following the D-Day landings, more than 500 Hawker Typhoons had been lost, less than 10% of which were attributed to enemy fighter attack. Flying at high speed and at extremely low level, the opinion shared by Typhoon crews was that you had not experienced real combat flying until you had spent time on a Typhoon squadron.
The opportunity to capture and evaluate the latest versions of your enemy’s aircraft was of great interest to both Allied and Axis military planners throughout WWII, not only in order to asses the technology itself, but also to develop tactics which would be useful to squadron pilots when meeting the aircraft in combat. Most of these aircraft would come into the possession of their new owners following combat and usually after suffering varying degrees of damage, however, there were rare occasions when Luftwaffe aircraft were unwittingly delivered in tact to a grateful Royal Air Force.
Such an occurrence took place on July 21st, 1944, when a pair of bomber hunting Messerschmitt Bf109G-6/U2 fighter pilots became disorientated and landed at Manston airfield in Kent. One of the pilots appeared to be distracted whilst approaching the unfamiliar airfield and fearing he was running out of runway, retracted his undercarriage and made a belly landing. The other machine, “White 16” flown by Horst Prenzel made a perfect landing and therefore presented the RAF with a pristine example of this latest variant of the Luftwaffe fighter. Later evaluated by famous test pilot Captain Eric Brown, it was destroyed only a few months later in a take off accident whilst serving with the Air Fighting Development Unit at RAF Wittering.
In order to ensure the defeat of Germany and the end of the Second World War, the Allied powers knew that they would have to launch a full scale assault against continental Europe, an undertaking fraught with potential dangers. In support of this plan, Allied aircraft began a concerted bombing campaign, targeting aircraft and munitions manufacturing plants, as well as attacking strategic targets in the intended landing areas, all designed to diminish Germany’s fighting capabilities. These attacks were always carefully masked by strong diversion raids, so as not to alert the Germans to where the anticipated Allied amphibious assault would take place, making D-Day as much about deception, as it was about preparation.
Finally, after months of planning, the order was given to ‘Go’ and the invasion was on. At RAF Greenham Common in the late evening of June 5th, 1944, paratroopers of the US 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions climbed aboard hundreds of Douglas C-47 Skytrains, as they prepared to drop behind German lines in advance of the main seaborne invasion force, the spearhead of Operation Overlord. At the head of this mighty air armada and the aircraft which effectively launched D-Day, Douglas C-47A “That’s All Brother” would lead a force of over 800 Skytrains over the next few hours, as she navigated through thick cloud and German defensive fire to deliver her precious cargo of brave paratroopers onto their designated drop zones in Normandy and the opening combat operations of D-Day.