AN EXHIBITION at the Australian War Memorial is telling the story of more than 3000 Australians involved with the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944.
Coinciding with the 75th anniversary of the operation, the exhibition will run through until September in the Anzac Hall Mezzanine, opposite the Lancaster ‘G-for-George’.
More than 2500 RAAF personnel were involved with the D-Day landings to begin the liberation of Occupied Europe.
More than 156,000 Allied personnel landed on the first day, and by July 4, more than a million had arrived.
The exhibition at the Australian War Memorial illustrates how the operation was conducted, and the role Australians played.
Amongst the displays are the uniform won by a RAAF Spitfire pilot, an artwork of 460 Squadron, and the remains of a Typhoon strike fighter flown by a RAAF pilot brought down over Normandy.
Director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson, said the freedoms we enjoy were partly owed to the D-Day operation.
“Some 3,300 Australian servicemen and servicewomen contributed to Operation Overlord,” Dr Nelson said.
Whilst D-Day is commonly associated with the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, few might be aware of the extent of Australia’s involvement.
“Australia's contribution and its sacrifice is a little-known story in one of history's most dramatic events,” Dr Nelson said.
“Few Australians would know that the first enemy aircraft – a Heinkel 177 – that was shot down on the day of the Normandy Landings was shot down by two Australians in a Mosquito of 456 Squadron.
“Thirteen Australians were killed on D-Day: two members of the Royal Australian Navy and 11 members of the Royal Australian Air Force.
The RAAF’s Role
After two years of planning and preparation, the Allies landed in the Normandy region of northern France on 6 June 1944.
It required months of preparation, training, and preliminary missions to support. RAAF personnel fulfilled some of the following roles:
Although the majority of RAAF personnel involved with D-Day flew missions over Normandy, Flight Lieutenant Glenorchy McBride was the only known RAAF member to step ashore on 6 June 1944.
The 43-year-old Administration Officer from Adelaide was a member of No. 101 Royal Air Force (RAF) Beach Squadron when it landed at SWORD Beach near Caen.
His job was to facilitate the arrival of supplies and equipment that would allow Allied aircraft to operate in France, and return downed aircrew and equipment back to England.
Arriving after the fighting on SWORD Beach had finished, Flight Lieutenant McBride was met with traffic chaos as Allied vehicles attempted to get off the beach and onto local roads.
In his first hour ashore, Flight Lieutenant McBride assisted Military Police on traffic management duties, and ordered German Prisoners of War to collect stretchers for wounded Allied troops.
He remained in Normandy until August 1944 when his squadron redeployed to England, and returned to Australia the following year.
RAAF aircrew flying with RAF transport squadrons helped deliver 8500 personnel with the British 6th Airborne Division to Normandy on the night of 5/6 June 1944.
Flying Stirlings, Dakotas and Albermales, they carried paratroops or towed gliders across the English Channel.
Allied efforts to confuse the Germans about the true location of D-Day led to a number of RAAF personnel flying diversion missions.
This included dropping dummy paratroops into Northern France, sowing confusion about the location of the landings.
They also airdropped foil as a means of jamming enemy ground-based radars, again attempting to convince the Germans that an invasion would come against the Pas de Calais region of France.
On D-Day, allied Air Forces enjoyed overwhelming air supremacy against the Germans over France fielding more than 10,000 aircraft against 80 – the majority of which did not fly missions on D-Day.
Fighters flew patrol missions against enemy aircraft and, when able, attacked German road movements and ground positions.
Long Summer days allowed Spitfire pilots from No. 453 Squadron to fly multiple missions over Normandy in the weeks following D-Day, although it was a 200-kilometre flight over the England Channel.
It wasn’t until June 16 that they faced the enemy in the air, with the squadron successfully bringing down two Me-109s without loss.
From June 25, the squadron moved Spitfires to a forward base in Normandy, greatly increasing their time over the battlefield.
Mosquito nightfighter crews from RAAF No. 456 Squadron meanwhile used airborne radar sets to find German bombers and other nightfighters.
On the night of 6/7 June 1944, No. 456 Squadron destroyed four Heinkel He-177 bombers, a number of which were equipped with first-generation guided missiles.
In the coming weeks, the squadron would claim 17 German aircraft destroyed, all without loss of their own.
RAAF maritime squadrons flew missions to guard the Allied naval convoy as it crossed the England Channel.
Beaufighters with RAAF's 455 Squadron were re-assigned from their base in Scotland to defend the convoy on D-Day, although poor weather prevented them from engaging the enemy.
Sunderland flying boat crews with Nos. 10 and 461 Squadron meanwhile were tasked with patrolling against U-Boats.
On D-Day itself, a No. 10 Squadron Sunderland crew encountered no U-Boats, but was able to ‘scare’ off a Junkers Ju-88, a medium bomber that could be used against Allied patrol aircraft.
On July 8, a 10 Squadron crew sank the U-Boat U243 approximately 170 kilometres off the coast of Brest.
A critical mission for Allied Air Forces in Normandy was to prevent or delay the arrival of German reinforcements.
This meant attacking road and rail infrastructure, and RAAF heavy bomber squadrons - 460, 463, 466 and 467 Squadron – flew missions against French rail network from in April 1944.
Missions were normally flown at night, however on 30 April 1944, No. 466 Squadron Halifaxes joined 128 bombers for a low-level daylight raid against marshalling yards in Achères, north-west of Paris.
In smaller Mosquito fighter bombers, crews from RAAF No. 464 Squadron flew low level missions at night to ‘Tennis Courts’, areas assigned to them in which they were given free rein to attack enemy vehicle movements.
Whilst the RAAF lost 11 personnel on D-Day, many hundreds more were killed in missions leading in to D-Day, and in the weeks that followed.
Flight Sergeant Stanley Black was the only RAAF member ground casualty, killed alongside US Paratroopers defending the French village of Graignes from a German SS Division.
A bombardier on a RAF Lancaster, Flight Sergeant Black was shot down on June 7 but brought by French to the US.
In the air, many RAAF aircrew lost their lives to enemy flak over Normandy.
Those killed ranged from experienced aircrew through to Flight Sergeant George Howard, killed on his first sortie when his Typhoon was shot down on D-Day.
The fate of many RAAF personnel remained undiscovered, and a handful have still yet to be found.
In 2010, the remains of Flight Lieutenant Henry ‘Lacy’ Smith were discovered in France after his Spitfire had crashed into a canal. He received a full military funeral in April 2011.