By Evan Muxen
446th Airlift Wing Historian
Throughout the course of World War II, there were numerous events that either altered the course of the war or created a defining moment. Pearl Harbor, Battle of the Bulge, Battle of Iwo Jima, and Stalingrad, to name a few.
However, June 6, 1944, is perhaps the moment that most historians would point to as the turning point of the European Theater of the war.
Without the successful invasion of the Normandy beaches, the war could have either dragged on for years or perhaps forced a peace with an undesirable outcome. There is no question as to the how or why the invasion of France was successful, but rather what were the elements made it succeed.
Tucked away on McChord Field is an Air Force Reserve unit that quietly and professionally continues to fulfill its mission sets, despite the recent pandemic restrictions.
This unit has conducted itself in this manner since its activation in April 1943.
The 446th Bombardment Group was created like many other groups and wings during WWII to fill the need of fighting units to meet the threat the United States now faced. Much has changed since 1943, but the 446th Airlift Wing of today has maintained its reputation of reliability, accuracy, devotion to its mission.
From the time the 446th was activated, it was already determined that the 446th would be sent to the European Theater soon as it was deemed ready to conduct missions there. By December 1943, the 446th was in England flying missions over Germany and German-held areas. In short order, the 446th became a known and established unit with a reputation for providing support when and where needed.
In total the 446th flew 273 missions losing only 58 aircraft, which made the 446th one of the safest bombardment units in the war. Flying out of Flixton Airfield, England the 446th was routinely called upon, but perhaps no great call came to the unit than when they were called to lead the bombing of the Normandy beaches just prior to the arrival of the invasion force. This would become part the “what” behind the success of the D-Day invasion.
Pre-bombing the beaches before any landing element reached them was going to be a critical element that would help achieve overall success of the invasion. Without the pre-bombing or softening of the beaches and its defenses, allied casualties could have been catastrophic or the invasion could have failed. In darkness on the night of June 5, 1944, the 446th maintainers and flight crews began their execution of Field Order 328, making them the lead element for - the 8th Air Force, tasked with the bombing support of the Normandy Beaches. No one needed to share on the importance of their mission. The lives of over 150,000 allied forces relied on the success of their mission.
Now in the pre-dawn darkness the 446th taxing for takeoff in their B-24 Liberators, they knew not all of them would return, but that had not deterred them before. This flight - this mission - was the lead element of Operation OVERLORD and the 446th would not falter or fail in their mission. Their mission was not just to soften the beaches of Normandy, but to destroy the Luftwaffe’s air combat strength and disrupt rail communications to isolate the designated invasion area in Normandy. This would allow the allied invasion force to focus their efforts on establishing a beachhead on Europe.
The 446th conducted their mission ahead of the invasion force under low visibility due to cloud cover presenting problems for the bombers. At Omaha Beach, the bombing was relatively unsuccessful due to poor visibility. Nevertheless, the 446th bombers, led by their Commander Colonel Jacob J. Brogger in his aircraft (nicknamed Red Ass), hit the beach defenses an H-Hour minus 5 (five to six) just prior to the allied ground forces landing. At times the bombing was so close to the ground forces some bomber crews feared for the ground forces safety. The 446th was the first of four missions flown by the 20th Combat Wing on D-Day.
It is difficult to say how many allied lives were saved by the preparatory bombings. But without the bombings, the invasion could have gone much worse. As we look back 78 years, we pay tribute and honor to those men of the 446th who flew above D-Day providing the coverage needed for the success of the invasion.
We can truly say the 446th and the other bombardment groups were one of the “what elements” behind the success of the D-Day invasion.
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