A massive airborne operation preceded the Allied amphibious invasion of the Normandy beaches. In the early hours of June 6, 1944, several hours prior to troops landing on the beaches, over 13,000 elite paratroopers of the American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, as well as several thousand from the British 6th Airborne Division were dropped at night by over 1,200 aircraft. Almost 4,000 more paratroopers would later be brought in by gliders, known as Waco Gliders, during daylight hours. In total 23,000 paratroopers and glider troops would be used in Normandy. They were all to land inland, behind the main line of German defenders on the beach, and were given the job of taking the town of St. Mere Eglise and securing key approaches to the Allied beachhead.
While the operation was underway, heavy anti-aircraft fire from German guns in the trees and fields below, destroyed a number of the C-47 Skytrains (the transport aircraft used to deliver the paratroopers). The flak also forced the planes to evade and forced many off target, leading to most of the C-47s dropping their sticks of paratroopers at the wrong time and location. Also, in an attempt to avoid the flak, the C-47 pilots tended to not slow down to the proper speed for the troopers to exit. As a result, many of the paratroopers had their weapons or other pieces of equipment ripped off their person as they leapt into the prop blast behind their aircraft’s engines. The situation became even more chaotic as German machine guns targeted planes and floating paratroopers alike. One paratrooper, as he descended, ended up having his parachute snag on a church steeple. He was left hanging in midair, and was forced to play dead for two hours as the Germans moved around beneath him.
Scattered all over Normandy, the paratroopers began to slowly link up with one another and conduct their missions. These small bands, affectionately known as LGOPs by today’s airborne community, or Little Groups of Paratroopers, wreaked havoc on the German rear areas, often destroying German forces wherever they were encountered. The Germans stubbornly resisted, but were unable to monopolize on the chaos. They became engaged with paratroopers in many small actions, and ferociously defended pre-established strongpoints. These strongpoints were systematically destroyed by the paratroopers throughout the remainder of the week. The paratroopers captured St. Mere Eglise and were successful in securing most of their objectives, but it took them the better part of a week to successfully block a few of the causeways leading to Utah Beach even though that was an early objective.