Timeline of D-Day and the Roles Airborne and Special Operations Soldiers Played

In 1943 the Allies decided upon an invasion of Northwest Europe in May 1944. Landing in Normandy, they would capture the channel ports and secure an area for further ground and air operations. Airborne landing in support of the seaborne assault were considered essential to the success of the entire invasion.  

U.S. Army ground forces were to land on Omaha and Utah Beaches on the East side of the Carentan Peninsula, and then capture the port of Cherbourg. The Seaborne landing on Utah Beach would be preceded by parachute and glider assaults by the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions.  

The 101st Airborne Division’s Role

The 101st Airborne Division was given the task of clearing the way for the seaborne assault by seizing the western exits of four causeways that crossed marshy areas just inland from Utah Beach and then organizing the southern flank of the beachhead. It would also establish bridgeheads across the Dove River for a later drive to the city of Carentan.  

Pictured below, a 101st Airborne Division trooper prepares to jump on D-Day.  

The Filthy 13

Demolitions Platoon, 3d Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division; nicknamed the Filthy 13.

The Mohawks and war paint were the idea of Private Jake McNiece, who shaved his head to keep away lice, but told the men it was part of his Native American culture, as he was part Choctaw.

The platoon’s mission had the troopers landing south of Vierville and head to the bridges at Le Port on the river Douve and blow or hold the bridges against German counteract. The C-47 plane carrying the Filthy 13 was hit before the drop zone and the men jumped as the plane lost altitude.

The paratroopers set demolition charges on the bridges and waited for the German attack. The Germans came at them, but the Americans held out. On the third day, P-51 Mustangs came and bombed the bridges, unaware it was in American hands, then strafed the paratroopers. Of the Filthy 13, six were sent back to England fit for duty- the rest were killed, wounded, or captured.

Pictured below is a recreation of one of the members of the Filthy 13 on exhibit at the ASOM, as well as a picture of Jake McNiece, right, applying paint to a fellow paratrooper before D-Day.

The 82nd Airborne Division’s Role  

The 82nd would secure the Western edge of the bridgehead by capturing St. Mere Eglise, a key town on the road to Cherbourg. It would also establish deep bridgeheads across the Merderet River to facilitate later attacks to the west.  

Pictured below is the coat that Private Bob Rooney wore on D-Day. He was wounded during the jump and later embroidered the bullet hole in red.  

Children from Sainte-Mere-Eglise talk to an 82nd trooper, despite the ongoing battle raging around the town.

The Role of the Rangers

The 2nd Ranger Battalion was assigned the mission of landing by sea and scaling the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc to knock out a battery of German heavy artillery. Rangers from the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalion would also land on Omaha Beach.  

Pictured below are Rangers atop Pointe Du Hoc, D-Day, 6, June 1944. Rangers had to fight their way up these cliffs at Pointe du Hoc. From the top, German defenders threw hand grenades and fired at them from fortified positions.  

The Outcome

Every D-Day mission assigned to Airborne and Special Operation Units was daunting and carried out in the face of ferocious opposition by the German defenders. Once the mission was underway, things began to go very wrong: American parachute units were badly scattered, Rangers climbed Pointe du Hoc only to find the German guns had been moved, and other Ranger companies landed at Omaha Beach directly into a storm of German machine gun fire. But training, leadership, extraordinary courage and sacrifice won a permanent foothold on the continent. The 82nd Airborne Division’s Commander Matthew B. Ridgway summed up the Normandy campaign this way…”33 days of action without relief, without replacement. Every mission accomplished. No Ground gained ever relinquished.”  

“Mae West” Life Vest: Despite life vests like this, the 507th PIR suffered the worst drop of the day when 25 troops drowned after being dropped into rivers and marshes.

Commemorate the 80th Anniversary of D-Day At the ASOM!

If you can’t make it to France for the 80th anniversary of D-Day, plan a visit to the ASOM. Step aboard a C-47 Skytrain and walk through a recreated Normandy village, transporting you back to war-torn occupied France at the dawn of Europe’s liberation.

Trace the steps of Airborne and Special Operations Soldiers from Operation Torch in North Africa through their triumphs in Europe and the Pacific Theater. Explore the museum’s extensive World War II artifact collection and discover more about the men and women who served and fought for freedom.

The two mannequins represent paratroopers that participated in the D-Day invasion. One represents an 82d Airborne Division trooper, while the other represents a member of the 101st Airborne Division.

Admission to the ASOM is free, but donations are greatly appreciated and needed. The ASOM Foundation is experiencing a significant loss of major funding, jeopardizing our ability to continue our vital museum support mission through public programs, educational opportunities, and exhibit support. Without your help, we may be forced to dim the light on crucial chapters in military history past and present.