Of all the moving parts to examine on D-Day, none is more interesting than the story of the Pathfinders. Their task was complex, and enormous in scale. An entire division, 6,600 men, depended on the actions of less than four pathfinder teams. Perhaps the 101st airborne division commander, General Maxwell Taylor, said it best in his memoir when he noted that:
“Parachute-pathfinder teams carrying lights and radar beacons for guiding in the planes were to drop shortly ahead of the main body and mark the landing areas. Theirs was the unenviable task of dropping into darkness into enemy-infested territory and announcing their own presence to the Germans by turning on their lights and beacon signals. These pathfinders were among the real heroes of D-day.”
Although sources conflict over whether or not Pathfinders made a difference in enabling the 101st Airborne Division to complete its mission on D-Day, their story is still captivating because on that day Pathfinders earned their motto of “First in, Last out”. Without Pathfinders, the invasion of Normandy would have been impossible.
Germany knew that an allied invasion of France was imminent. For months, allied spies and intelligence sought to leverage the knowledge gained through the invasion of Sicily and against weaknesses in the German defense of France. General Eisenhower knew that an attack on the coast would not be sufficient to invade because Germany had reserve troops and escape routes. The 101st Airborne division’s task was to seize four causeway exits because it was expected that VII Corps would have difficulty moving inland. The 101st and the 82nd were to jump in 5 hours before the landings on Omaha and Utah beach. The Pathfinders mission was crafted thr...
... middle of paper ...
... a half hour was nothing short of astonishing.
101 ABN DIV AAR. AAR, US Army.
"FM57-38 Pathfinder Operations, Chapter 6:Drop Zones." globalsecurity.org. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/policy/army/fm/57-38/Ch6.htm (accessed March 27, 2012).
Fogarty, Robert J II. Army Pathfinders: First in...Last out. September 14, 2011. http://nationalpathfinderassociation.com/history.html (accessed March 27, 2012).
LILLYMAN, FRANK L. Report of D-Day Pathfinder Activities. July 1, 1944. http://www.6juin1944.com/assaut/aeropus/en_page.php?page=after_pathf_101 (accessed March 27, 2012).
Ruppenthal, Roland G. UTAH BEACH TO CHERBOURG. 1948. http://www.history.army.mil/books/wwii/utah/utah.htm (accessed March 27, 2012).
Taylor, Maxwell D. Swords and Plowshares. New York: WW Norton & Company Inc, 1972.
VII Coprs AAR. AAR, Ft. McClelland: US Army, 1944.
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