Image of Imperial War Museums Logo Image of Historic Duxford title

D-Day in detail

A view from the station lookout post to the south west corner of the airfield.

Duxford, as viewed from the station lookout post.

Captain John E Lingenfelter

Captain John E Lingenfelter

Captain John E. Lingenfelter’s 1042nd Signal Company was responsible for keeping Duxford connected to the outside world. It was an important job, and an ideal position from which to study how the 78th Fighter Group fitted into the whole D-Day operation. The report submitted by the company for inclusion in the Group’s history was one of the most detailed accounts of Duxford’s D-Day we are likely to find.

It paints a very good picture of the hustle and bustle of a busy USAAF station taking part in a huge operation. It explains how communications were handled at this pressured time, and illustrates how news of the landings in Normandy filtered back to the UK.It also shows how life on base carried on relatively normally, despite the momentous events taking place. I wonder how Harris, Hanley, DeCamilla, May, Millgate, Monahan, and Ruffalo reacted to being given a lecture on ‘Sex Morality’ on 6 June, of all days?

‘Headquarter 1042nd Signal Company Service Group APO 637 U.S. Army

Duxford, Cambridgeshire, England, June 1944

“D”   MONTH

The history making month of June has finally arrived and with it the opening of the Second Front – the long awaited for day which is to alter the destinies of both the armed forces of the United States and her Allies and the countries on the continent.

As the month opened preparations were being brought forward to the finishing stages and troops to take part in the invasion were now standing by waiting for the “H” hour. What preparations were being made were known only to those who were to play the major part in the landings and other air and ground units throughout England continued their routine duties with perhaps only an inkling that not too many days would pass before something “cracked”.

We were no exception, and our duties went on as usual. Passes were still on the taboo list and the field in general went to their duties with memories of dates, “Mild and Bitters”, and other forms of relaxation in near-by towns.

Our company, not being intended for a landing unit, continued its operation of the field communications and saw the opening of the anniversary of a year-and-one-half in England. Little changes took place the first few days of the month and the only one to have any bearing took place on the first day of June when Sergeant James R. Peterson arrived at two in the afternoon from Raydon for Permanent duty with the Headquarter unit. Sergeant Peterson had been held up along with many other Cadets and had been returned to our Department. Immediate preparations were made by Captain Lingenfelter to bring him back to the parent unit to fill a shortage which he was qualified for and to bring him back to his buddies First Sergeant Don and Staff Sergeant James O’Leary and Technical Sergeant Stanley M. Doll with whom he enlisted in February of 1942.

With Peterson’s arrival he was assigned to teletype duty and relieved the pressure in that department which had been working on doubled-up shifts for the last few weeks of May.

Instructions began to pour in over our teletype machine in regards to what would be required of communications during the forthcoming operations against the continent. One such teletype on the second of the month informed us that when the time arrived it might be necessary to reduce the amount of telephone traffic passed over trunk circuits. In areas where this would be necessary a procedure would be brought into force by the Theatre Commander by the issue of code words “Minimize Telephone” to Commanders concerned. This Minimize Telephone procedure which was passed on to our telephone operators through Staff Sergeant McKay, Section Head, provided a control whereby all incoming calls within the same exchange would be permitted in the normal manner. Further control specified that “outgoing calls to another switchboard would be permitted only from specifically designated extensions which were to be marked on the switchboard according to instructions issued previously”. This meant that only those officers authorized by these previous instructions to make “Clear the Line” Priority 1, or Priority 11 calls would be permitted to make any outgoing trunk calls in areas in which “Minimize Telephone” is in effect. Normal conditions in service would be restored by the Theatre Commander when the situation warranted it, the teletype stated. The British Services were being governed by a similar procedure which were to be brought into Force in the same areas controlled by their exchange.

With this information being passed on to the operators on the second of June other changes were taking place within the organization. Not only were rumours prevalent but a certain uneasiness was noticeable throughout the field and our unit was no exception. With all the rumours and wild guesses it is safe to say that not a single soldier even would guess that four days from then thousands of soldiers would be storming the beach-head of Normandy. On the afternoon of the second we were to see a change take place in our own company when our Supply Sergeant, Technical Sergeant Stanley N. Doll was sent to the 280th Station Hospital at Saffron Walden along with Private Ottis E. Williams. Doll had been previously been hospitalised seven times because of his infected tonsils and this time was being sent to have them removed. Williams was being sent for a physical check-up.

The restriction which has been placed on the field on the twenty-eighth of May was still in effect on the third of the month and all rumours were hastily forgotten around 1530 hours on the fourth when a Tannoy announcement informed all personnel that there would be a “Liberty Run Tonight”. The men who had been looked up for approximately a week began to storm all orderly rooms for passes and were soon headed for town with a little or no idea that the invasion was soon to break.

The usual duties were resumed the following morning, but at 1400 hours that afternoon we all found ourselves confined to the field once more. By this time it had become more or less a habit and not too many men gave it a second thought. They picked up their carbines, helmets, ammunition and gas-masks and struck out for their planes and shops while wondering how they could inform their girl-friends that they would be unable to keep that date.

About the same time that this restriction was placed on the field we received orders from Headquarters informing us that Privates Williams and May had been promoted to Privates First Class for the first promotion of the month. That evening the majority of men headed for the theatre and the Red Cross and it was during the movie that the “wheels began to spin”. Tannoy after Tannoy was made for all of the Officers from the Commanding Officer on down to the Medical, Ordinance, and Mess Officer, together with various crews of the squadrons.

With all the interruptions the movie finally ended and when the men filed from the theatre they beheld a sight they would never forget. All of the planes were parked into groups and all were moved from the revetments to the center and edges of the field where the crews had already begun to paint the invasion stripes across the wings and fuselages. Ordnance trucks were rushing back and forth between the bomb and ammunition dumps and the revetments with their loads of bombs and ammunitions. Activity was everywhere and our telephone operators and teletype men were getting the heaviest load of traffic in all of the time that the board had been in operation under our supervision. Additional men were sent to the radio room, switchboard, and teletype rooms to stand-by and give relief to the men who snatched a few breaks to sip coffee and snacks distributed by the Red Cross girls.

By the time the morning rolled around the news was pretty well known that the invasion was in progress and all men not on duty were huddled around radios to soak up every bit of news that came across. Finally the voice of the Supreme Allied Commander was heard issuing instructions to the French underground and to our own Allied Expeditionary Forces. The invasion was on and the pressure was off after many long months of waiting…

For the next few days our men settled down to work with a fervor long forgotten and spirits seemed higher than they had been for many months. The usual routine of duties filled the hours both during the day and night so that what little free time the men did have they were willing to roll into the ‘sack’. We suffered no losses or gains in our personnel until the eighth of the month when Private Edward May was sent to the 280th Station Hospital, making this the third hospital case this month. He was not a battle casualty or injured in any way as a result of the invasion, but was being confined because of a minor physical ailment.

We shortly received notice that our Radio Net would maintain complete radio silence which was complied with immediately. This was the only section in the company to fade into silence and while the operators and teletype section were being flooded with work the invasion rolled around to the tenth of the month with remarkable success being noted in all radio reports and news Bulletins.

As a special activity of the Special Service Section of the field all personnel throughout the base were kept informed daily by means of the INVASION NEWS BULLETIN which was posted all around the field. On the tenth this bulletin summarized the progress as follows: “Americans have taken two towns…St Mere Eglise, on the Cherbourg Road, and also another at the base of the peninsula. General Bradley in Command. More than 800 prisoners taken in one battle. Main Rail and Road Links to Cherbourg are now out.”

The results of the kills made by each of the squadrons was also published on the bulletin and on the tenth it stated that Lieutenants [Kuehner] and Baker of the 82nd had not returned from their missions. “Ground strafing of trucks and goods vans successful. At least two bomb hits on railway lines.” For the 83rd the following note was published: “8 locomotives damaged, four by Capt. Wilkes and by F.O. Oxley, McDermott and Mullins. A German Staff bus was destroyed also and at least 50 goods wagons strafed by Capt. Wilkes and Lieutenant [Allsteidt]. For the 84th it was noted that “Lieutenant Lloyd has not returned from mission Eight to ten tanks damaged and destroyed, five trucks damaged, one armoured car damaged, two flak towers damaged, railway yards and bridges bombed.”

That was the way the field stacked up for the first few days of the invasion and during all of this actual combat by the pilots our men felt that they were a vital factor in maintaining the proper communication and if possible be an aid in bringing these planes back safely to the field. Men no longer complained because they had to work an additional shift or because they weren’t getting the usual pass without sleep and were bragging with pride.

A few days prior to the opening of the invasion we had made arrangements for the use of the rifle range. We managed to obtain the range on the fifth of June and ran off our firing orders all in one day.

On the sixth of June at 1330 hours we had further duties to perform in the matter of bringing service records up-to-date and at that time Harris, and Strauss were read the Articles of War and Harris, Hanley, DeCamilla, May, Millgate, Monahan, and Ruffalo were given a lecture on Sex Morality. On the eighth of the month a film on Venereal Disease was shown at the Post Theatre at 1400 hours which was attended by all members of the organization. Those who were unable to attend at that time were scheduled for the following two days.

Two days later a General Order on “Prescribed Uniform” was issued and a Memorandum was posted prohibiting the wearing of black ties by any of our personnel in accordance with existing War Department Regulations and Theatre Directives.

Five days…passed since “D” Day and the field as a whole…settled down to a normal routine, but whether we know it or not we were doing a job which was a definite asset to the success of the invasion so far. This was borne out by a teletype on the eleventh which stated…

“It has been my recent privilege to transmit to you certain messages of congratulation from the Eighth Command. These messages are evidence of a real appreciation of your magnificent contribution in immediate support of the ground assault. It is possible at this time to state a few facts concerning this contribution which are considered to be of encouraging interest to all of you. In the five days following the initial assault the strength of the allied landings has been approximately as planned. Steadily growing forces are in contact with the enemy. The German has failed to oppose this operation with the strength expected and has failed to launch counterattacks of the violence planned for our ground commanders. The successful establishment and reinforcement of the beachhead and the comparatively low casualties suffered are considered due in large measure to the employment of bombardment required bombing through the overcase with a degree of accuracy normally associated with only highly successful visual operations, photographic reconnaissance reveals that this accuracy was obtained and that the purpose of the attack was achieved. It is now known that a German division was engaged in defensive manoeuvres in one of the assault areas. This fortuitous circumstance for the enemy retarded our ground success in this area but was largely mullified by the effectiveness of the air attack. The failure of the German to oppose the ground operation in anticipated strength, and his ability to make more than piecemeal counter attacks, is considered due to air interdiction of his lines of communication and to the incessant blasting of his dispersed elements by fighter forces of the Vlll Fighter Command. The Eighth Air Force can be proud of its major part in this air action.” Signed Doolittle.

That news looked and sounded good to all of us so with renewed energy we continue our work. On Tuesday, the thirteenth, another problem was made and Private Harold Sanks, Acting First Sergeant of our Detachment at Fowlmere, was promoted to Corporal. The following day our Supply Sergeant, Doll, returned from the hospital to resume his duties in that department.

The fifteenth of the month had slipped behind and with it the anniversary of our eighteenth month in England…

The remainder of the month saw little or no change in our duties although we did have a few shuffles in personnel which dropped to normal with the closing of the invasion month. One of these changes later in the month occurred on the eighteenth when Sergeant Peterson was sent to Thriplow with a slight touch of Neuralgia. On the twentieth of the month our Teletype Maintenance man was sent to Station 520 for a seven day course in Bomb Reconnaissance, and on the twenty-first Peterson was sent from sick quarters to duty at 0900 hours. Sergeant Crott returned to duty on the twenty-eighth of the month. It was also around this time of the month that we were sent another radio operator from Ajax to fill a shortfall in the Detachment “A” at Raydon. This was Private Saul Kaplan.

For the remainder of the month the teletypes continued to pour in over our machines and on the nineteenth the following message from Doolittle and Kepner was received:

“I pass on to you, adding my own appreciation to Admiral Kirk’s and General [Spaatz]’s, the following extract from a message from him: ‘The Air Cover has been so perfect in daylight that all we do is wonder which type is now going overhead – Spit, P-47, etc. A Great tribute. I desire that you notify all personnel involved.’”

[…]

The following last message of the month received by the Supreme Commander from His Majesty King George Vl was passed on in the following words:

“Today I have visited the beaches of Normandy which will be forever famous. All that I saw on my journey and on soil of France has moved me deeply. I have come home feeling an intense admiration for all those who planned and organized this vast project and the gallant and successful execution of it all its varied phases by everyone of those engaged in this great battle.”’

 

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