My friend, the late Archie Maltbie, had a pretty interesting D-Day story. That day he flew his first combat mission, as a pilot in the 365th “Hellhawks” Fighter Group of the 9th Air Force. From my article in this month’s Aeroplane Magazine:
At 0200, June 6, 1944, dawn was already rising with Double Wartime Dalight Savings. The rumble of 48 Pratt and Whitney R-2800s reverberated across the quiet English countryside that surrounded the former RAF station of Beaulieau Roads, between Southampton and Bournemouth, which was now home to the 9th Air Force’s 365th Fighter Group. On the taxiway, the big P-47s, each resplendent in the black and white identification stripes hurriedly applied with mops and brooms by the ground crews two nights before, S-turned under their heavy loads of two 500-lb bombs on the wing shackles and a 110-gallon drop tank on the centerline mount as they taxied toward the runway in the growing dawn light.
At the runway, the flagman checked each pair as they moved into position. The engines roared as the pilots advanced their throttles to takeoff power, then started their takeoff roll as they were waved off. Number Eight of the sixteen P-47s of the 388th Fighter Squadron was 2nd Lieutenant Archie Maltby, who had arrived in the squadron three weeks earlier and for whom this was his first operational mission. Maltby ran his hands over his wool pants to dry his sweating palms, then pulled on his flying gloves. The two airplanes ahead moved into position and took off. The ground crew signaled Maltby and his element leader to move forward. Once on the runway, he checked the engine instruments, worked the controls quickly in a last-minute check, and pushed the throttle forward when the checkered flag came down. Halfway down the runway, the Thunderbolt’s tail came up, and then he was airborne as the main gear thumped into the wells. A right turn brought the two Thunderbolts over the Isle of Wight in a matter of moments. They joined the rest of the formation as the fighters circled until all had joined up, then the formation headed east across the English Channel toward the coast of Normandy.
“I’ll never forget what it was like that day. There were so many airplanes in the sky that there was a serious risk of collision, and there were so many ships in the Channel it seemed that you could have walked from ship to ship from England to France.” The assignment for the 365th Fighter Group that day was to patrol the Cotentin Peninsula, to block any Luftwaffe aircraft that attempted to attack the invading American forces at Omaha and Utah Beaches and attack any enemy ground units spotted. After an hour, the Thunderbolts were free of their bombs and most of their ammunition. Returning to base, the pilots told the excited ground crews what they had seen. After a quick meal, they were back in their planes for a second sweep of the beachhead. “We thought that was it for the day when we got back from the second mission, but all of a sudden there was a call that radar had picked up the Luftwaffe heading toward the beaches, and all the airplanes that had been fueled were scrambled. There were no Germans around by the time we got there.” When they returned, night had fallen on England. “It really was the longest day I can ever remember.”