DELIVERING THE PATHFINDERS

Albemarles drop some of the first troops in Normandy

A key element in the planning for the invasion was the use of airborne forces to seize or destroy key objectives. However, even this advanced guard required a level of support on the ground ahead of its deployment. Accordingly, men of the 22nd (Independent) Parachute Company were inserted as pathfinders. Their vital task was to ready navigation aids on the landing zones and prepare each for glider landings. On the eve of D-Day, the RAF’s four Albemarle units – Nos 295, 296, 297 and 570 Squadrons – were ready to do their part in inserting the airborne element.

The pathfinder company comprised a HQ troop and three platoons of an officer and 32 men sub-divided into three sticks each led by an NCO, all under the overall command of Major Francis LennoxBoyd. One of the unit’s tasks was to set up Eureka ground-to-air homing beacons that could be picked up by Rebecca receivers in transport aircraft. Coloured panels and battery-powered Holophane lamps supplemented the electronic aids.

The success of the main landings hinged on this initial drop, scheduled for just after midnight on June 6, 1944. After briefing, Lennox-Boyd led the first stick of ten aboard Albemarle V1701 of 296 Squadron, while Captain Ian Tait’s stick embarked in P1383 of 297 Squadron. These left Brize Norton at 2300hrs for drop zone ‘N’. Ten minutes later, Squadron Leader Merrick in V1740/8Z-A and another 570 Squadron Albemarle flown by Flight Sergeant Kirkham left Harwell with two sticks under Lieutenants Vane de Latour and Wells, headed for drop zone ’K’. A final pair followed from Harwell with sticks led by Lieutenants Midwood and Vischer, destined for drop zone ‘V’.

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