The moon shone on scudding clouds which fled before a gusty wind; the same strong wind whipped up 4 to 5 foot waves, which crashed onto a sandy shore, littered with strange steel obstacles. It was not as bad as last night, but the wind would pick up again, sometime in the next few days. A summer storm was brewing. However, this ‘weather window’ which had been successfully predicted by the Royal Air Force meteorologist, Group Captain James Martin Stagg, would be enough to allow the invasion of France to be launched. D-Day was on!
The de Havilland Mosquito – in many forms – had been used to prepare for the invasion of Hitler’s Festung Europa for months. The PR XVIs of No 540 and 544 from RAF Benson, and those of No. 400 Squadron, RCAF from Kenley, had roamed all over Europe, providing target data and intelligence for Bomber Command’s Main Force. These attacks had been increasingly backed up by the hammer-blows of the Light Night Striking Force of No 8 Group, which, despite its name, often used 4,000lb ‘cookies’ to make a major mess of German targets. The USAAF used Mosquito PR.XVI of the 653rd and 654th Bombardment Squadrons from Watton to perform weather and target reconnaissance (and special intelligence tasks) for the 8th Air Force, giving them targeting information for the B-17s and B-24s which were pounding the crumbling Reich by day.
Pathfinder Mosquitoes from No. 8 Group Squadrons had become adept at undertaking sophisticated marking techniques for the Bomber Command’s Main Force, but real sophistication came with the ‘Musical Mosquitoes’, utilising the Oboe equipment and signals from the two Oboe stations on the English coast – code named ‘Cat’ and ‘Mouse’ – to perform prodigious feats of electronically-controlled marking, for the bomber streams. All these efforts had tied down enormous numbers of heavy guns, radar sets and many fighter Gruppen of the Luftwaffe. No 5 Group, under Air Vice Marshall Cochrane, contained the famous No 617 Squadron, whose CO at the time, Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, began marking targets at night from low level in a Mosquito. Soon, AVM Cochrane persuaded the powers-that-be to give him a low-level target marking squadron – of Mosquitoes, of course – of his own, to specialise in this type of marking, and No 627 Squadron moved over to No 5 Group to do just that. When added to the sterling work performed by Mosquitoes of No 100 Group and their harassment of the German night-fighter force, it can be seen that there was absolutely no rest for the wicked. As well as intruder work, units such as No 141 Squadron, equipped with the NF.II and flying from RAF West Raynham, had been used on ‘bomber support’ work, flying on either side of the nightly bomber stream. As Bomber Command’s Main Force switched to transportation targets just prior to the invasion, these Mosquitoes continued to take a toll of the German night-fighter force.
Other RAF Commands which utilised the Mosquito also played their part. Coastal Command Mosquito Squadrons, mostly equipped with the ubiquitous FB.VI, but with some of the powerful FB.XVIII and its 6 pounder gun included, undertook valuable work in helping to prevent German naval forces – including U-Boats – move towards the invasion coast from naval bases such as Brest and St Lorient.
Soon after the planning for D-Day began, it was decided that RAF Fighter Command had best be re-organised. Large numbers of fighter and fight-bomber squadrons had moved across to join the light bomber squadrons of the existing No 2 Group, to form the Second Tactical Air Force, and the ‘rump’ of Fighter Command – including many of its Mosquito nightfighter units – had assumed it’s old, and rather ugly name of ‘Air Defence of Great Britain’. Many of the units slated for a move to France in the wake of an invasion began to learn to live under canvas, and aircrew were told to expect to ‘live rough’ for many weeks.
Despite the fact that the Luftwaffe had suffered massive attrition, ADGB put up standing patrols of Mosquito night-fighters, often controlled by GCI units installed on converted Landing Ship Tank hulls (and referred to as Fighter Direction Tenders), to ensure that any attempt to bomb the mass of shipping off Gold, Sword, Juno, Utah and Omaha Beaches was countered as soon as possible.
It is well-known that the US 9th Air Force fighter-bombers, and the mass of Royal Air Force Typhoon and Spitfire squadrons, dominated the day-time skies over Normandy. Precision strikes by rocket-firing Typhoons had seriously damaged or destroyed many German radar stations along the coast – except in the Pas-de-Calais where they were left alone, as they were needed to report a ‘fake invasion force’ generated in part by ‘windowing’ Lancasters. What is less well known is that, as the Germans stopped trying to move Panzer Divisions and other units towards the invasion coast in daylight, and switched to night moves where they thought that the ‘Jabos’ couldn’t reach them, that the Mosquito came into its own. Many FB.VI were given patrol sectors over Normandy, where they would attack trains, enemy transport, gun positions and Luftwaffe airfields at night.
Flt Lt George Stewart, of 23 Squadron, RAF became particularly adept at this type of attack as the invasion wore on. No 613 ‘City of Manchester’ Squadron, of the Auxiliary Air Force, which was then part of No 2 Group and based at RAF Lasham, was also part of this effort. Indeed, an FB.VI, HR188, coded ‘SY-H’, with 613 Squadron, was one of these Mosquitoes. On the night of the 5/6th June, 1944, it was crewed by Free French personnel, the pilot being Sous-Lieutenant René Puyt, and his navigator Adjutant Jacques Murray. They had ‘crewed-up’ at 13 OTU, RAF Bicester, which specialised in training crews for intruder missions. It is believed that this crew were the very first Free French aviators in action over Normandy during D-Day.
Sometimes, it was difficult to spot targets at night, and occasionally Fairey Albacores of No 415 Squadron, RCAF were used to drop flares to illuminate targets. The Albacore had been one of the types used to undertake this work during the final stages of the North African campaign, thanks to its manoeuvrability and low-speed handling.
In the evening of D-Day, an anti-shipping strike was mounted by Mosquitoes and Beaufighters from RAF Portreath in Cornwall to the south and west of the invasion beaches. Three ‘Settier’ class destroyers of the Kriegsmarine were sighted heading north and successfully attacked with rockets and cannon fire; what followed was typical of the swashbuckling actions of the Coastal Command Mosquito units.
“On their return to base, the formation saw a Ju188 shadowing six Allied destroyers. Two 248 Squadron Mosquitoes attacked. The pilots were Flying Officer J F Green DFC and Flight Sergeant L D Stoddart. Hits were observed on the cockpit and the starboard engine caught fire. The enemy aircraft rolled on its back and spun steeply into the sea shedding pieces of fuselage.” *
D-Day was drawing to a close, and soon the Mosquito night-fighters would take up their beats over the invasion area, and the intruder units would send out more Mosquito FB.VI to create havoc in the dark. The Mosquito was taking the fight to the enemy – again.
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This article was originally published on The People’s Mosquito Club website on 9th May, entitled Paving the way for D-Day.