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Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Vandervoort

82nd Airborne Division - 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment - 2nd Battalion

Utah Beach

 

I feel that I have very little for posterity at the moment. The flight until we hit the French coast was quite uneventful for my Battalion. We reached France intact and in formation. As we came in across the coast we saw a little ack-ack from the ground and I thought that there were some planes from the 101st Division shot down. As we approached our DZ the pilot informed me that he could see our T. The pathfinder group had been dropped essentially where they should have been, a little further inland, and they only displayed two T's. One was lighted when we dropped. The pilot I had was extremely reluctant to come down to the correct jumping altitude. We came in at 1400 feet, and our speed was excessive. I talked to the crew chief and asked him to slow down. We went through a bit of scud as we came in and it caused the formation to break slightly. At the time I thought the Germans had smoked the area. I lost two platoons from Company "E". The green light was turned on about 45 seconds before we reached the Douve River. I told them to turn it off. We dropped pretty well on our DZ. I, myself, was a quarter of a mile from the DZ, and I had a little hard luck on the landing and banged up my foot. I watched the battalion come in and they were all spread out, the ships being too high and too fast. Within fifteen minutes after I got on the ground I started putting up some green flares that worked out well. We encountered no resistance fram the enemy at night, only some fire from ack-ack around our DZ. Some members of the battalion were dropped in Ste Mere Eglise and were engaged in a fire fight at once. There was movement of vehicles on the road, one of the first things I heard being vehicles moving on a road to the South. I went North to the nearest hedgerow. I think it was about 0410 in the morning when I felt I completed the assembly sufficiently so that I could move out on our mission and take the town of Neuville au Plain. In the meantime, the regiment had told me to stand by. The news from Ste Mere Eglise was so vague to the Regimental commander that he had me stand by. General Ridgway happened to be in my CP during that period and he also directed me not to move without consulting him. It was not until daylight that I received orders to move. We actually started moving at 0600. Later my mission was changed to Ste Mere Eglise, and from there on it was essentially a ground operation. The 2d Battalion met no resistance as we went into the town. A small group of Germans attacked our left flank, but one platoon from "D" Company was enough to drive them off, and as I said, it was a ground operation thereafter. It was 0141 when I landed.

Q. Apparently it was 0730 when you were ready to move out?

A. We started moving at 0600. Reorganization was only partially completed, but when I reached the town I had a battalion less two platoons. In the meantime, I picked up quite a few people from the 101st Division, and some men from other regiments which I carried along for several days and then returned them to their organization.

Q. Do you think that your lighted T was a great factor in your getting to your destination?

A. It meant a great deal to us. I saw planes coming in from various directions, from 40 degrees to 90 degress off course. They came in close to the T, and dropped their personnel. I think some planes from the 101st circled and dropped their people there.

Q. Did you attempt to use your green assembly lights at all?

A. None of my lights worked; anticipating that, I had a flashlight I had fixed up with green facing and I flashed that.

Q. None of your lights worked. Why?

A. I don't know, I had no opportunity to inspect them. I hid them, but later couldn't find them.

Q. You say you had orders at 0410 to tell where you were. How did you get these orders?

A. We had radio contact with the regiment very early. Regimental S-3, after daylight, came by my CP, and as I remember, the Regimental Commander was also there at one time.

Q. What do you think of the challenging system?

A. Right at the moment, sir, I would make no essential changes. I would like to impress upon the Air Corps the necessity for coming down to the proper altitude, and flying at the proper speed. We have stories at the battalion from men who spoke to pilots later on, quoting pilots as follows: " - and the last time I looked at the air speed indicator we were going at 190 miles per hour." It was the hardest opening I ever had. I have jumped at 130 and 140 miles per hour, but this was the roughest I ever had. It tore off some of my equipment.

I made a positive identification of where I was by sending an S-2 patrol to the nearest house. The Frenchman there gave us much valuable information of the enemy.

I believe that the greatest single contribution to the assembly of the 505 was the superior job done by our pathfinder teams, Air Corps and parachute.

(On the evening of Thursday, 13 August 1944, a debriefing conference was held at the Glebe Mount House, Leicester. During the course of the conference each commander present who had commanded a unit the size of a battalion or larger of the 82d Airborne Division in Operation Neptune, was permitted to talk for not to exceed ten minutes. Instructions were that each officer was to speak freely, without restraint, regarding any aspect of the operation during its airborne phase and to offer any criticism he saw fit in the interests of improving our operational technique in future combat. Commanders spoke in the order in which it was planned that they would land. Their statements were taken down verbatim as far as possible.)

(Courtesy: National Archives)