Operation Eagle (i)

This was an Allied training exercise to validate paradrop and glider-towing techniques, as well as related tactics and techniques, in preparation for the ‘Albany’ and ‘Boston’ (ii) components of ‘Overlord’ (11/12 May 1944).

A divisional night jump exercise for Major General Maxwell D. Taylor’s US 101st Airborne Division had originally been scheduled for 7 May, but was then postponed and became a dress rehearsal for Major General Matthew B. Ridgway’s US 82nd Airborne Division as well as the US 101st Airborne Division, as well as Brigadier General Paul L. Williams’s US IX Troop Carrier Command (50th, 52nd and 53rd Troop Carrier Wings with 16, 20 and 20 squadrons respectively), which had been created in October 1943 to provide the aircraft and crews for the US element of the ‘Overlord’ airborne element.

Brigadier General Harold L. Clark’s 52nd Troop Carrier Wing, carrying only two token paratroopers in each of its Douglas C-47 Skytrain troop carrier and glider tug aircraft, performed satisfactorily, although the two leading aircraft of the 316th Troop Carrier Group collided in mid-air, killing 14 including the group’s commander, Colonel Burton R. Fleet. Brigadier General Maurice M. Beach’s 53rd Troop Carrier Wing was judged ‘uniformly successful’ in its drops. Brigadier General Julian M. Chappell’s less fully trained 50th Troop Carrier Wing became lost in haze when its pathfinders failed to turn on their navigation beacons, and therefore continued training until the end of the month with simulated drops in which pathfinders guided the wing’s aircraft to their drop zones.

Colonel Hamish McLelland’s 315th Troop Carrier Group and Colonel Charles M. Smith’s 442nd Troop Carrier Group, which had nor dropped troops until May and were judged the command’s least capable elements, continued to train almost nightly, dropping paratroopers who had not completed their quota of jumps.

Three proficiency tests at the end of the month, making simulated drops, were rated as fully qualified. The inspectors, however, made their judgements without factoring that most of the successful missions had been flown in clear weather.