Bar story: Many of you likely know today marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy in France, where the Allies successfully landed over 150,000 soldiers to combat the Nazi’s conquest of Europe.
What many don’t know much about are the thousands of men who jumped behind enemy lines prior to the invasion, and the brave pilots who carried them.
As early as 1942, Hitler & his generals were very aware of the potential for an Allied invasion, and knew a successful one could turn the tide of the war in Europe. With that in mind, Hitler ordered the construction of the Atlantic Wall, a 2500+ mile-long connected fortification of walls, batteries, bunkers & thousands of soldiers stretching from Norway to the France-Spain border, which would serve to defend Europe from any attempted landing. Between 1942 & 1944, over a million citizens were drafted to build it. Because of this, the Allied forces needed a way to out-maneuver the wall as part of the invasion.
Enter the Airborne.
The 82nd & 101st Infantry Divisions of the US Army were tasked with this mission: their Parachute Infantry Regiments would be dropped deep into Nazi territory hours before the beach landings at dawn. The plan called for 800 Douglas C-47 Skytrains to carry the roughly 13,000 American paratroopers over the Atlantic Wall - at low altitude - where they would jump into enemy territory just after midnight & disrupt Nazi operations from behind their lines.
The formations of C-47’s were subject to heavy enemy fire upon their approach to the coast, causing many of the drops to be off target. However, despite the chaos, the Airborne invasion was a tactical success, as the Nazi’s were unable to reinforce their defensive positions along the Atlantic Wall as the main Allied invasion of Normandy kicked off at sunrise on June 6th.
The plane leading the formations that night was piloted by Lt. Colonel John Donalson; his C-47 would be the first to enter enemy airspace as part of the D-Day invasion.
Donalson was a pilot with the Alabama National Guard’s 106th Observation Squadron, flying a C-47 he had named “Belle of Birmingham,” after a girl he’d met in his home state’s largest city. Yet, he was to be issued a new C-47 for the D-Day invasion. The new plane was manufactured in Oklahoma City, and delivered to the Army Air Corps at Dallas in the Spring of 1944, then made her voyage across the Atlantic. Once received in England, it was time for Donalson to give her a name. Believing that D-Day would mark the beginning of the end for the Nazi regime, he went with a personal message to Adolf Hitler himself: “That’s All, Brother.”
“That’s All, Brother” took off after 10pm on June 5, 1944 from Greenham Common Air Base in Berkshire, leading the formation of hundreds of C-47’s across the English Channel & along the northern coast of France. 75 years ago this morning - just after 1am - Donalson hit the green light, triggering the jumps of thousands of American paratroopers.
Following the war, the aircraft was decommissioned and sold multiple times before being lost to history. 70 years later, it was found by chance in an aircraft boneyard in Wisconsin; she was slated to be taken apart and refitted into a modern turbo-prop aircraft.
The Commemorative Air Force - a non-profit based in Texas - stepped up and purchased the plane to save it, then sought funding to help with restoration. The goal of their crowdfunding campaign was $75,000; citizens rallied & donated well over $300,000.
Fast-forward to today, “That’s All, Brother” just completed her 2nd voyage across the Atlantic, this time to take part in the 75th anniversary of D-Day; yesterday, she crossed the English Channel once again. Cool piece of American military history.
You can follow "That's All, Brother's" journey here: Commemorative Air Force That's All, Brother. Cheers.
1) General Eisenhower speaking with Paratroopers from the 506th PIR at Greenham Common before their jumps
2) LTC John Donalson & crew of “That’s All, Brother”
3) Nose of the aircraft taken on June 5th, 1944, in Berkshire immediately prior to the invasion
4) Ongoing restoration of “That’s All, Brother” by the Commemorative Air Force in 2017
5) Today’s crew, after crossing the English Channel & landing in France yesterday