Seventy years ago today, one of the greatest and deadliest military feats of WWII occurred which shaped the rest of the war as we knew it. Over four hundred thousand men took part of the Normandy invasion as part of Operation Overlord. This was the first major offensive that the United States took part in for the liberation of Europe. It was a massive endeavor that required months of training, planning and victories in order to pull off. The biggest was having air superiority over Europe. At the time of the landings the Allies had complete air superiority over the skies to the point where no German fighters appeared over the skies during the invasion. It took years to accomplish this feat and many lives were lost in the process.
The dropping of allied airborne infantry was a major part of the invasion as thousands of men were dropped into occupied territory over miles of landscape. The skies were filled with C-53’s as the chutes opened below. The invasion led the way for every major offensive in the European theatre. Many brave men died in this offensive and many more went on to fight from France to Germany.
One of the most iconic subjects on warbirds today are the black and white invasion stripes. For those of you that don’t know these stripes were painted on the wings of every plane that flew during the Normandy invasion or, D-Day. The idea was that the men on the ground would be able to tell friendly planes from foe by seeing these stripes. It would help keep our pilots safe as they made their ground attacks on enemy installations so that the boys of the invasion fleet could keep pushing back through the fifty miles of beach that they needed to secure.
This past year at Oshkosh the Texas Flying Legends did a great salute to our veterans with a panel of vets and a recreation of the D-Day invasion with their C-53, which just came out of paint, and a paint crew putting on the invasion stripes. Using mops, buckets and brushes they used a water based crayola paint that washed right off but looks real and made these stripes across the plane. Up close you can see that the stripes aren’t perfect with bristles and imperfections in the paint but from far away you can’t tell. The reality is this is how it was done. It was an all hands on deck project the night before the invasion that made this all possible and everyone at every rank was involved at the England bases to get it done.
Today of course we see these lines all over the place. On different Mustangs, C-47’s and P-47 Thunderbolts. They can be seen on a variety of different aircraft as they have become a very symbolic part of WWII. It was these three planes though that were among the biggest players during the invasion.
The one thing that I see all the time is that photographers only look at the front of the aircraft as they walk around and never go around the whole plane. I never understood why this is because quite often the best background is actually when you’re looking at the tail. The day we were at Fantasy of Flight for Precon we had great skies everywhere we looked. The way the plane was parked we had the brown hangers in the background. Well I don’t like the brown hangers and with those great skies I had to do something about it. By getting low and using the wings as cover most of the hangers disappeared and with a little help in post, the plane now looks like it’s on a English base.
One of the reasons the tail looks so good is because it gives the allusion that the plane is going out somewhere. The last thing anyone sees of a plane as it goes off is the tail. This brings to life the mystery of the mission, where the plane has been, where is it going? All questions that make you scratch your head. The more mystery you bring to your images the more time someone spends looking at them trying to figure them out.
One of the new acquirement’s made by Kermit at Fantasy of Flight is this C-47 Skytrain. This plane has been called many different things over it’s years in service; Gooney Bird, Dakota, Skytrain, C-53 which is the cargo version and of course the DC-3 which was used as an airliner. This particular C-47 is a true veteran having flown during the invasion of Normandy and dropped paratroopers in France. It also dropped troops in during Market Garden. We were lucky to have this beautiful aircraft out on the grass for us to photograph. The clouds behaved perfectly creating that look of 1940 England; grass strips and cloudy skies.
At one point a Stearman that was selling rides flew overhead and punched a couple more holes in the clouds for us.