At 12:05 AM on June 6, 1944, three gliders carrying an element of the British 6th Airborne Division silently cut loose form the their tow planes and drifted towards the Pegasus Bridge, one of the few bridges that led over the Seine towards Normandy.
Within fifteen minutes, the British paratroopers inside landed and stormed the bridge with heavy casualties. The first landings in Europe were made.
Around the same time, pathfinders equipped with powerful lanterns dropped all over the Cotentin Peninsula. Alone, outnumbered, and often in the wrong place, they were dropped to mark the way for the thousands of men coming in behind them.
In England, hundreds of transports prepared gliders with paratroopers carrying their body weight in food, supplies, and weapons. One witness recalled the paratroopers “kneeling in prayer“ as they prepared for takeoff. Actually they were too heavy to stand. They boarded the transports and prepared to drop over Normandy.
By 2 AM Normandy was alive with antiaircraft fire. Dakotas carrying the American 101st, 82nd and British 6th Airborne came under fire as soon as they hit the coast. Pilots struggled to keep their unarmed and unarmored craft stable long enough to drop their stick of eighteen paratroopers. Some drowned in Rommel’s flooded fields, some overshot the Peninsula and landed in the Atlantic. Twenty-five British paratroopers landed inside the German Fifteenth Army Headquarters.