Excerpts from the Alamo Liaison Squadron archives

Three “flying jeeps”… took off on D-day with some qualms. When they got close to shore they were fired upon by ships of our navy (including a cruiser, several destroyers, and several troopships) but were not hit. When they got over the shore our ground forces opened up on them. From Air Ops.

In July of 1944, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel of the German Nazi forces, faced one of the greatest battlefield challenges of his Wehrmacht career. In spite of a large concentration of German tanks opposite Caen, the Allies were expanding their Normandy lodgment.

By 1445 the 47th Infantry’s advance had flushed out the remaining Panthers. Badly exposed and being chewed up by the combined firepower of American infantry, tank destroyers, aircraft and artillery, the Panzer Lehr division began to pull back. Rommel’s attempt to restore the deteriorating situation north of St. Lô had been a failure; the only result was the loss of irreplaceable tanks and Panzergrenadiers. St. Lô fell to the 29th Infantry Division on July 18, 1944, and the stage was set for the eventual Allied breakout from Normandy. From Panzer vs. Cub.

During our attack west of Saint-Lô (writes Captain Strickland), I watched our artillery Grasshoppers circling enemy positions. Occasionally German flak burst close to them, and they scattered like partridges, then cautiously edged back again. Thunderbolts dived very low and attacked with rockets, then the artillery fired onto a ridge and when many positions were being swallowed up in explosions, the Grasshoppers flew westward. Then the long columns of tanks, self-propelled guns and “destroyers” began to move, and clouds of dust rose above the treetops; the infantry moved up the steep slopes. The battle for Saint-Lô began.

Like most Normandy towns, Saint-Lô was built where several strategic roads cross. From within the thick stone walls and the surrounding hills, the Nazis controlled a natural corridor. The Grasshoppers were an important link in the infantry-air-artillery team that broke those strong defensive positions. From Wing Talk – Grasshoppers.

Air OP’s first participated in combat when our forces invaded North West Africa in November 1942. Shortly thereafter, they joined units fighting in Tunisia and before the end of the Tunisian campaign were operating effectively as a secondary means of observation. Air OP’s moved into Sicily in July 1943 with the invading forces and it was during this operation that they really won recognition as a dependable observing agency for the field artillery. In September 1943 the Air OP’s accompanied the assaulting forces to Italy and there became extremely popular with the American doughboys and highly unpopular with the Germans. Later, in June 1944, the Air OP’s landed in Normandy and were the only effective means available to the artillery for locating targets and adjusting fire in the “hedge-row” country. From Air Op is Here to Stay.

During the invasion of France in June 1944, most of the Army’s liaison planes were dismantled and loaded on trucks which were carried across the English Channel to Normandy. However, a few aircraft were flown across the English Channel.

Prior to the invasion Capt. James Gregorie, the 4th Infantry Division artillery aviation officer, preselected an area in France near St. Martin de Varreville to set up the division airstrip. It was planned that he would proceed with the ground forces to the preselected area on D-day (6 June) and if it was usable as an airstrip he would notify his assistant, 1st Lt. Dave Condon, by radio to bring the aircraft from England… 1st Infantry Division air section set up on Omaha Beach on D-day and flew its first mission on the morning of D+1. From The Army Aviation Story Part VII.

Captain Gregorie sent a message to Lieutenant Condon to have the division’s L-4s and L-5s flown from England. The L-5s carried enough fuel to make the trip, but it was necessary to equip the L-4s with oxygen tanks filled with fuel and attached to the back seats. A fuel line running from the oxygen tank to the main tank gave the L-4s 20 additional gallons of gas. By the time the aircraft arrived in France the division’s artillery was set up, but the guns were not registered because hedgerows limited visibility. Since the primary concern was to get the guns registered and firing, Captain Gregory and Lieutenant Condon immediately took off in an L-5 and registered the first artillery fire on Utah Beach.

Meanwhile Major J. Elmore Swenson and his “29th Air Force,” as he called his 29th Infantry Division Artillery Aviation Section, arrived at Omaha Beach. In minutes Major Swenson was directing the first artillery fire in that area. As the Allies began penetrating the Brittany Peninsula, the liaison airplanes often were the only source of contact with the rapidly advancing armored columns. The planes also flew out in front of the Allied advance, keeping track of the enemy’s positions. In addition, the cubs [L-4s] directed supply columns and flew food, ammunition, and medical supplies to patrols and/or troop units. From Forty Years of Army Aviation.

Major J. Elmore Swenson flew his L-4 across the channel on D-Day and conducted one of the first fire missions on Omaha Beach. He subsequently pioneered attaching rifles to the lift struts of the L-4. Other innovative Army pilots successfully launched rockets from their planes. From Organic Army Aviation in World War II.

At Iwo Jima in early 1945, from D-day+1 to D+8, Marine artillery on Iwo Jima used carrier-based aircraft to spot and correct their fire. On the last day, 27 February, the Marines began using a cap­tured airfield on Iwo Jima for observa­tion aircraft. Six of the escort carriers offshore each had two OY-1 grasshoppers hidden belowdecks; six more were in the LST-776 fitted with the Brodie system. One plane was successfully launched from the LST-776 on the 27th, but a second plane was lost overboard before it engaged the launching cable. On the 29th, improved safety precautions allowed launches to continue, and three more OY-1s headed for Iwo Jima. The other OY-1s were flown off the escort carriers without difficulty. From The Grasshoppers – Naval History Ships.

With a shortage of gliders and glider pilots, the U.S. military turned to Taylorcraft for help, and the company converted L-2s into three-seat glider trainers called “TG-6s.” Easy to fly and cheap to build, the gliders helped train hundreds of men. Some pilots ended up flying the bigger versions over the beaches and hedgerows of Europe during D-Day operations. From Grasshopper Roundup.

The role of liaison aircraft in combat in Europe was markedly expanded after the Normandy invasion of 6 June 1944. From that day to 8 May 1945, liaison airplanes proved their mettle in the Allied armies’ drive across Central Europe. They performed 97 percent of all artillery adjustment missions in the European Theater of Operations. The aircraft were also responsible for a high percentage of battlefield observation missions. From Eyes in the Sky.

Few, if any, of the AAF liaison squadrons being organized to support the AGF reached Europe before the beginning of the Normandy invasion; therefore, it was necessary for the ground forces to acquire a few high performance liaison planes to carry out their operations. By mid-1944, several army, corps, and division headquarters preparing for Operation Overlord [Battle of Normandy] had obtained one L-5 each for “special missions.” The overwhelming majority of the L-5s used by the AGF during WWII, however, were not received until late 1944 and early 1945. Organic Army Aviation began its third year with the 6 June 1944 major assault against the German forces in France. From Organic Army Aviation in World War II.

It was a good landing under full control squarely in the middle of the pasture at a place where apple trees served as a windbreak. Yet, from our position in the hedgerow we were wondering; he was rolling fast, and straight ahead of him were the cows. As usual they wouldn’t budge. Having survived barrages, naval shelling and blockbusters, these Normandy cows cared little about the intricacy of a cross-wind landing. Grasshopper crews, though, have learned to evaluate one risk against another and sometimes considerable juggling of values is required. From The Putt-Putt Air Force.

The Piper Cub had first been put into action by some of the Grasshopper pilots who were sent to England early in the war to act as coastal observers. They saw combat action later at Normandy. The rest of us and our Cubs were sent to North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and the Pacific. Piper Cub L-4s performed effectively in every theater of the war. We gave those Cubs a good workout. They were marvelous. Our Cubs did things that couldn’t have been done any other way at that time. From Grasshopper Pilot.

The Piper Cub was used in almost every theater of the war by both the Army and the Navy and by foreign governments for a vast variety of jobs. Cubs were used for artillery fire direction, liaison, as transports, for reconnaissance, aerial photography, and as ambulances. In some invasion operations, Piper Cubs were launched from special decks constructed on LST’s and during the Normandy invasion over 1,000 “Grasshoppers” were flown from England directly to fields in France. Many Cubs were shipped into the combat zones in cargo planes and assembled at the scene of operations. From The Piper Cub Story by James Triggs.

The Artillery’s Air OP’s were also used to adjust naval gunfire and it was a common sight in Africa, Sicily, Normandy and the South Pacific to see the little plane flying up and down a strip of beach radioing information to destroyers which were cruising offshore and bombarding island targets. From Jeeps in the Sky by Andrew Ten Eyck.

Although devoid of the glamour associated with bombers and fighters, and lacking the operational status of aircraft flown by artillery units and liaison squadrons, the light transports of the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces nevertheless played an important part in the air war. It is not possible to quantify this as one can for fighters, for instance, by quoting the number of enemy aircraft shot down. Nevertheless, their contribution was considerable and materially helped to bring the war to a victorious conclusion. But at this point, to resume a chronological account of events, it is necessary to return to October 1943 and the arrival in Britain of Headquarters First US Army, the army intended to join British and other Allied forces in the D-Day assault on the beaches of Normandy. From The Fighting Grasshoppers by Ken Wakefield.

Alamo Liaison Squadron’s L-2M features a commemorative “invasion stripes” paint scheme although this aircraft did not participate in the Normandy invasion. One month after D-Day, the Army ordered stripes removed from the upper surfaces of all planes to make them more difficult to spot while stationed. From Taylorcraft L-2 Grasshopper.

Maj. Charles Carpenter, a U.S. History teacher before the war, joined the Army and trained in L-3, L-4 and L-5 aircraft starting in 1942. He was assigned to the 4th Armored Division and became Gen. John S. Wood’s personal pilot—one of the many roles assigned to Army Air Force liaison airplanes. Carpenter would cross the English Channel in his L-4 after D-Day. From Bazooka Charlie.

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