The 75th anniversary of D-Day promises to resurrect the historic aerial portion of the battle that paved the way for Allied forces to advance and launch the long-awaited liberation of Western Europe like never before.
Come June 5, 2019, Caroline Davies reports for the Guardian, a fleet of more than 30 Douglas C-47 Skytrains—or Dakotas, as they were known in Great Britain’s Royal Air Force—will follow the path carved by Allied paratroopers, flying across the English Channel to Normandy and parachuting into the historic drop zone of Ranville. The event, which is set to include up to 300 individuals, will mark the largest gathering of Dakotas since World War II.
Drop participants include three U.S. recipients of the Medal of Honor, according to the Telegraph’s Dominic Nicholls, as well as a mix of former service personnel from countries such as Britain, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Germany, New Zealand and South Africa. Although no D-Day veterans are set to participate in the commemorative jump, the Guardian’s Davies notes that a separate initiative spearheaded by the Royal British Legion will take 300 such veterans on a fully funded tour of the region between June 2 and 9.
The aircraft display, co-sponsored by the Imperial War Museum (IWM) and Daks Over Normandy, is one of multiple events planned for the “D-Day 75” anniversary. On June 4 and 5, just before the Normandy drop, the 30 Dakota aircraft, or “Daks,” will fly over IWM’s Duxford airfield in eastern England, participating in flight displays and mass parachute jumps. On the ground, the IWM website adds, D-Day related displays and activities will operate in conjunction with the aerial campaign to “bring the extraordinary story of D-Day to life.”
Duxford played host to the U.S. Air Force’s 78th Fighter Group, which sent out P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs from its airbase throughout World War II. During D-Day operations specifically, the 78th’s three squadrons contributed to Allied efforts by attacking rail lines and transportation systems that could otherwise have been utilized by the Nazis.
According to an IWM press release, "D-Day 75" will also feature events held at IWM’s Churchill War Rooms, a London outpost consisting of underground bunkers where Winston Churchill and other British leaders debated military strategy, and the HMS Belfast, a Royal Navy warship that is one of just three surviving bombardment vessels deployed during D-Day. As the Telegraph’s Nicholls writes, the Belfast supported British and Canadian soldiers making amphibious landings on the Normandy beaches codenamed Gold and Juno.
IWM isn’t the only entity planning commemorative D-Day activities: The city of Normandy’s tourism portal details several additional events, including a remembrance march through the streets of Carentan, a small town where the American Airborne clashed with Nazi troops in the days following the D-Day landings, and a World War II film festival featuring guest appearances by actors from the popular HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers.” (The show, executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, includes its own take on the D-Day landings, with paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division struggling to reunite with their units after parachuting into the wrong drop zones.)
Information regarding events and scheduling for the 75th anniversary program will continue to be released over the coming months, but all of the events, according to Nicholls of the Telegraph, will be themed around “the spirit of hope and reconciliation.”