Monday, November 1, 2010

Flight to the Sicily Drop Zone

For Operation HUSKY everyone in the 505th PIR jumped because the gliders which usually brought in Service Company personnel (besides the jumping riggers and other personnel) couldn’t land on the Island’s rocky volcanic terrain in the Drop Zone (DZ) around the Gela area. The Service Company was under the command of Regimental Headquarters commander Col. William Ekman, so they flew in the Regimental Headquarters Serial during combat jumps. This is significant, because it allows Bill’s movements before, during and after a combat jump to be traced.

In total, the 82nd Airborne Division’s portion of the Allied airborne invasion included 226 C-47’s separated into 5 serials flown by the troop carrier groups assigned to the 52nd Troop Carrier Wing (TCW) of the US Army Air Corps. From the 505th PIR, the Headquarters battalion serial was flown by the 316th Group, 1st battalion by the 313th Group, 2nd battalion by the 61st Group, and 3rd battalion by the 314th Group. 

Planes started to leave the aerodromes nearby the Kairouan base at 8:10pm on July 9th and continued until 9:16pm. For the 505th PIR, the first serial included 3rd Battalion while 1st battalion was carried in the second serial . The third serial carried Regimental Headquarters, with 2nd battalion in the forth. (After Action Report: Operation HUSKY)

Bill’s Headquarters serial was comprised of 33 planes and contained Headquarters Personnel, the Headquarters Service and Demolition Squad, the 307th Engineers, the 456th Artillery, and the 307th Medical Corps. The first plane from this serial took off at 8:35pm on July 9th from the Enfidaville aerodrome. It was the lead plane carrying Col. Gavin. Planes took off in groups of three at 30 second intervals. After take off each group of three planes formed a V shape and then joined to form a larger group, ideally consisting of nine planes in a series of Vs as depicted in Figure 1. Each nine plane group was separated by a flying time of six to 10 minutes. Source: Ingrisano, M., 1991, “Valor Without Arms: A History of the 316th Troop Carrier Group 1942 – 1945”, Merriam Press: Vermont, Page 18.


Figure 1: Nine C-47 aircraft formation comprising a part of a serial

The planned flight path for Operation HUSKY is shown in Figure 2. Bill was to fly over the Mediterranean for 40 miles to a point (due west from Cape Bon)east of Sousse, Tunisia,  then to turn and head east for 202 miles toward Malta, on the way passing south of the island of Linosa. At Malta, he was to fly for 62 miles in a northeast direction. South of Cape Passero, Sicily he was to turn in a westerly direction for 35 miles, then take a jog to the northwest for 14 miles until his plane crossed the Sicilian coast near Gela and arrived over his drop zone at 11:30pm about 3 hours after take off.


Figure 2: HUSKY Flight Plan

Source: North Africa Air Force: Report of Operations

Figure 3 shows the same (approximate planned flight path) on a Google map:

Figure 3: View HUSKY Planned Flight path in a larger map


The actual course of Bill’s serial and that of the entire aerial armada deviated from the plan by flying south and east crossing of the island of Linosa in Figure 4 below. It then disastrously missed the turning point at Malta and instead flew east much farther than planned. It overcompensated for the error by flying too far north west, arriving at a point east of the planned Cape Passero and thereby crossing the Sicilian coast at a point far to the east south east of the planned DZ. A portion of the invasion force splintered and faired even worse by flying all the way to Syracuse (Siracusa).


Figure 4: View Husky Actual Flight path in a larger map

It was strong winds and bad visibility which together conspired to send the invasion force off course and over time. Ultimately the planned DZ’s were severely missed. The wind speed for the drop was predicted to be 10 to 15 miles per hour. As the serial crossed the Mediterranean, the air crews became aware that the actual wind speed was between 35 and 40 miles per hour at an altitude of 400 feet. The leading aircraft did not see the guide beacon at the Malta turning point, which led to the serial being 30 minutes late over what they thought was the DZ.  The haze from Allied bombing reduced visibility. To make things worse the light of the moon was gone having set earlier than forecast. In truth the air crews had at best only a general idea of their location.

The serial was hit by flak prior to flying over the DZ. C-47 crews reported that anti-aircraft fire was seen at Licata, Gela, and over Ponte Olivo. Gela was reported to be on fire and was encircled by light anti-aircraft fire. Ground fire was reported as light and erratic.

The scheduled jump time in Figure 2 is shown as 23:30 hours (11:30pm) on July 9th. Due to the problems encountered, the 316th was 36 minutes late in dropping troopers from the Headquarters serial. This means that Bill probably jumped into the sky above Sicily at about six minutes after midnight on July 10th. He had been in his plane for three and a half hours.

After the jump, the planes of the 316th headed back to their base near Kairouan without incident.

Quoting Michael Ingrisano, a pilot in Bill’s serial, on the success of the mission reveals just how badly they were mis-dropped:

“The 316th fared worst of all. Deflected by the wind, it missed Linosa; it missed Malta; and it missed the south coast of Sicily.” Three planes, carrying a demolition section dropped their troops south of Syracruse, 65 miles from their objective. “Over Sicily the rest of the 316th promptly lost their way again, dispersed, dropped their passengers, including task force commander [Gavin], all over southeastern Sicily.” Overall the results were disappointing in that less than a sixth of the paratroopers were delivered on or near the DZ………” (Ingrisano 1991, pg. 18 - 19).

According to the 505th PIR After Action Report, the Headquarters serial was dropped about 10 miles south of Vittoria and 30 miles from its designated drop zone.

The mis-drop was a critical error and one which would nearly doom the whole invasion. When Bill saw the green jump light turn on in his C-47 he had no idea of the extent of the trouble about to engulf him.

© Copyright Jeffrey Clark 2009 - 2010 All Rights Reserved.

1 comment:

  1. As VP Online Flying with DC3 Airways, we recently reenacted the main components of Husky 1 using Microsoft flight simulator and various utilities and flight planning software. We set off at the historic time and had weather files created to replicate as best we could the winds etc..Even in our sim with no risk of death or injury our drops were still scattered across the coast of Sicily from Gela across to just south of Syracuse. Thank you to Bill for his service.
    Glen Broome