It is with sadness that we report the death of Vincent Busone who was the Adjutant of the 439th Troop Carrier Group, he passed away on Monday June 20th 2011. He was locally among the best known veterans having revisited Upottery on a number of occasions. We offer our sympathy to his family and thanks for his valuable service during WWII.
Even before the arrival of the airfield the people of the area had the war brought to them firstly on the night of July 26th 1940 when a Heinkel 111 bomber that had been laying mines in the Bristol Channel was attacked by a Hurricane fighter flown by Pilot Officer J.R. Cock from Exeter who successfully brought the bomber down crashing at Longfields farm,
Another incident but not so well reported happened on June 28th 1941 at around 3am in the morning when a German bomber dropped a stick of parachute land mines one of which fell just inside the Buttles lane road junction this aircraft was picked up in the beam of a nearby searchlight.
Not only did the explosion result in a large crater in the road the blast also destroyed a bungalow about twenty meters away. This was the home of Mr and Mrs George Wool and an evacuee boy, Mr and Mrs Wool heard the aircraft and realising the danger they took shelter under a large kitchen table which was just as well the only thing left standing after the explosion was the chimney breast. A tall wardrobe saved the evacuee as it held up the collapsed ceiling and roof. All three occupants happily escaped with out any major injury.
The Air Raid Patrol records for the Taunton area that night indicated that there were other bombers operating in the area and caused havoc at Wrantage, Stoke St Mary, Thurlbere and Lydeard St Lawrence.
At least three parachute mines were dropped in the Smeatharpe area, one dropping near Minsons Farm which made a huge crater in a field. This is not recorded in the Taunton ARP records because it fell over the border in Devonshire.
It is worth making note of how the Buttles Lane incident was recorded. = “In Buttles Lane Churchstanton. One parachute mine. One small pig killed, one slightly wounded. One bungalow and garage completely wrecked, also three fowl houses and pig sty. Telephone lines down”
These parachute mines were capable of destroying a whole row of houses.
The main construction of the airfield and its facilities took place during 1943 and it was designed to a specification which included full bomb storage facilities.
Upottery airfield WW2 should always be acknowledged for the role it played during the D-Day missions.
The most factual details of these are recorded in a book written by the Late Col Charles H Young which makes it a must read for those who are deeply interested.
On April 26th 1944 the first operational unit the 439th Troop Carrier Group of the 50th Troop Carrier Wing of the United States Ninth Troop Carrier Command arrived with four Squadrons equipped with around eighty C-47 (Dakota) transport planes plus a similar number of gliders. Some of the construction work of the airfields services was still to be completed when the Americans arrived.
During May the four squadrons trained intensively concentrating on quick assemblies and close quarter formations in readiness for their part on the D-Day missions, the 439th TCGp was one of three groups stationed in the South West of England on D-Day making up the 50th troop Carrier Wing, the others included the 440th TCGp which was stationed at Exeter and the 441st TCGp at Merryfield near Ilminster.
A fourth group the 442nd TCGp was still up in Nottinghamshire so did not arrive in the south west until a few days after D-Day having operated on the same mission under the umbrella of the 52nd Troop Carrier Wing, they then moved onto Weston Zoyland air field near Bridgwater to rejoin the rest of the 50th Wing.
Just before midnight on June 5th 1944 eighty one C-47 aircraft took off from Upottery carrying over thirteen hundred men of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment who were dropped in enemy held territory behind the Utah beach on the coast of France. Their task was to secure an exit corridor and fight off German counter attacks until the arrival of troops from a sea borne landing a few hours later.
This was part of a very large operation code named Neptune described at the time as nine planes wide and five hours long, in total well over two hundred C-47 aircraft including ninety that were dispatched from Merryfield and forty five from Exeter took part.
Over thirteen thousand young American Paratroops were involved in this great airborne Armada. Despite some unaccounted for cloud along with heavy ground attack on the aircraft , which caused some confusion as they approached their target areas the mission proved successful overall and earned all of the 50th Wing Groups commendations.
Among the Paratroops who departed Upottery were the men of Easy Company 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment who have now become immortalized as “The Band of Brothers” through the Spielberg’s Television series.
This story unfolded from the loss of one of the three aircraft shot down belonging to the 439th Troop Carrier Group which was carrying the Easy Company Commander 1st Lt Thomas Meehan and many of his subordinates who along with every one else on board including the five man crew were killed.
This meant that the responsibility of Easy Company Commander fell on the shoulders of a young 2nd Lt by the name of Richard (Dick) Winters who went on to lead his men in such a manner that he earned their respect, admiration and complete loyalty resulting in outstanding performances for the remainder of the war.
June 7th 1944 at day break the 439th Troop carrier where airborne again as part of the second wave of the invasion this time with fifty planes towing thirty large wooden British built Horsa and twenty smaller canvas covered tubular steel framed American built Waco gliders these transported nine hundred and sixty eight men of the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment along with some Jeeps supplies and other equipment the operation was code named Hackensack in support was the 441st TCGp from Merryfield with another fifty planes and gliders all of the gliders were released over Normandy close to the same area as the previous mission.
This remarkable film footage was taken at Upottery during preparation for operation Hackensack
These operations accounted for a considerable loss of life and the South West Airfields Heritage Trust are particularly proud of the fact that during 2004 with the help of the local community and their organizations funds were raised for a memorial marking these events, this is now situated on the site of the last remaining Sentry Post at Moonhayes Cross a road junction on the Upottery to Churchingford road.
It was not many days after D-Day that the 439th TCGp planes started landing on grass strips behind the landing beaches of Omaha and Utah taking over supplies and ferrying home injured troops who invariably finished up in Musgrove Park Hospital at Taunton, this was purpose built for the American forces.
Mid July saw the departure of three of the four squadrons over to Italy for the invasion of Southern France and missions to and from the Italian Front.
Having completed these intended missions the three squadrons returned to Upottery on August 25th they then began heavy re-supply and evacuation flights but with in a week the four squadrons were back up at Balderton in Nottinghamshire. They returned to at Upottery on September 4th and five days later they moved to a field in France near Reims however they started to return to Balderton via Upottery on Sept 11th in readiness for operation “Market Garden” an attempt to capture and control key bridges in Holland the out come of which provided the story behind “A Bridge To Far”
Effectively Troop Carrier Group activities at Upottery began to wind down at the end of September 1944 as the 439th Troop Carrier Group prepared to move over to France and by the end of October the last of the Troop Carrier Group ground personal had left and the field was officially handed over as a satellite for Dunkeswell and the US Navy on 13th January 1945.
Gliders at Upottery
Another common sight at Upottery was the glider snatch, this picture shows pilot 1st Lt Gerald (Bud) Berry of the 91st Troop Carrier Squadron picking up a glider from a Normandy field the only one to be brought back to Upottery, it is estimated that only about 26 were ever recovered after the Normandy invasion.
Only a minority of C-47′s were kitted out with the glider snatch equipment, Bud brought this plane over from America early 1944 and stayed with it for the war, he carried out the first of only two snatches of Waco Gliders loaded with stretcher cases from a European battle zone.
The Commander of the 50th Troop Carrier Wing General Chappell congratulating Gerald Berry after coming to visit him after his successful evacuation mission
Albert Furr Lt Berry’s Crew Chief has his foot on the ladder.
See also the Upottery Memorial Role of Honour page.
See also the associated website theworldatwar.info