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"It was a sight and sound that would never be forgotten"

Flight Lieutenant Len Thorne was 24 at the time of D-Day. Although he did not fly over to the coast of Normandy, in an extract from his notes, Len describes the scene of watching aircraft taking off as part of the RAF's air operations.

This extract was written on D-Day itself, 6 June 1944:

"From 12.00 hours until dawn on June 7th, covering D-Day (June 6th), the Normandy invasion, all non-combatant aircraft were grounded. At units like A.F.D.U. potentially operational aircraft, e.g. our Hurricanes, all marks of Spitfire and Mustang, Typhoon, Tempest, Boston and Mitchell, were painted with wide black and white stripes on wings and fuselage. 

Flight Lieutenant Len Thorne "It was not until the public announcements were made on the 6th that we knew for sure what was happening.

"Of course, we already had a good idea, as on the evening and well into the night, Estelle and I, with Mr. and Mrs. Walker, stood in the garden watching streams of aircraft passing over, all heading south. 

"First came hundreds of troop-carrying Dakotas (DC3s) then the glider tugs and finally the Fortresses, Halifaxes and Lancaster heavy bombers. 

"From before dawn on June 6th, from dozens of airfields in the South of England, the light bombers and fighters, the Spitfires, Typhoons and Tempests of the RAF and the Mustangs, Thunderbolts and Lightnings of the USAAF flew in their thousands to maintain constant cover and absolute air supremacy over the beachheads. The constant drone of engines was incredible.

"It was a sight and sound that would never be forgotten by those of us who witnessed it. This was D-Day plus one and I was given permission to fly into the Active war zone.

"At Tangmere Airfield I talked to pilots of the Canadian Wing, whose Mark IX Spitfires had been equipped with the new Gyro Gunsight. In an encounter over the beachheads they shot down 10 out of 12 JU88s.

"Both my outward and return flights took me across the channel to witness the incredible sight of hundreds of ships and thousands of aircraft but I was under strict orders not to cross the French coast, so my dream of firing a few shots at an enemy aircraft was not to be realised. But I can say that I was there, saw it all and would have certainly bought the T-shirt!"

Len died on the anniversary of D-Day, 6 June 2008. His story was featured in the book 'A Very Unusual Air War'.

This blog is in memory of all those men who did not return.

With thanks to Barry Griffin

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