In the early morning hours of June 7, 1944 my father Army Air Corps Glider Pilot, Charles E. Skidmore Jr.was landing his glider in a flooded field just outside
of the town of Sainte Mele Eglise, France in three feet of water. This is his account of the mission:
As the glider settled on the water, I removed my flak vest, tore a large piece of fabric off the side of the cockpit and rolled out into the water. The other pilot and I waded to dry land and headed for the nearest hedgerow for protection.
Once on the ground, so to speak, the glider infantrymen quickly located the source of nearby ground fire.It turned out to be a bunker containing about a dozen conscripted Polish soldiers with a German sergeant incharge. After the glider troopers from several gliders, including me and my thompson machine gun, directed a hail of rifle and bazooka fire at the bunker the resistance ceased. Then a single shot was heard inside the bunker, followed by laughter. Soon the Poles emerged with their hands held high in surrender. They weren’t about to fight the Americans. They simply shot the German sergeant.
Myself, and some other pilots took refuge in a thatched roof farm house. We were surprised to find an American paratrooper with a broken leg on one of the beds. He had jumped the night before and had fractured his leg when he fell though the thatched roof of the farm house. A young French girl was caring for him, so he just lay there waiting for the war to come to him. I wondered afterwards if he made it back home okay.
By nightfall, a group of us began looking for a safe place to catch a few winks. We came upon several other Americans busily digging holes in a small field, so we likewise began digging in the same area. “Hey, you guys can’t dig there,” said one of the Americans. “Why,” we asked. “Because we’re starting a temporary American cemetery here,” was the reply. They were burying several dead American paratroopers. That did it. We went elsewhere.
For the next 24 hours we spent some time with a 105mm artillery crew, providing perimeter guard,
and then joined a communications outfit.
There was considerable confusion for the next two days since there were no distinct battle lines, and the war consisted of a number of small skirmishes between Americans and Germans. We learned that the troops had moved off the beach and the Americans appeared to be winning their skirmishes. I and most of the surviving glider pilots began to assemble at the 101st command post. On the third day we made the 3 mile trek to Utah Beach where the beach master assigned them the job of guarding German POWs (Prisoners-of-War). Later that day, glider pilots and POWs were loaded aboard an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) and then onto an LST (Landing Ship Tank) for the trip back to England.
The LST was a mess. We had 1,200 German prisoners on the main tank deck and only 4 GI cans to serve as toilets. Among the 1,200 were several officers who were pretty subdued, except for a Nazi Stormtrooper. This lieutenant insisted that every German prisoner passing by him give him the Nazi salute. One of the glider pilots finally tired of this and told the corporal to tell the lieutenant-without the preliminary Nazi salute- that if he, the Nazi, saluted one time, he, the glider pilot, intended to emphasize his point with a bayonet on the end of his rifle. That was the end of the saluting.
A little excitement occurred while we were on the LST. It was anchored next to an American oil tanker that subsequently attracted the attention of a German E-boat (similar to an American PT boat). The E-boat launched a torpedo that struck the oil tanker below the water line and it exploded. There was only one survivor, a man and his dog. Moments later a British ground attack aircraft fired on and sank the E-boat. I thought it was much like watching a newsreel as the incident unfold before your eyes.Miraculously, the German commander of the E-boat was rescued by crewmen from the LST I was on. Hehad a severe leg wound. I helped carry him to the operating table below deck where an American medic tended to the wound. When the medic indicated that he wanted to cut apart the officer’s sealskin trousers, the latter exploded with anger. The medic retorted, “If he wants them all that bad, let him keep them.” So I and the medic, with the help of the German removed his trousers. It must have been dreadfully painful, but the German never uttered a word. He sat stoically as the medic tended to his wound.
One of our Kraut prisoners was an overaged German Major who had been stationed in Normandy to
recover from wounds received earlier on the Russian front. When we passed out the dreaded K-rations for a midnight meal, the Major refused to eat. We ask an English speaking German corporal what the Majors complaint was, and we were informed that the Major was used to good meat and dairy products of Normandy and he didn’t appreciate our canned products. One of the other glider pilots told the corporal to inform the Major that it was Krations or nothing, and of he didn’t eat that we might stuff them right down his throat, cans and all.
In another instance while on the LST a German POW caught his ring on a nail while descending the
ship’s ladder. The ring tore into the flesh so badly that the same medic had to take a surgical saw and remove the ring. He did it without a painkiller, which for some reason the German refused. Once again, the pain must have been terrible, but there was not a peep out of the prisoner. The Germans were obviously well disciplined when it came to pain, I thought to myself. When the LST landed in England the prisoners were turned over to the British military.
I got fairly well acquainted with the German corporal that was my interpreter, helping me for 2 days. I discovered he was the son of a German father and British mother. At the outbreak of war in 1939 when he was still a youngster, the family was visiting and got stuck in Germany. He was eventually drafted into the German army. I believed his story enough to give him a note of appreciation to take along with him to his eventual prison camp in England. I hope he was able to regain his English citizenship, because that’s what he wanted.
As I record this on April 4, 1988, this is what I remember as a Glider Pilot on the invasion of France in June 1944. Our instructions were to get back to the coast as best we could and get on a ship for return to England.
We landed a mile and half from Sainte Mele Eglise, the scene for the movie ”The Longest Day” wherein actor Red Buttons witnessed a Day-long battle while swinging in his parachute from a church roof.
I saw a burning C-47 aircraft on the edge of the field where I landed. I could still make out the number on the tail and I knew it had been flown by a good buddy of mine. All aboard were killed, I later heard.
As I stepped off the ship I gave thanks that I had survived my first combat mission against the enemy.
I guess I was just lucky to get off so easy, a lot of other guys weren’t so lucky.
Flight Officer Charles E. Skidmore Jr. - 91st sqdn 439th TCG