Mission Albany was a parachute combat assault at night by the U.S. 101st Airborne Division on June 6, 1944, part of the American airborne landings in Normandy during World War II. It was the opening step of Operation Neptune, the assault portion of the Allied invasion of Normandy, Operation Overlord. 6,928 paratroopers made their jumps from 443 C-47 Skytrain troop carrier planes into an intended objective area of roughly 15 square miles (39 km2) located in the southeast corner of the Cotentin Peninsula of France five hours ahead of the D-Day landings. The landings were badly scattered by bad weather and German ground fire over an area twice as large, with some troops dropped as far as 20 miles (32 km) away.
The division took most of its objectives on D-Day, but required four days to consolidate its scattered units and complete its mission of securing the left flank and rear of the U.S. VII Corps, reinforced by 2,300 glider infantry troops who landed by sea.
The 101st Airborne Division's objectives were to secure the four causeway exits behind Utah Beach, destroy a German coastal artillery battery at Saint-Martin-de-Varreville, capture buildings nearby at Mésières believed used as barracks and a command post for the artillery battery, capture the Douve River lock at la Barquette (opposite Carentan), capture two footbridges spanning the Douve at la Porte opposite Brévands, destroy the highway bridges over the Douve at Sainte-Come-du-Mont, and secure the Douve River valley.
In the process units would also disrupt German communications, establish roadblocks to hamper the movement of German reinforcements, establish a defensive line between the beachhead and Valognes, clear the area of the drop zones to the unit boundary at Les Forges, and link up with the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division.
German forces opposing the operation included the 3rd Battalion, 1058th Grenadier Regiment (91st Air Landing Division) in the vicinity of Saint Come-du-Mont, the 919th Grenadier Regiment (709th Infantry Division) behind Utah Beach, the 191st Artillery Regiment (105mm mountain howitzer, 91st AL Div), and the 6th Parachute Regiment, sent to Carentan during D-Day.
Albany was the first of two parachute missions, with "Mission Boston" following it by one hour to drop the 82nd Airborne Division. Each mission consisted of three regiment-sized air landings. The drop zones of the 101st Airborne Division were east and south of Sainte-Mère-Église and lettered A, C, and D from north to south (Drop Zone B had been that of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) before changes to the original landing plan made on May 27).
Each of its parachute infantry regiments was transported by three or four "serials" (formations containing 36, 45, or 54 C-47s), totalling ten serials and 432 aircraft. The planes, individually numbered within a serial by "chalk numbers" (literally numbers chalked on the airplanes to aid paratroopers in boarding the correct airplane), were organized into flights in trail, in a close pattern called "vee's of vee's" (3 planes in triangular vee's arranged in a larger vee of 9 planes). The serials were scheduled over the drop zones at 6-minute intervals. The paratroopers were organized into "sticks", a plane load of troops numbering 15-18 men.
The main combat jumps were preceded at each drop zone by three teams of pathfinders that arrived thirty minutes before the main assault to set up navigation aids, including Eureka radar transponder beacons and marker lights, to aid the C-47s in locating the DZs in the dark.
To achieve surprise, the parachute drops were routed to approach Normandy at low altitude from the west. The serials took off beginning at 2230 on June 5, assembled into formations, and flew southwest over the English Channel at 500 feet (150 m) MSL to remain below German radar coverage. Once over water all lights except formation lights were turned off, and these were reduced to their lowest practical intensity. At a stationary marker boat code-named "Hoboken" and carrying a Eureka beacon they made a left turn to the southeast and flew between the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Alderney to their initial point on the Cotentin coast at Portbail, code-named "Muleshoe".
Over the Cotentin Peninsula numerous factors negatively affected the accuracy of the drops, including a solid cloud bank over the entire western half of the 22 miles (35 km) wide peninsula at penetration altitude (1500 feet MSL), an opaque ground fog over many drop zones,and intense German antiaircraft fire ("flak"). The weather conditions broke up and dispersed many formations and the ground fire scattered them even more. However the primary factor limiting success of the paratroop units, because it magnified all the errors resulting from the above factors, was the decision to make a massive parachute drop at night.
Drop Zone A
The paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division "Screaming Eagles" jumped between 00:48 and 01:40 British Double Summer Time on June 6. The first wave, inbound to Drop Zone A (the northernmost), was not surprised by the cloud bank and maintained formation, but navigating errors and a lack of Eureka signal caused the first error. Although the 2nd Battalion, 502nd PIR was dropped as a compact unit, it jumped on the wrong drop zone, while its commander, Lieutenant Colonel Steve A. Chappuis, came down virtually alone on the correct drop zone. Chappuis and this stick captured the coastal battery soon after assembling, and found that it had already been dismantled after an air raid.
Most of the remainder of the 502nd PIR (70 of 80 groups) dropped in a disorganized pattern around the impromptu drop zone set up by the pathfinders near the beach. The commanders of the 1st and 3rd Battalions, Lieutenant Colonels Patrick J. Cassidy and Robert G. Cole, took charge of small groups and accomplished all of their D-Day missions. Cassidy's group took Saint Martin-de-Varreville by 06:30, sent a patrol under Staff Sergeant Harrison C. Summers to seize the "XYZ" objective, a barracks at Mésières, and set up a thin line of defense from Foucarville to Beuzeville. Cole's group moved during the night from near Saint Mère Église to the Varreville battery, then continued on and captured Exit 3 at 07:30. They held the position during the morning until relieved by troops moving inland from Utah Beach. Both commanders found Exit 4 covered by German artillery fire and Cassidy recommended to the 4th Infantry Division that it not use the exit.
The division's parachute artillery did not fare nearly as well. Its drop was one of the worst of the operation, losing all but one howitzer and dropping all but two of 54 loads four to twenty miles (32 km) to the north, where most ultimately became casualties.
Drop Zone C
The second wave, assigned to drop the 506th PIR on Drop Zone C one mile (1.6 km) west of Sainte Marie-du-Mont, was badly dispersed by the clouds, then subjected to intense antiaircraft fire for ten miles (16 km). Three of the 81 C-47s were lost before or during the jump. One, piloted by First Lieutenant Marvin F. Muir of the 439th Troop Carrier Group, caught fire. Muir held the aircraft steady while the men jumped, then died when the plane crashed immediately afterward, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Despite the opposition, the 506th's 1st Battalion (the original division reserve) was dropped accurately on DZ C, landing 2/3 of its sticks and the 506th's regimental commander, Colonel Robert Sink, on or within a mile of the drop zone.
The 2nd Battalion, much of which had jumped too far west near Sainte Mère Église, eventually assembled near Foucarville at the northern edge of the 101st Airborne Division's objective area. It fought its way to the hamlet of le Chemin near the Houdienville causeway by mid-afternoon, but found that the 4th Division had already seized the exit hours before. The 3rd Battalion of the 501st PIR, flown by the 435th TCG, was also assigned to jump onto DZ C, however it was partly scattered. BG Taylor, jumping from the lead aircraft of the 435th, landed on the DZ and assessed the situation and decided to take over the mission of securing the exits. An ad hoc company-sized team that included the division commander, Major General Maxwell D. Taylor, reached the Pouppeville exit at 0600. After a six-hour house-clearing battle with elements of the German 1058th Grenadier Regiment, the group secured the exit shortly before 4th Division troops arrived to link up.
Drop Zone D
The third wave also encountered severe flak, losing 6 aircraft. The troop carriers still made an accurate drop, placing 94 of 132 sticks on or close to the drop zone, but part of the DZ was covered by pre-registered German machine gun and mortar fire that inflicted heavy casualties before many troops could get out of their chutes. Among the killed were two of the three battalion commanders and the executive officer (XO) of the 3rd Battalion, 506th PIR.
The surviving battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Robert A. Ballard, gathered 250 troopers and advanced toward Saint Côme-du-Mont to complete his mission of destroying the highway bridges over the Douve. Less than half a mile from his objective at les Droueries he was stopped by elements of battalion III./1058 Grenadier-Rgt. Another group of 50 men, assembled by the regimental S-3, Major Richard J. Allen, attacked the same area from the east at Basse-Addeville but was also pinned down.
The commander of the 501st PIR, Colonel Howard R. Johnson, collected 150 troops and captured the main objective, the la Barquette lock, by 04:00. After establishing defensive positions, Colonel Johnson went back to the drop zone and assembled another 100 men, including Allen's group, to reinforce the bridgehead. Despite naval gunfire support from the cruiser Quincy, Ballard's battalion was unable to take Saint Côme-du-Mont or join Colonel Johnson.
The S-3 officer of the 3rd Battalion, 506th, Captain Charles G. Shettle, put together a platoon and achieved another objective by seizing two foot bridges near la Porte at 04:30 and crossed to the east bank. When their ammunition drew low after knocking out several machine gun emplacements, the small force withdrew to the west bank. It doubled in size overnight as stragglers came in, and repulsed a German probe across the bridges.
Two other noteworthy actions took place near Sainte Marie-du-Mont by units of the 506th PIR, both of which involved the seizure and destruction of batteries of 105mm howitzers of the German III Battalion-191st Artillery Regiment. During the morning, a squad-size patrol of troopers, mainly from Company E of the 506th PIR under First Lieutenant Richard Winters overwhelmed a force 3-4 times its size and destroyed four guns at Brécourt Manor.
Around noon, while reconnoitering the area by jeep, Colonel Sink, commanding the 506th PIR, received word that a second battery of four guns had been discovered at Holdy, a manor between his CP and Sainte Marie-du-Mont, and the defenders had a force of some 70 paratroopers pinned down. Captain Lloyd E. Patch (Headquarters Company, 1st/506th) and Captain Knut H. Raudstein (Company C of the 506th PIR) led an additional 70 paratroops to Holdy and enveloped the position. The combined force then continued on to seize Sainte Marie-du-Mont. A platoon of the 502nd PIR, left to hold the battery, destroyed three of the four guns before Colonel Sink could send four jeeps to save them for the 101st Airborne Division's use.
At the end of D-Day, Major General Taylor and the commander of the 101st Airborne Division Artillery, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe returned from their foray at Pouppeville. Taylor had control of approximately 2,500 of his 6,600 men, most of which were in the vicinity of the 506th CP at Culoville, with the thin defense line west of Saint Germain-du-Varreville, or the division reserve at Blosville. Two glider airlifts had brought in scant reinforcements and had resulted in the death of his assistant division commander (ADC), Brigadier General Don Pratt. The 327th Glider Infantry Regiment (GIR) had come across Utah Beach but only its third battalion (1st Battalion, 401st GIR) had reported in.
The 101st Airborne Division had accomplished its most important mission of securing the beach exits, but had a tenuous hold on positions near the Douve River, over which the Germans could still move armored units. The three groups clustered there had tenuous contact with each other but none with the rest of the division. A shortage of radio equipment caused by losses during the drops exacerbated his control problems. Major General Taylor made destroying the Douve bridges the division's top priority and delegated the task to Colonel Sink, who issued orders for the 1st Battalion, 401st GIR to lead three battalions south the next morning.