THE 479TH FIGHTER GROUP OF THE UNITED STATES ARMY AIR CORPS BASED AT WATTISHAM STATION (377) PROVIDED AIR COVER FOR THE INVADING FORCES, FLYING THE P-38 LOCKHEED LIGHTNING.
The group were part of 11,000 aircraft used as the component, Operation Neptune, of the invasion. To maintain a constant presence, an overlap system was employed allowing squadrons to return to base to re-fuel and re-arm. This intensive flying continued until June 15th, with 57 missions flown in total. Once the invasion beach heads were secured the group was assigned to other duties, including escorts, ground attack, train busting and attacks on V-1 sites, these varied missions were ideal for the P-38, but proved costly.
The following is an account from the official 479th history:
"The pilots said they had never seen so many ships; they didn't know that there were in any one spot in the world so many landing craft, merchantmen, minesweepers, fast needle shaped destroyers, big lumbering men- of- war, and countless types they never knew existed. For ten days, starting the afternoon of June 5th, they had grandstand seats to the biggest show on earth - the invasion of France by the allied forces.
All day long from sun up till after dark, they cruised over the English channel to prevent German aircraft from getting at the endless stream of surface craft that shuttled back and forth between England and the Normandy coast, jammed with men and equipment. Long before D-Day, the fighter command set up 'plan Neptune' to ensure strong air cover for the invasion forces. When the flash came over the teletype 'execute plan Neptune' the 479th and certain other fighter groups immediately dispatched aircraft to begin a patrol which, for the next 57 missions, kept up without a halt except darkness and weather.
The 479th patrol was executed by squadrons, and comprised of some eight missions a day. Two squadrons flew three missions each, and the third flew two. When the time came for one squadron to return to base, it was relieved by a second, and the second was relieved by the third, and the third by the first again. In this way a constant search was maintained for enemy planes that might slip through other similar patrols to the south. None ever did. The group suffered it's first combat casualty on June 9th when Lt. Edward J Spillane en route home failed to pull out of manoeuvre and crashed fatally at Raydon Airfield, Suffolk."
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