Parachutists to fill skies over Normandy on 75th anniversary of D-day

Wartime aircraft will fly in 6 June event commemorating day that turned tide of war. The skies over the UK and Normandy will be filled with wartime Dakota aircraft as hundreds of parachutists take part in a mass airdrop to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-day landings in June. The plans, unveiled by Imperial War Museums (IWM), are part of a programme on an “unprecedented scale” for the commemoration of the greatest seaborne invasion in history, to liberate Europe from Nazi occupation, on 6 June 1944.

Winged Workhorses

An official international ceremony is planned for one of the famous Normandy beaches, and is expected to be attended by many Allied heads of state, anticipated to include the US president, Donald Trump, and representatives from the royal family. Before the formal commemoration, up to 300 parachutists will jump into the historic drop zones from a fleet of Dakotas, the “winged workhorses” that supported the airborne assault on German forces. They will take off from IWM Duxford in Cambridgeshire, formerly RAF Duxford, Britain’s best-preserved wartime airfield, from where US fighter aircraft flew in support of D-day operations.

Finest Hour

With more than 30 Dakotas gathering, it will be the first time since the second world war that so many of the aircraft have been assembled in the place that saw their finest hour. As part of history in the remaking, the parachutists will board the aircraft as they did 75 years ago and fly across the Channel to Normandy for the mass airdrop, organised by Daks Over Normandy.

Few Normandy veterans are still living. The Royal British Legion, together with the Ministry of Defence, is taking 300 veterans to France on a specially chartered ship for the anniversary and is inviting applications. The Battle of Normandy, or Operation Overlord, was planned in huge secrecy. By midnight on 6 June, 156,000 Allied troops had arrived, with many cut down on the beaches where they landed by fierce German defences. An estimated 4,413 Allied soldiers died on the day of the invasion. By the end of D-day, the allies had established a foothold in France. Within 11 months, Nazi Germany was defeated.

En Masse to Normandy

The amphibious assault was preceded by 24,000 troops who parachuted in or came by glider. Supporting the airborne assault were more than 800 Douglas C-47 Skytrains (Dakotas). A “Daks over Duxford” event will include air displays and mass parachute jumps at the airfield, before the Normandy airdrop, with tickets available through the IWM website.

“Imperial War Museums marks the 75th anniversary of the D-day landings on an unprecedented scale this year, retelling this extraordinary story through our rich second world war collection,” said John Brown, the IWM executive director.

“Daks over Duxford will be a momentous occasion with over 30 Dakota aircraft based at our historic airfield for two days of immersive activities before they fly en masse to Normandy; a poignant moment for all who witness it,” he said.


Ian Kikuchi, a senior curator historian at the Imperial War Museums, said: “D-day was one of the decisive events of the second world war. The largest amphibious landings in history, D-day witnessed the culmination of years of planning and preparation.

“The job of carrying out those complex plans fell to the courageous men and women of the Allied armed forces, whose effort and sacrifice paved the way for the liberation of western Europe from Nazi occupation, and for the peace enjoyed there to this day.”

Other events, to be announced by IWM, will take place at the Churchill War Rooms, the Whitehall nerve centre of strategic planning, and aboard HMS Belfast on the Thames. As part of the Eastern naval taskforce, with responsibility for supporting the British and Canadian assaults on Gold and Juno beaches, HMS Belfast first opened fire at 5.27am on 6 June, targeting and suppressing a German battery near the village of Ver-sur-Mer until the position was taken by the 7th Battalion, the Green Howards.