Home History I Jumped into Normandy on D-Day. My Parachute Almost Killed Me.

I Jumped into Normandy on D-Day. My Parachute Almost Killed Me.

by Enochadmin

Lt. Col. Gerhard L. Bolland was a proud Norwegian American from the farming city of Madison, Minnesota. He began his army profession in 1926 within the Minnesota Nationwide Guard and was ultimately accepted into West Level. A superb soldier who excelled each bodily and intellectually, Bolland graduated from West Level with a B.S. diploma and a curricula heavy in army engineering topics and have become a certified parachutist on July 4, 1942 after coaching at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Versatile and unconventional, Bolland’s power and drive would serve him properly each as a paratrooper and later as an officer within the Particular Operations Department of the OSS (Workplace of Strategic Providers). 

Attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel on Could 17, 1943, Bolland served because the Regiment Government Officer of the 507th Parachute Infantry from Could 28, 1944 to Nov. 24 of that 12 months. He would soar behind enemy traces on D-Day from the 82nd Airborne Division’s lead plane together with Brig. Gen. James M. Gavin, referred to as “The Leaping Basic,” and fought in Normandy constantly for 33 days.

Bolland later felt referred to as to serve within the Scandinavian Part of the OSS’s Particular Operations Department, as he had sturdy emotions about his ancestral land of Norway languishing below Nazi occupation. He labored enthusiastically alongside the Norwegian Resistance.

“When Germany invaded Norway, it’s arduous to explain the extent of grief that remained not solely in my coronary heart however, I’m certain, within the hearts of each Norwegian within the homeland or overseas,” he later wrote, “a ache that will endure till Norway as soon as once more tasted freedom from the tyranny of the Third Reich.” 

Bolland retired from energetic service in 1951 as a consequence of a incapacity and, with Norway on his thoughts, penned his memoirs in 1966. He later entrusted his papers and wartime recollections to his son Matthew. The next account of his D-Day expertise alongside the 82nd Airborne is excerpted from the e book derived from these memoirs and revealed by Casemate Publishers, entitled: “Among the many Firsts: Lieutenant Colonel Gerhard L. Bolland’s Unconventional Battle.” 

To the Drop Zone

On our means [flying inside our cargo aircraft] to the drop zone, a lot of the [82nd Airborne Division] paratroopers did a variety of smoking, some squirmed fairly a bit, checking and re-checking their gear. Others sang quietly to themselves. Every man handled the excessive pressure and jittery nerves in his personal means. Though many paratroopers jumped into Normandy with their Garand rifles disassembled and saved in a padded case, referred to as a Griswald bag, my very own regiment, the 507th, didn’t.

As a substitute, we jumped with the rifle assembled and slung over our shoulders with the stomach band of the parachute over it, securing it in place. Additionally, along with the bayonet and trench knife, a backup switchblade was carried into battle, partially inserted into the placket pocket of the M2 soar jacket. There was an assortment of those knives the soldier may select from. I chosen a 7-1/4” Presto M2 with textured grips. All in all, the common paratrooper was loaded down with about 85 kilos of kit. 

About 20 minutes earlier than we had been to hit the drop zone, the airplane’s door was eliminated. The cool air that billowed in felt good. Our first glimpse of France was full of flak flashes and tracer traces streaking throughout the darkened sky. Seven-and-a-half minutes earlier than we had been to drop, the pink mild flashed on and we stood up and connected.

Leaping With The Basic

This was [Brigadier] Basic [James M.] Gavin’s customary operational process. As quickly as we crossed into enemy territory, he had his males prepared to leap. That means, if our airplane was hit by enemy hearth, we may bale out [sic] at a speedy tempo.

Since I used to be at the back of the airplane, I began the hold forth for gear examine. “Nineteen OK,” then slapped the subsequent man in entrance of me on the shoulder, “Eighteen OK,” and so forth. Bullets had been hitting the airplane at this level and I’m certain every man puzzled whether or not he would get hit even earlier than he reached the bottom? A whole lifetime of ideas can move via your thoughts between the time the pink mild flashes till the inexperienced soar mild comes on.

All of the sudden, we entered a dense cloudbank that was so thick you would not see the wing suggestions of the airplane. The plane had been flying in shut formation, so this turned a harmful state of affairs. Gavin thought it could have been a smoke cloud put up by the Germans. One all the time attributes something surprising in fight to the cleverness and guile of the enemy. 

this text first appeared in army historical past quarterly

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Straight away, the command was given by the jumpmaster, “Go!,” adopted by Gavin yelling “Let’s Go!” as he jumped out the door. The lads bailed out quickly. Into the night time sky, leaping straight down Hitler’s chimney. Due to the pilot’s apprehension with the density of flak round us, and the sight of burning planes happening, he was flying at a a lot larger velocity and the preliminary prop blast shock was far more violent.

Really, exiting the airplane was fairly harmful since every paratrooper was weighed down fairly closely with gear. We carried a loaded M-1 rifle, 156 extra rounds of ammunition, a pistol with three loaded clips, an entrenching shovel, a knife, a water canteen, a primary support packet, 4 grenades, reserve rations, maps, and a raincoat. There was little time to fret in regards to the risks of the endeavor, nevertheless.

Hitting Water

The pink, inexperienced and white pencil traces of tracer bullets had been seen all over the place. The Germans had been throwing the whole lot at us. Search[light] beams crisscrossed the sky on the lookout for flak targets. Burning planes lit the countryside. The Germans had been making an attempt to kill us as we floated to the bottom.

You possibly can hear the bullets whizzing by. I pulled down on the entrance risers of my ‘chute to break down it a bit, additionally referred to as a ‘chute slip, a standard apply we had been taught in paratrooper faculty. This allowed me to drop at a better price of velocity. I held this till I feared I used to be getting too near the bottom. Easing again on the risers, I slowed my descent to a traditional price. At midnight it’s arduous to estimate how shut you really are to the bottom. I unfastened my reserve ‘chute and let it drop for the reason that fundamental chute had deployed efficiently and it was not wanted.

Inside about 5 seconds after that, splash! I hit water and went utterly below. After the preliminary shock, the wrestle to achieve the floor took each ounce of power I had due to the sheer weight of my gear. The wind and the present pulled the collapsed ‘chute and dragged me ahead, face down. The water was too deep to face.

Nonetheless in a state of shock, I immediately acknowledged the seriousness of my state of affairs. I struggled to get out of my ‘chute instantly by grabbing my M3 trench knife and slicing away the harness. That was a mistake. Desperation began to set in. My lungs felt like they had been going to burst.

Saved By A Voice

I felt myself turning into light-headed and was to the purpose of going unconscious. I had a couple of fast phrases with the Lord and, regardless of what atheists could declare, I heard, in a really audible voice, “Roll over onto your again.” As quickly as I did, the ‘chute that was drowning me by dragging me face down, was now planing me alongside the highest of the water, retaining my head up so I may breathe. My coronary heart was pounding, however I used to be alive!

Half gasping and half choking, I coughed up a number of the water that had gotten into my lungs. As soon as I noticed my head would stay above water, I slowly started to retain [sic] my composure. I paddled and kicked my means in the direction of the shoreline till I may really feel my ft contact. As soon as capable of stand, on very shaky legs no much less, I dragged my soaked and drained, however very grateful, physique to the river’s edge and unlatched my ‘chute. 

Sitting there alone catching my breath, I may hear the artillery and gunshots going off throughout me. For the primary time in my life I provided a honest prayer of due to the Lord for sparing my life. At one level, a chunk of shrapnel hit the bottom and rolled inside arm’s attain. “Effectively,” I believed, “that will make for a pleasant little memento to recollect my first night time into battle.” “Ouch!” The shrapnel lasted solely a few millisecond in my hand. At present’s lesson realized. Shrapnel recent from an explosion remains to be highly regarded!

Flooded By The Germans

I eliminated my gear and commenced to get out as a lot water as I may to reduce the burden. I poured out my boots and squeezed as a lot water as I may out of the clothes. Once I obtained to my mess equipment, there was a minnow swimming round contained in the container. 

American paratroopers like Bolland put together for his or her soar into Normandy beside a C-47 recognized with “invasion stripes.”

I realized afterwards I had landed within the Merderet River…To make issues worse, parts of land surrounding the river had been flooded by the Germans to hinder airborne operations. A lot of the encircling space had been hidden from aerial reconnaissance due to excessive grass. It was disguised as strong floor. What ought to have been a smaller shallow river was now a lot deeper and was a thousand-yard-wide lake. Many different paratroopers weren’t so fortunate. They drowned below the burden of their gear once they hit the flooded waters in the dead of night….

As is well-known, the 507th was unfold out over a better space than some other parachute infantry regiment, from Cherbourg to Carentan, over 60 sq. miles by some estimates. 

A lot as different models had suffered from disorganization and dislocation, we paratroopers of the 82nd handled our issues and proceeded to perform our missions to the most effective of our skills. The sensation was the Germans had their likelihood whereas the paratroopers had been on their means down. Now it was the People’ flip….

The Nazis Had been Not Supermen

When the 82nd Airborne Division lastly pulled out of the entrance traces to return to England, 16 of its 21 regimental and battalion commanders had been killed, captured or wounded. The Allied paratroopers touchdown at midnight didn’t have the benefit of a big supporting forged simply enumerated, nor the hundreds of ships and plane spewing hearth. They had been on their very own; small teams of brave males, armed with little greater than their rifles, dropping straight onto German defenses. 

In Normandy, I had the privilege of serving below the proud banners of the 82nd Airborne Division. It gave richly of its power and fought arduous in opposition to the enemy. We fought for 33 days straight with out let up or reinforcements. In truth, from D-Day till D+33, it had floor up two German divisions which had been by no means to struggle as models once more. The value was excessive. I can nonetheless see the morning report figures of those who remained and had been current for obligation from my very own regiment, the 507th [Parachute Infantry Regiment] PIR. We dropped into Normandy 15 p.c over power (greater than 2,500 males). Solely 733 remained the day we went out.

Extreme losses like these have paralyzed many divisions, however all through the Normandy marketing campaign, the 82nd by no means misplaced fight effectiveness. The division’s infantry firms did a lot of the bleeding throughout determined night time actions and bloody slogs via hedgerows. Their lifeless lay strewn from Sainte-Mere-Eglise to Amfreville to La Haye-du-Puits. Their deeds and bravado captured the hearts of People as their D-Day assault, on the time, was one of many nation’s biggest successes. Basic Gavin had lengthy been identified to Excessive Command, however now the press took to him and he turned a public determine. 

The 507th was awarded the Presidential Unit Quotation for its assault crossing the Merderet River, holding positions on the west aspect and stymieing giant German forces. We knew the combating forces of the Third Reich weren’t the supermen they thought they had been. They could possibly be crushed.

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