The following is a letter that my dad wrote to my mom 2 days after D'Day. It is a chilling account of D'Day from his view, high in the sky. (with a brief forward )
This letter was written to my Mother on Thursday June 8th 1944, 2 days after the D-Day invasion of Normandy. We found it 70 years later.
Dad, Gordon Gibson, was a reconnaissance pilot (a nice word for a spy), flying Mustangs. On D-Day his job was to fly up and down the coast of Dieppe, over the enemy lines, and parallel to the shore. He had to radio back to the ships to help instruct the battleship guns where to aim. In 1944 technology didn't exist for accurate aiming. Dad would watch for the tracer shells, see a shot land, then radio something like "2 degrees west and 300 yards further" and the gunners would adjust their guns. Dad was 24 years old & Mom was just 19. They had been married just 4 1/2 months earlier and Mom was 4 months pregnant with our oldest brother Gord. Every word and every line is exactly as he wrote it.
I suppose you are wondering what I saw the morning of the invasion. Well I can’t tell you what I was doing there but I think you can guess that. But I can tell that on the success of our efforts depended the lives of thousands of those boys down there in the landing craft. And I think we succeeded O.K. too.
It’s a good job you didn’t know what was happening to your hubby that morning or you would have died in your bed. Never – if I live to be 300 will I ever forget that 5 hours on Tuesday morning. Never have I seen and never again will I see such a magnificent achievement – such a show - such a hell on earth as I saw between 5 o’clock & 10 o’clock that morning. Never again will I be so scared!
We knew nothing about it until the evening before – when we were told the whole plan & our part in the actual landing operations. We were briefed that evening. I went to bed about 12 but I never slept a wink – I just lay there & thought & prayed & shook. I think everyone did. We were called at 3 a.m. Had breakfast & we were in the air at 5am.
It was dark as pitch when we took off & low cloud about 1000 feet & raining like a son-of-a-gun. I was leading green section. We climbed up through the first layer of muck & set course for the E. Coast where we had to set course for our target areas. The moon was shining here & there through huge mountains of cloud. I couldn’t see the ground at all. I steered my course as best I could to a degree & to a few seconds of time. I left in cloud England & headed south for France.
It was still raining – we lit down to 2000 & came out into a clearer area & we could see the sea below. You’ve never seen ships until you’ve seen an invasion. I saw a thousand in 2 minutes – hundred & hundreds, like little toys in a vast sea of dirty grey – all heading one way. The sky was filled with aircraft – literally thousands.
We kept on – in a few minutes I could discern the gun flashes 50 miles ahead. Like little fireflies flickering in the twilight. In a matter of minutes we were right in the thick of it. It was soul shaking. The battle was just beginning . Hundreds of ship were shelling the shore batteries with all they’d got – and more. Their gun flashes lit up the sky over the sea - their shells rocked the coast like a tree in a hurricane. Pill boxes, shore guns, block houses went up in the air in dust like shovel fulls of sand.
In 30 minutes all hell broke loose on the coast. Thousands of bombers poured down a devastating rain of bombs in patterns – carpeting whole towns – roads – bridges –german emplacements. Villages & towns went up to 500 feet in dust – the bomb flashe s rose to 1000 feet – a vivid yellowish – red flame of death. Everything was on fire. Towns, woods - the whole coast line in 20 minutes was covered in the smoke of battle to 4000 feet. Petrol & ammo dumps blew sky high – sporting geysers of flame & billows of smoke like huge thunder clouds. The thousands of men came up in the landing barges their machine guns blazing low crimson arcs towards the shore - shells fell in the water all around – the german gunners on shore were trying desperately to stem the terrific over-whelm- ing flood that was overtaking them. The sky was absolutely filled with flack. Five minutes after I was in it – I felt sure that before another 5 minutes went by I’d be dead. I was sure of it. For the first few minutes I was absolutely overcome . I was stiff in the cockpit – I couldn’t speak a word over the radio. To me there was only one place where there wasn’t any flack & that’s where my aircraft was. But somehow when we’d finished our task for that trip we were all still intact. I don’t know how on earth Roy ever stayed with me. I could hardly see my targets at times. The whole area was covered in a pall of yellow - black smoke. The sky was aglow with fire & death. We got out & we flew back to our advanced base – refueled & 45 minutes later we were off again and again we were in that awful hail of lead. But if it was bad for us – it must have been terrific for the Jerries & for the boys down there in the barges.
And now my little gal – during the next 30 minutes is where you almost “had” your husband. At 6000 feet among all the confusion my engine stopped – of all places. I called up my #2 & told him to take over & finish the job – that I was going to have to crash–land in France. I picked a field & prepared myself for the bang. Why the Jerries never shot me to smithereens I dunno – I was a sitting target. By a stroke of luck or by the hand of God or something; on my last approach to the field at 500 feet I got the engine running – roughly – but running. Somehow - I can’t remember- I got back to England. Never have I seen such a wonderful sight as the coast looked then.
I got back to home base about noon & I wrote a short note to you & I went to bed. I was dead – tired – my eyes ached like fire – I was played right out.
I have seen a bit of fightin’ – but never have I seen such a sight as Tuesday morning – such an achievement – such a success – against such odds. It was absolutely magnificent.
Someday – the people of the world will find out what has taken place really in that invasion & what will be taking place during the next few weeks. It is absolutely astounding – I doubt if even when they know – if they’ll believe it.
It was a wonderful show – I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. I am proud I was able to do my little wee bit to help it start on it’s way. If you wanta know the future honey – just put me to sleep & I’ll tell yuh - huh?
They tell me this evening that they are making arrangements for 2 of us to have a day off per day – so that’ll give me a chance one of these nights to get me some sleep – perhaps. It’s a very wet night out to-nite – I forget whether you said you’d be calling or not to-nite.
Anyway I’ll be in if you do.
Gotta sign off now - my Darling – I love you – always & always - don’t ever forget that.
Always -- Your Gibby XXXXXXX"
Dad rarely talked about the war. One time, we were alone in the car for a 5 hour drive, he opened up a little about his experience during D-Day. He never mentioned this letter and had probably forgotten all about it. He did tell my brother that he was so scared that he couldn’t get any saliva to talk, spit or whistle. He also told him exactly what had happened when his engine quit. He had actually run out of fuel. He said he was so scared that he had forgotten that the plane had a reserve tank. It wasn’t until he was about to land behind enemy lines, in German occupied French territory, that he remembered about the reserve tank. He simply reached down turned the switch and the engine started again. I’m guessing that he didn’t want to tell Mom what happened in case she’d worry about him. Dad died in 2006. Mom died in 2015.
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