The Pathfinders

The first mission of the First Airborne Task Force is the Pathfinders. Their mission is to set up markups for the DZ. Three serials of C-47s (with an interval of five minutes between each serials) take off from Marcigliana around 00:30 with 121 pathfinders aboard. They are dropped into enemy territory without initial markup, simply based on the observation of the terrain and navigation calculations aboard the Dakota. C-47. All commanders in each platoon are seasoned veterans from the countryside such as North Africa or Italy.

Pathfinders are equipped with their specific equipment (Eureka beacon and holophane lamps to mark out the night zones and fluorescent panels for day markings.) Only one team is needed to mark a DZ, however, because of the risk of loss, three teams are sent to each DZ due to the mild weather conditions over the Mediterranean, the pathfinders reach the coast at the scheduled time. The antiaircraft guns are very sparse. On the coast, a large sheet of fog forced pilots to ride dead (heading and distance) to reach the DZ. Through the images of the reliefs visible on the screens of radar SCR-717-C, pilots can identify themselves aerial photos taken on August 7 and thus attempt a precise drop on the DZ Despite these aids to navigation, the head series carrying the three teams of pathfinders, to be dropped on the DZ C at 3:43, after half an hour of unsuccessful navigation, a first C-47 drops all the stick of the 551st on the fourth attempt, before returning to its base. The other two planes, now alone, finally drop the stick of the 550th at 04:00 and that of the 509th at 4:15 after a sixth attempt to locate the DZ. The three teams are dropped far from the DZ C on a mountainous and wooded area located in the vicinity of Tanneron between Fréjus and Cannes more than 15km to the east.

For the Serial n°2, the pilots’ navigation is perfect but they drop their sticks two minutes ahead of the scheduled time in the area of ​​La Combe and are completely disoriented. Around 8 am, when two of the three officers are heading up a hill to find their bearings, the rest of the group is attacked by German troops. The fighting is tough and it is only after 45 minutes that the Germans fall back. Aware of the risk of a new attack, the Americans regroup, retrieve the equipment, headed for the DZ thanks to a British officer met in the area, dropped far from the DZ O during the Albatross mission.

The Serial n°3 carrying the British pathfinders is dropped at 03:34 on the LZ O, according to schedule. A team lands 100m from the objective. The fog is dense, not facilitating the gathering on the ground. However, he protected pathfinders from the eyes of the enemy. At 4.30 am, two Eureka beacons are operational on the approach axis of the DZ O. Two holophanes lights are also placed to the west of Le Mitan to facilitate the gathering of paratroopers on the ground and not to report the DZ to C -47 who can not see them because of the fog. In the end, the marking mission of the DZ / LZ is not very effective because only the DZ O is correctly marked.