By today’s standards, the 82nd Airborne’s sacrifice in Normandy seems almost fantastical. When the elite division vaulted Nazi Germany’s Atlantikwall to launch the invasion of occupied Europe, Allied leaders fully expected few of its members would return. It was a suicidal mission, and 82nd Airborne was calculatedly sacrificed inland in hopes of ensuring indispensable amphibious landings along the coast.
Among Allied planners, casualty predictions for 82nd Airborne ranged as high as 75 percent. The most optimistic planners forecast 50 percent casualties, and by casualties, those planners meant deaths, not the generally accepted and all-inclusive definition of the word. But those losses were deemed acceptable in piercing Adolf Hitler’s Festung Europa, and Allied High Command agreed with near unanimity to sacrifice 82nd Airborne to that end.
Triggering that dire concern was the recent arrival in Normandy of two select Wehrmacht outfits, 91 Luftlande-Infanterie ‘Steel’ Division and attached Fallschirmjager Regiment 6. Intelligence had definitively placed two division elements, Grenadier-Regiment 1057 and Artillerie-Regiment 191 at La Haye-duPuits and Besneville, precise locations of two proposed 82nd Airborne drop zones, and suspected Fallschirmjager Bataillon II at Lessay, proximate to the third proposed drop zone.
In marginal concession, 82nd Airborne’s operational plan changed just 10 days before launch. The division’s drop zones were drawn 10 miles back nearer the coast, closer to 101st Airborne, and the division was essentially handed a new mission and an entirely new set of objectives. But ultimately, the change mattered little.
Just after midnight on June 6, 1944, 82nd Airborne penetrated enemy airspace over Normandy’s Cotentin Peninsula, and eight minutes later jumped into history. On that epic day, since known simply and infamously by its otherwise innocuously coded designation D-Day, 82nd Airborne suffered more proportionate killed than any American division on a single day in history. And the dying came quickly.