'The sky was full of airplanes'

John Delaney: “The capture of Sainte-Mère-Église was a major airborne forces objective for D-Day. Some of the American paratroopers overshot their landing zones, and a number of them landed in the town itself. One of them, private John Steele, whose parachute got caught up in the Spire of the town's church, is commemorated today with this effigy. In the American Air Museum at Duxford, we tell a story about one of the paratroopers that landed in what was called drop zone O, just outside the town of Sainte-Mère-Église.” 

Henry ‘Duke’ Boswell: “Our mission was to grab the crossroads and bridges that led to the beach to keep other Germans from getting to the beach to reinforce the ones that were there. We were fighting from the time we hit the ground until two days later when the troops from the beach got up to us.” 

Craig Murray: “Henry Duke Boswell was one of thousands of soldiers who jumped out of a C47 transport aircraft on D-Day. He was part of a huge operation involving forces on land, in the air and at sea. As well as their combat role, aircraft were used for moving men and material around. Most Allied leaders did agree that the war cannot be won by bombing alone. They needed to get armies landed in Europe where they could defeat the Germans on the ground. The paratrooper, a soldier who arrives either by parachute or by glider was key to this. They will be dropped behind enemy lines where they be tasked to take vitally important areas. This in turn made it safer for the main body of attacking ground troops who had arrived behind them. Duke was looking out the door of his C47 as it flew to Normandy.” 

Henry ‘Duke’ Boswell: “The ocean was full of ships. Big ones, little ones. That's where I think the rest of the row boats in there. But every kind of ship in the world was heading for, for France. And the sky was full of aeroplanes, all kinds, mostly. Fight other than ours, transport fighters protecting us. And I saw that, I thought: “Well, we must win this war with all this force that we have.” 

Craig Murray: “Duke had one of the most dangerous jobs in the army. He enlisted age 16 and became a paratrooper in 1942. He carried out four combat jumps in Sicily, Italy, Normandy and Holland. When we jumped in Sicily, which was our first combat, we had 146 men in the company, Duke said. A little over two years later in Germany, when the war ended, we had 13. The rest had either been killed or wounded so bad they couldn't come back to the unit.” 

Henry ‘Duke’ Boswell: “Your plane might get hit before you get there. It's very possible you might get killed as soon as you hit the ground. You just live from day-to-day. Because by that time you've seen so many of your friends wounded or killed.” 

Paratrooper Duke Boswell had an important job to do on D-Day.

Hear Duke recount his memories of 6 June 1944 and learn more about his mission from IWM curators John Delaney and Craig Murray.

You can discover more about Duke at the American Air Museum at IWM Duxford.


Related content

HMS Belfast leaving Scapa Flow for the Normandy beaches in June 1944. The cruiser is reported to have fired some of the first shots on D-Day.
© IWM (A 25665)

Discover D-Day 75

Visit where D-Day history happened and discover how HMS Belfast, IWM Duxford and Churchill War Rooms played a part in the largest combined naval, air and land operation in the history of warfare.


Troops of 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade disembarking with bicycles from LCI(L)s (Landing Craft Infantry Large) onto Nan White beach, Juno area, at Bernieres-sur-Mer, shortly before midday, 6 June 1944.
© IWM A 23938

D-Day Explained

IWM curator John Delaney explores how the Allies prepared for D-Day - and the significance of the events of the 6 June 1944. 

Commandos of 47 (RM) Commando coming ashore on Jig Green beach, Gold area, 6 June 1944.
© IWM (B 5246)

D-Day Explored

Watch our special D-Day75 video series featuring IWM curators exploring the story of D-Day.