Original WWII Pathfinder USAAF Named Pilot Navigator Grouping

Item Description

Original Items: One-of-a-kind grouping. Wilfred Ernest Meinzen army serial number 15119698 enlisted on 04 Feb 1943. He was a pilot and navigator in the 8th Air Force during WWII. He was also a pathfinder as evident in the patch found on the right sleeve of his Ike jacket.

The pathfinders’ job was to mark drop zones behind the Normandy beaches, placing lights and radar beacons so that more than 13,000 jumpers who would immediately follow in the all-out airborne assault could find their way to bridges and road crossings designated as strategic targets. In the planning for D-Day, Allied generals estimated that these airborne troops might take up to 70 percent casualties.

In the army, he became a specialist in pathfinder operations for aerial assaults. During the planning for D-Day, he attended the Pathfinder School at North Witham to train as a pilot for dropping airborne pathfinders to do the job of setting up drop zones. Each pathfinder team had 18 paratroopers, including 12 men to carry the lights and navigational beacons. Pilots had to make at least one jump themselves, just to experience what the paratroopers would be up against.

Overall, the first June 6th, 1944 pathfinder operation was a mixed success at best. Cloud cover made it hard for the pilots to navigate, and some of the jumpers ended up far from their targets, while others came under heavy fire. The first of four drop zone teams arrived in the vicinity of St. Germaine-de-Varreville about 15 minutes after midnight, and even though the men were scattered,the team was still able to set up some of their lights within 10 minutes. D-Day, which would end with more than 12,000 Allied casualties and 4,414 dead, had begun.

Included in this grouping are the following items:
• Ike jacket with bullion embroidered navigator wings, 8th Army Ari Force patch to left shoulder, lieutenant bars, presidential unit citation and PATHFINDER patch on right sleeve. The info label in dated April 17th, 1945 and it is named to Meinzel. High quality construction with a red lining with LONDON Tailor label of RAMAN 10, New Bond St, W.1.
• Class A uniform tunic also named to Mienzel and dated Jan 29th, 1944. The tunic features an 8th Air Force patch to the left shoulder and appears to have hardly been worn. Tailor label to EDDIE STEPHENS of Miami.
• Officer peaked visor hat with stiffer removed to make it a crush style hat popular with pilots and navigators on airplanes as they allowed them to comfortable wear earphones while keeping their hats on. Nicely maker label of BANCROFT.
• Officer overseas garrison cap.
• Army officer trousers.
• 15+ pilot and navigator books and instructional manuals.
• Training flight logs and note books from December 1943 when Meinzel was in pilot training course with pages of detailed notes and test scores.
• June 1943 Withrow Public High School of Cincinnati, Ohio report card (he was a very good student!).
• Other miscellaneous paper work and documents.

The pathfinders would play a key role in the airborne phase of Operation Overlord. At about 9:30 p.m. local time on June 5, 20 American C-47s carrying more than 200 of the specially trained paratroopers lifted off from an airfield in Southern Britain, cruised out over the channel and made for the Normandy coast. Just after midnight on June 6, the aircraft were over France and the pathfinders hit the silk. Dangerously low cloud cover forced some sticks to jump from only 300 feet. According to D-Day veterans, the planes were so close to the ground that the pathfinders’ chutes had scarcely opened when they were touching down. Once on earth, the teams shed their harnesses, gathered their gear and set about preparing the drop zones for the massive airborne assault that was set to arrive before the hour was out.

Despite all of those long months of training, pathfinder operations on D-Day were a total mess. Of the 18 Dakotas that made it to Normandy, only one managed to unload its paratroopers over the target. Thick clouds, rotten visibility and heavy ground fire resulted in mostly missed drops. One unlucky group descended right onto a German position and another stick landed in the English Channel.

Of those that arrived within walking distance of their objectives, many were unable to locate their radio gear in time. Others had lost their signal lanterns during the jump and had to rely on pocket flashlights. Damaged equipment hampered the efforts of still more. Some that did manage to get their gear working transmitted from the wrong landing zones. Because of the mix ups, most of the main Allied drops on D-Day were scattered across the countryside. Yet despite these considerable setbacks, the airborne portion of Overlord succeeded in sowing confusion among the German defenders.

Pathfinders would later take part in the August 1944 invasion of Southern France, dubbed Operation Dragoon, as well as the massive yet disastrous September daylight landings in Holland — Operation Market Garden. Pathfinders from the 101st even jumped into Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge and used their beacons and lights to facilitate supply drops aimed at relieving the besieged city. Others would take part in Operation Varsity, the last major airborne mission of the war.

A wonderful grouping from one of a small number of aviators that was responsible for dropping Pathfinder units into occupied Europe at the height of the war.

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