Pathfinders: Paving The Way For Victory


Mission Photo Album

A screenshot photo of Sgt. Harrison and Pvt. Tomlin, Pathfinders of the 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army, and Capt. Ramsey of the U.S. Rangers, 2nd Battalion, in the bocage after D-Day in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (MOHAA).

Capt. Ramsey, left, stands with Pvt. Tomlin, center, and Sgt. Harrison, pathfinders for the 101st Airborne Division, which was scattered across Normandy during Operation Overlord.

A few hours before the main Allied air assault dropped out of the dark Normandy sky on June 6, 1944,  a few hundred men jumped into the midst of thousands of German soldiers, determined to pave the way for the rest of the invasion force.

Known as pathfinders, these men were ordered to mark the drop zones with lights and Eureka beacons, so the paratroopers in the following planes could hit their targets.

A Eureka beacon on the ground receives a signal from the Rebecca equipment on a plane, responding with a pulse on a different frequency.

This pulse is displayed on the Rebecca receiver aerials, allowing the crew to determine if the plane is flying directly at the beacon or not. If the pulse amplitude is larger on the right side of the receiver, the beacon is to the right of the aircraft, and a right turn is necessary to adjust positioning. However, since the Eureka and Rebecca equipment didn’t measure distance very accurately (the signals tended to merge within two miles), visual identification of the drop zone was usually necessary, hence, the lights.

After destroying a German halftrack in the bocage, Lt. Mike Powell and Capt. Ramsey encounter two pathfinders from the 101st Airborne Division. Sgt. Harrison and Pvt. Tomlin provide Powell and Ramsey with information about “strange-looking rocket launchers” before joining the pair on their mission.

I’ve already written that it was unlikely for anyone from the 2nd Ranger Battalion to find members of the 101st the day after D-Day, and the likelihood of Powell and Ramsey encountering pathfinders from the 101st is even smaller. According to the report on pathfinder activities by Capt. Frank L. Lillyman (from which much of the information in this post is taken), all the pathfinders from the 101st landed within two miles of their drop zones, which would put them about 18 miles from the Rangers on Omaha Beach.

But for now, I’ll focus on what can be learned about the pathfinders from the game. Not much. Harrison and Tomlin, for the most part, only provide more firepower for the small group. As expendable characters, they are easily killed by the Germans, and in the scheme of things, not sorely missed. The real pathfinders, on the other hand, were absolutely essential to the success of Operation Neptune. If they didn’t complete their mission, it would cause problems for the thousands of men following them.

The 101st had four teams of pathfinders in eleven “sticks” or plane loads. Team A consisted of three planes carrying two sticks from the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) and one from the 377th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion. They were to jump at 12:20 a.m. on Drop Zone A, about two miles inland from Utah Beach. Team C was made up of two sticks from the 506th PIR and one from the 501st PIR, and were destined for Drop Zone C at 12:25 a.m. The two planes carrying Team E would drop one stick each from the 502nd and the 377th onto Landing Zone E at 12:27 a.m. Unlike the other three teams, this team would be lighting the way for gliders carrying vehicles and supplies, as well as men. Finally, two sticks from the 501st and one from the 506th would jump at 12:30 a.m. on Drop Zone D, about two miles north of Carentan.

A screenshot photo of a destroyed town from the bocage mission in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (MOHAA).

Like the men at DZ A, the men of MOH: AA come across a destroyed town. Unfortunately, the Germans have not fled.

Team A actually landed at 12:15 a.m. near St. Germain de-Varreville (about one mile north of their intended target) taking no enemy fire and no casualties, and established seven lights and three Eurekas by 12:25. These were turned off at 3:10 a.m., and the unit regrouped at a church in the town and joined about 150 men as they moved toward St. Martin de-Varreville. Upon finding the enemy position there completely destroyed and deserted, they returned to St. Germain and spent the rest of the day moving between the 502nd PIR command post and the division’s command post.

One of the Team C planes carrying the 506th was forced down into the English Channel under unknown circumstances, but everyone aboard was safely returned to England. The two remaining sticks jumped at their scheduled time, and were instantly attacked by the enemy. They set up two Eurekas and two lights within ten minutes, about a quarter mile south of the drop zone, but were unable to completely set up their lights. When the rest of the airborne force landed, the pathfinders were sent to the divisional command post. Three men were missing in action (MIA), and one had been killed before he could get out of his parachute harness.

Team E landed at 12:29 and assembled together, but were missing five men. The Eurekas were turned on at 3:50 a.m., along with the lights, though one set of lights was knocked out by a landing glider at 4:20. Everything was turned off at 4:45, and the team worked until 8 a.m. assisting personnel and removing injured men from damaged gliders.

Team D jumped into what Lillyman describes as “intense enemy (machine gun) and anti-aircraft fire”  at 12:47, which made assembling everyone “impossible.” One Eureka was established 1.25 miles west of the drop zone, but 23 of the 54 men were still listed as MIA and possible prisoners of war on July 1.

While the pathfinders of Allied Assault met unnecessary, and often stupid, deaths (their training must not have taught them how to take cover, avoid minefields, or stay away from explosives), the real pathfinders stopped at nothing to complete their mission. Whether their task seemed impossible or unexpectedly easy, they made sure to get their signals to the incoming planes, so that the men they led would have a path to follow.

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~ by John on May 7, 2012.

2 Responses to “Pathfinders: Paving The Way For Victory”

  1. Oh hey, I thought this was dead! I was just wondering what happened to it a few days ago. I love this blog, glad to know it’s still alive.

    • Haha, thanks! I think a lot of people thought even I was dead. No, I got caught up working three jobs and doing a bunch of other stuff. Then I came back here and noticed I was averaging 2,000 views per month, so that was a little bit of an incentive to start it up again. Plus, if I want to get a job as a writer, I should show that I’ve been writing… So now I’m retooling some things, getting organized, and if all goes well, this nebelwerfer post I’m working on for tomorrow will go up before Thursday!

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