Seeing the silhouette of the Rodney below signals that it’s time to drop out of formation.
Orders are orders.
“Tally Ho Boys,” I call out, informing Haver, Hamilton, and Wellmore our special mission is about to begin.
“God Speed!” Flight Captain Finney replies over the wireless as he leads the rest of the squadron to hunt for German targets.
My sub-flight of four Spitfire MK IXbs breaks off from the rest of the group out of Tangmere, descending from 13,000 to 5,000 to greet the devastating fire of the Rodney, and follow her targeting of German positions toward the French city of Caen.
Massive streaks of flame erupt from the great guns of the battle-wagon as we descend.
“Not too close boys,” I order, wanting to keep as much distance from my little flight and the projectiles of that belching behemoth.
I hope those erks appreciate this!
Aligning my plane in with the projecting flames of the Rodney’s massive guns, I lead my little flight toward airfield B4, at Bény-Sur-Mer, Normandy.
Seven days since D-Day, but instead of shooting up Germans, I’m on this run.
We quickly cross over bustling Juno beach, now firmly in Canadian hands. Below us we can see the directed bedlam of swarming men and equipment unloading and moving inland to support the assault on Caen.
“Should be right ahead of us,” I declare, not knowing exactly where B4 is.
Just as I finish my line a clearing appears over a row of dark green trees. Within the clearing I can make out markers identifying a landing strip, but no one is visible.
This must be it!
“Wheels down,” I order as I look for the best approach.
Why is there no one to great us?
Leading my flight in, I land on the smooth mesh runway without seeing a soul.
Where could they be? This is a hell of a greeting!
“Keep sharp eyes, I don’t like this.”
“Right-O!” Haver replies.
What do we do now?
We can’t just sit here and wait for someone to show up.
What’s with the communications? Someone should be here to unload our tanks.
Finally I see someone peering out at us from behind a tree.
Why’s he hiding? Get out here!
I wave frantically to get him to the aircraft.
This army type leaves his position bounding for my plane. He climbs onto my wing yelling “What the hell are you doing here?”
How does he not know?
“We’re flying in Beer, that’s what we’re doing here. Now if your men want any, you would be well advised to help unload these drop-tanks.”
He simply looks at me for a moment, clearly taken by surprise.
"Look,” he says while pointing to a building at the end of the field. “Can you see that church steeple at the far end of the strip? Well it's loaded with German snipers and we've been all day trying to clear them out, so you better drop your tanks and bugger off before it's too late.”
Well, what a way to say Thank You.
“Drop tanks boys, we’re done here.” I order over the wireless as I pull the lever to drop my external fuel tanks.
The erk dashes back to his tree as I rev up my engine to take off.
Not the most welcoming place, but at least they’ll have cold beer to drink.
On June 13, 1944, D-Day plus seven, the first known landing of beer took place within the Normandy beachhead as Canadian Spitfire fighters equipped with specially scrubbed 270 gallon drop tanks left several hundred gallons of ale donated by Henty and Constable for the infantry (erks). This unconventional, and unofficial mission was in response to a Reuters article published two days earlier declaring that the Germans were poisoning the water and the fighting men in Normandy only had mild cider to drink. Led by Flight Lieutenant Lloyd Berryman of 412 Squadron, 126 Wing, Second Tactical Air Force, Royal Canadian Air Force, this little mission was the first of many beer runs to supply the fighting men in Normandy with a little comfort from home. These missions were known as “Flying Pubs.”
Most of the flights in cruised at over 15,000 feet first, to cool the beer, before descending toward the runways. According to newspaper reports the first flights were followed by others from the United States Army Air Corps and other air units supporting the battle in Normandy. The men on the ground appreciated these special missions, drinking every drop, and looking fowl at any pilot whose landing damaged the tanks in any way. Often, after completing their delivery, the fighters would continue to strafe a freight train or bomb a building or two.
Eventually, the practice became officially unofficial, as propaganda pictures of beer toting planes started popping up alongside articles discussing how the boys fighting in France were well cared for by their brothers in arms. In order to gain official sanction, the special containers holding the beer were designated “Modification XXX Depth Charges” on ordinance sheets. Air units serving in France started assigning planes special liaison missions to England in order to conduct beer runs for their unit. This practice continued until November, when the British government ruled that supplies of beer for troops overseas should equal five per cent of total national production. Such an order put the “Flying Pubs” out of business as beer was delivered by the forces catering services. Such deliveries were augmented by beer locally supplied from liberated breweries in France.