Lt. Marvin Litke, Pilot in the 71st Squadron of the 434th Troop Carrier Group

Marvin Litke signed up for the USAAF in January 1942 before he graduated from Roosevelt High in Chicago, IL. He was a young boy of eighteen at the time. Training was a dream coming through for him, flying single engine aircrafts, practicing dog fights. After he finished flight school he expected to be assigned at a fighter squadron but it turned that the Troop Carrier Squadrons had top priority at the time since the allied forces where building up for the invasion of Europe. In october 1943, right after Litke had celebrated his 20th birthday the 434th was send to England. There the training continued, Litke mentiones the following about these preparations:

We flew a heavy schedule: Lots of night formations, night paratroop and glider drops. Also, lots of forming up a stream at night. This called for groups, usually with 52 aircraft each, hitting a mark to the minute in order to fall into place in the stream. There would be about 400 planes when the stream was formed. One night in the process of flying one of these I thought I saw shadows flitting across the night sky. At that point someone really saw something and flicked on his running lights and landing lights. The group that was to fall in behind us arrived early and was flying at 90 degrees through the middle of our formation. Everyone took evasive action and there were aircraft all over the place for about two minutes and then the there was no one and I , and most everyone else, was alone. The gods of crazy people brought every one back safely. About 10 minutes after this incident, as I was trying to find my way back to our blacked out field I caught a flicker of light to my left and made an almost past the vertical right turn trying to dodge…a star.

Dropping the 101st Airborne division at night

As we entered the summer of '44 it became obvious that something big was not far off. On about June 3 we were suddenly briefed, placed behind guarded barbed wire and began to check the aircraft and figure loads. About one half of the 71st .was sent to Greenham Commons, a near by field to be tacked on to the 438th TC Gp. I have been unable to find any mention of this action in official records. Since I was one of the crews sent to GC and because I blew a tire on landing I remember it well. The only reasons that I can think of for augmenting the 438th was to drop a maximum number of paratroopers for the lead group, or to add some specialized unit to the drop. General Eisenhower drove unto the field just before the loading process started. He walked among the troopers and crews with a greeting or a question. I at last felt that we must be doing something important for him to show up.

After the troops were loaded a printed message from Eisenhower was read to the troopers on board. I read the message. Although long having disappeared from my papers, I always have remembered the starting sentence: "Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen, you are about to embark on a great crusade….. I felt and treated this task with deep feeling. Due to the British double summer time it was just dusk as the pathfinder aircraft took off. It had become dark as we took off at about 11:30 pm. We had been given "bennies" by the flight surgeon as we had been up all day and would be flying another mission the next day. These were to keep us extra alert for the period needed. In my case they kept me awake and hyper for three days before I "crashed" and fell asleep.

As I remember that night. The takeoff was routine. The aircraft were carrying max loads and were a bit more sluggish then usual. However, we had plenty of runway and there were no problems. As far as the 71st was concerned there were no aborts. Although we had done this a hundred times and where pretty relaxed the flight was one of the smoothest night formations that I had ever flown. The fact that this one was for real seemed to make every one extra sharp. Although we were the tail in element there was practically no stacking and, therefore, little or no prop wash to fight. The weather was clear with little wind and no natural conditions to worry about. As we passed the channel islands we could see flack coming up at something that was much closer then we were.

The moon was bright and I could see the coastline from a good distance out. This caused a big problem when we hit the shoreline. There was a huge thermal cumulus cloud bank that started just below our altitude and extended much higher then I could see. The fact that, at a distance, we could see under the cloud bank made the sudden entry into the clouds something that we could not prepare for. One moment we saw the lead aircraft against the background of the clouds and then he disappeared and we were in the soup. We had an SOP for taking a formation through a cloud formation but this was unexpected and unplanned for. The cloud was not very extensive and we broke through in about 45 seconds: But, the natural reflex to turn away from the flight direction to prevent mid air collision caused the formation to break up.

Although Troop Carrier was later accused of not having the experience to carry out such a mission the fact was that it was only through superior flying on the part of all of those involved that resulted in zero collisions and the dropping of all of the paratroopers, even if some were a great distance from their drop zones. When we broke out of the clouds I could see the moon reflected from a large area of water. This was further confusing as there was no such body of water on our briefing maps. It was later found that recon of the area was done during daylight hours and the water could not be seen through the thick growth that covered the area. Tragically, many troopers drowned when dropped into this area. The water was not very deep but the equipment that each trooper carried made it almost impossible to get to his feet after landing in the water. I am sure that I got beyond the flooded fields before giving the green light but I can never be sure exactly where I did drop.

The anti aircraft fire was pretty heavy after breaking into the clear. At night every tracer round looked like it was coming directly at you. We got back to the coast without being hit. I saw no other aircraft going back to Aldermaston. I did see large amounts of flack being fired from the channel islands at the serials coming in. We landed safely at our regular base and reported for briefing. The rest of the 434th Group was then in route with the groups first glider tow. We had not lost any aircraft from the element at Greenham Commons. The aircraft that I usually flew was equipped with a glider "snatch" system. This required a large housing for the winch just in front of the jump door so it could not carry troopers. For this reason I switched aircraft with another crew for the paratroop. This crew were shot down on the first glider toe mission And all killed, it seemed that all or most of the crew had bailed out and captured. It was reported later that they were killed by allied fighter bombers as they were marched off to a prison camp.

His second mission

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His C47

Mourmelon-le-Grand, France, 1945.


The runway

C-47 aircraft are parked on each side of an extended runway in preparation for a glider-tow. The gliders were towed to the center of the runway by a tug and the tow aircraft waved into place at the end of the towrope. Care was taken by the towing aircraft to gain speed without breaking the towline. The glider and tow plane maintained contact through an intercom line.


Marvin Litke

Left: Lt. Marvin Litke (l) and John Madden (r) at Aldermaston, October 1944.


after D-day

End of an evacuation mission to Preswick, Scotland shortly after D-Day. (l to r) Jae Rogers, copilot, ? Hlava, Navigator, and Marvin Litke, Pilot. Unable to name the evac nurses, but must pay them the highest of compliments for flying with the crazy under age pilots, and doing a great job.


Two nurses

Two of the great flight nurses with the 71st TCS mascot ‘Susie’ shortly after D-Day.

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