From the Piper L-4 to the Fieseler Storch: The 'L-Birds'
In the middle of the countryside and on the beaches, the L-Birds fly slowly and low. This way, they escape enemy fighter aircraft and ground fire. Light and robust, the Piper L-4s and other L-Birds land on rough runways, fields or small roads.
Liaison aircraft, or “L-Birds”, provide rapid transport for important personnel and cargo. To or from combat zones. They also serve as an aerial observation platform and are used to adjust artillery fire, provide intelligence and strategic aerial photography. It is thanks to them that the concept of medical evacuation is developed. They brought first aid supplies and blood bags to the front and evacuated wounded soldiers. They brought radios and ammunition to isolated soldiers, carried maps and strategic messages between command posts. They also transport Generals and other senior officers.
The effectiveness of the Piper L-4s and other L-Birds was such that it greatly increased the potential of the ground forces and the morale of the troops. When the Nazi Command decided to award a bonus to its pilots when they shot down an Allied fighter, they awarded a double bonus to those who shot down one of these small, unarmed L-Birds made of tubes and canvas.
Discreet heroes of the D-Day landings, they were the first Allied powered aircraft on Normandy soil
The majority of the Piper L-4s that arrived in Normandy on D-Day were transported by boat, with the wings removed and placed against the fuselage, to be landed with the landing craft on the beaches.
The U.S. Navy brought them on board to help with the initial invasion. One of the first actions on 6 June, after securing the beach, was to prepare a makeshift runway so that the L-4s, as well as the Stinson L-5 Sentinels – which had arrived in the air – could take off and direct Navy and artillery fire during the inland breakthrough.
Quickly assembled, the first ones took off from rough runways, as below, from Grand Camp beach.
Behind their leader Lt. Dave Condon, in his L-5 Stinson, a patrol of 5 Piper L-4s, equipped with extra fuel tanks, improvised from oxygen tanks, crossed the Channel on the morning of 7th June. They landed at Ste Marie du Mont, near Utah Beach. In the chain of events of D-Day, this patrol of six L-Birds was the first landing of Allied aircraft on Normandy soil.
This first landing by an Allied aircraft on 7 June 1944 will be commemorated by a flyover by the L-Birds back to Normandy event.
Close to the local population
Because they landed on rough runways in fields, L-Birds pilots had direct contact with the local population from the start.
For many Normans, it was the first time they had seen an aircraft up close.
Often referred to by the name of the most frequently encountered Piper L-4 Grasshopper, or ‘Piper Cub’, they remained a strong memory in Normandy.
Some of the pilots are French. One of them took advantage of a few free days to take his American colleagues to visit Paris… in a Piper Cub! One can recognize the n° 59 in the photo above, taken in Normandy.
The L-Birds accompanied the advance of the Troops until the war. While the fighters and bombers were repatriated to the United States, these small planes were decommissioned on the spot, and used for the training of thousands of pilots after the war.