How the Army used bombs to get soldiers drunk after D-Day

Talk about going for a beer run. Well, this story surely takes the cake.

The first known landing of beer during the D-Day invasion was presumably 270 gallons of beer from Henty and Constable a week after the historic day in 1944. But it’s the way it was being transported that makes this story quite spectacular.

Some of the first attempts to bring beer over the Channel after D-Day used the expendable drop tanks, or jettison tanks carried by aircraft such as the Spitfire and Typhoon. Enterprising pilots in the RAF – and the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) – had been engaged in shipping beer into Northern France privately, using what the troops called “flying pubs.”

For some reason, beer had a low priority rating on available freight aircraft. So Spitfire bomb racks were adapted so that an 18-gallon barrel could be carried under each wing of the Spitfires which were being ferried across the Channel to Normandy on a daily basis.

On June 20, 1944, two weeks after D-Day, a special correspondent for Reuters in France wrote to newspapers in the UK that “All that was available in the newly liberated estaminets [small cafe in France that sells alcoholic drinks] a few miles inland from the beaches was cider, and it is pretty watery stuff. I saw a British private wistfully order a pint of mild and bitter: but the glass he sat down with contained the eternal cider.”

It would not be until July 12 when “real British beer” finally reached the battling troops in Normandy, and even then reports say, the quantity was very low.

There are some pretty amazing photos taken of Royal Air Force pilots writing the words “XXX Joy Juice” on a 45-gallon Typhoon/Hurricane ‘Torpedo’ jettison tank — used to transport the ale — under the center of the fighter.

There is also a photograph of a cask at the Black Eagle brewery with a sign on it declaring: ‘This Cask containing “Westerham” Bitter was flown to France “D” day, June 6th 1944, by the Royal Air Force’.

- The Westerham Brewery's 'D-Day cask' © Westerham Brewery
– The Westerham Brewery’s ‘D-Day cask’ © Westerham Brewery

According to newspaper reports, not only did Spitfires supply beer shortly after D-Day in jettison tanks “made from vulcanized paper fibre, but P-47 Thunderbolt fighters, presumably flown by the USAAF, had carried iced custard, or ice-cream, in their drop-tanks to troops on the Normandy beachheads.”

Spitfire Beer Bomb

Flying at 15, 000 feet ensured the beer was chilled when it arrived.

Beer Bomb

According to Martyn Cornell, beer historian and journalist, “A great thirst attacked British troops rushing emergency landing strips to completion in the dust of Normandy. Thinking of luckier comrades guzzling in country estaminets and town bistros, the runway builders began to grouse. They wanted beer. They got it.”

Pilots were happy to fly long distances to pick up beer. Thorsteinn “Tony” Jonsson, the only Icelander to join the RAF, recorded the following statement:  “Life in our camp was really quite pleasant and comfortable. Admittedly, we missed the luxury of being able to pop into a pub at the end of a day’s work for a pint of beer, and to mix with the ladies that were usually to be found there to add spice to our existence.”

This article was originally published on Popular Military on August 3, 2015

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  • Michele graduated with a B.S. in Telecommunication from the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. She has spent numerous years working in the news industry in south Florida, including many positions ranging from being a news writer at WSVN, the Fox affiliate in Miami to being an associate news producer at WPLG-TV, the ABC affiliate in Miami. Michele has also worked in Public Relations and Marketing.

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