by Giles Milton
Who was James Eads? And why did he find himself in such danger in the early hours of June 6, 1944? Turns out he was spearheading a mission of such danger that neither he nor his comrades expected to come out of it alive.
Welcome to Season 3 of Unknown History: D-Day Stories. I’m your host, Giles Milton, and today we’re talking about one of the most brilliantly executed operations to take place on D-Day.
In the last episode of Unknown History, we heard about how a daring band of British troops were dropped behind enemy lines in the hours before the D-Day beach landings.
They were not alone in undertaking a mission of extraordinary danger. In the countryside that lay inland from Utah Beach, in the heart of rural Normandy, American paratroopers had been tasked with an operation of equal peril.
James Eads and his young comrades from the 82nd Airborne Division were on a mission to capture the town of Sainte-Mère-Église. It was an operation of such importance that failure was not an option. Sainte-Mère-Église had to be captured if the seaborne landing on Utah Beach—due to begin at the crack of dawn—was to be a success. Eads and his men had just a few hours of darkness to achieve their goal.
James Eads was a 21-year-old engineering student from Illinois, one of 13,000 American paratroopers to be dropped into Normandy shortly after midnight on June 6. For those tasked with the specific goal of capturing Sainte-Mère-Église, the jump had been terrifying.