Shooting the Beach

Posted on Fri, June 5 2009
31st Photo Reconnaissance Squadron, May 6, 1944

May 6th, 1944 - one month to the day before D-Day - German troops scatter for safety as Lt. Albert Lanker of the 31st Photo Reconnaissance Squadron flies fast and very low over the beach in "Outlaw", his F-5 Lightning (a variant of the Lockheed P-38 fighter). Lanker's job was to photograph the beach obstructions on the Normandy coast for the planners of the massive invasion; it was only his third mission. Jobs of this sort were called "dicing" missions, because the pilot, flying low (and unarmed) was dicing with death every time he flew. On this mission, Lanker was fired on, without effect, by one intrepid German with a rifle. He ended his run by clearing a cliff by a cool six feet, and flew home with his precious snapshots  - "... Won our presidential citation by this picture," a squadron member later wrote beneath the photo, mounted in its scrapbook. Prominent in the photograph are hochpfählen - "high stakes" tipped with explosive mines designed to destroy landing craft and amphibious vehicles. The photograph and scrapbook come from the Museum Archives Division's 31st Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron (Smith) Collection, 1943-1945. A painting of Lt. Lanker's flight appears in the book Combat in the Sky, by Philip Handleman. Allan Janus is a museum specialist in the Archives Division of the National Air and Space Museum.