The landings which took place on the coast of Normandy on June 6, 1944, remain one of the most notable episodes of bravery throughout military history. Prior to the deployment on the beach, however, 13,000 American troops from the 82nd and 101st Airborne landed in the dark behind enemy lines to secure targets which would prevent a heavy German counter attack.[i]
The commander of the 101st, Major General Maxwell Taylor, realized that in the confusing pre-dawn hours of the attack, troops would need a way to signal to others that they were friendly without giving their position away to the Germans. To solve this problem he turned to a clicker device known as a “cricket,” and issued them for the 101st to use during the mission.[ii] Taylor explained:
It rose out of my experiences earlier in the Mediterranean and from our Eagle exercise in England. There was so much dispersion in Sicily that I realized we needed some method of identification behind enemy lines. Eagle convinced me more than ever. We needed a little noisemaker a man could carry in his hand. The cricket seemed just right.[iii]
In operation, the lower tab made a “click” sound when depressed and another upon release. Thus the call would result in a “click-click” sound. The response, signaling that the recipient was friendly, involved pressing the cricket twice, producing a “click-click, click-click.” General Taylor himself, who jumped with the troops, used the cricket to locate his soldiers among the dark French hedgerows. [iv]
General James Gavin, commander of the the 82nd, decided against using the device and instead used only a vocal password-answer system in which a soldier would call out “Flash” and expect the reply “Thunder.” When asked about his decision to not issue the crickets to his troops, Gavin remarked:
There was a lot of gadgetry around, and a lot of it didn’t make much sense. In Normandy, the 82nd used only an oral password. It’s always more important to carry more ammunition … to stay alive … to fight … to get there. I even cut the fringes off the many maps I carried so there’d be more room for ammunition.[v]
Members from the 82nd did still acquire various styles of clickers to be used, though these were not issued by Gavin. Private Don Lassen who served in the 82nd Airborne’s 505th recalls using one during his drop on D-Day:
When I landed at about 2 am, it was darker than pitch. I was totally alone in a field, and tracers were going all around me. I couldn’t find anyone, so I went to get closer because I wanted to be sure that whoever it was would hear my click. As the sound got closer and closer I finally clicked. Sure enough, the person approaching me, someone from the 101st as it turned out, clicked his cricket and we both were OK.[vi]
Another member of the 82nd was Walter Barbour, who acquired and kept several cricket-style clickers he used during the war. Pictured below is Mr. Barbour during the war and one of those crickets which he carried.
[i] John M. Taylor, “World War II: 101st Airborne Division Participate in Operation Overlord,” Military History Quarterly (2006) (at http://www.historynet.com/world-war-ii-101st-airborne-division-participate-in-operation-overlord.htm).
[ii] Gerald Astor, June 6, 1944: The Voices of D-Day (New York: Dell Publishing, 2002), 154.
[iv] Cornelius Ryan, The Longest Day: June 6, 1944 (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1987), 141.
[v] Astor, June 6, 1944, 155.
[vi] Richard A. Berantly, “The Airborne Infantry “Cricket”: Dime Store Toy Becomes D-Day Legend,” Warfare History Network (December 31, 2015) (at http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/the-airborne-infantry-cricket-dime-store-toy-becomes-d-day-legend/).