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Ministers defend D-Day 80 parachute drop plans amid plane shortage fears

A re-enactment parachute jump of D-Day over Normandy, France, on June 6 2004 (Alamy/PA)
A re-enactment parachute jump of D-Day over Normandy, France, on June 6 2004 (Alamy/PA)

Defence ministers have insisted a parachute drop to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day will be sufficiently resourced, amid concerns over a plane shortage.

Shadow defence secretary John Healey highlighted weekend news reports suggesting the celebrations were “at risk from RAF cuts”, adding that the latest Ministry of Defence (MoD) figures show “nearly 50,000 full-time forces personnel have now been cut since 2010”.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps replied in the House of Commons: “When it comes to that story, that I too read over the weekend, it’s simply not the case.

“We will have, in fact, I think it’s 181 parachuters – exactly the same number as actually jumped in that location on D-Day.”

Conservative former defence minister Mark Francois said: “Despite spending billions of pounds on 22 A400Ms, we only have one available for D-Day 80 – and if it’s more, let’s hear it.”

Defence minister James Cartlidge replied: “The truth about the position in relation to D-Day, we will have two A400Ms available for June 5.

“The number of people that will be dropped is 181 and there’s a very good reason for that.

“It’s 181 because that is the number of paratroopers who at 16 minutes past midnight on D-Day itself landed and took the bridge that we named Pegasus.”

Mr Francois later raised a point of order to say Mr Cartlidge had “inadvertently, I’m sure, just misled the House of Commons”, noting: “Pegasus Bridge was captured in a glider-borne assault by the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry, not a parachute assault.

“I know this because for D-Day 70 I was there with the then prime minister, David Cameron, at 12.16am to commemorate the assault.

“I’m sure this was an error, because no-one will want to believe an MoD minister tried to change the history of D-Day because their aircraft didn’t work.”

D-Day: the landing areas
(PA Graphics)

It was reported over the weekend that hundreds of paratroopers had been expected to jump into Normandy to honour the actions of their predecessors in the Second World War, but plans have been scaled back due to a shortage of aircraft.

The Mail on Sunday reported that just one plane had been left for the Parachute Regiment to use.

Paratroopers from 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team will jump from an RAF A400M and the Red Devils Parachute Display Team will also jump into Normandy.

Resources have been stretched by Nato operations at a time when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has increased activity by the alliance and the RAF’s transport aircraft have also been involved in dropping aid into Gaza.