Having grown up watching the likes of the Longest Day and HBO’s TV Mini-Series Band of Brothers, during some recent research about D-Day and the Normandy Campaign of 1944 for the 75th Anniversary, I had been fascinated to discover that the ‘Crickets’ used by U.S. paratroopers on D-Day were in fact produced by a company based near myself in Birmingham.
J Hudson & Co, a world-renowned specialist producing whistles in England since 1870 were also utilised by the British Government for the war effort during both World Wars. Keen to learn more about all this, I recently decided to give the team a ring and spoke with Ben McFarlane about the ACME No. 470 Clicker.
In the 1940s during the Second World War the British Government’s War Department requisitioned J Hudson & Co so that it was the company’s sole customer and it was producing whistles etc. solely for the British War Effort. Very shortly before D-Day during the final stages of the build-up to Operation Overlord, a rush order for 7000 units of the ACME No. 470 Clicker was placed with J Hudson & Co to produce this part for the US Army. Such was the urgency and top secret nature of this order, it was not to be shipped but all collected by a special courier in 1 hit.
This ingenious little device was intended to be issued to the initial waves of US Paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division as a communication and recognition device to distinguish between friend and foe. On the 6th June 1944 the American Paratroopers would be dropping behind enemy lines into an unknown country surrounded, outnumbered and outgunned in the dark of night during the early hours of the morning. Why these Clickers were never issued to their British Airborne counterparts (the British 6th Airborne Division) landing in the East at the same time to secure the Allied left flank, I do not know, but would be fascinated to discover more about this. I can only imagine that it may have been down to lack of time and resources perhaps.
These ACME No. 470 Clicker which were used on D-Day were only ever manufactured in Birmingham during the Second World War. They were only ever intended for use in this one operation as secrecy and the element of surprise of this paratrooper communications / recognition device would invariably be lost once in contact with enemy forces.
In fact these products were only really intended to be used for the first 24 hours following the start of Operation Overlord as they would invariably fall into German hands through capture, or the Germans would quickly cotton on to how they worked. And in fact as famously shown in a scene in the film the ‘The Longest Day,’ the Germans quickly realised that they could replicate this noise through the bolt action on their Mauser Rifles.
Interestingly due to the reality of war and its constraint on resources as well as the urgency of this order, this original 7000 Clickers were in fact made from a mixture of different metals. It was a case of producing these parts as quickly as possible in whatever material they could get their hands on. Most are made primarily of Brass, but there are also same made of Tin as well.
Sadly due to the chaotically rushed and highly secretive nature of proceeding during this period the original purchase order for the US Airborne Forces which was placed through the British War Department for these 7000 crickets has currently been hidden in the shrouds of history. Ben and the team are actively trying to liaise with both the Governments to see if they can uncover this original document.
I thought that the Clicker (or ‘Cricket’ as it was nicknamed due to the noise it made) had been designed and created purely for the war effort, in fact the planners of D-Day had utilised a part that was already in existence. This Clicker had originally had an important role to play in the age of Swing and the Big Bands, for it had been used for counting in these bands and orchestras.
The ones that J Hudson produces today are still made on the same machines, using the same techniques, processes, original tooling and presses that those which were produced back in 1944 for D-Day went through. The only differences now is that they are all produced in the same type of material (spring steel) and also have a small letter ‘R’ inscribed on them so you can clearly see that they are reproductions and not part of the original 1944 D-Day batch.
The Lost Clickers of D-Day – Join the Search!
ACME Whistles as part of its way of commemorating / marking the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Normandy Landings is currently running a campaign in partnership with the Royal British Legion to try and locate some of the original 7000 clickers that they manufactured and which were used during this operation.
Discover more about this and how you can help today: www.acmewhistles.co.uk/lost-clickers-of-dday
I hope you found this post of interest about the US Airborne D-Day Crickets produced by J Hudson & Co.
You can find out more about the ACME No. 470 Clickers as well as read more interesting posts about the Company’s contributions to British War Efforts through the ages on their Website or by following them on Instagram.
Photo Credits: All Photos are either produced and copyright of WW2 Nation, or have kindly been provided by J Hudson & Co. for use here.