After the First World War it was the Germans forbidden, by the treaty of Versailles, to operate or own (motorised) aircraft. And because of this, Germany researched the possibility to use gliders for military use. These experiments were noticed by Great Britain and the United States and they also saw the cheap way to transport huge amounts of troops and supplies behind enemy lines.

The General Aircraft Hotspur

The first real British transport glider was built by General Aircraft Ltd at Feltham. It made it's first success full flight on 5 November 1940. The first production Hotspur arrives for operational use at Ringway on 6 February 1941. There was room for eight full battle dressed men or 1000 kg in cargo. The Hotspur saw no action, but was used as a training glider.

Technical data: General Aircraft Hotspur

Span: 14 m, Length: 12 m,
Full take-off weight: 1650 kg.
Total built: 1015

Above an experimental Hortspur is shown. Two fuselages were conected, so a double weightof cargo could be flown over in one go. But it was not produced in large numbers, and saw never action.

The General Aircraft GAL49 'Hamilcar'

Specification X.27/40 asked for a glider who could carry a light tank. This idea, to transport heavy armour through the air, was not new. As early as 1935, the Russians transported a T-37 tank on a pallet under a TB-3 bomber. The contract to built the new transport glider goes to General Aircraft Ltd. With the designation GAL49 it became soon known as the 'Hamilcar', after the Carthagian general and father of Hannibal. On 27 March 1942 it made it's first flight.

There was space for 40 men in the back of the glider, but this was seldom used as such. The primary cargo was the light Tetrarch tank. Because of the heavy weight, the Halifax Mk III is chosen as its towplane. During D-Day some 70 Hamilcars were used. There was also a version that was motorised, called the Mk X. It had two Bristol Mercury 31 engines and there were only 20 built. The Mk X never saw any action.

Technical data: General Aircraft Hamilcar

Crew: 2,
Span: 33.5 m,
Length 20.3 m,
Height 6.17 m
Take-off weight: 16.329 kg,
Cargo: 7000 kg
Total built: 412

A Hamilcar Mk X with two Bristol Mercury engines

De Airspeed A.S.51 & A.S.58 Horsa

An Armstrong Whitley is ready for take off, to tow a Horsa into the sky

The Airspeed A.S.51 'Horsa' became the most built frontline transport glider for the British. De A.S.51 was developed during 1940 under Specification X.26/40. Seven prototypes were built, (DG597, DG603, DG609, DK346, DK349, DK353 and DK358), five by Airspeed and two by Fairey. The two by Fairey were used for test flights. The other five were used by the British army for testing in loading and unloading of equipment.

A towingcable of a Horsa is being checked

On 12 September 1941 the first flight was made with a Horsa behind a Whitley bomber from Fairey’s Great West Aerodrome. After the initial test the first Horsa’s were deliverd tot the RAF. RAF Transport Command was responsible for towing, and the pilots were members of the British Army Glider Regiment, and if this was needed, there were also pilots from the RAF at hand. It was the purpose to move the 1st en 6th Airborne Division with the gliders. But the first military action with the A.S.51 is when 2 Horsa's are being deployed in a commando raid against the 'Heavy Water Plant' near Rjukan, Two Halifax bombers with Horsa's attached, with inside a group of volunteers of the Royal Engineers, departed on 19 November 1942 from a Scottish aerodrome. Unfortunately, both gliders and one Halifax were lost. From the first Horsa nine men, from the seventeen, survive the crash. These survivors were shot or killed with poison by the Germans. From the other Horsa, three are killed on impact and the others are murdered by an order from Hitler himself.

The basic outlay of the Horsa cockpit

The A.S.51 (Horsa I) was the original troopglider, the A.S.58 (Horsa II) had a nose that could swing, so a Jeep, field gun or other rolling material could be stored inside the Horsa. This type of Horsa had also a double nose wheel. The landinggear was not retractable, but the main gear under the wings could be, if needed, jettisoned. The glider would then land on a skid under the fuselage. If the speed during landing was too high, a parachute could be used as an airbrake (which only could be used for a fraction of period, and had to be jettisoned after deployment.

The next operation is on 10 July 1943, when Horsa's take part in the airborne operations to invade Sicily. A total of 140 gliders are deployed that day. 27 A.S.51's are among the Waco Hadrians.

Not only the Halifax was used as a tow plane, but also the Short Stirling.

Airspeed A.S.51 Horsa Mk I

Technical data: A.S.51, Horsa Mk I

Crew: 2 & 20 à 25 troopers,
Wingspan: 26.8 m,
Length: 20.4 m,
Heigth: 5.9 m

Empty weight: 3797 kg,
Take-off weight: 7031 kg,
Gliding speed: 161 km/h

Een A.S.58, Horsa Mk II (with moveable nose)

Technical data : A.S.58, Horsa Mk II (with moveable nose)

Crew: 2 & 20 à 25 troopers, Wingspan: 26.8 m, Length: 20.7 m, Height: 6.2 m

Empty weight: 3797 kg, Take-off weight 7144 kg, > Gliding Speed: 161 km per uur

Total built:: 3979 (2418 Mk I's and 1561 Mk II's)
470 Mk I and 225 Mk II by Airspeed (plus 7 prototypes)
300 Mk I and 65 Mk II by Austin Motor Company
1641 Mk I and 1271 Mk II by sub-contractors from the furnisher industry
(most from the furnish factory Harris Lebus).
The numbers above are open for debate,
because there are also numbers published with a total of 3799 built.

6 JUNE, 1944, D-DAY

World famous became the Horsa when it was used in the motion picture 'The Longest Day' when a couple lands besides the bridge across the Caen canal. In the movie it looks all very smooth, but it was very dramatic in real time. The first Horsa had to deploy his chute very short because of the high speed. Major John Howard, commander of D Company in the first glider, who had six Horsa’s in his outfit to attack two bridges (three for the Caen canal bridge and three for the Orne bridge), had asked the pilot of his Horsa to put it as close to the bridge across the Caen canal as possible. The pilot did a great job in the dark, by smashing it through the barbwire, and landed just meters from the bridge.

The Horsas near Pegasus brug (just visible behind the trees)

The second glider had to take evasive action because number three cam in too fast. Number three landed so hard, that the impact made the Horsa turn a quarter, and the nose was destroyed, and one of the pilots was drowned. Number two landed behind number three, a smooth landing by using his parachute as a break. The bridge across the Caen canal was secured in minutes.
The other three Horsa’s for the Orne bridge landed wide spread, but these commando’s had no trouble to secure their objective. The bridge across the Caen canal was later named 'Pegasus' after the insignia of the British 6th Airborne Division, and the one across the Orne, was named; Horsa.

American Horsa'sready for departure towards Normandy

After three initial actions (Pegasus, Orne and Merville Battery), 68 Horsa’s arrived around 03.30 hours , on June 6, with reinforcements of the 6th Airborne Division. Also 4 Hamilcars came down during this tow. Because of a crosswind, only 47 Horsa's and 2 Hamilcars reach their designated 'landingzone' (LZ), the others are spread in the area around the rivers Orne and Dives. Later that day another 250 gliders, mostly Horsa's, swooped in and brought an additional 7.500 men into the British sector.

A Horsa has brought her precious cargo to Normandy

During the American Mission Keokuk 32 landed in the evening of June 6 in Normandy. At that same moment Mission Elmira landed with 140 Horsa’s (beside 36 Waco’s, see below). The next day, during Mission Galveston 20 Horsa’s and 84 Waco’s landed, and Mission Hackensack brought another 30 Horsa's, and 70 Waco’s to the Cotentin.

Many Horsa's were destroyed during the landing

The Waco CG-4A (Hadrian)

The work horse under the gliders used by the United States in the Second World War, was the Waco CG-4A (C = Combat, G = Glider, 4A = Model). The Waco Aircraft Company in Troy, Ohio build a craft with a wooden floor, a welded steel frame covered with fabric. A hinged cockpit, that swung upwards, gave way to 13 men or a Jeep with a 75mm cannon.

It was far from a beauty, but the glider was used for one mission only and after landing it was destroyed or abandoned. Test flights were started in 1942. Fifteen company's took on the production of the CG-4A. When the CG-4A arrived in Great Britain it wa given the nickname 'Hadrian'.

The first action with the CG-4A comes during Operation 'Husky', the invasion of Sicily on July 10, 1943. Unknown to the fact that Americans were using gliders during this operation, Allied gunners on ships were unsure what went overhead, and started shooting on these ‘things’. And so a number was shot down, killing the men onboard. Not only friendly fire took their toll, also bad weather and the inexperienced crews brought casualties.

Paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division during a training in a Waco

New built Waco’s arrived in England in crates, and were put together by unschooled Brits. This was lack of schooled personal mend that there were not enough Waco’s ready for D-Day on June 6, 1944. IX Air Force jumped in, and by April 1944 910 were put together.

The American 82nd- and 101st Airborne Divisions used plenty of Waco gliders. During Mission Chicago some 155 paratroopers from the 101st Airborne came in 52 Waco’s. Because of the dark, it was around 04.00 hours, many of them crash in the earth walls and in the so-called 'Rommel-asparagus' (long poles in the fields, especially against gliders). At the LZ 'E', near Vierville and St-Marie-du-Monde crashed the glider with Brigadier-General Donald F. Pratt on board. He becomes the first high officer to be killed on D-Day. With Mission Detroit 53 Waco's, with 220 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division on board, were flown in. In the evening of D-Day D-Day Mission Elmira brought another 36 Waco’s with reinforcements. On D-Day+1 during Mission Galveston (84 Waco’s) and Hackensack (70 Waco’s) more reinforcements were flown in (a total of 295 Waco’s were used during the invasion in Normandy).

With confidence and relaxed German soldiers walk by a Waco

Despite that the gliders used, during D-Day, were made out of canvas and triplex, are the losses (just) acceptable taking in account all the dangers they encountered during their flight in. Some were lost over the Channel, were shot at, crashed in to trees or poles in fields. Just seven were lost and missing, and 165 were damaged during the first days of deployment during D-Day. Heavy landings took their toll. Casualties under American troopers in Horsa's were 340, and in Waco's 123 men. Glider crews suffered 68 victims. But despite these losses, 3937 troopers came unharmed on the ground in glider, and could start their fight with the German occupation.

Because of the significant losses with the gliders, the decision was made to bring the last 101st Airborne troopers in landingcraft across the Channel.

Technical data: Waco CG-4A 'Hadrian'

Crew: 2,
Wingspan: 25 m,
Length 14 m,
Take-off weight: 3400 kg,
Total build: 13.000

A Jeep is pushed into a Waco

September 17, 1944, MARKET GARDEN

During D-Day their were just enough Waco gliders, but in September, just three months later, IX Troop Carrier Command could muster 2160 Waco’s. On 17 September 1944, 588 Horsa's, 58 Hamilcars with bren-/universalcarriers and Morris C8 trucks and 4 CG-4A Hadrians took off to bring the 1st Airborne Division near Arnhem. Most of the American 82nd and 101st Airborne used the Waco.

Horsa's stuck in the Dutch clay

It was a lost battle from the start. After four days against a tough German resistant the Allies realised that all their efforts were going awash. Of the Glider Pilot Regiment, 23 officers and 124 NCO's got killed, 31 officers and 438 NCO's were made prisoner by the Germans. This group of men was responsible for bringing in, with 660 gliders, 4500 men, 95 heavy guns and 544 jeeps or other heavy equipment. Without any doubt an enormous achievement.

Between October 1944 and January 1945, some gliders were rescued by C-47's in a spectacular manner. These saved gliders were used again for crossing the Rhine river in March 1945.

For, how they did it?:

(Do not forget, after the movie,
to use the back-button to return)>

Slingsby Hengist

The Slingsby Hengist was developed in case the Horsa would turn out to be a failure. When 18 Hengist were build, the production was stopped.

March 24, 1945, Operation VARSITY

The last big airborne operation, the crossing of the Rhine, was on 24 March, 1945. Not only the biggest airborne operation, also the most succesfull. A total of 1572 transport planes, 1326 gliders and 899 escort fighters took part in this single action. To defend the eastern sector some 2153 fighter planes were active. The British 6th and the American 17th Airborne Division were the divisions that made a jump that day or were brought in by gliders. The 13th was kept in reserve, but they were not needed, the German forces were completely overrun by the force of the Allied troops.