Airborne Combat: The Glider War/Fighting Gliders of WWII

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Others, like MacRae, had a civilian pilot license but were passed over for powered flight training. The possibility of officer's pay and the chance to fly attracted a particular breed of risk-tolerant trainees, and the glider pilots' maverick reputation quickly spread. James Gavin, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, lamented the pilots' demeanor. But he also recognized the audacity of landing a glider in combat. It gives a man religion," he said.


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Germany was well prepared for a glider invasion of Normandy. Beachheads were guarded by anti-aircraft guns. For MacRae, his tow plane lost an engine and threatened to cut the troop-laden glider loose over the English Channel. After tense negotiations, the C pilot agreed to wait until land was in sight. MacRae landed safely, but about 25 miles shy of the intended landing zone. His troops went off to find a fighting unit, and he eventually found his way back to his base in England. Every glider pilot had at least one story of that long trip back to safety. After delivering his troops 90 miles behind enemy lines in the famous "A Bridge Too Far" invasion of The Netherlands, MacRae hit the road through no-man's land with limited rations and no plan.

A ramshackle bicycle eased his journey initially, but with his rations gone and his strength ebbing, he readily traded it to a passing soldier for extra K-rations. Refortified, he happily hiked another 35 miles to Brussels. The Waco CG-4A glider was the first and last of its kind. Mothballed at war's end, fewer than a dozen restored gliders exist today.

The ranks of the pilots are thinning too. MacRae, who died at age 92 as this article was in preparation, was one of only a few hundred living pilots.


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  • Glider pilots who participated in the Normandy landings were awarded the Air Medal for their role in the Allies' early successes on D-Day. Their role in Operation Market Garden was lauded, even though it was overshadowed by the mission's overall failure to take the key bridge at Arnhem. The Junkers Ju Mammut "Mammoth" was the largest such glider ever built, but it was never used operationally. Not all military gliders were planned for transport.

    Inside the Flying Coffins

    The British glider development started in mid, prompted by the assault on Eben Emael. Among the types developed were the 28 trooper Airspeed Horsa and the 7-ton capacity General Aircraft Hamilcar cargo glider. The Hamilcar could carry vehicles, anti-tank guns and light tanks into action.

    The General Aircraft Hotspur — originally planned as a compact assault glider carrying a small number of troops — was used for training the British Army pilots who formed the Glider Pilot Regiment. The Slingsby Hengist was a backup design which was not required when the similar capacity American-built Waco CG-4 given the British service name "Hadrian" became available in large numbers through lend-lease. The most famous British actions using gliders were the unsuccessful Operation Freshman against a German heavy water plant in Norway in , the taking of the Pegasus Bridge in a coup-de-main operation Operation Deadstick at the very start of the invasion of Normandy , Operation Dragoon the invasion of southern France , Operation Market Garden the landing at Arnhem Bridge to try and seize a bridgehead over the lower Rhine and Operation Varsity Crossing of the Rhine.

    Out of the 2, gliders dispatched for Operation Market Garden, 2, were effective in delivering men and equipment to their designated landing zones. No troop-carrying gliders have been in British service since This directive was set into motion through Classified Technical Instructions CTI on 24 February , and CTI on 4 March , which authorized the procurement of 2-, 8-, and place gliders and equipment. Louis Aircraft Corp. Only Waco Aircraft Company was able to deliver the experimental glider prototypes that satisfied the requirements of Materiel Command, the eight-seat Waco CG-3 modified to become a production nine-seat glider and the fifteen-seat Waco CG In October , Lewin B.

    The shock of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December prompted the United States to set the number of glider pilots needed at 1, to fly eight-seat gliders and fifteen-seat gliders.

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    The number of pilots required was increased to 6, by June By the end of the war, the United States had built 14, gliders of all types and had trained over 6, glider pilots. The designs of the Waco Aircraft Company were also produced by a wide variety of manufacturers including Ford Motor Company and Cessna Aircraft Company as well as furniture, piano and coffin manufacturers.

    In April , United States Navy officer Marc Mitscher proposed that the Navy develop amphibious gliders with flying-boat hulls with a goal of deploying an amphibious glider force capable of delivering an entire United States Marine Corps brigade of men to a hostile beachhead, the gliders to be towed by Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina amphibian aircraft.

    The Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics developed specifications for two types of amphibious glider, a single-hulled type which could carry 12 passengers and a twin-hulled type that could carry 24 passengers. Two companies, the Allied Aviation Corporation and the Bristol Aeronautical Corporation , received contracts to produce gliders, and plans called for the procurement of 12, more amphibious gliders if the concept proved successful.

    The two prototypes made their first flights in early , but by the time they did the Navy and Marine Corps already had concluded that the use of gliders to deliver Marines to beachheads was impractical. No further examples of the two glider types were built, and the Navy officially terminated the amphibious glider program on 27 September Testing of the two prototypes continued until early December , apparently in connection with the development of a glider bomb.

    Neither of these initiatives resulted in operational use of gliders by the U. Navy or Marine Corps. The Soviet Union built the world's first military gliders starting in , including the seat Grokhovski G63, though no glider was built in quantity until World War II.

    During the war, there were only two light gliders built in series: Antonov A-7 and Gribovski G — about 1, altogether. God Bless US Soldiers! These men go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure the freedom of our country. I salute you Mr. The majority of your generation came off the farms and from the not so well off.

    My dad Cego Spencer and his brother William were two of nine children raised by only their mom in a sharecropper farm in rural Alabama.

    WW2 Second World War Military Gliders Documentary

    Thank you Sir, thank God for keeping you around to con to influence generations thus far. How America keeps finding men like these is amazing. Every time the call is sounded brave men step up. Even Vietnam with its issues had so many extraordinarily brave men to do a job and they were good at it.

    How D-Day Was Fought From The Air | Imperial War Museums

    Iraq and Afghanistan calls again and the brave step up. That will be a grave mistake. Treasure and be proud of these brave men. Well, no one was signing up, so the standards got lowered, and then lowered, until it became anyone who finished high school and was basically crazy enough to want to fly a giant balsa wood coffin!

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    I always tell my friends that my dad being Irish was the deciding factor and that is why I would probably have done it to!! My great uncle flew a glider and was shot down behind enemy lines and lived in a cave for two weeks before he was rescued. Your comment detracts from the essence of this story. It is about the men NOT the equipment.

    The Flying Coffins of World War II

    Your words are an excellent example of the overwhelming negativity of our times. You took the effort and time to sharpshoot the technical aspects of the article, and consciously omit anything positive. You might want to back off the firing line and recalibrate. God Bless and keep you always Sir, and all who served with you. You all provided exemplary service to a world desperately in need of the greatest prayer and sacrifice that you provided.

    Once again the World is faced with enormous dilemmas which are far worse than any of us ever contemplated at this time. Prayer and sacrifice will again determine the outcome. Hopefully we are up to the task. Richard V. Thank you very much for the story here! I was with the Airborne and can see the realistic value and the memory of great Americans in action.

    follow url Thank you so much. Indeed a hero, to whom we all should be grateful for the freedom we enjoy today.

    2. The D-Day invasion took years of planning.

    Nick Zynko,. Hero- Ordinary men doing extraordinary tasks! We lost many brave men and I am humbled to hear thier stories.