Allied Glider troops - WWII
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Glider wings badge. USAA F Photo.
Gliders and Concentrated Troop Delivery
Gliders spearheaded nearly every major allied assault during WWII. They had an advantage of delivering more concentrated troops for the mission than by parachute where the men were more scattered. At least one general during WWII, insisted on large numbers of infantry being delivered by glider for this reason. Consequently, fifty percent of the troops from an airborne division came into battle by glider. 1
Although the glider could fly and land quite silently, inside the glider was a roar of noise. According to former war correspondent and glider passenger, Walter Cronkite, "[I thought it would be a] quiet and peaceful way to go. Actually it turned out to be anything but that".2
In comparison to paratroopers, US glider troops were not volunteers, were not issued jump boots, and were not given parachutes. They did not receive hazardous-duty pay or wear glider wings until July 1944. 3
Glider Troop Missions
American D-Day glider assault. Gliders can be see at the top of the photo as they are towed into place by C-47s and then cut loose for landing. Below are Horsas and CG-4As that have already landed. National Archives photo.
The glider troops usually spearheaded missions which used gliders. Many of Operation Overlord's most demanding, and crucial missions were carried out by glider operations. Glider infantry also ferried equipment which was too large to be dropped by parachute. The British were able to bring in 6 pounder and 17 pounder anti-tank guns along with jeeps to pull them, and explosives to destroy bridges that the Germans would have used to bring in reinforcements. The American CG-4 could carry 13 armed troops, the British Horsa, and Hamilcar could carry, respectively, 30 and 45 armed troops.
Glider missions were always extremely dangerous. If a glider survived the tow over, often through enemy fire, the glider troops also had to survive the landing. This occurred in enemy territory, where there were often obstacles in the landing area, or enemy fire. In addition, a rough landing could cause cargo contents to become hazardous projectiles. According to another former WWII war correspondent and glider passenger, Andy Rooney, "Landing was a planned accident and you hoped to survive the accident".2 After landing in enemy territory, the glider troops had to orient themselves, then find, assemble and set up their equipment.
American gliders in Operation Neptune (Normandy)
The airborne portion of the assault on Normandy was called Operation Neptune. American glider troops were able to bring in anti-tank guns, which assisted them in securing strategic positions behind Omaha and Utah Beaches.
The photo shows glider troops of the British 1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles, 6th Airlanding Brigade, 6th Airborne Division,
riding on a jeep and trailer on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Behind them is a crashed Horsa glider. Photo source: IWM Photo No.: B 5205.
The US flew 6 glider missions during the operation.
U.S. 101st Airborne Division undertook the Chicago Mission on D-Day which included a pre-dawn flight of 52 Waco CG-4A gliders carrying 148 soldiers and their equipment. Forty four of these gliders were devoted to carrying 16 guns and personnel of the 81st Airborne anti-tank battalion.4 They also flew Mission Keokuk on D-Day, which involved 32 Horsa gliders, carrying more soldiers, medical staff,
vehicles, guns, equipment and supplies.
The US 82nd airborne flew four separate glider operations during the assault on Normandy. Missions Detroit and Elmira took place on D-Day using 88 Waco CG-4A gliders along with76 Horsa gliders. Missions Galveston and Hackensack on D-Day + 1 involved 152 CG-4A gliders and 48 Horsas.
British gliders in Operation Neptune
British gliders were involved in Operation Tonga which commenced with 6 Horsa gliders arriving in Normandy shortly after midnight on June 6. This was followed with the launching of successive glider waves in the early hours of June 6, which included approximately 98 Horsas and 4 Hamilcar gliders.5 It was the first operation to include the giant Hamilcar.6 Operation Mallard launched an additional 2565 gliders which included Horsas and 30 Hamilcar gliders (some of which carried the Tetrach tank).
Strategic accomplishments of the British included destroying the Merville Gun Battery, and the capture of the River Orne and Canal bridges.
By the end of World War II, more than one-third of all allied glider troops had been killed or wounded.6 However, these glider riders played a vital role in airborne missions during WWII, accruing enormous accomplishments, having been involved in 8 operations, ranging from use in Sicily in 1943 to North Luzon, Philippines in June 1945.
1 Mr. John Duvall. U.S. Army Center of Military History. World War II CG-4A Glider Exhibit. Retrieved from: http://www.history.army.mil/html/museums/aom/0708-2007.html.
2Robert Child; Hal Holbrook; Inecom Entertainment. Silent wings : American glider pilots of WWII. Pittsburgh, PA: Inecom Entertainment, 2007.
3 Carl Smith. Airborne – World War II Paratroopers in Combat – editor Julie Guard, Publisher: Oxford, U.K. ; New York : Osprey Pub., 2007, p. 57.
4George E. Koskimaki. D-Day with the Screaming Eagles.Havertown, PA: Casemate, 1970, p. 259.
5 Sources vary as to the exact number of gliders involved.
6 Editors of Time, D-Day: 24 Hours that Saved the World. New York: Time Books, 2004, p.30.