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General Aircraft Hamilcar glider - WWII

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Hamilcar: largest of the Allied gliders

Hamilcar glider

Hamilcar glider. Royal Air Force photo, Imperial War Museum, Collection No.: 4700-16; Reference Number: CH 18849.

The British General Aircraft Hamilcar Glider was the largest of the Allied gliders of World War II, being able to carry tanks, vehicles, large guns, and ammunition for use by the paratroopers.

Over 412 of these giant gliders were built, with approximately seventy being used during the invasion of Normandy1. The Hamilcar was a high-wing monoplane with its nose hinged on the right side to facilitate loading and unloading. Its wings and fuselage were made of wood and it was equipped with a bullet-proof windshield and had telephone communication with its tow plane and crews of vehicles below2. Its wing span and length were 110 feet and 69 feet respectively and weighed fifteen tons when loaded.

Photo of M22 Locust tank exiting through nose of Hamilcar glider.

UK government photo shows M22 Locust tank exiting through nose of Hamilcar glider.

Hamilcar and cargo

The large size of the Hamilcar enable it to carry a considerable load, including a small tank; the British Tetrarch Mark VI tank was used for Normandy, and was later replaced by the American built American M22 Locust which was slightly smaller. The Hamilcar could also carry a combination of loads such as, two Bren-gun universal carriers, two scout cars, 17pdr anti-tank gun with tractor, 25 pound gun with tractor, or 40-45 men with equipment. Vehicles inside the Hamilcar started their engines before the glider landed and were ready to drive out the nose once on the ground.

Aerial view of Hamilcar glider showing nose opening to the right.

Aerial view of Hamilcar glider with D-Day stripe. Photo source: IWM Collection, Number MH 206.

Tow craft for the Hamilcar glider

This large and heavy glider needed be towed by a powerful four engine aircraft, with the Halifax bomber being used as the main tow plane, however, the Stirling and Lancaster bombers were occasionally used as tugs for the Hamilcar. The crew of the Hamilcar included two pilots in tandem.

Some Hamilcar gliders were equipped with Rebecca’ navigational receivers, which could detect signals from a Eureka radio beacon from which the glider crews got their range and bearing. The beacons were placed by pathfinder paratroopers to mark landing and drop zones3.

The size of the Hamilcar allowed it to successfully carry heavy armor and other large loads to supply the paratroops, however, its size also made it a large target and the enemy was quick to fire upon it, realizing the load it carried. The Hamilcar glider was used in Normandy, and for Operation Market-Garden in Holland, and Operation Varsity in the Rhine River crossing.


2 James E. Mrazek, Fighting Gliders of World War II. New York: St. Martin's Press, Inc., 1977, p. 63.

3Keith Flint, Airborne Armour – Tetrarch, Locust, Hamilcar and the 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment 1938-50, West Midlands England: Helion & Company Ltd. 2004, p.46.