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Airspeed Horsa glider

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The British Horsa WWII military glider

British Airspeed Horsa Glider

The most widely used British glider was the high-wing Airspeed Horsa which first flew in 1941. Highly successful, over 3700 of these capable gliders were built. Unloading was accomplished through the large nose which was hinged in the Mark II, or through the the tail, which could be detached by explosives or disconnected using quick-release nuts in the Mark II. It also had a side passenger door. Royal Air Force photo to the right shows an airborne Horsa glider during tow.

The Horsa transport

Interestingly, the Horsa glider was planned as a paratrooper transport but this idea was soon dropped in favor of transporting armed glider troops or equipment. The Horsa was a much larger glider than the American Waco CG-4A, and could carry up to 30 armed troops along with its pilot and co-pilot; or, in place of troops or in various combinations, it could transport fuel, ammunition, two jeeps, a 6 pounder anti-tank gun, a 75-mm howitzer or other supplies up to 7,380 pounds for the Mark II model. Its wing-span was 88 feet and its fuselage length was 67 feet. The glider was also used by the USAAF, but like the American gliders, the Horsa had instruments for blind flying.

With a shortage of various metals, the Horsa was built of wood, and could be towed by such aircraft as the Stirling, Halifax, Albemarle, or Whitley. The tow rope carried a telephone line along it for communication between the two pilots until the telephone was later replaced with a radio.

Normandy: Horsa gliders and the assault on the Pegasus Bridge

Pegasus brigde with Horsa Gliders

D-day at Normandy began as six Horsa gliders sailed toward two targets, the River Orne and Canal bridges after being towed from England by Halifax bombers. Glider-borne troops from these Horsas were led by Major John Howard. These bridges, strategic in limiting a German counter-attack and important for Allied use, were taken in tact, in less than one hour.

The first action took place at the now famous Pegasus bridge (formerly called the Bénouville Bridge), located between Caen and Ouistreham, France. Photo to the right shows the Pegasus Bridge in June 1944, open to Allied transport. The Horsa invasion gliders can bee seen in the background. IWM photo by Christie (Sgt). During the assault on the bridges, glider trooper Lieutenant Brotheridge became the first Allied casualty of D-day. The 6th Airborne Division went on to use more that three hundred Horsa gliders in Normandy.

Glider operation losses


Projected losses for the glider operations during Normandy had been d 60% or more, however, General Eisenhower was determined they be carried out. Actual losses turned out to be much less. It was also used in southern France as a new front was opened. By the end of World War II, the Horsa glider had also been used in Norway, Sicily, Arnhem, Yugoslavia and at Wesel.


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

Ambrose, Stephen E. Pegasus Bridge. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1988.