|American Waco CG-4 Military Glider|
Perhaps I should call this week's installment The Friday Glide-By. Blog buddy Frank planted this idea in my head. After all, the glider played an important role in World War 2, from Eben-Emael to the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater. So I decided to run with it. Buckle up, there are no engines on these beasts and no way to return once we slip the tow rope!
|German Fallschirmjäger Debouching from a DFS-230|
One of the first uses of glider-borne infantry was in the opening phase of the Western Campaign of 1940, at the Belgian fortress of Eben-Emael.
According to Wikipedia:
With the treaty of Versailles preventing any other form of pilot training in Germany, large numbers of gliding clubs and schools were formed there after World War I. Later, when planning the invasion of France, the German military was faced with the problem of the Belgian fort of Eben-Emael which dominated the River Meuse. Someone (according to some reports, Adolf Hitler himself) pointed out that the top of the fort was a flat grassy expanse on which gliders could land.
Eight DFS 230 gliders, carrying 85 Pioneers under Leutnant Rudolf Witzig, landed on the roof of the fort in the early hours of May 10, 1940. There had been no declaration of war, and they achieved surprise. Using the new shaped charges, they disabled the fort's guns and trapped the garrison inside. The assault cost only 21 casualties.
In the aftermath of this episode, the Allies formed their own glider forces, as part of their airborne forces. Before they could see action, the Germans had made their largest airborne operation, the attack on Crete. Their glider troops and paratroops suffered heavy casualties, and the Germans decided that this mode of warfare was too costly.
|German DFS-230 Military Glider|
|Fort Eben Emael Today|
One advantage glider borne infantry had over their paratrooper cousins is that they could carry more equipment with them. Such as jeeps and anti-tank guns, so they tended to be better able to take car of themselves once on the ground. However, they were always considered to be poor cousins to their jumping cousins, the paratroopers. According to Wikipedia -
In both the British and American armies, there was a sense that the glider infantry were poor cousins to the more glamorous paratroopers. In the British Army, whereas paratroops were volunteers, airlanding units were line infantry units converted without any option (although they were entitled to wear the same maroon beret as the Parachute Regiment). In the US Army, glider troops did not receive the extra pay awarded to paratroopers until after the Normandy invasion (where glider troops provided essential support to the parachute regiments and fought on the front-lines alongside their parachute brethren). This blatant inequality of treatment came to the attention of U.S. Airborne High Command and from that point forward the glider troops were issued the same jump boots and combat gear as paratroopers (including the M1A1 carbine with folding stock) and earned the same pay until the war ended in Europe. There are numerous examples of glider troops volunteering as replacements for paratroop units but very few, if any, examples of paratroopers volunteering for the gliders.
In one respect the American and British armies differed. The British Glider Pilot Regiment were not only trained aircrew, but also well-trained infantry, most of whom would have been junior or senior NCO's in other units. By comparison, the American glider crews were treated as mere drivers.
|U.S. Glider Infantryman's Badge|
|British Glider Pilot Regiment Cap Badge|
|US Glider Infantry|
|Pegasus Bridge, note the British gliders in the background|
|British Airspeed Horsa Military Glider|
Other World War II Glider Operations (From Wikipedia):
Sicily The Allies first used gliders in the invasion of Sicily in 1943. This first experiment was disastrous. Poor planning and bad weather resulted in the gliders being scattered in the air. Several landed in the sea and 200 men drowned. Few gliders reached the intended landing zones, and only 73 men (from most of a brigade) reached the intended target, the Ponte Grande bridge south of Syracuse.After the war the glider infantry units were all disbanded. They have been replaced by helicopter borne infantry. But for the period of World War II, the whistling near-silent approach of an incoming enemy glider must have filled the nightmares of a number of Belgian and German survivors of the war.
Normandy With better intelligence and planning, the glider landings in The Battle of Normandy were far more successful. In particular, one coup de main force in six Horsa gliders seized vital bridges over the River Orne by surprise. The British 6 Airlanding Brigade were in action early on following concentrated landings, and prevented early German attempts to counter-attack the Allied landings. American landings were more scattered, but still more successful than many planners had hoped for.
Arnhem In Operation Market Garden, the British 1 Airlanding Brigade were landed on the first day of the operation. The landings took place in daylight and were unopposed, but the only landing and drop zones thought suitable for such a large force were a considerable distance from the vital bridge which was the objective. No attempt was made to mount a coup de main attack by glider (although this was largely due to the haste with which the operation was mounted). A jeep-mounted reconnaissance squadron brought in by glider failed in the mission.In the subsequent fighting, the airlanding brigade and the Glider Pilot Regiment suffered heavy casualties.
Rhine Crossing The last major operation involving gliders was the crossing of the Rhine in 1945. To avoid the long delay in relieving the airborne troops which had been a major cause of the failure of Operation Market Garden, the landings were made close to the German front line defences. The landings took place in daylight once again, and heavy German anti-aircraft fire took heavy toll of the vulnerable gliders. Most Allied casualties were incurred by the glider pilots.
Far East The Chindits, a large force operating behind Japanese lines during the Burma Campaign, were flown by the 1st Air Commando Group to landing zones which had been secured by advance guards landed by glider on March 5, 1944. This operation, although successful, also incurred heavy casualties. This was partly because the intended landing ground was changed at the last minute. Also, the distance flown and the loads towed by the tug aircraft were greater than anything met in Europe. Many gliders had to be released over enemy territory or mountains. Others crashed on landing on the unfamiliar landing zone. However, enough construction equipment was landed to make the landing ground fit for transport aircraft.
And how about this monster? The Messerschmidt Me-321 Gigant (giant) -