Wednesday, August 8, 2007

World War Two Glider Pilots--A Rare Breed

American and Allied glider pilots did much to help win the war in Europe. Their fragile planes, towed behind C-47s or other powered aircraft, were responsible for putting large numbers of infantry troops on the ground during major assaults. Pulled behind their tow-planes, these pilots often found themselves released early or off-course, often under fire, and had to put down wherever they could find an open space. Landings were dangerous and frequently fatal.

This Horsa glider crashed in France on D-Day, killing its pilot and passengers.

The following is quoted from the website of the World War Two Glider Pilots' Assocation (website at
This is an excellent website and you could easily spend a few hours here learning about the bravery of the glider crews.

"American glider pilots, along with airborne forces, spearheaded all the major invasions, landing behind enemy lines in their unarmed gliders in Sicily, Normandy, Southern France, Holland, Bastogne, Rhine Crossing, Luzon in the Philippines, and Burma.
Gee....sounds like fun to me! Where do I sign up?

One veteran American glider pilot painted a vivid picture of the stark terror they experienced. "Imagine", he said, "flying a motorless, fabric-covered CG-4A glider, violently bouncing and jerking on a 11/16 inch thick nylon rope 350 feet back of the C-47 tow plane. You see the nervous glider infantrymen behind you, some vomiting, many in prayer, as you hedge-hop along at tree-top level instinctively jumping up in your seat every time you hear bullets and flak tearing through the glider. You try not to think about the explosives aboard. It's like flying a stick of dynamite through the gates of Hell."

A Waco glider underway, its tow-line visible to the left.

After D-Day, Allied forces attempted to recover as many of the gliders as they could. Here, a C-47 snatches the first glider to be picked up in France and returned for future use.

A museum mock-up of the interior of a Waco glider.

There were only about 6,000 American military glider pilots, all volunteers. They proudly wore the silver wings with the letter "G" superimposed on them. The brash, high-spirited pilots were not a bit bashful about letting everyone know that the "G" stood for "Guts".

American glider pilots were scheduled for "Operation Eclipse", the Allied airborne offensive planned to capture Berlin. But, the glory went, through political default, to Russian ground forces. They were spared an invasion of Japan when the atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima.
They suffered heavy casualties and their ranks have thinned through the years until now only about 1,400 are banded together in The National World War II Gliders Pilots Association with its headquarters at 21 Phyllis Road, Freehold NJ 07728. They are a vanishing breed. There will be no future generations of American military glider pilots. The Defense Department ended the military glider pilot program in 1952.

World War II Glider Pilots; none had ever been before and probably none will ever be again; a hybrid breed like jackasses with no need to reproduce themselves; definitely one of a kind understood only by themselves and some completely beyond understanding. A few more years and military glider pilots will be an extinct species remembered by few. But they did exist and were involved in some mighty important and exciting military actions in WWII. "
A salute to the brave glider crews of World War Two, and thank you for doing the tough job.


John Havers said...

Thanks Rob for your reminder of what the Glider boys achieved, a rare breed indeed! My great friend, the late Stanley Rosslyn (Lyn) Hill was a Glider Pilot with the 2nd Bn The Glider Pilot Regt. Lyn was still under training at the time of the ill-fated Arnham operation but did take part in "Operation Varsity" the crossing of the Rhine on March 24th, 1945, flying as second pilot to Sgt Whitaker in Airspeed Horsa RZ173; it was Lyn's 26th birthday! It was some years after WW2 that I came to know Lyn and was astonished to learn that he had been towed out of Great Dunmow airfield, adjacent to my home town, by a Short Stirling, for I had stood outside my house on that day watching the take-off. Fortunately they were to land safely, as planned, near Hamminkeln; returning by C-47 to Down Ampney in Gloucestershire some 6 days later. Many years later, following his death, I was surprised to learn when talking to one of his daughters that they knew nothing of this and so I produced a small history of his miltary service for the family but particularly so that his Grandchildren would know of his bravery in volunteering to be a Glider Pilot.
Lyn is someone, for so many kindnesses, who will never be forgotten by this family; he died on August 29th, 1984.

r morris said...

John, thanks for your salute to the late Stanley Hill. He is a true hero of the war.
These guys had guts. A lot of people forget that as soon as a glider pilot landed, he became just another infantryman!
It is sad that so many descendants of these men do not know even the first thing about their fathers or grandfathers and what they did in the war. Your willingness to put together a history for them has preserved that information for Mr. Hill's family. What a great gift!
Thanks for sharing this story.

Pat said...

Can you tell me if WWII Glider Pilots were considered rated crew members? Was the Glider Pilot considered to be a rated pilot as a powered aircraft pilot was? A rated crew member, to the best of my knowledge, was a pilot, a navigator, a bombardier and a flight surgeon. I have never seen anything that lists Glider Pilots as rated aircrew. Please tell me I am wrong!

r morris said...

Pat, I do not know the answer to your question. Perhaps one of our readers will.
Thanks again!

Corbs having FUNN said...

My Grandfather, William Waggoner is still alove and is right now attending the reunion for glider piolots in Lubbock TX which may very well be the final reunion.

I have only just learned of his part in the war this past couple months. He shared with me memories of the flights and in peticular crossing the Rhine.
This new knowledge has led me to your site.

What awonderful collection you have here. Thanks for this!