US Naval Aviation Training Division
Airspeed Horsa Glider World War 2 US airplane
Original aeroplane identification poster, 1943
In the days before helicopters it was gliders that allowed troops to be delivered to the ground. Essentially disposable aircraft (though obviously recovered where possible) they were light-weight and able to land in open fields where an aeroplane could not. Their ability to carry small tanks and other vehicles gave them a great advantage over simple paratroopers. Deployed to great effect in the D-Day Normandy landings and in the Market Garden advance, they were also widely used in Burma to supply the Chindits. One of the most terrifying methods of air transport during the War was the ‘glider snatch’. A glider that had been used to deliver supplies or troops was reloaded with the wounded and then a passing aeroplane would pick up a rope attached to the front of the glider and snatch it into the air.
The Horsa was a large glider, capable of accommodating 20-25 fully equipped paratroopers, and was first introduced in 1941. Made almost exclusively from wood – metal being in short supply – it was built by furniture factories. Between 3,799 and 5,000 Horsas were built – the varying numbers being down to the fact that many gliders were assembled at Maintenance Units rather than at the furniture factories (which lacked airfields).