14 May 2019

As we approach the 75th anniversary of D-Day we’re exploring the history behind some of the incredible machines used by the allies during the Battle of Normandy. #DDayMachines

Hundreds of Horsa Gliders capable of carrying troops, jeeps and even a 6 pounder anti-tank gun weighing more than a tonne, were used during the Battle of Normandy and over 3,600 were built in total for use during the Second World War. Measuring 20m long, the Horsa Glider was incredibly sturdy despite being constructed almost entirely out of wood; described as "the most wooden aircraft ever built”  its wooden frame was covered by a plywood fuselage and even the cockpit controls were formed from wood!


Piloted by members of The Glider Pilot Regiment, formed of volunteers from other sections of the army, Horsa Gliders were towed into enemy airspace by RAF powered aircraft before being released to glide at speeds of up to 100mph. The pilots were subject to a gruelling selection and training process that ensured only the best candidate progressed as upon landing they would take up arms and enter combat alongside the troops they had carried into battles. The comprehensive breadth of their abilities led to Glider Pilots being christened as “Total Soldiers”.


These versatile aircraft were deployed to carry the first units to France in the Battle of Normandy during the night of 5 June 1944, ahead of the main invasion force landing the following day. Six Horsa Gliders, were towed to France by RAF Halifax bombers, landing at the Caen Canal Bridge following their release.  The assault force took the German defenders by surprise and successfully captured Pegasus Bridge, their primary objective, within 10 minutes of landing. Their action meant that the following day when landings began at Sword Beach (one of the five main landing areas for the seaborne assault) German armour was prevented from crossing the bridge to attack the eastern flank.


On your next visit to the Arboretum ensure you visit the Renkum Stone; the Glider Pilot Regiment Society memorial dedicated to the 553 men who lost their lives serving with the Regiment, primarily during World War Two where in addition to D-Day, glider pilots played a critical role in many other key engagements including the invasion of Sicily, and the Battle of Arnhem. As you stand before the huge stone, engraved with the regimental motto – “Nothing is impossible” – think about these incredible machines and the important role they played in D-Day.