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Military gliders (an offshoot of common gliders) have been used by the military of various countries for carrying troops and heavy equipment (see Glider infantry) to a combat zone, mainly during the Second World War. These engineless aircraft were towed into the air and most of the way to their target by military transport planes, eg C-47 Skytrain or Dakota, or bombers relegated to secondary activities, eg Short Stirling. Once released from the tow craft near the front, they were to land on any convenient open terrain close to target hopefully with as little damage to this cargo and crew as possible as most landing zones (LZ) were far from ideal. The one-way nature of the missions meant that they were treated as disposable leading to construction from common and inexpensive materials such as wood, though a few were retrieved and re-used.

Troops landing by glider were referred to as air-landing as opposed to paratroops. Landing by parachute caused the troops to be spread over a large drop-zone, whereas gliders could land troops in greater concentrations precisely at the target landing area. Furthermore, the glider, once released at some distance from the actual target, was effectively silent and difficult for the enemy to identify. Larger gliders were developed to land heavy equipment like anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft guns, small vehicles, such as jeeps, and also light tanks (eg the Tetrarch tank). This heavier equipment made otherwise lightly-armed paratroop forces a much more capable force. The Sovietsmarker also experimented with ways to deliver light tanks by air, including the Antonov A-40, a gliding tank with detachable wings.

By the time of the Korean War, helicopters had replaced gliders. Helicopters have the advantage of being able to extract soldiers, in addition to delivering them to the battlefield. Also, advances in powered transport aircraft were being made, to the extent that even light tanks could be dropped by parachute.

German military gliders

The Germans were the first to use gliders in warfare, most famously during the assault of the Eben Emael fortressmarker in May 10, 1940 in which DFS 230 gliders carrying 10 soldiers each landed on the grassed roof. Gliders were also used in the invasion of Crete, but after that the Germans never attempted another large-scale glider and parachute attack. Nevertheless they later developed the larger Gotha Go 242 (23 trooper) and the very large Messerschmitt Me 321 (130 trooper) gliders. Some glider operations continued later in the war, some examples being the rescue operationmarker of Benito Mussolini at Gran Sassomarker and the emergency re-supply operations in Russia, North Africa and Eastern Europe towards the end of the war. The Junkers Ju 322 Mammut was the largest such glider ever built, but it was never used operationally. Not all military gliders were used for transport. The Blohm & Voss BV 40 was a Germanmarker glider fighter designed to attack Allied bomber formations.

British military gliders

The use of assault gliders by the British was prompted by the assault on Eben Emael. Among the types developed were the 28 trooper Airspeed Horsa and the 7 ton capacity General Aircraft Hamilcar cargo glider. The General Aircraft Hotspur was used for training the pilots who formed the Glider Pilot Regiment. The most famous actions were the taking of the Pegasus Bridgemarker during the invasion of Normandy, Operation Dragoon (the invasion of southern France), Operation Market-Garden (Arnhem Bridge over the lower Rhine) and Operation Varsitymarker (Crossing of the Rhine). Out of the 2,596 gliders dispatched for Operation Market, 2,239 gliders were effective in delivering men and equipment to their designated landing zones.

Lord Gilbert, defence minister of state formally responsible for intelligence during the Kosovo War, told the House of Commonsmarker Select Committee on Defence on 20 June 2000 that gliders could have been used to land troops in Kosovo . Neither Lord Gilbert nor the other politicians present appeared to be aware that this would not have been feasible. Although gliders are still used in the Royal Air Force for cadet training by the Air Training Corps, they are not used in combat operations. No troop-carrying gliders have been in British service since 1957.

American military gliders

General "Hap" Arnold in United States War Department created the American Glider Program in 1941 under the direction of Lewin B. Barringer. After Barringer's plane disappeared over the Caribbean Seamarker, the program was moved to Army Air Force Headquarters and directed by Richard C. du Pont.

By late 1944, the Americans had built more than 14,000 gliders. They were produced by a wide variety of manufacturers including Waco Aircraft Company, Ford Motor Company, piano companies and casket factories.

The most widely used type was the CG-4A Waco which was first used in the invasion of Sicily and participated in the D-Day assault on France on June 6 1944, and in other important airborne operations in Europe, eg Operation Market, and in the China-Burma-India Theater. The CG-4A was constructed of a metal and wood frame covered with fabric, manned by a crew of two and with an allowable normal cargo load of 3,710 pounds, allowing it to carry 13 combat-equipped troops or a jeep or small artillery piece.

Following World War II, the United States maintained its military glider program until the early 1950s before dropping it completely from operational use. However, the United States Air Force continues to this day to use gliders at the Air Force Academy to train cadets in the fundamentals of flight.

The CG-4A design weight was 7,500 lb, allowing a useful load of 3,710 lb.

A list of American military gliders is in the List of U.S. military aircraft

Soviet military gliders

The Soviet Union was the world's pioneer in designing military gliders - the G-63 glider of 1932, carrying 16 soldiers, was the first transport glider in the world (not built in series, though). During World War II there were only two light gliders built in series: Antonov A-7 and Gribovski G-11 - about 1,000 altogether. Also, a medium glider KC-20 was built in a small series. They were used mostly for providing partisans in Belarusmarker with supplies and armament in 1942-1943. Gliders were also used in one airborne action - the Dnepr crossing. After the war, a small series of medium gliders - Cybin C-25 and Yakovlev Yak-14 - were built.

See also


  1. p.13 Henry, Mark R. & Chappele, Mike The U.S. Army in World War II (2) The Mediterranean 2000 Osprey Publishing

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