The research is impeccable, the writing very readable, the illustrations first class. This book is a must for anyone with an interest in airborne forces and vertical insertion of troops, essential to anyone wishing to understand the fight from Normandy to German soil. It is an inspiring story and an absorbing tale. There really isn’t much else a reader could expect of a book, except a great price, which it is.
NAME: Glider Pilots at Arnhem
AUTHOR: Mike Peters, Luuk Buist
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: soft back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWII, World War Two, Second World War, PoW, Airborne Forces, paratroops, gliders, glider pilots, assault glider, Market Garden, Arnheim, light infantry
DESCRIPTION: The research is impeccable, the writing very readable, the illustrations first class. This book is a must for anyone with an interest in airborne forces and vertical insertion of troops, essential to anyone wishing to understand the fight from Normandy to German soil. It is an inspiring story and an absorbing tale. There really isn’t much else a reader could expect of a book, except a great price, which it is.
A great deal of film and print has been devoted to the airborne troops who landed in France at the start of D-Day. Even more space has been devoted to both the land and airborne elements of Market Garden, a courageous and innovative plan to seize the bridges and highway through Holland and into Germany. Many have suggested that the final bridge at Arnheim was a disaster and that the operation failed. Certainly, the final objective was not achieved, but military operations with far less achievement have been hailed a success.
The strange thing about the coverage of airborne operations, that has received little coverage, is the story of the gliders and their pilots. The aircrew of the DC-3 and C-47 transports left the relative comfort of their bases in England, flew to the drop zones and discharged their cargoes of paratroopers and supplies. Then they flew home to a well-earned meal and a rest in the relative tranquillity of their home bases. Perhaps not quite that idyllic in reality. The threat of fighters and anti-aircraft guns was present for much of the sortie and aircraft were lost, their crews becoming PoWs or casualties of war. Those that returned to base got to do it all over again and, on subsequent sorties, the enemy knew they would be coming and the German defences became even more of a threat. However, for most transport aircraft, the crews survived and never came closer to German troops than at the drop zone altitude.
For the glider pilots it was very different. They faced the same opposition on the way to the landing zone that their comrades in the transports faced, but it was a one way trip. Once the glider had come to rest, the pilots became light infantry and joined the fight on the ground. Today in an age of vertical insertion and extraction by helicopter, or tilt rotor aircraft, and the ability to move airborne forces around the battlefield by helicopter, the paratrooper is becoming a rare beast to be used on specialist high-value targets, and the glider has passed into history. As a result, many will wonder why gliders were used. The answer is a little more complex. One factor behind the development of the assault glider was cost and strategic materials. A wood and canvas glider could be produced at a fraction of the cost of a Dakota transport without consuming much by way of scarce strategic materials. It could be built by any organization that was able to work with wood. Some would build complete gliders and others would build components that were collected and distributed to those who could complete a glider. The glider required a tug, but there were many obsolete and obsolescent bombers that were no longer required for bombing, but had the engine power to haul a fully loaded glider off the deck. However, that was a long way short of the full story.
A glider could be towed in a bomber stream and achieve a high degree of surprise, Once cast off from its tug, it was near silent in its final approach. The only disadvantage was that operational reasons often required gliders to be landed in areas that were far from suitable, and at night. That meant that quite a few pilots and gliders became casualties in landing and sometimes also destroyed their troops and equipment. However, the major weakness of the glider was that it was a fragile structure that was unable to take off and return to base. The Germans had used gliders very successfully in the early stages of the war but were motivated to both arm their assault gliders and fit rockets and engines to give them some prospect of return to base. The Allies concentrated on unpowered and unarmed gliders, ensuring that the pilots must join the troops in fighting on the ground. There were also efforts to build larger gliders to carry vehicles and to built armoured vehicles that could be carried into battle in the largest gliders. The only exception was where the US experimented with recovery systems that enabled a powered transport to snatch a glider back into the air and this technique was used with some success after WWII during the Berlin airlift, but the helicopter was already showing the promise to make the glider obsolete.
Arnheim created a significant challenge to planners, because even by using gliders, there were insufficient aircraft to deliver all of the British airborne forces in a single wave. The gliders in the first wave performed their duty and were then stranded in the battle zone, while the powered transports returned to base to collect more paratroopers and equipment and for tugs to haul a new wave of gliders. To find the most suitable landing zones, the paratroopers jumped into drop zones near to the gliders, and the gliders were forced to land on barely suitable ground, some distance from the bridge. As the number of jeeps being delivered by glider were few in number, the troops mostly had to advance on foot and, as they moved forward, the Germans faced little opposition as they tried to take the landing zones and deny them to any further wave of paratroops and gliders. The airborne forces adapted quickly to the difficult and confused conditions, reached their target and were able to hold out longer than they had be asked to do. As the land advance to relieve them slowed in the face of strong opposition, the airborne troops ended up holding out for an amazing period without heavy weapons and some of the force was eventually able to escape.
The authors have done a very good job of telling the story of how the glider pilots performed their first duty in landing their cargoes in the LZ, and then fought on in a determined attempt to achieve and hold all objectives. In this remarkable fight, the Glider Pilots Regiment suffered the highest casualty rates, from which it was not to recover. That their story has not previously been told in detail is a disgrace, but this book fully corrects this historical deficiency. It is one of the most important battle stories of WWII.