Sad that the author is no longer with us, but great that the publisher has produced a new posthumous edition with additional material provided by his sons and family. Pioneered by the Germans, vertical insertion by glider and parachute was to revolutionize land warfare. This personal account by a British glider pilot of the large scale airborne assaults by British troops is fascinating and very valuable – Most Recommended.
NAME: Nothing is Impossible, a Glider Pilot’s story of Sicily, Arnheim and the Rhine Crossing
AUTHOR: Victor Miller
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWII, World War Two, Second World War, airborne assault, gliders, light infantry, pilots, glider tugs, training, deployment, Sicily, Arnheim, Rhine Crossing, land war, Europe, Occupied Europe, vertical insertion, escape
DESCRIPTION: Sad that the author is no longer with us, but great that the publisher has produced a new posthumous edition with additional material provided by his sons and family. Pioneered by the Germans, vertical insertion by glider and parachute was to revolutionize land warfare. This personal account by a British glider pilot of the large scale airborne assaults by British troops is fascinating and very valuable – Most Recommended.
Several countries experimented with the concept of vertical insertion of troops before the outbreak of WWII. The Russians and Germans both conducted large scale experiments with paratroopers and gliders. The German glider force was a key element in the attack on France in 1940 through neutral Belgium. When the French began building the Maginot Line it was considered essential by the military engineers involved that the Line should run from Switzerland, West to the Channel Coast. The politicians were keen to make any cost savings possible and were eager to cite Belgian objections as justification for not taking the Line on from the point where the common border with Belgium began. The Belgians were concerned that a French defensive fortification that ran the full length of the common border to the sea would abandon Belgium to Nazi occupation. They pointed out that they had already built significant fortress defences at the river crossings from Germany and the French could safely depend on Belgian neutrality backed up by very strong Germany-facing Belgian fortifications. In 1940, the Germans both ignored Belgian neutrality and prepared a series of glider landings on top of the Belgian forts, enabling them to be captured, clearing the way for the Germany land forces to move through Belgium and down into France, around the end of the French fixed defences.
The Germans had already built up a strong paratroop force and used their considerable experience of gliders to construct assault gliders that could land troops behind enemy lines. By 1939 they were preparing to expand their airborne forces and construct larger gliders to allow heavier weapons to be delivered to what were, in the form of paratroops and glider troops, light infantry. Crete was to be the high point of German airborne assault, using paratroopers and light assault glider troops to seize airfields, into which Junker 52 tri motor cargo planes could bring more troops and heavier supplies. However, the British defence of Crete caused such high casualties that the Germans never attempted any further large scale air assaults, Their paratroops were used as elite light infantry, where their formidable skill and determination provided effective defensive actions, as at Monte Casino. The large gliders became just another transport asset, being used particularly to support the Afrika Korps by flying supplies from Italy and Sicily to North Africa at a time when British submarines and torpedo boats from Malta were decimating the sea convoys supplying Rommel. This expedient use of large gliders rapidly led to them being equipped with engines and assisted take off rockets to make them more effective as simple military transport aircraft.
Perhaps the greatest achievement by German airborne forces after their attacks on the Belgian forts was to encourage the British, and later the Americans, to build their own airborne forces on a far greater scale than the Germans.
The author volunteered as a glider pilot and passed through his RAF training with flying colours. From there, he was to take part in three of the most iconic vertical insertions of WWII, Sicily, Arnheim and the Rhine crossings. This is a remarkable experience and an account based on notes jotted down shortly after each operation while the memory was still very fresh. This accounts for the high value of the subsequent book. It is a stirring account of bravery, endurance, hardship, comradeship and remembrance of fallen comrades.
This is another book of WWII that might never have been written had it not been for the encouragement of close family to make a public record of an extraordinary military career. Initially published in 1994 by Spellmount, it is republished posthumously by Pen & Sword with the support of the authors family. This has produced additional information provided by the author’s sons and family. The absorbing text is well supported by illustration in the form of battle maps, sketches of gliders and equipment, made at the time, or shortly after landings, and photo-plate section. In all it makes up into a unique account of a new form of warfare that must be considered one of the finest printed.
Today, we almost take for granted vertical insertion as a standard part of land warfare, but we see it in the form of aircraft that are not only able to land vertically, drop off their troops, and then take off again to return to base, but they are also able to come in again and again, to move troops around the battlefield. Today’s airborne force pilots are therefore only taking other duties if they are shot down. In the author’s day, glider pilots did not enjoy that luxury. They had one chance to land. Frequently, even good landings, resulted in extensive damage to the gliders, and it was almost impossible to recover the machines, That meant the pilot had to be a light infantry soldier who landed his cargo and then joined the fight, staying with his comrades until relieved with them by mechanised infantry, tanks and gunners, or making a perilous escape if the airborne force was cut off, as at Arnheim, and could not be relieved by regular troops and heavy weapons.
It is impossible not to be impressed by this excellent history of key and large-scale WWII airborne assaults as a history of one who was there, but it is also a great book that involves the reader to the last page.