Wingspan: 83 ft.- 8 in.
Length: 48 ft. - 3.75 in.
Height: 12 ft.- 7.44 in.
Empty weight: 3750 lbs.
Gross weight: 7500—9000 lbs.
Tow speed: 150 mph.
Stall speed: 41—55 mph.
Average glide speed: 65 mph.
Glide ratio: @ 7500 lbs. 10 to 1
Most common tow plane: C-47 (DC-3)
Cargos often carried:
13 troops and 2 pilots.
Jeep and 4 troops and 2 pilots.
Trailer and 7 troops and 2 pilots.
75mm howitzer, 3 troops, 2 pilots, 18 rounds of ammunition.
Anti-tank gun, 3 troops, 2 pilots, ammunition.
3 mules and 3 troops, 2 pilots
2 pilots, misc. cargo: fuel, ammo, rations, medical, mail, evacuate wounded
CG-4As saw action in Sicily, Burma, Normandy, Southern France, Holland, Bastogne, Rhine, New Guinea, and Luzon.
At almost any gathering of Warbirds, you will find WW II Glider Pilots. Ask around. Many wear their nametags and wings. Some 6000 were trained in World War II.
NOTE: For more information about the CG-4A glider program, contact The World War II Glider Pilots Association, 136 W Main St., Freehold, NJ, 07728. (732) 462-1838.
Any account of the airborne operations on D-Day would not be complete without including the gliders, the glider pilots, and the glider troops. The whole concept of powerless envelopment, other than in a parachute, was unique to many. The courage and skills of those who served in this way are still to be admired.
Two types of gliders were used in the Normandy invasion—the British Horsa, and the American WACO CG-4A. WACO, incidentally, stands for Weaver Aircraft Company, a long-term manufacturer of beautiful biplanes. The company is in Troy Ohio, but CG-4As were also manufactured in other plants around the country. Manufacturers of pianos and furniture suddenly found themselves making gliders.
"There were four glider missions flown on D-Day—and considering all the usual snarls, these missions went generally well. Two landed just before dawn, one just before dark, and the majority of the fourth mission just after dark. The ground troops welcomed the heavy weapons the gliders carried, but USAF historians concluded some years later that the greatest value lay in the experience they provided in little-known fields of aerial reinforcement and resupply." (Warren-97, 61, 64).
The two missions flown before and after sunset on D-Day included both CG-4As and Horsas. They had extensive fighter escort, and with the advantage of some daylight, they were generally more accurate. These missions were made up of serials from the 434th, 435th, 436th, 437th, and 438th Groups.
The heavy losses projected by most planners for the daylight glider missions just didn't happen—although in one case, the 82nd Airborne commander tried and failed to change the landing zone when he saw that Germans still held it. As in most airborne missions throughout the war, there was no workable way for the airborne forces on the ground to talk to the Troop Carrier Command Post—or for either of them to talk to the Troop Carrier serials in the air. This was before the age of two way pocket radios, and communications failed regularly. As a result, most gliders in this case came down in the original landing zone, with a large loss of men and materiel.
On the second mission, in the dark, the 82nd Airborne visual aids on the alternate landing zone (Landing Zone E) were the ones that stood out above the others. This inadvertently led the formation over heavier German anti-aircraft positions, and three C-47s were lost. The darkness and other factors resulted in over 20 percent casualties among the Glider Pilots. The four D-Day glider missions consisted of 313 gliders (141 Wacos, and 172 Horsas). They carried 75 artillery pieces (including howitzers and anti-tank guns), 215 vehicles, 1,792 troops, and 174 tons of cargo—much of which was ammunition.
On 7 June 1944 the IX Troop Carrier Command launched two glider missions and two parachute resupply missions. All took off in the early morning hours. The British flew only one large resupply drop during NEPTUNE, which they made near midnight on D-Day. This mission, flown by 50 Dakotas of 46 Group, brought back chilling remembrances of Sicily, when overanxious U. S. Navy gunners opened up on American troop carrier aircraft in the darkness. The British formation approaching Normandy had six airplanes shot down by "friendly fire." The first American supply mission received "friendly" fire as well, but with no losses. This mission, to the 82nd Airborne, comprised 208 aircraft drawn from the 61st, 313th, 314th, and 316th Troop Carrier Groups, and was plagued by unpredicted bad weather that forced 25 percent of the planes to turn back. Lack of workable communications again resulted in costly losses of men and supplies. Ten aircraft were lost to small arms fire, and of 1234 tons of cargo, 156 tons were dropped, and only140 were retrieved.
This showed again the danger from concentrated small arms fire to slow flying aircraft at low altitude, and once more, poor communications played its costly role. And according to official air force records, the second mission was never requested by the 101st, and should never have been sent. At least one ground unit, the 501st PIR (Parachute Infantry Regiment) had put out panels with a supply request for reconnaissance spotters, but the only Eureka-Rebecca in operation was in the 82nd area, for the first mission.
Some cargo was dropped in Drop Zones, which were still partly occupied by the Germans, and some into areas held by the 82nd, and possibly the 8th Infantry Division. The 442nd TCG, flying 56 aircraft, had over 20 aircraft damaged, and two men wounded. The 440th TCG, with 62 aircraft, had four men killed and two wounded when they lost two planes to flak and from bomb loss when a P-47 flying escort over the Channel inadvertently dropped its bomb cluster on a C-47 flying below it.
Besides the obvious deficiencies in communications between ground and air—which would persist throughout almost the entire war—some telling conclusions were drawn regarding use of gliders in air assaults. According to USAAF historical analysis, the missions on D-Day+l demonstrated that during daylight, infantry units could be delivered by glider within artillery range of an enemy and have 90 percent of their men assembled and ready for action within a couple of hours (Warren-97, 72).
Glider missions—one of the most controversial subjects within the Normandy operational planning staff—had once again proven to be troublesome and excessively dangerous. After Normandy, night landings were not attempted again in the European theater (Warren-97, 9; Dank, a, 128).
We will never again see the likes of the CG-4A, made of plywood, welded steel tubing, and fabric covering. There were over 13,000 made, and like the parachutes, many were just left where they landed for the locals to pick apart. And in some cases, the packing crates were more popular among the glider troops than the glider. They were made of beautiful pine lumber, and were often outfitted as living quarters. And in many cases, they were the only source of lumber for other needs around the various Troop Carrier bases.
74th Troop Carrier Squadron, 434th TCG
On the third of June at Aldermaston, home of the 434th Troop Carrier Group, and a high level of nervous excitement and tension was in the air. Airborne troops in great numbers were moving onto the field with much more equipment than could be used in a training flight. Military police were stationed at all the gates, and no one could get on or off the base.
In the afternoon of June 4th, all C-47 and glider pilots reported to the operations room for a briefing by the group intelligence officer. We all took our seats facing a small stage, and when we had all settled down, he unveiled a map of France. Which showed exactly what and where our objective was. A low gasp and murmur went up, as we all realized that the time had finally come for us to put our skills as glider pilots and tow pilots to the real test. He also told us that, within the last 24 hours, the Germans had been studding the fields in the LZ area with poles, and were digging large ditches across other fields to prevent glider landings. Evidently, the Germans were preparing a lively reception for us.
His next announcement took us all by surprise. We, the 434th Group, had been chosen to lead the glider phase of the D-Day invasion—with fifty-two CG-4A gliders carrying men and equipment of the 101st Airborne Division. The code name for this serial would be "CHICAGO," and we would land on Landing Zone-E (LZ-E) at Heisville on the Cotentin Peninsula.
Five minutes behind us, taking off from Ramsbury, would be the 437th Group towing fifty-two CG-4As, carrying men of the 82nd Airborne Division. They would land five miles northwest of us in Landing Zone area E (LZ-E) near les Forges. The code name for this serial would be "DETROIT."
We also learned to our dismay, that we would be going in at night because the paratroopers who preceded us could not wait until dawn for the anti-tank guns, ammunition, medics, jeeps, and medical supplies we would be carrying. This was a tough nut to swallow, since most of our training in the States, and in England, had been for early dawn of daylight landings. The thought of a night landing in enemy territory, in strange fields, with a heavily loaded glider, sounded like sure disaster. The only good news was that Mike Murphy, the senior Glider Officer in European Theater (ETO) had convinced the top brass that the English Horsa gliders we were supposed to fly would not be as suitable for night landings as the American CG-4As, and the switch was made at the last minute.
That afternoon (June 5), I went down to the flight line with Flight Officer (F/O) Bill Bruner, my co-pilot, to check out the CG-4A and went to meet our 101st passengers: Pfc. Paul Nagelbush, Pfc. Stanley Milewiski, and Pfc. Russell Kamp. They were members of the 81st AAA Bn, 101st Airborne Division. We would also be carrying supplies, ammunition, their 57mm anti-tank gun, entrenching tools, a camouflage net, and three boxes of rations. The total glider load was 3,750 lbs. Our C-47 tow plane flight crew was Pilot 1st Lt. David Whitmore, co-pilot Lt. G. Goulding; radio operator and crew chief were T/Sgt. F. Raymond, and S/Sgt. E. Harmon.
Take-off was scheduled for approximately 0:10 on the morning of the 6th, with touchdown scheduled in enemy territory at 4:00AM near Heisville. Our glider was No. 49 at the tail end of the 52-ship formation. Bill and I then went to the mess hall for the proverbial last meal, and those of us who felt the need, went to see the chaplain. A lot of us there hadn't been to church for quite some time. His tent was jammed.
At approximately 0:10AM, our tow ship gunned its engines and started down the runway through a light rain shower, into the black of night. As the wheels of our glider left the ground, someone in the back yelled: "Lookout Hitler, Here we come." That helped to break the ice for the moment. After that no one said a word, as I trimmed the glider for the long flight ahead. For the next three and one-half hours we would be alone with our thoughts and fears. It wasn't too bad for me because I was occupied flying the glider, but the Airborne men in back and Bill Burner had nothing to do. They must have been going through hell with their thoughts.
We settled down on tow, holding our position behind the C-47 by keeping the faint blue formation lights on top of the plane centered up in line between the faint glow of the tow plane's engine flame dampeners. This is not the easiest job in the world at night; the longer you stare, the more your eyes start to play tricks on you. I turned the controls over to Bruner occasionally so I could look away and get my eyes to refocus again. The added problem we faced was the extreme turbulence caused by all the planes ahead of us.
Shortly after we crossed the coast of France, small arms fire and heavier flak started coming up at the planes at the front of the formation, and intensified the closer we got to our landing zone (LZ). It looked like fluid streams of tracers zigzagging and hosing across the sky, mixed in with the heavier explosions of flak. One wondered how anything could fly through that and come out in one piece. After the front of the formation had passed over the German positions and woke them all up, we at the tail end of the line began to get hit by a heavier volume of small arms fire which sounded like corn popping, or typewriter keys banging on loose paper as it went through our glider. I tried to pull my head down into my chest to make myself as small as possible; I tucked my elbows in close to my body, pulled my knees together to protect my vital parts, and was even tempted to take my feet off the rudder pedals so they wouldn't stick out so far. I really started to sweat.
A few minutes after we had crossed the coast, and before we reached our glider release point near Heisville, the group ran into some low lying clouds and fog banks. All the planes in the formation started to spread out to avoid collisions, and this caused many of us to land wide, short, and beyond our objective when we reached the cutoff point. In a very short time—too soon for me—the moment I was dreading arrived: the green light came on in the astrodome of the tow plane, indicating that we were over the LZ, and that it was time to cut off.
As soon as the rope disconnected from our glider, I started a 360-degree turn to the left, feeling my way down into the darkness, holding the glider as close to stalling speed as I could. It was almost impossible to describe one's feelings in a situation like this. You know the ground is down there, but you can't see it. You don't know if you're going to hit trees, ditches, or what, and all this time the flak and tracers are still coming up all around you. The only thing you know for sure is that Germans are shooting up at you, and they are going to be right there waiting for you when you climb out of your glider. You hope you will wake up and discover you're having a bad dream. They say fear has no bounds, and at this point I was in full agreement.
We still could not see a thing, and I knew that we were about to run out of altitude. Finally, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a faint light patch that looked like an open field outlined by trees. It was. By this time, we were so low that we had no choice in the matter. There would be no chance for a go-around. With a prayer on my lips, and a very tight pucker string, I straightened out my glide path and headed in. Bruner was holding full spoilers on.
We flared out for a landing just above the stalling speed, and touched down smooth as glass. I couldn't believe it; how lucky can you get? But just when we thought we had it made, there was a tremendous bone jarring crash. We had hit one of those ditches that the Germans had dug across the fields. Their main purpose was to prevent gliders from landing in one piece, and it sure worked with us. We plunged down into the ditch, and when the nose slammed into the other side, the glider's back broke as it slid up over the opposite bank.
The floor split open, and we skidded to a halt in the field on the other side. That ditch was ten to twelve feet across by five to six feet deep, with water in the bottom. For a split second we sat in stunned silence, and I breathed a sigh of relief because none of us seemed to be injured. We then bailed out fast because there was rifle and machine gun fire going off in the fields around us. Fortunately none seemed to be aimed at our field at the moment. It took us almost thirty minutes to dig the nose of the glider out of the dirt so we could open it up and roll out the anti-tank gun.
Midway through this task, the Germans set off a flare right over our heads, and lo and behold, we saw glider No. 50 piloted by Flight Officers Calvani and Ryan sitting on the other side of the ditch without a scratch on it. They were carrying the Jeep to tow our anti-tank gun. Calvani must have stuck right on my tail in the dark to land so close. I don't know how he managed to it.
We now had the job of digging a ramp down into and out of the ditch to get the jeep over to us. While this was going on, the naval bombardment started on the invasion beaches, and even though it was five miles away, the ground shook under our feet and the noise was unbelievable. I think we all said a few prayers for the kids who would be storming ashore and hoped they would be successful. Our own lives were at stake if they failed. We finally got the jeep across the ditch and the gun hooked up. I left the group and started off on foot to find the 101st Division CP (Command Post) at Heisville, and the gun crew took off towing the gun to find their unit, the 81st AAA Battalion.
On my way through the hedgerows I stopped a jeep driven by a paratrooper who was headed in what we hoped was the right direction to the command post (CP). I hopped on the hood, and we started up a narrow path between the hedgerows. About five minutes later, some Germans opened up on us with machine pistol and rifle fire. I fell off the hood, and the jeep almost ran over me. That was enough. I got up and started off on my own again. A short time later, while walking up this same narrow lane, I glanced to my left and saw a rectangular opening at about waist height. A rifle barrel was sticking out pointed right at me. I froze in mid step, waiting for the bullet I thought had my name on it.
Nothing happened; the gun didn't move. By now I was curious. I crawled over the hedge and looked in. It was a complete German bunker—large enough for five or six soldiers. Its sole occupant was a dead German; his rifle was poking through the slot. Thank God for the paratroopers who had taken care of him earlier, and probably left him in this position to scare some of their buddies. They succeeded. It scared the hell out of me. It also make me much more cautious, and I started to walk in a crouch, and kept my head on a swivel. The next German I saw was lying at a road junction in a pool of blood. He had just been hit by a mortar or shell fragment and was still alive. I felt horrible while I stood there watching him die knowing there was nothing I could do for him. I still had not developed the hate for the enemy. That came to me as the day progressed, and I saw and heard of what they had done to some of our airborne men. This German, lying in front of me, was a young kid, and sure didn't look like a Nazi Superman.
As I passed an opening through a hedgerow and looked through it, I saw a paratrooper out in the center of a large meadow standing alone. Being a little on the lonesome side by now, and a little curious as to why he was out there by himself, I walked out to see what the scoop was. As I approached him, I noticed that he was wearing an air force flak vest. I introduced myself to him and he thanked me for coming out to help him, but suggested I go find a flak vest to wear. Being a little naive, or just plain stupid, I asked him why, and he told me that there were German snipers in the Wood on the edge of the field, and he was trying to draw their fire so his buddies could nail them.
At this moment something went buzzing by my head, and I dropped to the ground. He remarked, while still standing straight up, " there's the son of a bitch now." Needless to say I wished him luck, picked myself up and beat a hasty retreat in search of a flak vest. I had no luck finding one from the wreckage of the gliders in the area. The paratroopers had grabbed them all for their own protection. I began to realize now that by walking around alone, I was asking to be knocked off by a sniper. At this point I still had not found the CP, or seen any other glider pilots.
By late afternoon after a few more encounters from sniper fire along the way, I arrived at the Division CP (101st) in Heisville and was assigned with other glider pilots to guard the perimeter in case the Germans tried to infiltrate back into what we thought was a secure area. We did not know it at the time, but they were all through the area playing possum. Some of the snipers were still in trees around the area.
While resting in a courtyard in Heisville center, I heard and then saw a wagon coming down the lane being pulled by two paratroopers of the 101st. In the wagon, lying on top of a load of German mines and ammo was what looked like the body of another trooper. He wasn't dead or wounded, just zonked out from exhaustion. He had picked a hell of a bed to take a nap on. One mortar shell or rifle round in that wagon would have blown all three of them to hell and back. By this time we had all been awake 36 hours or more, and the pep pills we had been taking to keep us awake started to turn some of us into walking zombies. A few of the guys were out on their feet, and nothing could wake them up.
At 8:30AM, still 6th, some of us were asked to go back out into the fields to meet and cover the landing of the second series of gliders. A large group of Horsa gliders were expected to arrive at 0900, towed again by my group, the 434th from Aldermaston. They arrived right on time, and all hell broke loose. The Germans in the fields around us who had been playing possum, opened up on them with everything they had.
Their heavy ack-ack guns outside the perimeters were firing airbursts over and into the fields while the gliders were landing. The fields in this area around Hiesville were much too small for the large British Horsa gliders, and those that were not shot down, crashed head on into the hedgerows. Some were fortunate and made it down in one piece; others came under heavy enemy small arms fire after they had landed, and many of the glidermen and pilots were killed or captured while climbing out of their gliders. For an hour or so it was an awful mess, and the casualties in men and equipment were heavy before the situation stabilized.
After the gliders were unloaded and the casualties from the wrecks were taken care of, things settled down, and I went back to the CP to dig in for the night in an apple orchard behind a stable. While curled up in my foxhole trying to get some sleep, I suddenly recalled my boyhood days when I would get together with other kids in the neighborhood to play war. It was always the Yanks and the Huns, and here I was in 1944, in person, doing it for real.
Shortly after dark, rumors started to spread between foxholes that there was a possibility that Germans were going to drop their own paratroopers in on us. This did nothing for our morale, and for the rest of the night we were spooked at the slightest sound, especially when we heard some planes go over quite low. Anyone who got out of his foxhole that night was taking his life in his own hands.
We got through the night and, in mid-morning of June 7, a call went out for volunteers to take over five hundred German prisoners down to the beach for transport back to England. The airborne men had captured so many of them that they were getting under foot and required too many people to guard them. Smart ass that I was, I asked the question "is the road to the beach open?" No one answered, so I volunteered anyway. With some of the glider pilots, many from my squadron, we lined the PWs up on the road and waited for the "OK" to take off. The Germans were more anxious to get out than we were. The war was over for them, and they wanted to get as far away as possible.
At this stage of the game most of us had just about reached the limits of endurance, so we gave the PWs most of our equipment to carry. One glider pilot was tempted to give them his Thompson sub-machine gun to carry, but on second thought decided it wouldn't look so good to the soldiers we would pass coming up from the UTAH Beach. On the march out, we kept going slower, and slower, and the PWs kept getting further ahead of us. Only by our making threats to shoot them did they slow down. The road to the beach was open, and by the time we got there, our butts were really dragging. It felt like we had walked twenty-five miles rather than five.
The sight on UTAH Beach was beyond belief. As far as the eye could see, to the left and the right, were men, trucks, tanks, vehicles of all types, and piles of equipment as high as houses. From the shore and out across the Channel was an endless line of merchant and warships of all sizes. The Navy ships were shelling targets inland around the clock. The saddest part was the long rows of wounded and dead laid out in rows on the sand, waiting to be loaded on ships.
The Navy Beach Master told us we would be going aboard LST 400 shortly and would be going back to England the following day. I immediately lay down in the sand and went sound asleep, in spite of all the noise. That night, German planes came in at low altitude and dropped mines around ships just offshore. The next morning we boarded the LST, but before any of the ships dared to pull up anchor, British mine sweepers came in close to sweep the area.
One of them hit a mine less than forty feet away from our LST and sank within two minutes. The force from the explosion scared the daylights out of us; we thought we had been torpedoed. The only survivor from the minesweeper was one of the stokers who was on deck getting some fresh air.
One thing that overwhelmed us on this Navy ship was the chow. They brought out fresh eggs, milk, ice cream, and steaks—and we gorged ourselves. One of the glider pilots went up to the skipper and told him there and then he wanted to transfer to the Navy, but it didn't work. Our good food back at the base was always powered eggs, powered milk, and SOS for breakfast.
The ship finally got us back to England, and eventually we arrived back at our home base at Aldermaston where they rolled out the red carpet for us. I guess they didn't think many of us would survive, and they couldn't do enough for us. After interrogation by the base intelligence officer, and after we had pinpointed on aerial photos our landing spots, we were all given three day passes. After that, the daily training routine began again and most of us went to a commando ground school at Ogburne St. George for further training in weapons and ground tactics. Many of us got in co-pilot time in C-47s on the resupply runs, so the time power boys who had been flying around the clock could get badly needed bouts of rest.
I remember almost everything about this "Normandy Mission" in great detail: from the takeoff, to boarding the LST for the return trip to England, and everything in between. After that, from the moment the anchor was pulled up on that LST and we started back England, my mind is an absolute blank. For the life of me I cannot remember crossing the Channel, where we landed, or how I got from the channel port back to the 434th Group at my home base at Aldermaston. The physical and mental stress, fear, and anxiety, from the last three days must have shorted out my brain circuits for this period of time.
Buckley attaches an addendum here, outlining the fate of several other gliders in this mission. All are historically significant and worthy of attention—but unfortunately, we have space for only Glider No 1, piloted by Lt. Col. Mike Murphy, flying with the 72nd TCS. This glider crashed into a line of trees on the edge of a field, killing the co-pilot, Lt. Robert butler, and Brig. Gen. Pratt, the Assistant Division Commander of the 101st Airborne Division. The Pathfinder pilot on board the tow plane, Major A.E. Robinson (from the 74th TCS} warned Murphy, just before they reached the LZ, that the wind had shifted. He replied, "that it was too late to change plans." Murphy's glider was overloaded and probably nose-heavy because of the steel plate that had been placed under the General's jeep.
The glider pilots of Troop Carrier Command had tasted their first combat. I'm sure that all of us who participated in this operation, came away with the knowledge that war is definitely not the glamorous, exciting game depicted in the movies or in the way we played it when we were kids. Those of us who have gone to war, and watched our friends die before our eyes, will have these haunting memories forever with us. We will treasure life as never before and grieve silently for our young friends and buddies who did not return home.
It was only a short haul across the English Channel to proper hospitals. Chances are that the aircraft carried needed supplies on the trip over to France, and chances are about 50 to 50 that the crew loaded the airplane themselves, rather than wait for the Quartermaster troops to do it.
One of the nurses on a later mission must have been feeling philosophical that day. She was standing in the big cargo door watching an ambulance back up with another load of wounded. "You guys are crazy," she said, "one day you fly a bunch of Gung Ho young men over here and drop them to face one of the best trained and highly disciplined armies in the whole world, and the next day, here you are again, hauling their battered selves back to get patched up as best we can do it under the circumstances." Then she said, almost to herself' "I guess we're all a little crazy to sit by and allow things to get so out-of-hand that they wind up like this."
Later on, troop carrier planes made regular runs from various stations in England to Prestwick, Scotland with patients who were being sent home for further treatment. Here they were transferred to larger Air Transport Command aircraft for the over-water flights.
It is sometimes interesting to look up the fate of airplanes such as this one. According to the book THE DOUGLAS DC-3 and its predecessors, it was delivered to the USAAF on April 22, 1944—and it was salvaged after an accident on November 11, 1946. It isn't one that you might still see flying round, or displayed in a museum.
Medical evacuation is another whole story, for another time.