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Airspeed Horsa in Normandy

Airspeed Horsa in Normandy



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The D-Day Companion, ed. Jane Penrose. A selection of thirteen separate essays on different aspects of the D-Day lands, from the initial planning to post-war memorials; this is an excellent piece of work that sets the D-Day landings firmly in context. An excellent starting point for anyone who wants to learn more about Operation Overlord, but its wide range of topics means it is likely to be of value to anyone with an interest in the subject. [see more]


Airspeed factory, Portsmouth Airfield

One of the key features of D-Day was the use of Allied airborne troops to seal off both flanks of the landings on the beaches. Many of these troops landed by parachute, but gliders were also vital for landing heavy equipment, or for making accurate and rapid deliveries of assault troops to critical targets.

On D-Day, the British 6th Airborne Division famously used gliders in their attacks at “Pegasus Bridge” and the Merville Battery, amongst many uses on that day. Both the American and British airborne forces used the Horsa glider, which was designed by Airspeed, whose factory and headquarters were at Portsmouth airfield. Airspeed did not build any Horsas in Portsmouth in fact, but some local firms (such as the furniture manufacturer White and Newton) did convert to wartime armaments work and built sections of Horsas.

In the late 1930s, one of the directors of Airspeed was Nevil Shute Norway, better known as the author Nevil Shute. One of the roads in this area is named after him.


The First Allied Soldier Killed By Enemy Fire on D-Day – Lieutenant Den Brotheridge At Pegasus Bridge

Lieutenant Herbert Denham “Den” Brotheridge, Commander of 25 Platoon, D Company, 2 nd Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry holds an honored place in history marked by his death almost 20 minutes after midnight on June 6 th , 1944.

Brotheridge was shot down by a German machine gunner while leading the charge of D Company on a mission vital to the D-Day landings in Normandy. He is remembered as the first Allied soldier and British officer killed in action on D-Day.

Though often fabled for his death, the story of Brotheridge’s service and that of his comrades, often called the 2 nd Ox and Bucks, their mission into German Occupied France on that monumental day, is one of clever tactics and swift, courageous action.

Brotheridge was born in Smethwick, Staffordshire in 1915 and commissioned into the 2 nd Battalion Ox and Bucks in 1942 under the command of Major John Howard. The Battalion was airborne light infantry and, more specifically, glider troops.

These men were trained to drop undetected into enemy territory in Airspeed Horsa gliders, a craft looking much like any transport plane of the time, but made mostly of wood and with no engine. The Horsa, which could carry around 25 soldiers and their equipment or even jeeps or light tanks, would be towed into the air by a bomber and then released to glide silently towards their target, the pilot picking a clear landing space and touching down, hopefully without obliterating the plane.

Troops inside an Airspeed Horsa Glider

This method of airdropping infantry into the battlefield had its pros and cons in comparison to paratroopers, but the British use of gliders in the Invasion of Normandy was very well coordinated, undetected before landing, and hugely successful in its vital role. It didn’t experience the terribly high number of casualties paratroopers in the early morning, lit up by searchlights and flak cannons, did.

Major Howard and his men were chosen for Operation Deadstick. Howard rode in the first of six Horsa’s, the one with his good friend Brotheridge and his platoon. The 2 nd Ox and Bucks’ D Company, an attached platoon of Royal Engineers, and the trained glider pilots (totaling 180 men) were pulled into the air in their Horsa’s at 20 minutes before midnight, June 5 th , 1944.

Airspeed Horsa in tow

Once over the English Channel, the bombers towing them released their cables and sent them soaring through the night towards their target: two bridges over the Caen Canal and River Orne a few miles North East of Caen. If they failed to fulfill their objectives, British forces landing on Sword Beach would either have no exit to the East or be faced by German troops and tanks crossing en masse.

This coup-de-main, rapid surprise attack, first touched down on Normandy 16 minutes after midnight on June 6 th , right outside their target. Brotheridge’s platoon’s Horsa and two others come down hard West of the Bénouville Bridge (now named Pegasus Bridge in honor the 2 nd Ox and Bucks whose uniform is adorned with a Pegasus) over the Caen Canal.

As the gliders crash-landed, many men were knocked unconscious or otherwise injured. One Horsa snapped in half, sending the knocked-out Lance-Corporal Fred Greenhalgh flying into a pond where he drowned (perhaps the first lost hero of D-Day, but not killed by enemy fire).

The crashed Horsas of the three 2nd Ox and Bucks platoons that took the Bénouville Bridge over the Caen Canal

The surviving men quickly and quietly gathered together. To the hushed call of Brotheridge, “come on lads,” his platoon rallied and they hurried, first towards battle and the bridge.

Though the Germans knew these back-to-back water crossings to be one of the most strategically vital points in all of occupied France, they were caught off guard. Only two sentries stood guard.

The two German soldiers jumped into action as they spotted the onrush of British soldiers emerging from the darkness. “Fallschirmjäger!Fallschirmjäger!” (German for paratrooper) one shouted as he ran for the trench on the opposite side of the bridge. The other guard quickly fired a flare into the night sky as Brotheridge simultaneously opened fire, killing him just a moment too late.

Brotheridge’s platoon worked fast. Two men dropped grenades into the pillboxes on the West side of the bridge, stopping the German soldiers inside from detonating the explosives which were in place to tear the bridge apart, lest it fall into enemy hands. Fire was returned to the Germans now shooting from the opposite shore.

By 12:21 AM, five minutes after Brotheridge’s platoon hit the ground, they captured the bridge and secured it’s defenses. Before long, Howard received word that his men had captured both bridges and they would hold them until more British forces arrived from the beaches later that morning.

But it wasn’t all good news for Howard. Two under his command had been killed. The first, just after landing and now his dear friend Brotheridge had been killed in action.

As the German sentry’s flare lit the night and gunfire ripped across the canal, a German machine gunner set up in a cafe on the far bank fired a burst at Brotheridge, hitting his neck and back. Brotheridge fell to the ground and died soon after.

Lieutenant Den Brotheridge is buried in Ranville, Normandy France, across the Caen Canal and Orne River from the place he fell.

He was a brave a leader and now, buried in a cemetery not far from where he fell, he is remembered as the first Allied soldier of thousands more to fall on D-Day. Before he left on his mission, he had been a remarkable footballer and cricket player and hoped to return to his athletic career after the war. He was also married to Margaret Plant who was eight months pregnant with their daughter the night he flew to Normandy.


Airspeed Horsa

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 03/25/2016 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.

Aircraft such as the Airspeed AS.51 "Horsa" rarely receive their due in the grand scope of World War 2 - a conflict littered with excellent fighter and bomber types as well as the eccentric design or two. The Horsa was a simple glider design intended to haul man and machine to places far beyond fighting fronts, landing often times behind enemy lines. Observing the success that the German airborne elements had in the early stages of the war, the British followed suit and set up their own airborne contingent and, to this, was realized that specialized hardware would be required for their light-armed infantry. The Horsa proved a success in its subtle ways, ferrying dozens of troops, light artillery pieces or light vehicles to war and production eventually yielded between 3,500 and 5,000 units by war's end (sources vary). The Americans also took on stocks of Horsa numbering several hundred while other nations fielded much limited numbers.

Early development of British military gliders yielded limited results. Specification X.26.40 was eventually fleshed out for a dimensionally larger airframe which could ferry 25 infantry while being towed by a "host" aircraft. The charge fell to the Airspeed Company which - in just eleven months - returned with the AS.51 "Horsa". At Fairey Aircraft's Great West Aerodrome, prototypes were evaluated with an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bomber as the host and five additional vehicles were commissioned to serve in loading trials. In February of 1941, authorities contracted for 400 of the glider and a first flight was recorded on September 12th in that same year. Production examples were expected to be delivered for the following summer.

With a structure made largely of wood, and requiring the facilities of British furniture factories, the plans for the aircraft were specially drawn up to serve established furniture-making business practices. Since most furniture builders lacked the space required for completed aircraft, the gliders saw their final assembly at the hands of Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel offsite. Manufacture of the gliders fell to Harris Lebus and the Austin Motor Company.

The initial Horsa Mk I was given a portside hinged door that doubled as a loading ramp. It was towed through a Y-cable arrangement which ran from the host aircraft to points on the Horsa's wings. As designed, the Horsa was essentially an aircraft sans its engines for the chosen configuration was conventional with a centralized fuselage and forward-set cockpit, high-mounted monoplane wings and a traditional single-finned tail with low-set horizontal planes. The cockpit was heavily glazed and offered excellent vision. A crew of two sat in a side-by-side arrangement with a dual-control scheme so either member could control the aircraft. A simplified instrument panel was set on a pedestal between the two positions as was a low console. Beyond that, the cockpit remained spartan and devoid of unnecessary clutter. Aft of the cockpit was the hold which included exposed framework and seating for up to 25 infantry along side wall benches. The aircraft was towed during take-off atop a jettisonable tricycle undercarriage arrangement and a nose wheel/belly skid combination was used for landing. Strong handling qualities made her a favorable aircraft to control and a "quick-dive" capability allowed pilots some pin-point accuracy.

Dimensions included a length of 67 feet, a wingspan of 88 feet and a height of 19.5 feet. Empty weight was listed at 8,370lbs with a loaded weight topping 15,500lbs. Due to its towed existence, the Horsa was limited in its performance specifications. Top speeds reached up to 150 miles per hour with gliding speeds near 100 miles per hour or less.

In practice, the Horsa was assisted in large part by a host aircraft which was powered. The glider was attached by way of strong cables joining the two aircraft from take-off to flight. From there, glider pilots attempted to keep their aircraft in tune with the host until near the drop zone. Once detached, the glider crew managed the aircraft down to the best of their abilities - sometimes under clear unassuming skies and other times under direct enemy gunfire.

Production of the AS.51 began in earnest during 1942 which resulted in over 2,300 units being made available by the target delivery month. During testing, the gliders initially showcased structural faults when attempting to haul more than just personnel and these were rectified as quickly as possible, adding the much-needed capability of carrying light artillery systems and even 4x4 vehicles. Early use saw the types in action over North Africa and, in November of 1942, during the Norway campaign with mixed results. Regardless, the aircraft soldiered on in the British inventory and saw additional service in such key operations as Operation Husky, the Normandy Invasion and Operation Market Garden. Market Garden alone utilized over 1,200 glider aircraft in General Montgomery's famous multi-pronged assault intended to end the war by Christmas 1944. The British military fielded the AS.51 across its Glider Pilot Regiment of the Army Air Corps and No. 670 Squadron of the Royal Air Force (RAF).

Four major designations were ultimately tied to the Horsa legacy including the initial Mk I models. The AS.58 Mk II was a modified form with a hinged nose for easier loading/unloading and its tow cables now connected at the two-wheeled nose leg. The AS.52 was a proposed "bomber" form with provision for ordnance but was never furthered. Similarly, the AS.53 fell by the wayside and was intended as a more evolved Mk I.


File:Discarded parachutes and Airspeed Horsa gliders lie scattered over 6th Airborne Division's landing zone near Ranville in Normandy, 6 June 1944. CL59.jpg

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Design [ edit | edit source ]

Airspeed Horsa interior, complete with folding bike

The Horsa Mark I had a wingspan of 88 feet (27 m) and a length of 67 feet (20 m), and when fully loaded weighed 15,250 pounds (6,920 kg). ⎝]

The Horsa was considered sturdy and very manoeuvrable for a glider. Its design was based on a high-wing cantilever monoplane with wooden wings and a wooden semi-monocoque fuselage. The fuselage was built in three sections bolted together, the front section held the pilot's compartment and main freight loading door, the middle section was accommodation for troops or freight, the rear section supported the tail unit. It had a fixed tricycle landing gear and it was one of the first gliders equipped with a tricycle undercarriage for take off. On operational flights the main gear could be jettisoned and landing was then made on the castoring nose wheel and a sprung skid under the fuselage. ⎞]

The wing carried large "barn door" flaps which, when lowered, made a steep, high rate-of-descent landing possible — allowing the pilots to land in constricted spaces. The pilot's compartment had two side-by-side seats and dual controls. Aft of the pilot's compartment was the freight loading door on the port side. The hinged door could also be used as a loading ramp. The main compartment could accommodate 15 troops on benches along the sides with another access door on the starboard side. The fuselage joint at the rear end of the main section could be broken on landing to assist in rapid unloading of troops and equipment. Supply containers could also be fitted under the centre-section of the wing, three on each side. The later AS 58 Horsa II had a hinged nose section, reinforced floor and double nose wheels to support the extra weight of vehicles. The tow cable was attached to the nose wheel strut, rather than the dual wing points of the Horsa I. [ citation needed ]

The Airborne Forces Experimental Establishment and 1st Airlanding Brigade began loading trials with the prototypes in March but immediately ran into problems. Staff attempted to fit a jeep into a prototype, only to be told by Airspeed personnel present that to do so would break the glider's loading ramp, as it had only been designed to hold a single motorbike. With this lesson learnt, 1st Airlanding Brigade subsequently began sending samples of all equipment required to go into Horsas to Airspeed, and a number of weeks were spent ascertaining the methods and modifications required to fit the equipment into a Horsa. ⎟]


World War II Database


ww2dbase The Airspeed AS.51 Mk I and AS.58 Mk II Horsa gliders were British World War II troop-carrying gliders built by Airspeed Limited and subcontractors and used for air assault by British and Allied armed forces. The Mk I and the Mk II were virtually identical in outward appearance and performance but, naturally, some design improvements were seen in the Mk II. They were named after Horsa, the legendary 5th century conqueror of Southern Britain.

ww2dbase Design and Development

ww2dbase The Horsa first flew on 12 September 1941. It was a high-wing cantilever monoplane with wooden wings and a wooden semi-monocoque fuselage. The fuselage was built in three sections and bolted together. The front section was the pilot's compartment and main freight loading door, the main section was accommodation for troops or freight, and the rear section supported the tail unit. It had a fixed tricycle landing gear and it was one of the first gliders equipped with a tricycle undercarriage for take off. On operational flights this could be jettisoned and landing was then on a sprung skid under the fuselage. The wing carried large "barn door" flaps which, when lowered, made a steep, high rate-of-descent landing possible - allowing the pilots to land in constricted spaces. The pilot's compartment had two side-by-side seats and dual controls. Aft of the pilot's compartment was the freight loading door on the port side. The hinged door could also be used as a loading ramp. The main compartment could accommodate 15 troops on benches along the sides with another access door on the starboard side. Supply containers could also be fitted under the centre-section of the wing, three on each side. The later AS.58 Horsa II had a hinged nose section, reinforced floor and double nose wheels to support the extra weight of vehicles. The tow was attached to the nose-wheel strut, rather than the dual wing points of the Horsa I.

ww2dbase To assist in rapid unloading of troops and equipment on landing, the fuselage joint to the rear of the Horsa's main section could be broken after landing, releasing the empennage (tail section). After the Normandy invasion, explosive bolts were installed to make this process even more rapid. On at least one occasion (Market Garden, Sept 1944), the bolts exploded in flight as the craft was being towed to the target area with a full load of combat troops aboard. The empennage was released and fell away, destroying all capabilities for independent flight. While the Horsa continued to trail behind its tug, it is not known what became of this glider after it released its tow line.

ww2dbase The Horsa was considered sturdy and very maneuverable for a glider. Production was by Airspeed and subcontractors including Austin Motors and the furniture manufacturer Harris Lebus. A total of 3655 were built. The specification for the gliders had demanded that they were built in a number of sections, and to use facilities not needed for more urgent production, and as a result production was spread across separate factories which limited the likely loss in case of German attack.

ww2dbase Operational History

ww2dbase The use of assault gliders by the British was prompted by the use by Germany of the DFS 230, which was first used in May 1940 to successfully assault the Eben Emael fort in Belgium. Their advantage compared to parachute assault was that the troops were landed together in one place, rather than being dispersed.

ww2dbase With around 28 troop seats, the Horsa was much bigger than the 13-troop US Waco CG-4A Haig (known as the Hadrian by the British), and the 8-troop General Aircraft Hotspur glider which was intended for training duties only. As well as troops, the AS.51 could carry a jeep or a 6 pounder anti tank gun.

ww2dbase The Horsa was first used operationally on the night of 19/20 November 1942 in the unsuccessful attack on the German Heavy Water Plant at Rjukan in Norway (Operation Freshman). The two Horsa gliders, and one of the Halifax tug aircraft, crashed in Norway due to bad weather. All 23 survivors from the glider crashes were executed on the orders of Hitler, in direct breach of the Geneva Convention which protects POWs from summary execution. After this Hitler called the airborne soldiers "Red Devils" due to their maroon berets. The name stuck with them.

ww2dbase On 10 July 1943, 27 Horsas were used in Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily. Large numbers were subsequently used in Operation Tonga and the American airborne landings in Normandy, Operation Dragoon (southern France), Operation Market Garden (Arnhem) and Operation Varsity (crossing the river Rhine). In Normandy, the first units to land in France did so by Horsas, capturing Pegasus Bridge over the Caen Canal.

ww2dbase On operations they were towed variously by Stirling, Halifax, Albemarle, Whitley and Dakota tugs. The pilots were usually from the Glider Pilot Regiment, part of the Army Air Corps, although Royal Air Force pilots were used on occasion. The Horsa was also used in service by the US Airborne operations.

ww2dbase On 5 June 2004, as part of the 60th anniversary commemoration of D-Day, Prince Charles unveiled a replica Horsa on the site of the first landing at Pegasus Bridge in Benouville, France, and talked with the original pilot of the aircraft, Jim Wallwork.

ww2dbase AS.51 Horsa I
Production glider with cable attachment points at upper attachment points of main landing gear.

ww2dbase AS.58 Horsa II
Development of the Horsa I with hinged nose, to allow direct loading and unloading of equipment, twin nose-wheel and cable attachment on nose-wheel strut.

Last Major Revision: Dec 2008

Mk I

ArmamentCan carry 25 glider troops or 1 field gun
Crew2
Span26.83 m
Length20.43 m
Height5.95 m
Wing Area102.60 m²
Weight, Empty3,804 kg
Weight, Loaded7,045 kg
Speed, Maximum242 km/h
Speed, Cruising160 km/h

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. RTB says:
15 Sep 2009 05:15:14 PM

Born 1928 in Thatcham 2 miles fro Greenham Common. Saw Waco Gliders, brought in wooden boxes from the US some on spar daecks of tankers to Liverpool,being assembeled by GIs spoke to them Saw C - 47 towing them. More in my memoirs A sailor on Horseback or a Rolling Stone Memoirs of Capt. Robert T. Bush
available on amazon.com

2. Anonymous says:
30 Sep 2010 01:46:36 AM

Further to RTB's comments above: The Horsa was delivered in 30 seperate parts which then had to be assembled (usually by RAF Maintenance Units). Only about 700 of the 3,799 machines built came fully assembled from the Airspeed factory at Christchuch, Hants.

3. Peter says:
17 Mar 2013 01:58:41 PM

I have a print of a Horsa, landed, with parachute Regt loading their bren guns carrier. The chalk number is 261,the fuselage number is R 4027, presumably the first letter is missing and the name is 'The Undertaker'

4. Gil Ferrey says:
12 Jul 2014 10:42:44 AM

I am in contact with a 94 year-old American Glider pilot who flew Horsas only, and landed on D-Day minus, and also in Nancy and Saargemund. I can find no information on the latter two operations. He had a DUKW on board in the last operation where the glider was shot down and crashed in the trees after having been hit at 5,000 feet with an German 88 mm anti-aircraft shell.

5. Lance Burrell says:
22 Nov 2014 10:02:50 PM

I am looking for an American Horsa Pilot for a project I'm working on. Could you please put me in contact with the gentleman you spoke of or given him my contact information. Thank you.
Lance Burrell, Payson, UT. 801-494-9451

6. Anonymous says:
27 Feb 2016 08:45:12 AM

My father was US Army 13th Airborne WW2. He flew in Waco's and Horsa Gliders. He was trained with 50 cal. Heavy Water Cooled Machine gun, M1 Rifle and 57mm field artillery. He claimed he preferred the British Glider to the American Waco. He served in France during the war and was activated for operations which did not occur due to our fast moving armies.

7. Steve Smith says:
1 Mar 2016 01:33:33 PM

Great site. I am looking for details when Horsa gliders were first sent for storage at RAF Downham Market, Norfolk in 1943. Would like to find out date, and details please. Thank you.

8. Mike Colton says:
3 Jan 2017 06:23:52 PM

A new memorial commemorating "Operation Deadstick" the taking of Pegasus Bridge. The Pegasus Bridge Memorial Flight is being established in the Allied Special Forces Memorial Grove at the National Memorial Arboretum. UK

9. Anonymous says:
25 Nov 2017 10:27:14 AM

Hello, I am looking to build a replica model of the Horsa and I have had no luck finding any detailed plans. Can anyone help please?

All visitor submitted comments are opinions of those making the submissions and do not reflect views of WW2DB.


A Utah WWII Vet Tells His Story of Landing in Normandy

This article is sponsored by US Department of Veteran’s Affairs – VA Salt Lake City Health Care System in association with American United Federal Credit Union. This is who they serve. This is why they serve. The VA Salt Lake City Health Care System is proud to serve the greatest generation and all eras of Veterans. Please take advantage of your VA healthcare benefits today at: https://www.saltlakecity.va.gov/
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D-Day, June 6, 1944, the largest amphibious invasion in history. Over 150-thousand American, British, and Canadian troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, but over 15-thousand airborne soldiers dropped in behind enemy lines on D-Day. Most parachuted in, but over a thousand landed in Normandy inside gliders made of plywood.

97-year-old Millcreek, Utah WWII vet and resident John “Jack” Whipple piloted one of the hundreds of gliders to set down in the fields of France on that June morning.

Tow planes delivered Jack and hundreds of other fearless flyers to the air over Northern France. Jack was behind the controls of an Airspeed Horsa the day of the invasion. “When we came over Utah beach we received some ground,” said Jack. “Then we flew over the Germans, and received a lot more fire.”

Allied forces used two gliders in the invasion: the Waco CG-4A and the Airspeed Horsa. These were not the modern sail planes of today, but cargo and troop carriers. The CG-4 carried a pilot and co-pilot, 13 soldiers and their equipment, or a jeep and 2 or 3 soldiers. Jack’s Horsa carried him and co-pilot, a jeep, an anti-tank gun, 4 soldiers that morning, but the Horsa could also be configured to carry 30 soldiers and their gear. The total weight of a loaded Horsa hovered around 15-thousand pounds.

After the tow planes cut the gliders loose, pilots had just moments to find their landing zone. “The quicker the better,” said Jack. “They were shooting at us – probably 3 or 4 minutes.”

To make matters worse, reconnaissance photos given to pilots were months old. “The photos had been taken in January or February and the trees had no leaves. When we got there, they [the trees] were in full leaves and we missed our main check point.”

Losing altitude, Jack picked a field to land in, but quickly realized it wasn’t big enough. He slammed the glider in to the ground, ripping off the landing gear. He then performed an intentional ground loop, digging one wing into the ground, thus slowing the glider and protecting the fuselage. A maneuver, which all these years later, Jack pointed out was authorized.

“We landed,” said Jack, “didn’t hurt anybody or the major equipment.”

At this point, Jack’s role shifted. “Glider pilots did the flying and right after we landed we became infantry men. Most glider pilots were trained as infantry men, but we couldn’t wear the infantry badge because we weren’t in their unit. We were still in the air corps.”

“We landed behind enemy lines,” said Jack. “We had about perhaps five or six horsa gliders. We got together after [landing], and helped those who were injured. We got attacked that night, but we were able to keep the group together and able to keep the enemy away.”

The airborne assault on German forces was a key part of the allied invasion. “It made it easier because the Germans then had to fight both sides of a squeeze,” said Jack squeezing his hands together. “The people coming on the beach—and the airborne.”

And while hundreds of gliders may not sound like a lot, the gliders provided the airborne units equipment to combat heavy and mechanized infantry, and needed supplies to operate behind enemy lines.


Airspeed Horsa

Aircraft such as the Airspeed AS.51 "Horsa" rarely receive their due in the grand scope of World War 2 - a conflict littered with excellent fighter and bomber types as well as the eccentric design or two. The Horsa was a simple glider design intended to haul man and machine to places far beyond fighting fronts, landing often times behind enemy lines. Observing the success that the German airborne elements had in the early stages of the war, the British followed suit and set up their own airborne contingent and, to this, was realized that specialized hardware would be required for their light-armed infantry. The Horsa proved a success in its subtle ways, ferrying dozens of troops, light artillery pieces or light vehicles to war and production eventually yielded between 3,500 and 5,000 units by war's end (sources vary). The Americans also took on stocks of Horsa numbering several hundred while other nations fielded much limited numbers.

Early development of British military gliders yielded limited results. Specification X.26.40 was eventually fleshed out for a dimensionally larger airframe which could ferry 25 infantry while being towed by a "host" aircraft. The charge fell to the Airspeed Company which - in just eleven months - returned with the AS.51 "Horsa". At Fairey Aircraft's Great West Aerodrome, prototypes were evaluated with an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bomber as the host and five additional vehicles were commissioned to serve in loading trials. In February of 1941, authorities contracted for 400 of the glider and a first flight was recorded on September 12th in that same year. Production examples were expected to be delivered for the following summer.

With a structure made largely of wood, and requiring the facilities of British furniture factories, the plans for the aircraft were specially drawn up to serve established furniture-making business practices. Since most furniture builders lacked the space required for completed aircraft, the gliders saw their final assembly at the hands of Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel offsite. Manufacture of the gliders fell to Harris Lebus and the Austin Motor Company.

The initial Horsa Mk I was given a portside hinged door that doubled as a loading ramp. It was towed through a Y-cable arrangement which ran from the host aircraft to points on the Horsa's wings. As designed, the Horsa was essentially an aircraft sans its engines for the chosen configuration was conventional with a centralized fuselage and forward-set cockpit, high-mounted monoplane wings and a traditional single-finned tail with low-set horizontal planes. The cockpit was heavily glazed and offered excellent vision. A crew of two sat in a side-by-side arrangement with a dual-control scheme so either member could control the aircraft. A simplified instrument panel was set on a pedestal between the two positions as was a low console. Beyond that, the cockpit remained spartan and devoid of unnecessary clutter. Aft of the cockpit was the hold which included exposed framework and seating for up to 25 infantry along side wall benches. The aircraft was towed during take-off atop a jettisonable tricycle undercarriage arrangement and a nose wheel/belly skid combination was used for landing. Strong handling qualities made her a favorable aircraft to control and a "quick-dive" capability allowed pilots some pin-point accuracy.

Dimensions included a length of 67 feet, a wingspan of 88 feet and a height of 19.5 feet. Empty weight was listed at 8,370lbs with a loaded weight topping 15,500lbs. Due to its towed existence, the Horsa was limited in its performance specifications. Top speeds reached up to 150 miles per hour with gliding speeds near 100 miles per hour or less.

In practice, the Horsa was assisted in large part by a host aircraft which was powered. The glider was attached by way of strong cables joining the two aircraft from take-off to flight. From there, glider pilots attempted to keep their aircraft in tune with the host until near the drop zone. Once detached, the glider crew managed the aircraft down to the best of their abilities - sometimes under clear unassuming skies and other times under direct enemy gunfire.

Production of the AS.51 began in earnest during 1942 which resulted in over 2,300 units being made available by the target delivery month. During testing, the gliders initially showcased structural faults when attempting to haul more than just personnel and these were rectified as quickly as possible, adding the much-needed capability of carrying light artillery systems and even 4x4 vehicles. Early use saw the types in action over North Africa and, in November of 1942, during the Norway campaign with mixed results. Regardless, the aircraft soldiered on in the British inventory and saw additional service in such key operations as Operation Husky, the Normandy Invasion and Operation Market Garden. Market Garden alone utilized over 1,200 glider aircraft in General Montgomery's famous multi-pronged assault intended to end the war by Christmas 1944. The British military fielded the AS.51 across its Glider Pilot Regiment of the Army Air Corps and No. 670 Squadron of the Royal Air Force (RAF).

Four major designations were ultimately tied to the Horsa legacy including the initial Mk I models. The AS.58 Mk II was a modified form with a hinged nose for easier loading/unloading and its tow cables now connected at the two-wheeled nose leg. The AS.52 was a proposed "bomber" form with provision for ordnance but was never furthered. Similarly, the AS.53 fell by the wayside and was intended as a more evolved Mk I.


Airspeed Horsa in Normandy - History

The Airspeed AS.51 Horsa was a World War II troop-carrying glider built by the British company Airspeed Ltd and subcontractors. It was named after the 5th century warrior Horsa and was used for air assault by British and Allied armed forces.

The use of assault gliders by the British was prompted by the use by Germany of the DFS 230, which was first used in May 1940 to successfully assault the Eben Emael fort in Belgium. Their advantage compared to parachute assault was that the troops were landed together in one place, rather than being dispersed.

With around 28 troop seats, the Horsa was much bigger than the 13-troop American Waco CG-4A (known as the Hadrian by the British), and the 8-troop General Aircraft Hotspur glider which was intended for training duties only. As well as troops, the AS51 could carry a jeep or a 6 pounder gun. The AS.58 Horsa Mk.II had a hinged nose section, reinforced floor and double nose wheels to support the extra weight of vehicles.

The Horsa was first used in combat on July 10, 1943, when 27 were used in the invasion of Sicily. Large numbers were subsequently used in the Normandy, Operation Dragoon, Operation Market Garden, and Operation Varsity (Crossing the river Rhine). In Normandy, the first troops to land in France did so using Horsas, capturing Pegasus Bridge.

On operations they were towed variously by Stirling, Halifax, Albemarle, Whitley and C-47 Dakota tugs, using a harness that attached to both wings. Glider pilots were usually from the Glider Pilot Regiment, part of the Army Air Corps, although Royal Air Force pilots were used on occasion. The Horsa was also used in service by the USAF.

On June 5, 2004, as part of the 60th anniversary commemoration of D-Day, Prince Charles unveiled a replica Horsa on the site of the first landing at Pegasus Bridge, and talked with the original pilot of the aircraft, Jim Wallwork.

Design and manufacture

The Horsa was designed to specification X.26/40 and built from 1940 onwards. It first flew on 12 September, 1941. The Horsa featured a high-wing and was of all-wooden construction due to the shortage of other materials and the expendable nature of the aircraft. It was one of the first gliders equipped with a tricycle undercarriage for take-off. On operational flights this was jettisoned and landing was made on a skid under the fuselage. The wing carried large, 'barn door' flaps, which when lowered conferred a steep high rate-of-descent landing that allowed the pilots to land in constricted areas.

The Horsa was considered sturdy and very manoeuvrable for a glider. 3655 were built by Airspeed as well as companies outside the aircraft industry such as Austin Motors and the furniture manufacturers Harris Lebus. The gliders were built in a number of sections, each produced in a separate factories in case of German attack.

Type: Assault Glider
Origin: Airspeed
Models: Horsa I and II
First Flight: Prototype DG597: September 12, 1941
Service Delivery: DP279: May 1942
Number Produced: 3,644

General characteristics
Crew: 2
Capacity: 25 passengers
Length: 67 ft (20.4 m)
Wingspan: 88 ft (26.8 m)
Height: 21 ft (6.4 m)
Wing area: 1,148 ft² (106.7 m²)
Empty: 7,500 lb (3,400 kg)
Loaded: 15,250 lb (6,920 kg)
Maximum takeoff: lb ( kg)

Performance
Towing speed: 127 mph (204 km/h)
Gliding speed: 100 mph (160 km/h)


Watch the video: Airspeed Horsa Mk 1 Assault Glider (August 2022).

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