Silent Wings Museum does an incredible job telling the World War II US Military Glider Program story. The best example of the type of transport gliders used in the war is the CG-4A army green glider on the lower right hand side of the above picture.
Gliders would be towed aloft by a tow plane and then towed to the drop zone. Once over the drop zone and after being released from the tow plane, gliders would (crash) land in the landing zone.
The most common tow plane was the Douglas DC-3 which was also known as a C-47 Skytrain. A C-47 is parked in front of the Museum.
I had the pleasure to talk museum staff. The military used 2 pilots to ‘fly’ CG-4A Transport Gliders. Based on the mission, CG-4A transport gliders could be configured to carry a variety of different loads.
In addition to two pilots, transport gliders can carry 13 soldiers ready for action. The mannequin below is dressed as an infantryman might have been dressed for battle in the European theater.
Alternatively, gliders can carry two pilots and a Jeep.
Instead of a Jeep, gliders delivered howitzer canons to the battlefield. I noticed that the howitzer was made to fold up into a small package. When asked how many howitzers a glider could carry the staff told me just a single one. The rest of the payload carried by the glider was ammunition. Apparently, guns without bullets aren’t all that useful during wartime.
In the Pacific theater, the military often needed to rapidly construct forward airfields. Gliders were used to deliver small bulldozers. When I remarked how cool it was that the gliders could carry a bulldozer, staff told me that it took two gliders to deliver one bulldozer. The blade, fuel, oil and hydraulic fluid were carried by one glider. Another glider carried the engine part. Some field assembly required.
The glider’s interior reveals just how cramped primitive and fragile the gliders were. This is the configuration for carrying a squad of 13 infantrymen. Bench seats fold down in front of the side doors and across the back of the cargo area. The glider’s exterior covering is made from fabric. It wouldn’t take much to accidentally push a foot, hand or gun through the exterior. Imagine hitting a tree or bush during a (crash) landing in one of these.
Pilots had little protection as well. Flack from antiaircraft guns could pierce and kill occupants. The cockpit didn’t provide much protection while landing. Glider pilot mortality rates exceeded 50% on some campaigns. A significant portion (50%?) of the ‘successful’ glider landings on film show the glider’s nose digging into the ground and the tail rising way up in the air, sometimes somersaulting.
While pilots received training that included takeoffs (towed) and landings, infantrymen’s first experience with gliders was often during their first battle deployment. Staff told me that most infantrymen were scared to death during the glider portion of their missions.
I’m fascinated with World War II. Part of my fascination is with the high level of commitment soldiers had to the war effort. Soldiers trusted their leadership in ways that 70 plus years later seems inconceivable. We are more cynical, less trusting in institutions and less civil now.
Something else seems a bit off. Almost universally, all of the WW II uniforms I’ve seen in museums seem to be made for incredibly smallish people. Were only small uniforms saved for posterity? When looking at the Jeep (pictured above), I noticed how small the front seats were. Compared to my Jeep Wrangler (the closest modern version of a WW II Jeep we have) which is not a big vehicle for big people, the everything about the original Jeeps were sized for much smaller people.
Above all, I’m still amazed by and thankful of the sacrifices made by servicemen. All servicemen including those who served in WW II.