A Moment in Air Force History:
WWII Combat Gliders

Senior Master Sgt. Frederick Smith
435th Air Base Wing History Office

***image1***Annual re-enactments of D-Day, Juny 6, 1944, duplicates the paratroop
jumps, but omits the riskier part that ivolved landing the combat
glider of WWII.

The idea of a combat glider seems as strange today as it did to U.S.
war planners back then. However, after German successes with them, the
Army Air Corps took interest, starting their own program in February
1941. After testing, the primary model chosen was the combat assault
glider (CG-4A) Hadrian. Originally built by the Weaver Aircraft Company
of Troy, Ohio, the CG-4A also came to be known as the WACO Glider.

Crewed by a pilot and co-pilot, the CG-4A was a wood and metal tube
framed craft covered with fabric. At 7,500 pounds fully loaded, it
could transport either 13 troops, a jeep and trailer, a quarter-ton
truck, a 75mm howitzer, or a specially designed tractor. The heavy
equipment was loaded through the glider’s upwardly-hinged nose section.
Though 20 feet smaller, and with half the payload of the British Horsa
glider, the CG-4A was the one primarily used by U.S. Forces. One report
says troops preferred the CG-4A because its tube metal frame could
handle the hard landings better than the all-wood constructed Horsa.

Unique glider pilots
The unarmed gliders bounced around in the turbulence of the tow plane
as they were pulled along at 150 miles per hour on the end of a 300
foot, 1-inch nylon rope. Upon landing, the skids dug into the ground
sometimes nearly standing the glider on its nose.

Glider pilots were a unique bunch with no parachutes, no motors, and no
second chances – further supported their legend that the “G” on a
glider pilot’s wings stood for “guts.”

Most glider pilots came from enlisted ranks and all of them were
volunteers. Initially, those who graduated from glider training were
promoted to staff sergeant (unless they already had a higher rank).
That changed after Nov. 21, 1942, when all enlisted advanced glider
training graduates received appointments as flight officers. The
majority of the 5,500 graduates found themselves assigned to troop
carrier units overseas.

Going into battle
The CG-4A first went into battle in July 1943. Initial successes led to
their incorporation into the Normandy invasion plans, despite
survivability questions. Some statistics showed it was safer to
parachute than to fly in a glider. There were four glider missions
flown on D-Day. One of the units that brought them (and the 101st
Airborne) to France was the 435th Troop Carrier Group. While questions
of drop accuracy still exist, the fact remains that the airborne
mission had a significant impact on the outcome of D-Day and the war.

Collector’s items
Today a CG-4A glider is a rare find. Considered expendable in combat,
they were left where they landed. Conversely, the surplus gliders were
quickly bought up after the war.  Not for the glider, but for the
high quality lumber used in the packing crates – lumber needed to feed
America’s post-war housing boom. So after saving freedom and the
American dream, one could say that, indirectly, the combat gliders went
on to become a major part of the foundation.