Glider Pilot Regiment
The Glider Pilot Regiment was a British airborne forces
Airborne forces
Airborne forces are military units, usually light infantry, set up to be moved by aircraft and 'dropped' into battle. Thus they can be placed behind enemy lines, and have an ability to deploy almost anywhere with little warning...

 unit of the Second World War which was responsible for crewing the British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

's military glider
Military glider
Military gliders have been used by the military of various countries for carrying troops and heavy equipment to a combat zone, mainly during the Second World War. These engineless aircraft were towed into the air and most of the way to their target by military transport planes, e.g...

s and saw action in the European Theatre of World War II
European Theatre of World War II
The European Theatre of World War II was a huge area of heavy fighting across Europe from Germany's invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 until the end of the war with the German unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945...

 in support of Allied airborne operations. Established in 1942, the regiment was disbanded in 1957.


The German military was one of the pioneers of the use of airborne formations, conducting several successful airborne operations during the Battle of France
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

 in 1940, including the Battle of Fort Eben-Emael
Battle of Fort Eben-Emael
The Battle of Fort Eben-Emael was a battle between Belgian and German forces that took place between 10 May and 11 May 1940, and was part of the Battle of the Netherlands, Battle of Belgium and Fall Gelb, the German invasion of the Low Countries and France...

. Impressed by the success of German airborne operations, the Allied governments decided to form their own airborne formations. This decision would eventually lead to the creation of two British airborne divisions, as well as a number of smaller units. The British airborne establishment began development on 22 June 1940, when the Prime Minister
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the Head of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Sovereign, to Parliament, to their political party and...

, Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

, directed the War Office
War Office
The War Office was a department of the British Government, responsible for the administration of the British Army between the 17th century and 1964, when its functions were transferred to the Ministry of Defence...

 in a memorandum to investigate the possibility of creating a corps
A corps is either a large formation, or an administrative grouping of troops within an armed force with a common function such as Artillery or Signals representing an arm of service...

 of 5,000 parachute troops. On 21 June 1941, the Central Landing Establishment
No.1 Parachute Training School RAF
No.1 Parachute Training School RAF is a Royal Air Force training unit that was initially based at RAF Ringway, now Manchester Airport and is currently based at RAF Brize Norton. It was formed at Ringway on 21 June 1940 as the Central Landing School and from 1 October 1940 it was designated as the...

 was formed at Ringway airfield
RAF Ringway
RAF Ringway, was a Royal Air Force station near Manchester, UK, in the parish of Ringway, then in Cheshire. It was operational from 1939 until 1957.-Prewar years:...

 near Manchester
Manchester is a city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England. According to the Office for National Statistics, the 2010 mid-year population estimate for Manchester was 498,800. Manchester lies within one of the UK's largest metropolitan areas, the metropolitan county of Greater...

; although tasked primarily with training parachute troops, it was also directed to investigate the possibilities of using gliders to transport troops into battle. It had been decided that the Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 and the Army would cooperate in forming the airborne establishment, and as such Squadron Leader
Squadron Leader
Squadron Leader is a commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many countries which have historical British influence. It is also sometimes used as the English translation of an equivalent rank in countries which have a non-English air force-specific rank structure. In these...

 Louis Strange
Louis Strange
Louis Arbon Strange DSO OBE MC DFC was an early English aviator, World War I and World War II airman.- Early life :Louis Strange was born in Dorset and was educated at St Edward's School Oxford, joining the school's contingent of the Dorset Yeomanry.Strange spent his childhood at Tarrant Keynstone...

 and Major
Major is a rank of commissioned officer, with corresponding ranks existing in almost every military in the world.When used unhyphenated, in conjunction with no other indicator of rank, the term refers to the rank just senior to that of an Army captain and just below the rank of lieutenant colonel. ...

 J.F. Rock were tasked with gathering together potential glider pilots and forming a glider unit; this was achieved by searching for members of the armed forces who had pre-war experience of flying gliders, or were interested in learning to do so. The two officers and their newly-formed unit were provided with four obsolescent Armstrong Whitworth Whitley
Armstrong Whitworth Whitley
The Armstrong Whitworth A.W.38 Whitley was one of three British twin-engine, front line medium bomber types in service with the Royal Air Force at the outbreak of the Second World War...

 bombers and a small number of Tiger Moth
Tiger moth
Tiger moths are moths of the family Arctiidae.Tiger moth may also refer to:*de Havilland Tiger Moth, an aircraft; an aerobatic and trainer tailwheel biplane*de Havilland DH.71 Tiger Moth, an earlier monoplane produced by de Havilland...

 and Avro 504
Avro 504
The Avro 504 was a World War I biplane aircraft made by the Avro aircraft company and under licence by others. Production during the War totalled 8,970 and continued for almost 20 years, making it the most-produced aircraft of any kind that served in World War I, in any military capacity, during...

 biplanes for towing purposes. Around this time the War Office and Air Ministry began to draw up specifications for several types of military gliders to be used by the unit, which would eventually take the form of the General Aircraft Hotspur, General Aircraft Hamilcar
General Aircraft Hamilcar
The General Aircraft Limited GAL. 49 Hamilcar or Hamilcar Mark I was a large British military glider produced during the Second World War, which was designed to carry heavy cargo, such as the Tetrarch or M22 Locust light tank...

, Airspeed Horsa
Airspeed Horsa
The Airspeed AS.51 Horsa was a British World War II troop-carrying glider built by Airspeed Limited and subcontractors and used for air assault by British and Allied armed forces...

 and the Slingsby Hengist
Slingsby Hengist
-See also:-References:NotesBibliography* Bishop, Chris. The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II: The Comprehensive Guide to Over 1,500 Weapons Systems, Including Tanks, Small Arms, Warplanes, Artillery, Ships and Submarines. New York: Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2002. ISBN...

. These designs would take some time to be designed and produced, however, and for the time being the fledgling unit was forced to improvise.

A Glider Training Squadron was formed, and the first test-flights were conducted using British Aircraft Swallow
British Aircraft Swallow
|-See also:-References:*Jackson, A.J. British Civil Aircraft since 1919 Volume 1. London: Putnam, 1974. ISBN 0-370-10006-9.* Scholefield, R.A. Manchester Airport. Stroud: Sutton Publishing Ltd, 1998. ISBN 0-7509-1954-X....

 light aircraft which had their propellors removed to simulate the flight characteristics of a glider; they were towed by the Whitley bombers using tow-ropes of varying number and length for experimentation purposes. Appeals were made throughout the United Kingdom for civilian gliders to be donated to the squadron, and the first four arrived in August; three of them had been manufactured in pre-war Germany. Within a short period of time several more were donated, and these were put to use training instructors, glider pilots and newly-formed ground crews. Accidents were quite frequent in these early months, primarily due to the hemp
Hemp is mostly used as a name for low tetrahydrocannabinol strains of the plant Cannabis sativa, of fiber and/or oilseed varieties. In modern times, hemp has been used for industrial purposes including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food and fuel with modest...

 tow-ropes breaking during flight; these problems were only solved with the introduction of nylon
Nylon is a generic designation for a family of synthetic polymers known generically as polyamides, first produced on February 28, 1935, by Wallace Carothers at DuPont's research facility at the DuPont Experimental Station...

 tow-ropes imported from the United States of America. The first demonstration of the squadron's abilities took place on 26 September, when Prince George, Duke of Kent
Prince George, Duke of Kent
Prince George, Duke of Kent was a member of the British Royal Family, the fourth son of George V and Mary of Teck, and younger brother of Edward VIII and George VI...

 witnessed a demonstration of the fledgling airborne establishment's capabilities; four parachute-drops were conducted, and then two gliders were towed by civilian aircraft. This was followed on 26 October by a night exercise being conducted by the squadron, with two Avro 504s towing four gliders, and on 13 December five gliders were towed to Tatton Park
Tatton Park
Tatton Park is a historic estate in Cheshire, England, to the north of the town of Knutsford. It contains a mansion, Tatton Hall, a manor house dating from medieval times, Tatton Old Hall, gardens, a farm and a deer park of . It is a popular visitor attraction and hosts over 100 events annually...

, where they landed alongside sixteen parachutists dropped from two Whitley bombers.

There was a certain carefree atmosphere present in the squadron in the first few months of its existence; new recruits were not obliged to pass a medical test to join the squadron, and it attracted a number of adventurous-minded men with a passion for flying, including a sergeant
Sergeant is a rank used in some form by most militaries, police forces, and other uniformed organizations around the world. Its origins are the Latin serviens, "one who serves", through the French term Sergent....

 who had flown a Messerschmitt
Messerschmitt AG was a famous German aircraft manufacturing corporation named for its chief designer, Willy Messerschmitt, and known primarily for its World War II fighter aircraft, notably the Bf 109 and Me 262...

 during the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

. These first pilots had been volunteers recruited from all of the branches of the armed forces, primarily the Army, but as the squadron began to conduct training exercises, arguments broke out between the RAF and the Army over the pilots. In the view of the RAF, gliders were aircraft and were therefore in their jurisdiction and should be controlled by them; the Army argued that as the glider pilots would subsequently be fighting alongside the troops they were transporting after the gliders had landed, they should therefore come under Army control. After much debate, a compromise was brokered between the two services: the pilots would be recruited from the Army, but they would be trained by the RAF.

Volunteers were sought from the Army and these had to be passed by RAF selection procedures before entering training. Once qualified as light aircraft pilots after a 12 week course, they were given further training on gliders: another 12 week course to qualify on the General Aircraft Hotspur glider. After a period they would then go to a Heavy Glider Conversion Unit for a six week course so they were qualified for the Airspeed Horsa
Airspeed Horsa
The Airspeed AS.51 Horsa was a British World War II troop-carrying glider built by Airspeed Limited and subcontractors and used for air assault by British and Allied armed forces...


Higher formations

In 1942 the Glider Pilot Regiment came under a newly formed administrative corps, the Army Air Corps, alongside the Parachute Regiment and wartime Special Air Service
Special Air Service
Special Air Service or SAS is a corps of the British Army constituted on 31 May 1950. They are part of the United Kingdom Special Forces and have served as a model for the special forces of many other countries all over the world...

, and the Air Observation Post squadrons of the Royal Artillery
Royal Artillery
The Royal Regiment of Artillery, commonly referred to as the Royal Artillery , is the artillery arm of the British Army. Despite its name, it comprises a number of regiments.-History:...

In 1949, the AAC was broken up and the regiment formed part of the Glider Pilot and Parachute Corps.
In 1957 the Glider Pilot Regiment and the Air Observation Post squadrons of the Royal Artillery
Royal Artillery
The Royal Regiment of Artillery, commonly referred to as the Royal Artillery , is the artillery arm of the British Army. Despite its name, it comprises a number of regiments.-History:...

 amalgamated to form the current Army Air Corps.

See also

  • The Parachute Regiment - the UK's other airborne infantry
  • Assault Glider Trust
    Assault Glider Trust
    The Assault Glider Trust is a registered charity established in 2001 and based at RAF Shawbury in Shropshire.The trust was formed by veterans of the Glider Pilot Regiment Association...

  • Operation Deadstick
    Operation Deadstick
    Operation Deadstick was the codename for an airborne forces operation by the British Army that took place on 6 June 1944 as part of the Normandy landings. The mission's objective was to capture intact two road bridges in Normandy across the River Orne and the Caen Canal providing the only exit...

External links

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