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Weapons of World War Two

The preparation of Operation Overlord (1943-1944)

Airspeed Horsa

Airspeed Horsa

During the night between the 5th and the 6th June 1944 it began that which would go down into military history as the largest combined operation of invasion: the landings in Normandy. During its execution, dozens of thousands of soldiers would be transported from their concentration and training bases in England to the barely open beachheads in French territory, through the most classic means used during operations of this genre: aircraft and ships. The Allies, and the Americans in particular, had already acquired a vast experience in amphibious landings in territories occupied by the enemy. Regarding the utilization of paratroopers, even if this speciality was a very young one (the first action of these soldiers dated back to the conquest of the Eben Emael fort by the German Fallschirmjager in 1939), the high degree of training and the support from the latest findings of technology led to expect that everything would work in a perfect way. However, already before the men from the American and British airborne divisions had landed, many hundreds of soldiers had stepped on French land by using a different transportation means: gliders. In the Allied side, certainly, the landing by means of gliders did not bring very pleasant memories. During the landings in Sicily, for example, a series of coincidences, all of them particularly unfortunate, had turned into a tragedy that which was expected to be a surprise action capable of disorienting the enemy. Many gliders had ended their travels in very distant landing areas, others had been hit by friendly anti-aircraft fire and many more had ended their travels in the sea, where their crews and their passengers lamentably drowned. But this time things would be different. The Allies would capitalize with relatively low losses from the advantages that glider landings offered: the possibility of deploying platoons of soldiers in enemy territory without dispersion on wide areas, and, very importantly, of providing them with transportation means and heavy weapons. In little time, the English Channel was crossed by hundreds and hundreds of gliders of several types: "Horsa", capable of transporting up to 25 fully equipped soldiers; "Hamilcar", whose belly could house a tank; and "Waco", of American manufacture, of similar dimensions than the "Horsa" but with double transport capacity. But this time the main part was carried out by the "Horsa" from the Royal Air Force, which revealed themselves as means of robustness and reliability superior to what was expected. Built by Airspeed, these large gliders had a wingspan of more than 20 meters and they could house from 20 to 25 fully equipped soldiers inside their fuselage. This one, built with a structure entirely made of wood, had been conceived to take advantage of the existing space in the most rational way. The cockpit, of ample visibility, housed two crewmen. The systems for taking off and landing were particularly interesting in other gliders. In the first instance the glider, linked to a towing aircraft, used a wheel carriage attached to the fuselage, which was detached as soon as the glider left the ground. For landing, the glider would simply rest on the belly. Unlike other gliders, the "Horsa" was fitted with a tricycle landing gear, as well as a shock-absorbent skid placed between the main wheels. The "Horsa" were generally towed by four-engine aircraft, but twin-engine aircraft could be used when the travel was short enough. The last operational utilization of these gliders took place in March 1945, when they were used to carry the 6th Airborne Division to the other side of the Rhine.

Airspeed Horsa
First flight: 12 September 1941

Wingspan: 26.20 meters

Wing area: 112 square meters

Length: 20.42 meters

Height: 3.30 meters

Full load/Empty weight: 6900/3800 kilograms

Payload/Crew: 25 soldiers/2

Cruising speed: 160 kilometers/hour

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