This week in… 1944

This report on the use of gliders in the D-Day landings offers a rare and intriguing reminder of the critical role played by engineers throughout the Second World War.


For fear of giving away valuable military know-how, wartime issues of The Engineer are often frustratingly light on technical details. But this report on the use of gliders in the D-Day landings offers a rare and intriguing reminder of the critical role played by engineers throughout the Second World War.

‘Following last week’s landings on the French coast beaches,’ wrote The Engineer, ‘much good work, it is stated, has been performed by the “Hamilcar” motorless glider, which is equipped to carry a fast light tank or other heavy equipment, and at first was believed by the enemy to be a troop carrier.’

The article continued: ‘It can now be revealed that the “Hamilcar”, which is towed by an RAF heavy bomber, carries a tank fitted with a gun that can be started up by its crew while it is still airborne, and goes into action immediately the machine lands.

‘As soon as the glider touches down, the nose swings back so that the tank can run out and free itself. According to the information given, the “Hamilcar” has a wing span somewhat greater than that of a “Lancaster” but it is so designed that it can be landed in little more than a small meadow.

‘An instance has been recorded where the landing of one of these light tanks was instrumental in silencing an enemy gun-post which had been causing heavy casualties among our ground forces, while in another case an airborne tank was able to deal effectively with snipers in a church tower which was immediately demolished by tank gunfire.’

Developed by Croydon firm General Aircraft, the gliders were used three times: in June 1944 during Operation Tonga; a couple of months later as part of Operation Market Garden; and, finally, in March 1945 during Operation Varsity. They were famously immortalised in the epic Second World War film ‘A bridge too far’.

Jon Excell