D-Day anniversary: Museum’s look at glider that played its part in the D-Day landings

PUBLISHED: 19:43 06 June 2020 | UPDATED: 19:59 06 June 2020

The de Havilland Aircraft Museum's Horsa Glider fuselage and nose sections. Picture: de Havilland Aircraft Museum

The de Havilland Aircraft Museum's Horsa Glider fuselage and nose sections. Picture: de Havilland Aircraft Museum

de Havilland Aircraft Museum

On the 76th anniversary of D-Day, de Havilland Aircraft Museum curator Alistair Hodgson looks at one of the Hertfordshire museum’s special attractions that played its part on June 6, 1944.

The pilots' controls of the Horsa. Almost everything here is made of wood. Picture: de Havilland Aircraft MuseumThe pilots' controls of the Horsa. Almost everything here is made of wood. Picture: de Havilland Aircraft Museum

As we’re celebrating the anniversary of D-Day, there’s only one candidate for this week’s article: it’s our Airspeed Horsa Glider.

This was the workhorse of the invasion that took so many troops silently into battle across northern Europe.

Airspeed was an aircraft company founded in York in 1931, and became a subsidiary of the de Havilland Aircraft Company in 1940.

The Airspeed design team worked on the Horsa at Hatfield, due to the repeated bombing attacks on their main factory at Portsmouth.

A diorama exhibit depicting a Horsa landing incident that actually happened in Normandy on D-Day. Picture: de Havilland Aircraft MuseumA diorama exhibit depicting a Horsa landing incident that actually happened in Normandy on D-Day. Picture: de Havilland Aircraft Museum

When the Hatfield factory was itself bombed in October 1940, the team moved to join the Mosquito design team at Salisbury Hall.

The prototype Horsa was built in sections in a workshop that stood where our new hangar stands today.

The first prototype was assembled and test flown from the Great West Aerodrome, west of London, which is, of course, now known as Heathrow Airport!

The aim of the Horsa was to carry 25 fully-equipped troops and land them directly in the battle zone.

Equipment such as a field gun and even a Jeep could also be carried.

There were two pilots, and the aircraft was towed towards its target behind an aircraft such as an old Whitley bomber or a Handley Page Halifax.

Horsas were first used in the landings on Sicily, but it was during D-Day that they achieved true fame.

Six Horsas landed next to a bridge over the Caen Canal just after midnight and the troops captured the bridge to prevent German forces reaching the invasion beaches.

They held it until Allied reinforcements – also delivered by Horsa gliders – arrived later in the day.

At the de Havilland Aircraft Museum we have a composite of the front fuselage sections of two Horsas: the fuselage tube of a Mk.I aircraft and the nose of later Mk.II.

It was made from wood, just like the Mosquito, but even more so – even the pilots’ controls are made of wood!

Whenever I look at our glider’s frail plywood structure I always think it must have been one of the bravest ways to go into battle, and the courage of the glider-borne troops deserves our deepest respect as we celebrate the anniversary of the D-Day landings.

The de Havilland Aircraft Museum at Salisbury Hall, just off the M25 at Junction 22 for London Colney, is closed until further notice due to coronavirus restrictions.

For more on the museum, visit www.dehavillandmuseum.co.uk


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