This book describes the author’s experience as a SNCO in the Glider Pilot Regiment in World War Two. Written from contemporaneous diaries and illustrated both with photographs and the author’s own sketches, it is a superb first-hand account from a highly-trained specialist who fought in the airborne assaults on Sicily, Arnhem and the Rhine.
- Victor Miller
The author, Victor ‘Dusty’ Miller is a brutally honest writer. He captures the various periods of a soldier’s existence: boredom (it would appear that ‘hurry up and wait’ is nothing new), excitement, exhaustion, confusion, fun, fear and exhilaration. These are shown through his experiences in the first Allied large-scale Airborne attack on Sicily in 1943, his nine days under bombardment at Arnhem in 1944 and his part in the assault over the Rhine in 1945. During these operations, he is wounded, taken prisoner, freed, takes part in fighting patrols and platoon-level attacks, guards prisoners, loses friends, digs in (a lot!) and each time having flown a troop-carrying glider into action. This book captures both the first-hand experience of certain operations and the unique capabilities of soldiers in the Glider Pilot Regiment: well-trained infanteers, skilled pilots and both leaders (to troops missing their own commanders) and led (when forming up in their own sub-units).
All three operations clearly show the difficulty and confusion of Airborne assaults. Crash landing in the dark in Sicily and taking place in the chaotic fighting to get to and then hold the Ponte Grande Bridge (a critical objective) is described clearly and effectively as is his subsequent wounding and being taken prisoner. The next operation, Arnhem, is easier being in daylight but has graphic descriptions of crowded airspace followed by the intensity of the bombardment in Oosterbeek; his battle ends by being one of the guides back to the River Rhine for the night extraction – alone, frightened, wet and under mortar fire is not something for which I envy the author. His final operation, the crossing of the Rhine, is just as confusing and frightening; landing blind in smoke and dust and then going into an immediate platoon attack on landing. This is followed by a lot more digging in, honesty about his fears of indirect fire and a number of small-unit actions.
The book lacks wider detail of the operations which, counter-intuitively, works. This book is not an introduction to Airborne operations but a first-hand account. The lack of wider detail and the trench-level perspective provide a graphic description of how confusing a soldier’s experiences can be and how demoralising this can be. The book also brings out the unique nature of the Glider Pilot Regiment, the only unit to take part in all the major Airborne operations of the war, and the subsequent high casualty rate, some 40%; the highest casualty rate of all the Airborne forces.
I recommend this book to both those with an interest in Airborne Forces and anyone interested in a soldier’s-eye view of the fighting. It is keenly and honestly written and an excellent read.