In his own words: Gliderborne to Pegasus Bridge

Goatman

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#1
Followed a link on a Google search for something else and came across this HERE.... A Brummy 6th Airborne Normandy veteran reminisces ....thought it might be of interest...couldn't find a suitable thread.

Like Ron Picken, Bob Stokes had also been undergoing some special training with the 6th Airborne. His arrival in Normandy would not be by sea and landing craft, he was going in by glider.

'We had been studying those maps for the week before the landings and we expected to land in a field with a hedge around it. We did, but the farmer had ploughed the field the day before so the landing was hard. The terrible thing of course was that the glider pilot, as so often happened, was killed on landing, especially as we landed nose down.'

'The glider was towed by a Halifax bomber. The bomber took off from an airfield in Oxfordshire with us in tow. We were released about a mile from the target area. The tow rope was a connecting tube through which the pilots could speak to each other. It wasn't an intercom. There was no option once you were released and it was all determined by the bomber pilot. As soon as it was released it all went quiet and your ears started to pop. We were taught to shout to keep our ears open. I'm sure some of the shouting would have frightened the Germans to death. They probably thought we were mad. Perhaps we were.'

'Glider pilots must rank amongst the bravest of all the blokes of the last war because for so many of them it was almost certain death, either because of the nose first landing or the intense fire from the ground that they had to fly into.'

'We landed nose down and slap bang in the middle of tracer bullets. Most of the fire was coming from an Ack Ack gun. Anyway, it was put out of action and we got the stuff out of the glider and the tail off. I had to get the jeep and trailer out because I was on a Vickers machine gun. As luck would have it, the primed hand grenades which we all had strapped to our belts did not go off, despite all the buffeting of the landing.'

'We were ordered out of the field by Sergeant Major Crewe and set off for our rendezvous point. It still had something of the training manoeuvre about it until we came across a pile of Commando bodies. They must have died when they landed. It was then that we realised this was not Salisbury Plain! Anyway, we reached the rendezvous point.'

'We were supposed to take a small village called Ampreville but we never made it. It was about two hours after we arrived that we discovered that Sergeant Major Crewe had been killed, and so had the Company Commander. By the end of the day we had had three different Company Commanders as a result of the fighting.'

'We reached our position late afternoon on the 6th. We were about a mile and a half from Pegasus Bridge. The local cafe owner had dug a hole some time before the landings and buried his champagne. The cafe became the First Aid post and I think we all must have had something wrong with us, some were genuine, just to taste the wine. Georges, his wife and his daughter Ariette, made us all very welcome. In fact, Ariette is the patron of the Birmingham Branch of the NVA and she still attends many of the branch functions.'

'We dug in our positions and could hear the German tanks, the Panzers, rumbling up. It was as soon as night fell that they really began their bombardment of us. We were to stay there on the left flank for eleven weeks. We were originally meant to be there for two days to create a bridgehead and then we would be back in Britain. It didn't turn out that way. Even the glider pilots who had survived had to stay and wear our red berets. Most of them were marvellous soldiers.'

'We stayed there until the heavy bombing of Caen. A week later it was decided to advance, this meant we would be doing something at last. It was mined every inch of the way. We had to keep stopping and feeling our way ahead. We actually finished up on the Seine.'
One of the vanished New Forest airfields (Stoneycross?) was a rehearsal base for glider ops......mostly under grass and ponies now.... one of the fomer runways now forms an eerily straight bit of tarmac for a mile and a half across the common....


Le Chevre
 
#2
Might seem a bone question but............did you conduct pactice glider landing? If yes.......how many.

Many thanks.
 
#3
Are you asking Bob Stokes or Lee Shaver?
 

Goatman

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#4
jdb2270 said:
Might seem a bone question but............did you conduct pactice glider landing? If yes.......how many.

Many thanks.
It's a question you could put to the guy - C/O Wolverhampton Normandy Veterans Association (if he's still about) .

There's a plaque at Stoneycross that has some stuff about the ops there - I'll have a look next time I'm in the area.

Stoneycross was primarily a USAAF rather than RAF location - and I think(?) the troops training there were were 101st Airborne rather than 6th Airborne Divn....Hamilcar gliders? Quite dangerous enough without Hermann Goering's funfzen an die Kanonen firing at you.....

Le Chevre
 
#5
Goatman said:
jdb2270 said:
Might seem a bone question but............did you conduct pactice glider landing? If yes.......how many.

Many thanks.
It's a question you could put to the guy - C/O Wolverhampton Normandy Veterans Association (if he's still about) .

There's a plaque at Stoneycross that has some stuff about the ops there - I'll have a look next time I'm in the area.

Stoneycross was primarily a USAAF rather than RAF location - and I think(?) the troops training there were were 101st Airborne rather than 6th Airborne Divn....Hamilcar gliders? Quite dangerous enough without Hermann Goering's funfzen an die Kanonen firing at you.....

Le Chevre
After an exercise in appalling weather, Operation Dreme in April 44, when a Halifax/Horsa combination loaded with troops flew into a hill, killing all on board both aircraft, all exercises with 'live loads' were stopped. Twenty two out of the thirty giders from D Squadron which took part in that exercise crash landed, witha total of thirty four fatalities. The gliders only carried ballast to represent their operational weights after that until D-Day itself. Generally troops hated flying in gliders as the turbulence and constant jerking caused by the tow rope expanding and contracting caused extreme nausea.

I presume this chap went across on Mallard and landed at LZ 'N'. When I can get at my records, I'll try to see if I can find out which glider he was in.
 
#7
SUNRAY_MINOR said:
dundrillin PM sent
And replied to.

If this is Mallard (and I'm guessing that) then the glider pilot was probably Lt. Eric Martin (buried Ranville). Co-Pilot, Lt. A. A. Clarke was injured. Only other possibility is S/Sgt Alec Sephton, but as he's buried at Hermannsville, he's not so likely.
 
#8
I did Pegasus bridge on a battlefield tour and was told by the guide that the gliders were coming in at 150mph. It was the job of a bloke sat at the back to throw out a parachute, like a dragster to slow it down. No pressure, imagine getting it all tangled up :( On landing, nothing happened for 15 seconds or so as most of the occupants were unconcious
 
#9
jdb2270 said:
Might seem a bone question but............did you conduct pactice glider landing? If yes.......how many.

Many thanks.
My Friend Cowboy who fought with the Staffs at Arnhem, had one practice flight, one of his companions had been in the Gliders before and had spent many hours in the water, after being let loose to early at Sicily.

Anyway i digress, his companion had to be held down after going 'mental' it didnt fill Cowboy with confidence much, and landing in a plane with no engines at 100mph even less.

He says the Paras from the 11th Battalion who went for a 'jolly' in a glider declared him and his mates as being mad for doing what they where going to do :)
 

Goatman

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#10
Searching for an image of the Horsa I came across this, again from Bob Stokes:
Bob Stokes had opted to do something a little bit 'different' - glider training.

'Those of us who had volunteered were sent to Bulford. When we got there we suddenly realised just what we had volunteered for. From the very first day everything was done at the double and after the first week there was only about half of the original number left. It was that hard and punishing a regime.'

'The really extensive training started after that first week. We were sent over Salisbury Plain to train, to Ilfracombe, Lincoln, Woodhall Spa and all the aerodromes around Oxfordshire like Larkhill and Brize Norton. We didn't really mind the constant moving around because we were young feelers and we were treated that little bit special, although not when we had to march all the way back from Ilfracombe to Bulford, all 120 miles of it. One bloke died on that march back.'



Bob Stokes and others loading up a Horsa glider, D Day -1.

'Any new equipment which came out, we had it first. That even included things like blankets and anoraks, not just weapons. As we got the new stuff given to us we were sent out to try it out. We would be taken out and dropped off from a lorry in the middle of nowhere, with no money or identification (to make absolutely sure that you were not carrying anything you were searched, even internally) and made to make our own way back. All the signposts had disappeared and all we had was a small compass.'

'We pulled some right stunts to get back though. Most of them would land you in jail in civvy street. We stole any sort of transport, car, motorbike, push bike, you name it. The trouble was many of us behaved in a similar way when it wasn't a manoeuvre. I can remember pinching jeeps off the Yanks, although after a while they got wise to it and chained up the steering wheel so we had to resort to metal cutters.'

'When we got up at six in a morning for our run, the whole place was full of jeeps. One of those jeeps we kept for about six months. It was hidden in a copse and we used it for weekends off the base.'

'As D Day got nearer, the training intensified but we only actually went up in a glider once before the actual invasion. We went through a lot of mock ups on the ground. The reason for this was that most gliders were usually smashed when they landed, so there was very little point in ruining a load of gliders just for training purposes. They might as well wait for the actual invasion.'

'We would go up in a light one which landed on an aerodrome, but we had absolutely no experience of landing in water before D Day. We were taught to get the tail off, or at least the others were taught to get the tail off, I wasn't listening and so I never could do that.'

'The week before the actual invasion we were moved to security camps close to the airfields in Oxfordshire. We stayed there for about five or six days. No-one was allowed off the camp during that time. We got to work on some really amazing maps of the drop zone in Normandy. We were given 3D glasses which made the maps stand out. You could pick out the hedgerows in the fields, and that included the actual hedge we were going to land in.'
 
#11
Taffnp said:
I did Pegasus bridge on a battlefield tour and was told by the guide that the gliders were coming in at 150mph. It was the job of a bloke sat at the back to throw out a parachute, like a dragster to slow it down. No pressure, imagine getting it all tangled up :( On landing, nothing happened for 15 seconds or so as most of the occupants were unconcious
Exaggerated somewhat. Horsa landed about 60 mph when empty and 75-80 loaded (with full flap). Problem on Tonga was that almost all the gliders were overloaded and the actual wind direction was 180 degrees to forecast, a combination of factors leading to downwind landings on LZ 'N'of 100-105 mph. No joke whatsoever in a dark LZ, full of obstructions, protected only by a piece of plywood the thickness of a thin slice of bread! In the Coup de Main operation, of the three pilots (from the 5 gliders that landed in the correct place) to report their airspeed on landing. two gave it as 80 mph and one (Geoff Barkway) as 90-100 mph.

The braking chutes had never been tested and the pilots were reluctant deploy them, although at least two did. Jim Wallwork found that it tilted the tail up, resulting in a heavy nose-down landing. Oliver Boland reported that their speed was too slow for the chute to work properly. I may be wrong on this, but I believe that the chutes were deployed by pulling a lever in the cockpit by one of the pilots and not by one of the 'live load'.
 
#12
The first glider - piloted by S/Sgt Jim Wallwork - landed 47 metres from the Bridge at Oustreham, later named Pegasus Bridge. Picture that; a 10-k glide over enemy territory, in the pitch black, navigating by memory, compass and stopwatch... 47 metres is stunning and Leigh-Mallory (?) described it as the greatest feat of airmanship in WW2.
 
#13
dundrillin said:
Goatman said:
jdb2270 said:
Might seem a bone question but............did you conduct pactice glider landing? If yes.......how many.

Many thanks.
After an exercise in appalling weather, Operation Dreme in April 44, when a Halifax/Horsa combination loaded with troops flew into a hill, killing all on board both aircraft, all exercises with 'live loads' were stopped. Twenty two out of the thirty giders from D Squadron which took part in that exercise crash landed, witha total of thirty four fatalities. The gliders only carried ballast to represent their operational weights after that until D-Day itself. Generally troops hated flying in gliders as the turbulence and constant jerking caused by the tow rope expanding and contracting caused extreme nausea.

Dundrillin/scarletto very many thanks, just the sort of replies I was hoping for, factual and informative.
Regards,
jdb2270 8)
 
#14
Bravo_Bravo said:
The first glider - piloted by S/Sgt Jim Wallwork - landed 47 metres from the Bridge at Oustreham, later named Pegasus Bridge. Picture that; a 10-k glide over enemy territory, in the pitch black, navigating by memory, compass and stopwatch... 47 metres is stunning and Leigh-Mallory (?) described it as the greatest feat of airmanship in WW2.
Quite rightly too. As if the above wasn't difficult enough, there was a lot of very bad turbulence that night and just keeping the wings of the glider level would have not been easy. Further to what I said about overloading, a couple of the pilots told me that they'd spent the entire flight with almost full rudder applied in order to keep the glider's wings level. Wallwork had actually told John Howard before the flight that they'd try to put the nose of the glider through the barbed wire defence, even though privately, the two pilots reckoned that this may be fatal for them. They kept their promise and luckily survived, although they do claim to be the first Allied troops to land in France as both were catapulted through the front of the aircraft, to land nose-first on the ground, still fastened into their seats.
 
#15
Bravo_Bravo said:
The first glider - piloted by S/Sgt Jim Wallwork - landed 47 metres from the Bridge at Oustreham, later named Pegasus Bridge. Picture that; a 10-k glide over enemy territory, in the pitch black, navigating by memory, compass and stopwatch... 47 metres is stunning and Leigh-Mallory (?) described it as the greatest feat of airmanship in WW2.
Jim Wallwark actually landed bang on his LZ. He asked Major John Howard where does he want the glider - Howard replied as close to the barbed wire as possible. In fact the glider's nose stopped on the wire - luckily for Jim, as he and his co-pilot were both catapulted through the windscreen and over the wire - any shorter and they would have become entangled in it, exposed to the enemy MG fire! The DFM seems a paltry award for that feat of flying - and he was involved in a pitched battle immediately after, not back to RAF Wotsit and a fry-up! Jim was a veteran of the Scicily landings, and went on to pilot gliders at Arnhem and the Rhine.
 
#16
The landing parachutes were, to quote S/Sgt Wallwork, "classic examples of British engineering". Fitted the day before D-Day, the pilots were told that they were far too dangerous to be used for a dummy run, even with a single glider. A trapdoor was cut in the tail section of the glider and the opened parachute put down on top of it. In the cockpit two buttons were fitted. Button 'A' opened the trap door and let the 'chute stream out: button 'B' released the chute.

The glider pilots were not happy at the idea of a trap door accidentally opening whilst they were on tow, especially if the release gear failed to operate. They therefore made an on the spot change to the operating procedures. The soldier sitting at the back of the cabin held the opened canopy in his lap until after cast-off, and then put it down on top of the trap door before the landing.

As the pilots had predicted, all the landing chutes did was lift the tail of the glider, force the nose down and destroy the landing gear.

Incidentally, here's another RAF quote, from Air Vice Marshal Harris, on the total impossibility of the Army operating gliders: "The idea that semi-skilled unpicked personnel (infantry corporals have, I believe, even been suggested) could, with a maximum of training be entrusted with the piloting of these troop transports is fantastic. Their operation is the equivalent of force landing the largest sized aircraft without engine aid -- than which there is no higher test of piloting skill."

Extracted from 'Aeroplane Monthly' May 1994.

Harris and the RAF were of course totally wrong. Then again, when has the RAF ever been right about anything to do with fighting a war?
 
#17
If anyone's interested, I drove past the runway they took off from this morning and there was a digger on it pulling up the tarmac.
 
#20
dundrillin said:
scarletto said:
Going slightly off topic, id recommend this book Glider Pilots at Arnhem.
Agree- excellent book. I've met Luuk Buist and his knowledge about he GPR at Arnhem is encyclopedic
Yes very nice chap, took me a few years ago around the GPR areas upto the station near the white house.
 

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