TRIBUTE TO THE AMERICAN COMBAT GLIDER PILOTS OF WORLD WAR II

                                                         

Annual Reunion of the National WWII Glider Pilots Association - Click here for information

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DEDICATION - PAGE 2

The Military Order of the Purple Heart

Awarded to those who died or were wounded in combat.  One in every four of the Glider Pilots earned this decoration.  

 

 

        "Operation Husky," the airborne landings in Sicily in July 1943, was the first major American airborne assault using gliders in Europe.  A difficult operation was made far worse when the Allied Naval task group enroute to Sicily mistook Allied aircraft and their towed gliders in the dark for enemy aircraft, and opened fire on the slow-moving air convoys shooting down a number of transports and gliders.  Between the "friendly fire" and faulty navigation that caused gliders to go down in the sea, so many Glider Pilots and infantry were killed and wounded that the American high command came close to terminating the glider program and questioned the value of large-scale airborne assaults in general.  In their invasion of Crete, German airborne and glider forces sustained such high casualties that even Hitler, certainly not known for the value he placed on human life, decided that large unit glider and paratroop assaults were too dangerous and called a halt to any further major airborne assaults.

The Prisoner of War Medal

Awarded to personnel serving with the U.S. Army who were held captive by enemy forces. 

     

    In March 1944, gliders performed valuable and risky combat duty in Burma during "Operation Thursday."  Performing duties identical to those accomplished today by helicopters, American Glider Pilots flew troops, ammunition and supplies behind Japanese lines.  When jungle airstrips were insufficient to land powered aircraft, a dangerous maneuver called "the snatch" was used extensively to retrieve landed gliders from a dead stop.  C-47's flew as slowly as possible trailing a tow line with a hook on the end.  A shorter tow line was attached to the glider and strung between two poles.  The C-47 would fly low to the ground and snare the ground line dragging the glider from a full stop to flight at over 100 miles per hour in less than seven seconds.  This technique was used to evacuate wounded who might otherwise have died or suffered extensively awaiting medical treatment.

   

Militaire Willems Orde Degree of Knight of the Fourth Class 

Awarded by the Netherlands Government to the American Glider Pilots of WWII who flew into Holland in "Operation Market Garden," the largest airborne assault in history.  This award entitles all who received it to wear the Orange Lanyard of the Royal Netherlands Army.  This is the highest award for valor awarded by the Netherlands Government during WWII.  Due to an oversight by the Airborne and the Army Air Corps, the award was not issued to the Glider Pilots who took part in Operation Market Garden until 38 years later through the efforts of the National Representative of the World War II Glider Pilots Association.  It was presented at the National Reunion in Reno, Nevada in 1982 by the Netherlands Military Attaché on behalf of Her Majesty, the Queen of the Netherlands.

 

        On June 6, 1944, many American Glider Pilots flew their first combat mission in  "Operation Overlord," the Allied invasion of Nazi-held Europe ("Operation Neptune" was the name for the airborne phase of "Operation Overlord").  Beginning with the first waves of airborne insertions in the early hours of D-Day, and continuing well into the next day, Allied Glider Pilots flew troops and supplies across from England, over the beaches of Normandy to landing zones behind German lines.  The daylight operations of the Normandy Invasion proved to be exceptionally hazardous since, by then, the Germans were alerted and were ready with massed anti-aircraft fire.  Many Glider Pilots spent well over a week on the ground fighting with the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions until they established contact with the main Allied force when it broke through German lines.

        

The Croix de Guerre

The Croix de Guerre was awarded for bravery to military personnel and recipients of the Légion and Médaille Militaire. This decoration was established by the French Republic in 1915.  It is awarded to soldiers, airmen or sailors of all ranks, officers included, and also to officers and men of Allied forces mentioned in French Despatches, for an individual feat of arms mentioned in a Despatch from the general officer commanding an Army, Army Corps, Division, Brigade or the C.O. of a regiment or the corresponding unit of Naval forces.  The award of the Légion d'Honneur carries with it a Croix de Guerre avec Palme. The ribbon is green ribbed with black and has seven red stripes.

 

(Information on the Croix de Guerre copied from the website of the 504th Parachute Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division.   The above pictures & descriptions of The French Croix de Guerre & Fourragere are courtesy Vince Pantozzi and The Manchu Association)

        In August 1944, the American Glider Pilots who survived Normandy, and replacements for those who did not, flew their gliders in the invasion of Southern France, "Operation Dragoon."  By then, the Germans had developed respect for the value of massed glider assaults and took steps to prevent safe landings.  Surviving Glider Pilots describe one German method of obstructing likely glider landing zones that the Germans nicknamed "Rommelspargel" or "Rommel's Asparagus."  The Germans placed poles in fields that were likely glider landing zones.  The heavy, tall poles were designed to destroy landing gliders and kill or injure passengers.  Frequently, the Germans placed mines atop the poles that were wired together across many acres.  When a glider hit one mined pole, many others also detonated often creating a 360 degree ring of exploding mines around a landing glider.

 

The American Defense Medal

The American Defense Service Medal was awarded for qualifying service performed between September 8, 1939, and December 7, 1941.

 

        The proven value of gliders in contributing to the success of the invasions of Normandy and Southern France emboldened Allied military planners to attempt a massive surprise airborne assault into Belgium and Holland to secure a vital bridgehead over the Rhine River before winter set in.  Securing the strategic ports of Belgium and Holland and denying the Germans locations from which to further launch their deadly V-1 and V-2 rockets against the civilian population of England were also reasons for attempting this risk-fraught venture.   On September 17, 1944 in "Operation Market Garden," and continuing through September 19, American and Allied Paratroopers dropped into Holland in the largest airborne assault in  history.  Over 30,000 American, British and Polish Paratroopers and Glider Pilots took part in this operation to liberate Holland and Belgium and secure strategic bridges leading into Germany.  This operation was memorialized in Cornelius Ryan's book A Bridge Too Far which was made into a movie by the same name.

 

The American Campaign Medal

 

Awarded to persons serving in the American Theatre of Operations in any capacity with the Armed Forces of the United States between December 7, 1941 until March 2,1946.

 

        Originally believing that the huge airborne assault into Holland would encounter stiff but manageable resistance, Allied commanders went ahead with the operation even after intelligence began to indicate that the planned drop zones might harbor large SS Panzer units.  The operation was so huge that it took three days to drop all the paratroops, glider infantry, and supplies needed to sustain the operation.  Early in the operation, the Germans captured a complete set of operational plans that should never have been taken into the area of operations.  Armed with these plans, they knew exactly where to place their ground forces and anti-aircraft batteries to meet incoming paratroops and gliders.  The casualties sustained by Allied forces after that were extremely high.  

 

The European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal

Awarded to persons serving in the European-African-Middle Eastern Theatre of Operations in any capacity with the Armed Forces of the United States between December 7, 1941 until November 8,1945

 

 

        All but one of the bridges targeted for capture in Operation Market Garden were secured.  The U.S. 101st Airborne and U.S. 82nd Airborne Divisions accomplished their missions.  The British First Parachute Division and the Polish First Independent Parachute Brigade, assigned to capture the bridge over the Rhine River at Arnhem, Holland, were dropped miles from their objective, and were further burdened with radios set to incompatible frequencies.  The radios were vital to coordinating the assault of widely scattered units.  Doubly handicapped, they also encountered the SS Panzer Divisions stationed in the area.  They fought bravely and the operation might have succeeded.  However, the British 30th Armored Corps, just a few miles south and already across the bridge at Nijmegen over the Waal River secured by the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division at high cost in casualties, was ordered to halt its advance by the high command that feared even greater casualties.

 

 


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