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The Glider Pilot Regiment

The Glider Pilot Regiment was possibly the shortest lived and least known unit of the Second World War. It was part of the Airborne Force of 5,000 ordered to be formed by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1941.

The Regiment was formally inaugurated on 24th February 1942 as part of the Army Air Corps which then comprised the Glider Pilot Regiment, the Parachute Regiment and the Special Air Service.

Volunteers were called for from Army units and after military and RAF aircrew selection tests they were subjected to a rigorous regime of military training designed to make them "Total Soldiers". This was to train them to use all weapons and equipment of the fighting soldiers they carried into battle so that they could fight alongside them on the ground.

The man behind this concept was Colonel George Chatterton, a charismatic leader and a ruthless disciplinarian. His experience as a pre war RAF fighter pilot and subsequently an infantry officer fitted him well to the task of turning highly trained determined soldiers into skilful pilots. The motto of the Regiment was "Nothing is Impossible".

Their Horsa gliders, the first of which was designed and built in a few months, were a tribute to British industry. Capable of carrying 28 fully armed and equipped airborne soldiers, or a Jeep and trailer or gun, they enormously enhanced the mobility and punch of the otherwise lightly armed airborne troops. A larger glider, the Hamilcar, could carry a seven ton tank! A smaller American glider, the Waco CG4A, officially called the Hadrian by the British, but "Waco" by the pilots and soldiers, was used in Sicily and in Burma. The Waco's steel frame was better suited to jungle operations than the wooden Horsa.

The advantage of the glider was that it could deliver an airborne platoon with all its equipment to a precise spot, day or night, to achieve surprise. The most spectacular example of this was the capture of the Orne bridges in Normandy on D Day. A similar number of men dropped by parachute would be spread over a large area. Gliders also carried the heavier equipment of the Parachute Regiment, Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers.

Massed airborne landings at Sicily, Normandy and Arnhem achieved success but at great cost. The Airborne Forces at Arnhem did not lose the battle, they were ordered to hold for two or possibly three days, they held out for eight days. The Regiments casualties were the highest at Arnhem, 90% were killed, wounded or taken prisoner of war.

These losses were made up by the secondment to the Regiment of Royal Air Force pilots and several hundreds of them took part in the greatest and most successful airborne operation of the war, Operation Varsity, the Crossing of the Rhine. The RAF pilots acquitted themselves with great gallantry, in the air and on the ground, 60% of the Regiment's killed in action on that day were RAF pilots seconded to the Glider Pilot Regiment.

The very heavy casualties sustained by the gliders in the war sadly brought an end to the assault glider. Their operational role is now carried out by the support helicopters of the Royal Air Force.

After the war, former Army glider pilots took part as light aircraft pilots in the Korean War and other emergencies. Eventually these pilots joined with the Royal Artillery Air Observation Post squadrons to form today's Army Air Corps. The Army Air Corps takes great pride in the traditions it inherited from the Glider Pilot Regiment and is a worthy successor to that short lived Regiment of flying "total soldiers". The Army Air Corps strongly supports the Glider Pilot Regimental Association and represents the Regiment at all commemorative occasions.