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Weapons of World War Two

Airspeed Horsa

Airspeed Horsa

During the night between the 5th and the 6th June 1944 it started what would go down into History as the largest combined invasion operation of Military History: the landing in Normandy. During its execution, dozens of thousands of soldiers would be transported from their concentration and training bases in England to the barely open beachheads in French territory, with the most classic means used during operations of this genre: aircraft and ships. The Allies, particularly the Americans, had already acquired a vast experience in amphibious landings on territories occupied by the enemy.

Regarding the utilization of paratroopers, albeit this speciality was very young (the first action of these soldiers dated back to the seize of the fort of Eben Emael by the German Fallschirmjager in 1939), the high degree of training and the support from the latest findings of technique made to expect that everything would go perfectly. But before the men belonging to the American and British airborne divisions took land, many hundreds of soldiers had already reached French land by making use of another transport means: the gliders.

On the Allied side, certainly, the landing by means of gliders did not bring very pleasant memories. During the landings in Sicily, for example, a series of coincidences, all of them specially unfortunate, had turned into tragedy which was expected to be a surprise action able to disorient the enemy. Many gliders had ended in very far landing areas, others had been hit by their own antiaircraft fire, and many more had ended in the sea, where passengers and crews lamentably drowned. But this time things would go differently. The Allies would exploit with relatively low losses the advantages that the landing by means of gliders offered, with the possibility of deploying platoons of soldiers in enemy territory without dispersion over wide areas, and, very important thing, provided with transport means and heavy weapons.

In little time, the English Channel was crossed by hundreds and hundreds of gliders of several types: "Horsa", able to transport up to 25 fully equipped soldiers; "Hamilcar", whose belly could harbor a tank; and "Waco", these latter American, of similar dimensions than the Horsa, but with double transport capacity. But this time the main part was carried out by the Horsa of the Royal Air Force, which revealed themselves as means of a robustness and reliability superior to what was expected.

Built by Airspeed, these large gliders had a wingspan of more than 20 meters and they could harbor from 20 to 25 fully equipped soldiers inside their fuselage. This one, of entirely wooden structure, had been studied to take advantage of the existing space in the most rational way. The cockpit, of wide visibility, housed two men. Interesting were the systems for landing and takeoff. In the first phase the glider, linked to the guide aircraft, used a wheeled carriage placed in the center of the fuselage, and which was abandoned when the glider left the ground. For the landing, performed with the belly, it was used a fore wheel and a tail shock-absorbing ski. Generally the Horsa were towed by four-engined aircraft, but if the travel was short twin-engined aircraft could be used.

The last operative utilization of these gliders was in March 1945, when they were used to transport to the other side of the Rhine the 6th Airborne Division.

Airspeed Horsa
First flight: 12 September 1941

Wingspan: 26.20 meters

Wing area: 112 square meters

Length: 20.42 meters

Height: 3.30 meters

Full load/Empty weight: 6900/3800 kilograms

Payload/Crew: 25 soldiers/2

Cruising speed: 160 kilometers/hour

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