Jun 6th, 2019

D-Day and the Role of the Glider

It is a quiet morning in Northern Kentucky.  A far cry from the noise in Northern France seventy-five years ago.  D-Day and the glider were in full force that morning. 

The Backdrop

Adolph Hitler and Germany were still seething from the “punch in the gut” they felt they received after World War I.  France, England (and to a lesser extent) America had demanded huge reimbursement from Germany at the Treaty of Versailles.  These payments had led to financial chaos in Germany when they made the decision to print money to pay back to war debts.  The money printing led to hyperinflation. 

Germany was desperate to have someone restore financial order, hence the election of Adolph Hitler.  That is why I got very nervous in 2008 when a colleague of mine said, “I don’t care who we elect as long as they can fix the economy”.  That is how Germany felt in the early 1930s. 

Eisenhower talks to paratroopers before the D-Day Invasion

Hitler fixed the economy and began to rebuild Germany’s military might.  He invaded Poland in 1939, kicking off the Second World War.  He overran France in 1940. The United States and Great Britain began to plan how to retake the continent and the plan reached its culmination on June 6, 1944.  Operation Overlord (aka D-Day) is the largest amphibious assault launched in the history of the world.


Several factors converged to decide the date of D-Day.  The Allies wanted the bulk of the summer, with its good weather, to move across Europe.  For the morning of the invasion, the Allies desire lots of moonlight (to help see), low tides (to more easily land on the beaches) and good weather (so they would not be bogged down by fog and rain.  General Eisenhower and his staff were told that these conditions could converge on June 5, 6, and 7 (depending on the weather).  They would not converge again until June 19.  The weather forecast was a poor one for June 5.  In a very lonely moment, Eisenhower eventually decided on June 6 for the date of the invasion (Click for the Full Story).

The Glider

What was the role of aviation on D-Day?  One of its primary functions was to drop infantry behind enemy lines in France.  So, when allied forces landed on the beaches the Germans would be firing upon them.  However, the Germans in turn would have Allied paratroopers and infantry behind them, firing upon them.  These behind the lines troops would also help keep the Germans from being reinforced. 

There were a number of gliders utilized during the 24 hours of June 6, 1944.  Among the most famous were the Horsa and the Waco. 

The Waco
The Horsa

One of the best known of the glider tales is British Operation Deadstick.  Six gliders were assigned to capture two bridges: one over the Orne River and one over the Caen Canal.  The gliders carried light infantry and royal engineers. 

Five of the six gliders landed near the bridges just after midnight.  The Allied Forces were able to capture the bridges within minutes.  During the night the glider invaders were reinforced by 7th Parachute Battalion paratroopers.  The reinforced troops held both bridges until invading allied forces from Sword Beach met them late in the day.

Orne River Bridge

Caen Canal Bridge
(see crashed Horsa Glider near the trees)

The glider bridge story is typical of those throughout the invasion.  Casualties, were thankfully, lighter than expected.  The D-Day Center has an excellent article on the types of gliders and missions flown that day.

All these Years Later

General Spaatz

As a cadet at the Air Force Academy, I would sometimes pause in the History Department.  They had a display case dedicated to Carl “Tooey” Spaatz.  Spaatz was the Commander of US Strategic Forces in Europe on D-Day.  In the display case was a letter from General Eisenhower (Supreme Allied Commander) written to Spaatz on June 6, 1964 – twenty years after the invasion.  In the letter Eisenhower reflected on the courage and great sacrifice of that day.

Now seventy-five years later, I am truly humbled to think of the courage of those brave young men and the sacrifice that they endured so that I could sit in quiet peace this morning of June 6, 2019.

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