Commander Glider Pilots
Division / Divisional
Month and year: September 1944
Commanding Officer : Col. G.J.S. Chatterton D.S.O.
1st September 1944
Personnel of HQ, C.G.P., proceed to Harwell Transit Camp for operation "Linnet".
2nd September 1944
Comdr. Glider Pilots proceeds to R.A.F. Station Harwell for take-off.
3rd September 1944
Operation "Linnet" cancelled. Comdr. Glider Pilots proceeds to conference at Moor Park, returning to Harwell same day.
4th September 1944
Planning of operation "Comet", commences at Harwell.
7th September 1944
Operation "Comet" postponed 24 hrs.
8th September 1944
Operation "Comet" postponed 24 hrs.
9th September 1944
Operation "Comet" postponed 48 hrs. Comdr. Glider Pilots returns to HQ, Comdr. Glider Pilots.
10th September 1944
Operation "Comet" cancelled.
11th September 1944
Comdr. Glider Pilots, attends conference at HQ Air Tps for operation "Market".
12th September 1944
Comdr. Glider Pilots returns to HQ. HQ personnel from Transit Camp.
14th September 1944
Personnel leave HQ, C.G.P. for Transit Camp. Ops Order & Int. Sum. No.1 issued.
17th September 1944
Operation "Market" takes place at 1100 hrs. Ensued according to plan. 38 Group Op. Order No.527 received.
18th September 1944
Further lift for operation "Market" landed according to plan.
27th September 1944
Information received of return of Glider Pilots to U.K.
29th September 1944
Commander Glider Pilots returns to U.K. from Operation "Market".
The FIRST LIFT
The take off of the first lift on Operation "Market" from 0945 hrs onwards on Sunday the 17th was highly successful; only one glider failed to become airborne. This was due to an unfortunate accident which damaged it before arrival at the tow line. The load was transferred, however, and became successfully airborne on the Second Lift. One other combination was forced to return to base with engine trouble; it took off for the second time but was again forced to return. This combination was successful on the Second Lift.
The flight falls naturally into three categories - over England - the Sea crossing, and the flight across Holland.
The weather over England was far from ideal; the cloud base ranged from 500 ft to 2000 ft, with 6/10 strata-cumulus. Otherwise flying conditions were fairly comfortable, but before the English coast had been crossed, of the three hundred and fifty eight combinations that should have taken off, some twenty three had forced-landed in England: one crashed badly, crew and passengers being killed.
One glider load was damaged on landing, but the remainder returned to base and took off again on the Second Lift.
Over the sea, conditions improved rapidly until the sky was clear of cloud, and flying conditions excellent. There was, however, the usual trouble from slip-stream, and engine failure. Four gliders were forced to ditch, two having broken ropes, and two being forced down by engine failure. A fifth glider was forced to release by tug engine failure, to land on the island of SCHOUWEN, off the Dutch coast.
AIR SEA RESCUE:
Launches were visible at intervals, and it is worthy of note that all British glider crews were safely retrieved; in fact one glider was shelled for two hours by coastal guns, the launch coming alongside under fire.
Cloud was again encountered over the Dutch coast, but the base had lifted to some 2,200 feet.
On the NIJMEGEN route, little evidence of life could be seen at all.
The flight across Holland was quite uneventful until reaching the L.Z., which stood out clearly and was easily recognized, despite the lack of ground aids. One glider was unfortunately lost through a broken tow rope, but a good forced landing was made some miles from the L.Z. The stream was fired on by light and medium flak from GROSS BEEK and CUIJ; although it caused some slight damage to a few gliders, the flak did not seriously interfere with the landing. The sortie landed thirty five of the original thirty eight gliders which took off, losing one over England, one ditched, and one over Holland. Two pilots were injured on landing - one seriously. All loads were safely delivered.
The leading combinations encountered several bursts of light flak from a barge as they crossed the Dutch coast, and heavier opposition from gun positions on the mainland. The barge at least was attacked and silenced by fighter aircraft, and thereafter only occasional bursts of small arms fire troubled pilots during the flight from the coast to the R.V.
From the R.V. onwards there appears to have been considerable slip stream trouble; in all, on this route, eight gliders were lost. As the stream approached ARNHEM from the South West, they met flak of all types, which as at NIJMEGEN, did not seriously interfere with the landings.
Glider pilots had no difficulty in discerning their L.Zs., chiefly because of the outstanding topographical features - the singular shape of the woods, the railway and the minor recognition points of roads and houses. The Independent Para Coy had fulfilled the tasks which they had been set, and it is abundantly clear that the Verey light signals assisted many combinations in making an advantageous approach. Pilots also report that the Smoke Candles were of value.
The wind at ground level was almost negligible, and, with a release height of 2,500 feet, there was a tendency amongst a number of pilots to approach at speeds well above normal, and consequently to overshoot. Very few, however, seriously damaged their aircraft or their loads.
Opposition on the first day was slight - some scattered rifle and M.G. fire from the South Western corner of L.Z. "S", and rifle fire from the West of L.Z. "Z", which did not seriously affect the unloading.
As on Neptune it was found that various unforeseen difficulties occurred. The number of cases where the bolts were stated to be "immovable" were fewer, no doubt owing to the greater experience of pilots and passengers alike. Difficulty was, however, experienced in moving the troughs from under the jeep: there were a few cases where the fabric had not been completely severed around the bulkhead - and for this the pilots must take responsibility, for no check could have been made before the take off. It is apparent, however, that the average time for unloading was thirty minutes.
The surface of the L.Z. was in parts, softer than had been anticipated and in consequence, two Hamilcars overturned on landing. The first pilots were killed, and both second pilots injured, but the passengers were more lucky, escaping with only slight injuries which did not incapacitate them. The cause of these mishaps was undoubtedly the piling up of earth beneath the nose of the gliders as their undercarriages sank into the soft ground; the resulting effect being that of striking a high bank at speed. Both loads - 17 pdr. guns, were unfortunately lost.
Some 39 gliders of the 358 which took off on this lift failed to arrive. Of these one crashed on take off; twenty four forced landed in England, (all loads taking off on the Second Lift); five were lost over the Channel, and nine over Holland.
In all, therefore, some 319 glider loads were delivered to the L.Zs. Exact figures of the number of loads lost or damaged on landing are not available, but it is certain that the vast majority were unloaded and in action very shortly after landing.
The Second Lift took off at 1120 hrs on Monday 18th after a delay of some hours due to weather. One glider crashed on take off but without injury to the crew, who were successful on the Third Lift. Conditions were by no means good at the time and gliders encountered patches of low stratus and rain whilst over England. The visibility in general was fair with 5/10 to 8/10 cloud at 2000 to 3000 ft with broken cloud below. Some combinations were forced to fly through the lower patches however, and in all seven gliders forced landed before reaching the Channel. It should be recorded that they took off again on the Third Lift.
Once again, over the Channel flying conditions eased. There was a slight haze, but the cloud base lifted, and only two gliders were forced to ditch. One was seen to break up on impact, but the other remained intact.
Heavy flak was observed, as the stream crossed the Dutch Coast, from gun positions identified as just South of the track; no casualties were reported. Along the route flak opposition was stiffer than on the previous day, with frequent bursts of light flak. Heavier calibre guns were noted at HERTOGENBOSCH where strikes were made on several gliders. Thirteen gliders were known to have been lost on this lift over Holland; there are no reports available from a further two. Of the thirteen, three tow ropes were severed by flak, one glider was shot down, and a further three combinations were forced to release because of flak damage. The remainder were lost through normal causes - engine failure and rope breakage.
Whilst running in to the ARNHEM L.Zs. glider pilots observed considerable activity in the air over NIJMEGEN, and watched continuous heavy flak. This was undoubtedly the American Second Lift going to L.Z. "N" under heavy fire.
By this time the I.P.C. were encountering sufficient opposition on the ground to seriously interfere with their setting out of pre-arranged ground aids. But the L.Z. stood out very clearly as the streams approached it, and if further check was required, the gliders on the ground supplied it.
That afternoon the gliders released in heavy and medium flak, and flew down to find the landing area covered by small arms fire. It would appear that whilst no determined or concentrated effort was made by the enemy to interfere with unloading they relied on sniping, occasional mortaring, and M.Gs sited generally in the S.W. area of the L.Zs.
This fire is reported to have been inaccurate and although making the thirty minutes of the unloading unpleasant did not prevent the majority of glider crews from unloading their aircraft.
A few gliders landing near enemy positions were wrecked, and the loads destroyed, whether on landing, by enemy fire or to prevent their falling into enemy hands.
Of the 297 combinations which took off 273 reached the L.Z. and released their gliders. The 24 loads which were not delivered were lost; 7 over England - which took off again in the Third Lift - two over the Channel and thirteen over Holland. There are no reports available from the remaining two. Exact figures are not available of the number of loads, or personnel who, after making successful forced landings in Holland, linked with the Dutch Underground or made their way independently to NIJMEGEN, or even in some cases, to ARNHEM. It is known that at least two glider crews were successful in rejoining units of the Regiment.
The Third Lift was again delayed by weather until afternoon. This time the cloud base across England and the Channel was 1000 to 1500 ft and flying conditions were uncomfortable.
On this lift nine, in all, previously unsuccessful gliders took off again for L.Z. "X" with the thirty five for L.Z. "L"; these crews found that air and ground opposition had stiffened in proportion to the day of their arrival.
One combination was forced to return to base as the glider load had shifted, and the aircraft was rapidly becoming uncontrollable; another because of tug engine failure. For the same reason a third glider was forced to land in England just short of the coast.
Over the Channel conditions, as before, grew steadily better, but not before three tow ropes had broken, and one had been severed by flak off the coast, so ditching four gliders.
Perhaps because of the weather or the comparative size of this lift, the flak encountered over the coast was not serious, but during the flight up to the R.V. several glider crews reported light and medium flak, in quantity. One combination appears to have been selected as a special target for flak positions North of the Escaut Canal; and another glider was shot down, crashing out of control at TRU. Six others forced landed in Belgium and Holland owing to broken ropes, and in one case, to the late arrival of the combination, and the consequent lack of fighter cover.
The remainder again noted activity at NIJMEGEN, but out of range. As they neared the L.Zs., however, flak was particularly heavy and ground reports state that tugs were either badly damaged or shot down.
Glider pilots had no difficulty in recognising the two L.Zs. - but once down were subjected to concentrated ground fire, more especially on L.Z. "L". (Reports show that I.P. Coy had again been successful in producing smoke, Very lights and white panels for this L.Z.)
Those crews who flew in on this Third Lift, and were safely evacuated seem to have had no undue difficulties in coping with enemy action whilst unloading.
Ground reports, however, clearly state that some of the crews who reached the Div from the L.Zs. were forced to leave the loads in the gliders which were already burning. No safe estimate can be made.
On the Third Lift 44 combinations took off. Thirty were successful. The losses were: three over England, four ditched in the Channel, one shot down, and the remainder forced landed in Holland. Fourteen out of 44 gliders gives a high percentage loss, but there is no doubt that the conditions on this lift were worse than those encountered on the previous days.
The situation of the Glider Pilot Regiment on the ground was, generally, that No.1 Wing, less one flight, would have carried Div H.Q., and Div Troops into the L.Zs. South of the Railway. No.2 Wing, with under command one flight of No.1 Wing, would have carried the 1st Air Landing Bde into the area North of the Railway.
The outline plan was therefore that pilots should remain during the first phase of the action after landing with the loads which they carried. During this phase also, they would be responsible for the defence of both Divisional and Bde HQs.
When the situation had stabilised, all pilots would be withdrawn into reserve areas for use as Bde and Div reserves until such time as they could be withdrawn completely from the action.
THE GROUND ACTION - No.1 Wing.
By 1430 hrs on Sunday the 17th most of the crews detailed for the defence of the Div HQ had reported at the RV. A protective screen was thrown around the area whilst the rescue of equipment and personnel from damaged Gliders proceeded.
This party thereafter moved with Div HQ taking up defensive positions at each halt, and being presently supplemented by smaller bodies of individual pilots cut off from their loads.
The majority of the Wing was still, of course, in position with the remainder of the Div. On Monday afternoon, after supply drop by Dakotas and Stirlings, Pilots with jeeps and trailers moved out to collect the supplies.
Contact with 2 Wing was made early on Tuesday morning; and it was on the afternoon of that day, after the arrival of the third lift, that the Commanding Officer realised that the glider pilots could not be withdrawn into reserve as planned.
From then onwards it was the practice of the C.O. to make regular visits to the groups of pilots holding various sectors of the perimeter. Morale was high, and the shortage of food was to some extent relieved by garden vegetables. The water shortage was, however, becoming acute.
The round of the positions on Thursday morning showed that Glider pilots were holding houses in the N.E. Perimeter; were entrenched in gardens E. and S. of Div H.Q.: were guarding P.O.W. in some tennis courts, and held a sector of a wood on the Western Perimeter. This, however, represented less than half of the Wing - the remainder being for the greater part with the gun crews they had carried.
Casualties up to this time were some 9 killed and 15 wounded. During the afternoon attempts were made to contact parties of Officers and men working with the gun teams - unsuccessfully, as the whole area was covered by heavy fire. A message explaining the position was sent to all Squadron Commanders that evening.
During that Thursday night the Guards Armoured Div. was held up, and at dawn on Friday the 22nd, the C.O. visited all positions to explain the nature of the task ahead. By noon that day the positions were still firmly held, though reports from all sides showed casualties mounting steadily from Mortar fire and snipers.
Several Groups were left without officers, and it became the duty of Wing H.Q. to visit them at frequent intervals. The situation remained radically unchanged throughout the day.
Heavy fire continued from dawn the next day, but it was still possible to move around the positions in comparative safety, for the sniping and small arms fire were inaccurate. The pilots in each sector were now becoming more expert at the type of fighting required of them adapting themselves to the local conditions of house and trench fighting and wood clearing. No contact was possible with the gun teams on the Southern Sector or at ARNHEM.
There was little to report on the following day - Sunday the 24th, except that an S.P. gun in the N.E. section of the position caused a certain amount of damage until it was held up by a P.I.A.T. Some 140 Poles had contrived to cross the river on the previous night, and it was to the N.E. Sector that they were directed by guides from the Glider Pilot Commander. They were immobilised by heavy fire during the day, but successfully moved up at dusk. All day the weather had deteriorated, and continued so to do throughout the night and the following day. Early in the morning of Monday the 25th, the C.O. Lieut.Col. Murray took over command of the 4th Para Bde, Brigadier Hackett being wounded. Maj T.J. Toler took over command of the Wing.
Casualties were now very heavy and the enemy infantry showed increasing initiative in infiltrating into the depleted positions, for weapons and ammunition were in very short supply. The positions were held during the day, however, and that evening the withdrawal commenced. No contact was made with the enemy, and the majority of the remaining pilots managed to cross the river under increasingly heavy mortar and M.G. fire.
THE GROUND ACTION - No.2 WING.
The pilots of No.2 Wing reached their Squadron R.Vs. early in the afternoon of the 17th without interference from the enemy, staying within the area of the L.Z. during the night to await the second lift. The following morning the enemy was active in the sector and forced a slight withdrawal; but the L.Z. was safely held, and on the arrival of the second lift, a general move was made in the direction of OSTERBEEK; No.2 Wing holding a sector on the North of the Div area.
An attempt to penetrate into ARNHEM cost the KOSBs heavy casualties on the following day - Tuesday the 19th. Glider pilot squadrons were used to plug the gaps, the position being "F" Squadron with the Recce Squadron established in a wood on the East of the perimeter, "C" Squadron defence of Bde H.Q. "E" Squadron in the North with the KOSBs. Wing H.Q. was located North of the ARNHEM - RENKUM Road. The remainder of the day was quiet, the third lift coming in during the afternoon through heavy flak.
It was the next day, however - the 20th - that the enemy began to exert pressure; "F" Squadron was forced out of its position by S.S. Tps and S.P. guns, returning to Div H.Q. after reorganising they moved during the afternoon to a new position in the Western perimeter between "E" Squadron and the Border Regt.
The Wing was suffering mounting casualties in these desultory actions; by now too, mortar and shell fire was increasing enemy attention being paid mainly to our own batteries and mortar positions.
This situation obtained during the day and night; the perimeter contracted again at dawn the following morning - Thursday the 21st, and with the daylight, S.P. guns and tanks were brought into action against our positions - particularly the wood held by "F" Squadron. Thus, supported, infantry came forward and attempted to infiltrate through the Wing positions: they were counter-attacked and momentarily thrown back, but the Squadrons were becoming dangerously thin on the ground.
During the next day - the 22nd, more infantry attacks were made. Continuous bombardment had rapidly reduced the number of effectives but the two Squadrons held their positions. Artillery of the 2nd Army was by now established on the far side of the river, and to some extent compensated for the lack of support from within the perimeter.
On Saturday the 23rd there was little ground activity on this sector apart from the continued bombardment. The Wing was suffering, with all other units, from lack of food, and more important - water. Glider pilots were, however, catching rain water from shed roofs, for the weather was steadily deteriorating.
The following day saw a fierce attack develop against the wood held by "E" and "F" Squadrons. Using tanks and flame throwers the enemy forced them to abandon the position, and to withdraw into houses in which the defence of the Northern sector of the perimeter now concentrated. The houses were systematically destroyed by S.P. guns and tanks at point blank range: the remaining pilots were, cut off from the main body of the Div by an open park of some 200 yards. It was therefore imperative to hold on to the area of the houses.
Snipers became very active, but the position was held during the night and the next day - Monday the 25th. The remaining P.I.A.T.S. kept the tanks at bay: infantry were not launched against the area, but were content to continue with their sniping.
It was late evening the withdrawal began: the open common proved an intensely difficult obstacle, being swept continuously by fire. Pilots of "C" Squadron, who had been all this time responsible for the defence of Bde H.Q., acted as guides and policed the route. Many of them unfortunately were too late at the river bank and failed to get across.
The remainder of the Wing, however, made no contact with the enemy, and the majority were safely ferried across to DRIEL.
The small body of pilots who had carried Corps H.Q. to NIJMEGEN were intended for use as defence Coy. Had the remainder of the Regt been able to withdraw, the Coy would have been made up to strength - some 200 men. As it was, the Commander was left with only the 35 crews who had arrived on the L.Z. - less those injured on landing.
This party were, in fact, responsible for the defence of Corps H.Q. for the duration of the operation, remaining in Holland until the H.Q. returned to this country. It transpired to be not an active role but a necessary one, the glider pilots providing not only defence on the ground, but also protection to reconnaissance parties.
Latterly, the party was used for active patrolling: during the operation there were no casualties on the ground.
The first task of a glider pilot is, obviously, to land his aircraft in the correct place, and without damage to the load. This is the air aspect - and from it the Regiment was successful. It is true that some forty-four glider loads failed to reach the L.Z., but that is less than the ten per cent wastage which, under present conditions, must be allowed on all glider operations. The L.Zs. were good and pilots had no difficulty in landing on the briefed areas.
Unloading is of course, a lengthy business, and it is fortunate that the losses during this immobile and vulnerable period were not higher.
The problem of the glider pilot on the ground is mainly his complete inability to move rapidly. There has not been, as yet, transport allotted to flights and Squadrons in operations.
The natural conclusion is that pilots must carry on their back all that they require, and, handicapped by a heavy pack, must move on foot whilst the remaining units travel in their jeeps and trailers. It is necessary, therefore, to be constantly "begging lifts" on transport already overcrowded. If Glider Pilot Units are to operate efficiently on the ground, they must have transport.
In general, it is a great pity that so many pilots were lost in the ground action: at the same time - the Regiment has proved itself worthy in its first major action as infantrymen.
C A S U A L T I E S.
The following table shows the losses incurred in this operation:-
TOTAL PILOTS TAKING OFF
TOTAL RETURNED TO DATE
Of these by far the greater majority are listed as missing. Already a few individuals have returned. It is hoped that finally a great many will manage to rejoin.