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Staff-Sergeant Harold Norman Andrews

Staff-Sergeant Harold Norman Andrews

 

Unit : "E" Squadron, No.2 Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment

Awards : Distinguished Flying Medal and Bar

 

Staff-Sergeant "Andy" Andrews was a veteran of airlanding operations in Sicily, Normandy, Arnhem and the Rhine Crossing. In Normandy, supported by Sergeant "Paddy" Senier, he flew Horsa 262 from Down Ampney, carrying two medical Jeeps, a trailer, motorcycle, and, last but not least, Brigadier Hill's personal kit, to the 3rd Parachute Brigade's main drop zone at DZ-V. The crossing of the Channel was uneventful, but as they approached the French coast and began to identify landmarks, much of their vision was obscured by an RAF bombing raid. The following is Staff-Sergeant Andrews' account of the Normandy landings, as printed in "One Night in June" by Kevin Shannon and Stephen Wright.

 

"The smoke got thicker and demanded extreme concentration on the part of the tug pilot, Paddy, and myself. We didn't fancy landing in the Channel at any time, especially this night. Paddy was talking over the intercom and I tried to observe the lights on the wings of the tug. Just when everything was disappearing and I was preparing to go into the low-tow position, the smoke gradually began to clear until, quite suddenly, we were in comparatively good night visibility. Almost at once the observer, speaking as calmly as if he was ordering another beer, said "Oh there are the two houses - bang on time too." This was very comforting and a great relief. The flak was coming up lazily but didn't seem interested in us until just before the tracer burnt out. Almost unconsciously Paddy, who was flying now, skidded away slightly out of position, but he soon corrected and I concentrated on finding those lights."

 

"Our normal practice was to let Paddy fly the glider until I was quite certain of my landmarks, then I would say goodbye to the tug and take over for the landing. Between us we had calculated that at the operational height and the time of crossing the coast, between the two houses we should fly at approximately ninety seconds before pulling off, and then whether the lights were visible or not we could fly straight ahead and land within reach of our rendezvous. Well the best made plans do seem to go astray. There were no lights! In a voice which sounded rather unreal I could hear myself asking Major Joubert [the tug pilot] about it and he, in a very cheery manner, replying, "Don't worry, hang on, we have bags of time, I'll go round again in a second or two.""

 

Having looked for and failed to locate the "T" lights, Major Joubert reported to Staff-Sergeant Andrews that he could see some lights to his right. "Within five seconds it was just the right spot, I said goodbye, and someone wished us luck, and then there was the familiar jerk with the noise of the wind gradually receding to the background, the speed dropping off to a more modest 80 mph. Paddy had handed over the controls and was intently watching an ack-ack battery on our right, whose tracer seemed a bit too near. He drew my attention to it and almost at once, as I put on half flap, the flak turned and seemed to have found another target. Then we saw the target and another Horsa, well below us, flying towards the flak. Just a second afterwards it switched its emergency lights on and illuminated a small row of trees between ourselves and the 'T' along which it was flying. Then we were coming in just right. A little bump, and then another, something like a ditch I thought. Then a wheel seemed to stick and start to swing the glider round. I applied full opposite rudder and my brake quickly, and no sooner had we straightened up than we stopped. I heaved sigh and then immediately shot out of my seat; we were on the first light and not in our correct position on the extreme left of the 'T'. Having been forewarned by a training mishap that this might happen, we had arranged that Paddy would jump out and wave his torch to show the rear of the glider. This he did with feverish haste. I collected our personal kit and rifles and jumped out. The two 'bods', whom I had completely forgotten about, were on the ground before me. They took up positions on either side of the glider while I went round to Paddy."

 

"We got ready to beat a hasty retreat if another glider was coming in on top of us, but there was not a sign of anything in the sky. You have no doubt been at an appointed place at the right time, waited for someone to arrive, and had to go away in disgust. We felt like that at first. Then a feeling of loneliness crept over us; even the Germans didn't greet us! Where were the independent parachutists who had put the 'T' out? Not a soul, not a noise, nothing."

 

"I looked at Paddy and said "Let's get the tail off." We went inside the glider and began to undo the nuts holding the tail on, removing them within a quarter of an hour, but couldn't get the tail to budge! Even when Paddy jumped on the top it still wouldn't budge! We called the two drivers over and then began the oddest tug-of-war I ever competed in. One Horsa Mark I and four tired and sweating airborne types. The glider won and while we sat back exhausted for a moment, it sat back contentedly, for all the world as if it was back in England. We thought of using the charge to blow the tail off, but apart from the noise, and the fact that we were undisturbed, the type of equipment we were carrying decided us against it. Then, just as we picked up the handsaw, we heard the sound of approaching aircraft, and right above us the air seemed full of parachutes. It was a wonderful sight and we didn't feel lonely any more. For the next five minutes we were busy dodging kit bags which dangled from the feet of heavily loaded paratroopers. One even landed on the tail, but nothing happened, and when we asked for help to get the tail off he grinned and vanished. An Albemarle on our left lit up with flames, which brought us back to earth with a jolt."

 

"There was nothing for it but to saw the tail off. My knuckles were already sore from the exertions inside the glider, and Paddy, who was as strong in the arms as anyone I knew, took first shift. We must have been sawing for about forty-five minutes when the driver looking out on the left gave us warning. Silhouetted against the skyline were ten armed men coming towards us. We crouched on the ground and debated whether they were Germans or paratroopers. They moved up to within touching distance and then we heard them speak. They were ours. Thank goodness! The password, "Punch" and the answer, "Judy", for the night was exchanged. But would they help us with our tail - Not a bit of it! They moved on to Ranville, not a bit interested. We had already decided that the only way to get the tail off was to get more manpower. There could be nothing holding the tail on now except sheer willpower! Then the comparative silence was disturbed by the hunting horn, which we had read had been used in the African campaigns, and the paratroopers went in to attack Ranville."

 

"For fifteen minutes there was a great deal of small-arms fire and a house burst into flames about a mile away. The fact that we felt sure that we were on "British" ground gave us confidence and we decided to make our way towards the village. We crossed the road, Paddy darting across and knocking the compass out of my hand. I had already taken a bearing and we didn't need it any more anyhow. We crossed a small orchard when, in our tracks, and with a very low trajectory, something which I judged to be an anti-tank gun fired twice. We decided that we had best make a detour and went back to the road. "Punch!" came the challenge. "Judy" we breathed. It turned out to be two signallers, one of whom had injured his foot in a tree, together with a Canadian major from the R.Es who, screened by the hedge, was trying to pick up his bearings. He had already walked a long way, he said. It turned out he was one of Brigadier Hill's party. I told him where I thought we were and it agreed with his guess. I then suggested that the best plan would be to make for the rendezvous we were supposed to be at for dawn, as we expected by then that Brigadier Hill would be there to set up his H.Q. There were two possible routes. One towards the coast and turn right, or towards Ranville and turn left. We chose the latter, and learned later that it had been the right choice."

 

"The glider hadn't been forgotten, and together our party of seven made our way towards the glider again. It was still standing in glorious dignity. Then the major went up to it and said "Is this the tail?" - gave two little pushes and the thing fell off! Now the drivers sprang forward, adjusted the steering wheels and we were all ready to go. Once again our attention was distracted by the drone of aircraft. This time it was Hamilcars and Horsas. One landed not too far away, the others went over the brow of a small rise towards Ranville. We walked over to the glider pilots who were having no trouble unloading. We exchanged names, just in case, then went back to our jeeps, where we met up with Lieutenant Dodwell's party."

 

"We decided that while Taffy Lovett and I went ahead on either side of the road, the two jeeps were to follow behind, carrying the others at a safe distance. The orders to the drivers were to make for Ranville with the jeeps if we ran into any trouble, while we gave them covering fire. We came to the crossroads and, turning our back Ranville, headed east. After about fifteen minutes we came to a small hamlet. Taffy stayed on the outskirts with the jeeps drawn into the hedge about a hundred yards back, while I crept cautiously along the street. It was more difficult to walk quietly now, and I was relieved when I came out on the road again at the other side. In a few minutes the rest of the party were through and we continued along, which now seemed to rise slightly."

 

"About ten minutes later, as we approached another crossroads which could now be seen as it was beginning to get light again, a sudden burst of firing came from a light automatic weapon immediately to our front and a little to our left. We halted, and then decided as there was no further noise, to make for the trees. They turned out to be the entrance to the drive of a house which was our destination, the dawn rendezvous. The jeeps backed cautiously into the bushes at the side and we hastily dug a few holes as a small defensive position. It was quite light now, and round the bend of the drive came the middle-aged lady of the house. She showed no surprise at seeing us, and said that over the road there was an injured soldier to whom she was taking some wine."


"The holes dug, we decided to investigate the shooting, and a small patrol consisting of the Major, Paddy and myself with one of the signallers cautiously approached the crossroads. On reaching them, we decided to turn left along what appeared to be the fence of the house which had been selected as the HQ. The right-hand bank was quite high, with a hedge bordering it, and on the left a similar bank, terminating in a wire fence, which made it impossible to climb quickly. Through force of habit we walked on the left, at about arms-length intervals, and had proceeded about seventy-five yards down the road when a noise resembling the low note of a cow call attracted our attention on the other side of the road. We stopped, listened again, but there were no further noises. Then, after another two paces, I turned round to the Major and said "I believe it's groaning." He said, "Maybe. Challenge." I still had my head turned in the direction from which we had come, when I said in a fairly normal tone "Punch". A voice replied "Wer ist das" and followed it up, before we could have answered, even if we had wanted to, with a burst of automatic fire. The bullets went up the road behind us by about ten yards and by the time the last one had bedded itself in the bank, we were all lying full-length in the ditch with a very strong gravelly bottom, about 18in wide and 18in deep, and facing in the wrong direction. To make matters worse our rifles were useless and even if we could have seen where the fire came from, there didn't seem to be a target. I had a grenade in my pocket and seeing that the Major had one arm free, I passed it back to him. He removed the pin, waited for what seemed like an eternity, and then threw it. The explosion took place where we judged the firing had come from."

 

"We waited for an answering burst but none came, and so very gingerly we turned round and began to retrace our steps towards the crossroads, one at a time, only this time crawling in the ditch. My hands and knees were sore for days afterwards, and when I stood up to run the last ten yards, I fell over again with cramp, but we all got safely round the corner and back to our HQ."

 

"We felt that next time we should make a pincer movement, one from either side of the road, but from the height of the bank. We had chosen another two men, but before we could start on this little war of our own, the lady of the house came back and we decided to question her as to the whereabouts of the Germans. She informed us that next door there was an HQ with about seventy-five Germans. That explained the sentry we must have disturbed, and it rather changed our plans. The Major and one of the others went off to decide the best way to attack the house, while the rest of us decided to have a brew-up. Paddy started to prepare and I decided to go to the entrance of the drive and look down the road. I was observing from the cover of some bushes, when along the road towards us came a party headed by two glider pilots, with what looked like their passengers. They hadn't seen me yet, and when they were almost opposite, they sat down on the side of the bank with their backs towards me. I could have touched them, but I said "Hello" instead. Their faces were a picture of surprise! Nevertheless, we now had some more reinforcements and they came back to our hide-out to rest."

 

"The next to arrive on the scene were the RAMC. They were in a party of about forty strong and had a Polish prisoner with them. He was a youngster and nearly died of fright a moment or two later, when the pattern bombing of the beaches started. Even at the distance we were inland, the ground shook as though a miniature earthquake was in progress. The senior officers now took command and decided to send us, the glider pilots, back to Ranville with a party of the position. There we were to rejoin the glider pilot pool of reserves which had been formed."

 

"We started out cautiously, walking parallel to the road. We passed a sentry, who only just recognised us in time, and later saw what we took to be our own paratroopers picking up supplies which had been dropped - only to find out later that they were probably Jerries after all, as we had no troops in the position. We made our way through the village, which was looking a bit sorry for itself, and passed a badly damaged glider which had hit a stone wall. We met a couple of newspaper reporters in the street and they directed us to the Divisional HQ which had been set up in the outhouses of a farm, the approaches of which were already under fire by snipers - we found that out after a near miss."

 

"Having made our report to the General, we found a small corner behind some bushes and had a really wonderful cup of tea, made from provisions taken from our 48-hour ration pack. Then, much refreshed, we moved off to the glider pilot rendezvous, where there were twenty to thirty glider pilots. The main intention was that on arrival of the main lift at 2100 hours that evening, all pilots should be taken to England as quickly as possible to get ready for another trip. Meanwhile all we had to do was wait. We dug a hole, Paddy and I, and had some more to eat. There was spasmodic firing in the direction of Caen, and now and again patrols were sent out to contact the troops immediately to our front and flank, and so the day passed."

 

"As the time for the main force grew near, the firing from the Germans grew louder, and the perimeter appeared to be hard pressed. I learned later that the gliders were late, and that they arrived at a very critical time. Eventually, above the noise of the firing, we heard the approach of many aircraft, the engines became a roar, and the firing seemed to cease. Even the Germans were struck dumb by what they saw. It was a magnificent sight, the air full of gliders sweeping in towards the German lines and then turning lazily and making a left hand circuit over our slit trenches. They seemed very low, and yet none of them appeared to be hit by the ground fire. After that perfect silence from the enemy, an absolute inferno of noise broke out. Our position, which up to that time had not come under fire, was plastered with mortars, as Jerry tried to get the range of the landing zone. This forced us to keep our heads down, but we could still hear the whistle of the gliders as they continued to land."

 

"Later, after the firing had died down, I crawled cautiously to the high ground overlooking the landing zones. The area was covered with gliders, a beautiful "Balbo", which earned for it the name of the "Milk Run". Out of curiosity I glanced over to my own landing position a little to the right of the main body. I was surprised to see that what I had thought to be my brake binding, had in fact been the wing of the glider knocking over an anti-invasion pole. My luck must have been terrific for the glider had only touched this one pole, and had steered a course between the others without my having known that they were there."

 

"We decided to keep watch alternatively during the night, not because we were in any immediate danger, in our position, of being taken by surprise, but because we felt that we should keep up appearances for other wandering units who, not appreciating our exertions of the night before, might take a poor view if they found us asleep. I took a benzedrene, which is supposed to keep you awake - at least I thought so, but I was overcome with sleep in about five minutes and had just enough time to kick Paddy awake. The next thing I knew he was kicking me, and my first vision was of planes flying over and dropping parachutes. We had been warned that Jerry might try an immediate counter-attack with his own parachutists, and that managed to get through to me. For the rest of the night I kept awake, and found with relief just before dawn, that they were our own Dakotas dropping supplies. The next morning, quite early, we had orders to prepare to march to the beach-head."

 

The following is an obituary printed in The Times on the 20th September 2000.

 

H. N. "Andy" Andrews, DFM and Bar, wartime glider pilot, was born on January 6, 1920. He died on September 2 aged 80.

 

"ANDY" ANDREWS volunteered for the newly formed Glider Pilot Regiment in 1942 to avoid the tedium of waiting for the German invasion that never came. He was with the Royal Engineers in France but, after evacuation from La Panne, north of Dunkirk, he found service in England unexciting. Piloting a glider brought him the Distinguished Flying Medal and Bar. He is thought to be one of only four such pilots to survive all four main glider operations of the war in Europe.

 

Early use of troop-carrying gliders proved that if casualties were not to be prohibitive there was much to learn about finding the intended landing zones in darkness. The first large-scale Allied glider-borne operation was the invasion of Sicily in July 1943. An unexpectedly strong offshore wind and premature cast-off by some towing aircraft led to almost a third of the gliders falling into the sea.

 

Andrews used the glow of an enemy searchlight to assist his approach to the coast. He made a safe landing with his cargo of sappers and infantrymen, who scrambled out unhurt to destroy a coastal battery and capture a nearby bridge. Andrews received the DFM for his courage and precision flying.

 

D-Day, the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, was his next glider-borne operation. The Horsa glider piloted by Andrews was one of 11 assigned to 3rd Parachute Brigade of 6th Airborne Division, which dropped east of the River Orne on the extreme left flank of the Allied beachhead. Owing to flooding of the River Dives and enemy anti-landing poles, there was doubt about the landing zone's viability up to the last moment. Andrews crossed the French coast on correct course but could see no markers for it. Then the tug pilot spotted lights to starboard and Andrews got his Horsa down safely to disgorge the naval gunfire support team with their radios and two Jeeps he was carrying.

 

Arnhem followed. His reputation for being lucky was borne out again. His delivery of a platoon of The Border Regiment, part of the Airlanding brigade of 1st Airborne Division, northwest of Wolfheze was completed unopposed, although one soldier was wounded by rifle-fire in the last few seconds before touchdown. Together with other glider pilots, Andrews found himself defending part of the Oosterbeek perimeter west of Arnhem until withdrawal across the Neder Rijn. He received a Bar to his DFM for his skilled and courageous flying into the Arnhem landing zone.

 

All his experience and luck were needed for the Rhine crossing on March 24, 1945. Glider techniques were honed to perfection by this stage of the war and less than 4 per cent of the gliders were destroyed in flight. Andrews carried the tactical headquarters of a battalion due to capture bridges over the river Ijssel near Hamminkeln - but there were difficulties ahead.

 

His Halifax towing aircraft developed engine trouble over the North Sea and all surprise had been lost by the time he reached the landing zone, which was obscured by smoke. The Horsa's controls were damaged by ground fire soon after cast-off and Andrews found he was descending too steeply and too fast. Because of the smoke, he could not see the ground until down to 500 ft. At 250 ft he saw a small field beyond some trees, which he brushed through, half tearing off the undercarriage. The glider disintegrated on impact, the tail being catapulted over the debris to face the remains of the cockpit. Miraculously no one was seriously hurt; the infantry scrambled clear of the wreckage and formed a defensive position astride the local railway line.

 

The war in Europe over, Andrews was assigned to fly gliders behind tow pilots under training for operations in the Far East. On one occasion a trainee pilot cast-off his glider prematurely at 750 ft, leaving it facing 180 degrees in the wrong direction and with nowhere to land - except the dispersal area on the take-off airfield. Andrews turned the glider, slipped past the control tower and the WAAF sleeping quarters, found just enough forward lift to bounce over a man on the runway and landed undamaged. Afterwards, he crisply explained to the tug pilot that it would have been a shame had he been killed on a training mission after all he had survived on operations.

 

After demobilisation in 1946, Harold Norman Andrews returned to his engineering studies. He emigrated to Canada in 1953 and was commissioned in the Royal Canadian Engineers to resume his "continuation flying" at Chilliwack in British Columbia. He flew a variety of powered aircraft in Canada over the next 12 years, during which his luck continued to hold. He finally hung up his helmet after surviving a helicopter flight in a snowstorm over the Bay of Fundy, failure of a main rotor bolt over Texas and a second snowstorm over Saskatchewan.

 

He is survived by his wife Helen, whom he met while she was serving with the WAAF at Brize Norton in 1942, and their son and daughter.

 

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