Widgets Magazine
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the infamous glider regiments quietly fizzled out of history

(442nd Fighter Wing Archive)

The United States Military has always prided itself on its legacy. That's why the historical accomplishments of a unit are almost always passed down from the old-timers to the young bloods. And if a great troop does a heroic deed, you can bet the installation where they were once stationed will have a street named after them.

The history books of the United States Military are extensive and cherished — but you won't often see mention of the glider regiments. Outside of randomly finding their insignia on "Badges of the United States Army" posters that line the training room, you won't ever hear anyone sing the tales of the gliders.

That's mostly because the history of the gliders is a bit... awkward, let's say.


Since their inception, gliders have been at odds with the paratroopers. Instead of having an infantryman jump from an aircraft and float down individually, the gliders would be filled to the brim with infantrymen that could all exit the glider at the same time and location. Gliders could also be filled with heavy equipment or vehicles and moved into the battlefield, remaining fairly silent as it glided to the ground.

And that about does it for the list of benefits to using gliders.

Still though. There was a need that the gliders filled and they got the job done... some times...

(National Archives)

The thing is, all of the functions of the glider were better (and more safely) served by the helicopter. But even before helicopters were ready to take on a primary role, the Army had long abandoned gliders.

There were simply too many problems in the operating of gliders. First, gliders had to be towed by a much larger aircraft. When the time came, the glider would release the line and, as the name implies, glide to its intended destination. It didn't have its own engine or any completely reliable means of piloting it.

Accidents were frequent. After all, there's a reason they were unaffectionately called "flying coffins." The glider needed to remain light (despite the heavy load in the back), so it had barely any kind of protection. The glider was literally made of honeycombed plywood and canvas, meaning air pockets or 40-mph winds could start shredding the exterior.

If the glider did manage to hold together throughout its journey, it was most left to its own devices after the departure of the towing plane. There were no brakes and steering was difficult. The only safe bet was to find a clearing, which were difficult to spot, seeing as the gliders cut the line while still miles away from their destination.

It also didn't help that the Axis knew about the gliders' biggest weakness: randomly placed ten-foot poles in giant clearings.

Earlier anti-glider poles had explosives, but the Axis found it a bit of overkill, as the inertia alone did the trick.

(National Archives)

Gliders, in the eyes of the public, were doomed from the very beginning. In August, 1943, the gliders were given their first public demonstration in front for 10,000 spectators in St. Louis. A single bolt came undone and the glider fell like a sack of bricks right in front of the grand stand. Everyone onboard, including the mayor of St. Louis, was instantly killed.

The gliders did land properly more often than not and they played an instrumental role in major Allied invasions, but the fact that a staggering eleven percent of all troops who rode in them would die (and thirty percent were wounded upon landing) was something that the military just wanted to forget about.

Farewell, gliders. You won't be missed.

(442nd Fighter Wing Archive photo)