BMMHS Evening Meeting: The Glider Pilot Regiment – Silently To War

The Glider Pilot Regiment – Silently To War

Speaker: Tony Bray

BMMHS Meeting Venue

Woodcote Village Hall, Reading Road, Woodcote, RG8 0QY

D-Day Glider
D-DAY - BRITISH FORCES DURING THE INVASION OF NORMANDY 6 JUNE 1944 (H 39178) Airborne troops of 6th Airlanding Brigade admire the graffiti chalked on the side of their Horsa glider at an RAF airfield as they prepare to fly out to Normandy as part of 6th Airborne Division's second lift on the evening of 6 June 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:
Beret, Glider Pilot Regiment (UNI 3380) Beret, Glider Pilot Regiment Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:
Horsa glider Glider Pilots having a cup of tea from the Church Army Mobile Canteen.
One of the gliders used in the capture of Pegasus Bridge over the River Orne, 1944. On D-Day, 6 June 1944, Allied airborne forces were dropped behind the landing beaches in order to slow down the Germans' ability to counterattack. Key objectives, such as bridges, road crossings and coastal batteries were seized in order to help the amphibious forces advance inland. British glider-borne troops seized 'Pegasus' Bridge across the River Orne. © NAM. 1975-03-63-18-158
In the dark days of 1940 Britain and the Commonwealth stood very much alone. Most of Europe was enslaved by the Nazis. The miracle  evacuation from Dunkirk had returned over 338,000 soldiers back to Britain but with very little equipment.  The Royal Navy was doing a wonderful job of commanding the seas, and the Royal Air Force was about the fight and win the Battle of Britain. The Prime Minister,  Winston Churchill, was anxious that Britain should develop ways of striking at the enemy, and he ordered that 5,000 parachute troops should be recruited and trained.
It was quickly realised that developing a well trained parachute force alone would not be enough. Parachute troops, who are often landed well behind the front line, can carry limited amounts of heavy weapons and supplies. To be effective they would need to have weapons and logistical support landing with them. How could that be done?
Tony Bray’s talk starts with a short background outlining how the airborne forces, both parachute and glider-borne, were developed in 1940. He will introduce the four main military gliders used by the Allies – from doing glider conversion training in the Hotspur, to the massive tank-carrying Hamilcar and also explain how the future pilots of the Glider Pilot Regiment were selected and trained.
The session will include an explanation of what it was like to fly a Horsa glider into Normandy just after midnight on 6thJune 1944, to seize the bridge over the Caen Canal at Benouville, later to be called Pegasus Bridge. This will include the overall story to the experiences of individual soldiers and some recently-recorded interviews with four of our veterans, as they tell you what it was like to fly these huge gliders into a live battlefield.
You will hear how the developing skills of the glider pilots were matched by the improved operational effectiveness of the Airborne Divisions, from the disappointing invasion of Sicily in July 1943, to the successful crossing of the Rhine in March 1945. Then hear how the Glider Pilot Regiment morphed into the modern Army Air Corps.

About the speaker - Tony Bray

Tony grew up in Thatcham and attended Newbury Grammar School. As a keen cyclist, and member of Newbury Road Club, he toured most of the local byways surrounding Newbury and Reading.  From school Tony went to Sandhurst and was commissioned into the Royal Corps of Transport.
After leaving the army he was a manager in BT and his final role in the BT Management College naturally led to going freelance. He continues to enjoy providing clients with varied training and consultancy services. Along the way he has written over 20 books on management and training.
Tony has had a life-long interest in aviation since first flying solo in a glider at 16, then later qualifying as a private pilot, and then returned to gliding at Lasham. 
His interest in the Glider Pilot Regiment grew naturally from his military and aviation experiences, prompted by publication of the book A Bridge Too Far. In addition to visiting many of the mainstream military sites in Northern Europe, he has also been to some less well known, notably Masada and Oradour-sur-Glane.
Tony Bray
Our speaker's chosen military charity for this talk

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