BMMHS Evening Meeting: The Glider Pilot Regiment – Silently To War
The Glider Pilot Regiment – Silently To War
Speaker: Tony Bray
Wednesday 12th April 2023; 7:30pm
BMMHS Meeting Venue
Woodcote Village Hall, Reading Road, Woodcote, RG8 0QY
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.
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