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Forces War Records Blog

HISTORY HIGHLIGHTS: ON THIS DAY 27TH MARCH 1942, ONE OF THE WORLD'S LARGEST GLIDER IS FLOWN.

On this day 27th March 1942, the very first General Aircraft Hamilcar or Hamilcar Mark I was flown.  It was the largest and heaviest glider used by the Allied forces in WWII, designed to carry heavy cargo such as the Tetrarch or M22 Locust Light Tank.
 

Taking off, Towed by a Striling Bomber, the laden Hamilcar glider rises into a higher position than that of a towing aircraft to avoid slipstream from the airscrews. Beside tanks and howitzers, Hamilcars have carried engineering equipment.

It was ordered in 1940 by Winston Churchill to design and develop a large glide to support Airborne troops, costing £50,000 each the Hamilcar was produced until 1946 with a total of 344 being built. The ratio between length and wingspan was practically the same as that of an Avro Lancaster bomber, which had a wingspan of 102 feet (31 m) and a length of 69 feet 6 inches (21.18 m) These large glides were only used three occasions during WWII, with a role to support the Allied British airborne forces.  First seeing action in June 1944, when thirty were used to carry 17-pounder anti-tank guns, transport vehicles and the Tetrarch light tanks into Normandy for operation "Tonga".  Then again the same use for operation "Market Garden".  Then a third and final time in March 1945 during operation "Varsity" when they were used to transport M22 Locust Light Tanks and other supplies.
 

A Tetrarch tank backs into a Hamilcar glider under its own power. This light tan, around which the glider was originally "tailored" to fit, weights over 7 tones. It's overall length is approx 14th, width 8ft 5in, height 7ft. Its speed is 25mph and it is capable of climbing a slope of 35 degrees.

The Glides proved to be a success, though due to their low speed and large size they were easy targets for the Axis anti-aircraft fire, which resulted in a number of gliders being damaged, destroyed and a loss of life's. Leading Hamilcar Pilot Major Alec Dale, R.A.F, a Shropshire man, was awarded the D.F.C for his work with the glider in Sicily.  "The Hamilcars are beautifully easy to handle, in spite of their weight" he declared.   Also Squadron Leader James Stewart, tow-plane at Arnhem, was awarded the D.F.C for flying his plane deliberately into flak to distract the enemy gunners from gliders on their way down. Source: Wiki, Forces War Records Historic Library.
 

The glider in flight, and its heavy bomber towing plane, made a familiar sight in Holland during the great airbourne invasion of September 17, 1944.
 

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