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Chapter 3. The assault gliders - some individual experiences - Le Plein.

In the orders for the airborne assault of June 6th given to 3rd Parachute Brigade, great stress was laid upon the importance of silencing the Merville Battery before the landing craft of the sea-borne divisions reached the beaches, onto which the battery was to fire, To ensure the success of the battalion's assault, therefore, Lieutenant-Colonel Otway planned to put devm three gliders full of men between the casemates simultaneously with the attack of the remainder of the battalion from outside the wire. It was as dangerous and difficult an operation as can be imagined, but its success would undoubtedly disrupt and confuse the enemy's defences.

The force consisted of 3 officers and 47 men of the battalion and 1 officer and 7 men of 591 Parachute Squadron, Royal Engineers, carried in 3 Horsa gliders. These gliders were flown by 6 NCOs of the Glider Pilot Regiment and towed by Albermarle tug aircraft of 38 Group, Royal Air Force. Captain Robert Gordon-Brown of A Company was chosen to command the force, with Captain Hugh Smyth and Lieutenant Hugh Pond as his officers. The men were chosen from A Company with some difficulty, all having volunteered as soon as the operation was described to them. The three officers of the battalion each commanded one glider party, in which were two or three Sappers and 15 or 16 men of A Company. All were armed with Sten machine carbines and grenades, and each glider carried two flame throwers. In addition, each glider carried a reserve of the normal infantry platoon rifles, Brens and 2-inch mortar for use in the fighting after the capture of the battery.

Each glider was fitted with a special parachute "arrester" device near the tail, which could be blown out by an explosive charge controlled from the cock-pit, and so check the speed of the glider a few seconds before landing. Radar homing devices were carried and a section of 22 Independent Parachute Company dropped with the battalion with the job of setting up a small radar ground station near the battery perimeter wire. The whole force lived and trained together for the first three weeks of May, and the glider pilots practised landing these gliders again and again in an area marked on their airfield the same size as the battery.

The plan for the landing has already been described in Chapter 2.

All three gliders took off from Harwell airfield at about 11.10 p.m. without incident and set course for Normandy. A few minutes later the towrope of Captain Smyth's glider broke and the glider came down safely in a field near Odiham in Hampshire. (Captain Smyth succeeded in getting his whole party back to Brize Norton airfield by the some afternoon in time to fly over in the gliders of 6th Airlanding Brigade and he rejoined the battalion near Le Plein in the late evening of June 6th. Captain Gordon-Brown's glider, flown by Staff Sergeant S. G. Bone, met bad weather over the Channel Half-way across the arrester parachute gear opened suddenly, causing tug and glider to stall and lose height. Bone managed to jettison the parachute successfully, but the glider tail unit had been badly strained and control was difficult. Over the French coast clouds were 10/10ths at 1000 feet and the tug and glider, flying beneath the cloud ceiling, came under anti-aircraft fire. Both were hit repeatedly, but suffered no serious damage or casualties.

On reaching the approximate area of the target, there was no visible sign of it or of the battalion and no radar signals were picked up. The tug-pilot, Flying Officer Garnett, circled the area four times with his navigation lights on, in spite of flak, so as to give the battalion every chance of seeing the tug and glider. The glider then released and began to go dorm towards what appeared to be the battery, from which 20mm tracer shells were coming up. At 500 feet the glider pilot realised that what he could see was not the battery but a village, probably Merville, and he turned away, eventually landing 4 miles to the South. All got out unhurt and led

(Archive transcripts © Copyright Normandy War Guide)

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Archive: 9th Bn The Parachute Regiment North West Europe 1944 - 45

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