Seal of the National WWII Glider Pilots Association

C-47s loaded with troops Ready for Take off. African Air Force

Photo Courtesy of National Archives / NWWIIGPA collection

NA photo description: 4X5 neg. rec'd 11/2/43 (Lot 226) from Hqs. Northwest African Air Forces through BPR. Stamped: "Released for Pub. BPR, 9/29/43 (3)." Troop Carrier planes ready to take off with their load of Airborne Troops. Sicily.

SICILY - July 9, 1943


Overview of Ladbroke

By Major Leon B. Spencer, USAF (Ret&d), WWII Glider Pilot

Operation Ladbroke, the invasion of Sicily, was a nighttime British glider operation with glider pilots from the British Glider Pilot Regiment flying American Waco CG–4A gliders, with 24 volunteer American glider pilots flying as copilots. This was unprecedented since night glider assaults were not part of British airborne doctrine. Major General Matthew B. Ridgway, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, cabled Brigadier General Maxwell Taylor in North Africa before the scheduled mission, urging him to persuade General Eisenhower’s planners to change the mission from night to early dawn. His plea was denied. By 13 June 1943, 346 of the 500 CG–4As shipped to North Africa that March had been assembled by glider pilots and others. Only 136 of the 360 were used for Operation Ladbroke that also included 8 British Airspeed Horsa gliders, 111 C–47s, 25 British Albemarles and 8 Halifax bombers.

Forty-two American glider pilots volunteered to train the British glider pilots in the CG–4A. They were placed on detached service to the British Glider Pilot Regiment. The 144 gliders participating in Operation Ladbroke were towed from six Tunisian airfields at 1842 hours on 9 July 1943 by C–47s and C–53s of the 51st Troop Carrier Wing. Shortly after takeoff six tow planes turned back because of shifting loads in gliders, another turned back when the jeep it was carrying broke loose from its tie downs.

Further into the mission three more gliders broke loose when the formation ran into strong winds and extremely turbulent air, and vanished with all hands. Two other tow planes became lost and returned to Tunisia. High winds at the release point coupled with inexperienced tow pilots led to 69 gliders being released too far from the coast of Sicily and were unable to make landfall. 605 officers and men were lost, 326 presumed to have drowned.

Only forty–nine CG–4As and five Horsas landed on Sicilian soil within a 10 mile radius of their LZs (Landing Zones). Allegedly, only five CG–4As and two British Horsas actually landed on their designated LZs. To make matters worse, eleven American C–47s and C–53s loaded with paratroopers were shot out of the sky by friendly fire from Allied ships participating in the invasion.

American Major General Joseph M. Swing, cited five major mission weaknesses:

  1. Insufficient time spent in coordinating the air routes with all forces

  2. Complexity of the flight route and the low degree of training for the navigators

  3. The rigid naval policy of firing at any and all aircraft

  4. The unfortunate timing of the airdrops directly after extensive enemy air attacks

  5. The failure of some army ground commanders to warn all antiaircraft units of the impending airborne operations

Six American glider pilots were killed in action. In spite of the many difficulties encountered the objectives were taken and the mission considered a success. In his report to General Ei-senhower, British General “oy” Browning placed all of the blame on American Troop Carrier crews. Ironic, since another extenuating factor was the fact that the British glider pilots re-ceived only 4.5 hours of training in the CG–4A, only 1.2 hours of it at night. Eight CG–4As and eleven Horsa gliders were used in the second aerial phase of the Sicily invasion on D-Day, 13–14 July 1943.


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