The Horsa was the primary glider used in the paratrooper landings at both D-Day in June 1944 and Arnhem in September 1944. The company Airspeed received a specification for a glider in December 1940 from the Air Ministry. The Air Ministry had witnessed the success of German troops moved by gliders during the early stages of Blitzkrieg. Five prototype gliders were built at Airspeed’s Portsmouth factory and they were used by the British Army during their trials.
The Horsa was made up of thirty separate parts primarily made out of wood. This allowed Airspeed to subcontract the work with some parts being made by furniture makers! The parts were put together at RAF Maintenance Units. In all, over 3,700 Horsa gliders were made with only 700 being made assembled and tested in one place. The Horsa I was designed to carry 25 soldiers while the Horsa II had a hinged nose and carried vehicles and guns.
Both types of Horsas were almost entirely made of wood. This made the gliders light so it obviously helped their ability to do their job.
The first prototype was towed on September 12th 1941 by an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley. Very soon after this date, they went into full service with the RAF. During military operations, they were mainly used for the 1st and 6th Airbourne Divisions and the pilots were usually from the Army’s Glider Pilot Regiment. However, RAF pilots were also used when required.
The first major use of the Horsa was in July 1943 in the invasion of Sicily. These gliders played a very important part in the D-Day landings when they were used by both the British and Americans. In August 1944, they were used in the invasion of Southern France and at Arhhem in September 1944 and in the crossing of the Rhine in March 1945.
Maximum towing speed: 150 mph
Normal gliding speed: 100 mph