Author(s): Mike Peters
July 1943...the tide of the Second World War appeared finally to be turning in favour of the Allies. Having driven the Axis powers out of North Africa, Prime Minister Winston Churchill successfully argued for an invasion of Italy and an advance up through what he mistakenly described as the soft underbelly of Europe. The first phase of the invasion of German-occupied Europe was to be the invasion of Sicily, the date for which was set for 9 July 1945. Subsequently codenamed Operation HUSKY and primarily an amphibious operation of unprecedented scale and complexity, the Allied plan included the first ever large-scale use of airborne forces. These fledgling formations were, however, in the main untested in battle. The scene was set for a series of airborne operations littered with examples of tragedy, heroism but an over-riding determination to win at all costs.Glider Pilots in Sicily tells the dramatic and often moving story of the men of the 1st Battalion, The Glider Pilot Regiment, and their role in the invasion. At the time of the landings the regiment had been in existence for less than two years.
Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel George Chatterton, its officers and men had been trained to be, in Chatterton's own words, 'Total Soldiers': pilots in the air and highly trained infantrymen on the ground. The Total Soldier concept and The Glider Pilot Regiment's motto 'Nothing is Impossible' were however to be tested to the full during the battle for Sicily. This is the account of The Glider Pilot Regiment's baptism of fire and the story of a remarkable group of men who, in spite of the presence of enemy fighters, flew unarmed and unescorted Horsa gliders across the Bay of Biscay in broad daylight. Men who assembled unfamiliar American gliders from packing crates using the manufacturer's technical manuals, thereafter living in the empty crates in the middle of the North African Desert while they learned to fly their new gliders and then test flew them by day and night. Some subsequently flew on the first gliderborne coup de main operation mounted by British airborne forces, thereafter taking part in the epic battle for the vital bridge of the Ponte Grande, while others transported the gliderborne elements of 1st Parachute Brigade in its attack on the Ponte Primosole.
Using personal accounts, many of which are previously unpublished, this book tells the heroic, and, sometimes tragic story of the events that followed when the British 1st Airborne Division attempted a series of large scale airborne landings on Sicily in July 1943.