Airspeed Horsa in Normandy

The Airspeed AS.51 Horsa was a troop carrying glider used by the Allies.


The Horsa measured 20.4 meters in length and 5.94 meters in height, with a wingspan of 26.8 meters, the Horsa had an empty weight of 3,796 kg, rising to 7,030 kilograms when loaded. Maximum speed was 241 km/h on tow, dropping to 160 km/h in the glide.[1] Inside, a maximum of 25 passengers could be carried onboard and a crew of two pilots. However, the Horsa was also adaptable enough to be able to carry standard equipment with a jeep. The Horsa was constructed of wood to preserve precious metals for the war effort. The aircraft used to tug said glider was typically either a Whitworth Whitley, Short Stirling, or Handley Page Halifax.[2]

In the field, like many other gliders of the time, the Horsa's reliability varied. Occasionally it would break under the stress. It was often noted that generally, the glider system as a whole was far worse than parachuting from transport aircraft. Still, gliders could still carry vital heavy equipment into the field which was typically lacking in airborne operations of the time. 


There were two main variants of the Horsa. The Mk I was a standard troop carrier conversion. The Mk II had a hinged nose to allow direct loading and unloading of light ordnance, as well as a twin nose wheel assembly with a tow cable attachment in the strut.[3] Other than these two modifications, the Airspeed Horsa remained largely unchanged throughout its service history. 



The Horsa was first ordered in December 1940 to Specification X26/40,[4] which called for a wooden glider with seating for 25 troops, jettisonable main undercarriage, front and rear paratroop doors and a freight door. This specification was largely inspired by the German use of paratroopers and gliders in the early 1940 campaigns.[5] The first of 3,799 examples made its initial flight at Great West Aerodrome in London on 12 September 1941.[6] The first production examples began to reach frontline units around 1942. 


The first major mission involving the Horsa was the Allied invasion of Sicily.[3][N 1]For the Allied invasion of Northern Europe, more than 500 Horsa gliders were supplied to the United States Army under the Reverse Lend Lease scheme.[7] The most famous use of the Horsa glider was here being dropped over Normandy.[8] They served their purpose well, allowing the Allies to gain a solid foothold in the area. As decided by doctrine in the development of the Horsa and other military gliders of the Second World War, gliders were a key feature to any airborne operation, oftentimes being the only method through which proper equipment could be landed in with troops. Furthermore, compared to the American Waco glider, the Horsa was capable of carrying a far more substantial load-out, allowing for added combat effectiveness in the field. 


  1. The first operation involving the Horsa saw two examples used in a failed raid on a Heavy Water plant in Norway.[6]


  1. Falconer, Johnathon. D-Day Operations Manual. Haynes Publishing. 2013. ISBN 978 0 85733 234 9 Page 126
  3. 3.0 3.1 Gunston, Bill (Forward). Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II. Tiger Books. 1989. ISBN 1-85501-996-5. (Reprint of Jane's All The World's Aircraft 1945/1946. Bridgeman, Leonard (Editor). 1946). Page 102.
  4. Falconer, Johnathan. Page 123
  6. 6.0 6.1 Aircraft of the World Card Collection. Group 10 (British aircraft of World War II) card 33 (Airspeed Horsa)
  7. Gunston, Bill. 1998. Page 101.
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