by Harold Ratzburg and Tony Hayter
The problem of getting the soldier to the battlefield quickly over a long distance was solved when the airplane was invented. But of course, it was rare to have an airstrip right next to the battlefield. With the coming of the well known “Dakota” C-47 Skytrain, not only could the soldier get to the nearest airstrip, but he could take with him the means to travel to the actual battlefield in that well-known vehicle called a Jeep.
All this took time, though. Getting a Jeep out of the cargo door was not a simple matter, what with required ramps etc., so a better method was sought.
The solution came in the shape of a glider that could transport the soldier and his Jeep into the thick of the battle. Silent (well, almost), in its approach, the glider proved to be very useful, and as the gliders got bigger and better, more cargo could be carried.
During WWII, the American and British gliders tended to differ in how they were loaded and unloaded. The “Waco” was a much-used American glider which being low on the ground had an entire front nose section that lifted up to “swallow” it’s load. This allowed for a very clever idea for unloading, where a cable, pulled through a system of pulleys, lifted open the front of the glider as it skidded to a stop, and so there was no need to get out of the Jeep on landing, just drive the Jeep straight out if the landing took place as planned. It must have been a very merry ride for the troops in the Jeep on the way down.
The British gliders had, in some cases, a tail that could be “blown off.” Ramps then had to be put in position to enable the Jeep to be driven out. A large side opening door was also used, but it also required the use of ramps.
The next logical step was to hang a Jeep underneath an airplane and drop it with the aid of a parachute. This is where the British Army differed from the Americans—all British Airborne Forces Jeeps were converted to enable them to be slung under the belly of a bomber or carried more easily in a glider. American airborne Jeeps were pretty much left as they came from the factory.
The first consideration was of course, weight, so all non-essential parts were removed.
Who needs rear bumpers, so off they came. The height of the vehicle was most important, with the highest point being the back of the front seats, so the spare tire was removed. When in a glider, the wheel was carried between the front bumper and the grill, where a simple bolt held it in place. As soon as the Jeep was well away from the glider, the spare was put back on the rear mount because the wheel stopped the flow of air to the radiator and caused over heating after a short distance. When parachuted down, the spare was carried on the floor of the Jeep.
The windshield would be carried in the folded down position while in the glider, as was the canvas cover and bows. These items were not carried on the parachuted Jeep. Rear seats were never put into a Jeep of the British airborne forces as the room was needed for the four parachutes which lowered the Jeep, or much needed supplies.
The front bumper was cut down to the width of the chassis for weight reduction. There was never much room inside a glider so off came the jerry can holder. The side and rear grab handles stuck out from the body and could foul a part of the glider so they were also removed. The steering wheel stuck up above the level of the seats, so a quick release arrangement was fitted so that with a flip of the fingers, off came the steering wheel which was then strapped to the front seat.
The shock of landing, even with four parachutes was quite severe so large pans with reverse springs were fitted to each wheel to absorb the shock. An eye witness told the story of seeing a Jeep come down with the parachutes unopened and noted that it came down in a most “spectacular fashion”. I’ll bet it was!!
An ever present danger was that after landing, the parachutes would fill up with wind and tip the Jeep over. So, two ‘legs’ were attached—with bowl shaped feet, and on contact with the ground, hydraulic fluid was forced through tubing along the legs and caused the main parachute connecting ring to open allowing the parachutes to blow away.