Silent Wings: The American Glider Pilots of WWII

DVD, narrated by Hal Holbrook, 2007, $24.95.

Hard though it may be to believe that there is any specialized field within the U.S. military whose contribution to victory in World War II has yet to be recognized, Robert Child, writer, producer and director of Silent Wings: The American Glider Pilots of WWII, makes that claim for the aviators whose story he covers in film documentary form for the first time. In 1941 the U.S. Army, impressed by the spectacular German airborne seizures of the Belgian fort of Eben Emael and the isle of Crete, launched its own assault glider program.

Reaching the objective was as dangerous as the fighting that followed—Stars and Stripes reporter Andy Rooney called the final approach “a planned accident,” since the most frequent way to stop upon landing was to crash into something. If they survived, the glider pilots, unique among wartime airmen, joined the troops they carried in the infantry role. One veteran pilot stated that the “G” on his winged emblem did not stand for “glider” but for “guts.”

For the most part, Silent Wings covers its subject well, even including German glider pilot Rudi Opitz in the course of paying tribute to the pioneering Nazi operations at Eben Emael and Crete—the latter of which, unknown to the Americans at the time, produced such heavy casualties that Adolf Hitler declared he would never mount a comparable airborne effort, even while Maj. Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold was inaugurating the U.S. glider program.

Veteran glider pilots, joined by frontline journalists Andy Rooney and Walter Cronkite, give the viewer a feel for the glider experience (including the unexpected fact that the Waco CG-4A was anything but silent to those riding inside). The triumphs and setbacks of the U.S. glider force are covered, along with all but one of their eight operations (the last, at Aparri in the Philippines in May 1945, is given curiously short shrift). Bonus programs include a virtual visit to the Silent Wings Museum in Lubbock, Texas.

 

Originally published in the July 2007 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here