Silent Invaders: Combat Gliders of the Second World War by Gary Best

Click on cover image to purchase a copy

Click on cover image to purchase a copy

MWSA Review

This is a fine book by author Gary Best, which provides a good overview of glider attacks launched by both the Allies and the Axis. 

Best, the author of previous World War II books uses material from previous publications and some new materials and interviews with veterans from the war, to examine the strengths – and weaknesses – of using lightweight, engineless aircraft to launch surprise attacks on enemy installations.  After some short chapters describing the development of the gliders used by Germany, Britain, and the United States, Best looks at the training of the glider pilots, tow-aircraft pilots and the men who rode these delicate craft into combat.  Best then examines the major missions in which gliders were used. 

These chapters include the better-known missions like the German assault on the Belgian Eben Emael fortress, the bloody attack on British installations in Crete, and the Allied mass-drops at D-Day and in Operation Market Garden.  He also summarizes lesser-known uses of Gliders in brief accounts of Burma in 1943, the German rescue of Benito Mussolini in northern Italy, and the commando attack on German nuclear research facilities in Norway. There is even a small section on what is known about glider use by Japanese and Russian forces. These accounts are enhanced by very good use of first-hand memories of participants.  In all, this slim volume gives the reader a very fine succinct account of the glider’s role in the war.

Gliders were, admittedly, very dangerous, especially in the early training of the pilots.  As one veteran noted after the war, “I am sure we lost more pilots in death glide training . . . than we ever did in combat.”  This proved markedly true in night drops; the number of men lost crashing into trees or wetlands during the D-Day assault has never been fully tabulated.  Even in the daylight landings for Market Garden, British glider troop losses on the first day contributed to the failure to hold the last, vital bridge at Arnhem.  The anguish of that is very clear in the book’s first-hand accounts by the participants.

The combination of background on the development of gliders and the number of examples on their use in the war make this a most useful and impressive book.

Reviewed by: Terry Shoptaugh (2015)

Author's Synopsis

Silent Invaders is a book about the men who piloted gliders and those who flew in them. To the extent possible it is written in a continuous narrative, often combining first person accounts from more than one person so that those experiences will have multiple perspectives of the same scene, battle, flight, landing, and related experiences. Unit names, flight and squadron numbers and other identifiers are, for the most part, not identified, outside of a larger descriptive framework so that one is able to concentrate on what an individual saw, heard, felt, or accomplished.