Horsa Glider Crash - 12th December 1944
The first Part of the Memorial
On 12th December 1944, 31 paratroopers from the 17th Airborne Division, (mostly from C Company, 194th Glider Infantry Regiment) and two glider pilots of the 88th Troop Carrier Squadron gathered at the Greenham airbase for Horsa Glider Flight training purposes. The flight ended in a horrific crash killing all 33 crew.
Members of C Company, 194th Glider Infantry Regiment and selected members of Regimental Headquarters and their medical section were transported to Greenham Common airfield for a flight in the large British made Horsa glider. It was a clear bright day and most of the men were excited about riding in a glider other than the American CG 4A to which they had become accustomed.
The Horsa was constructed almost entirely of moulded plywood and was bolted together in sections. The British had solved the problem of fast unloading by fixing a plastic charge on the rear section. Upon landing, the rear end was simply blown off and easy egress was attained. The live charge back there while the glider was in flight was certainly not a comforting thought for the troops inside.
Because the Horsa gliders were huge and could carry more than twice the number of troops than the CG-4A, some theorised that the military was considering switching to the Horsa for all glider operations. It was very important for Airborne troops to maintain unit integrity in the airhead and to bring in with them as much equipment as possible.
Major George R Schnurr of 194SR had been designated as loadmaster for the exercise, and he remembers that glider number 12 was loaded with some men from each of the participating units.
Captain Roy Strang, company commander of 194C, was supposed to fly on glider number 12, but upon request at the last moment gave up his place to Major James F Klock, the regimental surgeon. That favour was to save Strang's life and cost Klock his.
Walt Wrzeszczynski, a medic with 194C who was waiting on the flight line for the next available Horsa, witnessed the accident as it took place in the sky.
"Everything looked fine, Q," he said. "The glider was flying along smoothly when all of a sudden the tail section just came off. There was no explosion; it just fell off."
Shaking his head sadly, he added: "The glider (what was left of it) swayed and flopped around at the end of the tow line and sank lower and lower. It seemed to be pulling the tow plane down. Suddenly it either cut loose or was cut loose and then it went almost straight down. It was all over in just a few seconds."
The 33 victims of the crash were buried in the Cambridge American cemetery at Maddingley. Most of the men have since been returned to the United States for reburial upon requests by their families. However, six of the 17th Airborne comrades still rest in Cambridge. The cause of the accident is unknown.
Based on an account by Mel Therrien 513 HQ2 in the book ‘War Stories - The Men of the Airborne’ by Bart Hagerman LTC AUS (Retired)
On the 50th anniversary of the tragedy the daughter of Lt Charles Albury, Ms Margaret (Peggy) Morrissey, Mrs Clara Gray, sister of PFC Burton Lindenmuth, Mrs Alberta Foster, sister of PFC Dale Weber; Joe Quade from the 17th Airborne Division Association (memorial co-ordinator) and Walt Wrzeszczynski, a medic attached to Company C, 194 Glider Infantry Regiment and eyewitness to the tragedy, attended a dedication service for a memorial to the 33 men who were killed.
Speaking at the ceremony, Walt Wrzeszczynski said: "It was a very emotional day for me as I walked out to the edge of the former airfield and looked into the distance where the Horsa glider had crashed. As my thoughts ran back to December 12th, 1944, I said a prayer for all of those who had perished. But for the grace of God I could have been with them in that glider on that day. After 50 years we can now remember those glider troopers and glider pilots who perished and were forgotten. It was a week later, December 18th, 1944, that we were alerted to our movement to the continent to participate in the Battle of the Bulge. Those 33 servicemen who had trained with us had fought their battle even before entering combat."
Every December since the 50th anniversary the Trust has agreed for a memorial service to be held at New Greenham Park to remember the fallen victims of the glider crash. The Trust, which owns the business park, has a policy of naming roads and properties on the park in memory of those who lost their lives in the tragedy.