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An American Glider Pilot's Story

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An American Glider Pilot's Story
This is the story of one American glider pilot in World War II. After enlisting in the Army in May 1941, Gale Ammerman went through basic training and was then sent to Chanute Field where he began training to become an airplane mechanic, eventually becoming an airplane crew chief.
Later, in July 1942, Gale volunteered for glider pilot training, learning first to fly powered light planes at Spencer, Iowa, then going to South Plains Army Flying School at Lubbock, Texas, in August 1942 to begin glider training as a member of Class 42-19A.
Then in April 1943 Gale arrived at Bowman Field for additional flight training; he also received training in ground combat since glider pilots might be required to fight as infantry after a combat landing.
In July 1943 Gale joined the 81st Troop Carrier Squadron of the 436th Troop Carrier Group and after more training, the unit set off for England on 24 December 1943.
Gale then flew gliders into combat during the Normandy invasion, Holland, and Rhine crossing operations, and his accounts of these episodes are detailed and riveting.
This is not just a book about flying and fighting, as Gale includes accounts of his family and civilian acquaintances on the home front.
You will not soon forget the story of a young man who went off to war as a member of one of the most dangerous occupations of any combat arm.  
  • Early On
  • Enlistment
  • Airplane Mechanics School, Chanute Field
  • The Crew Chief
  • Flying Power Planes
  • Glider Pilot Training
  • Learning to be a Fighter
  • Assigned to the 436th TCG, 81st TCS
  • On to North Carolina
  • Jane and Gale Tie the Knot
  • Flying a Crippled CG-4A Glider
  • Completing Flight Training in the U.S.
  • Transfer to Baer Field
  • Off to War
  • D-Day at Last
  • Holland
  • The Rhine Crossing
  • The End in Europe
  • Home
  • Appendices
    • The 81st TCS Association
    • The ETO Re-Visited 
Review by Dr. Martin Wolfe: [My wife] snatched An American Glider Pilot's Story before I had a chance to settle down with it, and she read it all through in one (long) evening. Every once in a while she would say, "Hey, listen to this!" but wouldn't let me get my hands on the book before she finished. She is very thankful to you for giving her all those family and personal insights, especially in the first part of the book, that gave her an insight into you (and [your wife]!) and the combat experiences. But she liked the first half of the book better. I read it through as quickly as I could, first time ("it's a page turner!") and then, the second time, slowly and with many different kinds of enjoyment. I shall certainly read it again, and maybe again. For me, unlike [my wife], reading the sections treating our missions was like standing up right behind you in the cockpit. Your description of "snatch" training is a classic in the sense that I can't imagine how anybody, anytime, could do it better. And there are so many other vignettes I deeply, deeply appreciated, like what it meant to be coming in on a Horsa to Normandy without brakes. And flying half blind, half the time, in the Market Garden mission. While I was effectively only a passenger in the 81st's combat experiences, because of you and your book, I am very proud to have been associated with them in at least some way. And it was wonderful to read about your experiences that were completely outside mine, like your training as an airplane mechanic and your trans-Atlantic ocean liner voyage. (I should have guessed you wouldn't get seasick!) The way you blend the military side of the story and your personal reactions to your experiences make this book extremely valuable for anyone wanting to get a real insight as to what it was like to live through this part of World War II. And the language! It puts an additional dimension on the human side of the story. Yes, we really did talk like that, and yes, behaving that way was an important way of getting through the war. If I knew any historians specializing in what one could call the "cultural-social" side of the war, I would emphasize to them that they would find here some very valuable and very real expressions of a complex social situation. (And the drinking, too!) But maybe the one bit of the book I liked the best was the pictures of [your] young [wife]. Thinking of the romance between you and [your wife], I don't mind saying, made me choke up pretty badly. I wish I truly believed in God, so I could say, Thank God for Gale and [his wife].
Review by Randy Hils: This is one man's story of flying the combat glider in World War 2, learning to fly small powered airplanes, glider flying, and training to be an effective combat soldier once the glider lands on the field of battle. The author flew the British Horsa glider in OVERLORD, the D- Day mission to liberate Fortress France; he flew the American CG4A glider in the MARKET GARDEN [A Bridge Too Far] mission to Holland; and the CG-4A in VARSITY, the Rhine River crossing at Wessel, Germany. Ammerman was a crew chief on Advanced Trainers, the AT-6 at Maxwell Field, Alabama when he volunteered to be a glider pilot in July of 1942. He was sent to Spencer, Iowa where he learned to fly small 65 horse powered Aeronca Chiefs, Taylor Crafts, and Piper Cubs. Later on in this phase of training the engines were shut down as dead-stick landings were practiced. From Spencer, Iowa Ammerman was posted to Lubbock, Texas where flying CG-4A combat gliders, was mastered. Assigned to the 81st Squadron of the 436th Troop Carrier Group it was on to Laurenburg-Maxton Airbase, North Carolina where training in the CG-4A started in earnest. The author describes landing a CG- 4A with a broken right horizontal-stabilizer. This incident gives the reader a feel for the thought processes and reflexes involved as the pilot lands the damaged aircraft. With the pilot you will feel the rush of adrenaline during the landing and later the effects of shock as the young pilot realizes that his life hung on an instant. You will sweat out a snatch of a glider as the C-47 thunders down over the glider and hooks the glider off the ground from a stand still. The sudden acceleration takes the pilot and craft from zero to 120 miles per hour seconds. On OVERLORD, D-Day of the Normandy Invasion you are in the cockpit with Gale and his friend, Billy Hart as they attempt to land a British Horsa glider loaded with nearly four tons of ammunition. Their load is destined for the troops of the 82'nd Airborne Division. With these two young pilots, experience their horror when they realize that bullets have punctured the pressure tanks which that actuate the flaps and brakes of the huge glider. The damaged glider comes in too high, too fast and it is a wild ride as the glider thunders across the field and slams into the trees of a hedgerow. The next campaign, MARKET GARDEN, Gale Ammerman describes the suspense of flying a heavily loaded glider through nearly impossible weather over the English Channel on his way to the landing zone in Holland as the tow plane disappears completely from sight. Marvel at the courage of the C- 47 tow pilot as he continues directly over the center of the designated landing zone near Zon, Holland even though a large stream of high-explosive fluid pouring out of the right wing of his airplane. As the glider pilots are in contact with the C-47 pilot by way of a telephone line running along the glider tow rope they are all aware of the incredible danger to both craft but the crews complete the mission which is critical to the airborne troops fighting below. The story climaxes with the transportation of the17th Airborne Division across the Rhine River at Wessel, Germany in a mission called VARSITY. You will feel the helplessness that the pilot's experience as black puffs of anti-aircraft fire stalk the glider across the sky over the Rhine. You will agonize with the pilots as they try to figure out the best way to get the airborne troopers onto the ground alive and ready to fight. You will weep at the terrible loss of young men in the morning of their lives. The Rhine crossing was by far the most deadly of all the glider operations in the European Theater of Operations.
Review by Meredith K. Divers: My name is Meredith Knox Divers. My father, Ralph Knox, was a Glider Pilot in World War II. I have just finished Mr. Ammerman's book and I can't tell you how grateful I am to Mr. Ammerman for sharing his recollections. My father followed almost exactly the same course in the military as Mr. Ammerman. He trained at some of the same bases, went to Europe on the Queen Mary, was stationed at Membury, participated in D-Day (flying a Horsa),  Market Garden and Varsity.  Daddy always spoke fondly of his time in Membury and England, but would never talk much about the war. The only thing he ever said about D-Day was that when he got out of the glider, he kept his rifle trained on what he thought was a German soldier. As dawn broke, the German soldier turned out to be a stump. I have always wondered what the war was like for the Glider Pilots and now thanks to Mr. Ammerman I have a little inkling as to what they went through. After Daddy died I began to correspond with some of his war buddies and have learned quite a bit through them. They are an outstanding bunch. One of them, Buck Buchanan, gave me this book which was autographed by Mr. Ammerman for my birthday. He had just returned from the Troop Carrier Group reunion in Chattanooga and I guess Mr. Ammerman was there. I have encouraged Buck to write his memoirs as well. Thank you so much for publishing this. It is something that I will treasure and pass on to my son so that he fully appreciates what his Grandfather and others like him did for their country.

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