Spits towing gliders

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1st Lieutenant
Apr 14, 2005
niagara falls
Does anyone have a picture of Spitfires towing general Aircraft Hotspur gliders starting at the end of Oct 43 until Mar 44 . The plan was concieved as one of Hobarts Funnies whereby the Spits would tow gliders that would carry their groundcrew to forward operating areas . The squadrons used were 401 and later 412 and 411 sqns RCAF
Hi pbfoot,

Ive been looking for some picture's of the above for a while now. Still no luck. After looking through 20 plus books on the spitfire. Closest thing Ive found are some MK V spitfire tail wheel photo's showing a Hasty Hitch for glider towing experiments but will keep looking. If you are interested in the hitch let me know and I will scan them.

Many innovative and ingenious ideas were conceived in the months prior to the invasion of Europe, some major in scope others relatively minor. Best known were probably the Mulberry harbours, and to a lesser degree some of "Hobart's funnies," such as the Crab, or flail tank. For all the ideas that were accepted there were as many, probably more, that were not, either because they were impractical or, when the time came to use them, were found unnecessary. The project with which I was involved fell into the latter category.
In the early autumn of 1943 someone in the planning team suggested that, in the event transport aircraft were not available when needed, fighter squadrons could haul their own spare pilots, ground crew and supplies to France, using their own fighter aircraft as tugs. The feasibility of the idea had to be tested, and 401 Sqn was chosen for the experiment.
On Oct 27th FSgts Morrisey and Maybee, F/0 Bob Hayward, (later S/L, DSO, DFC) and I travelled by train to Netheravon to take a glider course. Netheravon was a WWI grass field, and like so many old Royal Flying Corps airfields it was built like an inverted saucer. My main recollection of the place, as ITom Koch and myself. Hayward was heavily loaded with 10 armourers and their kit; I don't know what Koch was carrying. Sitting behind me I had Don Laubman, later LGen Laubman, an old friend from guard duty days three-and-a-half years earlier. Apart from that my logbook just reads "To Digby with 412's junk," so I presume I was loaded with spare pilots and/or their stuff. After one hour and 20 minutes the Spitfires had to refuel, so we landed at Digby. Hayward was the first to take-off for the last leg and had reached about 300 feet when the tow rope broke. Helped probably by his 1,500 hours as an instructor, he did a masterful job of getting back into the field in one piece. A new rope appeared from somewhere and all three gliders were soon on the way again, albeit with 10 nervous armourers.
We unloaded at Hutton Cranswick and spent the night there, returning to Biggin with the empty gliders the following morning. When word got out about the broken rope, we received a lot of questions from the ground crews along the lines, "What happens if the rope breaks over the Channel?" to which we probably answered facetiously: "Better learn to swim." But seriously, this episode told us, should we ever use these things operationally, not to put all one trade in one glider.
Having proven the scheme was practical, and that with a full complement of 12 gliders it was possible to move the Wing, we were now given the go-ahead to check out the rest of the Wing. Using the same approach that we had received, we proceeded to expose a few of the 411 and 412 Sqn pilots to the Hotspur, and then they could continue to check out the rest. We were fortunate to com-

plete the program without an accident, until the very end, although I came close on one occasion. By the time we had completed a circuit the Spit would have dropped the rope and it would have been dragged back into position for another lift.
The "erks" were complaining that we were landing too long, giving them a lot of work dragging the glider back to the end of the runway. The south-east end of the main Biggin runway ended at a perimeter track, closely bordered by a high chain-link fence. Immediately beyond the fence the escarpment on which Biggin is built drops off sharply into a deep valley; approaching, you faced the steeply rising side of the escarpment, topped with the fence. While checking out another pilot I decided to see how short I could get down. At the

last minute on approach I realised I had cut it too fine and I was about to run into the side of the hill, or at best the fence. Not knowing if it would work or not, but with little alternative, I shoved the nose down as steeply as I dared to build up speed, then at the last moment hauled back on the stick. We staggered up over the fence, barely, and then stalled out with a horrible clatter onto the perimeter track, with just enough forward motion to trundle forward to stop almost over the end of the rope. Try-

ing to look nonchalant as we switched seats, I suggested to my "student" that perhaps he should not try to cut it so fine!
By the beginning of March we had completed the program and began moving the gliders to Kenley. My last flight in the Hotspur was March 9th when I delivered one to Kenley, where we presumed 127 Wing would be taking the course. Whether they did or not I never learned but that was the last of the gliders as far as we were concerned. The one accident occurred on a transfer flight to Kenley. I happened to be in the air when I saw the glider take off and climb out in the direction of Kenley; then the rope disconnected from the Spitfire, dropping away to hang down from the glider. Out-of-sight-out-of-mind, without dropping the rope the glider pilot began a standard approach to a good-sized field and appeared to be doing fine when suddenly the trailing rope caught the trees and pulled him straight down. The glider burst like a box of wooden matches being dropped, and I saw one of the seats come flying out with the pilot attached. There was nothing I could do but call the Biggin tower to send an ambulance, which they did. former 411 Sqn pilot named Mitchell, asked how I knew about it. I explained how I had
actually seen it happen. He told me he was the one I saw flying in the seat, and it had cost him six months in hospital. Then he looked at my name badge and said: "McRae, McRae, that name sounds familiar." At the first break he went up to his room and came back with his log book. Sure enough, there was my name, twice, where I had given him "the course" 51 years before, one circuit in the back seat, two in the front!
Another scheme that was rumoured to be considered was the possibility of Spitfires operating from an aircraft carrier off the French coast, should landing grounds not be quickly available in France. This would have saved the 20 minutes travel time each way between England and Normandy. One squadron in our Wing, 412 I believe, took the DDL (Dummy Deck Landing) course, with painted white lines on the runway simulating arrester cables, and a navy batsman. Mercifully, this brainwave was never needed, otherwise the number of Spitfire write-offs would likely have been considerably higher! ©
I lived within a few hundred metres of Westhampnet airfield in '43 . I saw a Spitfire pulling up over the centre of the airfield and then below and behind it was a Hotspur which did half circuit and landed out of my sight . For many years NOT ONE person would believe my yarn . I had been 13 at the time . Thanks for the confirmation . Why Westhampnet at that time .? Thanks too for a wonderfully detailed story. Alan .

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