September 20, 2000
Glider pilot who took part in the four main airborne landings of the Second World War in Europe - and survived them all
"ANDY" ANDREWS volunteered for the newly formed Glider Pilot Regiment in 1942 to avoid the tedium of waiting for the German invasion that never came. He was with the Royal Engineers in France but, after evacuation from La Panne, north of Dunkirk, he found service in England unexciting. Piloting a glider brought him the Distinguished Flying Medal and Bar. He is thought to be one of only four such pilots to survive all four main glider operations of the war in Europe.
Early use of troop-carrying gliders proved that if casualties were not to be prohibitive there was much to learn about finding the intended landing zones in darkness. The first large-scale Allied glider-borne operation was the invasion of Sicily in July 1943. An unexpectedly strong offshore wind and premature cast-off by some towing aircraft led to almost a third of the gliders falling into the sea.
Andrews used the glow of an enemy searchlight to assist his approach to the coast. He made a safe landing with his cargo of sappers and infantrymen, who scrambled out unhurt to destroy a coastal battery and capture a nearby bridge. Andrews received the DFM for his courage and precision flying.
D-Day, the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, was his next glider-borne operation. The Horsa glider piloted by Andrews was one of 11 assigned to 3rd Parachute Brigade of 6th Airborne Division, which dropped east of the River Orne on the extreme left flank of the Allied beachhead. Owing to flooding of the River Dives and enemy anti-landing poles, there was doubt about the landing zone's viability up to the last moment. Andrews crossed the French coast on correct course but could see no markers for it. Then the tug pilot spotted lights to starboard and Andrews got his Horsa down safely to disgorge the naval gunfire support team with their radios and two Jeeps he was carrying.
Arnhem followed. His reputation for being lucky was borne out again. His delivery of a platoon of The Border Regiment, part of the airlanding brigade of 1st Airborne Division, northwest of Wolfheze was completed unopposed, although one soldier was wounded by rifle-fire in the last few seconds before touchdown. Together with other glider pilots, Andrews found himself defending part of the Osterbeek perimeter west of Arnhem until withdrawal across the Neder Rijn. He received a Bar to his DFM for his skilled and courageous flying into the Arnhem landing zone.
All his experience and luck were needed for the Rhine crossing on March 24, 1945. Glider techniques were honed to perfection by this stage of the war and less than 4 per cent of the gliders were destroyed in flight. Andrews carried the tactical headquarters of a battalion due to capture bridges over the river Ijssel near Hamminkeln - but there were difficulties ahead.
His Halifax towing aircraft developed engine trouble over the North Sea and all surprise had been lost by the time he reached the landing zone, which was obscured by smoke. The Horsa's controls were damaged by ground fire soon after cast-off and Andrews found he was descending too steeply and too fast. Because of the smoke, he could not see the ground until down to 500 ft. At 250 ft he saw a small field beyond some trees, which he brushed through, half tearing off the undercarriage. The glider disintegrated on impact, the tail being catapulted over the debris to face the remains of the cockpit. Miraculously no one was seriously hurt; the infantry scrambled clear of the wreckage and formed a defensive position astride the local railway line.
The war in Europe over, Andrews was assigned to fly gliders behind tow pilots under training for operations in the Far East. On one occasion a trainee pilot cast-off his glider prematurely at 750 ft, leaving it facing 180 degrees in the wrong direction and with nowhere to land - except the dispersal area on the take-off airfield. Andrews turned the glider, slipped past the control tower and the WAAF sleeping quarters, found just enough forward lift to bounce over a man on the runway and landed undamaged. Afterwards, he crisply explained to the tug pilot that it would have been a shame had he been killed on a training mission after all he had survived on operations.
After demobilisation in 1946, Harold Norman Andrews returned to his engineering studies. He emigrated to Canada in 1953 and was commissioned in the Royal Canadian Engineers to resume his "continuation flying" at Chilliwack in British Columbia. He flew a variety of powered aircraft in Canada over the next 12 years, during which his luck continued to hold. He finally hung up his helmet after surviving a helicopter flight in a snowstorm over the Bay of Fundy, failure of a main rotor bolt over Texas and a second snowstorm over Saskatchewan.
He is survived by his wife Helen, whom he met while she was serving with the WAAF at Brize Norton in 1942, and their son and daughter.
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© 2000 by Neil Mishalov