Sheppard Field one of sites chosen for glider program

  • Published
  • By Dwight W. Tuttle
  • 82nd Training Wing History Office
It was the Germans, following World War I, who first mastered the art of glider warfare. After their defeat at the hands of the Western Allies in 1919, they concentrated on developing civilian glider programs as a way of maintaining a non-military aviation link.
During the 1920's, dozens of clubs sprang up throughout Germany. 

By the early 1930's, with the rise of Adolf Hitler, their recreated air force recruited glider pilots to form the basis of the Luftwaffe. Using the experiences gained from secret training programs in Russia, they Nazi's were about to train enough pilots in glider warfare to successfully us them in their 1940 invasion of Western Europe. Having seen the successful implementation of these crafts as a viable weapon of war, Britain and the United States work to initiate the comparable programs. 

Realizing that landing craft alone could not transport the necessary numbers of troops needed for an invasion of the European Continent, Allied planners developed a joint glider training and manufacturing program centered at a handful of U.S. Army air force bases. 

Among the sites chosen was Sheppard Field which was, at the time, a major technical training center. Since there was no established glider mechanic program from which to draw a nucleus of experienced personnel, military officials set out to recruit trainees. Sheppard's first training class begun Sept. 2, 1942. 

With 90 instructors and 1,500 students the program was one of the largest in the United States. The Glider Mechanic School was divided into four branches: basic, woodworking, fabrics, and inspections. Ten days of instruction were allotted to each section. 

In the basic branch, students learned how to use technical orders and inspection forms in addition to flight instrument identification and repair. Instruction in the woodworking branch revolved around the use of woodworking tools, gluing procedures, and the repair of wooden glider frame structures. The fabrics branch taught the fundamentals of fabric repair. 

The fourth stage, the inspections branch, consisted of a review of the previous course work in addition to actual on-site glider inspection, maintenance, and assembly. By February 1943, Sheppard Field boasted a fleet of twenty-five CG-4A's gliders. Each glider weighed 3,750 pounds and was capable of carrying its own weight. 

Towed behind C-47 aircraft and attached to a nylon tow rope 350 feet long, the CG-4A's were quite maneuverable and cost an estimated $25,000. Though the cost by today's standards is not high, 1943 it was seen as somewhat of a problem simply because more glamorous combat aircraft such as the P-51 Mustang cost only $59,000. 

Regardless of the financial drawback, the gliders did hold some distinct advantages over the aerial counterparts. The CG-4A's could carry fifteen fully equipped soldiers or a quarter-ton truck with crews. In addition, it could also carry artillery pieces, jeeps, and small bulldozers. Following their training at Sheppard, many of the Glider mechanics went to bases in the eastern United States enroute to England. 

During the 1943 invasion of Sicily many of these individuals received their 'baptism of fire.' Later, at the time of the D-Day landings, thousands of glider crews were deployed to carry troops well inland from enemy coastal positions. A few months later, during the liberation of Holland, 2,700 gliders flew in what was the largest glider-airborne campaign of World War II. In all, only 6,000 American glider crews were trained. 

During the European and Burma Campaigns as many as 40 percent became fatalities.
In one instance, during an operation over Germany, three quarters of the gliders employed either crashed or were damaged. In all, only 14,000 CG-4A's were built. 

Following the war, most of the remaining craft were either destroyed or sold for scrap. Today, only three CG-4A's are known to exist, and they are housed in museums. The closest glider to Sheppard is at the National World War II Glider Pilots Association Museum in Terrell, Texas, 32 miles east of Dallas. As for the twenty-five gliders that were housed at Sheppard, their fate is uncertain. 

A few were known to have either crashed or had been damaged. It is believed that the frame of at least one glider was dumped into a nearby landfill and is today buried beneath the Sheppard Golf Course.