The Horsa entered service in late 1941 and although its first operation was not a success it would go on to be used by the Allies during the Second World War for a number of major
operations including 'Overlord' and 'Market Garden' during 1944. The Airspeed Horsa could hold 25 troops and a range of different equipment, depending on operational requirements.
When the Air Ministry issued Specification X.26/40 during December 1940 which required a glider capable of transporting twenty five to thirty fully equipped paratroopers. Airspeed's design was
produced by a team lead by technical directory Hessell Tiltman. After submitting their design an order for seven Horsa prototypes followed. Two would be used for flight testing whilst the other
five would undergo loading trials with the British Army. An Armstrong Whitworth Whitley was the aircraft used to tow the prototype Airspeed Horsa when, on the 12th September 1941, it flew for
the first time.
There were two Horsa variants produced and both had a top speed of 100 mph with a crew of two pilots. The Horsa I could hold upto 25 troops and its tail section could be detached on landing. The
Horsa II went further and could hold upto 28 troops and featured a hinged cockpit which allowed a range of equipment, such as jeeps, to be carried. The Royal Air Force started to receive their
first examples in late 1941.
The Horsa's first operation occurred on the 19th November 1942, known as 'Operation Freshman'. This saw a pair of Horsa, each towed by a Handley Page Halifax, set out to Norway so that the 15 airborne
engineers on board each one could capture the Norsk Hydro Vemork plant. Due to bad weather the operation was a disaster. One of the Halifaxs crashed, with the loss of all crew members aboard,
this caused the Horsa it was towing to have to make a forced landing which killed both pilots and injured a number of airborne engineers. The other Halifax and Horsa could not locate the objective
so turned back, unfortunately the tow rope between the two aircraft failed resulting in a crash landing for the second Horsa. Of the thirty four people on the Horsa gliders, eleven died whilst
the twenty three survivors were captured before the Germans executed them.
The first major use of the Horsa saw twenty seven take part in 'Operation Husky', the Allied invasion of Sicily, which started on the 9th July 1943. The following year saw large numbers of the
type take part in 'Operation Overlord', commonly known as D-Day, on the 6th June 1944. One of the most successful operations using the Horsa on this day saw Allied forces capture a number of
bridges over the Caen Canal and River Orne in France in the early hours of the invasion. This lead to one of the bridges over the River Orne being renamed after the aircraft.
The Airspeed Horsa also took part in 'Operation Market Garden' (17th September 1944 - 25th September 1944) and it was 'Operation Varsity', which took place on the 24th March 1945, that was to be
the aircraft's last contribution to the Second World War (1939 – 1945), seeing around 400 take part.
In total 3,799 aircraft were built.