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15 October 2014
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Just a Piece of Rope

by Colchester Library

Contributed by 
Colchester Library
People in story: 
Alf Sore
Location of story: 
Salisbury Plain
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
25 October 2004


Whilst watching the 60th Anniversary of “D Day” on TV back in May, seeing the airborne landings, I wondered if anyone ever thought anything about that piece of rope connecting the tug to the glider. I recalled the hours I spent servicing them and endlessly changing the fittings and thought it might be of interest to pass on a few details of what it was all about.

When I heard I was being posted from a very cold Thornaby-on-Tees, with its troublesome Warwicks, to Netheravon, on Salisbury Plain, I was at first very pleased but on learning I was ‘detailed’ to the ‘Rope Section’ my heart sank. The ‘Rope Section’ comprised a small workshop in the corner of a hanger filled with hundreds of ropes all stacked neatly, each with different labels attached, but as I got ‘interested’ I found it was much better than I anticipated.

There were in fact two types of rope, the smaller 350ft long by 3.5 in circumference. (A rope is measured in ‘circ’ not ‘dia’) and these were used to ‘tug’ Horsa and Waco/Hadrian Gliders. The larger ropes, still 350ft long but 4.5 in circumference were used to tug our biggest glider, the Hamilcar. Each rope had a log book recording its serviceability and number of ‘tugs’. A label with the rope’s number and, on a new rope, ten pieces of tape were threaded between its strands. After each ‘tug’ one tape was removed, the rope inspected, splices checked and details entered in it’s log book. All ropes had a radio cable threaded through to allow the tug and glider pilots to communicate.

The greatest amount of work we had to do was on the ‘connecting’ fittings spliced to each end of the rope. The English and American couplings were different (what’s new?) The American was basically a big hook and eye but the English had what was called ‘Lobel’ fittings. The easiest way I can describe them is: clench one hand into a fist and then clasp it with the other hand. To release, was of course to open the second hand. Both tug and glider were able to make the ‘release’ but, other than in an emergency, it was always the glider.

It was a constant job changing these fittings, we (English) had four types of tug: Whitley, Halifax, Stirling and Albermarle having, of course, standard ‘E’ type fittings. The Hadrian had ‘A’ type fittings and the Horsa ‘E’. Of course the American tugs differed, for instance, the Dakota having ‘A’ type to the Hadrian’s ‘A’, and the Horsa’s ‘E’. There seemed to be endless combinations but the easiest pair to connect was the Halifax, the most powerful tug, to the Hamlicar, because both fittings were always the same.

Another change came when the Mk.2 Horsa came into service, this having a ‘straight’ rope pull from the tail of the tug to the nose of the glider. (The Mk.1 Horsa had a ‘Y’ pull from the tail of the tug to the glider’s main planes, ‘wings’)

Of course questions were always asked following rope breaks, but the answer was never due to lack of maintenance. They usually occurred when the tug and glider were not in line, mostly caused when the glider pilot lost sight of the tug in cloud. The glider had an instrument in the cockpit to show the angle of ‘tug to glider’ (called the angle —dangle) but this was not very good if the angles changed very quickly.

Another reason for breaks was when the glider changed from ‘high tug’ to ‘low tug’. When the glider flew through the tugs slipstream a ‘push-pull’ effect occurred and the ‘chucking’ by this would cause the rope to break. So weather was really the problem, in particular, cloud or cross-wind.

An interesting trial we carried out was to simulate ‘snatching’ a glider from the ground. This was done by placing two poles 12ft high, 20ft apart over which we draped a 2 inch nylon rope 220ft long, forming a big loop. The tug flew very low over the rope collecting the loop on the hook. The cable unwound from the winch until the weight of the ’glider’ was reached and slowly ‘took off’. When ‘airborne’ the winch wound in the cable until 2” nylon rope reached the tail of the tug.

The first ‘tries’ were with the Whitley tug and a Hotspur training glider, but for intended operations mainly in the far east, a Dakota was used snatching a Hadrian Glider.

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Message 1 - Just a Piece of Rope

Posted on: 25 October 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Alf

I have found your contribution on ropes to be of great interest and I have learnt a lot from it. There is certainly a lot more to ropes and their maintainace than meets the eye. Mens lives depended upon it.

There are some interesting statistics in "Arnhem - A Tragedy of Errors" by Peter Harclerode. He records that of the total of 320 gliders of 1st Airborne Division bound for Arnhem: 2 failed to take off; 24 were adrift before the English coast was reached of which 1 crashed and 23 force-landed; 4 gliders were forced to ditch in the Channel, 2 because of broken tow-ropes and 2 because of tug engine trouble; a further 8 gliders were lost as a result of problems caused by the wakes of aircraft in front of them; and, near the target zone, another suffered a broken tow-rope and was forced to crash-land in enemy territory. These figures exclude those shot down by flak.

Kind regards,


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