Museum of Army Flying

Boasting examples of almost every aircraft used by the British Army, 25 in all, the MUSEUM OF ARMY FLYING’S collection includes a Sopwith Pup, and a rare collection of Army Heavy Assault Gliders with Horsas (troop carriers) and Hamilcars (tank carriers).

Although dedicated to the general history of British army aviation from 1878 to present day, the museum has enough WWII displays and exhibits to qualify as a solid WWII museum in its own right, receiving 25,000 visitors each year.

Starting with a chronological history of Army flying in peace and war, there are hundreds of interesting artifacts and objects in display cases. Army aviation started in the 1880s with gas-filled balloons, evolving with the use of airships, autogiros, gliders and airplanes, and, today, remote-piloted aircraft.

The first hall features Royal Flying Corps aircraft, observer/spotter and other light aircraft of the 1940s and 1950s, in addition to helicopters.

The WWII European Operations section features dioramas of a German field kitchen, and British pilots in a waiting room during the Battle of Britain. Nearby are the remains of a crashed aircraft engine. A chart shows the defensive areas of southern England during the Battle of Britain and photos of the devastation from air raids.

The large glider display hall illustrates how WWII glider operations were risky ventures, with many of operations amounting to little more than suicide missions. Fragile gliders, poor planning and new equipment, often untested in battle conditions, caused horrifying casualties on both British and German sides — far more than would be acceptable today. Glidermen must surely rate amongst the unsung heroes of WWII.

A comprehensive collection of authentic allied gliders includes a Horsa, Hamilcar, Hotspur and Waco.

The Operation Market Garden display features a diorama of the airborne soldiers at Arnhem with various artifacts including maps, uniforms, daggers, captured Nazi flags and pieces of glider equipment. Alongside, visitors can enter a Hamilcar glider. Unique photos of the Arnhem landings complete a great gallery.

The well-presented Operation Overlord D-Day display features an open Horsa glider, with battlefield objects such as parachutes, packs and weapons. Newspaper headlines and rare photos of the glider formations on the ground in England show commandos training, being inspected by King George VI, on a ship on the way to Normandy, debarking on a DUKW amphibious transport, and crossing Pegasus Bridge.

Looking down over the WWII Glider Hall is the Glider Gallery telling the story of the glider pilots and describing British glider operations.

D-Day exhibition
Great exhibits include a small parachute dummy that was dropped over German territory to confuse the Germans on D-Day. Other artifacts include maps, medals, towropes and allied money for the occupation of France, a Horsa glider, and memorabilia from the highly successful Pegasus Bridge glider landings.

A description of the Arnhem glider landings and the nine days of fighting that followed have a large-scale map diorama of the landing zones. The appalling, long odds of survival from glider operations are never better highlighted than from this operation. Of the 10,000 British Airborne troops over 7,600 men were killed, wounded or missing.

There is a section on Operation Varsity — the crossing of the Rhine in March 1945 — the largest single airlift airborne operation of WWII. An interesting recreation of a 1940s house, complete with a bomb shelter, is packed with authentic household goods from the era.

There is a lot to take in at this fine museum and for those who linger, there is a cafeteria. There is also a gift shop and bookstore with a variety of books about Army aviation. The pleasant staff is helpful and enthusiastic about their museum.

The MUSEUM OF ARMY FLYING (Middle Wallop, Stockbridge SO20 8DY, United Kingdom; phone 01264 784 421, www.armyflying.com) is not situated near any major cities, but is well worth a visit, especially if you have an interest in Airborne forces, paratroopers and the aircraft and gliders that transport them. To visit, it is recommend that travelers take the train to Andover, then a taxi from to Middle Wallop, about 5 miles.

The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission, adults, £7.50; children aged 5-16, £5, and senior citizens/students, £5.50. Allow at least two hours for your visit.