Sam Gregory Isaacs joined the Army in July 1940 with 10th Battalion East Surrey Regiment. He spent two years in the West Country on exercise and air raid auxiliary duties, before he volunteered for Airborne service with the Glider Pilot Regiment. He finally joined the GPR on 29 July 1942.
Initially at Denham, Buckinghamshire, he learned to fly Miles Magisters and Tiger Moths at the Elementary Flying Training School at Booker. He developed a prowess at aircraft recce, and during the three-month course Sam flew some 18 hours 45 minutes, gaining his Pilot Wings in November 1942. He subsequently joined the Glider Training School at Weston-on-the-Green airfield in Oxfordshire, training in early 1943, and gained his Glider Pilot Badge as Sergeant and Second Pilot on 9 March 1943. Sam flew Hamilcars on a Heavy Glider Conversion Unit course in April 1943 before leaving for North Africa on 30 May.
North Africa, Sicily, and Italy
Sam embarked for North Africa in late-May and arrived in Froha, Algiers on 10 June 1943. After training and relocation work on WACOs, Sam took part in the gliderborne assaults of Operation Husky to Sicily on 9 July 1943. Sam took off from F Strip with H Company 1st Battalion Border Regiment and a 6-pounder Anti-Tank Gun, led by Lt E S (Ted) Newport as Second pilot to S/Sgt Wood in WACO 403, Chalk Number 109. Their reported later recorded a 'perfect landing' between a wall and a telegraph wire and into a tomato field! After a short time, he returned to North Africa.
After further exercises, the shortage of available aircraft meant Sam was part of the infantry landings at Taranto, travelling in the seaborne invasion flotilla aboard the troopship Princess Beatrix. After landing in Taranto, he was initially based in the town before supporting the 1st Airborne operations on the East Coast. Finally, in November 1943, the Glider Pilots were withdrawn with troops from 1st Airborne Division to the UK. Unfortunately for Sgt Isaacs, his troopship developed a fault and he was still in transit at the turn of year. He missed Christmas at home, but more importantly his mother sadly died.
After two weeks compassionate leave, Sam settled into training on Hamilcars in Leicestershire in preparation for the invasion of Europe - eventually codenamed Operation Overlord. By late April 1944, Sam was back in the West Country at the final base he would fly from for D Day and Arnhem, Down Ampney in the Cotswolds. He had qualified as a first pilot on 20 April 1944 and in late May Sam teamed up with Bill Perry, his Second Pilot until Arnhem. They were officially posted to No. 2 Wing Glider Pilot Regiment E Squadron, 12 Flight on 2 June 1944 and Sam was promoted to Staff Sergeant.
Operation Mallard (D-Day), 6th June 1944
Sam and Bill piloted a Horsa (931 crew) Chalk Number 55 from Down Ampney to Littlehampton, aimed for Ranville in Normandy on 6 June 1944. They landed perfectly on LZ N. After a brief stay in which they contributed to the fighting at Ouistreham, they arrived back in the UK on 8 June.
After two weeks leave Sam returned to Down Ampney and commenced mass-landing training. As autumn approached the training became more intense. After two days leave in mid-September they were briefed to fly on 17 September 1944 on Operation Market to Arnhem.
Sam and his second-pilot Bill would fly Horsa 448, Chalk number 289 behind Tug Dakota KG 411 piloted by WO Felton, carrying 181 Airlanding Field Ambulance. Chalk number 289 took off at 10.12hrs and landed on LZ S at approximately 14.00hrs. Sam and Bill dug in on the south east corner of the zone as part of the defence for the landings on 18 September. They became separated when Bill was wounded, and later became a Prisoner of War on 24 September during the medical truce arranged by Col Warrack.
E Squadron was involved in a fairly heavy confrontation with German forces at about 18.00hrs, but fought them off. The next morning, Sam noticed a German walking along the perimeter of the field of their slit trenches. The German lobbed a stick grenade at the trench. Sam shouted for his comrades to move, ran to the grenade, threw it back in the direction of the German and ran for the nearest cover.
As Sam ran, the grenade exploded, and very quickly a tracer of bullets from a machine gun followed him to the cover of the woods. He zigzagged to safety, but the bullets followed him so close he received minor shrapnel wounds up his back, whilst another removed a slice off his right index finger.
Later on 18 September Sam Isaacs joined up with a group of E Squadron glider pilots and headed off towards Oosterbeek. During the march, Sam spotted a German in a window of the Wolfheze Hotel. Sam witnessed the German fall after a burst of fire from his Sten Gun, something which troubled him for the rest of his life.
From 19-23 September, Sam was positioned on the North-east edge of the 'Oosterbeek Perimeter'). On 24 September they had to withdraw to the 1st Airborne Division HQ at the Hartenstein Hotel within the perimeter. SSgt Isaacs was one of the glider pilots who helped guide troops down to the river on 25 September when the 1st Airborne Division was ordered to withdraw across the Rhine. He eventually helped several lost men in their desperate escape across the river. Once on the south bank, the men had to scramble up the steep muddy embankment. Friend and fellow glider pilot Bert Harget describes, 'digging our finger nails into the mud so hard it hurt. We pulled as hard as we could to reach the top. It was truly frantic and we were a desperate bunch.'
On Sam's arrival back at Down Ampney on 29 September 1944, he was the only member of his hut of 18 men to return.
He was now prepared for transfer to India. Sam was posted to 343 Wing RAF 669 Sqn, D Flight, based at Bikram as part of a force being assembled to liberate the Prisoners of War on the Burma railway. After arrival in Karachi, he was eventually stationed in Poona, though flight time was severely limited.
Sam Isaac was well-liked by his fellow pilots. When he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal in February 1945. Sam was sent to Delhi to receive his DFM from Lt Col Murray, but on his return to Poona his comrades held a presentation with Captain Fowden re-presenting the medal.
SSgt Sam Isaacs final flight was on 23 July 1945, in a Tiger Moth as Second Pilot on stalls and spins at Basal or Chaklala. In total, Sam had flown 320 hours 50 minutes in just over three years service. He finally arrived home on 7 June and his final release date from the Services was 28 August.
Sam Isaacs died on in February 1986.
Courtesy of Simon Murray, Mark Hickman and the Pegasus Archive (www.pegasusarchive.org)Read More