Friday, 23 March 2012

67th Anniversary of Operation Varsity. 24th March 1945.

Saturday 24th March 2012 will see the 67th anniversary of the Rhine crossing operations which took place along a stretch of the Rhine around the towns of Hamminkeln and Wesel. The airborne operation (Varsity) was in conjunction with the amphibious river crossing operation (Plunder) with the aim being that the airborne elements would link up with the land forces within hours allowing a strong bridgehead to be formed. Two Airborne Divisions took part in the operation; U.S. 17th Airborne Division and British 6th Airborne Division, both part of U.S. XVIII Airborne Corps. British 6th Airborne Division were to capture the villages of Schnappenberg and Hamminkeln, moving on to clear parts of the Diersfordter Wald (forest) and capture three bridges over the River Issel. The two Airborne Divisions would then hold the ground they'd captured until relived by advancing land forces.

The Airborne operation itself was the largest ever to take place in a single day, with 9 British airborne battalions and 6 American airborne battalions carried in literally thousands of aircraft. Initial losses were heavy due to massed enemy flak and some LZ/DZ's being obscured by smoke. However, within six hours all the objectives were taken.

The Glider Pilot Regiment itself took part once again although after losing so many men in the Arnhem battle its ranks were now strengthened by members of the RAF who had been trained to fly gliders and operate on the ground as fighting soldiers.

For a more in-depth account of the operation I can't recommend enough the book 'The Last Drop: Operation Varsity, March 24-25 1945' by Stephen L. Wright if you accompany this work with 'Operations Plunder & Varsity' by Tim Saunders you should be able to glean a good understanding of this most important action. Both books are available from Amazon (although other booksellers are available).

Unfortunately, Chalk won't be able to mark the anniversary with a photoshoot as we have done in the past, but this does not mean that we will not be remembering the men of the Glider Pilot Regiment and all the units that took part in this final massive airborne assault of the Second World War.

Thank you.

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