Operation Varsity-Plunder

Operation Varsity



The 5th Parachute Brigade drops over DZ-B

A crashed Dakota burning furiously on the west bank of the Rhine

One of the airborne dressing stations

A medical officer treats a wounded German

A Parachute Regiment sniper

A paratrooper casualty caught in a tree

An aerial view across one of the 6th Airlanding Brigade's landing zones

Two German prisoners with men of the 224th Parachute Field Ambulance

German prisoners under guard on one of the landing zones

A British NCO leads one of the first groups of captured Germans towards the POW cage

A large column of German prisoners

A knocked-out Mk IV panzer


Following closely behind the 3rd Parachute Brigade, the 5th Parachute Brigade descended on DZ-B under heavier anti-aircraft fire than its sister formation had encountered a few minutes earlier. Although one or two aircraft were shot down during the approach, the 52nd US Troop Carrier Wing suffered its most significant losses after it had dropped the paratroopers and proceeded north and then west for its return flight, taking it directly over the top of the main positions of the 7th Fallschirmjäger Division, where the flak intensified and many more aircraft were lost and almost all were damaged. In all, the Wing lost 18 of its 243 aircraft on this day, and half were damaged to one degree or another.


At 10:10, as was his wont, Brigadier Poett jumped first and led the Brigade into action with elements of his Headquarters in tow. As he descended, however, he found that it was hard to identify surrounding landmarks because much of the zone was still obscured by smoke and dust resulting from the 2nd Army's artillery bombardment, which had ceased just ten minutes earlier. Both he and the rest of his men, therefore, struggled to get their bearings and had some difficulty in finding their rendezvous areas when they landed.


The 13th Battalion followed on the heels of Brigade Headquarters, landing in the south-eastern sector of DZ-B. Artillery was being brought to bear on the zone at this time and it was also swept with heavy small arms fire from well-concealed enemy positions, consequently the Battalion suffered some casualties as they moved across the open ground, which was quite devoid of cover, to find their rallying points. The paratroopers struggled to identify the areas where the enemy fire was coming from, but once they had located them, and fired back and made preparations to put in an attack, the Germans occupying these positions commonly surrendered without further ado. In this way, a considerable number of prisoners fell into the 13th Battalion's hands very quickly, and by the end of the day they had no fewer than 353 in their possession. Once these initial exchanges had been dealt with, the Battalion began to properly form-up, helped in no small measure by each company making distinctive calls with hunting horns to rally their men. They then pushed on to their objective, the road junction barring the way to Hamminkeln from the north-west, and occupied it without much incident. A few attempts were made by small and disorganised enemy units to dislodge them from here, most notably at 15:00 when a unit of company strength attacked one of "A" Company's outposts, but it was decisively beaten off, leaving 35 dead.



At 10:14, the 12th Battalion began its descent over DZ-B. They were landed a little to the north-west of where they should have been, and, as a consequence of the poor visibility, elements of the Battalion began to gather in a wood which looked very similar to but was not in fact their appointed rendezvous point. Realising this mistake, Major Bucher, the Second-in-Command, led the 12th Battalion back across the zone to where they had been ordered to assemble, but, in so doing, they came under heavy small arms fire and shelling from 88mm guns, and these inflicted a number of casualties. Finally reaching the rendezvous, which was also under fire from 88mm guns at close range, the individual companies began to take form and moved-off southwards towards another road junction leading out of Hamminkeln, a little to the north-east of where the 13th Battalion were operating.


"A" Company reached theirs first. On the way, No.2 Platoon had encountered a farm which was held by the enemy and put in a successful attack, whilst No.1 Platoon captured some neighbouring 88mm guns and their crews without loss. The Company then proceeded to their objective and dug-in around it, holding the area without much interference for the remainder of the day.


"C" Company left the rendezvous at a good pace towards their objective, the leading platoon clearing the buildings thereabouts whilst the rest of the Company consolidated behind them before pushing on to secure the remainder of the area.


"B" Company found the way to their objective blocked by a strong enemy platoon occupying a series of farm buildings in the vicinity. Two platoons were ordered to deal with these; Lieutenant Cattell, although wounded, led the assault into the first building and, despite stiff resistance, began the process of clearing each in succession. Cattell was again wounded, along with Lieutenant Delaney, whilst attacking one of the buildings, but the opposition was eventually overcome, allowing No.4 Platoon to push forward and consolidate on the Company objective. With these two officers wounded and another taken prisoner on the drop, "B" Company had lost all of its platoon commanders during the day. Yet they were not seriously troubled by the enemy thereafter; indeed the most serious problem confronting the 12th Battalion, now sitting happily on its objectives, was how to guard the more than two hundred prisoners that they had taken.



The 7th Battalion arrived last, landing directly on top of their initial objectives with the task of bearing the full weight of any immediate enemy counter-attacks whilst the 12th and 13th Battalions were in the process of capturing the road junctions behind them; thereby enabling them to properly dig-in before serious opposition came their way. The Battalion jumped amid heavy flak at 10:18, suffering a number of casualties in the air, and even when they reached the comparative safety of the ground they were bothered further by considerable mortaring and shelling. Very quickly, however, the Battalion organised itself into companies and began to dig-in around their appointed areas.


"B" Company repeatedly held-off a series of assaults by enemy groups of about platoon strength, whilst "C" Company spotted and promptly shot-up a comparable force of German paratroopers who were moving around their flank with the intention of putting in an attack. The most serious action, however, came in "A" Company's area. With the Mortar and Machine Gun Platoons under command, "A" Company had landed a little later than intended, and they came under heavy bombardment from two 88mm guns based in woodland some 700 yards distant. The troops manning these guns had fled when the paratroopers landed, but their officer had performed a quite brilliant feat of leadership, first halting the men and then getting them to deliver this most troublesome fire, keeping his men in action, despite the futility of their position, until they were eventually taken prisoner. Despite heavy losses, "A" Company held firm.


It had been planned that one of "A" Company's platoons, under Lieutenant Patterson, would be detached to watch over the "Fortnum" road junction, located between the 3rd and 5th Parachute Brigade areas and completely isolated from both; necessitating an approach through several miles of, presumably, enemy-held territory. Lieutenant-Colonel Pine-Coffin, wounded in the face by a shell splinter, had intended to send a reconnaissance patrol in that direction to see if the way was clear for Patterson's platoon to advance safely, however the casualties in his Battalion had been such that he could not spare such a force, and so the chance was taken to send the platoon off on its own. Having avoided several brushes with the enemy, they reached "Fortnum" safely and defended it with great skill against numerous counter-attacks throughout the day. Patterson's tactics in doing so were as unorthodox as they were effective; an anticipated attack by a small force would be beaten back in the standard manner, but if it seemed that the platoon was about to be attacked by a large force, he withdrew his men to a flank and allowed the enemy to assault his abandoned positions, only to then charge them and inflict considerable casualties in the confusion.


At 15:45, having received word that the remainder of the 5th Parachute Brigade was firmly in position, Lieutenant-Colonel Pine-Coffin began to withdraw the 7th Battalion from their hotly contested outposts. This was easier said than done as both "B" and "C" Companies were under enemy fire at the time and so could not simply get up and walk away. Eventually, however, they managed to disengage without any loss, and the 7th Battalion proceeded to take up its final position in the Brigade reserve, having suffered almost 20% casualties.