Operation Varsity-Plunder

Operation Varsity



A sergeant of Divisional Signals operates a radio

A Locust light tank moving across LZ-P

A knocked-out Locust tank

A Universal Carrier in Hamminkeln

Men of 716th Light Composite Company in Hamminkeln

Two men of an anti-tank battery digging in a 6-pounder gun on the edge of a landing zone

An American C-47 towing two Waco gliders

Waco gliders landing

B-24 Liberators on a supply run over one of the 17th Airborne's landing zones

A dead paratrooper of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment hangs from a tree near Wesel

A dead paratrooper hangs from a tree

American paratroopers moving off a drop zone

American paratroopers digging defensive positions in an orchard


The final phase of the airlift saw Divisional Headquarters and various supporting elements landing on LZ-P, to the south of Hamminkeln. Despite all the problems of poor visibility, flak, confusion, enemy resistance and terrible casualties that had hampered the landings elsewhere, Major-General Bols, for his part, had experienced an almost perfect beginning to the operation. His glider had landed safely, not more than a hundred yards from his intended Headquarters, at the Kopenhof farm. At 11:00, a mere ten minutes later, Divisional Headquarters was opened and immediate radio contact was established with the 3rd and 5th Parachute Brigades. Within half an hour, very satisfactory communications had been made with the 6th Airlanding Brigade, whilst the Commander Royal Artillery and his Forward Observation Officers were in touch with the Light Regiment and the 2nd British Army's artillery, and a link to air support followed swiftly. The only mishap, although they could be contacted through other channels, was the lack of a direct link to the 17th Airborne Division, but this too was available by the afternoon. However uncertain some of the fighting further afield may have been at this time, the machinery of Divisional Headquarters was running perfectly, in sharp contrast to what had been experienced at Arnhem six months earlier, and Major-General Bols received word that all was well and objectives were being achieved.


Other landings on LZ-P, however, were not so fortunate, as the gliders here were every bit as vulnerable to enemy fire as those of the 6th Airlanding Brigade had been. The 53rd Airlanding Light Regiment flew in all 24 of its 75mm Pack Howitzers, and, thanks to the ability of a Horsa glider to carry a gun with its towing Jeep, an ammunition trailer and a small crew, 11 of these, incredibly, were in action by 11:00, together with one of the two 25-pounder guns that had been brought in to mark targets with coloured smoke for the attention of the hungry fighter-bombers circling overhead. 22 of the 78 gliders involved, however, had been lost; a few had been shot down and others crashed, but the majority had been unable to locate the correct landing zone in the dense smoke from the 2nd Army's bombardment. Many of these overshot the zone by some distance, 7 gliders had even landed amongst the Allied troops on the Western bank of the Rhine, but these latter, with their equipment, were able to rejoin their unit on the following day. By the end of the day the Regiment, approximately 350 strong, had suffered 92 casualties. The extent of its losses amongst officers had been extreme; two of the three battery commanders had been killed and the other wounded, and all but one of the six troop commanders were casualties.


The 2nd Airlanding Anti-Tank Regiment fared no better. In addition to heavy casualties, largely suffered during the landing, the men 3rd and 4th Batteries experienced great difficulty in recovering their guns from the wreckage of the gliders. Of 32 anti-tank guns flown into action on Operation Varsity, only 3 were in action within the hour and a further 9 during the late afternoon. As a consequence of this severe loss, both batteries temporarily pooled their resources under Major Woodrow's command until reinforcements could arrive from across the Rhine.


The majority of the 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment was waiting on the western bank of the Rhine for the opportunity to cross with the remainder of the Division's sea tail, but a vanguard of heavy support weaponry had accompanied the airborne lift in the form of eight of "A" Squadron's Locust tanks and the Mortar Troop with its 4.2" mortars. With one tank shot out of the air, one more damaged by enemy fire and another knocked-out by an 88mm gun as it moved across the zone to come to the assistance of American paratroopers, who promptly rescued the injured crew, just half of the tanks rendezvoused on the landing zone and only two of these were fit for action. Nevertheless, they proceeded to play a useful part in the defence of the bridgehead, occupying a strong-point in the woods to the west of Divisional Headquarters, alongside a platoon of the 12th Devons and some Glider Pilots.


To the east of the 6th Airborne Division's area, the 17th US Airborne Division had experienced a similarly confusing and hectic landing. In a role mirroring that of the 3rd Parachute Brigade, landing on a zone some miles from the remainder of the Division to secure its right flank, the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, veterans of Normandy, arrived first on a zone to the north of Wesel. Suffering from the same impediments to visibility that had affected the British landings, one of their three battalions was dropped several miles away near Diersfordt. The Regimental Commander led this isolated group to the correct area and, by 14:00, having united both elements, his men had cleared the southern part of the Diersfordterwald and secured all of their objectives, taking 1,000 prisoners and accounting for five tanks and several artillery batteries in the process.


The 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment dropped next and suffered heavily at the hands of the German flak gunners. Their C-53 transport aircraft, carrying twice the number of men that a Dakota could accommodate, came in for particular attention and 22 were shot down. To make matters worse, the Regiment was dropped several miles from their intended zone, landing on LZ-R instead, half an hour before the gliders carrying the 12th Devons arrived. Here, despite considerable losses, the 513th rendered invaluable assistance to the British by clearing pockets of enemy resistance from around Hamminkeln. Despite continual enemy interference and all manner of other problems, the Regiment managed to work its way towards its correct position, taking all of its objectives by late afternoon, accounting for 1,100 prisoners, and two anti-aircraft batteries and several armoured vehicles destroyed.


The 194th Glider Infantry Regiment made up the final wave of the 17th Airborne Division. Many of their tug aircraft were similarly brought down by anti-aircraft fire, and the gliders suffered as badly as the 6th Airlanding Brigade did at their hands. Landing amongst several enemy artillery batteries who were firing on the Rhine bridgeheads, the Regiment, despite their heavy losses, quickly attacked these forces and then secured several bridges over the River Issel. By the end of the day they had captured 1,150 prisoners and 42 artillery pieces, and knocked-out 10 tanks and 5 self-propelled guns.