Operation VARSITY

75th Anniversary

The aim of this operation was to establish a bridgehead across the river Rhine for the main Allied advance into Germany. On 24 March 1945, the Rhine crossing started with a ground offensive, Operation PLUNDER, followed by air landings, Operation VARSITY, 10 hours later. The main objectives for 6 Airlanding Brigade were two road bridges over the River Issel, to the east of the Rhine.

After heavy losses at Arnhem, the Glider Pilot Regiment (GPR) was severely short of pilots. Army and RAF personnel were recruited at great speed to train or re-train as glider pilots.

Air Observation Post aircraft of 658 Squadron provided aerial support for artillery units, undertook reconnaissance missions and took aerial photographs to support the operation.

Despite inexperienced glider crews, ground smoke and heavy anti-aircraft fire, the operation was deemed a complete success. In his after-action report, General Chatterton, the commander of the Glider Pilot Regiment concluded: “The fact that the Regiment was carrying out an operation of a new kind with mixed and inexperienced crews into the face of the enemy must give rise to mistakes. That the pilots succeeded as they did was all the more remarkable.”

Although a success, the Glider Pilot Regiment suffered severe losses during the operation. Out of the 890 GPR personnel that departed on VARSITY, over 20% were killed or wounded.

British landing and drop zones near Hamminkeln, Germany, for Operation VARSITY

View from a Horsa cockpit en route to Hamminkeln (left)

Hamilcar gliders and their tugs line up for departure (right)