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Operation Varsity

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Operation Varsity   >   Facts

   
 

Operation Varsity Facts


Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was the commander of the British 21st Army Group. He had previously commanded British and Allied forces in North Africa and Italy, and during and since the Normandy invasion. After the war he would go on to become Commander-in-Chief of the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR), and subsequently Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

Here he is seen (on the left) during the preparations for Operation Varsity with Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, and Commander of the British 2nd Army, Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey.

General Montgomery, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, and Commander of the British 2nd Army, Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey
Here are some key facts about Operation Varsity:
  1. Operation Varsity was the codename for the Allied airborne crossing of the River Rhine.

  2. The operation took place on March 24th 1945.

  3. Operation Varsity was part of a larger operation, Operation Plunder, which was the overall operation by the British 21st Army Group to cross the Rhine and enter Northern Germany.

  4. Operation Varsity was the largest airborne operation to take place on a single day, and in a single location.

  5. More than 16,000 paratroops and several thousand aircraft were involved in the operation.

  6. The British 6th Airborne Division's objective was to capture the villages of Hamminkeln and Schnappenberg, to clear parts of the Diersfordt Forest of German forces, and most importantly secure three bridges over the River Issel.

  7. The American 17th Airborne Division's objective was to capture the village of Diersfordt, and clear the rest of the Diersfordt Forest.

  8. Both the British 6th Airborne Division and the American 17th Airborne Division, were to hold the captured objectives until relieved by the advancing ground forces of 21st Army Group.

  9. Although several mistakes occurred during the operation, most noteably with one regiment of US airborne troops (513th Parachute Infantry Regiment) incorrectly landing on the British dropzone, the paratroopers nevertheless achieved their objectives.

  10. The Allied paratroopers suffered more than 2,000 casualties during the operation, but captured more than 3,000 German prisoners.

  11. One of the reasons for relatively high Allied casualties was that Operation Varsity was launched in daylight rather than at night (as had been the case with many previous airborne assaults). This was because the planners believed, from previous experience, that night drops tended to leave paratroopers widely scattered and reduce the chance of a successful operation.

  12. Operation Varsity was the last major Allied airborne operation during World War II.

  13. Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower, described Operation Varsity as "the most successful airborne operation carried out to date.".

  14. Most historians generally regard Operation Varsity as a highly successful operation, although of course there are criticisms of the mistakes made during the operation (though probably less mistakes than in previous airborne operations due to lessons learned). One important factor worth remembering is that Operation Varsity distracted German attention from the Allied forces crossing the Rhine and creating a bridgehead - and thus allowed these Allied forces to cross more easily, with less casualties, and break-out sooner than would otherwise have been the case.

US C-47 Skytrain transports and Waco CG-4A gliders preparing for Operation Varsity:
US C-47 Skytrain transports and Waco CG-4A gliders preparing for Operation Varsity


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