Operation Varsity

Operation Plunder was Field Marshal Montgomery’s plan to cross the Rhine River that he had been working on since October, 1944, after the failure of Operation Market Garden. Operation Varsity was the airborne component of that plan. Operation Varsity was the last and most successful airborne operation of the war.

Operation Varsity called for the US 17th Airborne and the British 6th Airborne Divisions to make a daylight drop on the east bank of the Rhine to seize German artillery positions and bridges over the Issel River. The two divisions landed simultaneously making Varsity the largest single airborne drop in history.

Operation Varsity had complete operational and tactical surprise. Varsity commenced 13 hours after Operation Plunder, had complete air superiority, perfect weather, and was supported by masses of dedicated artillery from tubes safe on the west bank of the Rhine. Finally, the airborne troopers only faced two understrength, undertrained, and underequipped German divisions.

Despite a miss drop with most of an American airborne regiment landing in the British drop zones, both airborne divisions secured their objectives by early afternoon on 25 March. However, they took horrible casualties in the process. 97 planes were shot down; and of the 16,000 Allied paratroopers who took part in Operation Varsity, 3,000 were killed, wounded or captured in the battle. Operation Varisty was the final and most successful Allied airborne operation of the war.

Unfortunately, “success” in this case is also relative. Operation Varsity was the only brigade sized or larger airborne operation of the war that actually accomplished its objectives. Contrary to what the fanboys will tell you, all airborne operations of World War II were either A. A complete and miserable failure (North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and Market Garden) or B. A miserable failure that accomplished limited objectives and was saved only through the herculean efforts on the part of its paratroopers (Normandy and Southern France) with Varsity on the east bank of the Rhine the exception that proves the rule… and even that is debatable.


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