Operation VARSITY

Saturday, 24 March, 1945
Royal Air Force Short Stirling aircraft tow Horsa troop-carrying gliders over the Rhine during Op VARSITY to land east of the river.©

Operation VARSITY, the airborne element of Operation PLUNDER, involved the landing of the XVIII (US) Airborne Corps, consisting of the 6th (UK) and the 17th (US) Airborne Division, onto the east bank of the Rhine. The operational mission was to capture and hold terrain to disrupt the German defences until relieved by advancing elements (Second Army) of Montgomery's 21st Army Group.

The 6th (British) Airborne Division was to capture the villages of Schnappenberg and Hamminkeln, clear an area of the Diersfordter Forest, and secure three bridges over the River Issel. Ground operations began on 23 March, and by the early hours of 24 March a number of Rhine crossings had been secured. As this was achieved the airborne forces began taking off from airfields in England and France. The 6 Airlanding Brigade was tasked to land in company-sized groups in Landing Zones (LZ) P, O, U and R and capture its objectives, including the town of Hamminkeln. The Brigade landed under heavy anti-aircraft fire and the glider pilots' task in identifying their LZs was made made very difficult by the battle haze and smoke obscuring their view of ground features. The 1st (Airborne) Battalion The Royal Ulster Rifles was part of 6 Airlanding Brigade and was awarded the distinction RHINE which is emblazoned on the Queen's Colours of The Royal Irish Regiment.

Click on the image below to view the units of the 6th Airborne Division.