Air War Varsity, by Martin W. Bowman, Casemate Publishers, Havertown, Pa., 2017, $39.95
While much has been written about the World War II operations Overlord and Market Garden, comparatively little has been published about Operation Varsity—a glaring omission considering that Varsity, the airborne invasion of Germany across the Rhine, was the war’s largest airborne operation. Martin Bowman’s book is the first comprehensive history of the campaign and highlights the contributions of the various Allied participants—American, British and Canadian. The book recounts not only the activities of the airborne troops, but also those of the troop-carrying aircraft and gliders that took part in the initial assault and subsequent resupply missions.
Varsity differed from Market Garden, the previous attempt to cross the Rhine in 1944, in that the former was conducted under the operational control of the First Allied Airborne Army, which exercised unified command over the combined Allied airborne forces and all the troop-carrying aircraft and gliders. Targeting daylight landing zones east of the Rhine on March 24, 1945, Varsity simultaneously inserted one American and one British airborne division, totaling nearly 17,000 troops, supported by 1,050 transport aircraft and 1,350 gliders. While the Allies sustained heavy casualties, the operation was ultimately successful and helped spell the end for the German army in the West.
Amply illustrated with maps and photographs, Air War Varsity includes many firsthand accounts from participants. It will undoubtedly prove invaluable to anyone interested in this decisive, if oft overlooked, operation in the waning days of World War II.