Operation Varsity: Allied Airborne Assault Over the Rhine River

Operation Varsity: Allied Airborne Assault Over the Rhine River

6/12/2006 • World War II

When military strategists debate the outcomes of great battles, one of the toughest questions is whether the advantage gained by the victor was worth the cost. The high-level decisions that initiate battles are also under continuous debate. Airborne operations are frequently subjected to this type of analysis. Almost every Allied airborne assault of World War II has been examined and re-examined, and strong cases have been made against several of them. Should airborne troops have been used in Sicily given that they had to fly over friendly forces during hours of darkness? Was Operation Market Garden in Holland truly ‘a bridge too far,’ as Lieutenant General Frederick A.M. Browning called it?

Operation Varsity, the Allied airborne assault over the Rhine River at Wesel, Germany, on March 24, 1945, is one of those military actions whose value has sometimes been questioned. American forces had already crossed the Rhine at two locations when British Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery mounted his assault in the north. Some have speculated that the airborne phase of the assault may have been unnecessary for the success of the overall operation. Montgomery has been accused of using the airborne troops to ‘put on a good show’ and to further his own reputation.

Not so, maintained the British commander, and to some extent, history supports his position. At the time of Montgomery’s decisive thrust, Lt. Gen. Courtney Hodges’ First Army had already seized the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen and Lt. Gen. George Patton’s Third Army had established a bridgehead near Oppenheim. Montgomery punched yet another hole in the weakening German front, which eventually developed more leaks than Adolf Hitler could plug. The German war machine began to grind to a halt.

For some time before Allied forces reached the Rhine, Allied Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower’s headquarters had been working on a plan called Operation Eclipse. It was a daring plan, including an airborne assault on Berlin itself. Before it could be put into action, however, Montgomery’s Twenty-first Army Group would have to cross the Rhine in the north, trapping the Germans between his forces and those of Hodges and Patton driving in from the south. With the enemy caught in that vise, Eisenhower figured the time would be ripe for a daring operation like Eclipse, which could probably end the war.

Eisenhower rather reluctantly agreed to Montgomery’s plan for crossing the Rhine, code-named ‘Plunder,’ which would be second in magnitude only to the Normandy invasion. Operation Varsity, the airborne phase of Plunder, would include the British 6th Airborne Division ‘Red Devils,’ commanded by Maj. Gen. Eric L. Bols, and the U.S. 17th Airborne Division ‘Thunder From Heaven,’ commanded by Maj. Gen. William ‘Bud’ Miley, in the largest airborne drop made in a single day — and would establish many other airborne warfare records that remain unchallenged.

Both divisions were part of the XVIII Airborne Corps, commanded by General Matthew B. Ridgway. The 6th Airborne troopers were veterans of the D-Day drop in Normandy, but Varsity would be the 17th Airborne’s first airborne combat assault. The American paratroopers had already distinguished themselves as a battle-tough outfit, however. Before Christmas 1944, the 17th had been rushed to the Continent from its bases in England and had seen heavy combat during the German Ardennes offensive.

Well-known for his insistence on meticulous planning and attacking only with an overwhelming advantage in manpower, Montgomery set the opening round of Plunder for March 23, 1945. His command included 17 infantry divisions, eight armored divisions and the two airborne divisions; 13 of the divisions were American, 12 British and two Canadian. In addition, he had five armored brigades, a British Commando brigade and a Canadian infantry brigade.

In addition to all the problems inherent in a complicated operation such as the Rhine crossing, the Allied commanders were somewhat distracted by the continuous bickering that went on in the American and British high command. Montgomery continued to maintain that he should be in overall command of the Allied forces, and he never missed an opportunity to take a dig at Eisenhower. The British also criticized Patton and his sometimes outrageous behavior, and they felt that Montgomery did not receive the credit he deserved.

The Americans, on the other hand, saw Montgomery as a pompous and overly conservative commander. They believed he sought to enhance his public image and tried to take credit for success even when it was not due him. The conflict raged on, and Eisenhower eventually threatened to resign his command unless Montgomery tempered his remarks. At times, it seemed that only the diplomacy of General George C. Marshall, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s chief of staff, held the Allied forces together.

One concession was granted to the British — a concession that would forever haunt the veterans of the 17th Airborne Division. News of the Rhine crossing would be withheld for almost 24 hours, and the identity of the divisions involved in the operation would be temporarily withheld in Allied press releases. Because of the press blackout, the 17th’s participation in this historic operation would not be remembered by many Americans.

Hitler was not completely unaware of the bickering that was going on in the Allied ranks. He erred, however, in thinking that it was serious enough to eventually cause a split that would give him the chance to grab a last-minute victory. He was playing for time — time to deploy his’super weapons’ such as the V-1 pulse-jet guided bomb and V-2 rocket missile in large numbers and time for dissension in the Allied ranks to bring his foes to the negotiating table. It was not to be.

Operation Plunder was set in motion on the night of March 22, 1945, just as Montgomery had planned, and the land elements began to move toward the Rhine. A giant smoke screen, which hid the Allied movements from enemy observation, blanketed the area for miles and soon hindered those movements. It later caused problems for the airborne troops’ landing as well.

As the grand operation got underway, the airborne troopers were in their marshaling areas, being briefed on their mission. The Americans would take off from 17 airfields in north-central France; the British were slated to leave from 11 airfields in southeastern England. The Douglas C-47 and Curtiss C-46 transport aircraft were poised and ready. The gliders were neatly placed on the runways, awaiting connection to their tugs. All awaited the coded signal to go: ‘Two if by sea.’

All that preparation had not gone unnoticed by the German high command. It would have been difficult to overlook the signs of the pending Allied offensive. Accordingly, the German commanders had moved additional troops and a number of new anti-aircraft units into the area and taken special steps to fortify all potential landing zones. Axis Sally, the ‘Berlin Bitch’ as the GIs called her, even announced in her nightly radio propaganda broadcast that the Germans were expecting the 17th Airborne, and she promised them a hot reception.

The men prepared for battle, cleaning their weapons, sharpening their knives and otherwise readying their equipment for the mission ahead. The chaplains held services, and most everyone attended. Early on the morning of March 24, the signal, ‘Two if by sea,’ was flashed to General Miley’s headquarters, and the airborne operation jumped into high gear. The troopers were served a breakfast of steak and eggs, then were loaded into trucks for the ride to the planes. The troops were quiet and determined — from here on out, it would be very serious business.

The overall mission for the airborne troopers sounded quite simple. They were to seize the bridges over the Issel River and rapidly clear the enemy from the Diersfordter Forest. That would facilitate the ground forces’ river crossing and prevent enemy reinforcements from reaching the beachhead. After the crossing was secure, the ground elements would move forward, and the troopers were to join them in the push into Germany, keeping the Germans on the run.

The 17th Airborne was to land in the southern portion of the XVIII Airborne Corps zone, and the British 6th Airborne was headed for the northern portion. The entire area was only 5 miles deep and 6 miles wide, and a total of nearly 18,000 airborne troops had to be inserted, making the airhead east of the Rhine the most congested airborne assault ever attempted at that time.

Lieutenant General Miles Dempsey, commander of the British Second Army, was in charge of the land element crossing the Rhine by boat. Commandos had already slipped across during the night of March 23 and were engaged near Wesel. Other ground forces would cross the Rhine under cover of darkness early on March 24. The airborne troops would drop a few hours later, after daylight. The supply and administrative units of the 17th Airborne were to cross by LVTs (landing vehicles, tracked) — amphibious personnel carriers the British called ‘Buffaloes’ — once the beachhead was secure.

The 507th Parachute Infantry, commanded by Colonel Edson Raff, led the drop for the 17th Airborne, followed by Colonel James ‘Lou’ Coutts’ 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment and, on their heels, the 194th Glider Infantry Regiment of Colonel James R. Pierce. Each regiment would be accompanied by its supporting artillery and engineer units.

A total of 9,387 men of the 17th Airborne Division were transported in 72 C-46s and 226 C-47s, while 610 C-47s towed 906 Waco CG-4A gliders. The British lift consisted of more than 8,000 men aboard 42 Douglas C-54s and 752 C-47s, with 420 Airspeed Horsa and General Aircraft Hamilcar gliders. In all, the sky train stretched nearly 200 miles and took two hours and 37 minutes to pass any given point. A protective blanket of 676 fighters from the U.S. Ninth Air Force and 213 fighters of the Royal Air Force escorted the armada.

The first planes carrying soldiers of the 17th Airborne took off at 7:17 a.m., and the last lifted off at 8:58. While the troop planes circled overhead, the gliders and their tows lifted off. Inside the troop planes and in the gliders the men settled down for the flight to the drop areas. The British and American flights met up near Brussels, Belgium. From there on it was a straight, 100-mile run to the drop areas, four to six miles east of the Rhine.

As the aircraft neared the Rhine River, the men saw troops below crossing in assault boats and a buildup of men and supplies waiting to cross. As the planes came into view, the Allied artillery bombardment of the German positions on the east side was halted as a precaution — but German anti-aircraft fire soon opened up on the airborne convoy.

Black shell bursts dotted the sky, and red tracer bullets arced up, reaching for the planes. The troopers watched with horror as first one then another troop plane nosed over and headed down. Paratroopers and glider troops alike were anxious to get on the ground, where they felt they had a fighting chance.

The new double-door C-46s, used for the first time to drop paratroopers in combat, did not have self-sealing fuel tanks. When the tanks were hit, the gasoline burst into flames that ran back along the fuselage. As the planes began to burn, the pilots bravely fought to hold them level as they continued to search for their drop zones and tried to give the paratroopers an opportunity to get clear of the aircraft.

Colonel Raff and some 500 of his paratroopers were dropped two miles northeast of their drop zone. Raff rounded up his troops and led them off on the double toward their objectives. The remainder of the regiment, plus Edward S. Branigan’s 464th Field Artillery Battalion, landed almost directly on their assigned targets. The troopers moved swiftly, and all of their objectives were secured within about an hour.

Seventy-two of the new C-46s carried Colonel Coutts’ 513th Parachute Infantry and its attached 466th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. Kenneth L. Booth. In addition to their concern about the anti-aircraft fire, the troopers were also worried about the new quick-release chutes that they were using for the first time in combat. What if the shock of the opening chute caused them to accidentally hit the quick release? The chutes had a safety pin to prevent this from happening, but the troopers worried anyway.

When Coutts’ plane was hit and caught fire, a trooper who had been badly wounded during the flight was hooked up and pushed out in the hope that he would survive the jump. Then Coutts and the other troopers bailed out. Later, Coutts learned that the pilot and crew had also managed to parachute to safety before the plane exploded.

Shortly after landing, Company E of the 513th Parachute Infantry launched an attack along a railway toward a building later determined to have been a German command post. Private First Class Stuart S. Stryker’s platoon made a frontal assault but was pinned down after advancing only 50 yards. Stryker, armed with only a carbine and shouting to his fellow troopers to follow him, charged the German position. Inspired by his bravery, Stryker’s comrades joined him. They charged head-on into a hail of bullets and took the position. Only some 25 yards from the objective, Stryker was killed, but his initiative saved his platoon. For his bravery, Stryker was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Private George J. Peters of G Company, 507th Parachute Infantry, was the only other man to receive the Medal of Honor for actions that day. Peters single-handedly charged and wiped out a German machine-gun nest that threatened his squad. Private Robert ‘Lendy’ McDonald, a trooper in A Company, 513th Parachute Infantry, had a close call while still airborne. As he was next to last in his stick, his assigned seat was near the crew compartment. Once the plane took off, he sat in the vacant navigator’s seat of the new C-46. The plastic observation bubble afforded him an excellent view of the vast air armada all around him.

As soon as the troopers had responded to the command, ‘Stand up and hook up!’ the sharp crack of German anti-aircraft fire filled the air. A loud ripping noise filled the plane, and McDonald and the troopers around him were covered in a shower of plastic. Looking back into the navigator’s compartment, McDonald saw a jagged hole in the metal seat where he had been sitting, and the observation bubble was gone except for a few jagged pieces. Evidently, a German round had come straight up through the plane, failed to explode, and exited through the bubble.

McDonald did not have time to reflect on his good fortune, however, because the plane was on fire. Peering through the doors, he could see nothing but flames. But on the command to jump, the troopers began to pour out the doors, plunging through the fire. McDonald sucked in a deep breath, closed his eyes and followed them out. In a fiery split second, he was free of the doomed plane.

The 513th jumped into the British 6th Airborne’s drop zone instead of its own. The troopers quickly assembled, cleared the British area of Germans and proceeded to their own objectives. By 2 p.m., only two hours after they had landed, Coutts was able to report to General Miley that the regiment’s objectives were secured.

As they approached their landing zones, the glider tug planes had no choice but to fly a straight course. The glider pilots were already struggling to maintain control of their flimsy craft; if the tug pilots took evasive action to avoid the deadly groundfire, their two glider tows might crash into each other. If they increased their speed, the gliders could break up or become uncontrollable. This was the first time the double tows had been used in a combat operation.

To make matters worse, the last glider group was forced to climb to around 2,500 feet due to a stackup of traffic over its landing zone. The gliders released at that altitude established a new height record for combat release. But the glider pilots knew that it would take longer for them to reach the ground, giving the Germans longer to shoot at the fat, slow targets.

The smoke screen, several miles long by the time the airborne troops arrived, had been meant to cover only the river crossing, but it had also drifted over the drop zones and landing zones. The paratroopers had to jump through the white haze, not knowing what obstacles awaited them below. The glider pilots also dived into the void, knowing they could crash into other gliders, trees or obstacles that would smash their light craft to pieces. Some paratroopers did land in the trees, and some gliders did collide with obstacles, but most of the airborne troops came out of the smoke at 200 to 300 feet and managed to land safely.

Private Robert Vannatter of Headquarters, 1st Battalion, 513th Parachute Infantry, was one of the troopers unable to avoid landing in the trees. Amid the smoke and din of battle, Vannatter plummeted through the branches of two tall trees near the edge of a wooded area. As the unlucky trooper took stock of his situation, suspended some 20 feet above ground, he was horrified to see a lone German soldier kneeling on the ground only about 30 feet away. Apparently the noise of battle had masked the sound of his landing, and the German was unaware of his presence.

As Vannatter considered what to do, the chute suddenly slipped through the branches, dropping him to only five feet off the ground. The sound alerted the German, who whirled around in surprise. Vannatter leveled his carbine at the man and ordered him to drop his weapon and raise his hands. The German obeyed, but then Vannatter realized he had failed to insert a magazine into his carbine. Not only did he have to load his weapon before the German realized it was empty, he also had to find a way to get out of his chute and onto the ground.

Vannatter managed to free himself with the help of his prisoner, then delivered the German to a prisoner-of-war collection point. By the end of the day, the 513th had taken more than 1,100 prisoners and the division had captured nearly 3,000. Handling such a large number of prisoners became a major logistical problem for the Allies.

Glider pilots say a combat landing is more like a controlled crash, which is just what the 194th Glider Infantry, the 680th and 681st Glider Field Artillery battalions, the 139th Airborne Engineer Battalion and the 155th Airborne Anti-Aircraft Battalion experienced as they began to land around noon. The landing zones were crisscrossed with ditches and barbed-wire fences that proved disastrous for the gliders as they came in from every direction. Wings were torn off as the gliders hit trees or smashed into each other. Some overturned in clouds of dust and broke in half, debris flying in all directions. It was a dangerous place to be even without the threat of enemy fire. Amazingly, after a crash the dazed troopers were usually able to climb out of the wreckage, dust themselves off and go off in search of their assembly areas.

Those troopers that came under direct fire in the landing zone scrambled into ditches and sat tight until other troopers could clear the enemy pockets. Some artillery and engineer units landed directly on German gun positions and had to function as infantry to clear the areas before they could move to their assembly points. Operation Varsity marked the first time that gliders had landed in zones not already cleared by paratroopers.

Private Vitautas Thomas of Headquarters, 1st Battalion, 194th Glider Infantry, was especially nervous as his glider banked hard and came in for a rough landing. His brother, a member of another unit in the 17th Airborne, had been killed in action during the Battle of the Bulge. Vitautas wondered if his own time had come.

The glider carrying Thomas, his five fellow squad members and their jeep loaded with ammunition made a typical crash landing. Smashing through a barbed-wire fence, the glider hurdled a large ditch and plowed into an embankment. The men inside were thrown around, and the jeep broke partially free from its lashings and jammed against the side of the glider fuselage. Thomas lost his helmet and rifle in the crash. Under intense machine-gun fire from a nearby building, the glider troopers scrambled out and dived into a ditch. The German gun raked the glider, and the men held their breath, fearing that the ammunition on the plane would explode at any minute.

Later, when things had quieted down a bit, Thomas decided to crawl back to the glider to get his rifle and helmet. He swallowed hard when he found that a German round had passed through his helmet, leaving two gaping holes. Thankful that his head had not been in the helmet, he inched forward to recover his rifle. Just as he reached it, a sniper put a bullet into one of the jeep tires right beside his head. The noise of that tire deflating was enough for Thomas. He scrambled back to the ditch, and there he stayed until other troopers had cleared the building.

Things were just as chaotic in the British sector. Brigadier C.K. Bourne’s 6th Air Landing Brigade arrived at its landing zone with only one mishap. A light tank in one of the huge Hamilcars broke free from its lashings en route and fell through the floor. Tank, glider and all personnel on board went down like a rock.

The large Horsa and Hamilcar gliders were towed singly, but their size necessitated a longer landing run, making landings even more perilous. The 440 British gliders came in from 2,500 feet, dropping through the smoke and into heavy fire. The British 6th Airborne came under heavy fire as the troopers began to land. With their heavy loads and long landing runs, the British gliders quite often plowed into other gliders, trees or buildings before their pilots could brake to stop. Although 416 made it into the landing zone and delivered their loads safely, the other 24 crashed, raked by enemy fire. The Royal Ulster Rifles and the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry brigades spilled out and quickly gained control of their areas. Meanwhile, enemy mortars and grazing fire continued to claim heavy casualties.

A number of 1st Canadian Parachute Brigade troopers landed in the trees. Their commanding officer, Lt. Col. J.S. Nicklin, came down right on top of a German strongpoint. As he dangled helplessly from his chute, the Germans riddled him with automatic weapons fire. Angered by the death of their commanding officer, the Canadians stormed the woods, their designated objective, and in less than two hours killed or captured all the defending Germans. The number of prisoners taken soon outnumbered the Canadians.

Although there seemed to be some confusion among the landing troops, there was total confusion among the defending Germans. Their plan of defense seemed to have been to defeat the airborne forces while they were still in the air. Once a sizable number of troops had been delivered, the defenders quickly lost their will to resist.

Before dark, the 17th Airborne made contact with the British 1st Commando Brigade in Wesel, and the 6th Airborne linked up with the British 15th Division in Hamminkeln, six miles east of the Rhine. The airhead was secure, as was the beachhead over the Rhine, and troops and supplies were moving briskly inland. The crossing had been an overwhelming success; the enemy was on the run back into Germany.

With the success of Operation Varsity, the northern route into the industrial heart of Germany was now wide open. The cost, however, had been high. The 6th Airborne had suffered 590 killed and another 710 wounded or missing. Several hundred of the missing later turned up to rejoin their units, however. The 17th Airborne had 430 killed, with 834 wounded and 81 missing. Casualties among the glider pilots and the troop plane pilots and crews included 91 killed, 280 wounded and 414 missing in action. Eighty planes were shot down, and only 172 of the 1,305 gliders that landed in Germany were later deemed salvageable.

A total of 1,111 Allied soldiers had been killed during the day’s fighting. In comparison, the 101st Airborne Division had lost 182 killed and the 82nd Airborne 158 on D-Day. Operation Varsity, March 24, 1945, was the worst single day for Allied airborne troops.

As the Allied forces drove into Germany, the situation rapidly began to change, and several carefully planned airborne operations were scrubbed. A planned airdrop of the 13th Airborne Division near Worms, Germany, was canceled. Finally, Operation Eclipse, the planned airborne assault on Berlin that had necessitated Montgomery’s Rhine crossing, was also canceled, allowing the Soviets the honor and cost of being first into the German capital.

This article was written by Bart Hagerman and originally appeared in the February 1998 issue of World War II.

For more great articles be sure to pick up your copy of World War II.

36 Responses to Operation Varsity: Allied Airborne Assault Over the Rhine River

  1. Donald Forbes says:

    My friend Homer Bates Chase was a member of Company B. 513 th Reg 17th Div. I wonder if anyone as any information about Homer. I would appreciate it.


    Don Forbes

  2. […] since the Rhine had already been crossed in multiple places by the time the curtain went up. Operation Varsity. […]

  3. Sue Volz (Snyder) says:

    My father, Harold K Snyder was part of the 681 st Glider Field Artillery Battalion, 17th Air Borne, 194th Division.

    We’re proud of our dad, He is trying to help me put something very special together for all of our family on his World War II involvements. In fact, he is doing a great job for trying to provide me the information, and he will be 86 come January 9th.

    He was drafted in his 12 th grade, and recieved an honary diploma about 5 years ago.

    Any information that we can obtain will be used to make a special documented type reference for our family to cherish forever, would be greatly appreciated and useful.

    We know he drove a jeep, jumped the Rhine, bailed out of a small triangler window with the col. leaping out of a door to hit the ground in Wesel France; part of the 194th from Wesel, Dursten, Dulmen, Munster, Lippstadt, Ruthen, ect …. areas of this war; He was quick with tying & securing knots to hold the jeep in place in the gliders and more; infact, he even peeled potatoes & still can peel them fast. He stated, “he didn’t mind it, it had to be done”

    We really want to acquire any information and pictures that can help us to preserve this part of our father’s life achievements and more.

    Another person of interest that we would appreciate is about his brother, Charles who lost his live in North Africa.

  4. Jack says:

    My half brother, Jack Porter, Jr., was KIA in Operation Varsity. Anyone with info on 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, under the command of COL Edson Raff, lead for the 17th Airborne, will you please post that info? He was in Company A.

    • Susan MIller says:

      I think this my sister’s father
      Family from LIttle Rock Arkanas
      married Jimmie Lee Porter Orlanod Fla
      Never knew about Daughter
      Please email any information you have

  5. Ernie Elton says:

    My father Robert Elton was with the 507th PRCHT INF – CO I.
    I, too, am looking for any information, pictures, etc. His story was a lot like Robert Vannatter of the 513th. He was hung up in a tree, shot 13 times and left for dead. A friend, whose name I don’t know, cut him down. He earned a Purple Heart, and several other medals. In trying to get them replaced, I was informed the records had been destroyed in the fire and they needed more documentation. I sent his separation papers, which list everything they should need to verify, but haven’t had any luck. Looking for any information at all. PLease share if you find anything?

    • EQS says:


      The man Robert Elton was not wounded on the jump. Only the first two men in that stick were wounded. Your father was not wounded on the jump. If a man is shot 17 times, the odds are almost impossible for the weapons of WWII to survive. Sorry to break the news to you.

      In fact he is list as LIA Lightly injured in action, remained on duty on 28 March 1945. Sometimes the stories get a bit bigger as the war goes away.

      43-49026 was his plane number

      • Gary says:

        Your post was very provocative. It seems to indicate you have a roster of the men and which plane and/or glider they were in – is that assumption correct? I am trying to track down information concerning my father and his unit. He originally was assigned to Co A, 139th AEB, perhaps a couple months later he was transferred to Co C of the 139th. Do you have suggestions concerning sources to look for?

  6. Ed Malouf (Dallas, Texas says:

    Historians say that Napoleon built a bridge, and crossed the Rhine at a spot approximately 12 miles South of Remagen in 1805.
    The very first infantry troops to cross the Rhine at Remagen were elements of the 78th Division, 310th Regiment, which was attached to the 9th Armored Division. I was a member of “B” Company of the 311th Regiment. We arrived at the bridge at about 4 am on the 8th of March, but had to wait until the engineers removed a tank destroyer that was stuck in a hole on the bridge that was made when the Krauts tried to blow it up. Germans were bombing and strafing the bridge as we RAN across, plus small arms bullets were zinging off the girders. We crossed at 11:15 am, turned left (down river), fought our way into Erpel, then Unkel, then Heister, where we then thought that we’d bed for the night. This wasn’t to be. It was PITCH BLACK, and we were to keep going. We were told that we MUST NOT MAKE ANY KIND OF NOISE, and to physically hold onto the man in front of us so as not to lose contact. THE ENTIRE BATTALION WAS TO INFILTRATE TWO MILES BEHIND THE GERMAN LINES, AND WERE TO ATTACK HONNEF ON THE MORNING OF THE 9TH. Proceeding out of Heister, between the railroad tracks and the Rhine, we ran into severe flack from 20 mm German guns,so we entered the Rhine River bank, not a foot from the water, where we would be protected. The other units of our division were acting as billygoats, going from steep hill to steep hill. On the morning of the 9th we attacked Honnef, which is five miles North of the bridge. House to house fighting took place.. About that time we were advised that the 9th Division, which had fought to three miles east of the bridge by that time, was fighting infantry, and armored counter attacks, and that if the 9th couldn’t hold, we would have to withdraw. But the 9th held. By the 17th of March, the day that the bridge fell into the Rhine, we had fought into Buel, just across the river from Bonn. We were relieved by a cavalry unit, then took up positions along the Sieg River, getting ready to close in on the Ruhr valley.
    During all this fighting the Allied media blacked out the news. But a Nazi communique stated, “America shock troops crossed the river in assault boats, and that intense fighting was going on from house to house in Honnef.” Of course, the telling of how we got there was NOT TRUE. the fighting was INTENSE. Hoiwever, the press in the U.S stated that German reinforcements were seen rushing towards Remagen, and that the convoys had their headlights on.

    Aside from the Officer Advance Infantry Training Course that waspresented at Ft. Benning, Georgia, I know of no article, or book, or movie, or documentary that covered the EXPANSION of the REMAGEN BRIDGEHEAD. by those “BILLYGOATS”..

    So, they awaited along the Sieg until about a week later, when the two egomaniacs tried to outdo each other in who would bask in the glory of being the the first to cross the Rhine by boat, or air. But they could NEVER match the heroism and toughness of those guys from the 78th, 9th, and 99th Divisions who climbed up and down very STEEP hills to overcome the enemy. It was Winston Churchill who stated that the Remagen operation shortened the way by 6 months, And Eisenhower stated that the bridge was worth it’s weight in gold. If that be the case, let’s just divey up that gold and give it to the guys who became BILLYGOATS BY NECESSITY. They more than earned it.

  7. Andrew Peitsch says:

    If anyone is looking for info on 507th PIR troopers during wwii, contact me at andyp@ameritech.net or visit the 507thPIR website at http://www.507pirarchive.com. You should be able to contact Sandra Smith. We will do what we can to help you find what information we have available to us.

  8. S Sindelar says:

    My dad also got hung up in a tree. He was the 4th in line that jumped out of the C-45 behind Col Raff. He was captured and taken prisoner. He was put on a train to go to a POW camp. He told me that he and an Australian (they had small files sewn into their jumpsuit collar) took turns sawing thru the barbed wire that was over a small opening in their boxcar. They waited for the train to go into a turn and then jumped to escape. They had planned to run across a meadow to make it to treeline. Unfortunately, the Australian was fatally injured when he jumped. My dad (with a broken collar bone) made it to the treeline under heavy fire from the guards on the train. He was declared killed in action by theArmy…. 6 months later he turned up- thanks to the french underground. He found himself in a tent with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby – they got him so drunk and he laughed so hard with them and before he knew what he was doing he reupped to jump again at the Battle of the Buldge. I am trying to find out if there is any information/site that has info/stories about the men who got smuggled thru the french underground. Thanks! rapidresearch@live.com

  9. Herman says:

    My uncle Lenord Smith used to tell us stories of jumping over the rhine, I was very young and wished I could of remembered more. I can asume that the fighing was grim as he would tear up when he spoke. Thank God for these men.

    • Catherine Helfer says:

      My husband’s uncle, Noble Helfer, was KIA during Operation Varsity. He was a member of the 17th Airborne 680th Glider Field Artillery Batallion. The glider he was in successfully landed. However, Noble was killed by sniper after coming to the aid of an injured officer.

      Noble was posthumously awarded the Silver Star “for gallantry in action against the enemy near Wesel, Germany on 24 March 1945. With complete disregard for his own personal safety, Private First Class Helfer exposed himself to enemy fire on the landing zone to administer aid to a wounded officer. Leaving the shelter afforded by a wrecked glider, he made his way across open terrain to reach the wounded man. He administered aid but was unable to return. His supreme sacrifice was in keeping with the highest standards of military conduct”.

      After two unsuccessful attempts at retrieving information regarding Noble’s Army records and any medals due him, after 67 years, the medals have finally been awarded to his family.

      You can read about the medal presentation in the Jersey County Journal, Jerseyville, Illinois newspaper.

      Our family has been attempting for some time now to locate one of Noble’s buddies – a Jim Suttie (probably James Suttie) who was from Omaha, Nebraska.

      If anyone has any information on locating Jim or his family, it would be greatly appreciated.

      Cathy Helfer

  10. Jerry Autrey says:

    I am a member of the American Legion & Past Commander at Las Vegas Post 8 (NV). We are proud to have on permanent display the
    Congressional Medal of Honor awarded posthumously to Pvt. George J. Peters, Co “G”, 507th PIR, 17th Airborne Division, who landed March 24, 1945 (KIA same day) in an open field near Fluren, Germany. If you ever visit Las Vegas, come by Post 8 and see Pvt. Peters decorations and how Post 8 came into possesssion of his award. Post 8’s phone # is (702) 382-8533.

  11. Kathryn Henderson says:

    My brother, H. Harvey Langston was a pilot in the Air Force and was part of Operation Varsity. I am happy to have found some articles about the operation as he told me about the mission before he passed away in 2008. I took notes and had never forgotten the story he told me of flying a glider across the Rhine loaded down with a jeep, several paratroopers, guns, etc. He remembered seeing a paratrooper hanging in a tree once he landed. Another pilot told my father about after landing the glider, surrounding a house and shouting German for “come out with hands up” and several Germans did just that. My brother knew those few words in German. He also eventually was awarded a Bronze Star along with others late in their lives.

  12. roodymiller says:

    Does anyone know any of the 513 paratroopers that landed on the 6th Airborne Divisions DZ? If so contact me as I need help researching…

    • sharon Harding says:

      Are you still after information…

      if so, my great uncle Lance Corporal Harry Steward was part of operation varsity he was shot down whilst he descended in.

      he was in Devonshire regiment 12th Battalion part of 6th division. He rests at Reichswald Forest War Cemetary.

      Hope this helps..


      Sharon Harding

  13. Catherine Helfer says:

    I forgot to post the date of the article in the Jersey County Journal regarding the medal presentations to Noble Helfer’s family – a member of the 17th Airborne 680th GFAB – who was KIA during Operation Varsity.

    Jersey County Journal, April 18, 2012 issue

  14. david brown says:

    looking for information about marcus w. beltch killed mar. 24th.
    he was part of the 194th infantry regement 17th abn div.

  15. Vicki Krausert says:

    Would anyone have any information of Virgil Thomas Krausert. He was in the 17th glider 681st. He was at the Battle of the Bulge. I believe he received a Purple Heart there. Thank you Vicki

  16. Barbara (Hastings) Nelson says:

    I am looking for information regarding my dad’s military duty during WWII. He was assigned to Company C, 194th GLider Infantry and I believe he participated in Operation Varsity, but I have no details. I did find his name on a roster for the unit. THanks

  17. Vicki says:

    Would you have any information on Virgil Krausert? 17 th 681 st.

  18. Isaac Epps says:

    Anyone interested in joining an organized group of children and relatives of 17th Airborne Troopers should find “Scions of the 17th Airborne” on facebook. We are growing, and our mission is to perpetuate the memory of the 17th–history has done very little to include their heroics at the Bulge and in Varsity. We have a wealth of research material and strong networking in place.

  19. Barbara (Hastings) Nelson says:

    Looking for any information on company C, 194th Glider Infantry. Found a roster with my day’s name on it. Irl E. Hastings. Any information regarding their mission in Operation Varsity would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

  20. Pete Asher,Jr. says:

    My dad, who turned 91 in November and is still mentally sharper than I am, earlier this week spoke of the upcoming anniversary of Operation Varsity. He recalled parachuting into a landing zone other than the one intended, but added, \Of course we all did\. He was on a troop ship with his brothers of the 82nd. Airborne on the way to Japan when the war ended. He subsequently served as a platoon leader in Korea and was evacuated back to the states after his third wound in February, 1951. I was born while he was away and met him for the first time at Brooks Army Medical Center in San Antonio. He retired from the Army in 1972. As he recalls experiences such as Operation Varsity (where he ended up with a British tank unit) and the horrific fighting in Korea, I realize how war will come to define a person’s life for the rest of their of their life by being the memory of that day or that month as it reappears on the calendar year after year. And what happened on that day never changes. I am so blessed to have him in my life.

  21. C Sakuma says:

    I am looking for any information that might be out there about my uncle, Satoru Sakuma. We know he was in the 507th paratroopers during WWII and I did find his name in the roster. Any other information would be greatly appreciated.

    Please email me at ccjs2@aol.com


  22. […] lights to facilitate supply drops aimed at relieving the besieged city. Others would take part in Operation Varsity, the last major airborne mission of the […]

  23. David B Brown says:

    I have been trying to find any info on my Uncle, Cpl. Robert I. Isbell with the 155th AABn. I have found one roster with his name on page seven, but no other info. A copy of his DD214 was on file at our local court house. It said he was a Clerk General 055, and shows he was in for 2yr 10mo and 22days BUT no over seas time???? I know the unit was at the BOB and Operation Varsity.

    Any Info on my Uncle Bob would greatly appreciated

    SFC D. Brown USARet

  24. CHRISTOF says:

    I am looking for any information about an air attack on a german convoy in the vicinity of Burlo/Borken Germany in March , 1945. thank you

  25. roodymiller says:

    Thanks for the reply. I was after info for my book 13 – Lucky For Some : The History of the 13th ( Lancashire ) Parachute Battalion. But it is now finished and published.

  26. Ross Chase says:

    He was my grandfather. I’m sure I could ask my mom about it if you’d like.

  27. Bob Davis says:

    S. Sindelar:

    I knew Sandy, your dad well. We were both in Hq. and Hq. company, 507th PIR. It was in Chalons sur Marne that 3 0r 4 members of the French Undergound arrived to once again meet with your dad. We had a party for them, which your dad has described for you.
    He was a fine soldier, first class all the way. I’m sure you’re indeed proud of him. I have a photo of Sandy taken directly after the Battle of the Bulge. He escaped from capture and sent right back into combat. A marvelous achievement. Everyone admired your dad. I think, also, he had a brother in the infantry. A Lt., I think.
    Bob Davis 01/Jan./ 2015

  28. […] WARFARE REACHED its zenith in 1945 with Operation Varsity — the largest single one-day combat parachute drop in military […]

  29. Tim Briggs says:

    Mr. Davis,

    My father, Joe Briggs, was a member of HQ 507th and participated in the Bulge and Varsity.

  30. Laura White says:

    My great Uncle was Gen. William Miley, aka Uncle Bud. I now own his last home in Starkville, MS He was commander of the 17th. I knew him well. I love reading these articles on Operation Varsity.

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