Operation Varsity was the largest airborne operation in history to be conducted on a single day and in one location. It was part of Operation Plunder, the Anglo-American-Canadian assault to cross the northern Rhine River and from there enter Northern Germany. The two airborne divisions incurred more than 2,000 casualties, but captured about 3,500 German soldiers.
About Operation Varsity in brief
Operation Varsity was the largest airborne operation in history to be conducted on a single day and in one location. It was part of Operation Plunder, the Anglo-American-Canadian assault to cross the northern Rhine River and from there enter Northern Germany. The two airborne divisions incurred more than 2,000 casualties, but captured about 3,500 German soldiers. The airborne forces made several mistakes, most notably when pilot error caused paratroopers from the 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment, a regiment of the U.S. 17th Airborne Division, to miss their drop zone and land on a British drop zone instead. The operation was a success, with both divisions capturing Rhine bridges and securing towns that could have been used by Germany to delay the advance of the British ground forces. The last large-scale Allied airborne operation of World War II was Operation Market Garden. It did not take part in combat, but did participate in the Ardennes campaign but had yet to participate in a combat drop. It also conducted amphibious assaults to breach the German lines in support of the 21st Army Group as it conducted its amphibious assault to the Rhine. The U. S. 13th Airbourne Division had been activated in August 1943 and transferred to France in 1945; the formation itself had never seen action, although one of its regiments had fought briefly in Italy and later in Southern France and later on the Italian mainland. The 517th Paratroopers of the 5th Battalion, 5th Regiment of the Royal Air Force were the only members of the division to see action in the Second World War.
The division did, however, participate in Operation Ardennes but did not participate in combat drop to take part of a combat assault to breach German lines. The 3rd Airborne Brigade was the only one of the 3 airborne divisions to see combat in the war, taking part in the Battle of the Bulge in August 1944 and the invasion of Normandy in June 1944. The British 6th Air airborne division, commanded by Major-General Eric Bols, was a veteran division; it had taken part in Operation Overlord, the assault on Normandy, in June 1943. One of these airborne formations, the British 6st Airborne Divisions, was assigned to U. S. XVIII Airborne Corps, under Major General Matthew B. Ridgway, and was based in the town of Wesel in Western Germany. Varsity involved the dropping of two divisions from U. S. XV III Airborne corps, the 6th and the 17th, to capture key territory and disrupt German defenses to aid the Allied advance. The 2nd and 3rd Divisions captured the villages of Schnappenberg and Hamminkeln, clear part of the Diersfordter Wald of German forces, and secure three bridges over the River Issel. The divisions would hold the territory they had captured until relieved by advancing units of 21stArmy Group, and then join in the general advance into northern Germany.