24 March, 2012

24 March 1945

438th AAA AW BN

APO230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
24 March, 1945      1000

My dearest darling –

Well – the news continues to be excellent and I can imagine that everyone at home is in good spirits. We are, too, and I honestly don’t see how this can continue much longer than about 10 weeks or so – but that’s my private opinion. I think we’ve finally got them where we want them – dazed, confused, and what is most important – spread thinly.

I didn’t get a chance to write you as early this morning as I have been doing. One of the reasons was that I was collecting a little more junk to have wrapped and sent to you, dear. There’s a couple of books showing pictures of German victories in Poland and France – through 1940. There’s another book – a collection of cartoons by a famous German cartoonist. I wish you knew German, darling, because some of them are very good. But others are funny – translated or not – and I’ll translate some of the others for you, sweetheart, some night in bed. O.K.? Incidentally – I once mentioned the fact that I sent a lot of useless stuff home to you, dear. I hope I’m not cluttering up your house too much with it. I’m sure that a lot of stuff I look at now will cause me to wonder why I ever sent it when I see it at a later date. However, dear, in my own defense I can say that everyone here is the same.

Yesterday was another beautiful day here and the boys – I mean the enlisted men in particular – are having a swell time. They’re drinking all the wine they want. They eat their meals on a little patio – it’s warm enough, too. I didn’t do much yesterday – except to visit Group headquarters and take care of a little business there. We played Bridge again in the evening. Pete was over for awhile, and sent his love.

I received a V-mail from you and Lawrence yesterday – both dated 8 March. I believe that is the latest of yours I have – although airmail of the 6th arrived here a few days ago. Lawrence had little to say except that his attitude was unchanged. Your V-mail mentioned the fact that Col. Pereira had called and that must have been a surprise. It was damn nice of him to call and I’m surprised he remembered. In answer to your question why he didn’t know we were engaged – I’m not certain I know the answer dear. It seems to me I had told everyone. The only explanation is that we were out of contact for a long while when I was in England; that was because Pereira was being transferred all over the place. It wasn’t until after Normandy that we got to writing again. I met a mutual friend who had his address. He’s a good egg, though, and we had a lot of fun together. I’m sure we’ll get to see him after the war.

Oh – I meant to mention one article in particular that I’m sending in the package of today. I won’t name it because I don’t know exactly what it is. But tell me if you notice anything particular about it. I think you’ll know which object I mean.

Darling – I’d like to write more, but it’s late and I’ve got to get going. It’s not too late to tell you I love you, though – and strongly – and you, alone, Sweetheart. For now – love to the folks – and

All my truest love


about Operation Varsity

Paratroopers Landing in Operation Varsity

Operation Varsity was a successful joint American–British airborne operation that took place toward the end of World War II. It was the largest airborne operation in history to be conducted on a single day and in one location. It was the last mass parachute and glider assault of the Second World War, designed to pierce the final physical barrier to a ground advance into Nazi Germany. It was planned to immediately follow the assault across the Rhine.

At 1000 hours on 24 March 1945 nine battalions of the 6th British Airborne Division (9,387 personnel) together with six battalions from the 17th US Airborne Division (7,220 personnel) landed by parachute and glider east of the River Rhine near Wesel, Germany. The airlift consisted of 541 transport aircraft containing airborne troops, and a further 1,050 troop-carriers towing 1,350 gliders. The immense armada stretched more than 200 miles (322 km) in the sky and took 2 hours and 37 minutes to pass any given point. It was protected by some 2,153 Allied fighters from the U.S. Ninth Air Force and the Royal Air Force. These were followed closely by 240 four-engine Liberator bombers of the U.S. Eighth Air Force dropping 582 tons of supplies including 109 tons of ammunition, 695 vehicles, and 113 artillery pieces. Fifteen of the Liberators were lost.

Paratroopers of Operation Varsity
before boarding their C-47 transport

C-47s releasing paratroopers of Operation Varsity

At the conclusion of the operation, all of the objectives that the airborne troops had been tasked with had been captured and held, usually within only a few hours of the operation's beginning. The bridges over the Issel had been successfully captured, although one later had to be destroyed to prevent its capture by counter-attacking German forces. The Diersfordter Forest had been cleared of enemy troops, and the roads through which the Germans might have routed reinforcements against the advance had been cut by airborne troops. Finally, Hamminkeln, the village that dominated the area and through which any advance would be made, had been secured by air-lifted units. About 3,500 German soldiers were captured.

Glidermen of Operation Varsity

The defenders of the Reich made the paratroopers pay with their lives. Operation Varsity turned out to be the bloodiest day for Allied Airborne troops in the whole of the Second World War. The two divisions incurred more than 2,000 casualties. The cause of this high casualty rate can likely be traced to the fact that the operation was launched in full daylight, rather than a night-assault. The casualty rates were worsened by the slow rates of release and descent of the gliders themselves, and the fact that each aircraft towed two gliders, slowing them even further; as the time to release a glider unit was 3–4 times longer than a parachute unit, the gliders were vulnerable to flak. Also, there was little element of surprise. The Germans knew the when the attack was to occur, but did not know exactly where. Once the smoke screens were lit, the area of attack from across the Rhine became apparent.

Medic treating wounded gliderman beside his glider

Wounded paratroopers of Operation Varsity
being brought to an Aid Station

Yet for all the success of Operation Varsity, the question remained whether under the prevailing circumstances an airborne attack had been necessary or was even justified. It unquestionably aided British ground troops. However, in view of the weak condition of German units east of the Rhine and the particular vulnerability of airborne troops in and immediately following the descent, some overbearing need for the special capability of airborne divisions would be required to justify their use. Although the objectives assigned the divisions were legitimate, they were objectives that ground troops alone under existing circumstances should have been able to take without undue difficulty and probably with considerably fewer casualties. Participation by paratroopers and glidermen gave appreciably no more depth to the bridgehead at Wesel than that achieved by infantrymen of the 30th Division. Nor did the airborne attack speed bridge construction, for not until 0915 the next day, 25 March, did engineers start work on bridges at Wesel. A treadway bridge had been opened to traffic behind the 30th Division seventeen hours before that.

A documentary about Operation Varsity is shown in two parts in the first two videos below. That is followed Patrick Edmonds telling of his piloting a glider into Germany, filled with troops and materiel, in Operation Varsity.

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