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Operation Varsity - The Rhine Crossing.

The biggest and most successful airborne operation in history marked the beginning of the end for Germany, as Allied airborne troops mounted the final barrier and crossed the Rhine, in Operation Varsity.

In total, six parachute battalions, including the Canadians, of the 6th Airborne division, supported by glider troops from the Air Landing Brigade, dropped on March 24, 1945, as a complete force, avoiding the mistakes of Arnhem.

Together with the US 17th Airborne Division, the aim of the operation was to secure and deepen the bridgehead cast of the Rhine and then advance across country to the Baltic coast, a journey of 350 miles.  Their initial objectives were the high ground overlooking the crossing, point at Diersfordter Wald and the road and rail bridges over the River Issel at Hamminkeln.

Flying in tight formation, 540 American Dakota aircraft carried the 12 parachute battalions, five British, one Canadian and six from the US, closely followed by 1,300 gliders, packed with troops.

The Germans expected the invasion, and fighting on the DZs was heavy . By the end of the first day's action 1,078 men of the 6th Airborne Division had been either killed or wounded, with 50 aircraft and 11 gliders shot down.

Weather for the drop was perfect and almost everyone landed on their respective DZ, although some ended up in the trees and were cut down by German machine guns as they fought to free themselves. The 5th Parachute Brigade suffered heavily from casualties as mortar fire exploded in the skies around them during the drop.  On the ground the enemy had occupied almost all of the nearby houses, but by late afternoon, the Brigade’s three Battalions had cleared them.

Within 24 hours, all objectives for the brigade had been achieved and as planned, the division was joined by ground forces of the 21st Army Group, for the advance across Germany.  The bridges over the river were secured 'and the village of Hamminkeln captured, all objectives had been achieved within 24 hours.

Field Marshal Montgomery, who was by now the Colonel Commandant of the Parachute Regiment, wanted 6th Airborne to head the advance and this they did ...on foot.

In support of the airborne troops were the tanks of the Grenadier Guards and three regiments of artillery.  In just seven days they marched and fought their way to the Baltic port of Wismar and joined up with the leading elements of Russian troops.

On May 5, 1945, General Urquhart was warned to prepare to move his airborne men to Norway, where they were to ensure that the Germans observed the terms of the surrender.  For the Paras it was yet another dangerous job - There were 35,000 Germans and just 6,000 airborne troops to monitor them.

Later the lst Airborne Division was withdrawn to the UK and disbanded on August 26, 1945 - almost four years to the day after its formation.