Air War Varsity, Martin W. Bowman


Air War Varsity, Martin W. Bowman

Operation Varsity was the last major Allied airborne operation on the Western Front during the Second World War, and was also Montgomery’s last major set-piece operation. In an attempt to avoid some of the errors of Market Garden the airborne assault took place in daylight, with all of the troops being carried in a single massive air lift, and landing only a few miles east of the Rhine. In addition the ground forces attacked across the Rhine several hours before the start of the airborne assault. The general idea was that the airborne forces would help eliminate some of the defensive positions that might have held up the ground attack and capture the next line of bridges, over the River Issel. This would make the battle easier for the land forces, allowing them to soon join up with the airborne forces, and prevent the Germans from forming a new defensive line slightly further to the east.

This book combines a narrative of the operation with eyewitness accounts. The balance changes throughout the book, with more narrative in the first few chapters, on the background and planning, and more eyewitness accounts once the airlifts had begun. The general impression is largely the same across these accounts – a difficult and dangerous air drop or glider landing, followed by a period of chaos as the survivors got together, then a short period of intense combat before the surviving Germans began to surrender. By the end of the day the main fighting on the Rhine was over, and the final ‘swan’ across northern Germany was about to begin.

One minor flaw with the reliance on eyewitness accounts is that one gets the impression that casualties were higher than they actually where. It’s only natural for someone recounting a battle to remember the disasters, the aircraft lost before landing, the gliders destroyed by enemy fire, so one would expect a fairly disasterous level of losses. However the total casualties for the airborne troops was at most 2,700 out of the nearly 17,000 men involved. This compares to as many as 17,000 killed, wounded or captured during Market Garden, suggesting that the efforts to avoid the same mistakes did indeed work. Almost 7,000 casualties were suffered during Operation Plunder, the amphibious crossing of the Rhine, suggesting that part of the battle was harder than often stated, and would probably have been even harder if the troops taken out by the airborne had been able to focus on the river crossing instead.

Overall this is an excellent account of this last largescale airborne operation, with an impressive array of atmospheric eyewitness accounts that paint a vivid picture of a chaotic but ultimately successful attack.

1 - ‘Varsity’
2 - ‘Plunder’
3 - ‘Red on! Green on! Go!’
4 - ‘All was Clockwork’
5 - The British and Canadian Lift
6 - Winged Pegasus
7 - A Matter of Life and Death
8 - Low Level Liberators
9 - A Bankrupt Estate

Author: Martin W. Bowman
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 256
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation
Year: 2017

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