The aim of this operation was to establish a bridgehead across the river Rhine for the main Allied advance into Germany. On 24 March 1945, the Rhine crossing started with a ground offensive, Operation PLUNDER, followed by air landings, Operation VARSITY, 10 hours later. The main objectives for 6 Airlanding Brigade were two road bridges over the River Issel, to the east of the Rhine.
After heavy losses at Arnhem, the Glider Pilot Regiment (GPR) was severely short of pilots. Army and RAF personnel were recruited at great speed to train or re-train as glider pilots.
Air Observation Post aircraft of 658 Squadron provided aerial support for artillery units, undertook reconnaissance missions and took aerial photographs to support the operation.
Despite inexperienced glider crews, ground smoke and heavy anti-aircraft fire, the operation was deemed a complete success. In his after-action report, General Chatterton, the commander of the Glider Pilot Regiment concluded: “The fact that the Regiment was carrying out an operation of a new kind with mixed and inexperienced crews into the face of the enemy must give rise to mistakes. That the pilots succeeded as they did was all the more remarkable.”
Although a success, the Glider Pilot Regiment suffered severe losses during the operation. Out of the 890 GPR personnel that departed on VARSITY, over 20% were killed or wounded.
David Brook joined the Glider Pilot Regiment from the Royal Armoured Corps and Green Howards on 29 March 1944. After successfully completing his flying and glider courses he was posted to C Squadron, followed by E Squadron with whom he took part in Operation Varsity.
Together with his co-pilot Sergeant Whitton, he flew a Horsa glider destined for Landing Zone ‘O’, besides the railway line at Hamminkeln. They carried a platoon of soldiers from the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry ordered to take the nearby railway station. During the battle Brook was injured in the shoulder.
After the end of the war, SSgt David Brook was posted to D Squadron in Palestine before being demobilised from the Army.
For years he was a member of the Glider Pilot Regimental Association and the editor of their ‘The Eagle’ magazine. His account of his experience in Operation Varsity is reproduced on the next tab (Portrait of a Pilot)
Captain John F Phillips RA
John Phillips attended No. 36 Air Observation Post Course between 24 August and 8 November 1944. He was posted to 658 Squadron in early 1945 which was then operating in the Dutch/German border area around Venlo. The Squadron made its way through Germany and were located around Kiel when the war ended. Phillips stayed with the unit when it was transferred to India. He was appointed Commanding Officer of the Squadron from June 1946 until his demobilisation in August.
The family’s nickname for Phillips was ‘Deadbeat’.