Part of Operation Plunder, the effort by 21st Army Group under Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery to cross the river and from there enter Northern Germany, Varsity was meant to help the British 21st Army Group to secure a foothold across the River Rhine in western Germany by landing two airborne divisions on the eastern bank of the Rhine near the towns of Hamminkeln and Wesel.
The plans called for dropping two airborne divisions by parachute and glider behind German lines near Wesel. Drawn from US XVIII Airborne Corps, they were instructed to capture key territory and to generally disrupt German defenses to aid the advance of Allied ground forces.
The British 6th Airborne Division was ordered to capture the towns of Schnappenberg and Hamminkeln, clear part of the Diersfordter Wald (Diersfordt Forest) of German forces, and secure three bridges over the River Issel. The U.S. 17th Airborne Division was to capture the town of Diersfordt and clear the rest of the Diersfordter Wald of any remaining German forces. The two divisions would then hold the territory they had captured until relieved by advancing units of 21st Army Group, and then join in the general advance into northern Germany.
The airborne forces made several mistakes, most notably when pilot error caused paratroopers from the 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment, a regiment in the US 17th Airborne Division, to miss their drop zone and land on a British drop zone instead. However, 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 two divisions incurred more than 2,000 casualties, but captured about 3,000 German soldiers. The operation was the last large-scale Allied airborne operation of World War II
ROBERT CAPA, LIFE Magazine April 1945, Rhine Crossing
"The forty seconds to earth were like hours on my grandfather clock, and I had plenty of time to unstrap my cameras. On the ground I kept clicking my shutter. We lay flat on the earth and no one wanted to get up. The first fear was over and we were all reluctant to begin the second".