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Title:OPERATION VARSITY : Airborne Invasion East of the Rhine, March 24th 1945 [Main Title]
Film Number:APY 40
Summary: Finished film by the Royal Air Force Film Production Unit about Operation Varsity, the airborne assault to obtain a bridgehead on the east back of the River Rhine.
Description: Reel 1: Commences with scenes of Allied troops and armour moving up through Germany and coming to a halt on the west bank of the River Rhine. Once reached the problem how and where the river should be crossed. The commentary explains some of the problems involved and the strategic desirability of crossing into the German heartland as soon as possible. This is done with the aid of relief models. Over stock shots of Eisenhower and his staff it is explained that the plan for the breaching of the Rhine would involved coordinated ground and air assaults, notably Operations Flounder, Plunder (the crossing by infantry assault boats and Buffalo amphibians of 21st Army Group) and Varsity. Eisenhower and his staff are seen in various shots notably standing or seated in front of a large wall map of Europe and comprise of Tedder, Ramsey, Leigh-Mallory, Bedell-Smith, Bradley and Montgomery. Intercut are shots of Montgomery reading through a memo with Eisenhower, Coningham, (commander 2nd Tactical Air Force) and an unidentified US 9th Air Force officer listening to a briefing and General James Doolittle (commander, US 8th Air Force). With other USAAF officers doing the same. Of the operation itself there follows a reconstructed briefing and by Major-General Eric Bols (commander of the British Army’s 6th Airborne Division), which in great detail explains the various objectives of both Plunder and Varsity. In preparation all airborne troops embark on an extensive period of training and refresher courses. Shots include scenes of troops being briefed in the open air which are pre-D-Day vintage. Troops shown include elements of the Parachute Regiment, Lancashire Regiment and Royal Army Medical Corps. There are good shots of gliders landing and a spectacular Horsa crash. A description of material and logistics required (including a good shot of the unusual M22 Locust airborne tank with a Long John adaptor fitted to its gun) is followed by a review of the work of the 2nd Tactical Air Force Typhoons and Tempest Vs in preparing the area of operations using now familiar camera-gun sequences for visual effect rather than contemporary accuracy. Tempest of RAF 80 Squadron peel off and ‘destroy’ an Arado Ar-96b and attack German airfields, shooting up parked Junkers Ju-88s. The reel closes with ground troops waiting in anticipation for the off.
Reel 2: Operation Plunder opens with a huge artillery barrage across the Rhine and the demolition of the town of Wesel by Lancasters of the RAF. 21 Army Group swim the river in a variety of amphibious vehicles, notably DUKW (‘Duck’) and Buffalo personnel carriers and infantry assault boats. The air phase begins as, escorted by Spitfire Mk IXs, Horsa gliders are towed to the landing zones by Halifax and Stirling tugs. United States’ C-47 Skytrains (Dakotas) carry US troops to the dropzones from airfields in France and provides some impressive footage of an air armada in flight. This section includes good interior shots of troops en route. The airborne and parachute phase is carried through and some good stock shots of gliders landing are used. Footage of troops on the ground is however taken from the earlier operation at Arnhem, Operation Market Garden. A damaged USAAF C-47 Skytrain is seen crashing vertically as is a C-46 Commando which is seen low with one engine aflame before it crashes. Boeing B24J Liberators drop supplies to the troops (these shots bar one, seem to be of RAF Liberators in South East Asian theatre; the drop seen from the plane (a Dakota) appears to be over jungle) who have taken the town of Hamminkeln and meet with success and success; ‘prisoners were streaming in’. The film concludes with stock footage of 21 Army Group infantry, the race across Germany, the now familiar scenes of the surrender ceremony at Luneberg Heath and final meeting of British and Soviet troops.