June 19, 2014

1945. Operation Varsity

Operation Varsity


Bill Downs delivered a broadcast on March 24, 1945, the day of Operation Varsity and the day after Allied forces breached the Rhine. An abridged portion of the actual broadcast is featured in the video. The text is from From D-Day Through Victory in Europe; The Eye-witness Story as Told by War Correspondents on the Air (CBS, 1945), p. 149-151.
March 24, 1945

2:49:12

BILL DOWNS (with the British 2nd):

The first wave or so of the paratroopers who stepped out of the Rhine this morning had a tough time. I was riding in a piggy-back Thunderbolt with Captain Tommy De Graffenreid of Memphis, Tennessee. We went in as cover for the first wave of carrier-type planes that arrived, and honest to God those paratroopers stepped out on a carpet of flak that you could walk on.

But the hundreds and hundreds of planes came on and not a single one deviated from its course. There were tragic accidents. I saw two parachutists who somehow had gotten tangled in each other's parachutes, and Tommy muttered to himself over the intercom, "Come on, come on, break it up. Break away, for God's sake!"

But these two men didn't have a chance to break away, and their bodies seemed to hit the earth with the gentleness of raindrops. But from a thousand feet, you could tell they were dead.

But always during that first half hour of the airborne operation there was flak; the heavy flak that left black ugly scars of smoke in the air. And the more deadly light flak left only whitish puffs of smoke, the same color you'll find in any smoking room in America.

And out of the middle of this world of planes and parachutes and gliders there stormed a big silver Fortress, and it was smoking and we knew that it had had it.

But the flak wasn't so heavy when the gliders began coming in. There was a lull in the flak for about 15 minutes. It was as if the Germans had said, "Hell, there's simply too many planes here." And as far as the eye could see there was smoke. Smoke laid down by our artillery, smoke from burning German houses, and smoke from the enemy ack-ack. And through this haze you could always see the ominous black columns that came from the tow-planes and the transport planes that were shot down.

The men of the Troop Carrier Command today deserve a place with the marines of Iwo Jima and the soldiers of Corregidor.

But the gliders got in okay. A few were damaged in landing and a few were shot down, but I would say most of the gliders did all right. And all the while there were the fighters and the rocket planes and the fighter bombers. Guys like Tommy De Graffenreid, who were blasting out flak positions as they found them and acting as an aerial spearhead to the expanding bridgehead.

And the Luftwaffe was only heard from theoretically when two Messerschmitt jet planes were reported over Duisburg. We spent an hour over that battlefield today, sometimes even flying beneath the carrier planes.
The operation was not without cost. But it has been an Allied victory, a victory for the British and the Americans and the Canadians, a victory for the Allied Air Forces and the Allied ground forces and for the Allied navies, because even the Navy was there. We saw them doing the same job for the army they did on D-Day.

This has been R-Day, the crossing of the Rhine by assault. Hitler has been unable to stop us.