Supply drop for "Varsity" 1945

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by alberk, Oct 11, 2020.

  1. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Paras Farbe_Vers_1.jpg
    This is one of the rare colour photos taken during "Operation Varsity". It shows US glider pilots on DZ-W near Flueren - they are waiting to be taken back across the Rhine after the fighting is over. I take particular interest in the colourful parachutes. They were part of the supply drop carried out on March 24th. The following is a quote from a US article published in 1945.

    "For identification purposes, canopies are made in various colors-red, green, blue, yellow, or natural. By establishing a color code, the type of supplies being delivered is easily determined by the color of the canopy. For instance, blue canopies might designate water, red canopies, ammunition, green canopies, rations, etc." ("Aerial Delivery of Supplies" by MAJOR RAYMOND C. ALTERMATT, Q.M.C., The Quartermaster Review, September-October 1945)

    What was the British approach to colour coding parachutes? Was this coordinated between 6th British Airborne and 17th US Airborne? Which colour designated which load during "Varsity"?
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  2. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Loading Liberator.jpg
    Loading a Liberator before Operation Varsity - this image comes from the archives of "Stars and Stripes".

    Here's the complete article from wich I quoted above:

    Aerial Delivery of Supplies
    The Quartermaster Review
    September-October 1945

    The origin of the parachute dates back many years. The first record of its use was described by a passenger of a burning balloon, who made a successful escape by parachute in July 1908. However, the parachute was considered only as an exhibition item for many years and was only seen at county fairs and carnivals. In the fall of 1916 an Austrian pilot on the Russian front made a parachute jump from a burning plane, the first practical application of the parachute to military requirements.
    The possibility of transporting troops and supplies by air and landing at points behind enemy lines was conceived by General "Billy" Mitchell in the First World War. General Mitchell planned such an operation for our 1919 campaign. British Handley Page airplanes were to be used in the operation, but the fighting was ended before the plan could be tried out.

    Today many successful airborne operations have been accomplished. Such operations are destined to become more and more important as our equipment and methods are improved. Air Quartermaster and other supply personnel are potentially involved in the airborne movements of the future to a great extent. An understanding of the problems involved in resupply by air should be a subject for study by such personnel. There are many ramifications to the problem of supply by air so, in the interests of brevity, only supply by parachute will be discussed in this article.

    From an operational standpoint, resupply by air can be divided into two categories: First, an emergency expedient to supply units which are isolated or which have been cut off from their normal supply channels by terrain, distance, or enemy activity. In such cases, supplies are usually required at regular intervals in relatively small quantities. Second, supply of an airborne operation consisting of a large organization requiring hundreds of tons of supplies daily over a period of only a few days, that is, until supply by ground or water is accomplished.

    The extent to which supply by air can be employed depends, primarily, upon the following eight factors:
    Degree of air supremacy; availability and capacity of aircraft; weight, size, and shape of supplies to be transported; selection of dropping ground; intercommunication, ground-air; accuracy of dropping; weather visibility and wind; and collection of supplies on ground.

    There are two methods by which supplies can be delivered by air. The first, which is the most obvious and logical, is delivery by airplane. Supplies are loaded into cargo airplanes in the rear areas and flown to airfields in forward areas, where the planes land and distribute their cargo to the units. This method, of course, requires a high degree of air supremacy and adequate landing fields in forward areas.

    We are more concerned with the second method, whereby supplies are transported by airplanes and delivered by means of parachutes and aerial containers or free-fall containers. Free-fall containers are still the subject of intensive study and research and little can be told of their effective and efficient use at the present time.
    Equipment used in dropping supplies consists of two major items - the parachute and the supply containers. Aerial delivery and cargo parachutes were gradually evolved from personnel parachutes to perform the specific job for which they have been designed. At the present time, five sizes and weights of parachutes are in current use. The aerial delivery parachute, known as type G-1, is a 24' canopy for use with loads up to 300 pounds. It was developed several years ago and was standardized in December of 1942.

    The parachutes, cargo, dropping, are known as types G-2, G-3, G-4, and G-5. Their canopies measure 24', 28', 36', and 48', respectively, and are capable of carrying loads up to 3,000 pounds. Parachute assemblies consist of the canopy and pack. Early models of the canopies were of cotton fabric, later changed to rayon. Some of the larger canopies are now being made of nylon because of its lightness and strength. For identification purposes, canopies are made in various colors-red, green, blue, yellow, or natural. By establishing a color code, the type of supplies being delivered is easily determined by the color of the canopy. For instance, blue canopies might designate water, red canopies, ammunition, green canopies, rations, etc.

    Cargo parachutes, being larger and constructed of heavier material than the aerial-delivery parachutes, are dropped from higher altitudes, for, as the size or weight of the canopy increases, the greater is the opening time required. The Army Air Force Board considers 200 feet to be the best altitude for dropping supplies and equipment from aircraft by parachute, with variations depending upon the type of load. Dropping at such low altitudes eliminates drift and assures greater accuracy in landing supplies in the desired drop zone. It also eliminates oscillation of the load to a great extent.

    Loads of less than 125 pounds should be dropped from approximately the 200-foot level in order to permit the suspension lines to untwist. It has been found that, with light loads, the suspension lines have a tendency to twist as they come in contact with the propeller blast, thereby prohibiting full inflation of the parachute before impact. Loads greater than 125 pounds exert enough pressure to untwist suspension lines at a faster rate and may, in many cases, be dropped from a minimum of 100 feet.

    For dropping heavy loads and to aid in the reduction of load oscillation. triple and quadruple clusters of cargo parachutes have been designed. Gross loads up to 4,200 pounds have been successfully dropped by the four-cluster arrangement. A somewhat similar method for dropping supplies is known as the "controlled ground pattern." While the cluster usually consists of three or four cargo parachutes attached to one heavy load, the controlled ground pattern consists of three or four separate loads and parachutes tied together with web belting so as to bring the load within one drop area and to prevent it from being scattered over a large area of the drop zone.

    Containers for use in the aerial delivery of supplies are constantly being revised and developed to meet changing conditions and requirements. New developments and requirements arising in the training of Airborne units or under actual combat conditions in the field are forwarded to the Army Air Forces Division, Materiel and Services, Materiel Command, who arrange and contract for pilot models. Actual tests are then conducted by the Proving Ground Command and, if the model is considered successful and fulfills the military requirements, it is approved by the Army Air Forces Board. Final approval and standardization rests with Headquarters, Army Air Forces.

    Eight containers for use in the aerial delivery of supplies have been developed and standardized. These are known as types A-3, A-4, A-5, A-6, A-7, A-8, A-9, and A-10. Recently, however, Type A-3 has been merged with Types A-4 and A-6 (liquid dropping containers) and Type A-9 has been merged with Type A-7 (slings). These are Army Air Force Supplies, Class 20, and are standard equipment.

    Type A-4 is an adjustable reinforced canvas container, 12"x 24"x 30". One end is opened for loading and is closed with laced flaps. It can be used for the delivery of supplies such as rations, medical supplies, and clothing. (Clothing, however, is one item which is often dropped in bundles, free fall, as there is no danger of damage.) Two corrugated fiber boxes 12"x 12"x 30" are available to be used with this container for additional protection of fragile articles. The type A-4 container was the first to be developed and was standardized in November 1940. It was primarily intended for dropping supplies to Infantry, Cavalry, and Armored Car units.

    The Type A-5 container is a sheet of heavy canvas 15' long and 56" wide with a pad of felt. It was developed primarily for the purpose of dropping rifles to parachute troops. Rifles are placed on the felt pad and rolled up in the canvas to form a roll approximately 18" in diameter. The ends are protected with removable end caps.

    Type A-6 container is a canvas cover fitted over a 12"x 12"x 30" corrugated fiber carton. A shock-absorbing pad is attached to the bottom. The unit is used for dropping rations or three plastic water containers of five-gallon capacity, which fit into the fiber carton. The water containers may, of course, be used for dropping other liquids such as milk or medicine.

    Container Type A-7 is an adjustable webbing sling designed to carry a standard ammunition box. It can be adapted to carry other equipment or supplies such as three standard five-gallon Quartermaster water cans.

    The Type A-8 container is a rigid, octagonal-shaped box 50" long and 18" in diameter. It is constructed of fiber board and may be collapsed for stowing. Shock pads, for both the inside and outside of the container, have been designed to absorb landing shocks. This container was an on-the-job development designed to fill the need for a rigid container for dropping rifles to parachute troops and to supplement the A-5 container, which must be dropped from a greater height.

    Type A-10 container is nothing more than a cargo net measuring approximately 9'x 9', with a 3½" diamond mesh. It is used for dropping miscellaneous supplies, either Class I, III, IY, or V. This net was developed early in 1942 for Infantry paratroops for use in the resupply of general classes of supplies common to the various services.

    The containers described above are those frequently encountered in dropping Quartermaster supplies and are used with the parachute, Type G-1. Many other special containers have been devised or are being developed. Ordnance materiel is being dropped in containers known as the "paracrate" and the "parachest." The British have several types of aerial containers and the Australian Army has recently developed a container known as the "storpedo."

    To aid the pilot of cargo planes, dropping zones should be clearly marked. The dropping zone should preferably be near a prominent landmark, which can be readily spotted from the air. Prearranged ground panels or other signals and markers should be established for both day and night operations in the event of emergencies. Another method would be the use of a two-way receiver-transmitter radio, operated on an Army frequency band, between the aircraft and the ground troops. Weather conditions often play a large part in determining the manner and direction in which the plane flies over the drop zone, and the pilot must be the one to decide upon the direction of his approach. However, ground signals should be displayed to indicate the general direction for planes to fly over the target to prevent two or more planes from approaching the dropping zone simultaneously from different directions.

    Dropping zone sites are usually chosen by the ground troops and approved by the air liaison officer. They vary in size depending on the terrain, some averaging only 150 yards long by 50 yards wide. One observer of air resupply operations in overseas theatres advocates the use of two dropping areas. In other words, free-drop and parachute packages should be dropped in different areas to avoid damage to containers already dropped. Ground troops should observe a danger area of at least 100 yards on each side of the dropping zone as a safety precaution against descending containers.

    Two methods are in use for ejecting parachute containers from the cargo airplanes. One method utilizes a para-rack, in which the containers and parachutes are placed in a rack under the plane and released mechanically. The other method is the manual ejection of the containers from the door of the plane. In either case, the signal for dropping the supplies is given by the pilot by means of a system of colored lights when the plane is over the drop zone.

    Personnel should be trained to clear the drop zone quickly of supplies by definite assignment of the necessary tasks. One section of the ground crew should gather up the parachutes. If wet or damp, they should be suspended from the apex and dried before stacking. Another section of the ground crew should pick up the rations and medical supplies; another section the ammunition, and so on. Free-drop bundles should be removed last.

    As the stature and importance of the airplane as a transportation medium for large divisions of the Army is developed, so will the need for sufficient supply of those troops by cargo airplanes become increasingly important. Air Quartermaster personnel should acquaint themselves with the problems incident to the resupply of units by air in preparation for the time when supplies transported by cargo planes will be measured in tons instead of pounds.
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  3. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    Sadly Major Altermatt's outline of the history of parachutes is a little out. Military parachuting began in 1913
    In 1913 Major E. M. Maitland RE (already a qualified airship pilot) had been attached to the RFC Military Wing at Farnborough to command its airship section and was considering the possibilities of using a parachute as a means of escape from any aircraft, heavier or lighter than air. Parachutes up to this date were well known but only as part of the equipment of showman balloonists. Maitland asked the main British manufacturers of balloons Messrs. C. G. Spencer and Sons to design and manufacture a parachute in a container that could be attached to the basket or gondola of a military balloon or airship. M A Spencer (one of the “Sons”) carried out the work producing three designs for aeroplanes, balloons and dirigibles respectively and Maitland tested the dirigible design by jumping from the British Army airship Beta[ii]. (Testing a prototype parachute in those days required considerable faith in the designer as well as some courage as, by definition, there was no reserve ‘chute.)

    In 1915 the British army began to use kite balloons based on the German Drachen[iii] for observation of the enemy lines and almost from the start these were equipped with Spencer balloon parachutes. The first record of them being used in action appears in the same year, shortly before the battle of Loos when six British observation balloons were set afire by a German aeroplane but all the observers parachuted to safety[iv]. For the RFC/RAF alone it is estimated that some 800 successful emergency jumps were made by balloon observers using the Spencer parachute in the course of WW1

    The RFC/RAF also developed the practice of dropping agents by parachute from aircraft in both France and Italy whilst the Australian Captain Lawrence Wackett developed techniques for air dropping supplies by parachute. These were employed on the Western Front during the Allied advance during "the hundred days" in 1918. In the closing days of WW1 two man teams of French assault engineers jumped to carry out sabotage on German communications.

    Sometimes referred to by various sources as Flight Captain E M Maitland but this did not apply until 1914 when he transferred to the RNAS

    [ii] Claxton William J., The Mastery of the Air, Blackie and Son, London 1925, some sources put the jump as taking place from the Delta or the Eta and Maitland certainly appears to have made jumps from all the army airships under his command.

    [iii] C W Spencer, another member of the Spencer balloon dynasty having “acquired” the design papers in 1913

    [iv] Green Lt. B.J. Transcript of unpublished autobiography based on diaries Imperial War Museums Archive Department. Green observed the event from Reninghelst, south of Ypres
  4. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    As per 1944.


    Attached Files:

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  5. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Excellent - thank you, Alex.
  6. JPP

    JPP Junior Member

    Godfrey Yardley who was there and witnessed the ‘Varsity’ supply drop gave me a copy of his memoirs in which he wrote.

    A total of 240 B24s were committed to Mission 26 in order to drop supplies to the 6th British and 17th US airborne divisions, flying in low to avoid scattering the supplies outside the drop zones.

    The time was approximately 13.00 hrs on 24 March 1945, some three hours after the first paratroops and gliders put down in the area of Hamminkeln / Wessel east of the river Rhine.

    I lay in the wreckage of my glider, amongst my comrades, both dead and alive, we had been shot down and crashed into a wood about a mile from the centre of the village of Hamminkeln. The sounds of battle, which had raged since about 10.00 hrs that morning had begun to recede, but in the distance a faint buzz was heard growing by the second into an enormous crescendo of aircraft engine roar, the ground shook into almost earthquake proportion, the trees shook and whipped about, branches and twigs rained down upon us for a few moments frightening the life out of us, it was so sudden and unexpected that on top of our traumatic experience of the previous few hours to say the least - what the hell is going on!’
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  7. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    So the colour coding for different supplies was very likely coordinated between the British and American airborne divisions - which brings me to the next question: British and American units needed different supplies, at least as ammo and weapons were concerned - was this somehow taken into consideration? The whole supply drop appears to be have been a bit scattershot. But maybe it did not matter for food and medical supplies?

    Here are some images from the US National Archives that give an impression:


    Shadow of low flying B 24s over the DZ.
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  8. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Hello JPP,
    thank you for posting this - that is very powerful account!
  9. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    As far as I know there were 2 supply drop locations decided upon. One was for the US and one was for the British. The two areas were decided when the B24’s were on the way already. The locations were decided on which area was in complete control so that the supply’s didn’t go into the wrong hands.
    The British supplied were dropped over DZB ( well just short of it) So perhaps half the supply was US ammo and the the other half British.

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  10. JPP

    JPP Junior Member

    Thank you alberk,

    Godfrey Yardley was one of the few remaining survivors of the ‘Varsity’ gliderborne troops until he died in November 2015. My uncle Lt R S Preston KIA 24 March 1945 had been his platoon commander.

    I visited Godfrey on a number occasions and we regularly spoke on the telephone.

    Bob Preston’s wife was heavily pregnant at time he was KIA. My cousin was grateful of the information about the dad who he never met.
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  11. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    Was he in the Ox and Bucks?
  12. JPP

    JPP Junior Member

    Was he in the Ox and Bucks?

    Yes Alex,
    Godfrey Yardley and Bob Preston were members of 18 Platoon, B Company, 2 OX & BUCKS
  13. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    Were they coup de main group on Varsity?
  14. JPP

    JPP Junior Member

    Yes Alex, they were in glider CN2 at the front the the airstream of 40 gliders, alongside CN1, with the coup de main task of taking the level crossing, the bridge and two houses next to Hamminkeln station and the River Issel. Glider CN1 carried 17 platoon commanded by Lt Jimmy Cochrane MC, my uncle Bob's best mate. Glider CN1 took a direct hit killing all on board; CN2 lost the port wing and crashed into a wood on the East side of the river.
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  15. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    Have you ever visited the area? I’m going over again at the end of the month and happy to send pictures of the objectives if you haven’t already got them.
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  16. JPP

    JPP Junior Member


    I have not visited the area. It is kind of you to offer to send photographs. It would be good to have photographs of the area next to the station where those KIA were initially buried before being reinterred at Reichwald Forest. Also the nearby bridge over the Issel and ajacent houses. I believe the crash site was located at Latitude 51°43'53.39"N Longitude 6°37'22.54"E. If you would like my email address please message me through the WW2 talk site.
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2020
  17. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    On this map from the 6 AB Div Report on Varsity various points are marked as "SDP" - does this by any chance refer to "Supply Dropping Points" for the British division?
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  18. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    It does. B was selected.
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  19. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    It is worth noting that 240 Liberators dropped 600 tons of supplies on March 24th. The German Flak stationed beyond the area that had been occupied by the airborne forces was still active and had by now gathered enough experience to precisely train their guns on the low and slow flying targets - 104 planes were hit, 51 Liberators crashed.

    Some impressions of what happened can be seen in this video:
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  20. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    Hasn’t seen that before which is funny as I know the person that posted that clip on YouTube!
    Any ideas where these crash sites are? It looks like the Autobahn they fly over on the 2nd crash film?

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