Glider Pilot Regiment Operation Varsity

Discussion in 'Airborne' started by Dave McIntyre, Jun 10, 2019.

  1. Dave McIntyre

    Dave McIntyre Pegasusred

    Hi Chaps,

    Wondering if anyone could help to clarify a question or two regarding the Glider Pilot Regiment during Operation Varsity on this very wet and windy night.
    I'm aware of the large-scale programme to bolster the ranks of the GPR after their losses from D-day and Arnhem in particular, from the extensive and under-utilised pool of trained RAF pilots, prior to Operation Varsity, and their successful integration into the regiment.
    However, having recently read ' I Just Wanted to Fly' by Bernard Osborn & David Pasley it appears that Osborn and other experienced glider pilots of the GPR were at the time of the Rhine Crossing undertaking further training and he was rather miffed at not being involved and was rather of the opinion that they were "being kept out of the way".
    My question is, was this just a coincidence that a small group of experienced men were not available for Varsity - Osborn does not indicate how many were on the course - or were there others held back? I have not seen mention of this elsewhere, always having assumed that every available experienced pilot would have been thrown into the fray.
    However, in retrospect it does seem prudent that perhaps a cadre of experienced pilots may have been held back to provide a means of training up another large intake of RAF replacements should casualties have been excessive during Operation Varsity as they were at Arnhem. Varsity was by no means the last planned or proposed use of glider troops in the European theatre and there was of course a possible further need of the GPR in the fight against the Japanese.
    Can anyone throw some further light on this matter - I am assuming that the GPR War Diary will show operational strength at the time but does it break this down into pilot numbers at the time of Operation Varsity and if so does it further indicate how many were RAF attachments or original regulars?
    Everyone's opinion welcome.

    Cheers

    Dave
     
  2. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    Hi Dave,

    Here are a couple of statistical tables from the GPR Op Varsity report on the numbers and fate of Army and RAF glider pilots used. Sorry I can't help with the bigger question of whether there was policy in place to hold back more experienced pilots from participation.

    00000270.jpg 00000271.jpg

    Regards ...
     
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  3. Dave McIntyre

    Dave McIntyre Pegasusred

    Hi Cee,
    Thanks for taking the trouble to load up those stats - very interesting reading - as I haven't come across them before at TNA. Can you recall the source of the records? - I am assuming that it was compiled quite soon after the event as large numbers are still reported as missing. Didn't appreciate quite how many RAF pilots were used on Varsity until I saw this table so very illuminating - every little bit helps to build the bigger picture, so much appreciated.
    Regards
    Dave
     
  4. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    Dave,

    It's from "The Report on Operation Varsity" by the GPR dated 19/5/45 which comes from an Archive Britain Campaign (ABC) CD sent to me by member Alex.

    00000220.jpg

    While rummaging through some folders I came across this photo of S/Sgt. Jim Wallwork DFM with a group of RAF glider pilots.

    Jim Wallwork & RAF Glider Pilots.jpg

    Wallwork flew gliders into Siciliy, Normandy(Deadstick), Arnhem and Germany. On Op Varsity he piloted a Hamilcar carrying a 17 pounder. So a very experienced and capable glider pilot whose talents were put to good use on the Rhine Crossing. I'm not sure of the photo source so I hope they don't mind me posting.

    Regards ...
     
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  5. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

    Dave, Cee,

    A very, very short extract from "A Story of Arnhem by 3861924 S/Sgt W Holcroft, The Glider Pilot Regiment". The second paragraph of three written by Laurie Weeden puts into words which you have both rightly touched on in this thread.

    Straight talking as you'd expect.

    Best wishes,

    Jim.
     

    Attached Files:

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  6. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

  7. Dave McIntyre

    Dave McIntyre Pegasusred

    Hi Cee,
    That's a new one on me - having photographed hundreds of pages at The National Archives it good to be surprised by a new set of images & information from a different source. It has always amused me that Jim Wallwork was the most off-target glider pilot on the Sicily invasion - I seem to recall about 57 miles from his LZ - not being his fault of course and then next time he was in action performing one of the most amazing pin-point landings of the war at the coup-de-main D-day operation and all in the dark - one extreme to the other!!
    Cheers
    Dave
     
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  8. Dave McIntyre

    Dave McIntyre Pegasusred

    Hi Jim,
    Thanks for the heads up on the booklet - I do have it in my vast library of airborne books but I didn't think to refer to it regarding the subsequent Operation Varsity. Will check out the website as well as I haven't come across that one before. Looks interesting.
    Regards
    Dave
     
  9. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    Dave,

    I'm not sure if this helps much but since you don't have the report I'll post a few pages with general comments on the integration of RAF glider pilots into the GPR. It was decided that the Regiment should be split roughly 50/50 percent Army and RAF. From the charts above out of a total of 880 gliders pilots used on Varsity 399 were Army and 481 were RAF - an approximate percentage split of 45/55 (excluding the 10 Army administrators)

    In the second paragraph we are told after Arnhem the GPR had 48 Officers and 666 other Ranks left. How many of those were administration I'm not sure. But it does seem there were quite a few Army glider pilots not used on the Operation?

    00000272.jpg 00000273.jpg 00000274.jpg

    Regards ...
     
  10. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the mention! ))))
     
  11. Dave McIntyre

    Dave McIntyre Pegasusred

    Wow, thanks guys that really puts a whole new perspective, for me, on the training and use of glider pilots for Varsity. Not only did the RAF replacements undergo rapid glider and infantry training before their first experience of battle they were actually the majority of those utilised which is pretty scary considering what their payloads were. I know that in most cases the RAF men were teamed up with an experienced GPR man but I have read of some gliders going in with 1st and 2nd pilots as both RAF newbies. I appreciate that every man had to have a first mission but considering what a disaster Sicily proved to be for the Glider pilots - through no fault of their own - it is entirely to the credit of the RAF guys that the glider landings were so successful during Varsity.

    I shall definitely trawl through the GPR War Diaries between Sep 44 - Mar 45 next time I am at Kew to explore the strength of the regiment but it is obvious now that a large cadre of experienced GPR men were held back from the operation and the intention was to create a rapid and large influx of battle-hardened replacements from the ranks of the RAF men. I am also assuming (perhaps wrongly?) that between Arnhem and Varsity there was also a continuation of training army replacements for the GPR and that it was realised early in 1945 that the numbers were not adequate for imminent large scale operations.

    Not to bore anyone but working out some casualty figures for 24th March, 1945 I've come up with the following rates of attrition amongst the 97 glider pilots that lost their lives that day (not including Pte Andrew Robertson who was Army Catering Corps attached to F Squadron). Also, not including A/Sgt John Stevens GPR killed in action 26/03/45 and Flying Officer Stephane Mansell RAFVR beaten to death by Hitler Youth whilst attempting to escape from a POW column 29/03/45.

    RAF Glider Pilots killed in action 59 = 60.8% of total
    GPR Glider Pilots killed in action 38 = 39.2% of total

    percentage of RAF Glider pilots killed against number in action = 12.26%
    percentage of GPR Glider pilots killed against number in action = 9.50%

    Pretty sobering figures and of course not even including wounded men.

    Dave
     
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  12. horsapassenger

    horsapassenger Senior Member

    There’s a book about RAF Glider Pilots and Op Varsity called “Wot! No Engines” that was published in 2002
     

    Attached Files:

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  13. Dave McIntyre

    Dave McIntyre Pegasusred

    Thanks for the recommendation but do already have a copy - very good read. Great title! Just re-reading On Wings of Healing by Lt.Col. Howard N.Cole which has an interesting chapter on the airborne medical service contribution during Operation Varsity and states that gliderborne casualties were twice that of parachute troops and that the effective fighting strength of the 6th Airborne Division was reduced by a third (killed, wounded & missing) within 48 hours but all objectives were taken as planned.
     

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