Operation Varsity 24.03.45. - Earls Colne Airfield - Discovery of WW2 Letters

Discussion in 'Searching for Someone & Military Genealogy' started by Lindsay Aspin, Apr 7, 2010.

  1. Lindsay Aspin

    Lindsay Aspin Senior Member

    My name is Lindsay Aspin and I am the daughter of a Glider Pilot (Captain John Frederick Hubble) who was a member of B Squadron, 1 Wing Glider Pilot Regiment, based at Earls Colne Airfield, who took part in Operation Varsity 24.03.45., the largest single Airborne Operation in History, the Rhine Crossings.
    My father is first on the left in the photograph used for my Avatar: Lt. J.F. Hubble - at his side from left to right : S/Sgt. B.L. Morgan - S/Sgt. J.L. Crone - Sgt. R. Biagott.

    Dad died way back in 1964 ... mother died in late 2005. Following her death the family found WW2 letters that had been written by my father "before", "during" and "after" Operation Varsity. These letters describe events and circumstances at Earls Colne that my father was involved in, way back in March 1945.

    With the help from "too many to mention"! together with visits to the National Archives etc., I've been able to piece together most aspects contained in Dad's letters. There is, however, a "conjecture" issue surrounding the first serial lift at Earls Colne by RAF 296 Squadron x 30 Halifax Tug Planes x 30 Horsa Gliders.

    I wonder please whether anyone can help:-

    24.03.45. - Earls Colne Airfield - Operation Varsity
    RAF 296 Squadron x 30 Halifax Tug Planes x 30 Horsa Gliders
    This lift was followed by RAF 297 Squadron x 30 x 30 combination

    First up in the serial lift that left Earls Colne was:-
    RAF 296 Squadron Leader, Wing Commander, T. C. Musgrave
    Second-up, who rolled 1 1/2 minutes behind Musgrave was:-
    RAF 296 Flt.Lt. M. Jackson

    The RAF 296 Operational Record Book at the NA confirms the above, together with the fact that both Musgrave and Jackson took part in "Token Varsity" 17.03.45., one week before Op. Varsity.

    From the following extract taken from a letter that my father wrote before the "Camp Sealing" at Earls Colne, it would appear that Dad was piloting the Horsa Glider behind Musgrave:-

    "The Hut - Wednesday"
    The Camp is now sealed as from mid-day today: this Camp Sealing is naturally a very important thing, and frankly without getting myself a Court Martial, there is no way round it. Just before lunch Major Toler had me in the Squadron briefing room and I was shown the final LZ and when we go. Squadron briefing was this afternoon. I'm No.1 in our lift Darling, and hells bells, but I've now lost my Tug Pilot. It's a shame but it seems I've an even more important job: I'm now flying behind Wing Co. Musgrave, the Squadron Commander - 'Musty', my Tug Pilot for the do. However, as this thing is unavoidable we are not grumbling and 'Jacko' and I have decided to do the next one together instead - haw bloody haw."

    I believe "Jacko" was Flt.Lt. M. Jackson (perhaps they had been a pair-in-training), but for some reason Dad was switched on the Wednesday before Operation Varsity, to go behind Musgrave. NA records confirm Jackson was second-up in the serial lift, together with a further extract from the letter that was written 'to leave behind':-

    "Now, I have fixed it with 'Jacko', who is flying the Tug after me in the stream and he has promised that as soon as the 'Seal' is broken here, he will try and 'phone you to let you know how I went down. As soon as things settle down I shall be rootin' back over that dammed Rhine - don't hurry me 'though - it's just foolishness for you to expect me around for at least 7 or 8 days."

    "Conjecture" ... is that in the Glider piloted by my father (Chalk No.153) towed by Musgrave was Brigadier R. Hugh Bellamy, HQ 6 Airlanding Brigade.
    To date NO Glider Raid Reports covering the serial lift by RAF 296 Squadron have been found to substantiate this conjecture. However, from the 6 Airlanding Brigade War Diary it clearly states that Brigadier R. Hugh Bellamy and his Defence Platoon left from Earls Colne Airfield and that "his Glider" came down near the Kopenhof Farmhouse close to where Major General Bols established his Divisional HQ.

    From various sources including the hand-written briefing notes made by Major Ian Toler (Officer Commanding, B Squadron, 1 Wing GPR) I know that my father was Flt.Com. of Flight No.3 and that Ken Ashurst, RAF Glider Pilot, was Flt.Com of Flight 19. Both 3 and 19 flights were destined for LZR and were under the command of Captain H.M.R. Norton (Rex Norton - KIA - first day of Varsity). Records held at the NA together with a further extract from a letter written by my father on the "battle-field" confirms this loss:-

    "Been a party as you can guess, but thank God, we managed to keep everything under control - my chaps made such a grand show. This is our first day this (proper) side of the river and reaction is a funny thing - just realising now the empty beds we have - sorry to say that poor old Rex Norton is not coming back again - God, - it's a hellish business - he was hoping to get married after this show."

    I have further information from Dad's letters that tie-up with recorded information: one in particular written at Keevil after Varsity mentions "hitching a lift" with "Musty" to be dropped down at Hawkinge to see my mother! The entry in Musgrave's Log Book covering March 1945 confirms this!

    It is now 47 years since my father died and Operation 'Varsity' took place 66 years ago: nevertheless, some small pieces of the jigsaw puzzle do seem to fit the 'scenario'!

    Any help in finding the following would be so greatly appreciated:-

    The elusive !! ...
    RAF 296 Glider Raid Reports - Earls Colne - Op. Varsity

    Information : HQ 6 Airlanding Brigade (Brigadier R. Hugh Bellamy) ?
    Information : RAF 296 Squadron ?

    Thank you.
    Lindsay Aspin
  2. PsyWar.Org

    PsyWar.Org Archive monkey

    Any help in finding the following would be so greatly appreciated:-
    The elusive !! ...
    RAF 296 Glider Raid Reports - Earls Colne - Op. Varsity


    Thank you.
    Lindsay Aspin

    Lindsay, Take a look here:
    Detecting your browser settings

    AIR 37/327 No 38 GROUP (38 WING): Operation 'Varsity': glider raid reports

  3. PsyWar.Org

    PsyWar.Org Archive monkey

    Have you also tried the 296 Squadron Operations Record Books yet?

    AIR 27/1645, No 296 Squadron: Operations Record Book. Item open from 1972, 1942 Jan.- 1946 Jan.

    AIR 27/1646, No 296 Squadron: Operations Record Book: Appendices, 1942 Jan.- 1944 Dec.

    AIR 27/1647, No 296 Squadron: Operations Record Book: Appendices. Loose, 1944 June - 1945 May

    Possibly the appendices might contain useful extra information?
  4. PsyWar.Org

    PsyWar.Org Archive monkey

    Some more files worth looking at:

    AIR 37/56, No. 38 GROUP (38 WING): Operation "Varsity": report 1945
    AIR 37/57, No. 38 GROUP (38 WING): Operation "Varsity": operation orders 1945
    AIR 37/267, No. 38 GROUP (38 WING): Operation "Varsity" 1945
    AIR 37/268, No. 38 GROUP (38 WING): Operation "Varsity" 1945
    AIR 37/304, No. 38 GROUP (38 WING): Operation `Varsity': report 1945 - 1947
    AIR 37/543, No 38 GROUP (38 WING): Report on Operation 'Varsity' 1945

    Found one of interest to me!
    AIR 37/303, No. 38 GROUP (38 WING): Leaflet operations: policy 1942 - 1944
  5. Lindsay Aspin

    Lindsay Aspin Senior Member

    With grateful and sincere thanks to you Lee for all your input. I'll do a cross-reference check against my NA reading list.

    Pleased to see you've found a file of interest to yourself! I was at the NA last year with Steve Wright (author: The Last Drop : Operation Varsity) and member WW2 Talk: Steve stumbled across information concerning a family member he has been researching for over 10 years!

    My turn of good-luck may still yet be round the corner! I can see yet another visit to the NA on the cards soon!

    Best wishes,
  6. Lindsay Aspin

    Lindsay Aspin Senior Member

    66th Anniversary - Opration Varsity 24.03.45.

    Still haven't found those elusive RAF 296 Glider Raid Reports ! ...

    However, 66 yrs. down the line I can now confirm that my Dad (Captain J. F. Hubble) did take part in Operation Varsity, the largest single Airborne Operation in History, The Rhine Crossings, 24.03.45., and was first up in the serial-lift that left from Earls Colne Airfield with B Squadron, 1 Wing Glider Pilot Regiment. The thumbnails shown below do seem to marry-up with the "extracts" taken from Dad's letters written way back in 1945.

    The HQ 6 Airlanding Brigade War Diary covering March 1945 also confirms that Brigadier R. Hugh Bellamy was 1st up in the serial lift from Earls Colne.

    If only I could find those 296 Glider Raid Reports that would confirm "conjecture" ....

    Copy documents from the NA :-

    RAF 296 Squadron serial lift - Sq. Ldr. T.C. Musgrave (Musty)
    and Flt.Lt. M.Jackson (Jacko)
    RAF 296 Operational Record Book re. "Token Varsity" 17.03.45. and Operation Varsity 24.03.45.
    Major Ian Toler's handwritten briefing notes - Flight 3 x 15 gliders -
    Flt.Cmdr. J.F. Hubble
    Earls Colne Telegram to 38 Group 24.03.45. (Looks like Dad's Chalk No. was 153)
    RAF 296 Sq.Ldr. T.C. Musgrave's Log Book - Dad did hitch a lift from Keevil!
    Field Return of Officers Keevil April '45 - Flt.Cmdr. J.F. Hubble

    :poppy: In loving memory of my dear Dad :poppy:
    Captain J.F. Hubble - B Squadron, 1 Wing GPR


    Attached Files:

  7. David Tennick

    David Tennick Member

    This is Robert Armstrong 1826642,Sgt ( Flt Engineer ) 296 Sqdn., Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
    My wife's great uncle.

    Attached Files:

  8. David Tennick

    David Tennick Member

    I also have his flight log but its saying its to large to upload.
  9. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    This photo has been captioned as Brigadier Bellamy’s glider landing. The follow on picture shows the occupants gathering to the side of the glider. This is a Robert Cappa photo I think? In the letters does your dad mention anything about where he spent the night on the 24th? I’m going to Hamminkeln next week so if there’s anything mentioned in his letters I’ll get a picture for you.


    Attached Files:

  10. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    I noticed in the GPR report on Op Varsity that CN 154 was remarschalled and took off from tail end of serial. A tidbit that may be of interest to Lindsay?

    GPR Op Varsity Report .jpg

    Hi David Tennick,
    Do you have anything more on the circumstances of Sgt. Robert Armstrong's death?

    Hi Alex,
    Here's the photo of CN 155 carrying Brigadier Bellamy as captured by Robert Capa landing on LZ P. The glider was marked 155 fore and aft on both sides of the fuselage as can be seen in my spliced photo (from footage) of men standing next to CN 155 after landing. It could possibly be Brigadier Bellamy amongst them?

    Glider155 - Robert Capa.png Horsa 155 Germany.jpg

    Your photo is a still from footage of a glider coming into land on LZ P which can be seen in many videos of Op Varsity.

    Regards ...
  11. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    Hi Chuck.
    Yes I knew it was from a video capture but been out all day and didn’t have time to search for it. Thanks for saving me the time! Was it ever proved / confirmed it was Bellamy in the pic? Do the chalk numbers match for this original post and the CN of Bellamy’s glider?
  12. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    The chap on the right with the beret ( clearly a higher rank than Lt Col with cloth badge) looks more like Brigadier Faithful ( royal artillery ). Not sure he flew though?
  13. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron


    Confirmation that CN 155 carried Brigadier Bellamy comes from a photo for sale by the daughter (?) of Captain J.D. Carroll who was a passenger on the Horsa. On the back there were handwritten details by Captain Carroll (12 Devons) that Brigadier Bellamy was on board. The photo above and reverso I believe come from reddevon's collection.

    Glider155 - Robert Capa-2.png

    I thought the man in centre of group might be Bellamy? The chap to the right could be Captain Carroll or possibly one of the Glider Pilots? Brigadier Faithfull is listed under 6th Airborne Division HQ on the Varsity orbat so he would more likely have been on a Divisional HQ glider.

    Regards ...
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2018
  14. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    Hard to tell. Did they split up the top brass so they wouldn’t all be in the same glider? If so then Faithful could possibly be in CN 155 with Bellamy?
  15. Hi David. Here's some further information which you may or may not already have. Armstrong was part of the crew of F/Lt Harold Stanley Priest in Halifax NA131 which took off from Earls Colne on 24th March 1945 at 07:18:30, towing a Horsa glider of 175 Field Ambulance. The aircraft was seen to crash in flames after releasing its glider. Only two of the crew survived, the navigator W/O Allen and wireless operator W/O Rogers, who were able to bale out. In the ORB for 296 squadron (AIR 27/1645) the aircraft recorded as "missing". See Squadron Number: 296 Summary of Events: Y | The National Archives image 326. I believe it was towing glider CN176.

    Hope this helps.

  16. David Tennick

    David Tennick Member

    thanks for the reply's folks we have a few letters which state once the glider had been released they took heavy flak and were going down . It then states that Robert was thrown clear of the aircraft but was too low to deploy his parachute
  17. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron


    I'm not sure if the following is already well known. The Handley Page Halifax Forum has a post with 3 links to what is alleged to be photos taken at Earls Colne before take off on Operation Varsity. There is some repetition with zoom-ins. Unfortunately the numbers/letters on the gliders and aircraft are not very clear.

    Halifax Glider Tugs in Operation Varsity

    Here's one from the series captured by ssibson1:


    Regards ...
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2018
  18. David Tennick

    David Tennick Member

    Thanks Jenny I have downloaded the Operations record book for 296 sqdn from the national Archives.
  19. Correction: I meant to type 195 Field Ambulance but my finger slipped and I hit the 7 by mistake. Apologies.
  20. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron


    I found a slightly better video (APY 140) of the men beside CN 155. The chap to the right appears to have wings on his left breast so very likely a glider pilot. The other pilot can be seen in another clip smoking a pipe, with loose trouser cuffs. The glider pilots for CN 155 were Lt-Col. Iain A. Murray, DSO and Capt. J.B. Bottomley.

    Port Side CN 155-1.jpg Port Side CN 155-2.jpg Starboard Side CN 155-1.jpg Starboard Side CN 155-2.jpg

    I could only find a small photo of Lt-Col. Murray during the war. Of the two men he is probably the one standing to the right of Brigadier Bellamy on the port side.

    Lt-Col Murray.jpg

    Regards ...

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