Shepherds Grove Operation Varsity gliders

Discussion in 'Airborne' started by HighTow, Feb 19, 2015.

  1. VarsityGlider305

    VarsityGlider305 Active Member

    Thanks Cee. A prelimary search on the FreeBMD website shows no siblings or marriage record in the UK for our S/Ldr so no immediate family. Hopefully a wider family member or other interested party has had the good sense to preserve these precious items.

  2. Dmoody

    Dmoody Member

    I've been a long time lurker on here and your insight and information is really interesting and valuable. This thread is of interest to me as I'm looking to find out more information on my great Uncle, Flight Lieutenant Robert Gray. I know he was in D Squadron and believe he flew a Horsa out of Shepherds Grove on Varsity. Until recently reading wot no wings i believed him to have been killed in a crash however Alan Cooper indicates him having been taken prisoner after a crash and later shot. I'd like to find out the chalk number of his glider so i can do more research. Any pointers would be greatly appreciated.
  3. Steve Marande

    Steve Marande Member

    Over the years I have been piecing together my father’s part in Operation Varsity. My father died some 40 years ago and before he died I either had little interest or he was not very forthcoming with details. Now I have retired I have decided to get on with it.

    What I already know.

    My father David Marande was one of the RAF pilots ‘volunteered’ to fly gliders, following his return to the UK having completed his flying training on Course 16 with the Embry-Riddle Aviation School at Clewiston, Florida, BFTS5.

    On November 3 1944, as a Flying Officer, he commenced glider training on Hotspurs, progressing to Horsas on 17th of that month. On November 20 he is first paired up with Sgt Brown. Flying as first pilot with various other co-pilots, throughout the early part of 1945 it appears that he spent more time with Sgt Brown including Exercise Vulture and ultimately Operation Varsity. Following the return to the UK, my father was instructed on snatch pick up and during the rest of April 1944 he continued to fly with Sgt Brown as co-pilot. After that time they appear to have parted company and never flew together again. I assume that Sgt Brown was part of the GPR but have no other details of him.

    Details of the Flying Log Book for Varsity are somewhat sparse, showing that with Sgt Brown as co-pilot he flew a Horse from Shepherds Grove, logging 3 hours 50 minutes air time.

    From correspondence with Steve Wright, author of ‘The Last Drop’ it would appear that as a member of D squadron, my father’s glider was one of 28 Horses, including 15 of the new swing nose Horsa lls which made up Serial B17, Chalk 287-314, headed for Landing Zone P. They carried men, jeeps, trailers, light motorcycles and guns of the 53rd (Worcestershire Yeomanry) Airlanding Light Reg RA and were towed by Halifax bombers of 196 Squadron. This last statement appears to be at odds with Alan Cooper’s ‘Wot, No Engines’ which suggests they were towed by Stirlings. Also Alan Cooper also alludes to the fact that Chalk Nos 409 – 440 also flew out of Shepherds Grove but only allocates 436 – 438 to a specific unit.

    Following Varsity my father wrote to his old Headmaster at Lewes County School, advising of the death of FO E J ‘Blondie’ Knowles on the same operation. FO Knowles was also an old boy of Lewes County School. His letter was reproduced in the Southern Weekly News dated Saturday 28 April 1945. In this letter, which is basically an account of his own experience and is in part reproduced in ‘The Last Drop’ by Steve Wright, my father states that on landing they swung open the nose of their glider and unloaded a jeep, trailer and gun. This would suggest that he was flying Mkll Horsa.

    I have been able to allocate some of the Chalk numbers :

    289 Missing

    291 Rope parted

    292 Rope parted

    293 Piloted by Mansell (KIA)

    295 Piloted by Knowles (KIA) see above

    302 No record but pilot Shore KIA

    309 Returned to base

    I apologise for rambling on but my main purpose in writing is to see if you can fill in any of the blanks.
  4. VarsityGlider305

    VarsityGlider305 Active Member

    Hi Steve and welcome, it's good to hear from another member researching RAF glider pilots and in particular D squadron.
    I've read your father's partial account in Steve Wright's book and it says your father carried members of the 4th Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, rather than the 53rd WY so is it possible he was moved to another squadron just for the operation? Some GPs were transferred between squadrons in early March. If so we could be looking at a different range of chalk numbers. Can you post a scan of his logbook for the period around 24th March 1945 for us to see please? That might offer more clues.
    P.S. If you want more information about the gliders in range 287-314 (and others) have a look at the 53WY war diary. At the beginning of the appendices there's a table showing what happened 53rd (Worcestershire Yeomanry) Airlanding Light Regiment, RA
  5. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    Hi Steve,

    The charts in "The Last Drop" has D Squadron gliders leaving RAF Shepherds Grove in Serials B17 and B21. The same book also claims 12 gliders of D Squadron left from RAF Woodbridge towed by aircraft from 644 and 298 Squadrons in Serial B15 carrying the 4th Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery RA?

    I'll attach a few lists. Unfortunately the only serial with glider pilot names is Serial B21.

    Serial B15.jpg Serial B17.jpg Serial B21.jpg Summary by Squadron.jpg

    Not surprisingly the tug pilot and chalk number of your father's glider is missing. If that was available you would have a better chance to track down who he was carrying. If indeed he did fly out of Shepherds Grove on Serial B17 there is information provided in the war diary of the 53rd (Worcestershire Yeomanry) Airlanding Light Reg RA - Appx about the fate of specific gliders.

    However, to complicate matters, the Wright book has him carrying members and equipment of the 4th Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery. The 4th Battery was part of the 2nd Airlanding Anti-Tank Regiment, RA. See the order of battle on the Pegasus Archive. Is this correct?

    "Flight Lt. David Marande and Sergeant Brown, both RAF glider pilots, were carrying a 4th Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery jeep, trailer, and gun. Marande recounts their experiences in a letter to their former headmaster at Lewes County School."

    Do you know what Flight of D Squadron he belonged to as it might help in finding group photos if any were taken at the time?

    Added - Cross posted with Jenny, so somewhat repetitious.

    Regards ...
  6. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron


    There is evidence to suggest rather than D Squadron out of Woodbridge on Serial B15 it was C Squadron that carried the 4th Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery. In other charts for Op Varsity the 4th is mistakenly named the 5th Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery. Some history regarding the changes can be found on "Go To It Gunners".

    Go To It Gunners - Units

    Appx A to 1 GPR OO Number 6.jpg Appx D to 1 GPR OO Number 6.JPG

    So that is bit of a mind-boggler but important to straighten out.

    Regards ...
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2018
    Tricky Dicky likes this.
  7. horsapassenger

    horsapassenger Senior Member


    I don't know the source of your information but, according to the GRRs in my possession, your attachment (Marked Sheet 8/15) is incorrect. Those GRRs, which appear to correspond fully with the Squadron ORB, indicate that it was 298 Squadron, not 644, that towed chalks 227, 234 and 236. There is also some discrepancies with the Pilot names shown. For example the tug for Chalk 227 was piloted by W/C Law-Wright where you have it shown as S/Ldr Nickel.

    View attachment 217569

    Attached Files:

  8. Steve Marande

    Steve Marande Member

    Thanks for all your replies and I will try and answer everything in one go
    Unfortunately I do not possess a scanner so I will have to try and 'beg, borrow or steal' one.
    Following completion of No9 RAF Glider Pilot Course, ( have a group photograph of A Flight although no names are attached) he moved in January 1945 and commenced flying gliders as first pilot. The Flying Summary gives the Unit as RAF Shepherd's Grove and whilst the confirming signature is a bit unclear it looks like Rstp Rallins P/O for OC 1 Fligth (his spelling not mine). The summary for March also shows the unit as RAF Shepherd's Grove but has no confirming signature (presumably as it is only a few days after Varsity. On the 6 April 1945 he moved to Snatch Glider Lifting at RAF Ibsley. Neither of summaries give a Squadron. However, in the rear of the Log Book under Record of Service it does quote:
    RAF Weathersfield D Glider Squadron 27.12.44 - 23.1.45
    RAF Shepherds Grove Ditto 24.1.45 - 24.3.45
    RAF Fairford (No Unit) 30.3.45 - 5.4.45
    I have requested details of service whilst in gliders from Middle Wallop, so when this arrives it may shed some more light on the matter

    With regard to the load and crew, Steve Wright drew the conclusions.
    The only definite information I have is:
    Co-pilot Sgt Brown.- I have got no initial or and other information. I was always given to understand that the crews were mixed RAF and GPR as the 'boys in blue' had virtually no infantry training and would need someone to hold their hand. Steve Wright states that they were both RAF but where he got this information from I don't know.
    The load - The only reference I have is the last part of the letter to his ex-headmaster which states that after landing they swung the nose open and unloaded a Jeep, Trailer and Gun. This would indicate a Mk2 Horsa but whether the gun was a 6pdr A/T gun, 75mm pack howitzer or something else I don't Know. Again Steve Wright has drawn the conclusion, presumably from his own researches
    I suppose that I was fairly naive thinking this would be easy.
    Thanks again to everyone who responded
  9. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron


    Thanks for the notice of errors on the B15 serial. The handwritten pages listing CNs and tug pilots comes from an old Archive Britain Campaign CD sent by a member. There is no name given of the person who compiled it. Hopefully it doesn't contain too many more errors which would make it a less than reliable source of information.


    From your information it does appear your Father was with D Squadron. I'm not sure how complete the following is from the Rhine Crossing Orbat on the Pegasus Archive:

    D Squadron
    Commander : Squadron Leader Huntley
    No.8 Flight : Captain Kenneth Fairley Strathern
    No.13 Flight : Captain Hick
    No.21 Flight : Captain B. Murdoch

    I noticed on the Serial B21 page both Capt. Hicks and Capt. Murdoch are named. Whereas Capt. Strathern, leader of No.8 Flight, does not appear in that serial. In a report (HQ GPR) by D Squadron Leader G.L. Huntley we learn that Capt. Strathern (Strathearn) was killed in action and his position taken over by Lieut. Percival.

    If you haven't already try contacting the Glider Pilot Regiment Society. One of their goals:

    "To assist family members of Glider Pilots understand what the role and activities of their relatives and the GPR through research and sharing of information."

    Glider Pilot Regiment Society

    Regards ...
  10. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron


    Quite a lot of good info in the WD for D Squadron which confirms that No. 8 Flight made up Serial B17 and both No. 13 and No. 28 Flight were part of Serial B21. The number of gliders seem to line up nicely between the WD and handwritten pages for those two serials.

    "24th March 1945
    Place: Shepherd's Grove

    0658 - Take-off for Operation "Varsity". 28 crews under Capt. Strathern to LZ "P". 17 Crews and Squadron H.Q. under S/Ldr. Huntley and Capt. Hick to LZ "B". 15 Crews under Capt. Murdoch MBE to LZ "A"."

    Since your Father and his co-pilot don't appear with the named in Serial B21 he may have belonged to No. 8 Flight. Of course much depends on how accurate the information is?

    Regards ....
  11. VarsityGlider305

    VarsityGlider305 Active Member

  12. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    I just realized there is a possibility that Flights 13 and 21 may have lent a few crews to Serial B17 in order to take all the gliders of 53 Lt Reg RA in one go. All which leaves us where Steve started out to begin with ... o_O

    Regards ...
  13. Steve Marande

    Steve Marande Member

    "Flight Lt. David Marande and Sergeant Brown, both RAF glider pilots, were carrying a 4th Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery jeep, trailer, and gun. Marande recounts their experiences in a letter to their former headmaster at Lewes County School."
    Must admit I missed this when reading the book. It is a bit strange as Steve Wright in personal correspondence stated that my father flew with Serial B17 carrying 53rd (WY) Airlanding Light Regiment RA. although he did state that they were tugged by Halifaxes of 196Sqdn, not Stirlings
    Also as my father spoke to EJ Knowles (who flew CN295) on the evening before Varsity, and I assume they were all confined to camp, I am happy that he did fly in B17.
  14. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron


    Do you figure your father landed his Horsa on LZ 'P"? There are a lot of clues in his account.

    Regards ...
  15. arnhem2280

    arnhem2280 Member

    If it helps at all in filling in blanks in the information on 'D' Sqdn
    Lt Irvine Abbott with his second pilot Sgt Busford flew glider chalk number 429 and was towed by Flt Sgt Bird of 299 Sqdn. His load consisted of members of 5 Para Bde and he landed at LZ B. Lt Abbott was captured and held in Stalag X1B between 31/3/45 and 9/4/45 and then moved to Oflag Xc until he was liberated on 2/5/45.
    His date of capture is shown as 24/3/45 at Wesel.


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  16. VarsityGlider305

    VarsityGlider305 Active Member

    Hi Steve,
    Until you get your hands on a scanner are you able to transcribe the logbook entries under "Aircraft Type and No" for us please? That might hold a clue.
    It now seems clear that your father was at Shepherds Grove and in serial B17. We can narrow down the CN further as, according to 53rd (Worcestershire Yeomanry) Airlanding Light Regiment, RA, 75mm guns were carried in CN294 to CN303.
    From this we can eliminate
    CN295 - Knowles
    CN302 - Gray see The Rhine Crossing
    25th March 1945
    Place: Shepherd's Grove
    0900 - Advance Party sent to new Station at Fairford.
    0930 - Chalk No.302 F/Lt. Gray safely landed on LZ with Tug.

    The only other gun carried in this serial was the 25 pounder in CN305 which was my father's glider.
  17. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    I don't have many photos of D Squadron. Here are a few picked up from a site I can't locate now. A Lt. Abbott can be seen in the rifle team photo, date unknown. Quite like the photo Of Capt. Murdoch leading the Flight at Shepherds Grove.

    D Squadron  Rifle Team.jpg D Squadron Rugby.jpg Capt Murdoch & Flight Shepherds Grove..jpg

    Regards ...
    VarsityGlider305 likes this.
  18. VarsityGlider305

    VarsityGlider305 Active Member

    Hi Steve,
    Have you come across this website on your travels? Welcome to 5BFTS. Lots of information about where your father trained and in particular you will find his photo here Course 16 B Flight
    Cee likes this.
  19. Steve Marande

    Steve Marande Member

    Jenny - Thanks for the link, as you say lots of info. With regard to his time in Florida, I have a copy of BFTS First Anniversary publication July 1941-July 1942, a copy of Listening Out Course 16 (a sort of news sheet),various photographs and also a diary my father kept.

    I expect many people have undertaken this exercise, but have tried to correlate the War Diary of 53 WY with Serial B17 but have come up with a couple of problems.
    CNs 307 and 308 are duplicated, but with different RA crews, whilst 304 and 306 are missing. If you add up the number of Mk2 Horsas it come to 19 not 15, however, 307,308,309 and 310 all unloaded from the tail, indicating Mk1s. If we take these out that reduces the number of Mk2 to the 15 stated in all the records.
    CNs 294-303 carried the Jeep trailer and 75mm. From this I can deduct 295 (flown by Knowles), 302 (flown by Gray) 299 and 300 (crew missing or POW) Of the remaining only two 294 and 303 actually landed on the LZ. Whilst I have no definitive proof of this, the tone of my fathers account would indicate that he was convinced that he had made it to the right LZ and the absence of any further adventures suggest that he was able to join up quickly and was in fact in the right place. I have a couple of photographs of Horsas landing at LZ P, although with the poor visibility you cannot make out any CNs, which would again indicate that he was in the right place. So I'm now down to two possiblities ( I hope)

    Log book - This is of little help as it specifies the aircraft type as Horsa Glider, and no entry specifies a serial number ( on any of his glider flights)
  20. VarsityGlider305

    VarsityGlider305 Active Member

    Hi Steve,
    Some good sleuthing there! I think you could add CN301 to your list of possibilities. Although the description says "
    Landed 600 NE of L.Z." implying the target was missed, the map reference given MR 181487 falls within LZ-P. Perhaps someone could upload the plot of landings again (sorry I can't remember which thread it was in) so you can make your own mind up.

    A while ago this photo The Battle of Arnhem Archive was posted on the Pegasus Archive website. You might be able to spot your father in it. I am led to believe it was taken a few days before Varsity at Shepherds Grove, although I have so far failed to pick out my own father! Good luck.

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