Varsity
An E-history by Thomas Hashway, 513 PIR

By March 1945, the Rhine was the final barrier separating the Allies from the heart of Germany. Plans were underway to cross this barrier and capture the Ruhr, Germany's industrial heartland. With the capture of the Ruhr, Germany's war machine would eventually collapse. The area chosen by the Allies to make the amphibious crossing was between the German cities of Emmerich and Wesel. The 17th Airborne Division and 6th British Airborne Division assisted the crossing by seizing several important objectives in a massive a daylight airborne assault.  The Operation was titled Varsity.  Tom Hashway's email brings us back to that day. (pko) 

 


The day before the jump, I recall studying maps and sandbox images of our drop zone. Some of the boys were shaving their hair and giving each other Mohawk hair cuts using scissors and safety razors; painting their faces using charcoal. We were fed steak dinners that evening and I had a case of goose bumps. The next day, we boarded the planes in combat gear and parachutes. I was third man in the right hand stick (planes had two exit doors). I started to sweat this out and remember thinking, "Is this the end for me?"  Our plane took off towing two gliders, each
filled with glider troops and gear.

As we approached the Rhine River, the flak was thick enough to walk on. "Stand up", "hook up", "check your gear": I must have done that three times. You could hear some praying aloud. "Stand in the door," the jumpmaster yelled. This is it; "Red Light go!" We shoved each other out the door because everybody feared being hit by flak and going down in flames. I had a quick descent with a low branch landing. While releasing the harness, I looked up around and saw flaming planes and crashing gliders, wondering if those troops got out alive. Gunfire brought me back to reality. I crawled towards a few troopers, saw Col. Coutts, and joined him in the
move to the assembly area. We had missed the drop zone by a few miles; firefights and skirmishes continued through the day. Some troopers were killed during descent, others in tree landings, some on rooftops, and a few with chutes wrapped around high wires. As we advanced, the Krauts reluctantly gave ground. Axis Sally had been announcing over the radio for a few days prior to the actual operation, "We know you are coming 17th Airborne Division, you will not need parachutes, you can walk down
on the flak." On reaching the assembly area, we consolidated our forces and moved towards our objectives.

The next day, British armor came across and we climbed atop the tanks and moved forward towards Munster.  As we moved toward Munster, the enemy was entrenched and we had to dig them out.  Initially we took no prisoners, but later they surrendered in large groups. Since we were attached to Gen. Montgomery's northern army, we headed towards Munster aboard their tanks. We took one town after another; clearing out houses and pockets of resistance. Col. Coutts was hit in the shoulder by a mortar fragment, was tended to by medics, and later evacuated. I recall a city named Dulman, which was on the road to Munster, where we met some resistance.


We had acquired the 57mm recoilless shoulder weapons, replacing the Bazookas. This new weapon had much more firepower and accuracy. Roadblocks and opposition were no match for these new weapons combined with the British Tanks. We reached Munster in the dark of night.

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Mrs. Hashway standing proudly over her son's war trophy captured in Munster.


We learned about some of Hermann Goring's pilots being billeted there. We waited until their morning roll call and captured all of them. I sent a couple of troopers to the roof of the barracks and brought down the Swastika flag and then raised the American Flag. I sent the Swastika home to my parents as a souvenir. A few weeks later, I received a photo of my Mom standing on the Swastika at a corner near our home for all of her neighbors to see. She was so proud. We stayed in Munster a few days and then were re-assigned to the Ruhr area to close that pocket of resistance.

Email Interview by Pat O'Donnell and edited by David Prim.
Copyright 1999 Patrick O'Donnell