March 24 – Operation Varsity Roll of Honour

The Battle Honour RHINE was awarded to The Royal Ulster Rifles for its actions during the Rhine crossing in Operation Plunder in which Operation Varsity was key, between 23 March and 1 April 1945. The distinction has been carried forward and is emblazoned on The Queen’s Colours of the 1st Battalion and the 2nd Battalion of The Royal Irish Regiment.

OPERATION VARSITY – AN INTRODUCTION

The final hurdle of the Rhineland Offensive was the Rhine itself. The crossing near Wesel (Operation Plunder) was one of several coordinated Rhine crossings. A million Allied soldiers participated.

In support of the crossing, 14.000 paratroopers were dropped behind enemy lines (Operation Varsity). The operations were a complete success. Hitler’s days were numbered.

The 1st Btn. Royal Ulster Rifles was part of the 6th Airborne Division.

The 6th Airborne Division was tasked to seize the high ground of the Diersfort Wood, overlooking part of the Rhine to be crossed by the British 21st Army Group. 540 aircraft towing some 1,300 gliders flew into the teeth of German defensive fire, enveloping enemy defences and gun emplacements from above and suffering initial heavy casualties as a consequence.
Within five and a half hours all objectives were taken. Despite tenacious resistance from the German 1st Fallschirmjäger Army the link up with ground forces ferrying the river was achieved. Prisoners at first came in hundreds then thousands.

Following the link-up the 6th Airborne Division took the lead in a 300 mile advance through Germany, marching 11 miles per day until they captured enemy transport. Within weeks they linked up at the Baltic port of Wismar with advancing Russians coming from the east.

OPERATION VARSITY – ROLL OF HONOUR

+AYRES, Richard John
Royal Ulster Rifles.1st (Airborne) Btn. Sergeant, No. 7012633 Born on the Isle of Anglesey, he resided in County Armagh, Received the C-in-C’s Certificate for his actions in Normandy and was i/c the company snipers. Killed in action on 24/03/1945 on Operation Varsity.Reichswald Forest War Cemetery

+BELL, George William
Royal Ulster Rifles, 1st (Airborne) Btn. Rifleman. 7046436. Died 24/03/1945. Aged 23. Served in Normandy and the Ardennes.Son of George William and Mary Jane Bell, Rathfriland Street, Banbridge. Reichswald Forest Cemetery, Germany

+BELL,
7022506 No record CWGC web site

+BOYD, Norman
Royal Ulster Rifles.1st (Airborne) Btn. Rifleman. 7022506. Died 24/03/1945. Aged 21. He joined the Battalion in May 1943. Son of Francis and Margaret Boyd, 29 Upper Charleville Street, Belfast. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Groesbeek Memorial, Holland, panel 8.

+BRUNTON, James Joseph
Royal Ulster Rifles.1st (Airborne) Btn. A Coy. Born in Eire, he resided in Belfast prior to enlisting. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany

+BRYANS, Robert Charles
Royal Ulster Rifles.1st (Airborne) Btn. B Coy. Rifleman. 7012754. Died 24/03/1945. From Barrack Hill, Armagh. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany No record CWGC web site

+DONALD, Thomas
Royal Ulster Rifles.1st (Airborne) Btn. Rifleman. 6983243. Ex-Royal Inniskilling Fusilier. Died 25/03/1945. Aged 22. Son of William and Martha Donald of 12 Utility Street, Belfast. Thomas lived in Britannic Street. He landed on LZ U. Groesbeek Memorial, Holland

+ELKIN, John
Royal Ulster Rifles.1st (Airborne) Btn. Rifleman. 6983243. Died 25/03/1945.Son of Thomas and Sara Jane Elkin, Drumquin, Co. Tyrone. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany. No record CWGC

+HENRY, Hugh
Royal Ulster Rifles.1st (Airborne) Btn. Rifleman. 7013163. Died 24/03/1945. Aged 29. Served in C Company in Normandy and the Ardennes. He landed by glider on LZ U at 1000hrs on 24 March at Hamminkeln during Operation Varsity. Believed killed shortly after landing. Son of Hugh and Mary Henry, Crumlin, County Antrim and husband to Margaret of Paisley, Scotland. He has no known grave. Commemorated on the Groesbeek Memorial, Holland

+HEWITT, Hugh Robert
Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, 2nd Btn. Private. 5382034. Died 24/03/1945. He served in 2nd Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry during World War Two. They made up part of 6th Airborne Division on D-Day, defence of the Ardennes, and the crossing of the Rhine during Operation Varsity. He had been in sickbay and discharged himself to take part in the campaign. Hewitt’s glider crashed on landing killing the Co. Down man. Born in 1917, he was the son of William Hewitt and Mary Hewitt of Kilmood, Co. Down. He married Hilda Ellen Heard of Sheldon, Birmingham, England during the war. The wedding took place between July and September 1943 in Lambeth, Surrey, England. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Kleve, Germany.

+HYDE, WW
Royal Ulster Rifles.1st (Airborne) Btn. Corporal. 7021059. Died 24/03/1945. Aged 23. Son of Jessie Hyde of Belfast. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Kleve, Germany. No record CWGC

+LENIHAN, John
Royal Ulster Rifles.1st (Airborne) Btn. Rifleman. No. 6409951. Died 24/03/1945. Aged 25. Born in Eire, resident in Belfast. Son of Cornelius and Elizabeth Lenihan and husband to Margarete E. Lenihan of Weston-super-Mare, Somerset. Venray War Cemetery

+MOORE, James
Royal Ulster Rifles.1st (Airborne) Btn. Rifleman. 7017079. Died 24/03/1945. Aged 30. Son of John and Annie Moore of Wigton Street, Belfast and husband to Annie. Groesbeek Memorial

+McCULLOUGH, Joseph
Royal Ulster Rifles.1st (Airborne) Btn. Rifleman.14442876. Died 25/03/1945 of wounds. Aged 19. His brother Samuel served with 1st (Airborne) Division and was taken prisoner after Operation Market Garden. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. No record CWGC

+McCUTCHEON, William James
Royal Ulster Rifles.1st (Airborne) Btn. C Coy. WO II. 7012822. Died 24/03/1945. Aged 28. Son of Hugh and Rose AnnMcCutcheon of Harpenden, Hertfordshire and husband to Vera Amy, 18 Wadham St., Belfast. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. No record CWGC

+NOLAN, George
Royal Ulster Rifles.1st (Airborne) Btn. Support Company. Colour Sergeant. 7011654. Died 24/03/1945. Born in County Antrim. He was husband to Elizabeth Jane Nolan of Carmarthen. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery

+SPENCE, David Topping
Royal Ulster Rifles.1st (Airborne) Btn. Rifleman. 7018486. Died 24/03/1945. From Coniston Street, Belfast. His father served in the First World War. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery

+STOTHERS, David
Royal Ulster Rifles.1st (Airborne) Btn. C Coy. Rifleman, No. 7013676. Died 24/03/1945. Aged 25. Eight years’ service. From Heatherbell Street, Belfast, the son of David and Sara Stothers.aged 25. Groesbeek Memorial

+THOMPSON, Samuel,
Royal Ulster Rifles.1st (Airborne) Btn. Rifleman. 14412439. Died 24/03/1945. The son William and Agnes Thompson of Belfast. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery

+WALSH, Philip
Royal Ulster Rifles.1st (Airborne) Btn. Rifleman. 604907. Born in Belfast. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery No record CWGC web site

+WARING, Samuel
Royal Ulster Rifles.1st (Airborne) Btn. Rifleman. 7021324. Died 24/03/1945. Aged 22. The son of Samuel and Elizabeth Waring of Downing Street, Belfast. He was reported as missing in action on the Rhine in the Belfast Telegraph of 17/09/1945. Venray War Cemetery

Acknowledgment – “The Rifles are there” by David Orr and David Truesdale. Published 2005 by Pen and Sword. ISBN 1 84415 3495

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