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Operation Varsity

World War II

March 24, 1945
Operation Varsity

Near the end of 1944, the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) developed glider-borne teams; calling them Combat Control Teams. Unlike earlier U.S. Army Pathfinders, the new Combat Control Teams were provisioned with visual markers; ground-to-air and point-to-point radios; and electronic navigational aids (NAVAIDS), e.g., the Eureka radar homing beacon. Additionally, the newly commissioned Air Force teams were charged with the responsibility of airhead air traffic control (AATC).

AATC required these new combat teams to coordinate terminal guidance for aircraft arriving at an assault zone and air traffic control of aircraft transiting the airhead.


In later years, AATC added new responsibilities for coordinating the high-altitude firing – by allied artillery batteries and issuing intelligence advisories about enemy positions in the vicinity of the airhead. The USAAF Combat Control Teams’ first test would come during Operation Varsity on March 24, 1945.

On that day, eight Air Force teams were infiltrated across the Rhine, ahead of XVIII Airborne Corps’ forces in the first airborne assault on Nazi Germany. USAAF aircraft subsequently delivered airborne and glider-borne troops near the town of Wesel, in western Germany.

Operation Varsity delivered more than 16,000 paratroopers, employed several thousand aircraft and was the largest single airborne operation in history to be conducted on a single day and in one location. “The Combat Control Teams, after undergoing some operational streamlining, would find their most effective and extensive application in the later stages of the war as Airfield Control Teams (ACT). The ACTs coordinated the use of the crowded skies and airfields in Germany that were taken over by IX Troop Carrier Command for re-supplying the rapidly advancing allied armored columns.

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