World Battlefronts: BATTLE OF GERMANY (West): History in the Air

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Rough-&-ready Lieut. General Lewis Hyde Brereton had fidgeted for weeks waiting for the moment to arrive. Seventeen times since his small-scale assists on D-day he had drawn up the detail of tactics for a historic stroke: the parachuting of an Allied army, a force of truly army size, capable of fighting on its own, behind the German lines. Seventeen times he had scrapped the plans: the Allied ground forces had advanced so swiftly that his First Allied Airborne Army was not needed.

This week the 18th plan went through. In scope it was unprecedented. In operation it was smooth and apparently initially successful—a rare thing for the first job of such a complex kind. In the sky of Holland multicolored parachutes etched a pattern of future military history.

Brereton, a perfectionist of air operations, climbed aboard his plane. Around it gathered hundreds of big C-47 transports, loaded to their stripped ribs with paratroopers and light weapons. The scene was repeated at a score of fields. The big bombers — 1,000 of them — were already out, plastering German airfields in The Netherlands and beyond. The trim fighters —hundreds of them — were out diving against flak towers and gun sites.

Da-Da-Da-Daaa. The big parade started: more than 1,000 C-47s accompanied by towed gliders that carried the field pieces, jeeps, munitions, food, even light tanks, even field-hospital equipment, all the thousand things a self-contained army needs.

For 90 minutes the air parade roared over various sections of London. It was Sunday noon and in the churches worshipers commemorated another day of history: "The Victory of the Few." On this day, four years before, a few handfuls of R.A.F. fighter pilots had turned back Adolf Hitler's Luftwaffe. Londoners cheered. A Salvation Army band tried to match its tootling against the drumming of the engines, gave it up. But the drummer, his eyes on the sky, thumped and rolled a theme for the scene: the da-da-da-daaa of the V-rhythm.

Brereton's plane circled over The Neth erlands as the C-47s disgorged. The first paratroopers landed along the Rhine delta near the sea. Brereton's craft left them be hind, flew on over a huge expanse of flooded lowlands, where the bright red roofs of the white Dutch houses showed above the blue waters. Here the Germans had created a vast last ditch.

Color Flutters. The sky trains sped past the inundation to the bright green of the gentle countryside around Tilburg and Eindhoven. The planes flew low, close to 500 feet through patches of flak. Then suddenly they spilled their men, cut off their gliders. Soon against the green in the grey day fluttered hundreds of white, yel low, red, blue, brown parachutes. In a matter of minutes, Brereton saw his army in action, forming two columns along a paved road, advancing on a town, their shells raising dust puffs, finally marching in.

More C-47s, the largest force of all, went farther eastward. Soon below them lay the great bend of the Rhine, where it turns west to the sea. There, near the Dutch town of Nijnegen, and only fourteen miles from the German city of Cleve, where the Siegfried Line ends, brown and white and yellow and blue parachutes soon filled the fields on both sides of the wide Rhine.

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