Glider Markings during operation Varsity
Researched and compiled by Hans den Brok
Planes have been submitted to art for a long time. Especially fighter planes and bombers were subject to artists who created the most wonderful nose art. although, most of the times it was just a name given to an airplane.
Within the Troop Carrier units the same kind of art was visible. C-47 planes received names and pin-up girls. Even gliders became subject of this. As the glider was seen as a plane that could only be used once, there was not much of artwork on the gliders, but it happened. Mostly it were just names chalked on the side of the gliders.
One special marking seem to have popped up for the Rhine mission, operation Varsity. These were markings on top of the gliders.
It was in the book “Into the Valley” by Col. Charles Young that these markings caught my attention. A photo showed the gliders and tow planes before take off for the Rhine mission and on top of the gliders was the letter ‘A’. Col. Young wrote: “ …an identifying “A” has been put on the tops of these gliders by the 17th Airborne personnel.”
The question about the meaning of these markings popped up, and if other gliders from other groups also had such markings. Researching photos revealed an answer to one of the questions. It seems that the gliders of all but one Troop Carrier Group received an identification mark on top of the glider before the Rhine mission. That makes it possible for us researchers to ID the Troop Carrier Group of an individual glider on the Rhine mission. That is, if the top of the glider is visible.
First step to match gliders to a group is to learn which Groups used which marking. As seen earlier, the 439th TCG used the letter “A”. Photographic evidence enabled to create the following table:
437th TCG: I I à two striped on top, each stripe on the wingspan
436th TCG: V à a V in the middle of the top
435th TCG: O à an O in the middle of the top
439th TCG: A à an A on the top
440th TCG: I à one stripe on the right hand side of the glider
441st TCG: T à a T on top of the glider
442nd TCG: X à a X on top of the glider
314th TCG: à nothing on top of the glider
For this, there seem to be photographic evidence on all of these. However, it is always possible that other photos taken on those few days show something different. It is always good to learn something like that and explains the importance of photos in research.
So with half of the question answered, the remaining part that is unknown is the reason for these markings. Col. Young wrote that these were put there by the 17th Airborne men.
It is known that they did a survey in plotting the glider landings for their outfits. The Troop Carrier Wings also plotted their glider landings. At least, the 53rd TCW did, as did the 52nd TCW (only 314th TCG). The 50th might have done this as well, but those maps are not found yet. Several squadrons did plot their glider landings.
The reasons for these markings remain hidden in history. Hopefully some file will appear that tells the reason and give more insight information about this.
Special thanks to Patricia and Bruce Overman for their help in this research.
This scan from Charles Young’s excellent book “Into the Valley” triggered the research to the markings on top of the gliders during Operation Varsity. Low altitude aerials show those markings. In research that can be very interesting to pinpoint locations of gliders, and to determine who flew them. (Ch. Young – Into the Valley)
Among the best photos to illustrate the markings are the ones from veterans or the ones that show squadron codes or tail numbers. This is the 437th Troop Carrier Group. The Squadron code of the C-47 in the back is 90, a 85th TCS plane. The glider in front has tail number (4)343159, piloted by F/O Leon C. Stone Jr. and F/O Donald J. Wallace (standing 2nd from left). The other identified men were near their planes in the line up for Varsity.
Left: This photo comes from the files of William Watson, a C-47 pilot of the 436th Troop Carrier Group. Visible are gliders on the right with a ‘V’ on top. Aerial photos of Landingzone-S shows gliders with the double stripes of the 437th, the V of the 436th and the O of the 435th TCG. (Mr. W. Watson)
Right: Flight line of the 435th TCG, 78th TCS before the Rhine mission. Note the CM code on the tow plane and the ‘O’ on top of the gliders. (Mrs. B. Woods)
Here we are looking up the flight line of the 440th TCG. This photo was taken by F/O George Theis who flew in one of the last elements of the 440th TCG. The glider on the right has one strip along the base of the wing, on the right wing. Photos taken by others at the same field show the same mark. (Mr. G. Theis)
Left: Maybe not the very best example there is, but this photo shows a ‘T’ on the glider at right. This photo appears in a number of collections and is believed to have been taken by F/O Curtis Goldman.
Top: A photo from a 442nd Troop Carrier Group glider pilot shows an ‘X’ on top of gliders. (Mr. E. Draper)
This photo is believe to show the line up for the Rhine mission of the 314th Troop Carrier Group. Another photo of the same batch show a glider tail number of a glider that flew Varsity. No markings on top of the gliders. (Authors collection)
Furthermore, archives and photos show that the 439th TCG painted Squadron Codes of gliders on the nose and tail as well. All for identification purposes after landing.
Here, with the L4 codes of the 91st Troop Carrier Squadron. This glider was piloted by F/O Orville F. Kimsey and F/O Carl G. Ellison.
Shortly after the the glider landings, a reconnaisance mission was flown and some low altitude aerial photos were taken. Here a crop showing a part of LZ-S where gliders of the 437th, 436th and 435th Troop Carrier Groups landed (in that order). The markings seen on top enable us to ID which Troop Carrier Group flew the glider.
With this website article, published summer 2015, old 2011 question are answered. Back then I posted on a forum if there was any information about those markings on top of the gliders. Although the exact reason for ‘why’ was not found, this surely gives some information previously unknown.
About the reason why, most likely it was for a survey after the battle was over.