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Operation Eclipse 1945: The Never Executed Paratroop Drop to Seize Berlin Before the Russians
The race to Berlin from January to April, 1945, was a real issue. Both Russia and the Allies wanted to reach it before the other for political reasons once the WW2 ended. The Russians would not be close to Berlin until mid-February, and event then, much of their advancing armies trailed far behind and it would not be until April that the final offensive take Berlin. The Allies were even farther from Berlin, they still remained near the German border in January.
The Allies devised a plan to capture Berlin by dropping five airborne divisions on its fringe while Allied forces raced to them. The risk was very high but the prize equally great. Whoever got to Berlin first, would control it and Germany after WW2. The general plan called for the US 82nd Airborne Division to take Templehof airfield, the US 101st Airborne to take Gatow airfield, while theUK 1st Airborne (with SAS and 1st Polish Parachute Brigade) seizing Tegel and Oranienberg.
A brigade from UK 6th Airborne and 17th Airborne was to drop over the Rhine near Wesel to support Montgomery's crossing. Patton would advance across the Rhine so that both forces would approach Berlin from North and South. Monty's crossing of the Rhine was originally planned for Operation Varsity and those units would have retained their function and targets to keep the Germans in the dark about Eclipse. The UK 52nd Air Landing division would be held in reserve and landed into Berlin once resistance subsided.
The plan involved three American and two British airborne divisions. Two regiments from the 82nd and two from the 101st were to seize Templehof airport, British paratroopers would make battalion-sized drops on key strong points. The remainder of the five divisions would be air-lifted into Templehof. Once the airhead was secured, British and American armored and mobile infantry divisions would race to link up with us in the German capital.
Eclipse was on the "to do" table until April, when it was obvious the Russians would be there sooner. But in January or February, the operation, had it been done, either would have been a major success or total fiasco. The ground units were 200 miles from the city and it was expected that German resistance would be weak. However, the German military around Berlin still presented a dangerous foe. When the Russians attacked in April a mere 20 miles from the city, it took millions and several days to finally break the German defenses. So, had the Allies done this, it might have ended up as a fiasco along the same lines as their Market Garden in 1944.