Operation Market Garden - 17 September 1944

Posted on Tuesday 17th September 2013


An overall summary of what happened, 17-25 september 1944
On Sunday, 17 September 1944 in Operation Market, an Allied airborne army consisting of the American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, and the British 1st Airborne Division, dropped behind enemy lines in Holland intending to capture the bridges over five significant rivers.
On the ground, in Operation Garden, the British XXX Corps had the simultaneous task of driving rapidly up a single road into enemy territory and across those bridges to their objective 60 miles (100 kms) away - the town of Arnhem.
The operation had been mounted at the instigation of Field-Marshal Montgomery in a bid to outflank the defences of the Siegfried Line and then, by driving south into the Ruhr, finish the war by Christmas 1944 (Sketch Maps 1 and 2).

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Sketch map 1: The Market-Garden plan, 17 September 1944.

The operation failed. The ground forces did not get across the Arnhem bridge. The men of the British 1st Airborne Division were forced into two small areas - one around the northern end of the Arnhem road bridge (Sketch map 6) that was their target and another that came to be called The Cauldron (whose shrinking boundary was called The Perimeter) (Sketch map 5) around the Hartenstein Hotel in Oosterbeek. The Germans called it the Hexenkessel - the witches’ cauldron. Despite an astonishing display of determination and stubborn resistance, they were surrounded and defeated before XXX Corps could reach them. Of the 10,000 or so men who had landed around Arnhem by parachute or glider less than a quarter returned.
Much mutual criticism followed. The Americans accused XXX Corps of being too slow. In his memoirs General Ridgway said:
[The] stand at Arnhem was a monument to British valor, but a monument too to human weakness, to the failure to strike hard and boldly.
The British claimed that Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander, did not give them the administrative support that they needed to enable the operation to succeed. The British Army blamed the Air Forces for not dropping enough men on the first day of the operation... wireless sets did not work... air photos were ignored... the Germans captured the operational plans... the British tanks did not like to fight at night... the Americans took too long to capture the Nijmegen bridge... excuses and accusations were legion... and so was the bravery of those who fought, American, Belgian, British, Dutch, Polish, and German.

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Remarkable photograph showing Irish Guards Tanks under attack just north of Joe's Bridge at the very start of Operation Market. Courtesy of The Times.

'The operation failed. The men did not get across Arnhem Bridge.'



what happened on 17 september
Shortly after 1400 hours all of the airborne forces were on the ground.
xxx corps
General Horrocks set up his HQ on top of the factory roof just to the east of Joe’s Bridge, in full view of the bridge itself. Although he was told by radio that the air armada was on its way, he waited until he saw the planes overhead before he set H-Hour as 1435 hours, but in doing so lost several hours of daylight in which progress might have been made. The leading troop of tanks was commanded by Lieutenant Keith Heathcote of 3rd Squadron, 2nd Battalion Irish Guards, and as he set off the artillery barrage lifted from the German gun positions and formed a moving screen in front of him. The leading tanks had crossed the border into Holland by 1500 hours, but once there were held up by determined enemy resistance, so that it was not until around 1815 hours that the Guards began to move forward again. By darkness the advance had reached only to Valkenswaard, just 8 miles up the 60-mile (100 kms) corridor to Arnhem and, on hearing that the bridge at Son had been blown, Brigadier Gwatkin, the 5th Guards Brigade Commander, decided not to resume the advance until the following morning. It had been a hard day and rather than the low-grade static troops that the Corps had expected to meet, four German infantry battalions, two battalions of the 6th Parachute Regiment and two battalions of the 9th SS Division, had opposed the advance. With twenty-four hours left the Corps still had 52 miles to go to Arnhem.
101st airborne division
Four hundred and twenty-eight planes carried the Division into battle. Only three failed to reach a DZ - one pathfinder and two carrying parachutists - but the glider landings an hour later were less fortunate. Seventy gliders took off from England, but only 53 came in without damage. Two failed to leave England, one landed in the Channel, three crashed on the DZ and the rest were scattered. The gliders brought in artillery pieces and observers, plus engineers and 32 jeeps, but it would be seven days before the whole Division was on the ground. In one glider was Walter Cronkite, a reporter for United Press, who would later cover the Nuremberg Trials and become a world-famous television anchor man for CBS.
501st PIR. Veghel and Eerde
When Lieutenant-Colonel Harry Kinnard commanding the 1st Battalion of the 501st PIR landed he discovered that he was near the village of Kameren some three miles north-west of his scheduled DZ. Nevertheless he moved quickly towards Veghel led by some of his men who had taken bicycles and lorries in their eagerness to reach their objectives. The other two battalions had landed on DZ ‘A’ in good formation and met little opposition. The town was quickly taken, together with the bridges over the Aa and the Zuid Willemsvaart Canal and some 50 German prisoners.
502nd PIR. Best and St Oedenrode
Major-General Maxwell Taylor jumped with the 1st Battalion of the 502nd which was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Cassidy, both of whom had been photographed together in the doorway of their aircraft before taking off from Welford, one of twenty-four airfields in England used for the lift. The battalion dropped two miles south of its planned DZ but Cassidy gathered his men and after an exchange of fire with Germans in the town, in which 20 of the enemy were killed and fifty-eight captured, took St Oedenrode. The town of Best, however, was to prove more difficult.
The initial force that set off for Best was ‘H’ Company reinforced with machine guns and engineers. The road and rail bridges there were not on the direct line of advance proposed for XXX Corps, but Maxwell Taylor had added them to his tasks in order to provide an alternative route should the main Son road be blocked. Although the bridges would eventually be taken (one blown) it would involve half the Division and a squadron of British tanks, but at the end of 17 September the Germans held both Best and the bridges.
506th PIR. Son
The men of the 506th began landing on DZ ‘C at about 1315 hours and within 45 minutes a two-pronged move through the Zonsche Forest towards the bridge on the main road in Son had begun. The 2nd Battalion advanced directly down the main road towards the bridge engaging in a fire fight with Germans in the houses en route, while the 1st Battalion worked their way in from the right (of the 2nd Battalion). Just as men from the two battalions met within sight of the bridge it was blown. Although Colonel Robert Sink, commanding the 506th, had thought ahead and included a platoon of Engineers in his force, they were only able to improvise a small footbridge, and that, with a captured small rowing boat, was insufficient to enable a strong enough force to cross the canal and to advance upon Eindhoven before dark. That fact, together with a rumour that a German regiment was preparing to defend Eindhoven, persuaded Colonel Sink to abandon the idea of taking the city by 2000 hours (his aim) and to wait for daylight.

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2nd Bn, Irish Guards Tanks and 2nd Bn Infantry at the Belgium-Dutch Border, 17 September 1944. Note the concrete Corridor road.

82nd airborne division
Four hundred and eighty-two planes and fifty gliders carried 7,277 paratroopers and 209 men in gliders. Only one plane and two gliders failed to reach their zones, although many were hit by ack ack fire. One paratrooper was killed when his chute failed to open and another when he was hit by a supply bundle. Seven of those arriving by glider were injured, but there was very little immediate German opposition. The Corps Commander, General Browning, plus a skeleton HQ, landed with the Division in the 505th area while General Ridgway, its disappointed former commander who had hoped to command the Corps himself, flew overhead in a borrowed B17 to watch the drop.
504th PIR. Bridges at Grave, Heumen, Malden, Hatert and Honinghutje
The Regiment dropped both north and south of the bridge at Grave. One stick of sixteen men commanded by Lieutenant John S. Thompson came down within 700 yards of the southern end of the bridge while the bulk of the force gathered at the northern end. German flak guns offered some opposition but within 3 hours the 504th had taken and secured the bridge. The bridge at Malden was blown by the Germans as the paratroopers charged towards it, but the bridge at Heumen was taken intact in a night attack and later became the main bridge across the Maas-Waal for the advance of XXX Corps on Nijmegen. The 504th with a platoon of the 508th arrived at Hatert to find the bridge destroyed but no attack was made on Honinghutje that day (Sketch map 3).
505th PIR. Groesbeek and the High Ground on the German border
The drop was entirely successful and one battalion set off for its objective within 20 minutes of hitting the ground. With help from members of the Dutch underground isolated Germans were captured and all-round defensive positions were dug on the high ground around Groesbeek overlooking the routes north from the Reichswald Forest into the Division’s area, where a Divisional reserve was established. Patrols sent out after dark made contact with the 504th at the Heumen bridge, penetrated into the Reichswald Forest where it was thought some 1,000 German tanks were in hiding (this proved to be untrue) and were just too late to prevent the destruction of the railway bridge over the Maas River at Mook.
508th PIR. Hatert, Berg en Dal and the Nijmegen road bridge
The orders for the taking of the Nijmegen road bridge were confused. Priority was given to establishing positions on the high ground of the Berg en Dal/Groesbeek ridge and in the area of Hatert to the west to prevent any movement of the Germans south from Nijmegen. The story is examined in more detail in Itinerary Three. While the drop was successful and the high ground secured against what would become ferocious attacks over the coming days, it was some 7 hours before the first co-ordinated attack was made on the road bridge. German SS troops who had only just arrived in Nijmegen repulsed the attack and would continue to hold the bridge for another 3 days - the British would not cross in force until a fourth day passed by which time all effective resistance by 1st AB at the Arnhem bridge was over.

1st airborne division
The Division reached its planned LZs and DZs without losing one aircraft to enemy action but thirty-eight of the 358 gliders failed to arrive, mainly because their tow ropes broke. The landing took the Germans by surprise and, in contrast to the Americans, the British put their gliders down before the paratroopers jumped, General Urquhart landing by glider.
1st Parachute Brigade - the Arnhem road and rail bridges
Because of damage to the gliders on landing the Recce Squadron was unable to unload its jeeps as quickly as planned for the coup de main attack on the bridges and not until some time after landing (US sources say 4 hours and British sources say 1 hour) did the parachute battalions set off for Arnhem. 1st and 3rd Parachute Battalions met stiff opposition from elements of 9th SS Panzer Division under Lieutenant-Colonel Ludwig Spindler and an SS Training Battalion led by Sturmbannführer Sepp Krafft, the Germans establishing blocking lines along Wolfhezerweg and Dreijenseweg (Sketch map 4). Both battalions were still short of the main road bridge when darkness fell. The 2nd Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel John Frost, meeting less opposition, reached the northern (Arnhem) end of the road bridge and captured the buildings around it by 2030 hours. Several attempts to reach the southern end of the bridge failed. The element of that battalion that had set out for the rail bridge reached it just as the Germans blew it up and then went on to join the rest of the Battalion at the road bridge the following day.
1st Airlanding Brigade - securing the LZs and DZs
By 1600 hours the LZs and DZs for the second lift had been secured and a few prisoners taken. While the 1st and 3rd Parachute Battalions battled on their roads into Arnhem and the 2nd Battalion fought at the road bridge, the 1st Airlanding Brigade settled down for a relatively quiet night to guard the LZs and DZs and to await the morrow.
Woho Mohamed’ (as referenced in the poem, 'It Was Thus', right) was the battle-cry of the original Red Devils in North Africa in 1942-43. Lieutenant-Colonel R. G. Pine-Coffin, DSO, MC, who commanded the 3rd Battalion in North Africa, described how he first heard it on the day of the Battle of Jebel Mansour. A party of the Battalion, whilst held in reserve, heard an Arab cowherd uttering the cry as one of the cows he was watering from a stream got confused by the cowherd’s guttural ‘Urrahs’ and charged off. The Paras were much impressed by the cry and immediately adopted it as their own. It soon spread to the 1st and 2nd Battalions and was first used as a battle-cry by a company of the 3rd Battalion (probably Dobie’s), whilst helping the 2nd Battalion beat off an attack in the Tamera Valley. ‘To shout it really correctly,’ wrote Pine-Coffin, ‘either for stopping cows or killing the enemy, the ‘Woho’ part should be dragged out as long as possible and the ‘Mohamed’ clipped very short’.
The cry was often heard during the Battle of Arnhem-Oosterbeek. There are many later variations on the original spelling quoted above.
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Sketch map 4.

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Major and Mrs Holt, who founded the first organisation to offer battlefield tours to the general public in the late 1970s and have been writing guidebooks since the 1990s.

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Sketch map 2: The armies advance to the German/Dutch borders July-September 1944.

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Sketch map 6: The John Frost Bridge area - then and now.
1. Arnhem War Memorial
2. Memorial Bells. SGW '1944'. Plaques 49th Div, 9th AB Fd Regt RE, Resistance Fighter.
3. SGW 'Arnhem in Flames' Liberation Window
4. 1st AB Div Memorial
5. Ceremonial Sword and Civil Servants Plaque
6. 'John Frost HQ' Plaque
7. Airborne Commemorative Marker No.8
8. Plaque to John Frost and his men
9. 16th Para Fd Amb 25pr gun, propeller and Polish Memorial/Jacob Groenewould plaque
10. Plaque to the soldiers who held The Bridge 17-21 Sept 1944

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Sketch map 5: Oosterbeek Perimeter, 20 September 1944.

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Airborne scene, September 1944. Detail of large picture presented to the Museum in 1994 by the artist, Eef Barkel.

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Major-General John Frost with Tonie Holt, 1982.

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Sketch map 3: 82nd AB drops and movements, 17 September 1944

The spirit of the whole Operation is summarised by an exceptional poem, written on the 50th Anniversary by British Arnhem veteran Fred ‘Lucky’ Lockhurst of 1 Para Squadron RE, who sadly passed away in 1996.

'It Was Thus'
It was descending on a bright and sunny lunchtime.
It was welcoming smiles and warm handshakes from the Dutch civilians.
It was marching down the leafy lanes and into the quiet Sunday afternoon streets.
Suddenly it was machine guns. It was stretcher-bearers.
It was machine guns. It was stretcher-bearers.
It was hand grenades and shouts of 'Die you German bastards!'
It was leaping from garden to garden.
It was dodging from doorway to doorway.
It was smashing out of windows and beating out fires.
It was noise. It was night.
It was morning. It was the second lift.
It was more men and more strength, more chances of success.
Days followed night and night followed days
And it was carrying in the wounded and carrying out the dead.
It was frantically waving yellow silk triangles.
It was watching the slaughter of valiant airmen.
It was choking at the sight of much-needed supplies drifting out of reach.
It was cursing. It was praying.
It was the screeching of Panzers and the whirring of the mortar bombs.
It was the mutilated trees and the mutilated men.
It was crapping in the corner of a garage or in the corner of a slit trench.
It was the 'V' sign stuttered out of a Bren gun.
It was the cries of 'Woho Mohamed' and the groans of the badly wounded.
It was the dirt in the mouth and the singing i nthe ears.
It was the rain-soaked clothing and the blood-soaked earth.
It was the shortage of food and of ammunition, of sleep, of hope.
It was surrender, but it was not a defeat.
It was a brave, brave, brave try.
It was Arnhem, 1944.

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The Arnhem Road Bridge from the north bank in 1938 and 2001.

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Further Reading


Major And Mrs Holt's Battlefield Guide To Operation Market Garden
(Paperback - 288 pages)
ISBN: 9781781593783

by Major and Mrs Holt
Only £16.99

Like the other books in the Holts' acclaimed Battlefield Guide Series (see inside front cover for details) this is much more than just a guidebook. It charts in fascinating detail what happened at each recommended stop and brings alive, with cameos and personal recollections, the dramatic events of September 1944.

It is the very first detailed guide to chart the entire MARKET-GARDEN Corridor - from Leopoldsburg in Belgium and over the important bridges at the Scheldt-Maas Canal, the Wilhelmina Canal, the Zuid Willemsvaart Canal, the Maas and…
Read more at Pen & Sword Books...

Of further interest...