Military history

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HENRI KNAP, Arnhem’s underground intelligence chief, felt safe in his new role. To protect his wife and two daughters from complicity in his activities, he had left home four months earlier and moved a few blocks away. His headquarters were now in the offices of a general practitioner, Dr. Leo C. Breebaart. The white-coated Knap was now the doctor’s “assistant,” and certain “patients” were messengers and couriers belonging to his intelligence network: forty men and women and a few teen-agers.

Knap’s was a time-consuming and frustrating job. He had to evaluate the information he received and then pass it along by phone. Arnhem’s resistance chief, Pieter Kruyff, had given Knap three telephone numbers, each with twelve to fifteen digits, and told him to commit them to memory. Knap never knew where or to whom he was calling. His instructions were to dial each number in turn until contact was made.*

Gathering intelligence was even more complicated. Knap’s requests were passed down through the network chain, and he never knew what agent procured the information. If a report seemed dubious, Knap investigated on his own. At the moment he was intrigued and puzzled by several reports that had reached him about enemy activity in Oosterbeek.

A German officer wearing staff insignia, Major Horst Smöckel, had visited a number of stores in Renkum, Oosterbeek and Arnhem and ordered a variety of supplies to be delivered to Oosterbeek’s Tafelberg Hotel. What Knap found curious were the requisitions; among them were hard-to-find foods and other specialty items which the Dutch population rarely saw anymore, such as Genever gin.

Additionally, German signalmen had been busy laying a welter of telephone cables to a number of hotels in the suburbs, including the Tafelberg. The conclusion, Knap felt, was obvious: a high-ranking headquarters was moving into Oosterbeek. But which one? Who was the general? And had he arrived?

It was even more important for Knap to keep abreast of the enemy strength in and around the Arnhem region. He knew there were other intelligence men sending back information in each town and that he was “only a small cog in a vast collection system.” As a result, there was probably “much duplication of effort.” Nevertheless, everything was important, for “what one cell might miss, we might pick up.”

Two weeks before, as he later recalled, “there was almost no German strength in the Arnhem region.” Since then, the military picture had changed dramatically. Now, Knap was alarmed at the German buildup. From his network sources, over the previous seven days, Knap had reported that “the remains of several divisions, including panzer units, were in the process of reorganizing in and around Arnhem or were moving into Germany.” By now, more specific news had come. His sources reported the presence of tanks north and northeast of Arnhem. Knap believed that “parts of at least one or even two panzer divisions” were in the area, but their identity and exact location were, so far, not known.

Knap wanted details quickly. Urgently, he passed the word to his network. He demanded more exact information on the panzer activity and he wanted to know immediately the identity of the “new occupant” in the Tafelberg Hotel.

Twenty-five-year-old Wouter van de Kraats had never heard of Henri Knap. His contact in the underground was a man he knew only as “Jansen” who lived somewhere in Arnhem. Jansen had a new assignment for him—the Tafelberg Hotel. A high-ranking German officer had arrived, he was told, and Van de Kraats was to see if any of the staff cars outside “carried an identifying pennant or flag.” If so, he was to report the colors and symbols on the standard.

Van de Kraats had noticed an influx of German activity around the hotel. German military police and sentries had moved into the area. His problem was how to get through the sentries along the road—the Pietersbergweg—running past the Tafelberg. He decided to bluff his way through.

As he made for the hotel, he was immediately stopped by a sentry. “But I must get through,” Van de Kraats told the German. “I work at the petrol station up the street.” The German let him pass. Three other sentries gave him only a cursory glance. Then, as Van de Kraats passed the Tafelberg, he quickly looked at the entrance and the driveway. None of the parked cars had any identifying markings, but near the front door of the hotel stood a checkerboard black, red and white metal pennant—the insignia of a German army group commander.

On the afternoon of Thursday, September 14, Henri Knap heard from his network. Several sources reported large formations of panzer troops, tanks and armored vehicles encamped in a semicircle to the north of Arnhem. There were units at Beekbergen, Epse and along the Ijssel River. There was even a startling report of “20 to 30 Tiger tanks.” Exactly how many units were involved, he was unable to ascertain. He was able to clearly identify only one, and that by a fluke. One of his agents noted “strange markings—reverse F’s with a ball at the foot of them”—on some tanks. Checking through a special German manual, Knap was able to identify the unit. He immediately called his telephone contact and reported the presence of the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohen-staufen. From the agent’s report, Knap located its position as lying approximately to the north between Arnhem and Apeldoorn and from there, eastward to Zutphen.

Shortly afterward he received word about the Tafelberg Hotel. He passed this report on, too. The significant black, red and white checkerboard pennant told its own story. There was only one German army group commander in this part of the western front. Although Knap reported the news as hearsay, it seemed to him the officer had to be Field Marshal Walter Model.

*Knap has never learned who his contacts were except that his reports were passed on to a top-secret unit known as the “Albrecht Group.” He knew the calls he made were long distance. At the time, Dutch telephone numbers consisted of four digits. A brilliant telephone technician named Nicolaas Tjalling de Bode devised a method for underground members under which, by using certain telephone numbers, they could bypass local switchboards and automatically call all over Holland.

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