ALL DOWN THE ALLIED LINE of command the evaluation of intelligence on the panzers in the Arnhem area was magnificently bungled. SHAEF’s Intelligence Summary No. 26 issued on September 16, the eve of Market-Garden—containing the ominous warning that had caused General Bedell Smith’s alarm—was disregarded. In part, it read, “9th SS Panzer Division, and presumably the 10th, has been reported withdrawing to the Arnhem area in Holland; there, they will probably collect new tanks from a depot reported in the area of Cleves.”
The information, already discredited by Montgomery at his meeting with Smith, was now discounted by General Dempsey’s British Second Army headquarters—the same headquarters that had originally noted the presence in Holland of “battered panzer formations” on September 10. In the most serious blunder of all, Dempsey’s intelligence staff, on September 14, described the Germans in the Market-Garden area as “weak, demoralized and likely to collapse entirely if confronted with a large airborne attack.” Now, in a complete reversal of their original position, they dismissed the presence of the panzers, because Dempsey’s staff officers were unable to spot enemy armor on any reconnaissance photos.
At First Allied Airborne Army headquarters, General Brere-ton’s chief intelligence officer, British Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Tasker, was not prepared to accept SHAEF’s report either. Reviewing all the information available, he decided there was no direct evidence that the Arnhem area contained “much more than the considerable flak defenses already known to exist.”
Everyone, it seemed, accepted the optimistic outlook of Montgomery’s headquarters. As the British I Airborne Corps’s chief of staff, Brigadier Gordon Walch, remembers, “21st Army Group headquarters was the principal source of our intelligence, and we took what they gave us to be true.” General Urquhart, commander of the British 1st Airborne Division, put it another way. “Nothing,” he said, “was allowed to mar the optimism prevailing across the Channel.”
Yet, besides SHAEF’s report on the “missing” panzers, there was other evidence of German buildup, again almost cursorily noted. At the front, ahead of General Horrocks’ XXX Corps Garden forces, it was plain that an increasing number of German units were moving into the line. Now the strategic error at Antwerp ten days before was beginning to build and threaten the grand design of Operation Market-Garden. The German troops filling out General Student’s front were none other than units of the splintered divisions that had escaped across the mouth of the Schelde—the battered men of Von Zangen’s Fifteenth Army, the army the Allies had practically written off. Intelligence officers did note that, though the Germans had increased in number, the new units in the line were “believed to be in no fit state to resist any determined advance.” Any British Tommy along the Belgium-Dutch frontier could have told them otherwise.*
The cobblestone streets of the dingy mining town of Leopolds-burg in northern Belgium, barely ten miles from the front, were choked with jeeps and scout cars. All roads seemed to lead to a cinema opposite the railway station—and never before had the nondescript theater held such an audience. Officers of Lieutenant General Horrocks’ XXX Corps—the Garden forces that would drive north through Holland to link up with the paratroopers-crowded the street and milled around the entrance as their credentials were inspected by red-capped military police. It was a colorful, exuberant group and it reminded Brigadier Hubert Essame, commanding officer of the 214th Brigade, 43rd Wessex Infantry Division, of “an army assembly at a point-to-point race or a demonstration on Salisbury Plain in time of peace.” He was fascinated by the colorful dress of the commanders. There was a striking variety of headgear. No one had a steel helmet, but berets of many colors bore the proud badges of famous regiments, among them the Irish, Grenadier, Coldstream, Scotch, Welsh and Royal Horse Guards, the Royal Army Service Corps and Royal Artillery. There was a regal casualness about everyone’s attire. Essame noted that most commanders were dressed in “sniper’s smocks, parachutists’ jackets and jeep coats over brightly colored slacks, corduroys, riding britches or even jodhpurs.” Instead of ties many sported ascots or “scarves of various colors.”*
The renowned Lieutenant Colonel J.O.E. (“Joe”) Vandeleur, the solidly built, ruddy-faced, six-foot commander of the Irish Guards Armored Group, personified the kind of devil-may-care elegance of the Guards’ officers. The forty-one-year-old Vandeleur was wearing his usual combat garb: black beret, a multicolored camouflaged parachutist’s jacket, and corduroy trousers above high rubber boots. Additionally, Vandeleur wore, as always, a .45 Colt automatic strapped to his hip and, tucked into his jacket, what had become a symbol for his tankers, a flamboyant emerald-green scarf. The fastidious General “Boy” Browning, back in England, would have winced. Even Horrocks had once dryly admonished Vandeleur. “If the Germans ever get you, Joe,” he said, “they’ll think they’ve captured a peasant.” But on this September 16 even Horrocks lacked the usual elegance of the impeccably dressed British staff officer. Instead of a shirt he wore a ribbed polo sweater and, over his battle dress, a sleeveless leather jerkin reminiscent of a British yeoman’s dress.
As the popular Horrocks made his way down the aisle of the crowded theater he was greeted on all sides. The meeting he had called had sparked high excitement. Men were eager to get going again. From the Seine to Antwerp, Horrocks’ tanks had often averaged fifty miles in a single day, but ever since the disastrous three-day halt on September 4 to “refit, refuel and rest,” the going had been rough. With the British momentum gone, the enemy had quickly recovered. In the two vital weeks since, the British advance had been reduced to a crawl. It had taken four days for the Guards Armored Division—led by Joe Vandeleur’s Irish Guards Group—to advance ten miles and capture the vital bridge over the Meuse-Escaut Canal near Neerpelt, from which the attack into Holland would begin the next day. Horrocks had no illusions about the German opposition, but he was confident that his forces could break through the enemy crust.
At precisely 11 A.M. Horrocks stepped onto the stage. All those assembled knew that the British offensive was about to be renewed, but so great was the security surrounding Montgomery’s plan that only a few general officers present knew the details. With D Day for Operation Market-Garden barely twenty-four hours away, the Field Marshal’s commanders now learned of the attack for the first time.
Attached to the cinema screen was a huge map of Holland. Colored tape snaked north along a single highway, crossing the great river obstacles and passing through the towns of Valkens-waard, Eindhoven, Veghel, Uden, Nijmegen and thence to Arnhem, a distance of some sixty-four miles. From there the tape continued for another thirty-odd miles to the Zuider Zee. Horrocks took a long pointer and began the briefing. “This is a tale you will tell your grandchildren,” he told his audience. Then he paused and, much to the delight of the assembled officers, added: “And mightily bored they’ll be.”
In the audience, Lieutenant Colonel Curtis D. Renfro, liaison officer from the 101st Airborne Division and one of the few Americans present, was impressed by the Corps commander’s enthusiasm and confidence. He talked for an hour, Curtis recorded, “with only an occasional reference to notes.”
Step by step Horrocks explained the complexities of Market-Garden. The airborne army would go in first, he said. Its objectives: to capture the bridges in front of XXX Corps. Horrocks would give the word for the attack to begin. Depending on the weather, zero hour for the ground forces was expected to be 2 P.M. At that moment 350 guns would open fire and lay down a massive artillery barrage that would last thirty-five minutes. Then, at 2:35 P.M., led by waves of rocket-firing Typhoons, XXX Corps tanks would break out of their bridgehead and “blast down the main road.” The Guards Armored Division would have the honor of leading the attack. They would be followed by the 43rd Wessex and 50th Northumberland divisions, and then by the 8th Armored Brigade and the Dutch Princess Irene Brigade.
There was to be “no pause, no stop,” Horrocks emphasized. The Guards Armored was “to keep going like hell” all the way to Arnhem. The breakout from the bridgehead, Horrocks believed, would be “almost immediate.” He expected the first Guards tanks to be in Eindhoven within two or three hours. If the enemy reacted fast enough to blow all the bridges before the airborne troops could secure them, then the 43rd Wessex Infantry Division engineers, coming up behind, would rush forward with men and bridging equipment. This massive engineering operation, should it be required, Horrocks explained, could involve 9,000 engineers and some 2,277 vehicles already in the Leopoldsburg area. The entire XXX Corps armored column was to be fed up the main road with the vehicles two abreast, thirty-five vehicles per mile. Traffic would be one way, and Horrocks expected “to pass 20,000 vehicles over the highway to Arnhem in sixty hours.”
General Allan Adair, the forty-six-year-old commander of the famed Guards Armored Division, listening to Horrocks, thought Market-Garden was a bold plan, but he also believed “it might be tricky.” He expected the worst moment to be the breakout from the Meuse-Escaut Canal bridgehead. Once through that, although he fully expected German resistance, he thought the going would “not be difficult.” Besides, he had every faith in the unit that would lead off the attack—Lieutenant Colonel Joe Vandeleur’s Irish Guards Group.
Joe Vandeleur, as he learned that his tanks would spearhead the breakout, remembers thinking to himself, “Oh, Christ! Not us again.” Vandeleur was proud that his veteran unit had been chosen, yet he knew his troops were tired and his units under-strength. Since the breakout from Normandy he had received very few replacements in either men or tanks; furthermore, “they weren’t allowing a hell of a lot of time for planning.” But then he thought, how much time do you really need to plan for a straight bash through the German lines? Next to him, his cousin, thirty-three-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Giles Vandeleur, who commanded the 2nd Battalion under Joe, was “struck with horror at the plan to blast through the German resistance on a one-tank front.” To him, it was not proper armored warfare. But he recalls “swallowing whatever misgivings I had and succumbing to a strange, tense excitement, like being at the pole at the start of a horse race.”
To three men in the theater, the announcement produced deep personal feelings. The senior officers of the Dutch Princess Irene Brigade had led their men in battle all the way from Normandy. First they had fought alongside the Canadians; then, after the fall of Brussels, they were transferred to the British Second Army. Now they would be coming home. Much as they looked forward to the liberation of Holland, the commander, Colonel Albert “Steve” de Ruyter van Steveninck; his second in command, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Pahud de Mortanges; and the chief of staff, Major Jonkheer Jan Beelaerts van Blokland, had grave misgivings about the manner in which it was to be accomplished. Steveninck considered the entire plan risky. Mortanges’ impression was that the British were more offhand about what lay ahead than the facts justified. As he put it, “It was made to seem quite elementary. First, we’ll take this bridge; then that one and hop this river…. The terrain ahead with its rivers, marshes, dikes and lowlands, was extremely difficult—as the British well knew from our many presentations.” The thirty-three-year-old chief of staff, Beelaerts van Blokland, could not help thinking of past military history. “We seemed to be violating Napoleon’s maxim about never fighting unless you are at least 75 percent sure of success. Then, the other 25 percent can be left to chance. The British were reversing the process; we were leaving 75 percent to chance. We had only forty-eight hours to get to Arnhem, and if the slightest thing went wrong—a bridge blown, stiffer German resistance than anticipated—we’d be off schedule.” Blokland had a private worry, too. His parents lived in the village of Oosterbeek, just two and a half miles from the Arnhem bridge.
One of the few officers below the rank of brigade major who heard the briefing was twenty-one-year-old Lieutenant John Gorman of the Irish Guards. He was stimulated by the whole affair and thought Horrocks was “at his finest.” The Corps commander, Gorman later recalled, “called into play all his wit and humor, interspersing the more dramatic or technical points with humorous little asides. He really was quite a showman.” Gorman was particularly pleased with Operation Garden because “the Guards were to lead out and obviously their role would be tremendously dramatic.”
When the meeting had ended and commanders headed out to brief their troops, young Gorman felt his first “private doubts about the chances of success.” Lingering in front of a map, he remembers thinking that Market-Garden was “a feasible operation—but only just feasible.” There were simply “too many bridges.” Nor was he enthusiastic about the terrain itself. He thought it was poor tank country and advancing on “a one-tank front, we would be very vulnerable.” But the promise of support from rocket-firing Typhoons was reassuring. So was another promise of sorts. Gorman remembered the day, months before, when he had received the Military Cross for bravery from Montgomery himself.* At the investiture, Monty had said, “If I were a betting man I should say it would be an even bet that the war will be over by Christmas.” And Horrocks, Gorman recalls, had “told us that this attack could end the war.” The only alternative Gorman could find to “going north seemed to be a long dreary winter camped on or near the Escaut Canal.” Monty’s plan, he believed, “had just the right amount of dash and daring to work. If there was a chance to win the war by Christmas, then I was for pushing on.”
Now, in the flat, gray Belgian countryside with its coal fields and slag heaps which reminded so many of Wales, the men who would lead the way for General Dempsey’s British Second Army heard of the plan and the promise of Arnhem. Along side roads, in bivouac areas and in encampments, soldiers gathered around their officers to learn the part they would play in Operation Market-Garden. When Lieutenant Colonel Giles Vandeleur told his officers that the Irish would be leading out, twenty-nine-year-old Major Edward G. Tyler remembers that a “half moan” went up from the assembled officers. “We figured,” he recalls, “that we deserved a bit of a break after taking the bridge over the Escaut Canal, which we named ‘Joe’s bridge’ after Joe Vandeleur. But our commanding officer told us that it was a great honor for us to be chosen.” Despite his desire for a reprieve, Tyler thought so too. “We were used to one-tank fronts,” he remembers, “and in this case we were trusting to speed and support. No one seemed worried.”
But Lieutenant Barry Quinan, who had just turned twenty-one, was “filled with trepidation.” He was going into action for the first time with the lead Guards Armored tank squadron under Captain Mick O’Cock. Quinan’s infantry would travel on the backs of the tanks, Russian-style. To him, “the number of rivers ahead seemed ominous. We were not amphibious.” Yet Quinan felt proud that his men would be “leading the entire British Second Army.”
Lieutenant Rupert Mahaffey, also twenty-one, vividly remembers being told that “if the operation was a success the wives and children at home would be relieved from the threat of the Germans’ V-2 rockets.” Mahaffey’s mother lived in London, which by that time was under intense bombardment. Although he was excited at the prospect of the attack, the single road leading all the way up to Arnhem was, he thought, “an awfully long way to go.”
Captain Roland S. Langton, twenty-three, just returned from five days in a field hospital after receiving shrapnel wounds, learned that he was no longer adjutant of the 2nd Irish Guards Battalion. Instead, he was assigned as second in command of Captain Mick O’Cock’s breakout squadron. He was jubilant about the assignment. The breakout seemed to Langton a straightforward thing. Garden could not be anything but a success. It was “obvious to all that the Germans were disorganized and shaken, lacking cohesion, and capable only of fighting in small pockets.”
Not everyone was so confident. As Lieutenant A. G. C. “Tony” Jones, twenty-one, of the Royal Engineers, listened to the plan, he thought it was “clearly going to be very difficult.” The bridges were the key to the entire operation and, as one officer remarked, “The drive of the XXX Corps will be like threading seven needles with one piece of cotton and we only have to miss one to be in trouble.” To veteran Guardsman Tim Smith, twenty-four, the attack was “just another battle.” On this day his greatest concern was the famed St. Leger race at Newmarket. He had a tip that a horse called Tehran, to be ridden by the famous jockey Gordon Richards, was “a sure thing.” He placed every penny he had on Tehran with a lance corporal at battalion headquarters. If Market-Garden was the operation that would win the war, this was just the day to win the St. Leger. To his amazement, Tehran won. He was quite sure now that Market-Garden would succeed.
One man was “decidedly uncomfortable.” Flight Lieutenant Donald Love, twenty-eight, an R.A.F. fighter-reconnaissance pilot, felt completely out of place among the officers of the Guards Armored. He was part of the air liaison team which would call in the rocket-firing Typhoon fighters from the ground when the breakout began. His lightly armored vehicle (code-named “Winecup”), with its canvas roof and its maze of communications equipment, would be up front close to Lieutenant Colonel Joe Vandeleur’s command car. Love felt naked and defenseless: the only weapons the R.A.F. team possessed were revolvers. As he listened to Vandeleur talking about “a rolling barrage that would move forward at a speed of 200 yards per minute” and heard the burly Irishman describe Love’s little scout car as an “armored signal tender for direct communication with pilots in the sky,” Love’s concern mounted. “I got the distinct impression that I would be the one responsible for calling in the ‘cab rank’ of Typhoons overhead.” The thought was not reassuring. Love knew very little about the radio setup, and he had never before acted as a ground-to-air tactical officer. Then, to his acute relief, he learned that an expert, Squadron Leader Max Sutherland, would join him the following day to handle the communications for the initial breakout. Thereafter, Love would be in charge. Love began to wonder whether he should have volunteered in the first place. He had only taken the job “because I thought it might be a nice change of pace.”
A change of a different sort bothered the commander of the Irish Guards. During the capture of the bridgehead over the Escaut Canal, Joe Vandeleur had lost “a close and distinguished friend.” His broadcasting van, with its huge trumpetlike loudspeaker on the roof, had been destroyed by a German shell. All through training back in England and in the great advance from Normandy, Joe had used the van to broadcast to his troops and after each session, being a lover of classical music, he had always put on a record or two—selections that didn’t always please the Guardsmen. The van had been blown to pieces and shards of the classical records—along with Vandeleur’s favorite popular tune-had showered down over the countryside. Joe was saddened by his loss; not so, his Irish Guardsmen. They thought the drive to Arnhem would be arduous enough without having to listen to Joe’s loudspeaker blaring out his current theme song, “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.”
Meanwhile, in England the paratroopers and glider-borne infantry of the First Allied Airborne Army were even now in marshaling areas, ready for the moment of takeoff. Over the previous forty-eight hours, using maps, photographs and scale models, officers had briefed and rebriefed their men. The preparations were immense and meticulous. At twenty-four air bases (8 British, 16 American), vast fleets of troop-carrying aircraft, tow planes and gliders were checked out, fueled and loaded with equipment ranging from artillery to jeeps. Some ninety miles north of London, Brigadier General James M. Gavin’s “All-American” 82nd Airborne Division was already shut off from the outside world at a cluster of airfields around Grantham in Lincolnshire. So were part of General Roy Urquhart’s Red Devils, the British 1st Airborne Division, and Major General Stanislaw Sosa-bowski’s Polish 1st Parachute Brigade. To the south around Newbury, roughly eighty miles west of London, Major General Maxwell D. Taylor’s Screaming Eagles, the 101st Airborne Division, were also “sealed in.” In the same area, and stretching as far down as Dorsetshire, was the remainder of Urquhart’s division. The majority of his units would not move to the airfields until the morning of the seventeenth, but in hamlets, villages and bivouac areas close to the departure points, they too made ready. Everywhere now, the airborne forces of Market-Garden waited out the time until takeoff and the historic invasion of Holland from the sky.
Some men felt more concern at being sealed in than about the mission itself. At an airfield near the village of Ramsbury, the security precautions made Corporal Hansford Vest, of the 101st Division’s 502nd Regiment, distinctly uneasy. Aircraft and gliders “were parked for miles all over the countryside and there were guards everywhere.” He noted that the airfield was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence with “British guards on the outside and our own guards on the inside.” Vest had the “feeling that our freedom was gone.” Private James Allardyce of the 508th Regiment, in his crowded tent city, tried to ignore the barbed wire and guards. He checked and rechecked his equipment “until it was almost worn out.” Allardyce could not shake off the feeling that “we were like condemned men waiting to be led off.”
Other men worried principally about their chances of going on the mission. So many previous operations had been canceled that one new recruit, nineteen-year-old Private Melvin Isenekev, of the 506th Regiment (he had arrived from the States on June 6, the day the 101st had jumped into Normandy), still didn’t believe they would go when they reached the marshaling area. Isenekev felt he had trained “long and hard for this and I didn’t want to be held back.” Yet he almost was. Trying to light a makeshift oil burner used for heating water, he threw a lighted match into an oil drum. When nothing happened, Isenekev “put my head over it to look in and it exploded.” Temporarily blinded, he instantly thought, “Now I’ve done it. They won’t let me go.” However within a few minutes his eyes stopped burning and he could see again. But he believes he was the only member of the 101st jumping into Holland with no eyebrows.
First Sergeant Daniel Zapalski, twenty-four, of the 502nd, “sweated out the jump; hoping the chute was packed right; hoping the field was soft; and hoping I didn’t land in a tree.” He was eager to go. Although he had not fully recovered from a Normandy leg wound, Zapalski believed his injury “was not serious enough to keep me from doing my normal duty.” His battalion commander, the popular Lieutenant Colonel Robert G. Cole, disagreed. He had turned down Zapalski’s pleas. Undeterred, Zapalski had bypassed Cole and obtained a written release certifying his combat readiness from the regimental surgeon. Though Zapalski and Cole had fought together in Normandy, the sergeant now got a “typical Cole chewing out. He called me ‘a fatheaded Polack, impractical, burdensome and unreasonable.’”But he let Zapalski go.
Captain Raymond S. Hall, the 502nd’s regimental chaplain, had a somewhat similar problem. He was “most anxious to return to action and to be with my men.” But he too had been wounded in Normandy. Now the doctors would not let him jump. He was finally told that he could go in by glider. The chaplain was horrified. A veteran paratrooper, he considered gliders distinctly unsafe.
Fear of death or of failure to perform well disturbed others. Captain LeGrand Johnson, twenty-two-year-old company commander, remembering “the horrors and narrow escapes” during the 101st’s night airborne attack preceding the Normandy invasion, was fatalistically “resigned.” He was convinced that he would not return from this mission. Still, the young officer “fully intended to raise as much hell as I could.” Johnson was not sure he liked the idea of a daylight drop. It might produce more casualties. On the other hand, this time “we would be able to see the enemy.” To hide his nervousness, Johnson made bets with his fellow troopers on who would get the first Dutch beer. One of Johnson’s staff sergeants, Charles Dohun, was “almost numb” with worry. He did “not know how to compare this daylight jump with Normandy or what to expect.” Within forty-eight hours, his numbness forgotten, Staff Sergeant Dohun would heroically save the life of the fatalistic Captain Johnson.
Technical Sergeant Marshall Copas, twenty-two, had perhaps more reason than most for anxiety. He was one of the “pathfinders” who would jump first to mark the drop zones for the 101st. In the Normandy drop, Copas recalled, “we had forty-five minutes before the main body of troopers began jumping—now we had only twelve minutes.” Copas and his friend Sergeant John Rudolph Brandt, twenty-nine, had one concern in common: both would have felt better “had General Patton’s Third Army been on the ground below us, rather than the British. We had never fought with the Tommies before.”
In the Grantham area, Private John Garzia, a veteran of three combat jumps with the 82nd Airborne Division, was stunned. To him, Market-Garden “was sheer insanity.” He thought “Ike had transferred to the German side.”
Now that Operation Market-Garden was actually on, Lieutenant Colonel Louis Mendez, battalion commander of the 82nd’s 508th Regiment, had no hesitation in speaking out on one particular subject. With the nighttime experiences of his regiment in Normandy still painfully clear in his mind, Colonel Mendez delivered a scathing warning to the pilots who would carry his battalion into action the next day. “Gentlemen,” Mendez said coldly, “my officers know this map of Holland and the drop zones by heart and we’re ready to go. When I brought my battalion to the briefing prior to Normandy, I had the finest combat-ready force of its size that will ever be known. By the time I gathered them together in Normandy, half were gone. I charge you: put us down in Holland or put us down in hell, but put us all down together in one place.”
Private First Class John Allen, twenty-four, a three-jump veteran and still recovering from wounds sustained in Normandy, was philosophical about the operation: “They never got me in a night jump,” he solemnly told his buddies, “so now they’ll be able to see me and get off a good shot.” Staff Sergeant Russell O’Neal, with three night combat jumps behind him, was convinced that his “Irish luck was about to run out.” When he heard the 82nd was to jump in daylight, he composed a letter he never sent—“You can hang a gold star in your window tonight, Mother. The Germans have a good chance to hit us before we even land.” To lighten the atmosphere—though in doing so he may have made it worse—Private Philip H. Nadler, of the 504th Regiment, spread a few rumors. The one he liked best was that a large German camp of SS men were bivouacked on one of the 82nd drop zones.
Nadler had not been overly impressed by the briefing of the platoon. One of the 504th’s objectives was the bridge at Grave. Gathering the men around him, the briefing lieutenant threw back the cover on a sandtable model and said, “Men, this is your destination.” He rested a pointer on the bridge which bore the single word “Grave.” Nadler was the first to comment. “Yeah, we know that, Lieutenant,” he said, “but what country are we droppin’ on?”
Major Edward Wellems, of the 504th’s 2nd Battalion, thought the name of the bridge was rather ominous, too, despite the fact that the officers who briefed his group suddenly began to change the pronunciation, referring to it as the “gravey bridge.”
The briefings caused mixed reactions. Nineteen-year-old Corporal Jack Bommer thought that “six or eight weeks would see us home and then they’d send us on to the Pacific.” Private Leo Hart, twenty-one, did not believe they were going at all. He had heard—probably as a result of Private Nadler’s rumor—that there were 4,000 SS troops in the general jump area.
Major Edwin Bedell, thirty-eight, remembers that one private’s sole concern was the safety of a live hare that he had won in a local village raffle. The private was fearful that his pet, which was so tame that it followed him everywhere, would not survive the jump, and that if it did it might still wind up in a stew pot.
Near Spanhoe airfield in the Grantham area, Lieutenant “Pat” Glover of the British 1st Airborne Division’s 4th Parachute Brigade worried about Myrtle, a reddish-brown chicken that had been Glover’s special pet since early summer. With parachute wings fastened to an elastic band around her neck, Myrtle “the parachick” had made six training jumps. At first she rode in a small zippered canvas bag attached to Glover’s left shoulder. Later, he released her at fifty feet above the ground. By now Myrtle was an expert, and Glover could free her at three hundred feet. With a frenzied flutter of wings and raucous squawking, Myrtle gracelessly floated down to earth. There, Glover recalls, “this rather gentle pet would wait patiently on the ground for me to land and collect her.” Myrtle the parachick was going to Arnhem. It would be her first combat jump. But Glover did not intend to tempt fate. He planned to keep Myrtle in her bag until he hit the ground in Holland.
Lance Corporal Sydney Nunn, twenty-three, of the 1st Airlanding Brigade, based in the south near Keevil, was only too glad to get away from his “pet.” He thought the camp was “a nightmare.” Nunn couldn’t wait to get to Arnhem or anyplace else, so long as it was far enough away from the persistent mole who kept burrowing into his mattress.
For the men of the British 1st Airborne Division, now standing by in bases stretching from the Midlands south to Dorsetshire, the prevailing mood was one of relief that, at last, they were going into action. Besides, briefing officers stressed the fact that Market-Garden could shorten the war. For the British, fighting since 1939, the news was heady. Sergeant Ron Kent, of the 21st Independent Parachute Company, heard that “the success of the operation might even give us Berlin” and that ground opposition in Arnhem “would consist mainly of Hitler Youth and old men on bicycles.” Sergeant Walter Inglis, of the 1st Parachute Brigade, was equally confident. The attack, he thought, would be “a piece of cake.” All the Red Devils had to do was “hang on to the Arnhem bridge for forty-eight hours until XXX Corps tanks arrived; then the war would be practically over.” Inglis expected to be back home in England in a week. Lance Corporal Gordon Spicer, of the 1st Parachute Brigade, offhandedly considered the operation “a fairly simple affair with a few backstage Germans recoiling in horror at our approach”; while Lance Bombardier Percy Parkes, of the 1st Airlanding Brigade, felt, after his briefing, that “all we would encounter at Arnhem was a mixed bag of Jerry cooks and clerks.” The presence of tanks, Parkes says, was “mentioned only in passing, and we were told our air cover would be so strong that it would darken the sky above us.” Confidence was such that Medic Geoffrey Stanners expected only “a couple of hernia battalions” and Signalman Victor Read was “looking forward to seeing German WAAF’s who,” he thought, “would be the only Germans defending Arnhem.”
Some men who could legitimately remain behind were eager to go. Sergeant Alfred Roullier, of the 1st Airlanding Brigade’s Artillery, was one of these. The thirty-one-year-old trooper discovered that he was not slated for the Arnhem operation. Although Roullier had been trained as an artilleryman, he was currently the acting mess sergeant at his battalion headquarters. Because of his culinary expertise, it appeared that he might spend the remainder of the war in the job. Twice, Alf Roullier had appealed to Sergeant Major John Siely to be included in the attack, but each time he was turned down. For the third time Alf pressed his case. “I know this operation can shorten the war,” he told Siely. “I’ve got a wife and two children, but if this attack will get me home quicker and guarantee them a better future, then I want to go.” Siely pulled a few strings. Alf Roullier’s name was added to the list of those who would go to Arnhem—where, within the next week, the assistant mess sergeant would become something of a legend.
In the prevailing high mood before the onset of Market-Garden, there were undercurrents of doubt among some officers and enlisted men. They were troubled for a variety of reasons, although most took care to hide their feelings. Corporal Daniel Morgans, of the 1st Parachute Brigade, considered “Market a snorter of an operation.” Still, “to drop six or seven miles from the objective and then to fight through a city to get there, was really asking for trouble.” Regimental Sergeant Major J. C. Lord, with a lifetime in the army behind him, thought so, too. “The plan was a bit dicey,” he felt. Nor did Lord give much credence to the talk of an understrength, worn-out enemy. He knew that “the German is no fool and a mighty warrior.” Still, J. C. Lord, whose demeanor could intimidate even the veterans in his charge (almost in awe, some called him “Jesus Christ” behind his back), did not reveal his uneasiness, because “it would have been catastrophic to morale.”
Captain Eric Mackay, whose engineers were, among other tasks, to race to the main road bridge in Arnhem and remove expected German charges, was suspicious of the entire operation. He thought the division “might just as well be dropped a hundred miles away from the objective as eight.” The advantage of surprise and “a quick lightning stroke” would surely be lost. Mackay quietly ordered his men to double the amount of ammunition and grenades each would carry and personally briefed everyone in the troop on escape techniques.*
Major Anthony Deane-Drummond, twenty-seven, second in command of 1st Airborne Division Signals, was particularly concerned about his communications. Apart from the main command units, he was worried about the smaller “22” sets that would be used between Urquhart and the various brigades during the Arnhem attack. The “22’s” could best transmit and receive within a diameter of three to five miles. With drop zones seven to eight miles from the objective, performance was expected to be erratic. Worse, the sets must also contact General Browning’s Airborne Corps headquarters, planned for Nijmegen, from the drop zones approximately fifteen miles to the south. Adding to the problem was the terrain. Between the main road bridge at Arnhem and the landing areas was the town itself, plus heavily wooded sections and suburban developments. On the other hand, an independent fact-gathering liaison unit, called “Phantom”—organized to collect and pass on intelligence estimates and immediate reports to each commander in the field, in this case General Browning of Airborne Corps—was not worried about the range of its own “22’s.” Twenty-five-year-old Lieutenant Neville Hay, in charge of the Phantom team’s highly trained specialists, was even a “little disdainful of the Royal Corps of Signals,” whom his group was inclined to treat “as poor cousins.” By using a special kind of antenna, Hay and his operators had been able to transmit at distances of over one hundred miles on a “22.”
Even with Hay’s success and although various forms of communications* would be used in the event of emergency, Deane-Drummond was uneasy. He mentioned to his superior, Lieutenant Colonel Tom Stephenson, that “the likelihood of the sets working satisfactorily in the initial phases of the operation is very doubtful.” Stephenson agreed. Still, it would hardly matter. In the surprise assault, troops were expected to close up on the Arnhem bridge very quickly. Therefore, it was believed that units would not be out of touch with headquarters for more than one or two hours, by which time, Deane-Drummond heard, “things would have sorted themselves out and Urquhart’s command post would be with the 1st Parachute Brigade on the bridge itself.” Although not entirely reassured, Deane-Drummond recalled that, “like almost everyone else, I was swept along with the prevailing attitude: ‘Don’t be negative; and for God’s sake, don’t rock the boat; let’s get on with the attack.’”
Now the final word depended not on men but on the weather. From Supreme Command headquarters down, senior officers anxiously awaited meteorological reports. Given less than seven days to meet Montgomery’s deadline, Market-Garden was as ready as it would ever be, but a minimum forecast of three full days of fair weather was needed. In the early evening of September 16, the weather experts issued their findings: apart from some early morning fog, the weather for the next three days would be fair, with little cloud and virtually no winds. At First Allied Airborne Army headquarters Lieutenant General Brereton quickly made his decision. The coded teleprinter message that went out to his commanders at 7:45 P.M. read, “CONFIRM MARKET SUNDAY 17TH. ACKNOWLEDGE.”In his diary, Brereton recorded, “At last we are going into action.” He thought he would sleep well this night for, as he told his staff, “Now that I’ve made the decision, I’ve quit worrying.”
In crowded hangars, cities of tents and Nissen huts, the waiting men were given the news. On a large mirror over the fireplace in the sergeants’ mess of the British 1st Airborne Division Signals near Grantham, someone chalked up “14 hours to go … no cancellation.” Sergeant Horace “Hocker” Spivey noted that, as each hour passed, the number was rechalked. To Spivey, tired of being briefed for operations that never came off, the ever-diminishing number on the mirror was the best proof yet that this time “we were definitely going.”
On all their bases the men of the First Allied Airborne Army made last-minute preparations. They had been fully briefed, their weapons had been checked and their currency exchanged for Dutch guilders, and there was little now for the isolated troopers to do but wait. Some spent the time writing letters, “celebrating” their departure the following morning, packing personal belongings, sleeping or participating in marathon card games ranging from blackjack and poker to bridge. Twenty-year-old Sergeant Francis Moncur, of the 1st Parachute Brigade’s 2nd Battalion, played blackjack hour after hour. To his surprise, he won steadily. Looking at the ever-growing pile of guilders before him, Moncur felt like a millionaire. He expected to have a “whale of a time in Arnhem after the battle,” which, in his opinion, would “last only forty-eight hours.” That would be long enough for the sergeant to settle a score with the Germans. Seventy-two hours earlier, Moncur’s brother, a seventeen-year-old R.A.F. flight sergeant, had been killed in an attempt to jump from his disabled bomber at 200 feet. His parachute had failed to open completely.
South of Grantham at a base in Cottesmore, Sergeant “Joe” Sunley of the 4th Parachute Brigade was on security patrol, making sure that “no paratroopers had slipped off base into the village.” Returning to the airdrome, Sunley saw Sergeant “Ginger” Green, a physical-training instructor and a “gentle giant of a man,” tossing a deflated football up in the air. Green deftly caught the ball and threw it to Sunley. “What the hell are you doing with this?” Sunley asked. Ginger explained that he was taking the deflated ball to Arnhem, “so we can have a little game on the drop zone after we’re finished.”
At Manston, Kent, Staff Sergeant George Baylis of the Glider Pilot Regiment was also looking forward to some recreation. He had heard that the Dutch liked to dance; so George carefully packed his dancing pumps. Signalman Stanley G. Copley of the 1st Parachute Brigade Signals bought extra film for his camera. As little opposition was expected he thought it was “a perfect chance to get some pictures of the Dutch countryside and towns.”
One man was taking presents that he had bought in London a few days earlier. When the Netherlands was overrun, thirty-two-year-old Lieutenant Commander Arnoldus Wolters of the Dutch navy had escaped in his minesweeper and sailed to England. Since that time, he had been attached to the Netherlands government in exile, holding a variety of desk jobs dealing with information and intelligence. A few days earlier, Wolters had been asked to go to Holland as part of the military government and civil affairs team attached to General Urquhart’s headquarters. It was proposed that Wolters become military commissioner of the Netherlands territories to be liberated by the airborne forces. “It was a startling suggestion—going from a desk chair to a glider,” he recalled. He was attached to a unit under Colonel Hilary Barlow, second in command of the 1st Airlanding Brigade, who was designated to become the town commandant in Arnhem after its capture. Wolters would be his assistant. Now, excited about the prospect of returning to Holland, Wolters “was struck by the optimism, and I believed everything I was told. I really did not expect the operation to be very difficult. It seemed that the war was virtually over and the attack dead easy. I expected to land on Sunday and be home on Tuesday with my wife and child at Hilversum.” For his wife, Maria, Wolters had bought a watch, and for his daughter, whom he had last seen as a baby four years before, he had a two-foot Teddy bear. He hoped nobody would mind if he took it in the glider.
Lieutenant Colonel John Frost, thirty-one, who was to lead the battalion assigned to capture the Arnhem bridge, packed his copper fox-hunting horn with the rest of his battle gear. It had been presented to him by the members of the Royal Exodus Hunt, of which he was Master in 1939-40. During training, Frost had used the horn to rally his men. He would do so on this operation. Frost had no qualms about a daylight jump. From the information given at briefings, “we were made to feel that the Germans were weak and demoralized and German troops in the area were of a decidedly low category and badly equipped.” Frost did have misgivings about the drop zones. He had been told that the “polder on the southern side of the bridge was unsuitable for parachutists and gliders.” Why then, he wondered, were the Poles to drop on the southern side of the bridge “if it was so unsuitable?”
Though he was anxious to get into action, Frost “hated to leave for Holland.” Secretly, he hoped for a last-minute cancellation or postponement. He had enjoyed the area of Stoke Rochford in Lincolnshire and wished for “perhaps another day or two just doing all the pleasant things I had done in the past.” But with these thoughts were others, “telling me that we had been here long enough and it was time to get away.” Frost slept soundly on September 16. Although he wasn’t naïve enough to think the battle of Arnhem would be “much of a lark,” he did tell his batman, Wicks, to pack his gun, cartridges, golf clubs and dinner jacket in the staff car that would follow.
On the mirror above the fireplace in the sergeants’ mess, now empty, there was one last notation, scrawled before men became too busy to bother. It read: “2 hours to go … no cancellation.”
*British Major General Hubert Essame (retired) in his excellent book The Battle for Germany (p. 13), writes: “In misappreciation of the actual situation at the end of August and the first half of September, Allied intelligence staffs sank to a level only reached by Brigadier John Charteris, Haig’s Chief Intelligence Officer at the time of the Passchendaele Battles in 1917.” At that time the wartime Prime Minister David Lloyd George alleged that Charteris “selected only those figures and facts which suited his fancy and then issued hopeful reports accordingly.” At various times during the 1917 Flanders campaign Charteris reported the enemy as “cracking,” “mangled,” “with few reserves,” and even “on the run.” In the dreadful battles that ensued around Passchendaele between July 31 and November 12, casualties, according to the official British history, totaled a staggering 244,897.
*In his history of The 43rd Wessex Division at War (p. 115), Essame writes: “Sartorial disciplinarians of the future” might remember “that when the morale of the British Army was as high as at any time in its history, officers wore the clothing they found most suitable to the conditions under which they had to live and fight.”
*Gorman won his Military Cross during the fighting at Caen, Normandy. Leading a trio of Sherman tanks, he was suddenly confronted by four German tanks, one a 60-ton Tiger. His men dispatched the German armor and Gorman rammed the huge Tiger tank, destroyed its gun and killed its crew as they tried to escape.
*One of the most accurate accounts of the First British Airborne’s activities on the Arnhem bridge is to be found in “The Battle of Arnhem Bridge” by Eric Mackay, Blackwood’s Magazine, October 1945.
*Included in the communications setup were 82 pigeons provided from R.A.F. sources. The lofts for these birds were situated in the London area—meaning that the birds, if they survived the airborne landing and the Germans, would have to fly approximately 240 miles to deliver a message.