Military history

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COLONEL GENERAL KURT STUDENT and his chief of staff, Colonel Reinhard, stood on the balcony of the General’s cottage near Vught and “simply stared, stunned, like fools.” Student remembers clearly that “everywhere we looked, we saw chains of planes—fighters, troop carriers and cargo planes—flying over us. We climbed onto the roof of the house to get a better idea of just where these units were going.” Streams of planes seemed to be heading in the direction of Grave and Nijmegen and, only a few miles to the south near Eindhoven and Son, he could clearly see troop carriers—one after the other—coming in and dropping paratroopers and equipment. Some aircraft flew so low that Student and Reinhard instinctively ducked. “On the grounds of the headquarters, our clerks, quartermasters, drivers and signalmen were out in the open, firing with all sorts of weapons. As usual, there was no sign of our own fighter planes.” Student was completely baffled. “I could not tell what was happening or where these airborne units were going. In these moments, I never once thought of the danger of our own position.” But Student, the paratroop expert, was filled with admiration and envy. “This mighty spectacle deeply impressed me. I thought with reflection and longing of our own airborne operations and I said to Reinhard, ‘Oh, if ever I’d had such means at my disposal. Just once, to have this many planes!’”Reinhard’s feelings were very much in the present. “Herr General,” he told Student, “we’ve got to do something!” They left the roof and went back to Student’s office.

Only the previous evening, Student, in his daily report, had warned, “Heavy columns of traffic south of the Maas-Schelde Canal indicate an impending attack.” The problem was: had it already begun? If so, then these airborne units were after the bridges around Eindhoven, Grave and Nijmegen. All the spans were prepared for demolition and protected by special engineer parties and security detachments. A bridge commander had been assigned to each crossing with strict orders to destroy the bridge in case of attack. “The obvious move for the Allies,” it occurred to Student, “was to use airborne troops in this situation to seize the bridges before we could destroy them.” At this time, Student did not even think of the importance of the Lower Rhine bridge at Arnhem. “Get me Model,” he told Reinhard.

Reinhard picked up the phone to discover that the telephone lines were out. The headquarters was already cut off.

In Oosterbeek, some thirty-seven miles away, at the Tafelberg Hotel, Lieutenant Gustav Sedelhauser, Model’s administration officer, was angry. “Are you hung over from last night?” he shouted into a field phone. Unteroffizier Youppinger, one of the 250-man company which, under Sedelhauser, was assigned to protect Model, repeated what he had said. At Wolfheze, “gliders are landing in our laps,” he insisted. Sedelhauser slammed down the phone and rushed into the operations office, where he reported the message to a startled lieutenant colonel. Together, they hurried to the dining room, where Model and his chief of staff General Krebs were at lunch. “I’ve just had news that gliders are landing at Wolfheze,” the colonel said. The operations officer, Colonel Tempelhof, stared; the monocle fell out of Krebs’s eye. “Well, now we’re for it,” Tempelhof said.

Model jumped to his feet and issued a flurry of orders to evacuate the headquarters. As he headed out of the dining room to collect his own belongings, he shouted back over his shoulder, “They’re after me and this headquarters!” Moments later, carrying only a small case, Model rushed through the Tafelberg’s entrance. On the sidewalk he dropped the case, which flew open, spilling his linens and toilet articles.

Krebs followed Model outside in such haste that, Sedelhauser saw, “he had even forgotten his cap, pistol and belt.” Tempelhof had not even had time to remove the war maps in the operations office. Colonel Freyberg, the headquarters adjutant, was equally rushed. As he passed Sedelhauser, he shouted, “Don’t forget my cigars.” At his car, Model told his driver, Frombeck, “Quick! Doetinchem! Bittrich’s headquarters!”

Sedelhauser waited until the car drove off and then returned to the hotel. In the operations office, he saw the war maps—showing positions all the way from Holland to Switzerland—still on a table. He rolled them up and took them with him. Then he ordered the Hartenstein Hotel and the Tafelberg immediately evacuated; all transport, he said, “every car, truck and motorbike, is to leave here immediately.” The last report he received before leaving for Doetinchem was that the British were less than two miles away. In all the confusion he completely forgot Freyberg’s cigars.

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