Military history

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IT HAD TAKEN THE Hohenstaufen Division engineers five hours to reassemble all the tanks, half-tracks and armored personnel carriers that Harzer had planned to send back to Germany. Newly decorated Captain Paul Gräbner, his forty-vehicle reconnaissance battalion ready, now set out from Hoenderloo Barracks, north of Arnhem, and drove quickly south. Harzer had instructed him to make a sweep of the area between Arnhem and Nijmegen to assess the strength of the Allied airborne troops in that area. Gräbner raced swiftly through Arnhem and, by radio, informed Hohenstaufen headquarters that the city seemed almost deserted. There was no sign of enemy troops. A little before 7 P.M., Gräb-ner’s unit crossed over the great Arnhem highway bridge. A mile past the southern end, Gräbner stopped his car to report, “No enemy. No paratroopers.” Mile after mile, his light armored cars slowly patrolling both sides of the highway, Gräbner’s radio messages conveyed the same information. At Nijmegen itself the news was unchanged. On orders of Hohenstaufen headquarters, Gräbner was then instructed to further patrol the outskirts of Nijmegen and then return to headquarters.

Gräbner’s unit and the forward elements of Frost’s 2nd Battalion had missed each other by approximately an hour. Even as Gräbner had driven out of Arnhem, Frost’s men were in the city itself and were stealthily approaching their remaining objectives. Inexplicably, despite General Bittrich’s explicit instructions, Harzer had completely failed to safeguard the Arnhem bridge.

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