Military history

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THERE WAS A RED GLOW in the sky over Arnhem as the speeding car bringing Major General Heinz Harmel back from Berlin neared the city. Apprehensive and tired after the long trip, Harmel arrived at the Frundsberg Division headquarters in Ruurlo, only to find that his command post was now situated in Velp, approximately three miles northeast of Arnhem. There, he found his chief of staff, Lieutenant Colonel Paetsch, looking exhausted. “Thank God you’re back!” Paetsch said. Quickly he briefed Harmel on the day’s events and on the orders received from General Bittrich. “I was dumfounded,” Harmel recalls. “Everything seemed confused and uncertain. I was very tired, yet the gravity of the situation was such that I called Bittrich and told him I was coming to see him.”

Bittrich had not slept either. As Harmel was shown in, Bittrich began immediately to outline the situation. Angry and frustrated, he bent over his maps. “British paratroopers have landed here, west of Arnhem,” he told Harmel. “We have no idea of their actual strength or intentions.” Pointing to Nijmegen and Eindhoven, the corps commander said, “American airborne forces have secured lodgments in these two areas. Simultaneously, Montgomery’s forces have attacked north from the Meuse-Escaut Canal. My belief is that the object is to split our forces. In my opinion, the objectives are the bridges. Once these are secured, Montgomery can drive directly up to the center of Holland and from there, into the Ruhr.” Bittrich waved his hands. “Model disagrees. He still believes further airborne forces will be dropped north of the Rhine, east and west of Arnhem and march toward the Ruhr.”

Harzer’s Hohenstaufen Division, Bittrich went on to explain, had been ordered to mop up the British west and north of Arnhem. The armed forces commander in the Netherlands, General Christiansen, had been directed to send in his forces—a mixture of defense and training battalions—under command of Lieutenant General Hans von Tettau. Their mission was to aid the Hohenstaufen Division on the flanks in an effort to overrun the British landing and drop zones.

The Frundsberg Division, Bittrich continued, was charged with all activities to the east of Arnhem and south to Nijmegen. Stabbing the map with his finger, Bittrich told Harmel, “The Nijmegen bridge must be held at all costs. Additionally the Arnhem bridge and the area all the way south to Nijmegen is your responsibility.” Bittrich paused and paced the room. “Your problems,” he told Harmel, “have been made more difficult. Harzer failed to leave armored units at the north end of the Arnhem bridge. The British are now there.”

As he listened, Harmel realized with growing alarm that with the Arnhem bridge in British hands, there was no way to get his armor quickly across the Rhine and down to Nijmegen. Nor was there another bridge crossing over the river east of the Arnhem bridge. His entire division would have to be taken over the Rhine at a ferry landing in the village of Pannerden, some eight miles southeast of Arnhem. Bittrich, anticipating the problem, had already ordered the ferry operations to begin. It would be a slow, tedious, roundabout way of reaching Nijmegen, and to ferry the division’s trucks, armor and men would take all of Harmel’s resources.

As he left Bittrich’s headquarters, Harmel asked his commander, “Why not destroy the Nijmegen bridge before it’s too late?” Bittrich’s tone was ironic. “Model has flatly refused to consider the idea. We may need it to counterattack.” Harmel stared in amazement. “With what?” he asked.

In the dark, Harmel set out once again, heading for Pannerden. His units were already on the move toward the ferry crossing and the roads were choked with troops and vehicles. In Pannerden itself, Harmel saw the reason for the chaotic conditions he had witnessed on the road. Vehicles congested the streets in one gigantic traffic jam. At the river’s edge, makeshift ferries composed of rubber rafts were slowly floating trucks across the river. From his chief of staff, Harmel learned that one battalion had reached the far shore and was already en route to Nijmegen. Some trucks and smaller vehicles were also across. But as yet, heavier armored equipment had not even been loaded. In Paetsch’s opinion, Harmel’s Frundsberg units might not be in action in the Arnhem-Nijmegen area until September 24 if the slow, cumbersome ferrying could not be speeded up.

Harmel knew there was only one solution to the problem. He would have to retake the Arnhem bridge and open the highway route to Nijmegen. As this first day of Market-Garden, September 17, ended all the German frustrations now focused on a single obstinate man—Colonel John Frost at the Arnhem bridge.

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Convinced that Holland was on the verge of liberation and completely oblivious to the dangers, the Dutch climbed on their roofs to watch the vast armada of troop-carrier planes and gliders.

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British troopers enplane for Holland and an American Waco glider is loaded. • Planes tow gliders of 101st Airborne over Eindhoven, and men of 82nd Airborne land over Groesbeek in mass jump.

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Gliders and paratroopers of British 1st Airborne land near Arnhem, and a supply drop in the British Paratroop sector.

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A tow plane behind the Waco glider crash-lands and explodes on Arnhem drop zone. Tail of the huge Horsa glider was quickly removed to unload the cargo.

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In spite of warnings, Arnhem’s General commander, General Kussin, took the wrong road and was killed by British troopers.

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Artillery chief Lieutenant Colonel “Sheriff” Thompson (at left) unloads gear from Horsa glider. • A Guards Armored tank passes a knocked-out German armored vehicle. Terrain difficulties and narrow, one-tank-width roads hindered the advance of the armored drive.

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In the corridor a supply truck explodes after receiving direct hit. A German patrol moves up during first hours of battle.

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Flight Lieutenant David Lord in an unprecedented act of courage witnessed by British paratroopers, circled his flamed Dakota again and again over the drop zone in a successful attempt to parachute precious supplies. The only survivor was Flying Officer Henry King. • Typical of courageous glider pilots was Sergeant Victor Miller who successfully landed his huge, unwieldy craft. His one concern was that another glider might “crash-land on top of me.”

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Lieutenant Tony Jones called by General Horrocks the “bravest of the brave,” rushed across Nijmegen bridge in wake of tanks and cut the German detonating explosive wires. • A badly wounded paratrooper is rushed to casualty station. • 82nd Airborne troopers move through outskirts of Nijmegen.

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British “Red Devils” move forward through the debris at Arnhem. Antoon Derksen’s house at 14 Zwarteweg, where General Urquhart hid out when caught behind German lines.

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101st Airborne troopers are greeted by Dutch as they pass through Eindhoven. • Terrain difficulties are clearly shown on one-tank front, where Guards Armored column has been halted on “island” dike-top road.

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On Arnhem bridge, Colonel Frost’s and Captain Mackay’s men successfully repulsed a German armored attack, knocking out twelve lead vehicles. The German commander, Grähner, was killed in the attack.

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Field Marshal Model; General Bittrich; the one-legged Major Knaust (also shown above left as he is today); and Major General Heinz Harmel confer during battle. Knaust’s Tiger tanks stopped the last drive of British to relieve the Arnhem bridge defenders. • Major Egon Skalka Hohenstaufen Division medical officer, who cooperated in exchanging the wounded during the truce. The SS man, obviously worried about his future, requested a letter of commendation from the British medical officer.

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Dutch women who had collaborated with Germans were quickly rounded up by the Resistance and had their heads shaved.

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The Hartenstein Hotel in Oosterbeek, General Urquhart’s headquarters during the battle. The Schoonoord Hotel and the Tafelberg Hotel, shown before and during the battle.

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Perhaps the finest journalistic coverage of the war came out of Arnhem. Sergeants Lewis and Walker, Army cameramen share a meal with Dutch girl. • London Daily Express war correspondent Alan Wood electrified Britain with his brilliant dispatches from the field.

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The build-up of the 35,000-man Allied Airborne Army was slowed by inclement weather. Parachutes of 101st Airborne troopers dot countryside on second day of attack. • At Arnhem bridge, Major Digby Tatham-Warter [SHOWN BELOW AS HE IS TODAY AND IN 1944] bolstered the men’s morale by his eccentric charges against the enemy under an open umbrella.

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In Oosterbeek perimeter, cut off and without supplies, Medic “Taffy” Brace used makeshift paper bandages to save the life of machine gunner Corporal Andrew Milbourne [SHOWN ABOVE THEN AND NOW], who lost an eye and both hands. • Another British hero was Sergeant Alfred Roullier [SHOWN BELOW THEN AND NOW], who cooked and served hot stew in the midst of battle to the hungry troops.

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A major British miscalculation was the failure to use the Dutch underground. The most frustrated of all were Dutch liaison officer Lieutenant Commander Arnoldus Wolters and Douw van der Krap whose efforts to form a fighting unit proved fruitless.

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In Oosterbeek, baker Dirk van Beek saw that “things were going bad,” but vowed to continue “baking to the last.” • Rare book seller Gerardus Gysbers, whose shop was next to the German barracks, was one of the first to realize that the British Arnhem attack was doomed to failure.

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In the pre-attack bombing, Resistance worker Albertus Uijen saw that Nijmegen was being isolated by bombers. • Telephone technician Nicolaas de Bode using secret lines, was able to pass on vital information to the underground and Allies. • Johannus Penseel took advantage of German confusion to move an arsenal of weapons “beneath Germans’ noses.” • Gysbert Numan wanted to surrender himself and others rather than allow twelve innocent men to be executed for the abortive sabotage of a viaduct on September 15th. Arnhem Resistance chief Kruyff refused the request.

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The Germans systematically destroyed British strongholds. • A knocked-out German tank lies amidst the ruins, and British troopers hold positions around the Hartenstein Hotel In background is the tennis court where German prisoners were held. • Church in lower Oosterbeek was almost totally destroyed.

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“They are throwing us away,” Colonel Tilly confided to his second-in-command, Major Grafton, after he learned that his Dorset unit was to cross the Lower Rhine and make a last stand while the remnants of Urquhart’s division were evacuated. Of 10,000 Britishers in the Arnhem attack, only 2,323 crossed the river to safety. Some of the survivors are shown below.

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A cipher code hidden in a .303 cartridge was supposed to he fired before evacuation. In the excitement of escape, Signaler James Cockrill forgot his instructions and later found the code and bullet in his battle dress pocket.

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In the late sixties, during a photo-mapping of Holland by KLM Airlines, experts were mystified by what appeared to be aircraft on the heaths near Arnhem. On careful examination cartographers discovered that the ghostly images were outlines of gliders. During and after the battle in 1944, wrecked gliders were burned, indelibly branding the heath. Confirmation of the silhouettes were made by Robert Voskuil, son of Jan and Bertha, who compared the wartime aerial photographs with KLM pictures and presented his findings in the Journal of the Royal Geographic Society.

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