FROM THE SMOKING RUINS OF ARNHEM to the damaged crossing at Son, in foxholes, forests, alongside dikes, in the rubble of demolished buildings, on tanks and near the approaches of vital bridges, the men of Market-Garden and the Germans they fought heard the low rumble come out of the west. In column after column, darkening the sky, the planes and gliders of the second lift were approaching. The steady, mounting drone of motors caused a buoyant renewal of vigor and hope in the Anglo-Americans and the Dutch people. For most Germans, the sound was like a forerunner of doom. Combatants and civilians alike stared skyward, waiting. The time was a little before 2 P.M. Monday, September 18th.
The armada was gigantic, dwarfing even the spectacle of the day before. On the seventeenth, flights had followed two distinct northern and southern paths. Now, bad weather and the hope of effecting greater protection from the Luftwaffe had caused the entire second lift to be routed along the northern path to Holland. Condensed into one immense column covering mile after mile of sky, almost four thousand aircraft were layered at altitudes from 1,000 to 2,500 feet.
Flying wing tip to wing tip, 1,336 American C-47’s and 340 British Stirling bombers made up the bulk of the sky train. Some of the planes carried troops. Others towed a staggering number of gliders—1,205 Horsas, Wacos and mammoth Hamilcars. Positionedat the rear of the 100-mile-long convoy, 252 four-engined Liberator bombers were ferrying cargo. Protecting the formations above and on the flanks, 867 fighters—ranging from squadrons of British Spitfires and rocket-firing Typhoons to American Thunderbolts and Lightnings—flew escort. In all, at time of takeoff, the second lift carried 6,674 airborne troops, 681 vehicles plus loaded trailers, 60 artillery pieces with ammunition and nearly 600 tons of supplies, including two bulldozers.*
Wreathed by flak bursts, the huge armada made landfall over the Dutch coast at Schouwen Island, then headed inland due east to a traffic-control point south of the town of s’Hertogenbosch. There, with fighters leading the way, the column split into three sections. With timed precision, executing difficult and dangerous maneuvers, the American contingents swung south and east for the zones of the 101st and 82nd as British formations headed due north for Arnhem.
As on the previous day, there were problems, although they were somewhat diminished. Confusion, abortions and fatal mishaps struck the glider fleets in particular. Long before the second lift reached the drop zones, 54 gliders were downed by structural or human error. Some 26 machines aborted over England and the Channel; two were seen to disintegrate during flight, and 26 more were prematurely released on the 80-mile flight over enemy territory, landing far from their zones in Belgium and Holland and behind the German frontier. In one bizarre incident a distraught trooper rushed to the cockpit and yanked the release lever separating the glider from its tow plane. But troop casualties over-all were low. The greatest loss, as on the previous day, was in precious cargo. Once again Urquhart’s men seemed plagued by fate—more than half of the lost cargo gliders were bound for Arnhem.
Fate had ruled the Luftwaffe too. At 10 A.M., with no sign of the expected Allied fleet, German air commanders pulled back more than half the 190-plane force to their bases, while the remainder patrolled the skies over northern and southern Holland. Half of these squadrons were caught in the wrong sector or were being refueled as the second lift came in. As a result, fewer than a hundred Messerschmitts and FW-190’s rushed to battle in the Arnhem and Eindhoven areas. Not a single enemy plane was able to penetrate the massive Allied fighter screen protecting the troop carrier columns. After the mission Allied pilots claimed 29 Messerschmitts destroyed against a loss of only five American fighters.
Intense ground fire began to envelop the air fleet as it neared the landing zones. Approaching the 101st’s drop areas north of Son, slow-moving glider trains encountered low ground haze and rain, cloaking them to some extent from German gunners. But sustained and deadly flak fire from the Best region ripped into the oncoming columns. One glider, probably carrying ammunition, caught a full antiaircraft burst, exploded, and completely disappeared. Releasing their gliders, four tow planes were hit, one after the other. Two immediately caught fire; one crashed, the other made a safe landing. Three gliders riddled with bullets crash-landed on the zones with their occupants miraculously untouched. In all, of the 450 gliders destined for General Taylor’s 101st, 428 reached the zones with 2,656 troopers, their vehicles and trailers.
Fifteen miles to the north, General Gavin’s second lift was threatened by the battles still raging on the drop zones as the gliders began to come in. Losses to the 82nd were higher than in the 101st area. Planes and gliders ran into a hail of antiaircraft fire. Although less accurate than on the day before, German gunners managed to shoot down six tow planes as they turned steeply away after releasing their gliders. The wing of one was blasted off, three others crashed in flames, another came down in Germany. The desperate fire fight for possession of the zones forced many gliders to land elsewhere. Some came down three to five miles from their targets; others ended up in Germany; still more decided to put down fast on their assigned landing zones. Pitted by shells and mortar, crisscrossed by machine-gun fire, each zone was a no man’s land. Coming in quickly to hard landings, many gliders smashed undercarriages or nosed over completely. Yet the pilots’ drastic maneuvers worked. Troops and cargo alike sustained surprisingly few casualties. Not a man was reported hurt in landing accidents, and only forty-five men were killed or wounded by enemy fire in flight or on the zones. Of 454 gliders, 385 arrived in the 82nd’s area, bringing 1,782 artillerymen, 177 jeeps and 60 guns. Initially, more than a hundred paratroopers were thought to have been lost, but later more than half the number made their way to the 82nd’s lines after distant landings. The grimly determined glider pilots sustained the heaviest casualties; fifty-four were killed or listed as missing.
Although the Germans failed to seriously impede the arrival of the second lift, they scored heavily against the bomber resupply missions arriving after the troop-carrier and glider trains. By the time the first of the 252 huge four-engined B-24 Liberators approached the 101st and 82nd zones, antiaircraft gunners had found the range. Swooping down ahead of the supply planes, fighters attempted to neutralize the flak guns. But, just as German batteries had done when Horrocks’ tanks began their break-out on the seventeenth, so now the enemy forces held their fire until the fighters passed over. Then, suddenly they opened up. Within minutes, some 21 escort planes were shot down.
Following the fighters, bomber formations came in at altitudes varying from 800 to 50 feet. Fire and haze over the zones hid the identifying smoke and ground markers, so that even experienced dropmasters aboard the planes could not locate the proper fields. From the bays of the B-24S, each carrying approximately two tons of cargo, supplies began to fall haphazardly, scattering over a wide area. Racing back and forth throughout their drop zones, 82nd troopers managed to recover 80 percent of their supplies, almost in the faces of the Germans. The 101st was not so fortunate. Many of their equipment bundles landed almost directly among the Germans in the Best area. Less than 50 percent of their resupply was recovered. For General Taylor’s men in the lower part of the corridor, the loss was serious, since more than a hundred tons of cargo intended for them consisted of gasoline, ammunition and food. So devastating was the German assault that about 130 bombers were damaged by ground fire, seven were shot down, and four others crash-landed. The day that had begun with so much hope for the beleaguered Americans along the corridor was rapidly becoming a grim fight for survival.
Lieutenant Pat Glover of Brigadier Shan Hackett’s 4th Parachute Brigade was out of the plane and falling toward the drop zone south of the Ede-Arnhem road. He felt the jerk as his chute opened, and instinctively reached across and patted the zippered canvas bag attached to the harness over his left shoulder. Inside the bag, Myrtle the parachick squawked and Glover was reassured. Just as he had planned it back in England, Myrtle was making her first combat jump.
As Glover looked down it seemed to him that the entire heath below was on fire. He could see shells and mortars bursting all over the landing zone. Smoke and flames billowed up, and some paratroopers, unable to correct their descent, were landing in the inferno. Off in the distance where gliders were bringing in the remainder of Brigadier Pip Hicks’s Airlanding Brigade, Glover could see wreckage and men running in all directions. Something had gone terribly wrong. According to the briefings, Glover knew that Arnhem was supposed to be lightly held and the drop zones, by now, should certainly be cleared and quiet. There had been no indication before the second lift left from England that anything was wrong. Yet it seemed to Glover that a full-scale battle was going on right beneath him. He wondered if by some mistake they were jumping in the wrong place.
As he neared the ground the stutter of machine guns and the dull thud of mortar bursts seemed to engulf him. He hit ground, careful to roll onto his right shoulder to protect Myrtle, and quickly shucked off his harness. Nearby, Glover’s batman, Private Joe Scott, had just set down. Glover handed him Myrtle’s bag. “Take good care of her,” he told Scott. Through the haze covering the field, Glover spotted yellow smoke which marked the rendezvous point. “Let’s go,” he yelled to Scott. Weaving and crouching, the two men started out. Everywhere Glover looked there was utter confusion. His heart sank. It was obvious that the situation was going badly.
As Major J. L. Waddy came down, he too heard the ominous sound of machine-gun fire that seemed to be flaying the area on all sides. “I couldn’t understand it,” he recalls. “We had been given the impression that the Germans were in flight, that there was disorder in their ranks.” Swinging down in his parachute, Waddy found that the drop zone was almost obscured by smoke from raging fires. At the southern end of the field where he landed, Waddy set out for the battalion’s rendezvous area. “Mortars were bursting everywhere, and I saw countless casualties as I went along.” When he neared the assembly point, Waddy was confronted by an irate captain from Battalion headquarters who had jumped into Holland the previous day. “You’re bloody late,” Waddy recalls the man shouting. “Do you realize we’ve been waiting here for four hours?” Agitatedly, the officer immediately began to brief Waddy. “I was shocked as I listened,” Waddy remembers. “It was the first news we had that things weren’t going as well as had been planned. We immediately got organized, and as I looked around, it seemed to me that the whole sky up ahead was a mass of flames.”
On both landing zones west of the Wolfheze railway station—at Ginkel Heath and Reyers-Camp—paratroopers and glider-borne infantrymen were dropping into what appeared to be a raging battle. From the captured Market-Garden documents the Germans had known the location of the landing areas. And through enemy radar installations in the still-occupied Channel ports such as Dunkirk, they, unlike the British on the ground, could calculate with accuracy the time the second lift was due to arrive. SS units and antiaircraft, hurriedly disengaged in Arnhem, were rushed to the zones. Twenty Luftwaffe fighters, vectored in, continuously strafed the sectors. Ground fighting was equally intense. To clear parts of the heath of the encroaching enemy, the British, as they had during the night and early morning, charged with fixed bayonets.
Mortar bursts, hitting gliders that had landed the day before, turned them into flaming masses that in turn ignited the heath. Infiltrating enemy units used some gliders as cover for their attacks and the British set the machines on fire themselves, rather than let them fall into enemy hands. Nearly fifty gliders blazed in a vast inferno on one section of the field. Yet Brigadier Pip Hicks’s Airlanding Brigade—minus the half battalion that had been sent into Arnhem—was managing with dogged courage to hold the zones. The paratroop and glider landings, bringing in 2,119 men, were far more successful than the men in the air or on the ground could believe. Even with the battle underway, 90 percent of the lift was landing—and in the right places.
Flight Sergeant Ronald Bedford, a rear gunner in a four-engined Stirling, found Monday’s mission far different from the one he had flown on Sunday. Then, the nineteen-year-old Bedford had been frankly bored with the routineness of the flight. Now, as they neared the landing zone, firing was continuous and intense. Spotting an antiaircraft battery mounted on a truck at the edge of the field, Bedford tried desperately to turn his guns on it. He could see his tracers curving down, and then the battery stopped firing. Bedford was exuberant. “I got him!” he shouted. “Listen, I got him!” As the Stirling held steady on its course, Bedford noticed that gliders all around seemed to be breaking away from their tugs prematurely. He could only assume that the heavy fire had caused many glider pilots to release and try to get down as fast as possible. Then he saw the tow rope attached to their own Horsa falling away. Watching the glider swoop down, Bedford was sure it would collide with others before it could land. “The entire scene was chaotic,” he recalls. “The gliders seemed to be going into very steep dives, leveling off, and coasting down, often, it looked, right into each other. I wondered how any of them would make it.”
Sergeant Roy Hatch, copiloting a Horsa carrying a jeep, two trailers filled with mortar ammunition, and three men, wondered how they were going to get down when he saw the antiaircraft fire ahead of them on the run-in. As Staff Sergeant Alec Young, the pilot, put the glider into a steep dive and leveled off, Hatch noticed to his amazement that everyone seemed to be heading toward the same touch-down point—including a cow which was frantically running just in front of them. Somehow Young put the glider down safely. Immediately the men jumped out and began unbolting the tail section. Nearby, Hatch noticed three gliders lying on their backs. Suddenly, with a tearing, rasping sound, another Horsa crash-landed on top of them. The glider came straight in, sliced off the nose of Hatch’s glider, including the canopy and the cockpit where Hatch and Young had been sitting only moments before, then slid forward, coming to a halt directly in front of them.
Other gliders missed the zones altogether, some crash-landing as far as three miles away. Two came down on the southern bank of the Rhine, one near the village of Driel. Leaving casualties in the care of Dutch civilians, the men rejoined their units by crossing the Rhine on the forgotten but still active Driel ferry.*
Several C-47’s were hit and set afire as they made their approach to the zones. About ten minutes from landing, Sergeant Francis Fitzpatrick noticed that flak was coming up thick. A young trooper, Private Ginger MacFadden, jerked and cried out, his hands reaching for his right leg. “I’m hit,” MacFadden mumbled. Fitzpatrick examined him quickly and gave him a shot of morphia. Then the sergeant noticed that the plane seemed to be laboring. As he bent to look out the window, the door to the pilot’s compartment opened and the dispatcher came out, his face tense. “Stand by for a quick red and green,” he said. Fitzpatrick looked down the line of paratroopers, now hooked up and ready to go. He could see smoke pouring from the port engine. Leading the way, Fitzpatrick jumped. As his chute opened, the plane went into a racing dive. Before Fitzpatrick hit the ground he saw the C-47 plow into a field off to his right and nose over. He was sure the crew and Ginger MacFadden had not escaped.
In another C-47 the American crew chief jokingly told Captain Frank D. King, “You’ll soon be down there and I’ll be heading home for bacon and eggs.” The American sat down opposite King. Minutes later the green light went on. King glanced over at the crew chief. He seemed to have fallen asleep, slumped back with his chin on his chest, his hands in his lap. King had a feeling something was not quite right. He shook the American by the shoulder and the man fell sideways. He was dead. Behind him, King saw a large hole in the fuselage which looked as though it had been made by a .50-caliber machine-gun bullet. Standing in the doorway ready to jump, King saw that flames were streaming from the port wing. “We’re on fire,” he shouted to Sergeant Major George Gatland, “Check with the pilot.” Gatland went forward. As he opened the cockpit door a sheet of flame shot out, sweeping the entire length of the plane. Gatland slammed the door shut and King ordered the men to jump. He believed they were now pilotless.
As the troopers went out the door, Gatland estimated the plane was between two and three hundred feet off the ground. He landed with a jar and began a head count. Four men were missing. One man had been killed by gun fire in the doorway before he had a chance to leave the plane. Another had jumped but his chute had caught fire; and a third, Gatland and King learned, had landed a short distance away. Then the fourth man arrived still in his parachute. He had come down with the plane. The crew, he told them, had somehow crash-landed the plane and they had miraculously walked away from it. Now, fifteen miles from Oosterbeek and far from the British lines, King’s group set out to make their way back. As they moved out, the C-47, blazing a quarter of a mile away, blew up.
In some areas paratroopers jumped safely only to find themselves falling through waves of incendiary fire. Tugging desperately at parachute lines to avoid the tracers, many men landed on the edges of the zones in dense forests. Some, as they struggled to shed their chutes, were shot by snipers. Others landed far away from their zones. In one area, part of a battalion came down behind the Germans, then marched for the rendezvous point bringing eighty prisoners with them.
Under fire on the zones, troopers, discarding their chutes, ran swiftly for cover. Small clusters of badly wounded men lay everywhere. Private Reginald Bryant was caught by the blast of a mortar shell and so severely concussed that he was temporarily paralyzed. Aware of what was happening around him, he could not move a muscle. He stared helplessly as the men from his plane, believing Bryant dead, picked up his rifle and ammunition and hurriedly struck out for the assembly point.
Many men, surprised by the unexpected and unremitting machine-gun and sniper fire that swept the zones, sprinted for cover in the woods. In minutes the areas were deserted except for the dead and wounded. Sergeant Ginger Green, the physical-training instructor who had optimistically brought along a football to have a game on the zone after the expected easy action, jumped and hit the ground so hard that he broke two ribs. How long he lay there, Green does not know. When he regained consciousness, he was alone except for casualties. Painfully he sat up and almost immediately a sniper fired at him. Green got to his feet and began to dart and weave his way toward the woods. Bullets pinged all around him. Again and again, the pain in his ribs forced Green to the ground. He was certain that he would be hit. In the billowing smoke rolling across the heath, his strange duel with the sniper went on for what seemed like hours. “I could only make five or six yards at a time,” he remembers, “and I figured I was up against either a sadistic bastard or a damned bad shot.” Finally, hugging his injured ribs, Green made one last dash for the woods. Reaching them, he threw himself into the undergrowth and rolled against a tree just as a last bullet smacked harmlessly into the branches above his head. He had gained vital yardage under the most desperate circumstances of his life. Spent and aching, Green slowly removed the deflated football from inside his camouflage smock and painfully threw it away.
Many men would remember the first terrible moments after they jumped. Running for their lives from bullets and burning brush on Ginkel Heath at least a dozen troopers recall a young twenty-year-old lieutenant who lay in the gorse badly wounded. He had been shot in the legs and chest by incendiary bullets as he swung helplessly in his parachute. Lieutenant Pat Glover saw the young officer as he moved off the zone. “He was in horrible pain,” Glover remembers, “and he just couldn’t be moved. I gave him a shot of morphia and promised to send back a medic as soon as I could.” Private Reginald Bryant, after recovering from his paralysis on the drop zone, came across the officer as he was heading for the assembly area. “When I got to him, smoke was coming from wounds in his chest. His agony was awful. A few of us had come upon him at the same time and he begged us to kill him.” Someone, Bryant does not remember who, slowly reached down and gave the lieutenant his own pistol, cocked. As the men hurried off, the fire on the heath was slowly moving toward the area where the stricken officer lay. Later, rescue parties came across the body. It was concluded that the lieutenant had committed suicide.*
With characteristic precision Brigadier Shan Hackett, commander of the 4th Parachute Brigade, landed within three hundred yards of the spot he had chosen for his headquarters. In spite of enemy fire, the Brigadier’s first concern was to find his walking stick, which he had dropped on the way down. As he was searching for it, he came across a group of Germans. “I was more scared than they were,” he recalled, “but they seemed eager to surrender.” Hackett, who spoke German fluently, brusquely told them to wait; then, recovering his stick, the trim, neatly mustached Brigadier calmly marched his prisoners off.
Impatient, prickly and temperamental at best of times, Hackett did not like what he saw. He, too, had expected the zones to be secure and organized. Now, surrounded by his officers, he prepared to move out his brigade. At this moment, Colonel Charles Mackenzie, General Urquhart’s chief of staff, drove up to perform his painful duty. Taking Hackett aside, Mackenzie—in his own words—“told him what had been decided and concluded with the touchy matter of command.” Brigadier Pip Hicks had been placed in charge of the division in Urquhart’s and Lathbury’s absence. Mackenzie went on to explain that Urquhart had made the decision back in England that Hicks was to take over in the event both he and Lathbury should be missing or killed.
Hackett was none too happy, Mackenzie recalls. “Now look here, Charles, I’m senior to Hicks,” he told Mackenzie. “I should therefore command this division.” Mackenzie was firm. “I quite understand, sir, but the General did give me the order of succession and we must stick to it. Further, Brigadier Hicks has been here twenty-four hours and is now much more familiar with the situation.” Hackett, Mackenzie said, might only make matters worse if he “upset the works and tried to do something about it.”
But it was obvious to Mackenzie that the matter would not end there. A delicate rift had always existed between Urquhart and Hackett. Although the volatile Brigadier was eminently fit for command, in Urquhart’s opinion he lacked the older Hicks’s infantry experience. Additionally, Hackett was a cavalryman, and Urquhart was known to hold a lesser opinion of cavalry brigadiers than of the infantrymen with whom he had long been associated. He had once jestingly referred to Hackett in public as “that broken-down cavalryman”—a remark that Hackett had not found amusing.
Mackenzie told Hackett that his nth Battalion was to be detached from the brigade. It would move out immediately for Arnhem and the bridge. To Hackett, this was the final insult. His pride in the brigade stemmed, in part, from its qualities as a highly trained integrated unit that fought as an independent team. He was appalled that it was being separated and broken into parts. “I do not like being told to give up a battalion without being consulted,” he told Mackenzie hotly. Then, on reflection, he added, “Of course, if any battalion should go, it is the nth. It has been dropped in the southeastern corner of the zone and is closest to Arnhem and the bridge.” But he requested another battalion in exchange and Mackenzie replied that he thought Hicks would give him one. And there the matter ended for the moment. The brilliant, explosive and dynamic Hackett bowed to inevitability. For the time, Hicks could run the battle, but Hackett was determined to run his own brigade.
For the British it was a grim and bloody afternoon. With a problem-ridden second lift, the fate of General Urquhart and Brigadier Lathbury still unknown, with Colonel Frost’s small force precariously clinging to the north end of the Arnhem bridge, and with a swelling clash of personalities developing between two brigadiers, one more unforeseen disaster had taken place.
Depleted in numbers, worn out by constant fighting, the troopers of Hicks’s Airlanding Brigade watched in despair as thirty-five Stirling bomber-cargo planes dropped supplies everywhere but on the zones. Of the eighty-seven tons of ammunition, food and supplies destined for the men of Arnhem, only twelve tons reached the troops. The remainder, widely scattered to the southwest, fell among the Germans.
In Antoon Derksen’s house less than five miles away, General Urquhart was still surrounded by Germans. The self-propelled gun and crew on the street below were so close that Urquhart and the two officers with him had not dared risk talk or movement. Apart from some chocolate and hard candy, the men were without food. The water had been cut off and there were no sanitary arrangements. Urquhart felt a sense of desperation. Unable to rest or sleep, he brooded about the progress of the battle and the arrival of the second lift, unaware of its delayed start. He wondered how far Horrocks’ tanks had advanced and if Frost still held at the bridge. “Had I known the situation at that moment,” he later recalled, “I would have disregarded the concern of my officers and made a break for it, Germans or no Germans.” Silent and withdrawn, Urquhart found himself staring fixedly at Captain James Cleminson’s mustache. “The enormity in hirsute handlebars had earlier been lost on me,” he wrote, “but now there was little else to look at.” The mustache irritated him. It looked “damned silly.”
With all his preoccupation, Urquhart had never thought of the decision he had made regarding chain of command within the division, a last-minute instruction that was fast building toward a complex confrontation between Hicks and Hackett. By now, at 4 P.M. on Monday, September 18, Urquhart had been absent from his headquarters for almost one full day.
General Wilhelm Bittrich, commander of the II SS Panzer Corps, was shocked by the enormous size of the second lift. Badgered by Field Marshal Model to quickly capture the Arnhem bridge and pressed by Colonel Harzer and General Harmel for reinforcements, Bittrich found his problems growing increasingly acute. As he grimly watched the skies west of Arnhem blossom with hundreds of multicolored parachutes, then fill with an apparently unceasing stream of gliders, he despaired. From the Luftwaffe communications net, he learned that two other massive drops had taken place. Trying to guess the Allied strength, Bittrich greatly overestimated the number of Anglo-Americans now in Holland. He believed that maybe another division had landed, enough to tilt the balance in favor of the attackers.
To Bittrich, the buildup of Allied strength versus the arrival of German reinforcements had become a deadly race. So far only a trickle of men and materiel had reached him. By comparison, the Allies seemed to have inexhaustible resources. He feared that they might mount yet another airborne drop the following day. In the narrow confines of Holland, with its difficult terrain, bridges, and proximity to the undefended frontiers of Germany, a force that size could mean catastrophe.
There was little coordination between Bittrich’s forces and Colonel General Student’s First Parachute Army to the south. Although Student’s men were being constantly reinforced by the remnants of Von Zangen’s Fifteenth Army, that shattered force was desperately short of transport, guns and ammunition. Days, perhaps weeks, would be needed to re-equip them. Meanwhile, the entire responsibility for halting Montgomery’s attack lay with Bittrich, and his most pressing problems remained the crossing at Nijmegen and the unbelievable defense by the British at the northern approach of the Arnhem bridge.
So long as the Allied troopers held out there, Bittrich was prevented from moving his own forces down the highway to Nijmegen. Harmel’s Frundsberg Division, trying to get across the Rhine, was dependent entirely on the ferry at Pannerden—a slow, tedious method of crossing. Ironically, while the British at Arnhem were experiencing their first tentative doubts of their ability to hang on, Bittrich was gravely concerned about the outcome of the battle. He saw the Reich as dangerously close to invasion. The next twenty-four hours might tell the story.
Bittrich’s superiors had problems of wider scope. All along Army Group B’s vast front, Field Marshal Model was juggling forces, trying to stem the relentless attacks of the American First and Third Armies. Although the reinstatement of the illustrious Von Rundstedt to his old command had brought a renewal of order and cohesion, he was scraping the bottom of the nation’s manpower barrel for reinforcements. Locating gasoline to move units from one area to another was also becoming an increasingly critical problem, and there was little help from Hitler’s headquarters. Berlin seemed more preoccupied with the Russian menace from the east than with the Allied drive from the west.
Despite his other worries, Model seemed confident of overcoming the threat in Holland. He remained convinced that the country’s marshes, dikes and water barriers could work for him in providing time to halt and defeat Montgomery’s attack. Bittrich had no such optimism. He urged Model to take several important steps before the situation worsened. In Bittrich’s view, the destruction of the Nijmegen and Arnhem bridges was necessary immediately, but that proposal irritated Model every time Bittrich suggested it. “Pragmatic, always demanding the impossible, Model visited me every day,” Bittrich was to recall. “On the spot, he would issue a stream of orders referring to immediate situations, but he never stayed long enough at any conference to hear out or approve long-range plans.” Model, Bittrich feared, did not grasp the appalling eventualities that could ensue for Germany if an Allied breakthrough occurred. Instead, he seemed obsessed with details; he was particularly concerned about the German failure to recapture the Arnhem bridge. Stung by the implied criticism, Bittrich told the Field Marshal, “In all my years as a soldier, I have never seen men fight so hard.” Model was unimpressed. “I want that bridge,” he said coldly.
On the afternoon of the eighteenth Bittrich tried again to explain his view of the over-all situation to an impatient Model. The Nijmegen bridge was the key to the entire operation, he argued. Destroy it and the head of the Allied attack would be severed from its body. “Herr Field Marshal, we should demolish the Waal crossing before it is too late,” Bittrich said. Model was adamant. “No!” he said. “The answer is no!” Not only did Model insist that the bridge could be defended; he demanded that Student’s army and the Frundsberg Division halt the Anglo-Americans before they ever reached it. Bittrich said bluntly that he was far from sure the Allies could be contained. As yet there was almost no German armor in the area and, he told Model, there was grave danger that Montgomery’s overwhelming tank strength would achieve a breakthrough. Then Bittrich expressed his fears that further airborne drops could be expected. “If the Allies succeed in their drive from the south and if they drop one more airborne division in the Arnhem area, we’re finished,” he said. “The route to the Ruhr and Germany will be open.” Model would not be swayed. “My orders stand,” he said. “The Nijmegen bridge is not to be destroyed, and I want the Arnhem bridge captured within twenty-four hours.”
Others knew the difficulty of carrying out Model’s commands. Lieutenant Colonel Harzer, commander of the Hohenstaufen Division, had run out of men. All his forces were fully engaged. No additional reinforcements had arrived, and the size of the second lift posed grave doubts as to the ability of his soldiers to halt and contain the enemy. Like Bittrich, Harzer was convinced that “the Allies had dropped no more than an airborne spearhead. I was sure that more would follow and then they would drive for the Reich.” With limited armor, Harzer did not know whether he could stop the enemy. He had, however, succeeded in making one place secure—the grounds of his own headquarters. There, with cynical disregard for the rights of prisoners, he had ordered several hundred British troopers to be held under guard in wire enclosures. “I was quite sure,” he was to recall, “that the R.A.F. would not bomb their own troops.”
Harzer, a self-professed Anglophile (“I had a real weakness for the English”), had once studied as an exchange student in Great Britain. He enjoyed sauntering among the prisoners trying to engage in conversation to practice his English and, hopefully, to elicit information. He was struck by the British morale. “They were contemptuous and self-assured, as only veteran soldiers can be,” he recalled. The caliber of his prisoners convinced Harzer that the battle was far from won. To keep Urquhart’s forces off balance and to prevent any kind of cohesive attack, he ordered his Hohenstaufen Division on the evening of the eighteenth “to attack unceasingly at whatever cost throughout the night.”
The commander of the Frundsberg Division, General Harmel, was “too busy to worry about what might happen next. I had my hands full fighting the Lower Rhine.” Charged with the capture of the Arnhem bridge and the defense of the Waal crossing and the area in between, Harmel’s problems were far more acute than Harzer’s. The move of his division by ferry across the river was proceeding at a snail’s pace. Troops, equipment and tanks were loaded on makeshift rubber or log rafts. Roads leading down to the water’s edge had become quagmires. Tanks and vehicles had slid off rafts, and some had even been swept away. Worse, because of constant strafing by Allied planes, nearly all ferrying and convoying operations had to take place during darkness. In twenty-four hours Harmel’s engineers had succeeded in moving only two battalions with their vehicles and equipment into the Arnhem-Nijmegen area. To speed up operations, truck shuttles carrying troops ran back and forth between the south bank landing stage and Nijmegen. But the movement was far too slow. To be sure, Harmel’s men were now in the center of Nijmegen and on the southern side of the highway bridge, but he doubted that they could stop a determined attack by the Anglo-Americans. Although he had been ordered not to destroy it, Harmel was prepared for the eventuality. His engineers had already laid charges and set up detonating apparatus in a roadside bunker near the village of Lent on the northern bank. He hoped Bittrich would approve the blowing of the highway and railroad bridges if they could not be held. But if he did not, Harmel’s decision was already made. If British tanks broke through and started across, he would defy his superiors and destroy the bridges.
*In the compilation of plane figures there are some discrepancies. American sources give a total of 3,807 aircraft; British figures list 4,000. The count used above comes from General Browning’s after-action Corps report, indicating that the difference in figures seems to lie in the number of fighter planes. According to U.S. sources, 674 England-based fighters flew escort for the second lift, but not included in that number were 193 Belgium-based planes, which brings the over-all total of fighters to 867. By far the best account of the air action in Market-Garden, particularly as it pertains to the troop carriers, is the official U.S.A.F. Historical Division’s Study No. 97, by Dr. John C. Warren, entitled Airborne Operations in World War II, European Theater.”
*The story is probably apocryphal but the Dutch like to tell it. According to Mrs. Ter Horst of Oosterbeek, when the British troopers and their equipment, including an antitank gun, boarded the Driel ferry, Pieter was faced with a dilemma: whether or not to charge them for the trip. By the time they reached the northern bank, Pieter had decided to give them the ride free.
*Although numerous witnesses confirm the story, I have withheld the officer’s name. There is still doubt that he shot himself. He was both popular and brave. He may, indeed, have used his pistol, or he may have been killed by a sniper.