AT FOG-COVERED BASES near Grantham, England, the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade was waiting to take off. Zero hour for the drop had been scheduled for 10 A.M., but weather had forced a five-hour postponement. The brigade was now due to come in at 3 P.M.Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski, the Poles’ fiercely independent, mercurial commander, had kept his men by their planes during the wait. It seemed to the fifty-two-year-old Sosabowski that England was fogged in every morning. If the weather cleared more quickly than expected, orders might change and Sosabowski intended to be ready to go on short notice. He felt that every hour mattered now. Urquhart, Sosabowski believed, was in trouble.
Apart from instinct, there was no specific reason for Sosabowski’s feeling. But the Market-Garden concept had not appealed to him from the outset. He was certain that the drop zones were too far from the bridge to effect surprise. Further, no one in England appeared to know what was happening in Arnhem, and Sosabowski had been alarmed to discover at headquarters that communications with the 1st British Airborne Division had broken down. All that was known was that the north end of the Arnhem bridge was in British hands. Since there had been no change in the plan, Sosabowski’s men, dropping to the south near the village of Elden, would take the other end.
But the General was worried about the lack of information. He could not be sure that Urquhart’s men were still on the bridge. Liaison officers from Browning’s rear headquarters, on whom Sosabowski was dependent for news, seemed to know little about what was actually happening. He had thought of going to First Allied Airborne Army Headquarters at Ascot to talk directly with General Lewis Brereton, the commanding officer. Protocol dictated otherwise. His troops were under General Browning’s command, and Sosabowski was reluctant to bypass military channels. Any alterations in the plan should come only from Browning, and none had been received. Yet, Sosabowski felt that something had gone wrong. If the British were holding only the north end of the bridge, the enemy had to be in strength to the south and the Poles might well have the fight of their lives. Sosabowskfs transport and artillery, due to leave in forty-six gliders from the southern Down Ampney and Torrant Rushton bases, were still scheduled for a midday takeoff. Since that part of the plan remained unchanged, Sosabowski tried to convince himself that all would go well.
Lieutenant Albert Smaczny was equally uneasy. He was to lead his company across the Arnhem bridge and occupy some buildings in the eastern part of the city. If the bridge had not been captured, he wondered how he would put his men across the Rhine. Smaczny had been assured that the crossing would be in British hands, but ever since his escape from the Germans in 1939 (his sixteen-year-old brother had been shot by the Gestapo in reprisal) Smaczny had schooled himself “to expect the unexpected.”
Hour after hour the Poles waited, while the fog in the Midlands persisted. Corporal Wladijslaw Korob “was beginning to get nervous. I wanted to go,” he remembers. “Standing around the airdrome wasn’t my idea of the best way to kill Germans.” Looking at the assemblage of planes on the field, Lieutenant Stefan Kaczmarek felt “a joy that almost hurt.” He, too, was getting tired of standing around idle. The operation, he told his men, “is the second-best alternative to liberating Warsaw. If we succeed, we’ll walk into Germany right through the kitchen.”
But the Poles were to be disappointed. At noon Sosabowski received fresh orders. Although planes were operating from the southern fields, in the Midlands the bases remained weathered in. The jump was canceled for the day. “It’s no good, General,” the chief liaison officer, Lieutenant Colonel George Stevens, told the protesting Sosabowski. “We can’t get you out.” The assault was postponed until the following morning, Wednesday, September 20. “We’ll try it then at 10 A.M.,” he was told. There was no time to transfer troop loads to bases in the south. To Sosabowski’s chagrin, he learned that his glider supply lift had already left and was on the way to Holland. The General fumed with impatience. Each hour that passed meant greater enemy resistance, and the following day might bring an infinitely harder fight—unless his nagging fears were completely unjustified.
They were not. Sosabowski’s glider supply lift with men, artillery and transport was heading for near annihilation. The third air lift would be a disaster.
Low-scudding clouds blanketed the southern route all the way across the Channel. The third lift, heading for the 101st, 82nd and British drop zones, encountered trouble right from the beginning. Clear weather had been predicted by afternoon. Instead, conditions were deteriorating even as the formations took to the air. Squadrons of fighters, caught in cloud and unable to see ground targets, were forced to turn back. In zero visibility, unable to see their tow planes, many gliders cut loose to make emergency landings in England or in the Channel and whole serials were forced to abort and return to base.
Of the 655 troop carriers and 431 gliders that did take off, little more than half reached the drop and landing zones, although most of the plane-glider combinations carrying troops were able to land safely back in England or elsewhere. But over the Continent intense enemy ground fire and Luftwaffe attacks, combined with the poor weather, caused the loss of some 112 gliders and 40 transports. Only 1,341 out of 2,310 troops and only 40 out of 68 artillery pieces bound for the 101st Airborne Division got through. So hard-pressed were General Taylor’s men that the 40 guns went into action almost as soon as they landed.
General Gavin’s 82nd Airborne fared even worse. At this time, when every trooper was needed for the attack on the critical Nijmegen bridges, Gavin’s 325th Glider Infantry Regiment did not arrive at all. Like the Polish paratroops, the 325th’s planes and gliders, also based in the Grantham area, were unable to leave the ground. Worse, out of 265 tons of stores and ammunition destined for the 82nd, only about 40 tons were recovered.
In the British sector, where Urquhart was expecting not only the Poles but a full-cargo resupply mission, tragedy struck. The supply dropping zones had been overrun by the enemy, and although intensive efforts were made to divert the 163-plane mission to a new area south of the Hartenstein Hotel, the effort failed. Desperately short of everything, particularly ammunition, Urquhart’s men saw the formations approach through a blizzard of antiaircraft fire. Then enemy fighters appeared, firing on the formations and strafing the new supply dropping zones.
At about 4 P.M., the Reverend G. A. Pare, chaplain of the Glider Pilot Regiment, heard the cry, “Third lift coming!” Suddenly, the chaplain remembers, “there was the most awful crescendo of sound and the very air vibrated to a tremendous barrage of guns. All we could do was gaze in stupefaction at our friends going to inevitable death.”
Pare watched “in agony, for these bombers, used to flying at 15,000 feet at night, were coming in at 1,500 feet in daylight. We saw more than one machine blazing, yet carrying on its course until every container was dropped. It now became obvious to us that we had terrible opposition. A signal had been sent asking that supplies be dropped near our headquarters, but hardly anything did.”
Without fighter escort and doggedly holding course, the unwavering formations released supplies on the old dropping zones. Men on the ground tried desperately to attract attention by firing flares, igniting smoke bombs, waving parachutes and even setting parts of the heath on fire—and as they did they were strafed by diving enemy Messerschmitts.
Many soldiers recall one British Dakota, its starboard wing on fire, coming in over the drop zone now held by the Germans. Sergeant Victor Miller, one of the glider pilots who had landed in the first lift on Sunday, was “sick at heart to see flames envelop almost the whole of the lower half of the fuselage.” Watching for the crew to bail out, Miller found himself muttering, “Jump! Jump!” As the plane flew low, Miller saw the dispatcher standing in the door, pushing out containers. Mesmerized, he watched the flaming Dakota turn and make another run in, and through the smoke he saw more containers tumbling out. Sergeant Douglas Atwell, another glider pilot, remembers that men climbed out of their trenches staring silently at the sky. “We were dead tired, and we had little to eat or drink, but I couldn’t think of anything but that plane at the moment. It was as if it was the only one in the sky. Men were just riveted where they stood—and all the time that dispatcher kept on pushing out bundles.” The pilot held his burning plane steady, making a second slow pass. Major George Powell “was awestruck that he would do this. I couldn’t take my eyes off the craft. Suddenly it wasn’t a plane any more, just a big orange ball of fire.” As the burning plane plunged to the ground, its pilot, thirty-one-year-old Flight Lieutenant David Lord, still at the controls, Miller saw beyond the trees “only an oily column of smoke to mark the resting place of a brave crew who died that we might have the chance to live.”
But Sergeant Miller was wrong. One member of the crew of the ill-fated Dakota did survive. Flying Officer Henry Arthur King, the navigator on that flight, remembers that just a few minutes before 4 P.M. as the plane was approaching the drop zone, flak set the starboard engine afire. Over the intercom Lord said, “Everyone O.K.? How far to the drop zone, Harry?” King called back, “Three minutes’ flying time.” The plane was listing heavily to the right and King saw that they were losing altitude rapidly. Flames had begun to spread along the wing toward the main fuel tank. “They need the stuff down there,” he heard Lord say. “We’ll go in and bail out afterwards. Everyone get your chutes on.”
King spotted the drop zone and informed Lord. “O.K., Harry, I can see it,” the pilot said. “Go back and give them a hand with the baskets.” King made his way back to the open door. Flak had hit the rollers used to move the heavy supply bundles, and the dispatcher, Corporal Philip Nixon, and three soldiers from the Royal Army Service Corps were already manhandling eight heavy panniers of ammunition to the door. The men had taken off their parachutes in order to tug the baskets forward. Together the five men had pushed out six baskets when the red light, indicating that the plane was now off the drop zone, came on. King went on the intercom. “Dave,” he called to Lord, “we’ve got two left.” Lord put the plane in a tight left turn. “We’ll come round again,” he answered. “Hang on.”
King saw they were then at about 500 feet and Lord “was handling that ship like a fighter plane. I was trying to help the R.A.S.C. boys get their chutes back on. The green light flashed and we pushed out our bundles. The next thing I remember is Lord shouting, ‘Bail out! Bail out! For God’s sake, bail out! ’ There was a tremendous explosion and I found myself hurtling through the air. I don’t remember pulling the ripcord but I must have done it instinctively. I landed flat and hard on my back. I remember looking at my watch and seeing it was only nine minutes since we took the flak. My uniform was badly scorched and I couldn’t find my shoes.”
Nearly an hour later, King stumbled across a company of the 10th Battalion. Someone gave him tea and a bar of chocolate. “That’s all we’ve got,” the trooper told him. King stared at him. “What do you mean, that’s all you’ve got? We just dropped supplies to you.” The soldier shook his head. “You dropped our tins of sardines all right, but the Jerries got them. We got nothing.” King was speechless. He thought of Flight Lieutenant Lord, and the crew and men who had shed their chutes in a desperate effort to get precious ammunition bundles out to the anxious troops below. Of all these men, only King was alive. And now he had just learned that the sacrifice of his crew had been for nothing.*
Planes crash-landed throughout the area, mainly around Wageningen and Renkum. Some ended up on the southern side of the Rhine. Sergeant Walter Simpson remembers hearing his pilot shout over the intercom, “My God, we’ve been hit!” Looking out, Simpson saw that the port engine was on fire. He heard the engines being throttled back and then the plane went into a dive. The frightened Simpson remembers that the plane “dragged its tail across the north bank of the river, lifted slightly, then catapulted across the water and came down on the southern side.”
On impact Simpson was hurtled forward and thrown to one side of the fuselage. The wireless operator, Sergeant Runsdale, crashed into him and lay huddled across Simpson’s body. The interior of the plane was a shambles, fuel was burning, and Simpson could hear the crackling of flames. As he tried to ease his legs from under the wireless operator, Runsdale screamed and fainted. His back was broken. Simpson staggered up and carried the sergeant out through the escape hatch. Four crew members, dazed and in shock, were already there. Simpson went back for the others still inside. He found the bombardier unconscious. “His shoe had been blown off, part of his heel was missing and both arms were broken,” he recalls. Simpson picked up this man, too, and carried him out. Although the plane was now burning fiercely, Simpson went back a third time for the engineer, whose leg was broken. He, too, was brought to safety.
In the village of Driel, young Cora Baltussen, her sister Reat and their brother Albert saw Simpson’s plane come down. The three immediately set out for the site of the crash. “It was horrible,” Cora recalls. “There were eight men and some of them were terribly injured. We dragged them away from the burning plane just as it exploded. I knew that the Germans would be looking for the crew. I told the pilot, Flight Officer Jeffrey Liggens, who was unharmed, that we’d have to hide him out while we took the injured men to the small surgery in the village. We hid him and two others in a nearby brickworks and told them we’d return at dark.” That evening Cora assisted the lone physician in the village, a woman, Dr. Sanderbobrorg, as she amputated the bombardier’s foot. The war had finally reached both Cora and little Driel.
In all, out of 100 bombers and 63 Dakotas, 97 were damaged and 13 were shot down—and, in spite of the heroism of pilots and crews, Urquhart’s stricken division had not been bolstered. Of 390 tons of stores and ammunition dropped, nearly all fell into German hands. Only an estimated 21 tons was retrieved.
Worse problems were to engulf the Polish transport and artillery lift. Before leaving England in the Polish lift, Sergeant Pilot Kenneth Travis-Davison, copilot of a Horsa glider, was struck by the almost complete absence of information relating to conditions at their destination. Routes were laid out on maps, and the drop zones for the Poles’ artillery and transport were marked; but, says Travis-Davison, “we were told that the situation was unknown.” The only landing instruction was that “gliders should land on the area marked by purple smoke.” In Travis-Davison’s opinion, “the briefing was ludicrous.”
Yet, despite the inadequacy of information, R.A.F. planes correctly located the drop zone near Johannahoeve Farm and 31 out of 46 gliders reached the zone. As they came in, the air erupted with fire. A squadron of Messerschmitts hit many of the machines, riddling the thin canvas-and-plywood hulls, puncturing the gas tanks of jeeps and setting some afire. Antiaircraft bursts caught others. Those that made it to the ground landed in the midst of a battlefield. Troopers of Hackett’s 4th Brigade, struggling to disengage from an enemy that threatened to overrun them, were unable to reach the high ground and the drop zone beyond in time to protect the area. As the British and Germans fought fiercely, the Poles landed directly in the middle of the cataclysmic battle. In the terror and confusion the Poles were fired on from both sides. Gliders, many already on fire, crash-landed on the field or plowed into nearby trees. Polish artillerymen, caught in the crossfire and unable to tell friend from foe, fired back at both the Germans and British. Then, hastily unloading the usable jeeps and artillery, the dazed men ran a gauntlet of fire as they left the landing zone. Surprisingly, ground casualties were light, but many of the men, bewildered and shocked, were taken prisoner. Most of the jeeps and supplies were destroyed and of eight desperately needed six-pounder antitank guns, only three came through undamaged. General Stanislaw Sosabowski’s fears were more than justified. And the ordeal of the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade was only just beginning.
Some forty miles south along the highway, General Maxwell Taylor’s 101st troopers were now fighting hard to keep the corridor open. But the German Fifteenth Army’s fierce defense at Best was draining Taylor’s forces. More and more men were being caught up in the bitter engagement that one division intelligence officer wryly termed “a minor error in estimate.” Pressure was building all along Taylor’s 15-mile sector, which the Screaming Eagles had newly named “Hell’s Highway.” It was now obvious that the enemy’s intent was to cut off Horrocks’ tank spearhead, using Best as the base.
The jammed columns of vehicles massing the highway were easy targets for artillery fire. Bulldozers and tanks roamed constantly up and down the road, pushing wreckage out of the convoys to keep the columns rolling. Since Sunday, Best, the minor secondary objective, had grown to such proportions that it threatened to overpower all other action along Taylor’s stretch of road. Now, the 101st commander was determined to crush the enemy at Best completely.
Early Tuesday afternoon, with the support of British tanks, Taylor threw almost the entire 502nd Regiment against Von Zangen’s men at Best. The mammoth attack caught the enemy by surprise. Bolstered by the recently arrived 327th Glider Infantry Regiment and by British armor on the highway, the 2nd and 3rd battalions relentlessly swept the forested areas east of Best. Caught in a giant ring and forced back toward the Wilhelmina Canal, the Germans suddenly broke. With the commitment of fresh forces, the battle that had continued without letup for close to forty-six hours was suddenly over in two. Taylor’s men had achieved the first major victory of Market-Garden. More than three hundred of the enemy were killed and over a thousand captured, along with fifteen 88 mm. artillery pieces. “By late afternoon,” reads the official history, “as hundreds of Germans gave up, the word went out to send all Military Police available.” Lieutenant Edward Wierzbowski, the platoon leader who had come closest to seizing the Best bridge before it was blown, brought in his own prisoners after having first been captured himself. Out of grenades and ammunition, with his casualties all about him—only three men of his valiant platoon had not been wounded—Wierzbowski had finally surrendered. Now, dead tired and begrimed, Wierzbowski and his men, including some of the wounded, disarmed the doctors and orderlies in the German field hospital to which the men had been taken and marched back to Division, bringing their prisoners with them.
Successful as the engagement had been, General Taylor’s difficulties were far from over. Even as the battle at Best ended, German armor struck out for the newly installed bridge at Son in yet another attempt to sever the corridor. Taylor himself, leading his headquarters troops—his only available reinforcements—rushed to the scene. With bazooka fire and a single antitank gun, a German Panther tank was knocked out almost as it reached the bridge. Similarly, several other tanks were quickly dispatched. The German attack collapsed, and traffic continued to move. But the vigilance of the Screaming Eagles could not be relaxed. “Our situation,” Taylor later noted, “reminded me of the early American West, where small garrisons had to contend with sudden Indian attacks at any point along great stretches of vital railroad.”
The Germans’ hard, fast, hit-and-run tactics were taking their toll. Almost 300 men of the 101st had been killed or wounded or were missing in ground actions. Men in slit trenches holding positions on either side of the highway or in the fields around Best were in constant danger of being overrun from the flanks, and each night brought its own particular fear. In darkness, with the Germans infiltrating the 101st’s perimeter, no one knew whether the man in the next foxhole would be alive by the following morning. In the confusion and surprise of these sharp enemy actions men suddenly disappeared, and when the fire fights were over their friends searched for them among the dead and wounded on the battle ground and at aid stations and field hospitals.
As the Best battle ended and the long lines of prisoners were being herded back to Division, thirty-one-year-old Staff Sergeant Charles Dohun set out to find his officer, Captain LeGrand Johnson. Back in England prior to the jump, Dohun had been almost “numb with worry.” The twenty-two-year-old Johnson had felt much the same. He was “resigned to never coming back.” The morning of the nineteenth Johnson had thrown his company into an attack near Best. “It was that or be slaughtered,” he recalls. In the fierce battle, which Johnson remembers as “the worst I have ever seen or heard,” he was shot in the left shoulder. With his company reduced from 180 to 38 and surrounded in a field of burning haystacks, Johnson held off the Germans until relieving companies, driving back the enemy, could reach and evacuate the survivors. As Johnson was being helped back to an aid station he was shot once again, this time through the head. At the battalion aid station his body was placed among other fatally wounded men in what the medics called the “dead pile.” There, after a long search, Sergeant Dohun found him. Kneeling down, Dohun was convinced there was a flicker of life.
Picking up the inert officer, Dohun laid Johnson and four other casualties from his company in a jeep and set out for the field hospital at Son. Cut off by Germans, Dohun drove the jeep into the woods and hid. When the German patrol moved on, he set out again. Arriving at the hospital, he found long lines of casualties waiting for treatment. Dohun, certain that Johnson might die at any minute, passed down the lines of wounded until he came to a surgeon who was checking the casualties to determine who was in need of immediate aid. “Major,” Dohun told the doctor, “my captain needs attention right away.” The major shook his head. “I’m sorry, sergeant,” he told Dohun. “We’ll get to him. He’ll have to wait his turn.” Dohun tried again. “Major, he’ll die if you don’t look at him quick.” The doctor was firm. “We’ve got a lot of injured men here,” he said. “Your captain will be attended to as soon as we can get to him.” Dohun pulled out his .45 and cocked the trigger. “It’s not soon enough,” he said calmly. “Major, I’ll kill you right where you stand if you don’t look at him right now.” Astonished, the surgeon stared at Dohun. “Bring him in,” he said.
In the operating theater Dohun stood by, his .45 in hand as the doctor and a medical team worked on Johnson. As the sergeant watched, Johnson was given a blood transfusion, his wounds cleaned and a bullet was removed from his skull and another from his left shoulder. When the operation was completed and Johnson was bandaged, Dohun moved. Stepping up to the doctor, he handed over his .45. “O.K.,” he said, “thanks. Now you can turn me in.”
Dohun was sent back to the 2nd Battalion of the 502nd. There, he was brought before the commanding officer. Dohun snapped to attention. He was asked if he was aware of exactly what he had done and that his action constituted a court-martial offense. Dohun replied, “Yes, sir, I do.” Pacing up and down, the commander suddenly stopped. “Sergeant,” he said, “I’m placing you under arrest”—he paused and looked at his watch—“for exactly one minute.” The two men waited in silence. Then the officer looked at Dohun. “Dismissed,” he said. “Now get back to your unit.” Dohun saluted smartly. “Yes, sir,” he said, and left.*
Now, in General Gavin’s sector of the corridor, as Horrocks’ tanks rolled forward toward Nijmegen, the quick capture of the city’s crossings assumed critical importance. On the seventeenth the Germans had had only a few soldiers guarding the approaches to the Waal river bridge. By afternoon of the nineteenth Gavin estimated that he was opposed by more than five hundred SS Grenadiers, well-positioned and supported by artillery and armor. The main body of the Guards Armored Division was still en route to the city. Only the spearhead of the British column—elements of the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Edward H. Goulburn—was available for an attack and Gavin’s 82nd troopers in their ten-mile stretch of corridor were widely dispersed by their efforts to fight off a constantly encroaching enemy. Since Gavin’s Glider Infantry Regiment, based in the fogbound Midlands of England, had been unable to take off, he could afford to release only one battalion for a combined attack with the British spearhead tanks. Gavin chose the 2nd Battalion of the 505th under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Ben Vandervoort. There was a chance that the attack, based on speed and surprise, might succeed. If anyone could help effect it, Gavin believed it was the reserved, soft-spoken Vandervoort.* Still, the operation carried heavy risks. Gavin thought the British appeared to underestimate the German strength, as indeed they did. The Grenadier Guards’ after-action report noted that “It was thought that a display in the shape of tanks would probably cause the enemy to withdraw.”
At 3:30 P.M. the combined attack began. The force quickly penetrated the center of the city without encountering serious opposition. There, approximately forty British tanks and armored vehicles split into two columns, with American troops riding on the tanks and following behind them. On top of lead tanks and in reconnaissance cars were twelve specially chosen Dutch underground scouts guiding the way—among them a twenty-two-year-old university student named Jan van Hoof, whose later actions would become a subject of sharp dispute. “I was reluctant to use him,” recalls the 82nd’s Dutch liaison officer, Captain Arie D. Bestebreurtje. “He seemed highly excited, but another underground member vouched for his record. He went in with a British scout car and that was the last I ever saw of him.” As the force divided, one column headed for the railroad bridge and the second, with Goulburn and Vandervoort, approached the main highway crossing over the Waal.
At both objectives the Germans were waiting in strength. Staff Sergeant Paul Nunan remembers that as his platoon approached an underpass near the railroad bridge, “we began receiving sniper fire. With a thousand places for snipers to hide, it was hard to tell where fire was coming from.” Men dived for cover and slowly began to pull back. British armor fared no better. As tanks began to roll toward the bridge, 88’s, firing down the street at almost point-blank range, knocked them out. A wide street, the Kraijen-hoff Laan, led to a triangular park west of the crossing. There, in buildings facing the park on three sides, the paratroopers regrouped for another attack. But again the Germans held them off. Snipers on roofs and machine guns firing from a railroad overpass kept the men pinned down.
Some troopers remember Lieutenant Russ Parker, a cigar clenched in his teeth, moving into the open and spraying the rooftops to keep snipers’ heads down. A call went out for tanks, and Nunan remembers that “at that instant the entire park seemed filled with tracer slugs coming from a fast-firing automatic weapon sited to our left across the street.” Nunan turned to Herbert Buffalo Boy, a Sioux Indian and a veteran 82nd trooper. “I think they’re sending a German tank,” he said. Buffalo Boy grinned. “Well, if they’ve got infantry with them, it could get to be a very tough day,” he told Nunan. The German tank did not materialize, but a 20 mm. antiaircraft gun opened up. With grenades, machine guns and bazookas, the troopers fought on until word was passed for forward platoons to pull back and consolidate for the night. As men moved out, the Germans set buildings along the river’s edge on fire, making it impossible for Vandervoort’s men to infiltrate, overrun artillery positions and clear out pockets of resistance. The railroad bridge attack had ground to a halt.
Under cover of heavy American artillery fire, the second column had made for Huner Park, the ornamental gardens leading to the approaches of the highway bridge. Here, in a traffic circle, all roads leading to the bridge converged and an ancient ruin with a sixteen-sided chapel—the Valkhof—once the palace of Charlemagne and later rebuilt by Barbarossa, commanded the area. In this citadel the enemy was concentrated. It almost seemed to Colonel Goulburn that “the Boche had some sort of an idea of what we were trying to do.” As indeed they had.
Captain Karl Heinz Euling’s battalion of SS Panzer Grenadiers was one of the first units to cross the Rhine at Pannerden. Acting on General Harmel’s orders to protect the bridge at all costs, Euling had ringed the Huner Park area with self-propelled guns and had positioned men in the chapel of the old ruin. As British tanks rattled around the corners of the streets leading to the park, they came under Euling’s guns. Meeting a punishing artillery barrage, the tanks pulled back. Colonel Vandervoort immediately took to the street, and getting a mortar crew into action with covering fire, he moved one company forward. As the company’s lead platoon, under First Lieutenant James J. Coyle, sprinted for a row of attached houses facing the park, they came under small-arms and mortar fire. Lieutenant William J. Meddaugh, second in command, saw that this was “observed fire. The guns and snipers were being directed by radio. British tanks covered our front as Lieutenant Coyle moved into a block of buildings overlooking the entire enemy position. Other platoons were stopped, unable to move, and the situation looked rotten.”
Covered by British smoke bombs Meddaugh succeeded in bringing the rest of the company forward, and the commander, Lieutenant J. J. Smith, consolidated his men in houses around Coyle. As Meddaugh recalls, “Coyle’s platoon now had a perfect view of the enemy, but as we started to move tanks up, some high-velocity guns opened up that had not done any firing as yet. Two tanks were knocked out, and the others retired.” As Coyle’s men replied with machine guns, they immediately drew antitank gun fire from across the streets. When darkness closed in, Euling’s SS men attempted to infiltrate the American positions. One group got to within a few feet of Coyle’s platoon before they were spotted and a fierce fire fight broke out. Coyle’s men suffered casualties, and three of the Germans were killed before the attack was driven back. Later, Euling sent medics to pick up his wounded, and Coyle’s paratroopers waited until the injured Germans were evacuated before resuming the fight. In the middle of the action, Private First Class John Keller heard a low pounding noise. Going to a window, he was amazed to see a Dutchman on a stepladder calmly replacing the shingles on the house next door as though nothing was happening.
In late evening, with small-arms fire continuing, any further attempt to advance was postponed until daylight. The Anglo-American assault had been abruptly stopped barely 400 yards from the Waal river bridge—the last water obstacle on the road to Arnhem.
To the Allied commanders it was now clear that the Germans were in complete control of the bridges. Browning, worried that the crossings might be destroyed at any moment, called another conference late on the nineteenth. A way must be found to cross the 400-yard-wide Waal river. General Gavin had devised a plan which he had mentioned to Browning at the time of the link-up. Then the Corps commander had turned down the scheme. At this second conference Gavin proposed it again. “There’s only one way to take this bridge,” he told the assembled officers. “We’ve got to get it simultaneously—from both ends.” Gavin urged that “any boats in Horrocks’ engineering columns should be rushed forward immediately, because we’re going to need them.” The British looked at him in bewilderment. What the 82nd commander had in mind was an assault crossing of the river—by paratroops.
Gavin went on to explain. In nearly three days of fighting, his casualties were high—upwards of 200 dead and nearly 700 injured. Several hundred more men were cut off or scattered and were listed as missing. His losses, Gavin reasoned, would grow progressively worse if blunt head-on attacks continued. What was needed was a means of capturing the bridge quickly and cheaply. Gavin’s plan was to throw a force in boats across the river a mile downstream while the attack continued for possession of the southern approaches. Under a barrage of tank fire the troopers were to storm the enemy defenses on the northern side before the Germans fully realized what was happening.
Yet total surprise was out of the question. The river was too wide to enable boatloads of men to escape detection, and the bank on the far side was so exposed that troopers, once across the river, would have to negotiate 200 yards of flat ground. Beyond was an embankment from which German gunners could fire down upon the invading paratroopers. That defense position would have to be overrun too. Although heavy casualties could be expected initially, in Gavin’s opinion they would still be less than if the assault were continued against the southern approaches alone. “The attempt has to be made,” he told Browning, “if Market-Garden is to succeed.”
Colonel George S. Chatterton, commander of the British Glider Pilot Regiment, remembers that, besides Browning and Horrocks, commanders of the Irish, Scots, and Grenadier Guards were present at the conference. So was cigar-chewing Colonel Reuben Tucker, commander of the 82nd’s 504th Regiment, whose men Gavin had picked to make the river assault if his plan won approval. Although intent on Gavin’s words, Chatterton could not help noting the differences in the men assembled. “One brigadier wore suede shoes and sat on a shooting stick,” he recalls. “Three Guards’ commanders had on rather worn corduroy trousers, chukka boots and old school scarves.” Chatterton thought “they seemed relaxed, as though they were discussing an exercise, and I couldn’t help contrast them to the Americans present, especially Colonel Tucker, who was wearing a helmet that almost covered his face. His pistol was in a holster under his left arm, and he had a knife strapped to his thigh.” To Chatterton’s great amusement, “Tucker occasionally removed his cigar long enough to spit and every time he did faint looks of surprise flickered over the faces of the Guards’ officers.”
But the daring of Gavin’s plan provided the real surprise. “I knew it sounded outlandish,” Gavin recalls, “but speed was essential. There was no time even for a reconnaissance. As I continued to talk, Tucker was the only man in the room who seemed unfazed. He had made the landing at Anzio and knew what to expect. To him the crossing was like the kind of exercise the 504th had practiced at Fort Bragg.” Still, for paratroopers, it was unorthodox and Browning’s chief of staff, Brigadier Gordon Walch, recalls that the Corps commander was “by now filled with admiration at the daring of the idea.” This time Browning gave his approval.
The immediate problem was to find boats. Checking with his engineers, Horrocks learned they carried some twenty-eight small canvas and plywood craft. These would be rushed to Nijmegen during the night. If the planning could be completed in time, Gavin’s miniature Normandy-like amphibious assault of the Waal would take place at 1 P.M. the next day, on the twentieth. Never before had paratroopers attempted such a combat operation. But Gavin’s plan seemed to offer the best hope of grabbing the Nijmegen bridge intact; and then, as everyone still believed, another quick dash up the corridor would unite them with the men at Arnhem.
In the grassy expanse of the Eusebius Buiten Singel, General Heinz Harmel personally directed the opening of the bombardment against Frost’s men at the bridge. His attempt to persuade Frost to surrender had failed. Now, to the assembled tank and artillery commanders his instructions were specific: they were to level every building held by the paratroopers. “Since the British won’t come out of their holes, we’ll blast them out,” Harmel said. He told gunners to “aim right under the gables and shoot meter by meter, floor by floor, until each house collapses.” Harmel was determined that the siege would end, and since everything else had failed this was the only course. “By the time we’re finished,” Harmel added, “there’ll be nothing left but a pile of bricks.” Lying flat on the ground between two artillery pieces, Harmel trained his binoculars on the British strongholds and directed the fire. As the opening salvos zeroed in he stood up, satisfied, and handed over to his officers. “I would have liked to stay,” he recalls. “It was a new experience in fighting for me. But with the Anglo-Americans attacking the bridges at Nijmegen I had to rush down there.” As Harmel left, his gunners, with methodical, scythelike precision, began the job of reducing Frost’s remaining positions to rubble.
Of the eighteen buildings that the 2nd Battalion had initially occupied, Frost’s men now held only about ten. While tanks hit positions from the east and west, artillery slammed shells into those facing north. The barrage was merciless. “It was the best, most effective fire I have ever seen,” remembers SS Grenadier Private Horst Weber. “Starting from the rooftops, buildings collapsed like doll houses. I did not see how anyone could live through this inferno. I felt truly sorry for the British.”
Weber watched three Tiger tanks rumble slowly down the Groote Markt, and while machine guns sprayed every window in a block of buildings opposite the northern approaches to the bridge, the tanks “pumped shell after shell into each house, one after the other.” He remembers a corner building where “the roof fell in, the two top stories began to crumble and then, like the skin peeling off a skeleton, the whole front wall fell into the street revealing each floor on which the British were scrambling like mad.” Dust and debris, Weber remembers, “soon made it impossible to see anything more. The din was awful but even so, above it all we could hear the wounded screaming.”
In relays, tanks smashed houses along the Rhine waterfront and under the bridge itself. Often, as the British darted out, tanks rammed the ruins like bulldozers, completely leveling the sites. At Captain Mackay’s headquarters under the ramp in the nearly destroyed schoolhouse, Lieutenant Peter Stainforth estimated that “high-explosive shells came through the southern face of the building at the rate of one every ten seconds.” It became “rather hot,” he recalls, “and everyone had some sort of wound or other.” Yet the troopers obstinately hung on, evacuating each room in its turn “as ceilings collapsed, cracks appeared in the walls, and rooms became untenable.” In the rubble, making every shot count, the Red Devils, Stainforth recalls proudly, “survived like moles. Jerry just couldn’t dig us out.” But elsewhere men were finding their positions almost unendurable. “The Germans had decided to shell us out of existence,” Private James W. Sims explains. “It seemed impossible for the shelling and mortaring to get any heavier, but it did. Burst after burst, shell after shell rained down, the separate explosions merging into one continuous rolling detonation.” With each salvo Sims repeated a desperate litany, “Hold on! Hold on! It can’t last much longer.” As he crouched alone in his slit trench the thought struck Sims that he was “lying in a freshly dug grave just waiting to be buried alive.” He remembers thinking that “unless XXX Corps hurries, we have had it.”
Colonel Frost realized that disaster had finally overtaken the 2nd Battalion. The relieving battalions had not broken through, and Frost was sure they were no longer able to come to his aid. The Polish drop had failed to materialize. Ammunition was all but gone. Casualties were now so high that every available cellar was full, and the men had been fighting without letup for over fifty hours. Frost knew they could not endure this punishment much longer. All about his defensive perimeter, houses were in flames, buildings had collapsed, and positions were being over-run. He did not know how much longer he could hold out. His beloved 2nd Battalion was being buried in the ruins of the buildings around him. Yet Frost was not ready to oblige his enemy. Beyond hope, he was determined to deny the Germans the Arnhem bridge to the last.
He was not alone in his emotions. Their ordeal seemed to affect his men much as it did Frost. Troopers shared their ammunition and took what little they could find from their wounded, preparing for the doom that was engulfing them. There was little evidence of fear. In their exhaustion, hunger and pain, the men seemed to develop a sense of humor about themselves and their situation which grew even as their sacrifice became increasingly apparent.
Father Egan remembers meeting Frost coming out of a toilet. “The Colonel’s face—tired, grimy, and wearing a stubble of beard—lit up with a smile,” Egan recalls. “‘Father,’ he told me, ‘the window is shattered, there’s a hole in the wall, and the roof’s gone. But it has a chain and it works.’”
Later, Egan was trying to make his way across one street to visit wounded in the cellars. The area was being heavily mortared and the chaplain was taking cover wherever he could. “Outside, strolling unconcernedly up the street was Major Digby Tatham-Warter, whose company had taken the bridge initially,” he recalls. “The major saw me cowering down and walked over. In his hand was an umbrella.” As Egan recalls, Tatham-Warter “opened the umbrella and held it over my head. With mortar shells raining down everywhere, he said, ‘Come along, Padre.’” When Egan showed reluctance, Tatham-Warter reassured him. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I’ve got an umbrella.” Lieutenant Patrick Barnett encountered the redoubtable major soon afterward. Barnett was sprinting across the street to a new defense area Frost had ordered him to hold. Tatham-Warter, returning from escorting Father Egan, was out visiting his men in the shrinking perimeter defenses and holding the umbrella over his head. Barnett was so surprised that he stopped in his tracks. “That thing won’t do you much good,” he told the major. Tatham-Warter looked at him in mock surprise. “Oh, my goodness, Pat,” he said. “What if it rains?”
During the afternoon, as the bombardment continued, Major Freddie Gough saw Tatham-Warter leading his company, umbrella in hand. Tanks were thundering down the streets firing at everything. “I almost fainted when I saw those huge Mark IV’s firing at us at almost point-blank range,” recalls Gough. Then the tension was suddenly relieved. “There, out in the street leading his men in a bayonet charge against some Germans who had managed to infiltrate, was Tatham-Warter,” Gough recalls. “He had found an old bowler someplace and he was rushing along, twirling that battered umbrella, looking for all the world like Charlie Chaplin.”
There were other moments of humor equally memorable. As the afternoon wore on, battalion headquarters was heavily bombarded and caught fire. Father Egan went down to the cellar to see the wounded. “Well, Padre,” said Sergeant Jack Spratt, who was regarded as the battalion comic, “they’re throwing everything at us but the kitchen stove.” He had barely said the words when the building suffered another direct hit. “The ceiling fell in, showering us with dirt and plaster. When we picked ourselves up, there right in front of us was a kitchen stove.” Spratt looked at it and shook his head. “I knew the bastards were close,” he said, “but I didn’t believe they could hear us talking.”
Toward evening it began to rain, and the German attack seemed to intensify. Captain Mackay, on the opposite side of the bridge, contacted Frost. “I told the Colonel I could not hold out another night if the attack continued on the same scale,” Mackay wrote. “He said he could not help me, but I was to hold on at all costs.”
Mackay could see the Germans were slowly compressing Frost’s force. He saw British troopers scurrying from burning houses along the riverbank toward a couple almost opposite him, which were still standing. “They were beginning to hem us in,” he noted, “and it was obvious that if we didn’t get help soon, they’d winkle us out. I went up to the attic and tuned into the 6 o’clock BBC news. To my utter amazement the newscaster said that British armor had reached the airborne troops.”*
Almost immediately Mackay heard a cry from the floor below, “Tiger tanks are heading for the bridge.” (It was exactly 7 P.M. German time; 6 P.M. British time.) Two of the huge 60-ton tanks were heading in from the north. On his side of the bridge Frost saw them, too. “They looked incredibly sinister in the half light,” he noted. “Like some prehistoric monsters, as their great guns swung from side to side breathing flame. Their shells burst through the walls. The dust and slowly settling debris following their explosions filled the passages and rooms.”
One complete side of Mackay’s building was hit. “Some of the shells must have been armor-piercing,” Lieutenant Peter Stain-forth says, “because they went through the school from end to end, knocking a four-foot hole in every room.” Ceilings came down, walls cracked and “the whole structure rocked.” Staring at the two tanks on the ramp, Mackay thought the end had come. “A couple more rounds like that and we’ll be finished,” he said. Still, with the stubborn and fearless resistance that the fighters at the bridge had shown since their arrival, Mackay thought that he might “be able to take a party out and blow them up. But just then the two tanks reversed and pulled back. We were still alive.”
At Frost’s headquarters, Father Egan had been hit. Caught on a stairway when shells began coming in, he fell two flights to the first floor. When he recovered consciousness, the priest was alone except for one man. Crawling to him, Egan saw that the trooper was near death. At that moment another barrage hit the building and Egan again lost consciousness. He awoke to find that the room and his clothes were on fire. Desperately he rolled along the floor, beating the flames out with his hands. The injured man he had seen earlier was dead. Now Egan could not use his legs. Slowly, in excruciating pain, he hauled himself toward a window. Someone called his name, and the intelligence officer, Lieutenant Bucky Buchanan, helped him through the window and dropped him into the arms of Sergeant Jack Spratt. In the cellar, where Dr. James Logan was at work, the priest was put on the floor with other wounded. His right leg was broken and his back and hands were peppered with shrapnel splinters. “I was pretty well out of it,” Egan recalls. “I couldn’t do much now but lie there on my stomach.” Nearby, slightly wounded, was the incredible Tatham-Warter, still trying to keep men’s spirits up, and still hanging on to his umbrella.
Occasionally there was a pause in the terrible pounding, and Captain Mackay believed the Germans were stocking up with more ammunition. As darkness set in during one of these intervals, Mackay issued benzedrine tablets to his tired force, two pills per man. The effect on the exhausted, weary men was unexpected and acute. Some troopers became irritable and argumentative. Others suffered double vision and for a time could not aim straight. Among the shocked and wounded, men became euphoric and some began to hallucinate. Corporal Arthur Hendy remembers being grabbed by one trooper, who pulled him to a window. “Look,” he commanded Hendy in a whisper. “It’s the Second Army. On the far bank. Look. Do you see them?” Sadly, Hendy shook his head. The man became enraged. “They’re right over there,” he shouted, “plain as anything.”
Mackay wondered if his small force would see out the night. Fatigue and wounds were taking their toll. “I was thinking clearly,” Mackay remembers, “but we had had nothing to eat and no sleep. We were limited to one cup of water daily, and everyone was wounded.” With his ammunition nearly gone, Mackay set his men to making homemade bombs from the small stock of explosives still remaining. He intended to be ready when the German tanks returned. Taking a head count, Mackay now reported to Frost that he had only thirteen men left capable of fighting.
From his position on the far side of the bridge, as the night of Tuesday, September 19, closed in, Frost saw that the entire city appeared to be burning. The spires of two great churches were flaming fiercely and as Frost watched, “the cross which hung between two lovely towers was silhouetted against the clouds rising far into the sky.” He noted that “the crackle of burning wood and the strange echoes of falling buildings seemed unearthly.” Upstairs, Signalman Stanley Copley, sitting at his radio set, had abandoned sending in Morse code. Now he was broadcasting in the clear. Continually he kept repeating, “This is the 1st Para Brigade calling Second Army…. Come in Second Army…. Come in Second Army.”
At his headquarters in Oosterbeek’s Hartenstein Hotel, General Urquhart tried desperately to save what remained of his division. Frost was cut off. Every attempt to reach him at the bridge had been mercilessly beaten back. German reinforcements were pouring in. From the west, north and east, Bittrich’s forces were steadily chopping the gallant 1st British Airborne to pieces. Cold, wet, worn out, but still uncomplaining, the Red Devils were trying to hold out—fighting off tanks with rifles and Sten guns. The situation was heartbreaking for Urquhart. Only quick action could save his heroic men. By Wednesday morning, September 20, Urquhart had developed a plan to salvage the remnants of his command and perhaps turn the tide in his favor.
September 19—“a dark and fateful day,” in Urquhart’s words—had been the turning point. The cohesion and drive that he had hoped to instill had come too late. Everything had failed: the Polish forces had not arrived; the cargo drops had been disastrous; and battalions had been devastated in their attempts to reach Frost. The division was being pushed closer and closer to destruction. The tally of Urquhart’s remaining men told a frightful story. All through the night of the nineteenth, battalion units still in contact with division headquarters reported their strength. Inconclusive and inaccurate as the figures were, they presented a grim accounting: Urquhart’s division was on the verge of disappearing.
Of Lathbury’s 1st Parachute Brigade, only Frost’s force was fighting as a coordinated unit, but Urquhart had no idea how many men were left in the 2nd Battalion. Fitch’s 3rd Battalion listed some 50 men, and its commander was dead. Dobie’s 1st totaled 116, and Dobie had been wounded and captured. The 11th Battalion’s strength was down to 150, the 2nd South Staffordshires to 100. The commanders of both units, Lea and McCardie, were wounded. In Hackett’s 10th Battalion there were now 250 men, and his 156th reported 270. Although Urquhart’s total division strength was more—the figures did not include other units such as a battalion of the Border Regiment, the 7th KOSB’s engineers, reconnaissance and service troops, glider pilots and others—his attack battalions had almost ceased to exist. The men of these proud units were now dispersed in small groups, dazed, shocked and often leaderless.
The fighting had been so bloody and so terrible that even battle-hardened veterans had broken. Urquhart and his chief of staff had sensed an atmosphere of panic seeping through headquarters as small groups of stragglers ran across the lawn yelling, “The Germans are coming.” Often, they were young soldiers, “whose self-control had momentarily deserted them,” Urquhart later wrote. “Mackenzie and I had to intervene physically.” But others fought on against formidable odds. Captain L. E. Queripel, wounded in the face and arms, led an attack on a German twin machine-gun nest and killed the crews. As other Germans, throwing grenades, began to close in on Queripel and his party, Queripel hurled the “potato mashers” back. Ordering his men to leave him, the officer covered their retreat, throwing grenades until he was killed.*
Now, what remained of Urquhart’s shattered and bloodied division was being squeezed and driven back upon itself. All roads seemed to end in the Oosterbeek area, with the main body of troops centered around the Hartenstein in a few square miles running between Heveadorp and Wolfheze on the west, and from Oosterbeek to Johannahoeve Farm on the east. Within that rough corridor, ending on the Rhine at Heveadorp, Urquhart planned to make a stand. By pulling in his troops, he hoped to husband his strength and hang on until Horrocks’ armor reached him.
All through the night of the nineteenth orders went out for troops to pull back into the Oosterbeek perimeter, and in the early hours of the twentieth, Hackett was told to abandon his planned attack toward the Arnhem bridge with his 10th and 156th battalions and disengage them too. “It was a terrible decision to make,” Urquhart said later. “It meant abandoning the 2nd Battalion at the bridge, but I knew I had no more chance of reaching them than I had of getting to Berlin.” In his view, the only hope “was to consolidate, form a defensive box and try to hold on to a small bridgehead north of the river so that XXX Corps could cross to us.”
The discovery of the ferry operating between Heveadorp and Driel had been an important factor in Urquhart’s decision. It was vital to his plan for survival; for on it, theoretically, help could arrive from the southern bank. Additionally, at the ferry’s landing stages on either bank, there were ramps that would help the engineers to throw a Bailey bridge across the Rhine. Admittedly the odds were great. But if the Nijmegen bridge could be taken swiftly and if Horrocks moved fast and if Urquhart’s men could hold out long enough in their perimeter for engineers to span the river—a great many if’s—there was still a chance that Montgomery might get his bridgehead across the Rhine and drive for the Ruhr, even though Frost might be overrun at Arnhem.
All through the nineteenth, messages had been sent from Urquhart’s headquarters requesting a new drop zone for the Poles. Communications, though still erratic, were slightly improved. Lieutenant Neville Hay of the Phantom net was passing some messages to British Second Army headquarters, who in turn relayed them to Browning. At 3 A.M. on the twentieth, Urquhart received a message from Corps asking for the General’s suggestions regarding the Poles’ drop zone. As Urquhart saw it, only one possible area remained. In view of his new plan he requested the 1,500-man brigade be landed near the southern terminal of the ferry in the vicinity of the little village of Driel.
Abandoning Frost and his men was the most bitter part of the plan. At 8 A.M. on Wednesday, Urquhart had an opportunity to explain the position to Frost and Gough at the bridge. Using the Munford-Thompson radio link, Gough called division headquarters and got through to Urquhart. It was the first contact Gough had had with the General since the seventeenth, when he had been ordered back to Division only to discover that Urquhart was somewhere along the line of march. “My goodness,” Urquhart said, “I thought you were dead.” Gough sketched in the situation at the bridge. “Morale is still high,” he recalls saying, “but we’re short of everything. Despite that, we’ll continue to hold out.” Then, as Urquhart remembers, “Gough asked if they could expect reinforcements.”
Answering was not easy. “I told him,” Urquhart recalls, “that I was not certain if it was a case of me coming for them or they coming for us. I’m afraid you can only hope for relief from the south.” Frost then came on the line. “It was very cheering to hear the General,” Frost wrote, “but he could not tell me anything really encouraging…. they were obviously having great difficulties themselves.” Urquhart requested that his “personal congratulations on a fine effort be passed on to everyone concerned and I wished them the best of luck.” There was nothing more to be said.
Twenty minutes later, Urquhart received a message from Lieutenant Neville Hay’s Phantom net. It read:
200820 (From 2nd Army). Attack at Nijmegen held up by strongpoint south of town. 5 Guards Brigade halfway in town. Bridge intact but held by enemy. Intention attack at 1300 hours today.
Urquhart immediately told his staff to inform all units. It was the first good news he had had this day.
Tragically, Urquhart had an outstanding force at his disposal whose contributions, had they been accepted, might well have altered the grim situation of the British 1st Airborne Division. The Dutch resistance ranked among the most dedicated and disciplined underground units in all of occupied Europe. In the 101st and 82nd sectors Dutchmen were fighting alongside the American paratroopers. One of the first orders Generals Taylor and Gavin had given on landing was that arms and explosives be issued to the underground groups. But in Arnhem the British virtually ignored the presence of these spirited, brave civilians. Armed and poised to give immediate help to Frost at the bridge, the Arnhem groups were largely unheeded, and their assistance was politely rejected. By a strange series of events only one man had held the power to coordinate and weld the resistance into the British assault, and he was dead. Lieutenant Colonel Hilary Barlow, the officer Urquhart had sent to coordinate the faltering attacks of the battalions in the western suburbs, was killed before he could put his own mission into full effect.
In the original plan, Barlow was to have assumed the role of Arnhem’s town major and military-government chief once the battle ended. His assistant and the Dutch representative for the Gelderland province had also been named. He was Lieutenant Commander Arnoldus Wolters of the Dutch Navy. Prior to Market-Garden, an Anglo-Dutch intelligence committee had given Barlow top-secret lists of Dutch underground personnel who were known to be completely trustworthy. “From these lists,” recalls Wolters, “Barlow and I were to screen the groups and use them in their various capabilities: intelligence, sabotage, combat and the like. Barlow was the only other man who knew what our mission really was. When he disappeared, the plan collapsed.” At division headquarters, Wolters was thought to be either a civil-affairs or an intelligence officer. When he produced the secret lists and made recommendations, he was looked on with suspicion. “Barlow trusted me completely,” Wolters says. “I regret to say that others at headquarters did not.”
With Barlow’s death, Wolters’ hands were tied. “The British wondered why a Dutch Navy type should be with them at all,” he remembers. Gradually he won limited acceptance and although some members of the resistance were put to work, they were too few and their help was too late. “We hadn’t time any longer to check everybody out to the satisfaction of headquarters,” Wolters says, “and the attitude there was simply: ‘Who can we trust?’” The opportunity to effectively organize and collate the underground forces in the Arnhem area had been lost.*
In England, a little before 7 A.M. on the twentieth, Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski learned that his drop zone had been changed. The Polish Brigade would now land in an area a few miles west of the original site, near the village of Driel. Sosabowski was stunned by the news his liaison officer, Lieutenant Colonel George Stevens, had brought. The brigade was already on the airfield and scheduled to leave for Holland in three hours. Within that time Sosabowski had to completely redesign his attack for an area that had not even been studied. Days had gone into the planning for the drop near Elden on the southern approaches of the Arnhem bridge. Now, he was to recall, “I was given the bare bones of a scheme, with only a few hours to develop a plan.”
There was still very little news of Arnhem, but, as Stevens briefed him on the new plan to ferry his troops across the Rhine from Driel to Heveadorp, it was obvious to Sosabowski that Urquhart’s situation had taken a turn for the worse. He foresaw countless problems, but he noted that “nobody else seemed unduly alarmed. All Stevens had learned was that the picture was pretty confusing.” Quickly informing his staff of the new developments, Sosabowski postponed the 10 A.M. takeoff until 1:00 P.M. He would need that time to reorient his troopers and to devise new attack plans, and the three-hour delay might enable Stevens to get more up-to-date information on Arnhem. Sosabowski doubted that his force could have been flown out at 10 A.M. in any case. Fog again covered the Midlands, and the forecast was not reassuring. “That and the paucity of information we received made me most anxious,” Sosabowski recalled. “I did not think that Urquhart’s operation was going well. I began to believe that we might be dropping into Holland to reinforce defeat.”
*Flight Lieutenant David Lord, holder of the Distinguished Flying Cross, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. The bodies of the three R.A.F. officers and the four Army dispatchers—Pilot Officer R. E. H. Medhurst, Flying Officer A. Ballantyne, Corporal Nixon, Drivers James Ricketts, Leonard Sidney Harper and Arthur Rowbotham—were all identified and are buried in the British Military Cemetery at Arnhem.
*I am indebted to Mrs. Johnson for this story. She first learned of it from the adjutant of the 502nd, Captain Hugh Roberts. Although Captain Roberts did not mention the commanding officer’s name, I must assume that it was Lieutenant Colonel Steve Chappuis of the 2nd Battalion. Captain Johnson remembers only that he “woke up in England six weeks later—blind, deaf, dumb, forty pounds lighter and with a big plate in my head.” Except for partial blindness, he recovered. Sergeant Dohun, in his correspondence and interview for this book, made little mention of the role he played in saving Captain Johnson’s life. But he acknowledges that it happened. “I don’t know to this day,” he wrote, “if I would have shot that medic or not.”
*In Normandy, Vandervoort had fought for forty days with a broken ankle. See The Longest Day, pp. 143, 181.
*Mackay thought the report referred to Arnhem; in fact, it related to the link-up of Horrocks’ tanks with the 82nd Airborne in Nijmegen.
*Queripel was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
*The British had long been wary of the Dutch underground. In 1942, Major Herman Giskes, Nazi spy chief in Holland, succeeded in infiltrating Dutch intelligence networks. Agents sent from England were captured and forced to work for him. For twenty months, in perhaps the most spectacular counterintelligence operation of World War II, nearly every agent parachuted into Holland was intercepted by the Germans. As a security check, monitors in England were instructed to listen for deliberate errors in Morse code radio transmissions. Yet messages from these “double agents” were accepted without question by British intelligence. It was not until two agents escaped that Giskes’ Operation North Pole came to an end. Having hoodwinked the Allies for so long, Giskes could not resist boasting of his coup. In a plain-text message to the British on November 23, 1943, he wired: “To Messrs. Hunt, Bingham & Co., Successors Ltd., London. We understand you have been endeavoring for some time to do business in Holland without our assistance. We regret this … since we have acted for so long as your sole representative in this country. Nevertheless … should you be thinking of paying us a visit on the Continent on an extensive scale we shall give your emissaries the same attention as we have hitherto….” As a result, although intelligence networks were purged and completely revamped—and although Dutch resistance groups were separate from these covert activities—nevertheless, many British senior officers were warned before Operation Market-Garden against placing too much trust in the underground.