Military history

Part Five
[The Witches’ Cauldron]



MONTY’S TANKS ARE ON THE WAY!” All along the shrunken Oosterbeek perimeter—from slit trenches, houses now turned into strong points, crossroads positions, and in woods and fields—grimy, ashen-faced men cheered and passed the news along. To them, it seemed the long, isolated ordeal was coming to its end. General Urquhart’s Rhine bridgehead had become a fingertip-shaped spot on the map. Now in an area barely two miles long, one and a half miles wide at its center, and one mile along its base on the Rhine, the Red Devils were surrounded and were being attacked and slowly annihilated from three sides. Water, medical supplies, food and ammunition were lacking or dwindling away. As a division the British 1st Airborne had virtually ceased to exist. Now men were once again heartened by the hope of relief. Now, too, a storm of fire roared overhead as British medium and heavy guns eleven miles south across the Rhine lashed the Germans only a few hundred yards from Urquhart’s front lines.

By signal, General Browning had promised Urquhart that the batteries of XXX Corps’s 64th Medium Regiment would be in range by Thursday and regiment artillery officers had asked for targets in order of priority. Without regard for their own safety, Urquhart’s steely veterans had quickly complied. In good radio contact for the first time, via the 64th’s communications net, the Red Devils savagely called down artillery fire almost on top of their own positions. The accuracy of the fire was heartening, its effect on the Germans unnerving. Again and again British guns broke up heavy tank attacks that threatened to swamp the bearded, tattered paratroopers.

Even with this welcome relief, Urquhart knew that a massed coordinated German attack could wipe out his minuscule force. Yet now the men believed there was a modicum of hope—a chance to snatch victory at the eleventh hour. On this Thursday, the outlook was slightly brighter. Urquhart had limited communications and a link by way of the 64th’s artillery support. The Nijmegen bridge was safe and open; the tanks of the Guards Armored were on the way; and, if the weather held, 1,500 fresh paratroopers of General Sosabowski’s Polish 1st Brigade would land by late afternoon. If the Poles could be ferried quickly across the Rhine between Driel and Heveadorp, the bleak picture could well change.

Yet, if Urquhart was to hold, supplies were as urgent as the arrival of Sosabowski’s men. On the previous day, out of a total of 300 tons, R.A.F. bombers had delivered only 41 to the Hartenstein zone. Until antitank guns and artillery arrived in number, close-in air support was critically important. Lacking ground-to-air communications—the special American ultra-high-frequency equipment, rushed to the British only hours before takeoff on D Day, the seventeenth, had been set to the wrong wavelength and was useless—division officers were forced to acknowledge that the R.A.F. seemed unprepared to abandon caution and make the kind of daring forays the airborne men knew to be essential and were prepared to risk. Urquhart had sent a continual stream of messages to Browning, urging fighters and fighter-bombers to attack “targets of opportunity” without regard to the Red Devils’ own positions. It was the airborne way of operating; it was not the R.A.F.’s. Even at this critical stage, pilots insisted that enemy targets be pinpointed with near-cartographic accuracy—an utter impossibility for the beleagured paratroopers pinned down in their diminishing airhead. Not a single low-level air attack had been made, yet every road, field and woods around the perimeter and spreading east to Arnhem held enemy vehicles or positions.

Lacking the air strikes they so desperately urged, hemmed into the perimeter, suffering almost constant mortar bombardment and, in places, fighting hand-to-hand, the Red Devils placed their hopes on the Guards’ columns, which they believed were rolling toward them. Urquhart was less optimistic. Outnumbered at least four to one, pounded by artillery and tanks, and with steadily mounting casualties, Urquhart knew that only a mammoth, all-out effort could save his fragmented division. Keenly aware that the Germans could steam-roller his pathetically small force, the dogged, courageous Scot kept his own lonely counsel even as he told his staff, “We must hold the bridgehead at all costs.”

The perimeter defenses were now divided into two commands. Brigadier Pip Hicks held the western side; Brigadier Shan Hackett was to the east. Hicks’s western arm was manned by soldiers from the Glider Pilot Regiment, Royal Engineers, remnants of the Border Regiment, some Poles and a polyglot collection of other troopers from various units. To the east were the survivors of Hackett’s 10th and 156th battalions, more glider pilots and the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment, R.A. Curving up from these prime defenses the northern shoulders (close to the Wolfheze railroad line) were held by men of Major Boy Wilson’s 21st Independent Parachute Company—the pathfinders who had led the way—and by Lieutenant Colonel R. Payton-Reid’s 7th King’s Own Scottish Borderers. Along the southern base, stretching roughly from east of the medieval church in lower Oosterbeek to the heights at Westerbouwing on the west, Hackett commanded additional elements of the Border Regiment and a miscellaneous group composed of the remains of the South Staffordshires, the 1st, 3rd and 11th battalions and a variety of service troops under the twice-wounded Major Dickie Lonsdale—the “Lonsdale Force.” In the heart of that area was Lieutenant Colonel Sheriff Thompson’s main force, the hard-pressed artillerymen whose batteries sought continually to serve the tight defense line and whose precious supply of ammunition was dwindling fast.*

On neat after-action report maps, each unit has its carefully inked-in place; but survivors would recall years later that there was really no perimeter, no front line, no distinction between units, no fighting as integrated groups. There were only shocked, bandaged, bloodstained men, running to fill gaps wherever and whenever they occurred. As Brigadier Hicks visited his exhausted men, tenaciously defending their sectors of the bridgehead, he knew “it was the beginning of the end, and I think we were all aware of it, although we tried to keep a reasonable face.”

Unaware that Frost’s gallant stand at the bridge had ended—although Lieutenant Colonel Sheriff Thompson suspected it had when his artillery radio link with Major Dennis Munford abruptly closed down—Urquhart could only place his hope in the Guards tanks’ reaching the remnants of the 2nd Battalion in time.* That single bridge spanning the Rhine—the Reich’s last natural defense line—had been the principal objective all along, Montgomery’s springboard to a quick ending of the war. Without it, the 1st Airborne’s predicament and, in particular, the suffering of Frost’s brave men, would be for nothing. As Urquhart had told Frost and Gough, there was nothing more that he could do for them. Their help must come from the speed and armored strength of XXX Corps.

For Urquhart now the immediate priority was to get Sosabowski’s Poles across the river and into the perimeter as quickly as they landed. The cable ferry was particularly suited to the operation. Urquhart’s engineers had signaled Corps headquarters that it was “a class-24 type and capable of carrying three tanks.” Although Urquhart was worried about the heights of Westerbouwing and the possibility of German artillery controlling the ferry crossing from there, as yet no enemy troops had reached the area. With so few men to hold the perimeter, only a single platoon of the 1st Borderers had been detached to defend the position. In fact, the heights were unguarded by either side. Major Charles Osborne’s D Company of the Border Regiment had been given the assignment soon after landing on Sunday but, Osborne says, “we never did hold Westerbouwing. I was sent on a reconnaissance patrol to lay out battalion positions. However, by the time I’d done this and returned to headquarters, plans had changed.” By Thursday, Osborne’s men “were moved rather piecemeal into a position near the Hartenstein Hotel.” No one was on the vital heights.

On Wednesday engineers had sent reconnaissance patrols down to the Rhine to report back on the ferry, the depth, condition of the banks and speed of the current. Sapper Tom Hicks thought the survey was to “aid the Second Army when it tried bridging the river.” Along with three other sappers and a Dutch guide, Hicks had crossed the Rhine on the ferry. Pieter, he saw, “operated it with a cable that the old man wound in by hand and it seemed that the current helped work it across.” Tying a grenade to a length of parachute rigging and knotting the cord every foot along its length, Hicks took soundings and measured the current. On Wednesday night, after the Poles’ drop zone had been changed to Driel, another patrol was sent to the ferry site. “It was a volunteer job,” recalls Private Robert Edwards of the South Staffordshires. “We were to go down to the river at Heveadorp, find the ferry and stay there to protect it.”

In darkness a sergeant, a corporal, six privates and four glider pilots set out. “Mortar bombs and shells were falling heavily as we plunged into the thickly wooded country between us and Heveadorp,” says Edwards. Several times the group was fired on, and a glider pilot was wounded. Reaching the riverbank at the site marked on their maps, the patrol found no sign of the ferry. It had completely disappeared. Although the possibility remained that the craft was moored on the southern bank, the patrol had been told they would find it on their own side. Immediately the men spread out, searching along a quarter-mile strip on either side of the ferry’s northern landing stage. The hunt was fruitless. Pieter’s ferry could not be found. As Edwards remembers, the sergeant in charge of the patrol reached the conclusion that the boat had either been sunk or simply never existed. At first light the men gave up the search and began their dangerous journey back.

Only minutes later heavy machine-gun fire wounded three more of the patrol and the group was pulled back to the river. There the sergeant decided the men would have a better chance of getting back by splitting up. Edwards left with the corporal and two of the glider pilots. After “minor encounters and brushes with the Germans,” his group reached the church in lower Oosterbeek just as a mortar burst landed. Edwards was thrown to the ground, both legs filled with “tiny pieces of shrapnel and my boots full of blood.” In the house next to the church an orderly dressed his wounds and told the injured private to take a rest. “He didn’t say where, though,” Edwards recalls, “and every inch of space in the house was packed with badly wounded. The stench of wounds and death was something awful.” He decided to leave and head for company headquarters, located in a laundry, “in order to find somebody to make my report to. I told an officer about the ferry and then I got into a weapons’ pit with a glider pilot. I don’t know if the others made it back or what happened to the men who got to the church with me.”

Sometime later General Urquhart, still ignorant of Frost’s fate, signaled Browning:

Enemy attacking main bridge in strength. Situation critical for slender force. Enemy attacking east from Heelsum and west from Arnhem. Situation serious but am forming close perimeter around Hartenstein with remainder of division. Relief essential both areas earliest possible. Still maintain control ferry point at Heveadorp.

Even as the message was being sent via the 64th Medium Regiment’s communications net, Division headquarters learned that the ferry had not been found. Urquhart’s officers believed the Germans had sunk it. But Pieter’s ferry was still afloat. Presumably artillery fire had cut its moorings. Far too late to be of use, it was eventually found by Dutch civilians near the demolished railroad bridge about a mile away, washed up but still intact. “If we had been able to search a few hundred yards closer to Oosterbeek, we would have found it,” Edwards says.

As Urquhart returned to his headquarters on Thursday morning after an inspection of the Hartenstein defenses, he heard the crushing news. With the Poles’ drop only hours away, his only quick way of reinforcing the perimeter with Sosabowski’s men was gone.*

Looking down from a window in the lead Dakota, as the long columns of planes carrying the Polish 1st Parachute Brigade headed for the drop zone at Driel, Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski “learned the real truth, and what I had suspected all along.” From Eindhoven, where the formations turned north, he saw “hundreds of vehicles below in chaotic traffic jams all along the corridor.” Smoke churned up from the road. At various points along the highway enemy shells were landing, trucks and vehicles were ablaze, and “everywhere wreckage was piled up on the sides.” Yet, somehow, the convoys were still moving. Then, beyond Nijmegen, movement stopped. Through low clouds off to his right, Sosabowski could see the “island” road and the clogged, halted tanks on it. Enemy fire was falling on the head of the column. Moments later, as the planes banked toward Driel, the Arnhem bridge loomed into view. Tanks were crossing over it, driving north to south, and Sosabowski realized they were German. Shocked and stunned, he knew now that the British had lost the bridge.

On Wednesday night, agitated by the lack of information regarding Urquhart’s situation, and “as I had visions of being court-martialed by my own government,” Sosabowski had thrown caution to the winds. He demanded to see General Brereton, the First Allied Airborne Army commander. To Colonel George Stevens, the liaison officer with the Polish Brigade, Sosabowski had emotionally insisted that unless he was “given Urquhart’s exact situation around Arnhem, the Polish Parachute Brigade will not take off.” Startled, Stevens had rushed off to First Allied Airborne headquarters with Sosabowski’s ultimatum. At 7 A.M. on Thursday morning, he returned with news from Brereton. There was confusion, Stevens admitted, but the attack was going as planned; the drop zone at Driel had not been changed and “the Heveadorp ferry was in British hands.” Sosabowski was mollified. Now, looking down on the panorama of battle, he realized he “knew more than Brereton.” Enraged as he saw what was obviously German armor about Oosterbeek and ahead a hail of antiaircraft fire coming up to greet his men, Sosabowski believed his brigade was “being sacrificed in a complete British disaster.” Moments later he was out the door, falling through weaving curtains of antiaircraft fire. The time, the precise fifty-year-old general noted, was exactly 5:08 P.M.

As Sosabowski had feared, the Poles jumped into a holocaust. As before, the Germans were waiting. They had tracked and timed the formations from Dunkirk on and now, with far more reinforcements than before, the area bristled with antiaircraft guns. As the transports approached, twenty-five Messerschmitts suddenly appeared and, diving out of the clouds, raked the approaching planes.

As he fell through the air Sosabowski saw one Dakota, both engines flaming, fall toward the ground. Corporal Alexander Kochalski saw another go down. Only a dozen paratroopers escaped before it crashed and burned. First Lieutenant Stefan Kaczmarek prayed as he hung below his chute. He saw so many tracer bullets that “every gun on the ground seemed to be aimed at me.” Corporal Wladijslaw Korob, his parachute full of holes, landed alongside a fellow Pole who had been decapitated.

In the Oosterbeek perimeter the Polish drop, barely two and one-half miles away, caused a momentary halt in the battle. Every German gun seemed to be concentrating on the swaying, defenseless men. “It was as if all the enemy guns lifted together and let fly simultaneously,” Gunner Robert Christie noted. The reprieve from the constant shelling was too precious to waste: men quickly took the opportunity to move jeeps and equipment, dig new gun pits, bring up spare ammunition, rearrange camouflage nets and toss empty shell cases out of crowded slit trenches.

Six miles away on the elevated “island” road, Captain Roland Langton, whose lead tank squadron had been halted en route to Arnhem some six hours previously, watched the drop in agony. It was the most horrible sight he had ever seen. German planes dived at the defenseless Polish transports, “blasting them out of the air.” Parachutists tried to get out of burning aircraft, “some of which had nosed over and were diving to the ground.” Bodies of men “tumbled through the air, inert forms drifting slowly down, dead before they hit the ground.” Langton was close to tears. “Where the hell is the air support?” he wondered. “We were told in the afternoon we couldn’t have any for our attack toward Arnhem, because all available air effort had to go for the Poles. Where was it now? The weather? Nonsense. The Germans flew; why couldn’t we?” Langton had never felt so frustrated. With all his heart, he knew that with air support his tanks “could have got through to those poor bastards at Arnhem.” In anxiety and desperation he suddenly found himself violently sick.

Though they were shocked by the savagery of the combined air and antiaircraft assault, most of the Polish Brigade miraculously made the drop zone. Even as they landed, flak and high-explosive mortar shells—fired from tanks and antiaircraft guns along the Nijmegen-Arnhem elevated highway and by batteries north of Driel—burst among them, and Sosabowski saw that even machine guns seemed to be ranged in on the entire area. Hammered in the air and caught in a deadly crossfire on the ground, the men now had to fight their way off the drop zones. Sosabowski landed near a canal. As he ran for cover he came across the body of one trooper. “He lay on the grass, stretched out as if on a cross,” Sosabowski later wrote. “A bullet or piece of shrapnel had neatly sliced off the top of his head. I wondered how many more of my men would I see like this before the battle was over and whether their sacrifice would be worthwhile.”*

Aghast at the fierce German reception, the entire population of Driel was engulfed by the paratroop drop. Polish troopers came down all about the hamlet, landing in orchards, irrigation canals, on the top of the dikes, on the polder and in the village itself. Some men fell into the Rhine and, unable to shed their parachutes, were swept away and drowned. Disregarding the shell and machine-gun fire all about them, the Dutch ran to help the ill-fated Poles. Among them, as a member of a Red Cross team, was Cora Baltussen.

The landing, centered on drop zones less than two miles south of Driel, had come as a complete surprise to the villagers. No pathfinders had been used, and the Dutch underground was ignorant of the plan. Riding a bicycle with wooden tires, Cora Baltussen headed south on a narrow dike road toward a place known as Honingsveld, where many of the paratroopers appeared to have landed. Shocked and terrified, she did not see how anyone could have lived through the German fire. She expected enormous numbers of casualties. To her surprise, Cora saw men, under attack, forming up and running in groups toward the safety of dike embankments. She could hardly believe so many were still alive but “at last,” she thought, “the Tommies have arrived in Driel.”

She had not spoken English in years, but Cora was the only inhabitant of Driel familiar with the language. While her services as a trained Red Cross nurse would be required, Cora also hoped to act as an interpreter. Hurrying forward, she saw men waving wildly at her, obviously “warning me to get off the road because of the fire.” But in her “excitement and foolishness,” Cora was unaware of the fusillade of enemy steel storming all about her. Shouting “Hello Tommies” to the first group she encountered, she was nonplused by their reply. These men spoke another language—not English. For a moment she listened. A number of Poles, impressed into the German Army, had been stationed in Driel some years before. Almost immediately she recognized the language as Polish. This puzzled her still more.

After years of living under enemy occupation, Cora was wary. Hiding in the Baltussen factory at this moment were several British troopers and the crew of a downed plane. The Poles seemed equally suspicious, as they eyed her carefully. They spoke no Dutch, but some men ventured guarded questions in broken English or German. Where, they asked, had she come from? How many people were in Driel? Were there any Germans in the village? Where was Baarskamp farm? The mention of Baarskamp brought a torrent of words in both German and English from Cora. The farm lay slightly east of the village and, although Cora was not a member of the tiny underground force in Driel, she had heard her brother, Josephus, an active member, refer to the owner of the farm as a Dutch Nazi. She knew there were some German troops around Baarskamp, along the Rhine dike road, and manning antiaircraft gun sites in the brickworks along the riverbank. “Don’t go there,” she pleaded. “German troops are all about the place.” The Poles seemed unconvinced. “They were not sure whether to trust me or not,” Cora recalls. “I did not know what to do. Yet I was desperately afraid these men would set out for Baarskamp and into some sort of a trap.” Among the group around her was General Sosabowski. “As he wore no distinctive markings and looked like all the others,” Cora remembers, “it was not until the next day that I learned that the short, wiry little man was the general.” Sosabowski, she remembers, was calmly eating an apple. He was intensely interested in her information about Baarskamp farm; by sheer accident it had been chosen as the main rendezvous point for his brigade. Although Cora thought that no one in the group believed her, Sosabowski’s officers now immediately sent off runners to inform other groups about Baarskamp. The compact little man with the apple now asked, “Where is the ferry site?”

One of the officers produced a map, and Cora pointed out the location. “But,” she informed them, “it is not running.” The people of Driel had not seen the tender since Wednesday. They had learned from Pieter that the cable had been cut, and they presumed that the ferry had been destroyed.

Sosabowski listened with dismay. On landing, he had sent out a reconnaissance patrol to locate the site. Now his fear had been confirmed. “I still waited for the patrol’s report,” he recalled, “but this young woman’s information seemed accurate. I thanked her warmly.”* A formidable task now lay before him. To send help quickly to Urquhart’s beleaguered men in the perimeter, Sosabowski would have to put his force across the 400-yard-wide Rhine by boat or raft—and in darkness. He did not know whether Urquhart’s engineers had found boats, or where he might find enough himself. His radiomen, Sosabowski learned, were unable to raise British 1st Airborne headquarters. He was ignorant of any new plans that might have been formulated.

Now, as Cora and her team set out to help the wounded, Sosabowski watched his men move up under the cover of smoke bombs, overrunning what little opposition there was in the area. So far, the only major resistance his brigade had encountered came from artillery shells and mortars. As yet no armor had appeared. The soft polder seemed inadequate for tanks. Perplexed and grim, Sosabowski set up brigade headquarters in a farmhouse and waited for news from Urquhart. His mood was not improved when he learned that of his 1,500-man brigade, 500 troops had failed to arrive. Bad weather had forced the planes carrying almost one entire battalion to abort and return to their bases in England. In casualties, his remaining force had already paid a cruel price: although he did not have the exact figures, by nightfall only about 750 men had been assembled, among them scores of wounded.

At 9 P.M. news arrived, rather dramatically, from Urquhart. Unable to raise Sosabowski by radio, the Polish liaison officer at Urquhart’s headquarters, Captain Zwolanski, swam across the Rhine. “I was working on a map,” Sosabowski remembered, “and suddenly this incredible figure, dripping with water and covered with mud, clad in undershorts and camouflaged netting, came in.”

Zwolanski told the General that Uruquhart “wanted us to cross that night and he would have rafts ready to ferry us over.” Sosabowski immediately ordered some of his men up to the river line to wait. They remained there most of the night, but the rafts did not come. “At 3 A.M.,” says Sosabowski, “I knew the scheme, for some reason, had failed. I pulled my men back into a defensive perimeter.” By dawn he expected “German infantry attacks and heavy artillery fire.” Any chance of getting across the Rhine “under cover of darkness this night was gone.”

At the Hartenstein Hotel across the river, Urquhart had earlier sent an urgent message to Browning. It read:

(212144) No knowledge of elements of division in Arnhem for 24 hours. Balance of division in very tight perimeter. Heavy mortaring and machine-gun fire followed by local attacks. Main nuisance self-propelled guns. Our casualties heavy. Resources stretched to utmost. Relief within 24 hours vital.

At his small post in Brussels, near Montgomery’s 21st Army Group headquarters, Prince Bernhard, Commander in Chief of the Netherlands Forces, followed each harrowing new development with anguish. Holland, which might have been liberated with ease in the first days of September, was being turned into a vast battlefield. Bernhard blamed no one. American and British fighting men were giving their lives to rid the Netherlands of a cruel oppressor. Still, Bernhard had rapidly become disenchanted with Montgomery and his staff. By Friday, September 22, when Bernhard learned that the Guards Armored tanks had been stopped at Elst and the Poles dropped near Driel rather than on the southern side of the Arnhem bridge, the thirty-three-year-old Prince lost his temper. “Why?” he angrily demanded of his chief of staff, Major General “Pete” Doorman. “Why wouldn’t the British listen to us? Why?”

Senior Dutch military advisers had been excluded from the planning for Market-Garden; their counsel might have been invaluable. “For example,” Bernhard recalls, “if we had known in time about the choice of drop zones and the distance between them and the Arnhem bridge, my people would certainly have said something.” Because of “Montgomery’s vast experience,” Bernhard and his staff “had questioned nothing and accepted everything.” But, from the moment Dutch generals learned of the route that Horrocks’ XXX Corps columns proposed to take, they had anxiously tried to dissuade anyone who would listen, warning of the dangers of using exposed dike roads. “In our military staff colleges,” Bernhard says, “we had run countless studies on the problem. We knew tanks simply could not operate along these roads without infantry.” Again and again Dutch officers had told Montgomery’s staff that the Market-Garden schedule could not be maintained unless infantry accompanied the tanks. General Doorman described how he had “personally held trials with armor in that precise area before the war.”

The British, Bernhard says, “were simply not impressed by our negative attitude.” Although everyone was “exceptionally polite, the British preferred to do their own planning, and our views were turned down. The prevailing attitude was, ‘Don’t worry, old boy, we’ll get this thing cracking.’” Even now, Bernhard noted, “everything was being blamed on the weather. The general impression among my staff was that the British considered us a bunch of idiots for daring to question their military tactics.” With the exception of a few senior officers, Bernhard knew that he was “not particularly loved at Montgomery’s headquarters, because I was saying things that now unfortunately were turning out to be true—and the average Englishman doesn’t like being told by a bloody foreigner that he’s wrong.”*

From his Brussels headquarters Bernhard had kept the sixty-four-year-old Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch government in exile in London fully informed of events. “They could not have influenced British military decisions either,” Bernhard says. “It would have done no good for the Queen or our government to take the matter up with Churchill. He would never have interfered with a military operation in the field. Monty’s reputation was too big. There wasn’t anything we could really do.”

Queen Wilhelmina followed the battle anxiously. Like her son-in-law, she had expected a quick liberation of the Netherlands. Now, if Market-Garden failed, the royal family feared “the terrible reprisals the Germans would exact from our people. The Queen expected no sympathy from the Germans, whom she hated with a passion.”

In the early progress of the operation, Bernhard had informed Wilhelmina that “soon we will be overrunning some of the royal castles and estates.” The Queen replied, “Burn them all.” Startled, Bernhard stammered, “I beg your pardon?” Wilhelmina said, “I will never again set foot in a place where the Germans have been sitting in my chairs, in my rooms. Never!” Bernhard attempted to mollify her. “Mother, you are exaggerating things a bit. After all, they are quite useful buildings. We can steam them out, use DDT.” The Queen was adamant. “Burn the palaces down,” she commanded. “I will never set foot in one of them.” The Prince refused. “The Queen was angry because I occupied the palace with my staff (without destroying it) and not asking her first. She didn’t talk to me for weeks, except on official matters.”

Now Bernhard and his staff could only “wait and hope. We were bitter and frustrated at the turn of events. It had never entered our minds that costly mistakes could be made at the top.” The fate of Holland itself made Bernhard even more apprehensive. “If the British were driven back at Arnhem, I knew the repercussions against the Dutch people in the winter ahead would be frightful.”

*The consolidation of the southeastern end of the perimeter owed much to the quick thinking of Colonel Sheriff Thompson who, in the confusion of battle when men retreating from Arnhem on September 19 found themselves leaderless, quickly organized them in defense of the last piece of high ground before his gun positions. These forces, together with others who had earlier become separated from their units—some 150 glider pilots and his own artillery men, about 800 in all—were known as the “Thompson Force.” Subsequently augmented, they were placed under the command of Major Lonsdale. They withdrew late on September 20 and were deployed by Thompson about his gun positions. Owing to command changes and the general situation, some confusion has continued to exist regarding these events, but immediately before Thompson was wounded on September 21 all infantry in the gun area came under the command of what was later to be known as the “Lonsdale Force.” The glider pilots remained under the command of the 1st Airlanding Brigade.

*Munford destroyed his wireless set shortly after dawn on Thursday as the Germans began rounding up the few men still attempting to hang on. “Enemy tanks and infantry were right up to the bridge,” Munford recalls. “I helped carry some more wounded to a collecting point and then I bashed in the set. There was nothing more that Colonel Thompson could do for us and everybody who could wanted to get back to the division at Oosterbeek.” Munford was captured on the outskirts of Arnhem as he tried to reach the British lines.

*The true account of the ferry appears here for the first time. Even official histories state that it was sunk. Other versions imply that, to prevent its use, the Germans either destroyed the ferry with artillery fire or moved it to another location under their control. There is no reference in any German war diary, log, or after-action report to sustain these conjectures. Interviewing German officers—such as Bittrich, Harzer, Harmel and Krafft—I found that none of them could recall ordering any such action. Assuming that the Germans wanted to seize the ferry, I believe they would have encountered the same difficulties in locating it that Edwards reported. In any case, no German officer remembers ordering the cable cut in order to prevent the British from using it.

*Stanislaw Sosabowski, Freely 1 Served, p. 124.

*Some accounts claim that Cora was a member of the underground and was sent to inform Sosabowski that the ferry was in German hands. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” says Cora. “I was never a member of the resistance, though my brothers were involved. The British did not trust the underground and certainly we in Driel knew nothing about the drop until the Poles were right on us.”

*Lieutenant Rupert Mahaffey of the Irish Guards remembers that an officer of the Dutch Princess Irene Brigade came to the Guards’ mess for dinner shortly after the tanks were stopped at Elst. Looking around the table, the Dutch officer said, “You would have faiJed the examination.” He explained that one of the problems in the Dutch Staff College examination dealt solely with the correct way to attack Arnhem from Nijmegen. There were two choices: a) attack up the main road; or b) drive up it for 1-2 miles, turn left, effect a crossing of the Rhine and come around in a flanking movement. “Those who chose to go straight up the road failed the examination,” the officer said. “Those who turned left and then moved up to the river, passed.”

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