BY THE TIME COLONEL CHARLES MACKENZIE finally reached General Browning’s headquarters in Nijmegen on Saturday morning, September 23, he was “dead tired, frozen stiff, and his teeth were chattering,” Brigadier Gordon Walch, the chief of staff, remembers. In spite of his determination to see Browning immediately, Mackenzie was promptly “put in a bath to thaw out.”
British forces using the relief route west of, and parallel to, the “island” highway were now moving steadily up to Driel, but the roads were far from clear of the enemy. Still, Lord Wrottesley had decided to try to get Mackenzie and Lieutenant Colonel Myers back to Nijmegen. The brief trip, in a small convoy of reconnaissance vehicles, was hair-raising. As the party approached a crossroads, they found a partly destroyed German half-track lying slewed across it. Wrottesley got out to guide his vehicles, and at that point, a Tiger tank appeared farther down the road. To avoid an encounter, the armored car carrying Mackenzie began backing away, when suddenly the road collapsed beneath it and the car turned over. Mackenzie and the crew were forced to hide out from German infantry in a field as Wrottesley, yelling to the driver of his scout car “to go like hell,” headed up the road toward Nijmegen to find British troops. Organizing a relief force, Wrottesley sped back down the road to find Mackenzie. When the little force arrived the German tank was gone and Mackenzie and the crew of the armored car came up to meet them from the field where they had taken cover. In the confusion Myers, following in a second armored car, became separated from the troop.
General Browning greeted Mackenzie anxiously. According to his staff, “the week had been a series of agonizing and tragic setbacks.” More than anything else the lack of full communications with Urquhart had contributed to Browning’s concern. Even now, although messages were passing between the British 1st Airborne Division and Corps, Browning’s picture of Urquhart’s situation was apparently very vague. In the original Market-Garden plan the 52nd Lowland Division was to have been flown into the Arnhem area once Urquhart’s men had found a suitable landing site—ideally by Thursday, September 21. When Urquhart’s desperate situation became known, the 52nd’s commanding officer, Major General Edmund Hake will Smith, promptly offered to risk taking in part of his unit by glider, to land as close as possible to the beleaguered 1st Airborne. On Friday morning Browning had rejected the proposal, radioing: “Thanks for your message but offer not repeat not required as situation better than you think … 2nd Army definitely … intend fly you in to Deelen airfield as soon as situation allows.” Later General Brereton, First Allied Airborne Army commander, noting the message in his diary, commented, “General Browning was over-optimistic and apparently then did not fully appreciate the plight of the Red Devils.” At the time, Brereton seemed no better informed than Browning. In a report to Eisenhower, which was sent on to General Marshall in Washington on Friday night, Brereton said of the Nijmegen-Arnhem area: “the situation in this sector is showing great improvement.”
Within hours the optimism of Brereton and Browning had faded. Friday’s futile efforts to reach Urquhart seemed to have been the turning point for the Corps commander. According to his staff, “he was disgusted with General Thomas and the 43rd Wessex Division.” He felt they had not moved fast enough. Thomas, he told them, had been “too anxious to tidy things up as he went along.” Additionally, Browning’s authority extended only so far: the moment British ground troops entered the Nijmegen area, administrative control passed over to General Horrocks, the XXX Corps commander; decisions would be made by Horrocks and by his chief, the British Second Army’s General Miles C. Dempsey. There was little that Browning could do.
Sitting with the somewhat revived Mackenzie, Browning now learned for the first time the details of Urquhart’s appalling predicament. Mackenzie, sparing nothing, recounted everything that had happened. Brigadier Walch remembers Mackenzie telling Browning that “the division is in a very tight perimeter and low in everything—food, ammunition and medical supplies.” While the situation was acute, Mackenzie said, “if there is a chance of the Second Army getting to us, we can hold—but not for long.” Walch recollects Mackenzie’s grim summation. “There isn’t much left,” he said. Browning listened in silence. Then he assured Mackenzie that he had not given up hope. Plans were now afoot to get men and supplies into the bridgehead during Saturday night. But, Brigadier Walch says, “I do remember Browning telling Charles that there did not seem to be much chance of getting a good party across.”
As Mackenzie set out for Driel once more, he was struck by the ambivalence of the thinking at Corps headquarters—and by the dilemma that created for him. Obviously the fate of the British 1st Airborne still hung in the balance. No one had as yet made any definite decisions. But what should he tell Urquhart? “After seeing the situation on both sides of the river,” he says, “I was convinced a crossing from the south would not be successful and I could tell him that. Or, I could report, as I was told, that everyone was doing his best, that there would be a crossing and we should hold on. Which was better? Tell him that in my opinion there wasn’t a chance in hell of anyone getting over? Or that help was on the way?” Mackenzie decided on the latter, for he felt it would help Urquhart “to keep people going if I put it that way.”
Like Browning, the Allied high command was only now learning the true facts of the 1st Airborne’s plight. In off-the-record briefings at Eisenhower’s, at Brereton’s and at Montgomery’s headquarters, war correspondents were told that the “situation is serious, but every measure is being taken to relieve Urquhart.” That minor note of concern represented a radical change in attitude. Since its inception, Market-Garden had been painted in public reports as an overwhelming success. On Thursday, September 21, under a headline announcing that a “tank paradise lies ahead,” one British newspaper’s lead story stated: “Hitler’s northern flank is crumbling. Field Marshal Montgomery, with the brilliant aid of the First Airborne Army, has paved the way into the Ruhr—and to the end of the war.” Even the staid London Times on Friday had such headlines as “On the Road to Arnhem; Tanks Across the Rhine”; only the subhead hinted of possible trouble ahead: “Coming Fight for Arnhem; Airborne Forces’ Hard Time.” Correspondents could hardly be blamed. Lack of communications, overenthusiasm on the part of Allied commanders and strict censorship prevented accurate reporting. Then, overnight, the picture changed. On Saturday, the twenty-third, the Times’s headline read: “2nd Army Meets Tough Opposition; Airborne Forces’ Grim Fight,” and the London Daily Express was calling Arnhem a “Patch of Hell.”*
Yet hopes remained high. On this Saturday, the seventh day of Market-Garden, the weather over England cleared and Allied planes took to the air again.* The last of the great fleet of gliders, grounded in the Grantham area since Tuesday, set out finally for Gavin’s 82nd with 3,385 troops—his long-awaited 325th Glider Infantry Regiment—and Taylor’s hard-pressed 101st Division was brought up to full strength by nearly 3,000 more men. But Sosabowski, under heavy attack at Driel, could not be reinforced with the remainder of his brigade. Browning was forced to direct the rest of the Poles to drop zones in the 82nd’s area. Because of weather Brereton’s three-day air plan to deliver some 35,000 men in the greatest airborne operation ever conceived had taken more than double the planned time.
Once again, although resupply missions were successful elsewhere, Urquhart’s men, in their rapidly diminishing pocket about Oosterbeek, watched cargo fall into enemy hands. Unable to locate the Hartenstein drop zone, and flying through savage antiaircraft fire, the supply planes were in constant trouble; 6 of the 123 planes were shot down and 63 damaged. In a message to Browning, Urquhart reported:
231605 … Resupply by air; very small quantity picked up. Snipers now severely curtailing movement and therefore collection. Also roads so blocked by falling trees, branches and houses that movement in jeeps virtually impossible. Jeeps in any case practically out of action.
Close-in fighter support was inadequate, too. In the Arnhem area the weather had been bad throughout the morning, clearing only by midday. As a result only a few flights of R.A.F. Spitfires and Typhoons attacked targets about the perimeter. Urquhart was baffled. “In view of our complete aerial superiority,” he later recollected, “I was bitterly disappointed by the lack of fighter support.” But to his men, who had not seen a fighter since D Day, the previous Sunday, the attacks were heartening. By now, too, most of them had learned that British troops had finally reached the southern bank of the Rhine at Driel. Relief, they believed, was close at hand.
In spite of all the setbacks, now that General Thomas’ troops were moving up the side roads to Driel, General Horrocks believed that Urquhart’s worsening situation could be alleviated. Brilliant, imaginative and determined, Horrocks was opposed to throwing away all that had been gained. Yet he must find some way to move troops and supplies into the bridgehead. “I am certain,” he later put it, “that these were about the blackest moments in my life.” He was so distressed at “the picture of the airborne troops fighting their desperate battle on the other side of the river” that he could not sleep; and the severing of the corridor north of Veghel, cut since Friday afternoon, threatened the life of the entire operation.
Now every hour was vital. Like Horrocks, General Thomas was determined to get men across the river. His 43rd Wessex was going all-out in a two-phase operation: attacking to seize Elst and driving toward Driel. Although by now no one had any illusions that the Arnhem bridge could be captured—from aerial reconnaissance photos it was clear the enemy held it in strength—Thomas’ right flank, terminating at Elst, had to be protected if any operations were to be conducted across the Rhine from Driel. And Horrocks had hopes that, in addition to the Poles, some British infantry might cross into the bridgehead on Saturday night.
His optimism was premature. On the low-lying secondary roads west of the main Nijmegen-Arnhem highway a giant bottleneck developed as Thomas’ two brigades, each totaling about 3,000 men—one brigade attacking northeast toward Elst, the other driving north for Driel—attempted to move through the same crossroads. Enemy shelling added to the crowding and confusion. Thus, it was dark by the time the bulk of Thomas’ 130th Brigade began to reach Driel—too late to join the Poles in an organized attempt to cross the river.
Shortly after midnight, Sosabowski’s men, heavily supported by artillery, began crossing, this time in sixteen boats left from the 82nd’s assault across the Waal. They came under intense fire and suffered heavy losses. Only 250 Poles made it to the northern bank, and of these only 200 reached the Hartenstein perimeter.
On this grim day Horrocks and Thomas received just one piece of good news: at 4 P.M. the corridor north of Veghel was reopened and traffic began flowing again. In the engineering columns were more assault craft, and the stubborn Horrocks was hopeful that they could be rushed forward in time to pour infantry across the river on Sunday night.
But could the division hang on another twenty-four hours? Urquhart’s plight was rapidly growing worse. In his situation report to Browning on Saturday night, Urquhart had said:
232015: Many attacks during day by small parties infantry, SP guns, tanks including flame thrower tanks. Each attack accompanied by very heavy mortaring and shelling within Div perimeter. After many alarms and excursions the latter remains substantially unchanged, although very thinly held. Physical contact not yet made with those on south bank of river. Resupply a flop, small quantities of ammo only gathered in. Still no food and all ranks extremely dirty owing to shortage of water. Morale still adequate, but continued heavy mortaring and shelling is having obvious effects. We shall hold but at the same time hope for a brighter 24 hours ahead.
The afternoon’s giant Allied glider lift had caught Field Marshal Walter Model by surprise. At this late date in the battle he had not anticipated any further Allied airborne landings. These new reinforcements, coming just as his counteroffensive was gaining momentum, could change the tide of battle—and even more might be on the way. For the first time since the beginning of the Allied attack he began to have doubts about the outcome.
Driving to Doetinchem he conferred with General Bittrich, demanding, as the II SS Panzer Corps commander remembers, “a quick finish to the British at Oosterbeek.” Model needed every man and tank. Too great a force was being tied down in a battle that “should have been brought to an end days before.” Model was “very excited,” Bittrich says, “and kept repeating, ‘When will things finally be over here?’ ”
Bittrich insisted that “we are fighting as we have never fought before.” At Elst, Major Hans Peter Knaust was staving off British tank and infantry columns trying to proceed up the main highway to Arnhem. But Knaust could not hold at Elst and also attack west against the Poles and British at Driel. The moment his heavy Tigers moved onto the polder they bogged down. The assault toward Driel was a task for infantry and lighter vehicles, Bittrich explained. “Model was never interested in excuses,” Bittrich says, “but he understood me. Still, he gave me only twenty-four hours to finish the British off.”
Bittrich drove to Elst to see Knaust. The major was worried. All day the forces against him had appeared to be growing stronger. While he knew British tanks could not leave the main highway, the possibility of attacks from the west concerned him. “A British breakthrough must be halted at all costs,” Bittrich warned. “Can you hold for another twenty-four hours, while we clean up Oosterbeek?” Knaust assured Bittrich that he could. Leaving Knaust, the Panzer Corps commander immediately ordered Colonel Harzer of the Hohenstaufen Division to “intensify all attacks against the airborne tomorrow. I want the whole affair ended.”
Harzer’s problems were also difficult. Although Oosterbeek was completely encircled, its narrow streets were proving almost impossible for maneuvering tanks—especially for the 6o-ton Tigers, “which tore up the road foundations, making them look like plowed fields, and ripped off the pavement when they turned.” Additionally, Harzer told Bittrich, “everytime we compress the airborne pocket and shrink it even tighter, the British seem to fight harder.” Bittrich advised that “strong attacks should be thrown from east and west at the base of the perimeter to cut the British off from the Rhine.”
The Frundsberg Division commander, General Harmel, charged with holding and driving back the Allied forces in the Nijmegen-Arnhem area, heard from Bittrich, too. The assembling of his whole division delayed by the wreckage on the Arnhem bridge, Harmel had not been able to form a blocking front on both sides of the elevated “island” highway. The British attack at Oosterbeek had split his forces. Only part of his division had been in position on the western side when the British attacked. Now, what remained of his men and equipment was east of the highway. Elst would be held, Harmel assured Bittrich. The British could not advance up the main road. But he was powerless to halt the drive to Driel. “I cannot prevent them going up or coming back,” he told Bittrich. The II SS Panzer Corps leader was firm. The next twenty-four hours would be critical, he warned Harmel. “The British will try everything to reinforce their bridgehead and also drive for Arnhem.” Harzer’s attacks against the Oosterbeek perimeter would succeed—provided that Harmel held. As Bittrich put it, “We’ll get the nail. You must amputate the finger.”
The guns of the 43rd were thundering, and in the southwest corner of the Oosterbeek perimeter a big gasometer blazed, throwing an eerie, flickering, yellowish light over the Rhine. As he climbed out of a boat on the northern bank, Colonel Charles Mackenzie could see why he had been warned by radio to wait for a guide. The shoreline was unrecognizable; boat wreckage, fallen trees, and shell craters had buried the road running back into the bridgehead. If he had tried to set out by himself he would certainly have become lost. Now, following an engineer, he was guided to the Hartenstein.
Mackenzie had not changed his mind about the report he would make to Urquhart. Once again, while waiting to be rowed over to the division perimeter, he had thought about his options. In spite of all the preparations that he had seen in Driel and on the southern bank, he remained skeptical that help would ever reach the division in time. He felt guilty about the report he had decided to make. Yet, there was still the chance that his own view was far too pessimistic.
In the cellar of the shattered Hartenstein, Urquhart was waiting. Mackenzie gave the Airborne commander the official view: “Help is on the way. We should hang on.” Urquhart, Mackenzie remembers, “listened impassively, neither disheartened nor gladdened by the news.” The unspoken question for both men remained the same: How much longer must they hold? At this time, in the first hours of Sunday, September 24, after eight days of battle, Urquhart’s estimated strength was down to fewer than 2,500 men. And for all of them there was only one question: When will Monty’s forces arrive? They had thought about it in the loneliness of trenches, gunpits and outposts, in the wrecks of houses and shops, and in the hospitals and dressing stations, where anxious uncomplaining men lay wounded on pallets, mattresses and bare floors.
With infantry on the south bank of the river, the paratroopers did not doubt that the Second Army would eventually cross. They wondered only if any of them would be alive to see the relief for which they had waited so long. In these last tragic hours annihilation was their constant fear, and to allay this dread, men tried to raise one another’s morale by any means they could. Jokes made the rounds. Wounded men, still holding at their posts, disregarded their injuries, and examples of extraordinary daring were becoming commonplace. Above all, Urquhart’s men were proud. They shared a spirit in those days that was stronger, they said later, than they would ever know again.
From his kit Lance Bombardier James Jones of an artillery troop took out the single nonmilitary item he had brought along—the flute he had used as a boy. “I just wanted to play it again,” he remembers. “It was raining mortar bombs for three or four days straight and I was frightened to death. I got out the flute and began to play.” Nearby, Lieutenant James Woods, the gun-position officer, had an idea. With Jones leading, Lieutenant Woods and two other gunners climbed out of their trenches and began to march around the gun positions. As they proceeded single file, Lieutenant Woods began to sing. Behind him the two troopers removed their helmets and drummed on them with sticks. Battered men heard the strains of “British Grenadiers” and “Scotland the Brave” filtering softly through the area. Faintly at first, other men began to sing and then, with Woods “going at the top of his voice,” the artillery positions erupted in song.
In the Schoonoord Hotel on the Utrecht-Arnhem road, approximately midway along the eastern side of the perimeter, Dutch volunteers and British medics cared for hundreds of wounded under the watchful eyes of German guards. Hendrika van der Vlist wrote in her diary:
Sunday, September 24. This is the day of the Lord. War rages outside. The building is shaking. That is why the doctors cannot operate or fix casts. We cannot wash the wounded because nobody can venture out to find water under these conditions. The army chaplain scribbles in his notebook. I ask him what time the service will be held.
Padre G. A. Pare finished his notes. With Hendrika he made the rounds of all the rooms in the hotel. The shelling seemed “particularly noisy,” he recalls, “and I could hardly hear my own voice above the battle outside.” Yet, “looking into the faces of men stretched out all over the floor,” Chaplain Pare “felt inspired to fight the noise outside with God’s peace inside.” Quoting from St. Matthew, Pare said, “ ‘Take no thought for the morrow. What ye shall eat or what ye shall drink, or where withal ye shall be clothed.’ ” Then he, like the men in the artillery positions, began to sing. As he began “Abide With Me,” men just listened. Then they began to hum and sing softly themselves. Against the thunderous barrage outside the Schoonoord, hundreds of wounded and dying men took up the words, “ ‘When other helpers fail and comforts flee, God of the helpless, O abide with me.’ ”
Across the street from the church in lower Oosterbeek, Kate ter Horst left her five children and the eleven other civilians sheltering in the ten-by-six-foot cellar of her house and made her way past the wounded on the upper floor. The fourteen-room, 200-year-old house, a former vicarage, was totally unrecognizable. The windows were gone and “every foot of space in the main hall, dining room, study, garden room, bedrooms, corridors, kitchen, boiler room and attic was crowded with wounded,” Mrs. ter Horst recalls. They lay, too, in the garage and even under the stairs. In all, more than three hundred injured men crowded the house and grounds, and others were being brought in by the minute. Outdoors on this Sunday morning Kate ter Horst saw that a haze hung over the battlefield. “The sky is yellow,” she wrote, “and there are dark clouds hanging down like wet rags. The earth has been torn open.” On the grounds she saw “the dead, our dead, wet through from rain, and stiff. Lying on their faces, just as they were yesterday and the day before—the man with the tousled beard and the one with the black face and many, many others.” Eventually, fifty-seven men would be buried in the garden, “one of them a mere boy,” Mrs. ter Horst wrote, “who died inside the house for lack of space.” The lone doctor among the medical teams in the house, Captain Randall Martin, had told Mrs. ter Horst that the boy “had simply banged his head against a radiator until he was gone.”
Picking her way gingerly about the rooms, Kate ter Horst thought of her husband, Jan, who had left on Tuesday night by bicycle to scout the area and bring back information about German positions to an artillery officer. The perimeter had been formed while he was gone and, in the heavy fighting, Jan was unable to get back home. They would not see each other for two more weeks. Working with Dr. Martin and the orderlies ever since Wednesday, Mrs. ter Horst had hardly slept. Going from room to room, she prayed with the wounded and read to them from the 91st Psalm, “Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day.”
Now, all this morning, snipers, infiltrating into the perimeter during the night, were firing “shamelessly into a house from which never a shot was fired,” she wrote. “Bullets whizzed through rooms and corridors crowded with helpless people.” Carrying a stretcher past a window, two orderlies were shot. Then, what everyone feared most might happen occurred: Dr. Martin was wounded. “It’s only my ankle,” he told Mrs. ter Horst. “In the afternoon I’ll go hopping around again.”
Outside the sniping gave way to shelling. The thunder and crash of mortar bursts “defies description,” Kate ter Horst recorded. To Private Michael Growe, “the lady seemed terribly calm and unflustered.” Growe, already wounded in the thigh from shrapnel, was now hit again in the left foot by a shell burst. Hastily medics moved Growe and other newly injured men away from a line of French windows.
Corporal Daniel Morgans, hit in the head and right knee as he was holding a position near the Oosterbeek church, was carried to the Ter Horst house just as a German tank came up the road. As an orderly was explaining to Morgans that “they were practically out of dressings and had no anesthetics or food, and only a little water,” the tank sent a shell crashing against the house. In an upstairs room, Private Walter Boldock, with bullet wounds in the side and back, stared in horror as the tank “ground and wheeled. I could hear the gibberish chatter of machine guns and then a shell tore through the wall above my back. Plaster and debris began falling everywhere and many of the wounded were killed.” Downstairs Bombardier E. C. Bolden, a medical orderly, was in a white-hot rage. Grabbing a Red Cross flag, he rushed out of the house and straight for the tank. Corporal Morgans heard him clearly. “What the hell are you doing?” Bolden screamed at the German tank commander. “This house is clearly marked with a Red Cross flag. Get the hell away from here!” As the anxious wounded listened, they heard the sound of the tank backing off. Bolden returned to the house, “almost as angry,” Morgans remembers, “as when he left. We asked him what happened.” Bolden replied tersely: “The German apologized but he also got the hell out.”
Although the house was not shelled again, there was no letup in the fire about them. Kate ter Horst wrote: “All around these men are dying. Must they breathe their last in such a hurricane? Oh, God! Give us a moment’s silence. Give us quiet, if only for a short moment, so that they at least can die. Grant them a moment’s holy silence while they pass on to Eternity.”
All about the perimeter, tanks crashed through defenses as weary, groggy troopers reached the limits of exhaustion. There were horrors everywhere—particularly from flamethrowers. In one incident of SS brutality, a jeep carrying wounded under a Red Cross flag was stopped by four Germans. One of the medics tried to explain that he was carrying wounded to a casualty station. The Germans turned a flamethrower on him, then walked away. But throughout the battle, both at the Arnhem bridge and in the perimeter, there were singular examples of chivalry.
On Brigadier Hackett’s eastern perimeter defenses a German officer drove up to the British positions under a white flag and asked to see the commander. Hackett met him and learned that the Germans “were about to attack, first laying down mortar and artillery fire on my forward positions.” As the Germans knew that one of the casualty stations was in the line of attack, Hackett was requested to move his forward positions back 600 yards. “We do not want to put down a barrage that will hit the wounded,” the German explained. Hackett knew he could not comply. “If the line had been moved back the distance demanded by the Germans,” General Urquhart later wrote, “it would have put Divisional headquarters 200 yards behind the German lines.” Despite his inability to move, Hackett noted that when the attack finally came the barrage was carefully laid down to the south of the casualty station.
At the Tafelberg, another doctor, Major Guy Rigby-Jones, who had been operating on a billiard table in the game room of the hotel, lost all his equipment when an 88 shell came through the roof of the building. He had not been able to operate since Thursday, although one of the field ambulance teams had set up a theater in the Petersburg Hotel. “We had 1,200 to 1,300 casualties and neither the nursing facilities nor the staff to properly treat them,” he remembers. “All we had was morphia to kill the pain. Our main problem was food and water. We had already drained the central heating system to get water, but now, having ceased operating, I became more or less a quartermaster, trying to feed the wounded.” One of them, Major John Waddy of the 156th Battalion, shot in the groin by a sniper on Tuesday, had been wounded again. A mortar shell landing on the window sill of a large bay window exploded and a shell fragment embedded itself in Waddy’s left foot. Then the room took a direct hit. Waddy’s right shoulder, face and chin were lacerated by falling bricks and wood splinters. Dr. Graeme Warrack, the division’s chief medical officer, whose headquarters were at the Tafelberg, rushed outside. Waddy hauled himself up to see Warrack standing in the street shouting at the Germans: “You bloody bastards! Can’t anybody recognize a Red Cross?”
The Van Maanen family—Anje, her brother Paul and her aunt—were working around the clock in the Tafelberg, under direction of Dr. van Maanen. Paul, who was a medical student, remembers that “Sunday was terrible. We seemed to be hit all the time. I remembered that we mustn’t show fear in front of the patients, but I was ready to jump out of the room and scream. I didn’t, because the wounded stayed so calm.” As injured men were carried from one damaged room to another, Paul remembers that “we began to sing. We sang for the British, for the Germans, for ourselves. Then everyone seemed to be doing it and with all the emotion people would stop because they were crying, but they would start up again.”
For young Anje van Maanen, the romantic dream of liberation by the bright stalwart young men who had dropped from the skies was ending in despair. Many Dutch civilians brought to the Tafelberg had died of their wounds; two, Anje noted in her diary, were “lovely girls and good skaters, as old as I a???, just seventeen. Now I will never see them again.” To Anje the hotel now seemed to be constantly hit by shells. In the cellar she began to cry. “I am afraid to die,” she wrote. “The explosions are enormous and every shell kills. How can God allow this hell?”
By 9:30 A.M. on Sunday morning Dr. Warrack decided to do something about the hell. The nine casualty stations and hospitals in the area were so jammed with wounded from both sides that he began to feel that “the battle could no longer continue in this fashion.” Medical teams “were working under impossible conditions, some without surgical instruments.” And under the intensified German attacks, casualties were steadily mounting—among them now the courageous Brigadier Shan Hackett, who suffered severe leg and stomach wounds from a mortar-shell burst shortly before 8 A.M.
Warrack had determined on a plan which needed General Urquhart’s consent, and he set out for the Hartenstein. “I told the General,” Warrack says, “that despite Red Cross flags, all the hospitals were being shelled. One had taken six hits and was set afire, forcing us to quickly evacuate a hundred fifty injured.” The wounded, he said, were being “badly knocked about, and the time had come to make some sort of arrangement with the Germans.” As it was quite impossible to evacuate wounded across the Rhine, Warrack believed that many lives would be saved “if casualties were handed over to the Germans for treatment in their hospitals in Arnhem.”
Urquhart, Warrack recalls, “seemed resigned.” He agreed to the plan. But under no circumstances, he warned Warrack, “must the enemy be allowed to think that this was the beginning of a crack in the formation’s position.” Warrack was to make clear to the Germans that the step was being taken solely on humane grounds. Negotiations could take place, Urquhart said, “on condition that the Germans understand you are a doctor representing your patients, not an official emissary from the division.” Warrack was permitted to ask for a truce period during the afternoon so that the battlefield could be cleared of wounded before “both sides got on with the fight.”
Warrack hurried off to find Lieutenant Commander Arnnoldus Wolters, the Dutch liaison officer, and Dr. Gerritt van Maanen, both of whom he asked to help in the negotiations. Because Wolters, who would act as interpreter, was in the Dutch military and “might run a great risk going to a German headquarters,” Warrack gave him the pseudonym “Johnson.” The three men quickly headed for the Schoonoord Hotel to contact the German division medical officer.
By coincidence, that officer, twenty-nine-year-old Major Egon Skalka, claims he had reached the same conclusion as Warrack. As Skalka recalls that Sunday morning, he felt “something had to be done not only for our wounded but the British in der Hexen-kessel. In the Schoonoord Hotel “casualties lay everywhere—even on the floor.” According to Skalka, he had come to see “the British chief medical officer to suggest a battlefield clearing” before Warrack arrived. Whoever first had the idea, they did meet. Warrack’s impression of the young German doctor was that “he was effeminate in appearance, but sympathetic and apparently quite anxious to ingratiate himself with the British—just in case.” Confronting the slender, dapper officer, handsome in his finely cut uniform, Warrack, with “Johnson” interpreting, made his proposal. As they talked, Skalka studied Warrack, “a tall, lanky, dark-haired fellow, phlegmatic like all Englishmen. He seemed terribly tired but otherwise not in bad shape.” Skalka was prepared to agree to the evacuation plan, but, he told Warrack, “first we will have to go to my headquarters to make sure there are no objections from my General.” Skalka refused to take Dr. van Maanen with them. In a captured British jeep, Skalka, Warrack and “Johnson” set out for Arnhem with Skalka driving. Skalka recalls that he “drove very fast, zigzagging back and forth. I did not want Warrack to orient himself and he would have had a tough time of it the way I drove. We went very fast, part of the time under fire, and twisted and turned into the city.”
To Wolters, the short drive into Arnhem was “sad and miserable.” Wreckage lay everywhere. Houses were still smoking or in ruins. Some of the roads they followed, chewed up by tank tracks and cratered by shellfire, “looked like plowed fields.” Wrecked guns, overturned jeeps, charred armored vehicles and “the crumpled bodies of the dead” lay like a trail all the way into Arnhem. Skalka had not blindfolded the two men, nor did Wolters feel he made any attempt to conceal the route he took. It struck him that the elegant SS medical officer seemed “eager for us to see the German strength.” Through the still-smoking, debris-strewn streets of Arnhem, Skalka drove northeast and pulled up outside Lieutenant Colonel Harzer’s headquarters, the high school on Hezelbergherweg.
Although the arrival of Warrack and Wolters created surprise among the staff officers, Harzer, alerted by phone, was waiting for them. Skalka, leaving the two officers in an outer room, reported to his commander. Harzer was angry. “I was amazed,” he says, “that Skalka had not blindfolded them. Now they knew the exact location of my headquarters.” Skalka had laughed. “The way I drove I would be very surprised if they could find their way anywhere,” he assured Harzer.
The two Germans sat down with the British emissaries. “The medical officer proposed that his British wounded be evacuated from the perimeter since they no longer had the room or supplies to care for them,” Harzer says. “It meant calling a truce for a couple of hours. I told him I was sorry our countries were fighting. Why should we fight, after all? I agreed to his proposal.”
Wolters—“a Canadian soldier named Johnson,” as Warrack introduced him—remembers the conference in a completely different context. “At first the German SS colonel refused to even consider a truce,” he says. “There were several other staff officers in the room, including the acting chief of staff, Captain Schwarz, who finally turned to Harzer and said that the whole matter would have to be taken up with the General.” The Germans left the room. “As we waited,” Wolters says, “we were offered sandwiches and brandy. Warrack warned me not to drink on an empty stomach. Whatever kind of filling was in the sandwiches was covered with sliced onions.”
As the Germans reentered the room, “everyone snapped to attention and there was much ‘Heil Hitlering.’ ” General Bittrich, hatless, in his long black leather coat, came in. “He stayed only a moment,” Wolters remembers. Studying the two men, Bittrich said,“Ich bedauere sehr diesen Krieg zwischen unseren Vater-Iändern” (I regret this war between our two nations). The General listened quietly to Warrack’s evacuation plan and gave his consent. “I agreed,” Bittrich says, “because a man cannot—provided, of course, that he has such feelings to start with—lose all humanity, even during the most bitter fight.” Then Bittrich handed Warrack a bottle of brandy. “This is for your General,” he told Warrack, and he withdrew.
By 10:30 A.M. Sunday, agreement on the partial truce was reached, although Wolters recollects “that the Germans seemed worried. Both the Tafelberg and the Schoonoord hotels were sitting on the front lines and the Germans could not guarantee to stop mortaring and shelling.” Harzer was mainly concerned about the long-range shelling of the British south of the Rhine and whether it could be controlled during the casualty evacuation. Skalka says that after assurances had been given on this point, he received a radio message from British Second Army headquarters. “It was simply addressed to the medical officer, 9th SS PanzerDivision, thanking me and asking if a cease-fire could extend long enough for the British to bring up medical supplies, drugs and bandages from across the Rhine.” Skalka radioed back, “We do not need your help but request only that your air force refrain from bombing our Red Cross trucks continually.” He was answered immediately: “Unfortunately, such attacks occur on both sides.” Skalka thought the message “ridiculous.” Angrily he replied, “Sorry, but I have not seen our air force in two years.” Back came the British message: “Just stick to the agreement.” Skalka was now enraged, so much so, he claims, that he radioed back, “Lick my -----”*
The arrangement, as finally worked out, called for a two-hour truce beginning at 3 P.M. The wounded would leave the perimeter by a designated route near the Tafelberg Hotel. Every effort was to be made “to slacken fire or stop completely.” Troops on both sides holding front-line positions were warned to hold their fire. As Skalka began to order “every available ambulance and jeep to assemble behind the front lines,” Warrack and Wolters, about to head back to their own lines, were allowed to fill their pockets with morphia and medical supplies. Wolters “was glad to get out of there, especially from the moment Schwarz said to me, ‘You don’t speak German like a Britisher.’ ”
En route back to the perimeter, a Red Cross flag flying from their jeep and escorted by another German medical officer, War-rack and Wolters were permitted to stop at St. Elisabeth’s Hospital to inspect conditions and visit the British wounded—among them Brigadier Lathbury, who, with badges of rank removed, was now “Lance Corporal” Lathbury. They were greeted by the chief British medical officer, Captain Lipmann Kessel; the head of the surgical team, Major Cedric Longland; and the senior Dutch surgeon, Dr. van Hengel—all of whom, Warrack remembers, “were desperately anxious for news.” Heavy fighting had taken place about the hospital. At one point there had even been a pitched battle in the building with Germans firing over the heads of patients in the wards, Kessel reported. But since Thursday the area had been quiet and Warrack discovered that, in contrast to the harrowing ordeal of the wounded in the perimeter, in St. Elisabeth’s “British casualties were in beds with blankets and sheets, and well cared for by Dutch nuns and doctors.” Warning Kessel to be prepared for a heavy flow of casualties, the two men returned to Oosterbeek, just in time, Warrack recalls, “to step into a packet of mortaring near the Tafelberg.”
At 3 P.M. the partial truce began. The firing suddenly diminished and then stopped altogether. Lance Bombardier Percy Parkes, for whom the “overwhelming noise had become normal, found the silence so unreal that for a second I thought I was dead.” With British and German medical officers and orderlies supervising the moves, ambulances and jeeps from both sides began loading casualties. Sergeant Dudley R. Pearson, the 4th Parachute Brigade’s chief clerk, was put beside his Brigadier’s stretcher on a jeep. “So you got it too, Pearson,” said Hackett. Pearson was wearing only his boots and trousers. His right shoulder was heavily bandaged “where shrapnel had torn a huge hole.” Hackett was gray-faced and obviously in great pain from his stomach wound. As they moved off toward Arnhem, Hackett said, “Pearson, I hope you won’t think I’m pulling rank, but I think I’m a bit worse off than you are. At the hospital do you mind if they get to me first?”*
Lieutenant Pat Glover, who had jumped with Myrtle the “parachick,” was moved to St. Elisabeth’s in agony. A bullet had severed two veins in his right hand and on the way to the Schoonoord dressing station he was hit again by shrapnel in the right calf. There was so little morphia that he was told he could not be given a shot unless he deemed it absolutely necessary. Glover did not ask for any. Now, sleeping fitfully, he found himself thinking of Myrtle. He could not remember what day she had been killed. During the fighting he and his batman, Private Joe Scott, had traded Myrtle’s satchel back and forth. Then, in a slit trench under fire, Glover suddenly realized that Myrtle’s bag was not there. “Where’s Myrtle?” he had yelled to Scott. “She’s up there, sir.” Scott pointed to the top of Glover’s trench. Inside her bag, Myrtle lay on her back, feet in the air. During the night Glover and Scott buried the chicken in a shallow little grave near a hedge. As Scott brushed earth over the spot, he looked at Glover and said, “Well, Myrtle was game to the last, sir.” Glover remembered he had not taken off Myrtle’s parachute wings. Now, in a haze of pain, he was glad that he had buried her with honor and properly—with her badge of rank—as befitted those who died in action.
At the Schoonoord, Hendrika van der Vlist watched as German orderlies began to move casualties out. Suddenly firing began. One of the Germans yelled, “If it does not stop we will open fire and not a casualty, a doctor or a nurse will come out alive.” Hendrika paid no attention. “It is always the youngest soldiers who yell the loudest,” she noted, “and we’re used to the German threats by now.” The firing ceased and the loading continued.
Several times again firing broke out as the long lines of walking wounded and convoys of jeeps, ambulances and trucks moved out toward Arnhem. “Inevitably,” General Urquhart recalled, “there were misunderstandings. It is not easy to still a battle temporarily.” Doctors at the Tafelberg had “some uneasy moments as they cleared combative Germans off the premises.” And nearly everyone remembers that the recently arrived Poles could not understand the necessity for the partial cease-fire. “They had many old scores to settle,” says Urquhart, “and saw no legitimate reason for holding their fire.” Ultimately, they were “prevailed upon to curb their eagerness until the evacuation was completed.”
Major Skalka, along with Dr. Warrack, kept the convoys moving throughout the afternoon. Some 200 walking wounded were led out and more than 250 men were carried in the medical convoys. “I have never seen anything like the conditions at Ooster-beek,” Skalka says. “It was nothing but death and wreckage.”
At St. Elisabeth’s, Lieutenant Peter Stainforth, recovering from a chest wound received in Arnhem, heard the first walking wounded coming in. “I felt a shiver of excitement run up my spine,” he says. “I have never been so proud. They came in and the rest of us were horror-stricken. Every man had a week’s growth of beard. Their battle dress was torn and stained; and filthy, blood-soaked bandages poked out from all of them. The most compelling thing was their eyes—red-rimmed, deep-sunk, peering out from drawn, mud-caked faces made haggard by lack of sleep, and yet they walked in undefeated. They looked fierce enough to take over the place right then and there.”
As the last convoy left Oosterbeek, Warrack thanked the SS medical officer for his help. “Skalka looked me in the eye and said, ‘Can I have that in writing?’ ” Warrack ignored the remark. At 5 P.M. the battle began again as though it had never stopped.
At Lance Bombardier Percy Parkes’s gun position near the Dolderen laundry, “all hell broke loose again. The Jerries threw everything at us.” After the relative quiet during the evacuation of the wounded, Parkes felt a sense of relief. “Everything had returned to normal, and I could orient to that. I was back in business again.” Germans, taking advantage of the temporary truce, had infiltrated many areas. Men heard screaming and firing from all directions as Germans and British chased one another through streets and gardens. From his trench Parkes saw a tank coming across a cabbage patch toward battery headquarters. Two artillerymen sprinted for a 6-pounder on the road. As the troopers began to fire, Parkes looked up in amazement as cabbages began to sail over his trench. “The force of the gun was sucking up the cabbages, pulling them right out of the ground and hurling them through the air. Then there was a tremendous bang and we saw a shell hit the tank.”
Major Robert Cain heard someone yell, “Tigers!” and he raced for the small antitank gun set up alongside a building in his block. A gunner ran up the street to help him. Together the two men rolled the gun into position. “Fire!” Cain shouted. He saw that the shell had hit the tank, disabling it. “Let’s have another go to be sure,” he yelled. The gunner looked at Cain and shook his head. “Can’t, sir,” he said. “She’s finished. The recoil mechanism’s gone.”
Inside the Ter Horst house the noise was so loud that everyone was numbed and deafened. Suddenly Kate ter Horst felt “a tremendous shock. There was a thunder of bricks. Timbers cracked and there were stifled cries from all sides.” The force of the explosion had jammed the cellar door. In the choking dust that swirled through the little room, she heard “men working with spades and tools … sawing and the breaking of timbers … footsteps crunching through bricks and mortar … and heavy things dragged back and forth.” The cellar door was broken open and fresh air poured in. Upstairs Kate saw that part of the corridor and the garden room were open to the outdoors and a section of one wall had been blown in. Men lay everywhere, tossed about by the explosion. Dr. Martin had been hit again and was unable to get about at all. A soldier who had been brought in several days earlier suffering from shell shock roamed through the carnage in the house. Staring at Kate ter Horst, he said, “I think I’ve seen you someplace before.” Gently she led him to the cellar and found room for him on the stone floor. Almost immediately he fell asleep. Wakening later, he moved over to Mrs. ter Horst. “We can be taken at any moment now,” he said quietly. He went to sleep again. Leaning tiredly against a wall, her five children beside her, Kate waited, as “the ghastly hours stretched slowly.”
In a trench not far from Major Cain’s position, Sergeant Alf Roullier saw another tank appear in the street. He and a gunner dashed to the only antitank gun that seemed to be left in the artillery troop he was with. The two men reached the gun just as the tank turned toward them. They fired and saw a flash as the tank was hit. At that moment a machine gun opened up. The gunner with Roullier gasped and sagged against him. As Roullier turned to ease the man down, a bullet tore into his left hand. It began to shake uncontrollably and Roullier assumed the bullet had hit a nerve. Easing the gunner over his back, Roullier made it to his trench. “I’ll go get help,” he told the bloodstained trooper. At the Ter Horst house Roullier stopped, unwilling to go in. He heard men screaming and babbling, begging for water, crying out the names of relatives. “Oh, God!” Roullier said. “What have I come here for?” Bombardier E. C. Bolden appeared at that moment. “Blimey, mate,” Bolden said, looking at Roullier’s shaking hand, “you been out typewriting?” Roullier explained that he had come for help for the wounded gunner. “All right,” Bolden said, bandaging Roullier’s hand, “I’ll get there.” Returning to his position, Roullier passed the Ter Horst garden and stopped, staring in horror. He had never seen so many dead in one place before. Some had smocks over their faces but others were uncovered and “their eyes stared off in all directions.” There were piles of dead, so many that a man could not step between them.
At the trench Roullier waited until Bolden arrived with two stretcher-bearers. “Don’t worry,” Bolden told Roullier. He raised his thumb. “Everything will be O.K.” Roullier didn’t think so. Back in England, the thirty-one-year-old trooper had pleaded to go on the mission. His age was against it, and although Roullier was an artilleryman, he had become acting mess sergeant. But he had won out, and finally had been allowed to go. Now, staring at the tired, thirsty, hungry troopers around him, he remembers that “something clicked in my mind. I just forgot the battle. I was obsessed with getting us something to eat.” He does not know how long he crawled through torn-up gardens and half-demolished houses in the area, ransacking shelves and searching cellars for bits and pieces of food. Someplace he found an undamaged galvanized tub. Into it he threw everything he found—a few withered carrots, some onions, a bag of potatoes, salt and some bouillon cubes. Near the house he found a chicken coop. Only one bird was still alive. Roullier took it along.
On the stone floor of a ruined house he built a circle of bricks to hold the tub. Tearing strips of wallpaper off walls and using pieces of wood, he built a fire. He does not remember the battle still raging in the streets as he made one more trip outside to find water—but he staggered back with the tub partly filled. He killed and plucked the chicken, and dropped it into the tub. Just at dusk when he decided the stew was finished he pulled a pair of curtains off a window frame to wrap the hot handles of the pot and, with the help of another trooper, set out for the trenches. For the first time in hours he was aware of mortars coming in. The two men moved at intervals, stopping at each near burst, then going on again. At the artillery position, Roullier yelled out, “Come and get it!” Amazed, bleary troopers appeared in cautious groups with battered ration cans and mess kits. Dazedly mumbling their thanks, they dipped into the hot tub and disappeared into the growing darkness. In ten minutes the stew was gone. Peering into the bottom of the tub, Alf Roullier could just make out a few small chunks of potatoes. He picked them out and, for the first time that day, ate some food. He had never felt happier.
On the grounds of the Hartenstein Hotel in a five-man trench, Sergeant Leonard Overton, the glider pilot, stared out into the growing dusk. The four men who shared his trench had disappeared. Suddenly Overton saw dark shapes approaching. “It’s only us,” someone said quietly. As the four soldiers dropped into the trench, Overton saw that they carried a gas cape bundled together. Carefully the men opened the cape and, holding a can at one edge, emptied almost a pint of rain water into the container. One man produced a cube of tea and began to stir the liquid. Overton looked on, dazed. “We had had nothing to eat or drink that day and only two hard biscuits which we had shared on Saturday,” he says. Then, to Overton’s surprise, the troopers offered the tin can to him. He took a sip and passed it on. “Many happy returns,” each man told him softly. Overton had forgotten that Sunday, September 24, was his twenty-third birthday.
In the Schoonoord the critical cases and the walking wounded were gone, but shell-shocked men still lingered in the big hotel. As Chaplain Pare walked through a half-deserted room, he heard a thin shaking voice somewhere in the echoing building singing “Just a song at twilight.” Climbing to an upstairs room, Pare knelt beside a badly shocked young trooper. “Padre,” the boy said, “will you tuck me in? I get so frightened with all the noise.” Pare had no blanket but he pretended to cover the trooper. “That feels fine, Padre. I feel very well now. Will you do me one more favor?” Pare nodded. “Say the Lord’s Prayer with me.” Pare did. He soothed back the young man’s hair. “Now close your eyes,” Pare told him. “Sleep well. God bless you.” The trooper smiled. “Good night, Padre. God bless you.” Two hours later a medic came for Pare. “You know that lad you said the prayers with?” Pare asked, “What’s wrong?” The medic shook his head. “He died just now. He said to tell you he couldn’t stand the noise outside.”
As evening set in, Colonel R. Payton-Reid in the KOSB’s area of the perimeter was not unhappy to see “the twenty-fourth grow to its melancholy close. The high hopes of early support by the ground forces was a subject now, by mutual consent, taboo.”
Late Sunday night Lieutenant Neville Hay, the Phantom Net operator, was called into General Urquhart’s room in the cellar of the Hartenstein. “He handed me a long message,” Hay says, “and told me when I had finished encoding it to return it to him. I remember him saying that perhaps by that time he wouldn’t have to send it.” Hay was stunned as he read the message. “What it really meant was that they had to come and get us or we would be wiped out.” Hay encoded the signal and returned it to Urqu-hart. “I hoped he wouldn’t have to send it, either,” Hay says. As sent out, the message read:
Urquhart to Browning. Must warn you unless physical contact is made with us early 25 Sept. consider it unlikely we can hold out long enough. All ranks now exhausted. Lack of rations, water, ammunition and weapons with high officer casualty rate. Even slight enemy offensive action may cause complete disintegration. If this happens all will be ordered to break toward bridgehead if anything rather than surrender. Any movement at present in face of enemy impossible. Have attempted our best and will do so as long as possible.*
Over two consecutive nights, attempts to move men and supplies into Urquhart’s lodgment had failed. Yet the stubborn XXX Corps commander, General Horrocks, refused to abandon the effort. If the bridgehead was to be saved and the relief of Urquhart’s men effected, it must take place this Sunday night. Once again the weather was unfavorable; no help could be expected from England-based planes flying supply or support missions. But troops were now in strength in the Driel-Nijmegen area, and Horrocks—achieving the near-impossible by driving his entire corps up the narrow, one-tank-wide corridor to his spear-point on the Rhine—was obsessed by the 400 yards of river that separated him from the airborne forces. Success was tantalizingly close. He ordered General Thomas’ 43rd Wessex to make one last push: with the remaining Poles, troops of Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Tilly’s 4th Dorsets would assault the river and try to cross into the bridgehead beginning at 10 P.M.
Tilly’s move would be a first step in a wider plan. “If things went well,” Horrocks later wrote, “I hoped to side-slip the 43rd Division across the Rhine farther to the west and carry out a left hook against the German force attacking the airborne perimeter.” The alternative was withdrawal. On this eighth day of Market-Garden, Horrocks obstinately refused to face that choice. Others, however, were now seriously planning how it might be done.
Extract from Lieutenant Hay’s “Phantom”log, showing memorable Urquhart message to Browning.
According to his chief of staff, Brigadier Gordon Walch, the First Airborne Corps commander, General Browning, now spoke “quite openly about withdrawing.” While the 43rd Wessex was moving up to Driel the decision had been in the balance, but “as soon as they became stuck, Browning became convinced we would have to get Urquhart’s men out.” The British Second Army commander, General Miles C. Dempsey, had reached the same conclusion. He had not met with Horrocks since the beginning of the attack. Now, as time ran out, Dempsey ordered Horrocks to a meeting down the corridor at St. Oedenrode. In line of command, Dempsey, on authority from Montgomery, would have the last word. The agonizing decision would be forced on them by one man—Field Marshal Model.
As Horrocks drove south to St. Oedenrode, Lieutenant Colonel Tilly of the 4th Dorsets prepared for the night’s river crossing. His battalion was rushing up to the assembly area in Driel, and assault craft, now that the corridor was open again, were on the way. Tilly’s instructions were clear. Briefed personally by his brigade commander, Brigadier Ben Walton, Tilly was told to “broaden the base of the perimeter.” The crossing was to be made at the old ferry site, about a mile west of Oosterbeek. Once across, the Dorsets were “to hang on until reinforced.” They would travel light, carrying only enough food and ammunition to last three or four days. As the thirty-five-year-old Tilly saw it, his men “were a task force leading the way for the whole of Demp-sey’s Second Army.” He was acutely conscious of the urgent necessity of reaching Urquhart’s men quickly. From all he had learned, the division was dying by the hour.
On Sunday Tilly had climbed to the spire of a damaged Driel church three times to observe the area where his troops would land on the Rhine’s northern bank. As the afternoon wore on, at his orchard headquarters south of Driel, he impatiently awaited the full arrival of his battalion from the village of Homoet, a few miles southwest of Driel, and the assault boats being brought up from the corridor.
Shortly after 6 P.M. Brigadier Ben Walton sent for Tilly. At Walton’s headquarters in a house south of Driel, Tilly expected the brigade commander to review once more the details of the night’s operation. Instead, Walton told him there had been a change in plan. Word had been received, Walton said, that “the whole operation—the large-scale crossing—was off.” Tilly’s battalion would still cross, but for a different purpose. Tilly listened with increasing dismay. His men were to hold the base of the perimeter while Urquhart’s 1st Airborne Division was withdrawn! He was to take as few men as possible—“only enough to do the job”; approximately 400 infantry and 20 officers. Tilly did not need to go; he could detail his second in command, Major James Grafton, to take his place. Although Tilly replied that he would “think about it,” he had already decided to lead his men over. As he left Walton’s headquarters, Tilly felt that his men were being sacrificed. Walton had said nothing about getting them back. Yet he knew that Walton too was helpless to alter the situation. What puzzled him was what had happened; why had the plan been changed?
The decision to withdraw Urquhart’s force—subject to confirmation by Montgomery, who was not to finally approve the order until 9:30 A.M. Monday, September 25—was reached by General Dempsey at the St. Oedenrode conference with Horrocks and General Browning on Sunday afternoon. After considering his Corps commander’s plan for a full-scale crossing of the Rhine, Dempsey turned it down. Unlike Horrocks, Dempsey did not believe the assault could succeed. “No,” he said to Horrocks. “Get them out.” Turning to Browning, Dempsey asked, “Is that all right with you?” Silent and subdued, Browning nodded. Immediately Dempsey notified General Thomas in Driel. Even as the St. Oedenrode conference was taking place, the Germans, once again, severed the corridor north of Veghel. Cut off, Horrocks used an armored carrier and broke through the German lines to return to his headquarters at Nijmegen. Field Marshal Model’s latest attacks would keep the corridor closed for more than forty hours.
In Driel, most of Lieutenant Colonel Tilly’s battalion had now arrived. He walked among his troops picking the men he would take. Tapping soldiers on the shoulder, Tilly said, “You go” … “You’re not going.” The real purpose of the assault was secret. He could not tell protesting men why they were being left behind. Tilly “picked those veterans who were absolutely sure—essential—leaving the others behind.”
The decision was bitter. Looking at the officers and men who, he believed, “were going to certain death,” Tilly called over Major Grafton. “Jimmy,” Grafton remembers Tilly saying, “I’ve got to tell you something, because someone other than me has to know the real purpose of the crossing.” Outlining the change in plan, Tilly added quietly, “I’m afraid we’re being chucked away.”
Stunned, Grafton stared at Tilly. It was vital, Tilly added, that no one else have the information. “It would be too risky,” he explained.
Grafton knew what Tilly meant. It would be a terrible blow to morale if the truth was known. As Grafton prepared to leave, Tilly said, “Jimmy, I hope you can swim.” Grafton smiled. “I hope so, too,” he said.
By 9:30 P.M., as Tilly’s men moved down to the river, there was still no sign of the assault craft. “How the hell do they expect me to cross without boats?” Tilly asked his engineering officer, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Henniker. Rations for his men had not arrived either. Testy and burdened by his knowledge of the true reason for the mission, Tilly spoke with Lieutenant Colonel Aubrey Coad, commander of the 5th Dorsets. “Nothing’s right,” Tilly told him. “The boats haven’t come and we haven’t been issued rations. If something isn’t done soon, I’m not prepared to go.” Coad ordered his battalion to turn over rations to Tilly’s men.
For three long hours, in a cold, drizzling rain, Tilly’s force waited for the assault craft. At midnight word arrived that the boats were now in Driel. But only nine had come through. In the darkness, some trucks had taken a wrong turn and driven into enemy lines; two others, skidding off a muddy dike road, had been lost. At the rendezvous point the boats were carried on the shoulders of the infantry for 600 yards through a swampy marsh to the launching point. Stumbling and slithering over the mud of the polder, the men took more than an hour to wrestle the boats to the river. Not until after 2 A.M. on Monday, September 25, was the assembly complete.
As the men prepared to launch, Tilly handed Major Grafton two messages for General Urquhart: one was a letter from General Browning; the other, a coded message from General Thomas outlining the withdrawal plan. There were two sets of these letters. Lieutenant Colonel Eddie Myers, Urquhart’s engineering officer, had returned from Nijmegen and his meeting with Browning. Now Myers, bearing the same letters, was waiting to cross. “Your job,” Tilly told Grafton, “is to get through to Urquhart with these messages in case the engineering officer doesn’t make it.” The paper containing the withdrawal plan was “absolutely vital,” Tilly stressed.
At the river it was clear that the Germans were completely prepared for another crossing. Only some fifteen British assault craft—including three DUKWs and the remnants of the little fleet used on the previous night—remained. At the very last minute, because of the boat shortage, it was decided to halt a diversionary crossing scheduled by the Poles to the east of the Dorsets’ launching area—and put Tilly’s men over in five three-boat waves. As the preparations went on, mortar shells exploded on the southern bank, and heavy machine guns, apparently now carefully lined up along both edges of the perimeter base, swept the water. Lieutenant Colonel Tilly stepped into a boat. The first wave began to cross.
Although every available British gun on the southern side hammered away, sending a canopy of shells above the Dorsets, the crossing was brutally assaulted. The canvas-and-plywood craft were raked, holed and swept away. Some, like Major Graf-ton’s, caught fire before leaving the south bank. Quickly Grafton set out in another. Halfway over he discovered his was the only remaining boat in the wave. In fifteen minutes, feeling “lucky to be alive,” Grafton was across.
In the rain and darkness, hemmed in by well-sited machine-gun fire, each of the five waves sustained heavy losses. But the worst enemy by far was the current. Unused to the boats and the unexpected current, which increased in speed after midnight, the helpless Dorsets were swept past the perimeter base and into the hands of the enemy. Scattered for miles, those who survived were quickly cut off and surrounded. Of the 420 officers and men who set out for the perimeter, only 239 reached the northern bank. Lieutenant Colonel Tilly, who upon landing was met by an avalanche of grenades rolled like bowling balls down a hill, was heard leading his men out of the inferno, yelling “Get them with the bayonet!”*
The Dorsets were unable to link up as an effective unit with Urquhart’s men. Only a few reached the Hartenstein perimeter, among them Major Grafton, who, with the withdrawal plan intact, came in through Major Dickie Lonsdale’s positions near the lower Oosterbeek church. Lieutenant Colonel Myers had already arrived at Urquhart’s headquarters with the documents he was carrying. Neither man knew the contents of Thomas’ coded message, or its cruelly ironic name. When Montgomery had originally pressed Eisenhower for “a powerful and full-blooded thrust toward Berlin … to thus end the war,” his single-thrust suggestion had been turned down. “Operation Market-Garden” had been the compromise. Now the withdrawal plan for Urquhart’s bloodied men had been officially designated. The remnants of the British 1st Airborne Division were to be evacuated under the code name “Operation Berlin.”
*Some of the war’s finest reporting came out of Arnhem. The ten-man press team attached to the 1st Airborne Division included Major Roy Oliver, a public information officer; censors Flight Lieutenant Billy Williams and Captain Peter Brett; army photographers Sergeants Lewis and Walker; and correspondents Alan Wood, London Daily Express;Stanley Maxted and Guy Byam, BBC; Jack Smythe, Reuter’s, and Marek Swiecicki, a Polish correspondent attached to Sosabowski’s brigade. Although limited by sparse communications to bulletins of only a few hundred words per day, these men, in the finest tradition of war reporting, portrayed the agonies of Urquhart’s men. I have been unable to locate a single correspondent of the original team. Presumably, all are dead.
*Inexplicably, some official and semiofficial British accounts contend that bad weather prevented aerial activity on Saturday, September 23. Meteorological, Corps and Allied Air Force after-action reports all record Saturday’s weather as fair, with more missions flown than on any day since Tuesday, the nineteenth. In the semiofficial Struggle for Europe, Chester Wilmot erred in stating that on Saturday “aerial resupply had been thwarted by bad weather.” The phrase altered his chronology of the battle thereafter. Other accounts, using Wilmot as a guide, have compounded the inaccuracies.
*Skalka’s account that some exchange of messages took place is probably true. Yet the wording of the messages is certainly questionable, especially his answer regarding the Luftwaffe, which was in the air during the week, harassing the British drops. Further, it is a belittlement of forces of his own country. Such a contemptuous assessment of one’s own side to an enemy was certainly uncommon among the SS.
*Both Lathbury and Hackett became “lance corporals” in the hospital. Sergeant Dave Morris, who gave blood to Hackett before his operation, was cautioned that the Brigadier’s identity was not to be revealed, Lathbury, in the hospital since the nineteenth, got his first news of the division when the Oosterbeek wounded arrived—including the information that Urquhart had been able to rejoin the division and that Frost’s men had held the Arnhem bridge for almost four days. Both brigadiers later escaped from the hospital with the help of the Dutch and hid out. Lathbury eventually joined the irrepressible Major Digby Tatham-Warter, who, dressed in civilian clothes and working with the Dutch underground, “went about quite openly and on one occasion helped to push a German staff car out of a ditch.” With a group of approximately 120 troopers, medics and pilots who had been hidden by the Dutch, and led by a Dutch guide, Lathbury reached American troops south of the Rhine on the evening of October 22. The incredible Tatham-Warter helped about 150 British soldiers to escape. Incidentally, it took the author seven years to discover his whereabouts—then by accident. My British publisher met him in Kenya where he has been living since the end of the war. Tatham-Warter says that he “carried the umbrella in battle more for identification purposes than for anything else, because I was always forgetting the password.”
*Several versions of this message have appeared in other accounts of the battle. The one above is the original. Lieutenant Neville Hay retained his timed Phantom message logs and made them available to me. I am extremely grateful for his cooperation.
*One of the bouncing grenades actually hit Tilly’s head and exploded. Incredibly he was only slightly wounded and survived as a prisoner of war until the end of hostilities.