As the Allied advance through north west Europe began to slow, partly as a consequence of extended supply lines and partly as a consequence of stiffening German resistance, an audacious attack deep into German occupied territory was launched. Operation Market Garden sought to penetrate right up to the gateway to Germany, the bridge over the Rhine in the Dutch town of Arnhem. Airborne troops would go ahead, seizing a series of critical bridges and then hold them until the armoured spearhead could burst through to relieve them.
James Magellis had already been wounded twice whilst serving with the 504th Regiment of the US 82nd Airborne Division in Italy. The Regiment had not jumped with the rest of the 82nd on D-Day in Normandy. Now he wanted to get back into action:
I personally was happy and anxious to return to action. I know this may sound rather horrible today, but I believe my feeling typified the general spirit of the paratroopers in my company, battalion, and regiment. We recognized that a job had to be done. We accepted the fact that this was a fight to the finish and we were eager to get on with the job.
It would be interesting to note at this point that as the war progressed and my experience accumulated I found the business of killing and destruction an agreeable accomplishment. I suppose this comes with the transformation that is necessary to make killers out of soldiers.
Also I was anxious to return to combat since I had been out of action since I was wounded at Anzio. I missed the rest of the Anzio campaign in which my regiment participated as a combat team apart from the rest of the Division.
Beginning at 1025 on Sunday, 17 September, the first planes, twelve British and six American, took off with the Pathfinders, who were scheduled to jump forty minutes ahead of the main force. Shortly thereafter, 2,023 troop transport planes and 478 gliders took off from twenty-four separate airfields in England.
My plane taxied down the tarmac to the airstrip, got the green light to go, and with minimal delay was airborne. We headed for an established rendezvous point, joined with other C-47s, and headed east in a vee of vees formation.
In addition to the C-47s, the invasion fleet was joined by 1,131 Allied fighter planes flying escort for the vulnerable troop carriers. British and American spotter planes, which would find detached planes and gliders, also joined us. During the course of Operation Market Garden, the code name for the Allied invasion, 205 men would be picked up from the sea.
As we looked out the windows of our C-47, we saw a sky darkened with aircraft, all heading in one direction toward Holland. Approximately two and a half hours after takeoff, forty-five minutes of which was over enemy-held territory, we would be over our drop zone and jumping out the single door of our C-47s. It was good-bye, England. Holland, here we come.
Landing at Arnhem, the objective deepest into German occupied territory, were the British First Airborne Division. John Frost, commanding 2nd Parachute Battalion who were to spearhead the attack, was pleased to find that the landings had gone nearly as well as could be expected. He and the Parachute Regiment had come a long way since the Bruneval Raid in 1942.
It was a warm Sunday afternoon and he reflected how the countryside and the neat Dutch houses were not so very different from the outskirts of Aldershot, home town of the British Army. He describes the early stages in the operation as the paratroopers collected together at their rendezvous point in a wood:
It was by now about half-past two in the afternoon and quite hot. The sweat was pouring off the cheerful faces of the men as they filed past me into the wood. Wireless sets seemed to be the only casualties from the drop, among them the brigade set, but fortunately a spare was available.
Just as I was beginning to feel that on the whole things could not be going better, the sound of firing broke out in the woods not more than three hundred yards from where I was standing and I moved to a track junction in the middle of the wood, which was where we had plan- ned to set up Battalion Headquarters.
A battle at our rendezvous in the woods was one of the things to be feared most of all. It was vital that we should be able to move off without delay and equally vital that our ammunition should not be expended unduly early when we had so much to do.
At first it was hard to tell what the trouble was, but we didn’t let it interfere with the process of forming up and getting ready to move.
The troops and anti-tank guns allot- ted to us arrived punctually, also most of our airborne transport, consisting of five jeeps and a bren carrier.
I passed some anxious moments while they were being sorted out. All army drivers have a predilection for driving into the middle of a headquarters, thereby causing the utmost confusion, and our drivers were no exception to the rule. To the tune of vigorous cursing, order was restored.
The companies reported in over ninety-five per cent, and the firing turned out to be caused by a small party of Germans who had driven up in a lorry with one armoured car as escort. By the time I thought of moving off, the armoured car had fled, leaving the lorry and several prisoners.
Soon after three o’clock a message came from Brigade Headquarters telling us to move on with all possible speed, without waiting for stragglers, and just as the message went to ‘A’ Company, who were the vanguard, firing broke out afresh from their area.
However, there was no delay, and as we passed their old positions we found two lorries and three motor-cars in various stages of destruction, also an untidy little bunch of dead and wounded Germans. It seemed a pity that the vehicles were now unusable, but there had been no time to arrange a road-block.
It was however a very encouraging start. Approximately thirty Germans, including officers among them, and valuable transport, accounted for without loss to ourselves.
We marched towards Arnhem. A man and a woman on bicycles made as if to ride on past the column and seemed quite surprised at being ordered to turn back.
Contemporary British newsreel showing the parachute and glider landings: