Arnhem: British paratroopers continue to hold out

'Gallipoli II', a 6-pdr anti-tank gun of No. 26 Anti-Tank Platoon, 1st Border Regiment, 1st Airborne Division, in action in Oosterbeek, 20 September 1944. The gun was at this moment engaging a German PzKpfw B2 (f) Flammpanzer tank of Panzer-Kompanie 224 and successfully knocked it out.

‘Gallipoli II’, a 6-pdr anti-tank gun of No. 26 Anti-Tank Platoon, 1st Border Regiment, 1st Airborne Division, in action in Oosterbeek, 20 September 1944. The gun was at this moment engaging a German PzKpfw B2 (f) Flammpanzer tank of Panzer-Kompanie 224 and successfully knocked it out.

No. 1 Gun (a 75mm howitzer) of 'D' Troop, 2nd Battery, 1st Airlanding Light Regiment, 1st Airborne Division in the Oosterbeek perimeter, 21 September 1944.

No. 1 Gun (a 75mm howitzer) of ‘D’ Troop, 2nd Battery, 1st Airlanding Light Regiment, 1st Airborne Division in the Oosterbeek perimeter, 21 September 1944.

3-inch mortar team of No.23 Mortar (Handcarts) Platoon of Support Company, 1st Border Regiment, 1st Airborne Division, in action in the Oosterbeek perimeter, 21 September 1944.

3-inch mortar team of No.23 Mortar (Handcarts) Platoon of Support Company, 1st Border Regiment, 1st Airborne Division, in action in the Oosterbeek perimeter, 21 September 1944.

Men from Nos. 15 & 16 Platoons, 'C' Company, 1st Battalion Border Regiment, waiting in roadside ditches along the Van Lennepweg to repulse an attack by the enemy, who were barely a hundred yards away, Oosterbeek, 21 September.

Men from Nos. 15 & 16 Platoons, ‘C’ Company, 1st Battalion Border Regiment, waiting in roadside ditches along the Van Lennepweg to repulse an attack by the enemy, who were barely a hundred yards away, Oosterbeek, 21 September.

Late on the 20th the men of the Parachute Regiment who held the positions closest to Arnhem Bridge were overrun. Out of ammunition, with the buildings burning around them and a majority of men injured, their position had been untenable for some time before they were forced to surrender. The Germans were still picking up pockets of them early on the 21st. Among the injured taken prisoner were Colonel John Frost and Private James Sims.

Further away in the suburbs of Arnhem, in Oosterbeek, another contingent of the Airborne troops continued to hold out. They had been surrounded early in the battle and unable to break through to the Arnhem bridge as planned.

Sergeants Lewis and Walker, two Army Film and Photographic Unit cameramen who landed with the first troops, share a quick meal with a Dutch girl on the bonnet of their Jeep at Oosterbeek.

Sergeants Lewis and Walker, two Army Film and Photographic Unit cameramen who landed with the first troops, share a quick meal with a Dutch girl on the bonnet of their Jeep at Oosterbeek.

Sgt Jock Walker, AFPU, pictured outside the Hartenstein Hotel, Oosterbeek, September 1944

Sgt Jock Walker, AFPU, pictured outside the Hartenstein Hotel, Oosterbeek, September 1944

With them was Sgt Jock Walker of the Army Film and Photographic Unit. He had long since run out of cine film, none of them had expected to be engaged for so long:

On the 21st it was impossible to leave the Hartenstein Hotel area, due to the fact that the enemy made a very determined attempt to break into the perimeter. What with this and the recommencement of the heavy mortaring and shelling it was a wonder any of us lived through it, but we did. Defending the perimeter, in addition to the Para and the South Staffs, there were elements of REs, RAs, Royal Signals, Glider Pilots, Pathfinders, RASC who fought as hard and viciously as the rest. It was a case of their life or yours and although airborne troops do not require to have their back to the wall in order to fight, this was literally a case of give an inch and we were all done.

The R.A.F. supply planes and their dispatchers were giants among brave men; whenever they came over with supplies (which unfortunately usually fell to the enemy) all the fury of the enemy was directed against them, but steadfastly they flew straight and level through the most fearful ‘flak’ – the dispatchers at the doors, chucking out the containers, even when repeatedly hit and set on fire, flying on, blazing torches in the sky, until they eventually crashed in flames. What devotion to duty and so sorrowful to watch. There wasn’t a man on the ground that wasn’t moved by this display of courage and, in the main, with no benefit to us.

That day, in an attempt to reinforce us, the Polish Para were dropped on the other side of the Rhine, opposite our perimeter but due apparently to lack of boats etc. they had to stay there until the next night, when they joined us, a very small batch of about 200; they too had been cut to ribbons.

Food and water was a definite problem, we managed to collect some apples and vegetables from time to time and at the end of the open space behind the Hartenstein there was a well but collecting water was very ‘dodgy’ due to these pestilential snipers. One of the Sergeants and his men, faked up a dummy soldier with a stick, pillow and tin hat, and exposed it every so often. It never failed to draw fire, thus showing where the sniper was and then he would get his ‘come-uppance.’ He knocked out an awful lot of snipers this way and enabled us to get water from time to time.

If you were wounded it was certain captivity, as the British and German Red Cross agreed to work side by side, but the Germans controlled the hospital, so if you were taken there, into captivity you went. In fact the only jeep that was still running was the one that ferried the wounded to hospital, the enemy respected it and it was back and forth all day long, carrying the wounded to succour, safety and behind barbed wire.

It wasn’t all grim, square-jawed stuff, we had some laughs like when a German Psychological unit in a van came up and bellowed through the loud-hailer that we were good blokes and marvellous fighters, and that if we would surrender we would be treated as heroes and all this guff.
The answer of course was cat calls, “Up yours from Wigan.” “Get knotted,” and other military replies and when it came next day somebody fired a P.I.A.T. bomb right into it. They didn’t send another one!

And if you were caught in the open during an enemy ‘stonk’ and dived into a slit trench you had usually to battle with squirrels for possession of it; they couldn’t live in the woods and very sensibly occupied slit trenches and were not at all keen on a human being there too. Sharp little teeth they’ve got.

Read the whole of Sergeant Walkers account on BBC People’s War.

John R. Towle, Medal of Honor

John R. Towle, Medal of Honor

Further back in Nijmegan the US forces that had captured the bridge were now facing German counter-attacks. Here too there was exceptional gallantry. Private John R. Towle was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for taking the initiative:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty on 21 September 1944, near Oosterhout, Holland.

The rifle company in which Pvt. Towle served as rocket launcher gunner was occupying a defensive position in the west sector of the recently established Nijmegen bridgehead when a strong enemy force of approximately 100 infantry supported by 2 tanks and a half-track formed for a counterattack. With full knowledge of the disastrous consequences resulting not only to his company but to the entire bridgehead by an enemy breakthrough, Pvt. Towle immediately and without orders left his foxhole and moved 200 yards in the face of intense small-arms fire to a position on an exposed dike roadbed.

From this precarious position Pvt. Towle fired his rocket launcher at and hit both tanks to his immediate front. Armored skirting on both tanks prevented penetration by the projectiles, but both vehicles withdrew slightly damaged. Still under intense fire and fully exposed to the enemy, Pvt. Towle then engaged a nearby house which 9 Germans had entered and were using as a strongpoint and with 1 round killed all 9.

Hurriedly replenishing his supply of ammunition, Pvt. Towle, motivated only by his high conception of duty which called for the destruction of the enemy at any cost, then rushed approximately 125 yards through grazing enemy fire to an exposed position from which he could engage the enemy half-track with his rocket launcher.

While in a kneeling position preparatory to firing on the enemy vehicle, Pvt. Towle was mortally wounded by a mortar shell. By his heroic tenacity, at the price of his life, Pvt. Towle saved the lives of many of his comrades and was directly instrumental in breaking up the enemy counterattack.

Sergeants J Whawell and J Turl of the Glider Pilot Regiment search for snipers in the ULO (Uitgebreid Lager Onderwijs) school in Kneppelhoutweg, Oosterbeek, 21 September 1944.

Sergeants J Whawell and J Turl of the Glider Pilot Regiment search for snipers in the ULO (Uitgebreid Lager Onderwijs) school in Kneppelhoutweg, Oosterbeek, 21 September 1944.

A wounded man being carried away from the Divisional Administration Area by stretcher (note the stocks of ammunition and fuel dumped in the background) at Oosterbeek.

A wounded man being carried away from the Divisional Administration Area by stretcher (note the stocks of ammunition and fuel dumped in the background) at Oosterbeek.

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Jim October 6, 2015 at 11:07 pm

The wounded on the stretcher is Captain GE Hemelryk division Signals, leading a party to recover supplies he became wounded.
He was carried into the regimental aid post in Hartenstein, by four of his men. (L-R) Lance Sergeant JW Rate, Lance Corporal Reg McFarlane, Signalman Frank Young (with beret), Signalman RA Gorden-MacIntosh. Hemelryk would recover from his wounds.

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