Evacuation of the surviving troops from Arnhem

British paratroops being marched away by their German captors. Some 6,400 of the 10,000 British paratroops who landed at Arnhem were taken prisoner, a further 1,100 had been killed. (German photograph).
British paratroops being marched away by their German captors. Some 6,400 of the 10,000 British paratroops who landed at Arnhem were taken prisoner, a further 1,100 had been killed. (German photograph).
A group of survivors from the Arnhem Operation arriving at Nijmegen after the evacuation and having their first drink. One of them, Captain Jan Linzel (second from left) is a member of the Dutch Royal Navy attached to No 10 Commando.
A group of survivors from the Arnhem Operation arriving at Nijmegen after the evacuation and having their first drink. One of them, Captain Jan Linzel (second from left) is a member of the Dutch Royal Navy attached to No 10 Commando.

After over a week of intense fighting it was finally decided to withdraw the remaining men of the 1st Airborne Division from their isolated position on the outskirts of Arnhem. They were pulled out in small groups from the defence line in Oosterbeek so that the Germans would not guess what was happening. Of the 10,000 who had arrived by parachute and glider, about 2,500 got away across the Rhine during the night of the 25th/26th. Many of those left behind could not be extricated because they were wounded.

Glider Pilot Louis Hagen had narrowly avoided becoming a casualty and describes the final stages of their escape:

All along the path there were mortar pits and the bodies of dead and wounded soldiers. We reached the banks of the Rhine and joined a long queue of men waiting to be ferried across. Someone came up to us and told us to spread out as the mortaring might be resumed any minute.

There were at least 100 men in front of us and no sign of a boat.There were other parties like ours all along the river, waiting. The splash of oars could be heard now and then. I suppose this was how they felt at Dunkirk. A small canvas boat was approaching at last. It took ten men across. Then we realised our desperate position.Any moment the mortaring might start again.There was no cover at all and we crouched in the deep squelchy mud. We were frozen with cold and soaked from the rain.

The mortaring started up again, not directly where we were, but near enough to be frightening. After trenches and street fighting, and even the cover of the woods, we felt helplessly exposed.The thought of those ghastly bodies and the groans of the wounded, lying in the meadows, was in everyone’s mind, but no one said anything. We just crouched there shivering.

I began surveying our position in my mind. Of course this had nothing in common with Dunkirk, and those who ordered us to wait in line patiently until we were taken off by those ridiculous little canvas assault boats did not know what they were doing.The Rhine was only 250 yards wide and quite narrow at certain spots near us.

Why was not the order given for those of us who could swim to dump their arms and make for the other side? Surely it would have been possible to organise a rope and stretch it across for those who were not strong swimmers? But instead we were being heroic, playing at Dunkirk, and a great many men who could have escaped to safety would be casualties or else be taken prisoner at dawn.

I had to get out of this. I told Captain Z that I couldn’t stand this any longer and that I was going to try and swim for it. Now we had got this far I didn’t intend to take any more risks than were necessary. The boat system was obviously hopelessly inadequate and, apart from relieving some of-this awful congestion on the bank and leaving the boats, such as they were to the non—swimmers, I honestly thought it was the best way out. He agreed with me and shouted to the rest of our glider pilot section that we were going on to a promontory where the river narrowed a bit.

A large crowd followed us, but I doubt if any of them realised where we were going or what we intended to do.They just came after us because at least we seemed to have some kind of plan. Had they been told that the river was only 250 yards wide, though it looked rather more in the dark, many would have followed us, orders or no orders.

We had to climb some large boulders on our way to the promontory. At the end, it went steeply down into the water and would have made a far better landing stage for the rescue boats than the mud flats, as at least the bank gave a little cover.

From here the opposite bank didn’t look too far and the prospect of doing something after the misery of queuing up on all fours in the mud made Captain Z, and me feel quite cheerful. ‘Well do it again, you and me!’ he said.

We proceeded to take our boots off and hung them round our necks. Captain Z gave his rifle to Lieutenant X, who unfortunately couldn’t swim, and remarked that he must keep his haversack with him as the Company ‘Office’ etc., was in it. I kept all my arms and ammo as we couldn’t be sure what would greet us on the other side.

Hagen was to discover that he couldn’t quite manage the swim with his gun and ammunition – and had to dump them half way across – but he got to the other bank safely. See Louis Hagen: Arnhem Lift: A German Jew in the Glider Pilot Regiment

Also amongst those who escaped across the river was Stanley Moss:

I have nothing but admiration for those Canadian Engineers as they ferried soldiers across the river all night. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t swim and I felt a little guilty at having jumped the queue, but what the hell…

For the first time in eight days I felt relatively safe. If any of the Canadian Engineers who were in that boat that carried me across the river remember the incident and happen to see this, I would like to thank them from the bottom of my heart.

As I looked around I saw tired faces everywhere, grimy, proud, undefeated faces and I wanted to cry. I didn’t recognise anybody and I had no idea how many others had made it. We had all been through so much together. Everywhere I looked I saw the eyes of men who had seen too much, given too much. Everywhere I looked I saw a hero.

But for every man that had escaped many more had died, been wounded or captured and they had no one to tell their story. My experiences in those eight days would remain with me for the rest of my life.

Read the whole of Eight Days In Arnhem at BBC Peoples War

 Four British paratroops clamber ashore from a small rowing boat at Nijmegen. They were captured at the Van Limburg Stirum School alongside Arnhem Bridge and taken to a transit camp at Emmerich in Germany, but escaped and found a rowing boat, in which they made their way down the Rhine and into the Waal to Nijmegen and freedom. Left to right: Cpl John Humphreys, Cpl Charles Weir, Lt Dennis Simpson, and Captain Eric Mackay, all of the 1st Para Squadron, Royal Engineers; they are shown here recreating the moment of their arrival at Nijmegen for the camera.
Four British paratroops clamber ashore from a small rowing boat at Nijmegen. They were captured at the Van Limburg Stirum School alongside Arnhem Bridge and taken to a transit camp at Emmerich in Germany, but escaped and found a rowing boat, in which they made their way down the Rhine and into the Waal to Nijmegen and freedom. Left to right: Cpl John Humphreys, Cpl Charles Weir, Lt Dennis Simpson, and Captain Eric Mackay, all of the 1st Para Squadron, Royal Engineers; they are shown here recreating the moment of their arrival at Nijmegen for the camera.
Airborne troops taken prisoner at Arnhem.
Airborne troops taken prisoner at Arnhem.
A German picture of men captured at Arnhem.
A German picture of men captured at Arnhem.

The casualties mount inside Oosterbeek

German reinforcements arrive in the Oosterbeek area.
German reinforcements arrive in the Oosterbeek area.
A paratrooper takes cover as a jeep burns during a German mortar attack on 1st Airborne Division's HQ at the Hartenstein Hotel in Oosterbeek, 24 September 1944.
A paratrooper takes cover as a jeep burns during a German mortar attack on 1st Airborne Division’s HQ at the Hartenstein Hotel in Oosterbeek, 24 September 1944.

Both British and German casualties were piling up inside the Oosterbeek area. On the 23rd Dr. Egon Skalka of the 9th SS Panzer Division had approached the front line under a white flag and negotiated for a ceasefire to allow for the evacuation of casualties. Over the following two days cease fires were organised at different times – and around 1200 men were evacuated to Dutch hospitals under these arrangements. These were only temporary breaks in the fighting however.

Brigadier John Hackett commanded one half of the British occupied part of Oosterbeek. According to a number of different accounts he had been tirelessly visiting every part of his sector, keeping a close eye on every aspect of their situation. It was probably only luck that had prevented him becoming a casualty earlier:

The blow came before the sound of the burst. I dropped on my knees, sick, bewildered and unhappy. It had not been a tree-burst like so many of them, detonating in the branches over-head. This violent thing had happened there on the ground, a few yards in front of me. Was it a mortar bomb or a shell? Had there been a whine before it? Had there been one of them, or two?

Anyway, whatever it had been there were probably more on the way. I crawled on my hands and knees to a shallow slit trench a few feet from me. I had taken refuge in this before and now tumbled into it once again, flattening myself against its side and thrusting a grateful face into cool sandy earth. The ground rang and shook as the rest of the concentration came down, spasmodic bursts in quick untidy groups. Then it was over.

I felt sick and shaken. I told myself not to worry: that would only be shock. What I had to find out was what was really wrong. There seemed to be a good deal of blood about, apparently coming from somewhere above my left knee. I carefully bent the leg: it was not broken.

This was almost a disappointment, since I felt so confused and sick. I shouted. There was another cry from the next pit. That would be the trooper from the Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron, Fred Gough’s people, the man who had come back with me after my own visit to the Squadron, to guide the newly arrived party of Poles to where I wanted them, which was in that part of the Brigade sector.

‘How is it with you ?’ I shouted. He shouted back ‘My leg is broken.’ I wriggled my own injured leg about. It worked. Something would now have to be done about his. There was a dull, singing little pain in my middle, as perhaps the nose cap of whatever it was that had burst had bounced up and hit me there.

I looked around the safe and friendly little trench, reluctant to leave it for the chill, hostile world outside.

Against one corner stood a branch, roughly trimmed as a stick with a forked top. I took it up.

Outside the trench the concentration, which had seemed to I be directed especially at our two selves, was over. The shells were still falling somewhere, as usual. I knew from the last few days of moving about the remnants of my brigade, which was holding the Eastern half of the Oosterbeek perimeter, how they seemed to follow you around wherever you went.

Divisional Headquarters in the Hotel Hartenstein was less than a hundred yards away. There was some sort of a medical aid post, I knew, in the cellars. I took the stick I had found and crawled wearily out of the trench. ‘All right I shouted to the man. ‘I’ll get help.’

It was queer to be walking again under the sad grey sky, over the well-known turf, with the torn limbs of the trees upon it, the wrecked jeeps and the occasional blood-soaked blanket. Bits of equipment were scattered around and here and there were men, some walking about, some digging, some just lying.

This was only a resumption of my journey, interrupted a few minutes back, but there was now a dreamlike quality upon it, as though I had passed out of one world into another. I felt very odd and was irritated that the feeling was not passing off. Perhaps it would soon. We were all rather tired.

See Sir John Hackett: I Was A Stranger

Infantry ride on Sherman tanks in Holland, 24 September 1944.
Infantry ride on Sherman tanks in Holland, 24 September 1944.

Arnhem: civilians caught up in the middle of the battle

A British staff captain fires his Enfield No. 2 revolver from 1st Airborne Division's headquarters in the Hartenstein hotel at Oosterbeek, 23 September 1944.
A British staff captain fires his Enfield No. 2 revolver from 1st Airborne Division’s headquarters in the Hartenstein hotel at Oosterbeek, 23 September 1944.
British airborne troops moving through a shell-damaged house in Oosterbeek near Arnhem during Operation 'Market Garden', 23 September 1944.
British airborne troops moving through a shell-damaged house in Oosterbeek near Arnhem during Operation ‘Market Garden’, 23 September 1944.

It had been nearly a week since the battle had begun but still the British airborne troops hung on in their isolated pocket in Oosterbeek. They were very short on food and water but they had enough ammunition to continue the fight.

One man who found himself in some demand for his abilities as an interpreter was Louis Hagen, a Glider Pilot. As a German Jew he had fled to Britain before the war. When the war broke out he had been classified as a ‘foreign alien’ before finally being allowed to join the Royal Army Service Corps. After applying to a variety of different branches of the British Army he had eventually been accepted by the Glider Pilot Regiment. He was now fighting under an assumed identity – ‘Lewis Haig’ – necessary in case of capture by the Germans.

For Hagen this was his first time in combat, like so many other men at Arnhem, and he found himself in the middle of one of the most intense battles of the war. Days had gone by before they realised there were also civilians sheltering in the cellars of the houses that they were fighting in:

People from the other houses were looking for me, as some civilians had come and they needed an interpreter. I went to the top house, where they told me that there was a Dutch woman badly injured in one of the unoccupied houses. There seemed to be no sign of life there.

I found the cellar door, knocked and someone opened it. There was one candle shedding a very faint light, and at first I could make out nothing, but as my eyes got accustomed to the gloom, I saw that there were eight people in the cellar. There was a jar of water, some odd chairs, a small food supply and some cushions and blankets on the floor.

A very pale young woman lay on an improvised bed, and I knew that this must be the injured one. The men were surprisingly neat, in good suits, they were very quiet and courteous, and there was no excitement or fuss when they explained what had happened.

They pulled back the blankets from the woman’s feet, and showed me a mess of blood and bandages. She had been shot three days ago, but they had not been able to come out to get help because of the continuous firing. I promised to go over to the hospital and see the M.O. about her.

I left my Sten gun at the lower house, and made a dash across the road to one of our hospital buildings. The entire floor space was covered with stretchers, on which lay the casualties. They were all fully dressed and just covered with army blankets.

I found an officer in the passage, his arm in a sling and his head bandaged, carrying water to the rooms, and asked him for the M.O. He told me that the only man who could help me was the R.A.M.C. corporal, who was in charge here. The officer found him for me, but the corporal said they were so short-staffed that they couldn’t even let me have a medical orderly. He advised me to find the M.O., so I had to sprint across the other cross-roads to a different building.

It was sheer hell for the wounded; they were right in the front line. The German mortar barrage was hitting our perimeter just across the road, twenty-four hours aday. The streets were always swept by our own and German fire, and, until they were knocked out, our six-pounders fired along this road at approaching German armour.

Those men must have felt so terribly helpless lying there, packed like sardines, on every available inch of floor space. The vibration of each explosion made them catch their breath and groan with pain, yet when I went into one of the rooms, they all asked me how we were doing and if there was any news of the Second Army.

Obviously, the M.O. couldn’t come himself, but he chose an experienced Medical Orderly to go with me.

I showed him down the dark stairs, and he went to work immediately. The first thing he did, after seeing the injury, was to give the woman a morphia injection. Then he began the tedious and revolting process of removing the bandages. The blood had seeped through them and dried; now the dressing was a solid crust all mixed up with what was left of her toes. It took the orderly over an hour.

Then he covered her mutilated feet with Penicillin powder, and left a bottle of this, fresh dressings and morphia with the people, in case he could not get back the next day.

During the long and ghastly procedure, the inhabitants of the cellar remained calm and quiet. The immediate effect of the morphia put the woman out of pain for the first time for three days.

They were all touchingly grateful, though they couldn’t say very much. I was glad to be able to tell them that we were only too pleased to do what we could for them, and reminded them that the Dutch were doing wonderful work, helping at the hospital.

See Louis Hagen: Arnhem Lift: A German Jew in the Glider Pilot Regiment

German anti aircraft gun at Arnhem, 23rd September
German anti aircraft gun at Arnhem, 23 September 1944.
A German picture of an Allied airstrike against a German column near Arnhem, 23rd September
A German picture of an Allied airstrike against a German column near Arnhem, 23 September 1944.
A German casualty of an Allied  air strike.
A German casualty of an Allied air strike, 23 September 1944.

British airborne troops fight on in Oosterbeek

Major-General Robert E Urquhart, commanding 1st British Airborne Division, with the Pegasus airborne pennant in the grounds outside his headquarters at the Hartenstein Hotel in Oosterbeek, 22 September 1944.
Major-General Robert E Urquhart, commanding 1st British Airborne Division, with the Pegasus airborne pennant in the grounds outside his headquarters at the Hartenstein Hotel in Oosterbeek, 22 September 1944.
A carrier crew of 8th Rifle Brigade hands out chocolate to Dutch civilians during the advance of 11th Armoured Division in Holland, 22 September 1944.
A carrier crew of 8th Rifle Brigade hands out chocolate to Dutch civilians during the advance of 11th Armoured Division in Holland, 22 September 1944.

Still the British Airborne forces clung on, fighting an intense battle against mounting German forces. They still hoped that the tanks of the 2nd Army might yet break through to them.

Stuart Mawson was a Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He describes the situation in the British Dressing Station within the Oosterbeek area on the outskirts of Arnhem. Established in the Schoonoord hotel-restaurant it was on a crossroads that much of the fighting was centred on. On the 22nd he was called to attend to a man whose condition appeared to be getting worse:

The wounded man was one of those unfortunates lying near the window. The mattress Simmons and I had thrust into the lower part of it still gave a certain amount of protection, but the stuffing was coming out in places where it had absorbed metal fragments, and it did nothing to mitigate the noise which battered at the nerves with a threat of sudden injury or disaster.

An increase in the relation of whistles to crashes indicated that a target rather more distant than the Hartenstein area was receiving the brunt of the enemy softening-up process. Shells were passing overhead in an unending stream while, compared with yesterday, the explosions in the immediate vicinity were reduced; but this was an academic consideration.

Many of the wounded had been lying in this room for the best part of five days, their resistance and vitality gradually being sapped by pain, toxaemia and semi—starvation. Colour had drained from their faces from which, owing to the difficulties, it had not recently been possible to remove the stubble.

Their eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot, and there were few now who could summon a complete show of indifference to the bombardment. They stared at the ceiling as if trying to follow the track of each missile, and with every crump they twitched and started. They were beyond defeat beca-use they could not run away, and though they might not be able to control their bodies they did control their tongues: no complaints, no accu- sations, no squeals, just grim, silent endurance, save from those who could not suppress an involuntary groan when I had to handle their wounds.

I examined the man’s thigh above the upper rim of the plaster of Paris splint that encircled his leg down to the foot, and with careful fingers palpated a puffy swelling under the skin. It had a curious feel like well-aerated dough. I began to worry as my fingers sank with almost a crackle into what should have been the firm flesh of the thigh. It evoked some text-book memory which I sought intently to recall. Some instinct implanted by past medical training prompted me to put my nose closer to the plaster, and then the diagnosis leapt into my mind, gas gangrene. This was serious; as far as I had heard, the first case we had had.

At two o’clock in the afternoon the sky was mightily rent by the sound of numerous aircraft, and Dakotas of the supply drop again roared overhead, threading their way like wraiths through the rain clouds. They were flying so low it looked as if one could touch them, and the proximity of these comrades-in-arms gave a fresh fillip to the prevailing optimism that was not, except among the more thoughtful, dashed by the defiant and enormous clatter of anti-aircraft fire that sprang up from the Arnhem-ward side of the hospital.

Whatever might be the preoccupation of the Germans they were not too busy, or on the defensive, to be debarred from putting up a terrific barrage that took painful toll of the lumbering planes. Unfortunately, in spite of the tenacious courage of the airmen, the greater part of the supplies again failed to fall within the perimeter, and the many spectators from the hospital who rushed out to watch had the chagrin of seeing coloured parachutes opening in huge clusters over the enemy-held territory nearer the town.

When the last flight had passed over and the anti-aircraft fire had died away forage parties once more went out to recover what they could.

See Stuart Mawson: Arnhem Doctor

A German picture of some of the supplies dropped by parachute that fell within their area.
A German picture of some of the supplies dropped by parachute that fell within their area.
A German assault gun in the Oosterbeek battle.
A German assault gun in the Oosterbeek battle.

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.

Arnhem becomes a desperate battle for survival

RAF aerial reconnaissance photo of the Arnhem road bridge on 19 September, showing signs of the British defence on the northern ramp and the wrecked German vehicles from the previous day's fighting.
RAF aerial reconnaissance photo of the Arnhem road bridge on 19 September, showing signs of the British defence on the northern ramp and the wrecked German vehicles from the previous day’s fighting.
The tanks were on their way - but not making the progress expected. Cheering Dutch civilians gather around a Sherman OP tank of 'C' Troop, 55th Field Regiment RA, Guards Armoured Division, as Eindhoven is liberated, 19 September 1944. Sitting on the front of the tank is Sgt Herbert Frederick Jones.
The tanks were on their way – but not making the progress expected. Cheering Dutch civilians gather around a Sherman OP tank of ‘C’ Troop, 55th Field Regiment RA, Guards Armoured Division, as Eindhoven is liberated, 19 September 1944. Sitting on the front of the tank is Sgt Herbert Frederick Jones.

The paratroopers who had dropped into Arnhem were now surrounded and fighting a desperate battle for survival against a force of Panzers and armoured vehicles that significantly outgunned them.

Private James Sims was with the 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment. They were dug in on a lightly wooded traffic island on the road leading to Arnhem Bridge. For nineteen year old Sims it had been a baptism of fire, his first time in battle. He had seen the ambush of Major General Friedrich Kussin – it was the first time he had seen a German soldier and the first time he seen a dead body.

Early on the 19th the Germans attempted to ‘rush’ their positions with a rapid advance of armoured cars. It had been beaten of with direct fire from one the 6 pounder guns. It was just the beginning of the German assaults that day:

After the failure of the ‘Grand Prix’ attack the Germans withdrew a short distance and began to mortar and shell our positions systematically for the first time. The very air seemed to wail and sigh with the number of projectiles passing through it.

The enemy had also brought up some self-propelled artillery, heavy stuff, and against this we were virtually helpless. One by one the houses held by the paratroopers were set alight. There was nothing to fight the fires with, even if we had been able to.

The airborne soldiers kept on firing from the blazing buildings even with the roof fallen in; then they moved to the second floor, then to the first, and finally to the basement. Only when this was alight did they evacuate the building and take over another. As each hour passed we were driven into a smaller and smaller area.

Casualties began to mount rapidly. Our food and water were practically gone, but worst of all the ammunition was running short.

Soon we heard tank engines and thought at first they were ours; but they were German panzers cautiously probing their way into the bloody arena to add the sharp crack of their 75 and 88mm guns to the already overwhelming bombardment.

It seemed impossible that the shelling and mortaring could get any worse, but they did. The separate explosions now merged into one almost-continuous rolling detonation and the earth shook as if it was alive. My head sang and I was numb to any feeling beyond, the basic instinct to survive. I began to realise the full significance of the phrase ‘bomb-happy’.

Yet even in this terrific concentration of fire not one bomb or shell splinter landed in a slit-trench or mortar pit: it was unbelievable, little short of miraculous. It is only when one has been through this sort of experience that one can understand how soldiers in the past stood in lines facing each other and fired by numbers.

With each successive salvo of mortar bombs I screwed my steel helmet further into the comforting earth and clawed at the silty soil at the bottom of the trench. I kept repeating to myself over and over again, ‘Hold on . . . hold on . . . you must hold on.’

To be alone at the bottom of that trench was like lying in a newly dug grave waiting to be buried alive. Each fresh explosion sent rivulets of earth crumbling around my helmet and into the sides of my mouth. After another avalanche of explosions I started praying, and really meaning it, for the first time in my life.

Overhead a lone Messerschmitt fighter plane circled lazily. If the pilot was spotting for the enemy artillery he had an almost impossible task as the Germans and ourselves were so close together, even sharing the same houses in some cases. Perhaps he was just curious — it was certainly the only aircraft I saw throughout the battle. What had happened to the mighty Allied air forces God only knew.

Something whistled down into the slit-trench and hit my boot. In one split second I suffered agonies visualising extinction, but as nothing happened I gingerly reached towards my ankle and retrieved the tail fin of a German mortar bomb, still warm from flight. It must have been blown into my trench from an exploding missile nearby.

The bombardment suddenly ceased and there was an uncanny quiet, which was abruptly shattered by the eruption of an enemy infantry attack from underneath the bridge directly in front of our positions. This desperate assault came to nothing and those not cut down fled in disorder.

See James Sims: Arnhem Spearhead: A Private Soldier’s Story

There was no shortage of heroism this day and two men were particularly recognised by the award of the Victoria Cross, both citations illustrate the intensity of different aspects of the fighting:

Captain Lionel Queripel VC
Captain Lionel Queripel VC

At Arnhem on 19th September 1944 Captain Queripel was acting as company commander of a composite company composed of men of three parachute battalions. At 14.00 hours on that day his company were advancing along a main road which runs on an embankment towards Arnhem. The advance was conducted under continuous machine-gun fire, which at one period became so heavy that the company became split up on either side of the road and suffered considerable loss.

Captain Queripel at once proceeded to reorganise his forces, crossing and recrossing the road whilst doing so under extremely heavy and accurate fire. During this period he carried a wounded sergeant to the Regimental Aid Post under fire and was himself wounded in the face. Having reorganised his force, Captain Queripel personally led a party of men against a strong point holding up the advance. This strong point consisted of a captured British anti-tank gun and two machine guns. Despite the extremely heavy fire directed at him, Captain Queripel succeeded in killing the crews of the machine guns and recapturing the anti-tank gun. As a result of this the advance was able to continue.

Later in the same day Captain Queripel found himself cut off with a small party of men and took up a position in a ditch. By this time he had received further wounds in both arms. Regardless of his wounds and the very heavy mortar and Spandau fire, he continued to inspire his men to resist with hand grenades, pistols and the few remaining rifles.

On at least one occasion he picked up and threw back at the enemy a stick grenade which had landed in the ditch. As, however, the enemy pressure increased, Captain Queripel decided that it was impossible to hold the position longer and ordered his men to withdraw.

Despite their protests, he insisted on remaining behind to cover their withdrawal with his automatic pistol and a few remaining hand grenades. This is the last occasion on which he was seen.

During the whole of a period of nine hours of confused and bitter fighting Captain Queripel displayed the highest standard of gallantry under most difficult and trying circumstances. His courage, leadership and devotion to duty were an inspiration to all. He was 24 years old.

David Lord VC
David Lord VC

The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery:—

Flight Lieutenant David Samuel Anthony LORD, D.F.C. (49149), R.A.F., 271 Sqn. (deceased).

Flight Lieutenant Lord was pilot and captain of a Dakota aircraft detailed to drop supplies at Arnhem on the afternoon of the 19th September, 1944. Our airborne troops had been surrounded and were being pressed into a small area defended by a large number of anti-aircraft guns. Air crews were warned that intense opposition would be met over the dropping zone. To ensure accuracy they were ordered to fly at 900 feet when dropping their containers.

While flying at 1,500 feet near Arnhem the starboard wing of Flight Lieutenant Lord’s aircraft was twice hit by anti-aircraft fire. The starboard engine was set on fire. He would have been justified in leaving the main stream of supply aircraft and continuing at the same height or even abandoning his aircraft. But on learning that his crew were uninjured and that the dropping zone would be reached in three minutes he said he would complete his mission, as the troops were in dire need of supplies.

By now the starboard engine was burning furiously. Flight Lieutenant Lord came down to 900 feet, where he was singled out for the concentrated fire of all the anti-aircraft guns. On reaching the dropping zone he kept the aircraft on a straight, and level course while supplies were dropped. At the end of the run, he was told that two containers remained.

Although he must have known that the collapse of the starboard wing could not be long delayed, Flight Lieutenant Lord circled, rejoined the stream of aircraft and made a second run to drop the remaining supplies. These manoeuvres took eight minutes in all, the aircraft being continuously under heavy anti-aircraft fire.

His task completed, Flight Lieutenant Lord ordered his crew to abandon the Dakota, making no attempt himself to leave the aircraft, which was down to 500 feet. A few seconds later, the starboard wing collapsed and the aircraft fell in flames. There was only one survivor, who was flung out while assisting other members of the crew to put on their parachutes.

By continuing his mission in a damaged and burning aircraft, descending to drop the supplies accurately, returning to the dropping zone a second time and, finally, remaining at the controls to give his crew a chance of escape, Flight Lieutenant Lord displayed supreme valour and self-sacrifice.

German Self-propelled anti-aircraft guns of the 9th SS Panzer Division during the battle. The presence of the II SS Panzer Corps would have a significant effect on the battle
German Self-propelled anti-aircraft guns of the 9th SS Panzer Division during the battle. The presence of the II SS Panzer Corps would have a significant effect on the battle
Operation MARKET III: air re-supply of British airborne forces in the Arnhem area,
Operation MARKET III: air re-supply of British airborne forces in the Arnhem area, 19 September 1944. Burnt-out Douglas Dakota Mark III, KG401, of No. 48 Squadron RAF based at Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, which crash-landed in a field near Kessel, Holland, after parachuting supplies over Arnhem. The aircraft had just dropped its supplies from 700 feet when it was met with intense anti-aircraft fire. The tail unit, rudder, port aileron and engine, the starboard auxiliary fuel tank and all the gyro instruments were either damaged or put out of action, and one of the Army despatchers was mortally wounded. The captain, Flying Officer L R Pattee RCAF and his co-pilot, Flying Officer A C Kent RAF, flew the crippled aircraft back to the British lines, through three more areas of enemy flak, where they sustained further serious damage, including a five foot hole in the starboard wing which caught fire, and complete electrical and communications failure. Once over the British lines, Pattee gave the crew and despatchers the opportunity to bale out, but they refused and the pilots then made a successful belly-landing in the field. No sooner had they all quit the Dakota, than it was engulfed by flames. The unfortunate despatcher died soon after the landing, while the others were taken to Brussels and the crew returned to Down Ampney. Sixteen aircraft of 48 Squadron participated in MARKET III, flying through intense flak with no fighter escort. Many aircraft were hit and two, (KG401 and KG428), failed to return. Over the following four days the Squadron lost another six Dakotas on re-supply missions to Arnhem.

Second wave drop into Arnhem meets deadly reception

Paratroops drop from Dakota aircraft over the outskirts of Arnhem during Operation 'Market Garden',
Paratroops drop from Dakota aircraft over the outskirts of Arnhem during Operation ‘Market Garden’,
A German infantry battalion on alert as they search the suburbs of Arnhem for Allied troops.
A German infantry battalion on alert as they search the suburbs of Arnhem for Allied troops.

Operation Market Garden was already a much worse battle than expected. Although the men of the Parachute Regiment had captured the centre of Arnhem they faced much stronger German resistance than anticipated. Two German Panzer Divisions had been regrouping nearby and they were formidable opposition for the relatively lightly armoured paratroopers.

Twenty year old Len Moss of the 11th Parachute Batallion, 4th Parachute Brigade was part of the second wave of reinforcements to arrive by parachute on the second day. They were expected … by the Germans, who had already captured maps with the drop zones marked out. His experiences were later recorded by his son, who wrote a detailed account of the whole battle from his father’s perspective:

Somehow, he managed to untangle the lines and get the parachute canopy deployed, just in time, but…

…he landed very awkwardly, stiff legged on the ground.

That really, really hurt!

Paratroopers were landing all around. It was chaos as heavy machine gun fire raked the area from concealed German positions in the woods. Men were being hit, wounded, killed.

Gunfire exploded nearby, ripping into the ground, throwing up puffs of dirt. The air was alive with flying lead.

The wind caught Moss’ parachute and took it while he was trying to struggle up and release himself. He was thrown off balance.

His leg was weighed down by the heavy pack — he was suddenly being pulled in two directions at once as bullets tore through the canopy material.

Bill Kent landed nearby…in an awkward heap.

Moss called for help but Kent had his own problems. Kent was trying to get up. Engulfed in his parachute like a ghost, he flapped around as the material had holes ripped in it by stray bullets.

In desperation, Moss hit the upper body release buckle on his parachute harness. This was the wrong way to do it, but who cares?

From a nearby copse, a German Spandau MG41 machine gun unloaded. Belt fed.1600 rounds per minute. It sounds like tearing paper and cuts neat lines through the heather.

Moss wriggled out of the top chute harness and sat up as the heather is cut away in a line behind him. Just inches away. With added incentive he rolled forwards, escaped the rest of the chute and disengaged the heavy pack from his leg.
Moss and Kent ran away as best they could, hauling the heavy equipment bags. Moss was clearly troubled by his leg and back injury.

Smoke and flames billowed up all around them from the landing zone. Mortar shells whooshed overhead and exploded nearby, plus there was heavy enemy machine gun and rifle fire.

The two young Paratroopers scurried past the crashed fuselage of a British Horsa glider which had dug a deep furrow, nose down in the earth. Several dead soldiers lay face down in the heather, killed when they tried to disembark.
Pausing the gather their breath both men doubled up in the foetal position when a huge chunk was cut out of the fuselage by a concentrated burst of machine gun fire.

Hauling the PIAT and ammunition bags, the two men ran in a low semi-crouch, forced to zig-zag because of the numerous mortar and shell holes in the ground. Other men were running with them, veering off on their own paths, disappearing in and out of the smoke.

Under an intense barrage of mortar fire, Moss and Kent took cover in a large shell crater which was still smoking. They looked around. This was no man’s land. Wreckage lay strewn all over the place and men continue to run in all directions. Yellow smoke rises on one side of the heath Drop Zone, near some woods.

Yellow marker smoke from some nearby woods marked their intended destination.

WOODS – GINKEL HEATH DROP ZONE

In the woods soldiers gathered, reforming into ordered groups. Yellow smoke drifted through the woods from the DZ. Distantly they could hear the cough of mortars, chattering machine guns and the occasional explosion of a German 88mm shell.

Already the medics were overworked tending to the wounded whose cries were mournful and desperate. Lieutenant Vickers walked through the woods followed by several paratroopers. He was holding a walkie-talkie tightly to his face and trying unsuccessfully to contact someone but none of the radio sets seemed to work.

Through the trees comes PFC RA Smith, looking as if he’s hot off the Drop Zone. His face is covered in blood — someone elses. During the drop a Para was shredded by shellfire covering Smith with various body parts.

At a briefing the soldiers are told that the 4th Parachute Brigade, has been dropped farthest away from Arnhem. They’re some seven or eight miles away from the in Arnhem. The 11th Battalion been ordered up to re-inforce Col Frost – his 2nd Battalion already in possession of the North end of the Arnhem bridge.
The 11th Paras are ordered along a country road.

Distantly a few farmhouses burn, smoke rising from the ruins. The men can hear explosions and artillery, sporadic mortar fire and the occasional crack of a rifle.

Along the length of the road, Paratroopers from the 4th Parachute Battalion are strung out in a forced marching column. Every so often a Jeep or a truck roars along the road, parting the column of soldiers like a boat’s bow wave.

Moss is lagging behind, clearly having problems keeping up with the pace. He’s still hauling the 33 pound PIAT and bombs and is in agony from his back injury.
After a while the column ahead stops dead, causing a knock on effect that slows the traffic up all the way to the tail. Breathing hard, Moss gratefully accepts the rest, slumping down on the roadside bank.

Some sporadic machine gun fire goes off up ahead and then there’s a distant whistling. Getting louder. It becomes a whoosh.

Everyone takes cover, diving this way and that behind trees, into bushes, down banks.

Louder.

For a split second the wooshing stops and then KERBOOM!

The mortar shell explodes nearby, followed by several more incoming shells. Dirt and smoke are thrown up into the air but, as suddenly as it started, the firing ceases.

Through the falling dirt and choking smoke, A lone soldier can be heard screaming for help. Moss looks up from his hiding place and sees the soldier covered in blood, screaming in agony. A couple of Medics run to his aid.
Slowly, the rest of the soldiers emerge and resume their places in the static column. It’s as if nothing happened.

A Jeep then parts the way, heading back down the road from the head of the column. Sitting in the passenger seat is Lt Vickers. He orders that all the PIATs and bombs to be loaded into the jeep and sent up to the front line as they’re encountering German armour. This suits Moss fine. Moss and Kent load the PIAT and bombs into the back of the vehicle.

(It’s later learned that the jeep full of PIATs and bombs was commandered by a Padre who wanted to attend a funeral. Neither he nor the jeep were heard of again. It’s assumed he was killed and the jeep destroyed, thus depriving the Para’s of greatly needed anti-tank weapons)

Moss and a group of soldiers were ordered to investigate a farmhouse nearby in a field where a German mortar crew have been spotted. They approach the farmhouse which seems deserted. Some chickens cluck and strut near the main farmhouse building. It’s a surreal scene. Eerily quiet.

The troop start to make their way towards the buildings, using whatever cover comes to hand and making ready to offer covering fire should it be needed.
Moss and Kent reach the main farmhouse. He peers around a low wall into the yard.

A German mortar has been set up nearby, sandbagged and camouflaged. It’s quiet. Discarded empty boxes of mortar shells lie nearby.

Moving to the farmhouse doorway. Wooden, old. Moss pushes it open and peers inside. Checking those corners.

The inside of the farmhouse has been wrecked.

Moss and Kent move inside, cautiously.

Glass crunches underfoot. Furniture, broken, smashed. There’s not a whole plate or bowl anywhere.

Sat, in the corner, on a wooden stool is a Dutchman. Middle-aged, he’s balding, dirty and small. He looks up, face stained with tears, eyes red.

He shakes his head as if to ask ‘why?’ and then puts his head into his hands in desperation. His whole life, all he’s worked for, has been destroyed.

Outside they hear some machinegun fire. They run outside and see a Paratrooper emptying the whole magazine from his Sten gun into a leafy tree — branches, twigs and leaves are flying in all directions. The soldier runs out of bullets.
Silence.

Then, a German voice calls out timidly from within the tree.

The branches rustle as a pair of booted German legs swing down. The heel of one of them has been shot off.
A young bespectacled GERMAN SOLDIER, maybe in his late teens, drops down to the ground, face white with fear and his hands up in the air in a gesture of surrender.

Some of the Paratroopers start giggling and joking that Kent couldn’t hit a barn door. Kent just looks at his Sten gun in amazement. The German Soldier starts laughing too and points to his boot, raising it to show that the heel is barely hanging on by a thread.

The Paratroopers lead their German prisoner across the field towards the now moving column of men as they march up the road.

Read the whole of Eight Days In Arnhem at BBC Peoples War

German SS Polizei in position in the woods outside Arnhem ready to repulse Allied Airborne troops. The SS IX and X Panzer Divisions of the II SS Panzer Korps were as Dutch Intelligence had reported, refitting and regrouping to the north and east of Arnhem and proved a formidable opponent despite the surprise of the airborne landings
German SS Polizei in position in the woods outside Arnhem ready to repulse Allied Airborne troops. The SS IX and X Panzer Divisions of the II SS Panzer Korps were as Dutch Intelligence had reported, refitting and regrouping to the north and east of Arnhem and proved a formidable opponent despite the surprise of the airborne landings
German prisoners captured in the suburbs of Arnhem.
German prisoners captured in the suburbs of Arnhem.

Market Garden: Allied airborne attack into Holland

17 September 1944: Six American paratroopers of the First Allied Airborne Army receive a final briefing from their commanding officer before emplaning.
17 September 1944: Six American paratroopers of the First Allied Airborne Army receive a final briefing from their commanding officer before emplaning.
British paratroops inside a C-47 transport plane to land with the First Allied Airborne Army on enemy-held Holland.
British paratroops inside a C-47 transport plane to land with the First Allied Airborne Army on enemy-held Holland.

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.

See James Megellas: All the Way to Berlin: A Paratrooper at War in Europe.

American C-47 aircraft flying over Gheel in Belgium on their way to Holland for Operation 'Market-Garden' , 17 September 1944.
American C-47 aircraft flying over Gheel in Belgium on their way to Holland for Operation ‘Market-Garden’ , 17 September 1944.
 Men and supplies drop from transport 'planes above Nijmegen.
Men and supplies drop from transport ‘planes above Nijmegen.
Nijmegen and Grave 17 - 20 September 1944: Dutch children greet paratroopers of the 82nd (US) Airborne Division shortly after they landed near Nijmegen.
Nijmegen and Grave 17 – 20 September 1944: Dutch children greet paratroopers of the 82nd (US) Airborne Division shortly after they landed near Nijmegen.

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.

See Major General J. Frost: A Drop Too Many

Contemporary British newsreel showing the parachute and glider landings:

Paratroopers of 1st Airborne Division Signals gather on the drop zone west of Arnhem, 17 September 1944.
Paratroopers of 1st Airborne Division Signals gather on the drop zone west of Arnhem, 17 September 1944.
HQ of 1st Airlanding Light Regiment, Royal Artillery, unload a jeep and trailer from their Horsa glider at the landing zone near Wolfheze in Holland, 17 September 1944.
HQ of 1st Airlanding Light Regiment, Royal Artillery, unload a jeep and trailer from their Horsa glider at the landing zone near Wolfheze in Holland, 17 September 1944.
Major General Friedrich Kussin, in charge of German units in the Arnhem area, lies dead in his car after being ambushed by No. 5 Platoon, 'B' Company, 3rd Parachute Battalion, 1st Airborne Division, on 17 September 1944.
Major General Friedrich Kussin, in charge of German units in the Arnhem area, lies dead in his car after being ambushed by No. 5 Platoon, ‘B’ Company, 3rd Parachute Battalion, 1st Airborne Division, on 17 September 1944.

US infantry v Fallschirmjäger in the ‘bocage’

Three US soldiers advance beside a typical thickly grown hedge in the bocage.
Three US soldiers advance beside a typical thickly grown hedge in the bocage.

In Normandy the US First army had pushed across the base of the Cotentin peninsula and were moving on Cherbourg where it was hoped the Allies would gain the advantage of a major sea port.

The terrain was dominated by the French ‘bocage’ or box country. Here the small fields and narrow country lanes were surrounded by dense hedges built on earthen banks. This was ideal defensive territory, especially in the thick summer foliage, and the Germans exploited it fully.

Sergeant Bob Slaughter had survived the carnage of Omaha but he and the men of the 116th Infantry had plenty more horrors to face up to. They were still in the thick of the action. On 14th June they captured Couvain and this was just one episode amongst many that Slaughter describes:

The sight of another terrible death that occurred at this time haunts my dreams to this day. My squad and I were digging a machine gun emplacement behind a scrubby hedgerow. We had just finished fixing the camouflage when I happened to see a junior officer with field glasses scanning the front. I could tell he was a newly arrived replacement. His uniform and equipment were relatively new and unworn.

The sharp report of an 88mm fired from nearby sent me diving. At the same time, the high explosive missile hit the lieutenant’s upper torso. The 2nd Squad and I were splattered with gore as the spotter was blown backward, minus his head. Number two gunner Private First Class Sal Augeri vomited, and I nearly did, too.

The dreaded German sniper was almost as highly respected as the 88. Sharpshooters gave no warning, taking careful aim with sniper-scoped Mausers. The receiving end would hear the sharp crack and instantaneous whine of the bullet. If you heard the report of the bullet leaving the muzzle, it wasn’t for you.

German snipers nearly always aimed for the head if it was visible and in range. Most infantrymen never removed their helmets except when they shaved. I confess that I slept in mine. The 8mm bullet could easily pass through the helmet, through the head, and out the other side with enough energy left to do more damage.

I saw men get hit between the eyes or just above the ears, which killed them instantly. If the bullet missed the helmet, the entry hole was usually neat and showed only a small trickle of blood. But after the steel-jacket bullet hit the helmet or skull, the bullet flattened, causing the exit wound to shatter the other side of the head away.

The 1st Battalion advanced toward Couvains from the west, double file, marching cautiously down a sunken dirt road just wide enough for a horse cart. We were flanked by hedgerows four to five eet high, and covered with a canopy of overhanging foliage.

Intermittent mortar and artillery rounds were coming in ahead, which kept us on our toes. German communication trenches two feet wide and three feet deep were dug along on both sides of the road. These shallow ditches protected enemy communication wire from being cut by artillery.

As we moved closer to town, the foliage overhead thinned enough to reveal the steeple of the Catholic church, the first edifice we saw as we approached. The closer we got to the steeple, the more accurate the 88mm and mortar fire. Suddenly, the banshee scream of an 88mm shell sounded as if it had my number written all over it. Sh-boom!

I dove headfirst into the left ditch, losing my helmet and almost my neck. Somehow the exploding shell missed hitting anyone; we were keeping a space between men.

Picking myself up to brush off my uniform, I saw a strange and shocking sight. On the edge of the ditch lay a German forearm. Part of the uniform sleeve was there, with the elbow, arm, hand, and all fingers intact. I wondered what had happened to the rest of that poor bastard. I never did find out.

I climbed back on the path, shaken but unscathed. Within minutes, I had another surprise. As I approached an opening on the right side of the hedgerow, I heard someone moaning.

Crawling carefully through the opening, I came face-to-face with a young German paratrooper, who had been hit by a large chunk of shrapnel. He had a very serious upper thigh wound, and his left trouser leg was bloody and torn.

This was my first encounter with the enemy up close. The German paratrooper is a fierce and fanatical warrior, easily distinguishable by his round helmet and baggy smock. My first reaction was to put him out of his misery and keep going.

In fact Slaughter responded to the pleas of the young German , who he realised was about the same age of him, and applied a tourniquet and first aid.

See Omaha Beach and Beyond: The Long March of Sergeant Bob Slaughter

 German Fallschirmjäger or paratrooper with MG 42 machine gun in Normandy 1944.
German Fallschirmjäger or paratrooper with MG 42 machine gun in Normandy 1944.
A US army patrol in one of the narrow country lanes in Normandy.
A US army patrol in one of the narrow country lanes in Normandy.

2100: 21st Panzer abandon counter-attack

A screen of 6-pdr anti-tank guns in position by the side of the Rue de la Croix Rose in Hermanville-sur-Mer, 6 June 1944. The Route de Caen can be seen going off to the right.
A screen of 6-pdr anti-tank guns in position by the side of the Rue de la Croix Rose in Hermanville-sur-Mer, 6 June 1944. The Route de Caen can be seen going off to the right.
A battery of M7 Priest 105mm self-propelled guns from one of 3rd Division's Royal Artillery Field Regiments near Hermanville-sur-Mer, 6 June 1944.
A battery of M7 Priest 105mm self-propelled guns from one of 3rd Division’s Royal Artillery Field Regiments near Hermanville-sur-Mer, 6 June 1944.

For the 21st Panzer Division it had been a deeply frustrating day. As the only significant German armoured formation close to the invasion area they had expected to be thrown into the battle at the earliest opportunity. Instead they spent the entire night constrained by orders from Hitler’s High Command.

When they eventually got going after 10am they had to run the gauntlet of Allied aircraft bombing the bridges in Caen.

Lieutenant General Edgar Feuchtinger commanded the 21st Panzer Division:

Once over the Orne River, I drove north toward the coast. By this time the enemy, consisting of three British and three Canadian infantry divisions, had made astonishing progress and had already occupied a strip of high ground about ten kilometers from the sea.

From here the excellent anti-tank gunfire of the Allies knocked out eleven of my tanks before I had barely started. However, one battle group did manage to bypass these guns and actually reached the coast at Lion-sur-Mer, at about seven o’clock in the evening.

I now expected that some reinforcements would be forthcoming to help me hold my position, but nothing came. Another Allied parachute landing on both sides of the Orne, together with a sharp attack by English tanks, forced me to give up my hold on the coast.

I retired to take up my line just north of Caen. By the end of that first day my division had lost almost 25 percent of its tanks.

Commandos of No. 4 Commando, 1st Special Service Brigade, and troops of 6th Airborne Division in Bénouville after the link-up between the two forces, 6 June 1944.
Commandos of No. 4 Commando, 1st Special Service Brigade, and troops of 6th Airborne Division in Bénouville after the link-up between the two forces, 6 June 1944.
Commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade in action with a Bren gun during the advance to link up with 6th Airborne Division at Benouville, 6 June 1944.
Commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade in action with a Bren gun during the advance to link up with 6th Airborne Division at Benouville, 6 June 1944.

Although 21st Panzer were isolated and under counter-attack themselves the final decision to abandon the position on the coast was prompted by the arrival of Operation Mallard. The parachute and glider borne troops that had been seen over the English coast an hour before had arrived. This was the second major drop of the day by the 6th Airborne.

BBC radio correspondent Alan Melville watched them come in:

Hello everyone, this is Alan Melville speaking from the beach just west of the little village of Ouistreham. The paratroops are landing, they are landing all round me as I speak.

They have come in from the sea and they are fluttering down, red, white, and blue parachutes, fluttering down, and they are just about the best thing we have seen for a good many hours.

They are showering in, there is no other word for it, pouring in, in threes and fours. They are fluttering down in perfect formation, just the way we’ve seen it on the newsreels, the way we’ve seen it done in exercises, and here they are doing it, the real thing, and believe me, they haven’t come any too late.

They’ll be a very unpleasant surprise to the enemy, whose fighting I can still see, the signs of a typical panzer battle. You can hear the aircraft roaring over me, I expect, as I speak.

I can still see the signs of a typical panzer battle being raged on the slightly high ground just about three or four miles ahead of me. And these paratroops are coming down between where I am speaking, which is just above the sand dunes.

Down they come . . . they’re being attacked pretty harshly, as you can hear, but they are landing in great force, between the sand dunes, between the beach area and the battle, and they may have a very decisive effect on that battle.

Jerry is putting up to try and stave this surprise eventuality off, but he isn’t able to cope.

The aircraft are sweeping inland, letting go their valuable cargo, sweeping round as if nothing mattered, and turning again out to sea. They are still coming in. I am just turning round to look out to sea and I can see, way out to the very horizon, they are coming in in flood after flood.

BBC Sound Archives SR 1626/E/B

Halifaxes towing Hamilcar gliders carrying 6th Airborne Division reinforcements to Normandy pass over the battleships HMS WARSPITE and HMS RAMILLIES, part of Bombarding Force 'D' off Le Havre, on the evening of 6 June 1944. The photo was taken from the frigate HMS HOLMES which formed part of the escort group.
Halifaxes towing Hamilcar gliders carrying 6th Airborne Division reinforcements to Normandy pass over the battleships HMS WARSPITE and HMS RAMILLIES, part of Bombarding Force ‘D’ off Le Havre, on the evening of 6 June 1944. The photo was taken from the frigate HMS HOLMES which formed part of the escort group.
Hamilcar gliders of 6th Airlanding Brigade arrive on DZ 'N' near Ranville, bringing with them the Tetrarch tanks of 6th Airborne Division's armoured reconnaissance regiment, evening of 6 June 1944.
Hamilcar gliders of 6th Airlanding Brigade arrive on DZ ‘N’ near Ranville, bringing with them the Tetrarch tanks of 6th Airborne Division’s armoured reconnaissance regiment, evening of 6 June 1944.
Horsa gliders of 6th Airlanding Brigade, 6th Airborne Division, on DZ 'N' near Ranville, on the evening of 6 June 1944.
Horsa gliders of 6th Airlanding Brigade, 6th Airborne Division, on DZ ‘N’ near Ranville, on the evening of 6 June 1944.
Troops of 1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles, 6th Airlanding Brigade, 6th Airborne Division, aboard a jeep and trailer, driving off DZ 'N' past a crashed Airspeed Horsa glider on the evening of 6 June 1944.
Troops of 1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles, 6th Airlanding Brigade, 6th Airborne Division, aboard a jeep and trailer, driving off DZ ‘N’ past a crashed Airspeed Horsa glider on the evening of 6 June 1944.
Commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade digging in near Horsa gliders on 6th Airborne Division's landing zone east of the River Orne, near Ranville, on the evening of 6 June 1944.
Commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade digging in near Horsa gliders on 6th Airborne Division’s landing zone east of the River Orne, near Ranville, on the evening of 6 June 1944.
Airborne troops of 6th Airlanding Brigade, 6th Airborne Division, hitching a trailer to a jeep which has just been off-loaded from a Horsa glider (LH344 'Charlie's Aunt') on DZ 'N' near Ranville, on the evening of 6 June 1944.
Airborne troops of 6th Airlanding Brigade, 6th Airborne Division, hitching a trailer to a jeep which has just been off-loaded from a Horsa glider (LH344 ‘Charlie’s Aunt’) on DZ ‘N’ near Ranville, on the evening of 6 June 1944.