Excerpt: Chapter 6
Pressure against the two regiments on the Groesbeek Heights continued with some heavy fighting in the area of Devil's Hill near Berg-en-Dal. By the end of the day, the 508th PIR had secured Beek, Devil's Hill and Wyler along the Kleve-Nijmegen highway. German pressure at these points was reduced owing to Feldt's decision to postpone the offensive until D+3. The lift on D+2, disrupted by the weather, was disappointing. Only 221 of 385 gliders reached the LZ, and the 258 gliders carrying Gavin's Glider Infantry Regiment did not take off at all. A mere 40 of 265 tons of food and ammunition in the subsequent supply drop were recovered.
In the late afternoon, Gavin met again with Browning, Adair, commander of the Guards Armoured, and Horrocks near his new command post in Malden. The meeting took place in a roadside cafe close to the Grenadiers' Group HQ in the monastery at Marienboom. Gavin was still in great pain from his jump injury. Nearby, the 82nd Airborne's artillery was hammering away at the Germans on the north bank of the Waal. Also present were Norman Gwatkin of the Fifth Guards Brigade, Lt. Colonel Reuben Tucker of the 504th PIR and Colonel George Chatterton, the commander of the Glider Pilot Regiment, who had flown in with Browning's Corps HQ on D-Day. Others present were said to have included Lt. Colonel Edward Goulburn, Major A.H.M.
Gregory-Hood and Captain the Duke of Rutland Charles John Robert Manners from the Grenadiers.
At the meeting Browning told Gavin that the Nijmegen bridge must be taken today or tomorrow. When the decision was made to put the Americans across the Waal in boats is not known, but it was likely at a time before dusk when it became clear that the day's assaults on the road and rail bridges had failed. These afternoon attacks on D+2 began at 1530 hours, before the start of the meeting of "the brass." They were in the form of three attacks by the Americans, with British infantry, tanks, artillery and air attacks, one toward the rail bridge, one in the center and one toward the road bridge.
By this time, the Germans were prepared. The Frundsberg had amassed a large number of artillery pieces on the north bank, welltions; the more heavily defended position was adjacent to the road bridge. The approaches to the bridge begin at a traffic circle, the Keizer Lodewijkplein, along what was then the Arnhemseweg, now the General James Gavinweg, the superstructure of the Waalbrug beginning about five hundred yards to the north. The Hunner Park stretches both east and west of the Arnhemseweg. Looking north, the more extensive west side of the park is dominated by a lookout point, the Belvedere, and further to the west, by the Valkhof, the ruin of a palace of Charlemagne. The medieval chapel still stands. The rail bridge is visible from the Valkhof, which dominates the road bridge and both of its approaches, north and south.
Euling fortified the edges of the park with a defensive zone on both sides of the Arnhemseweg, siting his own HQ in the huis Janssen, a hundred yards o supplied with ammunition. The records are silent on the progress of the artillery from Arnhem via Pannerden so the number available is not easily estimated. In a famous interview which Harmel gave in 1987, the 84-year-old said that his artillery commander, SS-Lieutenant Colonel Sonnenstahl, had a total of seventy-two guns available, some of which had been commandeered from an abandoned train in Arras during the retreat from Normandy. To this we would have to add the twenty-nine 88mm guns that Allied intelligence estimated for the defense of Nijmegen and more 20mm antiaircraft guns. What is certain is that the artillery was exceptionally well organized, with forward observers on the south side and a pre-arranged fire plan whereby targets could be identified rapidly through named and numbered squares. When radio contact was lost, the observers continued to direct fire by Verey pistol. The dispositions of the SS artillery on the north bank are less certain, but it is likely that they stretched from Lent through the area of a large fort or tower called the Hof van Holland, to Oosterhout in the west.
By the afternoon, too, Frundsberg formations on the south side of the Waal were well dug in. There were essentially two defensive posir so to the northwest on a street jutting into the park and set up an observation post in the Belvedere. In the Valkhof, on the summit were stationed Baumgaertel's engineer company and an artillery observation post under SS-Captain Krueger.
SS troops continued to arrive throughout D+2, as well as troops from an Ersatz (Replacement) Regiment. After the Allied attack on D+2, Gavin's G-2 Intelligence estimated that there were 500 first class SS troops defending the road bridge alone, an exaggeration which is a tribute to Euling's defenses. It was also estimated that there was an 88mm gun at the traffic circle, five lighter guns in Hunner Park, and mortars and other artillery north of the Waal. Some of the guns there could fire straight at the bridge; others were stationed in Lent, directed by Krueger at the Valkhof. Euling's four Jadgpanzer IVs were sited around the southern end of Hunner Park.
The defenses of the rail bridge, a mile or so from the Waalbrug, were less strong, with no SS troops known to have supported Henke's Kampfgruppe. The Allies approached the rail bridge from the southwest at the Keizer Karelplein traffic circle. After two blocks, there is an ovalshaped park, the Kronenburger, on the east side of the approach road, the Kronenburgsingel. The Germans had an unknown number of 88mm anti-tank guns guarding the approaches to the rail bridge and at least one 20mm cannon. Since the Allies were stopped in their tracks, it is likely that the artillery north of the Waal was the most decisive factor on D+2.
In the assault on the road bridge, Euling's Kampfgruppe defended its positions with valor and professional skill, hitting the Allies with crossfire in the maze of streets around the Hunner Park and luring the tanks into positions subjected to clear fields of fire. Even when Vandervoort took personal command, leading from the front, the attack died down in the face of German counterattacks and a truce in which the Germans collected their wounded. Euling's perimeter had shrunk from 500 to 300 yards from the water's edge, at the southern end of Hunner Park, but his positions had survived the attack. The Germans also held the river line in the central sector and at the rail bridge. By the evening of D+2, the whole waterfront on the south bank of the Waal was ablaze from the fires of hundreds of houses which the Germans had torched to help illuminate the attackers.
At Arnhem in the late morning of D+2, Knaust attacked A Company positions from the east with three tanks from the Bielefeld Training Regiment, causing the loss of positions at the northeast of the ramp; these were regained with the loss of one of the German tanks to a PIAT. Thereafter the Germans changed tactics, using their tanks as artillery to support the infantry, instead of risking themselves to British anti-tank fire.
More German fire support arrived in the evening with the first two of fifteen Tiger tanks from Heavy Panzer Brigade 506 in support of Brinkmann's Kamp fgruppe. They moved down past Mackay's positions in the school, pasting it with fire as they went, then turned their 88mm guns onto the buildings on the east side, forcing the evacuation of a line already compressed during the day. As the rest of the Tigers arrived they were assigned to Kampfgruppe Knaust. Yet the night of D+2 passed, Frost wrote, "fairly peacefully."
What befell the remainder of the two parachute brigades at Arnhem was nothing short of disaster. The first reinforcements to arrive for the renewed onslaught on the bridge were the South Staffs. The battalion made contact with First Parachute Battalion at 1700 hours on D+1, having covered six miles in seven hours, coming under fire on the middle route before shifting south to the Oosterbeek Laag underpass. The 11th Parachute Battalion deployed around midnight, having been delayed for two hours at Hicks' HQ en route. Dobie assumed command of this force and briefed Lt. Colonel McCardie of the South Staffs and Lt. Colonel George Lea of 11th Battalion about an attack at 0400 hours on D+2. Dobie did not know that Fitch with his depleted 3rd Battalion was preparing to attack, also along the lower route to the bridge, at the same time. Fitch moved off first. The British were also unaware that the Germans had moved back before dawn to a good defensive position on high ground.
The terrain did not favor an offensive for the First Parachute Brigade. The frontage was barely four hundred yards from the east-west railway in the north to the river in the south. The ground rose gently to the east. Astride the railway with its cutting and sidings were placed Gropp's SS anti-aircraft group, with Moeller's group south of the railway facing west. By now, Spindler's Sperrverband (blocking line) had been reinforced by a further Kamp fgruppe from SS Panzergrenadier Regiments Nineteen and Twenty, overlooking the axes of advance. Harder's group still manned a second line behind Spindler's first Sperrverband. South of the river, surrounding a brickworks and other industrial buildings, were the mobile troops of Graebner's reconnaissance battalion, armed with 20mm and 37mm cannon mounted on halftracks and more armored cars. All told, the brigade had six combat groups, most of not more than company strength, supported by selfpropelled guns, mortars and light flak, the last mainly from positions south of the river.
Running along the river, split off from the Utrechtseweg by the St. Elizabeth Hospital, was another road, the Onderlangs. The brigade aimed to advance along both axes. On the southern route, 3rd Battalion, operating independently of Dobie's command, advanced east in the darkness and ran into Spindler's blocking line and retreated. In doing so, it made contact with Dobie's battalion. Fitch, with little more than fifty men left, also joined Dobie's advance along the Onderlangs.
The first onslaught by the two battalions was so ferocious that Moeller's veterans thought the day was lost. But at first light, the British battalions came under heavy fire from three sides. Dobie's battalion was soon down from 140 men to 39, most of whom were wounded. The battalion was surrounded, with a barrage of fire from the north, selfpropelled guns supporting Spindler in the center, and the guns of the Hohenstau fen reconnaissance battalion across the river. They surrendered soon after 0730 hours. For 3rd Battalion, on the flank of the First, the outcome was nearly as bad. They were forced back in the direction of the Rhine Pavilion and their leader, Lieutenant Colonel Fitch, was killed by a mortar round.
The Wehrmacht Sturmgeschutz Brigade 280, with about ten assault guns, were arriving from the north and assembling near the railway station around the Utrechtseweg, the route of the northern prong of the brigade's advance. The South Staffs advanced along this route with the 11th Parachute Battalion behind and in support. They moved past St. Elizabeth Hospital, brightly illuminated, beyond the Museum, until stopped by heavy fire from the assault gun brigade.
The fighting was as ferocious as that on the southern route and, again, Moeller thought that his position was in danger of dissolution. But the South Staffs were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of fire, including Gropp's group in the north, firing over the rail yards from the upper floors of buildings. The South Staffs held their own until they ran out of PIAT ammunition. The Germans then counterattacked with assault guns backed by infantry and most of the British troops were taken prisoner, including McCardie. Even among the carnage, each side ceased firing to allow the other to attend to the wounded. Major Robert McCain took command of a company of about forty men that had been held back, together with the survivors of the advance, and attempted to regroup around midday.
The 11th Parachute Battalion was forming up to support the South Staffs when the order not to proceed was given. At some time before 1100 hours, the battalion next got an order to occupy high ground at the Heijenoord Diependal, to the northwest, in support of Fourth Parachute Brigade, north of the east-west railway. Lieutenant Colonel Lea ordered McCain of the South Staffs to occupy Den Brink, a shallow rise on his left flank.
The Germans, however, saw the 11th forming up at around 1430 hours and hit them hard with mortar fire, mauling the battalion so badly that, in Roy Urquhart's telling, it "disintegrated" and now numbered barely 150 men. McCain too was driven off Den Brink, one of several engagements for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the only one in the operation that was not awarded posthumously. The ragged groups of survivors retreated to Oosterbeek; those that remained were captured or killed when the Germans, with their self-propelled guns, cleared the area surrounding St. Elizabeth's Hospital.
The eastern side of 1st Airborne's perimeter began to form before the retreat of the brigade when on the morning of D+2, some panicstricken stragglers retreated through the artillery park. The bulk of the survivors, about 400 men and some anti-tank guns were later organized as Lonsdale Force, under the second-in-command of 11th Parachute Battalion, Major Dickie Lonsdale. Of the remainder of the brigade, 120 had been killed and as many as 1,700 taken prisoner or sheltered by the Dutch. McCardie, Dobie and Lea had all been taken prisoner, and Fitch was dead, leaving the remnants without their battalion commanders. Like Eberwein against the Tenth Parachute Battalion in the northwest, Spindler lost an opportunity to move into Oosterbeek, and two assault guns were lost to a British anti-tank gun when they tried to infiltrate into the lightly defended area south of the Utrechtseweg.
If the 11th Battalion could not save the day for the First Parachute Brigade, it is equally true that the order to move northwest caused its destruction. The aim of the order was to support Fourth Parachute Brigade either as a pivot when it moved east or as a flank guard when it moved north, but the maneuver was dubious. Since German troops were occupying the area to the north of the railway in strength all the way west to the Dreijenseweg, it is unlikely that the battalion could have done more than form a bridgehead over the east-west railway, with Fourth Parachute Brigade still a mile away to the west.
While First Parachute Brigade was being destroyed, something similar befell the Fourth. The 156th Parachute Battalion had spent the night in the woods north of the Ede-Arnhem railway, having run into the outposts of Spindler's defense line along the Dreijenseweg. It was this line that the battalion was to attack at dawn on D+2. The Tenth Parachute Battalion was to protect the left flank of the 156th from positions along the Ede-Arnhem Road (Amsterdamseweg), a few hundred yards east of the Dreijenseweg.
By this time, Spindler's forces were formidable. In addition to Sepp Krafft's newly formed Kampfgruppe, Kampfgruppe Bruhn (Wehrmacht) was arriving by truck from Wehrkreis VI, with an eventual strength of eight infantry companies, some Luftwaffe, commanded by the one-legged Hans Bruhn. Numerous flak guns had also arrived behind the Dreijenseweg, in time to blunt the attacks of 156th Parachute Battalion. By the end of D+2, all that remained of the 156th was Major Geoffrey Powell's C Company and some supporting troops.
Major John Pott of A Company, did manage to cross the Dreijenseweg with six men but the position could not be held. Wounded, Pott was left until rescued the next night by two brave civilians. Tenth Battalion was not assigned any part in 156th's attack but, prompted perhaps by the flow of wounded, Lt. Colonel Smyth moved the Tenth toward the east at 1000 hours, then was obliged to retreat back to the rail crossings in the early afternoon. Another company under Captain Lionel Queripel crossed the Dreijenseweg before retiring. Queripel, badly wounded, covered the retreat back to the rail crossings, earning him a posthumous Victoria Cross, one of five awarded in Operation Market.
Tenth Battalion's attack stalled at the same time as that of the 156th. Urquhart arrived at Hackett's HQ in the early afternoon, harassed by strafing fire from three German fighter planes. Hackett wanted to withdraw his brigade south of the railway embankment, recross it further east, and join up with his 11th Battalion, supposedly advancing on the Heijenoord Diependal rise. Urquhart concurred, though the agreement does not seem to have been firm. He also ordered Hicks' Airlanding Brigade to take the Oosterbeek Hoog station to enable Hackett to pass his troops and transport under the rail embankment. This was no easy thing to do in view of the shortage of troops. The only way that Hackett's guns and vehicles could cross under the rail embankment was at Wolfheze station farther west, now abandoned by the British and threatened by Eberwein's Kampfgruppe. Eberwein took a hundred prisoners south of the embankment on the afternoon of D+2 and the bag would have been even greater had von Tettau appreciated the disorder of the British retreat.
In Urquhart's own version, he was sceptical about Fourth Parachute Brigade's northern advance from the time he arrived back at his HQ on the morning of D+2, although this is difficult to square with his order to 11th Battalion to strike north instead of east. He discussed a plan with Hackett to withdraw over the railway in order to take the old middle route into Arnhem but told him not to move until he, Urquhart, had ascertained the whole divisional picture. He then set off back to his HQ.
Half an hour later, Hackett heard that the battalion of the Border Regiment was under pressure at the southern end of the western perimeter. He feared that if the Wolfheze crossing was denied him, his vehicles and guns would be caught north of the embankment and his troops all forced to move over it on foot. So he ordered the Tenth Battalion to disengage immediately and reoccupy the abandoned Wolfheze underpass and prepare for the withdrawal of the entire brigade. It was then that they clashed with the Polish glider landing in the area of the retreat. In the confusion, the Poles and British fired on each other until order was restored.
The Poles lost more men as prisoners than they did to the British friendly fire. They also lost most of their jeeps, supplies and three of their eight anti-tank guns. Sosabowski's jeep from his HQ contingent was captured, along with a suitcase bearing his name. Based on this evidence, the Germans announced that he was dead when he was of course still in England.
During the retreat, some of the battalion vehicles became bogged down in a culvert close to Wolfheze, blocking the tunnel. Urquhart ordered all of Fourth Parachute Brigade to withdraw and take a more southerly route into Arnhem. The hastiness of the retreat under fire struck some who took part as perilous and unprofessional. The Tenth Battalion emerged south of the railway with about 250 men, roughly half its normal strength, and the 156th was not much better off. Their ordeal on D+2 was not yet over.
The loss of the better part of two brigades in a single day was not uncommon for the Germans on the Russian Front, but for the British it was an appalling loss-a "Black Tuesday" only two weeks after "Mad Tuesday" had seen a disorganized German rabble in chaotic retreat. Much comment about the performance of 1st Airborne on D+3 has concerned the numbers of troops involved on each side, with the observation that, overall, the division was not outnumbered. While this is true, more significant is the fact that the paratroopers were never intended to attack such a well entrenched opponent with a profusion of mortars and cannon, supported by self-propelled guns. When attacking in the dark, they were often successful, causing the Germans so much consternation that they failed to realize just how disadvantaged the Red Devils were. But with the Hohenstaufen veterans having formed a strong defense line, it was very unlikely that the British could have achieved any further objectives beyond those reached in the first few hours of the operation.
Despite the valiant efforts of all concerned, from Urquhart on down, there was, with hindsight, little chance of relieving Frost at the bridge. When the British were forced into the defensive at the bridge and in static positions around the Oosterbeek perimeter, they fought sturdily in the great tradition of the British infantry: the thin red line.
--David Bennett. A Magnificent Disaster. pgs 106-114 (not including footnotes)
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