JUST ORDINARY MEN. HQ Troop, 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron, 1st British Airborne Division (WW2) - HQ Trp. 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Sqn
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17 to 25th Sept 1944
26th Sept 1944
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17 to 25th Sept 1944

The Battle Begins. 17th September 1944

Around 1230 Major Wilson’s 21st Independent Parachute Company was dropped just before the main force. They were responsible for marking the landing and drop zones situated near Wolfheze. The 1st Parachute Brigade, 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron, Urquhart and his staff and the 1st Airlanding Brigade (Brigadier 'Pip' Hicks) were in the first airlift.

The main force of more than 350 gliders arrived twenty minutes after the pathfinders. The 1st Airlanding Brigade landed at Zone 'S'. They had to defend the landing and drop zones for the airlifts scheduled for the next day. The divisional staff, artillery units, engineers, signal troops, medical and others landed on landing zone 'Z'. Thanks to the actions carried out by the bombers just before the airlift, the troops hardly encountered any resistance. The landings were successful. Some accidents happened. Two Hamilcar glider nosed over on the landing zone, which meant the loss of two 17-pounder anti-tank guns. Furthermore some Horsa's collided with each other. While the gliders were being unloaded, more than 140 C-47 troop-carriers of the U.S. 9th Troop Carrier Command arrived with the 1st Parachute Brigade (Brigadier Gerald Lathbury) at Zone 'X'. They quickly regrouped and advanced with their platoon 6-pounder anti-tank guns.

The Germans were completely surprised by the airborne landings. But they were far from defeated. Generalfeld-marschall Walter Model, commander of the Heeresgruppe B, evacuated his headquarters immediately and ordered General Kussin, Feldkommandant of Arnhem, to inform Hitler's headquarters about the situation. Then Model rushed to Doetinchem to give orders to Obergruppenfuhrer Bittrich, commander of the 2nd SS Panzer Corps. Bittrich had given some wise orders to his troops before Model’s arrival. After he heard of the landings, he ordered Harzer to close off the roads to Arnhem. He also ordered a squadron of the 9th SS Panzer Division sent to the Waalbridge at Nijmegen. This group, under the command of Hauptsturmführer Victor Gräbner, left Arnhem via the traffic bridge at 1830h just an hour before British troops reached the bridge. Luckily for the British he didn't leave any troops behind. The 10th SS Panzer Division also was ordered to move to Nijmegen. Later the Germans found a detailed map of Market Garden. After looking it over, Model assumed it was a decoy, so the information the Germans held in their hands was barely used.

Major Gough’s Reconnaissance Squadron was ordered to occupy the Arnhem bridge by following a path along the railway, but ran into Sturmbahnführer Kraft’s training battalion near the railroad and the Wolfhezerweg. Meanwhile the 1st Parachute Brigade's three battalions continued their advance towards Arnhem, each battalion by a different route.

Lt. Col. John Fitch’s 3rd battalion followed the Utrechtseweg ('Tiger' route), where they fired on an approaching German staff car. General Kussin, his chauffeur, guard and interpreter were all killed. Later, near Hotel de Bilderberg, they came upon Battalion Kraft. Due to this hold-up they didn’t reach Hotel Hartenstein until after sunset.

Lt. Col. John Frost’s 2nd battalion followed the river towards Arnhem ('Lion' route). They were delayed in Oosterbeek by a welcome from the Dutch people. They arrived at the railroad bridge too late. The Germans had blown it up. Then they were attacked by German machine-guns and armoured cars positioned along the Den Brink hill. B-Company started to fight back, while A-Company continued their advance. The second target, the pontoon bridge, was partly down so they couldn't reach the southern bank of the river. Finally, they were able to reach the last target, Arnhem’s traffic bridge. But they could only take the northern access road with the surrounding houses. They failed to cross the bridge because of counter attacks by SS groups defending the bridge’s southern access road. Around 2200 anti-tank guns and some flame-throwers were brought into play. The battle for the bridge continued. The 10th SS Panzer Division sent to Nijmegen couldn't cross the bridge because of Frost's presence. Now 2nd battalion’s approximately 600 men were surrounded and cut off.

Lt. Col. David Dobie’s 1st Battalion followed the Amsterdamseweg ('Leopard' route). There they had to fight Harzer's 9th SS Panzer Division and suffered many losses. In the short time they had radio communications they heard that the 2nd battalion had reached the bridge. So they deviated from their planned route and went southwards but failed to join up with them. Like the 3rd Battalion they only reached the outskirts of Arnhem.

Although the airborne landing went well, rest of the 1st British Airborne Division’s day didn't go very smoothly. Radio communications failure disrupted co-operation between different groups. But the presence of the 2nd SS Panzer Corps was the big surprise. In the end, it was the
German Panzer units who caused the lightly armed British Airborne units to fail at Arnhem.

18th September 1944

During the night the fire-fights around the bridge continued and Frost and his men eliminated some German armoured cars that had tried to retake the bridge. Around 0930 a squadron of the 9th SS Panzer Division which left for Nijmegen the previous day came back and made an attempt to cross the bridge from the south. This attempt was crushed by the British troops. Their PIAT's (Projectile Infantry Anti-Tank) and 6-pounder anti-tank guns destroyed the German vehicles. The road was full of burning wrecks and dead soldiers. The Germans started to press the 2nd battalion with mortars and artillery. Frost was still isolated from the rest and ammunition and medication began to run down.

The 3rd battalion had left Urquhart's Hartenstein headquarters (Oosterbeek) in the morning and was heading for the same road the 2nd battalion had followed. Later, the 1st battalion would do the same. Fire from 88-mm guns of Harzer's 10th SS Hohenstaufen Division stranded both units near the St. Elisabeth Gasthuis (a temporary care centre for wounded British soldiers). The British spread out in all directions. Urquhart fled into the small streets of Arnhem and had to hide at Zwarteweg for several hours before he could return to his troops.

The Luftwaffe attached more importance to the Market Garden plans found on 17 September in an abandoned glider than Model did. That’s why they let their fighter planes circle above the Allied flight path, so they could intercept the second airlift. According to the plan that lift was scheduled for 10 o'clock in the morning. The Luftwaffe was very surprised when no Allied planes showed up. The reason that the second airlift didn't arrive on time was bad weather conditions. Unlike the Netherlands, there was fog in England and the planes were forced to stay on the ground. Due to this delay, the landings in Arnhem took place later in the afternoon than planned. This airlift carried Brig. John W. Hackett’s 4th Parachute Brigade. They were dropped on Zones S,Y and Z, defended by the Kings Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) of the 1st Airlanding Brigades. The South Staffords, also of the 1st Airlanding Brigade, had left to join the 1st and 3rd battalion. Directly after landing, Hackett was ordered to send the 11th battalion of his division to assist the 2nd battalion at the bridge. The South Staffords eventually reached the two battalions in the evening. The 11th battalion was heavily attacked by the Germans and forced to retreat. It joined the stranded 1st and 3rd battalions. Frost's 2nd battalion was still alone.

19th September 1944

The 1st and 3rd battalion, the South Staffords and the KOSB tried to reach the isolated 2nd battalion at the bridge. Heavy fights took place between the British and the Germans. The British troops suffered severe losses. Their remaining forces were pressed more and more by the advancing German tanks. The British were forced to retreat towards Oosterbeek. It was getting harder for the 2nd battalion to hold their position at the bridge. By now, they had been on their own for two days. Every day casualties increased while the number of effective soldiers decreased.

The advance by the 4th Parachute Brigade’s 10th and 156th Battalions was stopped by the German defence line in the north of Oosterbeek. Around 1700, the British withdrew towards Wolfheze. During this withdrawal, they had to cross the open terrain near Johannahoeve covered by heavy German fire. Many soldiers were killed. At that moment, gliders carrying the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade’s equipment started landing on this Landing Zone Y’s open terrain. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, German Messerschmitt fighters appeared and shot up the gliders. Thanks to the Messerschmitts and German ground shelling most of the gliders and equipment were destroyed. The German forces were still increasing in number. Then the British were attacked from the west by Lt. Gen. H. von Tettau’s Westgruppe.
Supply was another problem. Drop Zone V where the supplies were dropped was in German hands. As a result, the British ended up with only 10% of the supplies dropped.

20th September 1944

The 2nd battalion was still fighting to hold their position, although they didn't have any hope of the arrival of either the 2nd Army or troops of the 1st Airborne Division. As a result of the withdrawal of the rest of the British troops towards Oosterbeek, the Germans were given full play in Arnhem, which made harder going for Frost and his men. During a heavy fight, Frost was wounded and command was given to Major Gough of the Recce Squadron. The Germans started to set the houses in which the British soldiers were hiding on fire to force the soldiers out. A temporary cease-fire was arranged, which give the British a chance to evacuate the wounded soldiers. At the end of the day, the 2nd battalion was unable to hold back the German forces, and the Germans could cross the bridge freely.

The rest of the troops at Oosterbeek realized that reaching the bridge was impossible so they concentrated on the region around Urquhart's Hotel Hartenstein Headquarters in Oosterbeek. If they could hold this position, maybe the 2nd Army (XXX Corps) could still cross the river at Oosterbeek. Every unit defended a different area of the so-called 'perimeter'. The west side was defended by the 1st battalion of the 1st Airlanding Brigade, the Border Regiment, the north side was defended by the 21th Independent Parachute Company and the KOSB. The 156th and 10th battalion of the 4th Parachute Brigade covered the east side with the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron and Lonsdale’s Force. Major Londsdale force was made up of the remaining men of the 1st and 3rd battalions of the 1st Para. Brigade, the 11th battalion of the 4th Para. Brigade and the South Staffordshires. The Light Regiment Royal Artillery placed their 75-mm guns on the south side of the 'perimeter'. Again, most dropped supplies fell into German hands.

21st September 1944

In the morning the 2nd Battalion, or what was left of them, no longer could hold their position and surrendered. Some men tried to escape to Oosterbeek, but only a few made it. All the German forces had concentrated on the 'perimeter' at Oosterbeek. Moreover, German reinforcements arrived on this day, which only made things worse. But despite heavy German attacks, the British troops’ position hardly changed though they suffered severe losses.

Maj. Gen. Stanislaw Sosabowsk’s 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade was dropped two days later than scheduled. They were dropped on the other site over the river near the village Driel. Their intended drop zone was south of the Traffic Bridge, but since the bridge was in German hands another drop zone was chosen. Just as the second airlift had been delayed by bad weather conditions in England, so was this one. Beside this set back, the Poles had other problems. Bad weather forced some C-47s to return to their bases, so that not all of the 1st Para-battalion jumped. Furthermore, the planes that did make it to Arnhem were attacked heavily by German anti-aircraft guns. Maybe the worst part was that the Germans took the ferry over the river which the Poles intended to use to reach the British. So the Poles were stuck on the other side of the river and could do practically nothing other than wait. One advantage was that the Germans now had to pay attention to both the British and the Poles, which gave a bit of relief to the troops on the 'perimeter'.

The British finally made radio contact with the XXX Corps at Nijmegen, although much later than planned. Now the British could count on artillery support from Nijmegen. From this day on, the British at Oosterbeek passed on the positions of the Germans so the artillery could start shelling them. This was a welcome support!

Supplies still didn't arrive on the right side. Although the British had chosen another drop zone, because of poor radio communications the RAF was not informed about this change. The British tried to make their new positions clear to the pilots, but the pilots were ordered not to pay any attention to events that took place on the ground. They had to stick to the planned drop zones. German anti-aircraft guns also caused some losses.

22nd September 1944

The Poles settled on the other side of the river near Driel, made contact with a Captain R. Wrottesley’s reconnaissance unit of the 2nd Army’s Household Cavalry. They succeeded in getting around the German positions at the Nijmegen Bridge. Two British soldiers managed to cross the river and inform Sosabowski of the plan to bring his soldiers to the other side the following night. Sosabowksi had only some rubber boats at his disposal which weren't suitable for this risky enterprise. This operation wasn’t very successful, only 52 soldiers made it to the other bank.

23rd September 1944

On this day more than 120 Allied aircraft dropped supplies in spite of heavy German anti-aircraft. About 80 aircraft were shot down. Sadly, almost all of the supplies they dropped fell into German hands...again. Shortages of food, medicine and, most of all, ammunition began to create an unbearable situation for the British troops. The Germans tried continuously to cut the Allies off from the riverbank. Londsdale’s Force defending this area endured heavy attacks.

The Polish paratroops on the other side of the Rhine were also heavily attacked. They didn't have any artillery because it had landed on September the 19th on the northern side of the river. Luckily, some tanks from the XXX Corps arrived and supported the Poles.

During the night the Poles attempted to cross the river again. They used some other boats which arrived before midnight. This time they were more successful than the day before. About 150 soldiers reached the 'perimeter' on the other side, but this still was just a small number.

24th September 1944

A temporary cease-fire was arranged so that the British could carry their more than 400 wounded away. The situation hardly changed this day. The British troops were still settled around the 'perimeter' and bravely offered resistance to the stronger Germans. But they knew that all their attempts were useless. Most of the men only had light weapons at their disposal, no match against German armour and artillery. Their hopes for help slowly diminished.

25th September 1944

The 4th Dorset of the 130th Infantry Brigade, 43rd Wessex Division, attempted to cross the river but failed. The Allies decided to withdraw the whole 1st British Airborne Division starting with the forces on the north site of the 'perimeter' and ending with those on the south side. Around 2200 the retreat began under the code name 'Berlin'. On the river bank, Canadian and British engineers waited for the troops to arrive. The engineers crossed the river many times to help worn-out soldiers get away. The British XXX Corps tried to hide the evacuation with an artillery barrage. The operation brought 2,200 men across the river to safety. On Tuesday morning, the evacuation was stopped by heavy German gunfire. Some men tried to swim to the other side, some succeeded, some drowned. Around 300 men couldn't be saved and surrendered. With the end of this operation came the end of the battle of Arnhem…. and the end of Operation Market Garden.


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