F/O James L. Larkin 84th Troop Carrier Squadron - 437th Troop Carrier Group
That was Sunday, September 17th when we hit Holland, and, let’s see, the month before September is July, August .... you see, we were barely back from Southern France, because we hit them on the 15th of August. And we are barely back at our base in England when we gear up for Holland, which was just a month later between the two.
I didn’t think of it until just this minute how close that was for one Airborne Army to get itself gathered together and go into combat.
The idea in Holland was to invade and chase the Germans out and establish an American presence at Arnheim, which was on the other side of Rhine River - the German side of the Rhine River, and from Arnheim our tanks could then disperse out into that Ruhr area where Germany’s industrial center was. And, of course we had been bombing that place regularly, but tanks and infantry are a different matter.
So, we didn’t have enough pilots for Holland, it was going to be a big deal, I think the glider and parachute landings were scheduled over a six day period because we didn't have enough gliders and we didn’t have enough glider pilots to handle the whole caboodle on one deal, the reason being is that the first bunch of pilots that were going in with their gliders were no longer available back in England to fly the next set of gliders.
So, what they did - the 101st Airborne by the way is what we took in to Holland - the 101st paratroopers jumped in ahead of us, then the 101st glider contingent came in our glider with a jeep and three 101st Airborne guys. A sergeant sat in the copilots seat, and we flew single-tow down across France to Belgium, headed north in Belgium and crossed over the line where the fighting was going on. The English were all poised right there ready to roll and as soon as we got over the Belgian border, over the front, why of course all hell broke loose as far as flak was concerned. And Holland was a real ‘flak’ mission. There, everybody was shooting at us. We were low, 500 feet above the trees, and so it was crazy. And, a number of gliders did not get through of course, but my glider did. As a matter of fact, my whole flight got through.
When we got to the landing zone there were a number of German tanks on the landing zone and some of our fighter bombers were taking those out at the time, so, that was a little bit of excitement, and they did take them out finally.
Well, you know what happened. We landed at the southern end - there were some bridges to be captured - about 7 or 8 bridges.
There wasn’t anything unusual about the briefing - the usual maps and intelligence on what we could expect in the way of anti-aircraft fire, what we could expect on the landing zone in the way of enemy presence, and the paratroopers went in an hour or two ahead of us to chase those people off the landing zone as best they could. They were partially successful, but its hard to chase tanks off with rifles. They needed the guns we were bringing.
In my glider was a jeep and three 101st Airborne guys and a bunch of other stuff - land mines, ammunition, boxes of stuff that was, you know, in there, material.
As we flew - it was a long flight to Holland, going through France and coming up along Belgium - I let the sergeant manipulate the wheel, turn it back-and-forth, see what the rudder would do in case I got wiped out he would have a half-way decent chance in getting that thing down. That was the best I could do, and we had a lot of fun talking about it.
Well, anyway, we flew over the flak infested area from the front to the landing zone to Son, which is a town near Eindhoven. There is a bridge at Son that is over the Wilhelmina Canal, and the 101st was supposed to grab that bridge right away so that the English who were following behind could get across the canal. There was only that one bridge, one road. That was a crazy thing to try to invade a country and try to put an Allied Airborne Army and have only one road. It didn’t make sense, and why we did it I’ll never know, because ordinarily when you start an operation like that you split up and two or three roads so you can travel. The least little thing that goes wrong on that road it backs the traffic up. Sometimes they could get out into the field and go around the jam but there were a lot of times when you could not in Holland. You could not get off and get around the jam - there was a dike or something.
Ok, so we land, get out of the glider, and as always, we knocked our window out, pilot and co-pilot, we had plastic windows on the side. Before we took off we always knocked those out. It made a lot of noise in the cockpit but it worked OK. And then when we landed we didn’t have to climb back over that jeep, we could just go out that window, that hole where that window was, and it was big enough we could get out of there in one leap. And then, after things settle down, go back to your glider and get the stuff you needed out of it.
We got out of our glider, it was in a plowed field - you saw the field when we were visiting Holland years ago - at that time it was a plowed field and the furrows ran a certain direction and the furrows ran up to where a German tank was. And there were four, P-51s that were circling that tank. And they would go around it and as they would come in it they would shoot it with their machine gun and whatever else ordnance they had and then had a time - those guys were really good - when a German would have his gun up and shot at him but he couldn’t do it, and then here comes another guy from the side shooting at the tank’s undercarriage from here and here, and those airplanes buzzing around that tank, and they finally got it, knocked it out.
But in the mean time, we were lined up with that tank and those airplanes and as the pilot pulled up the machine gun would still be on you know ... they would be diving down at that tank with the machine gun on and as they pulled up there were still a few bullets and they went whizzing by us. As a matter of fact, there were two or three occasions when the bullets were just a few inches of us hitting that black dirt but none of us got hit ... there were three of us. They hit the glider with the machine gun, but it didn’t matter.
When that tank was taken out - somebody else had taken out the other tanks there - and then about an hour or hour-and-a-half things calmed down except for the artillery. The Germans had now dragged their artillery out of the landing zone and were sending shells in, which they did more or less continuously, and so that was that.
One of five children, James was born to John William and Rose Gardener Larkin in St. Paul, Minnesota. John, an immigrant from Ireland, was captain of the fire department and a veteran of the Spanish-American War. With his earliest memory of Charles Lindbergh completing the world's first transatlantic solo flight, James' future was headed into the sky. Graduating from Washington High School in 1940, he joined the U.S. Army Air Forces on February 13, 1942, and was sent in June to basic training at Santa Ana, California. There he volunteered to be a glider pilot and was sent to Pittsburg, Kansas, for primary glider training. He took both basic and advanced glider training South Plains Army Air Field in Lubbock, Texas, where he learned to fly homemade gliders. In advanced training, he flew CG-4As, and graduated February 4, 1943. His class, 43-3, was the third class to finish the training. James also cross-trained as a co-pilot on C-47s. Newly commissioned as a flight officer, he was sent to Oklahoma's Ardmore Army Airbase for ground training, in which he learned how to survive how to in combat zones. After more ground training at Bowman Field in Louisville, Kentucky, he trained in CG-4As at Maxton Army Air Base in Laurinburg, North Carolina. In September of 1943 he joined the 84th Troop Carrier Squadron, part of the 437th Air Group. He was sent to Fort Wayne, Indiana, in December of 1943 for processing overseas. In January of 1944 he sailed on the RMS Mauretania to Liverpool, and then was stationed at Ramsbury in County Wiltshire.
Their training, including physical exercises, continued until June 6. "I trained for two solid years for one mission," he says. Ten days before D-Day, he participated in a dress rehearsal with the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. Then, he flew troops of the 82nd into Normandy in the early morning of June 6, when he landed in a meadow, breaking one wing on a concrete pole and spinning around. But his "cargo" aboard was safe. It was an anti-tank gun, three soldiers and his co-pilot. Afoot for several days, James was able to return to the beach at Normandy, where he was flown back to England in a C-47. In the invasion of southern France in August of 1944 he carried Japanese-American troops to battle. The next month he flew into Holland on the first day of Operation Market Garden. From that fall into early 1945 he ferried gasoline supplies in C-47s from England into France, returning with wounded. His next glider mission came on March 25, 1945 when his unit flew the 17th Airborne Division into Germany.
After victory in Europe, he returned to America on a Liberty ship, received thirty days' leave, and was told to report to San Francisco for the planned invasion of Japan. Had the invasion occurred, he believes he had no chance of survival. On August 9, 1945, he married Arshula Washburn, a girl he had met in high school, in the chapel at Fort Snelling, Minnesota. After the war he served at various bases, including Barksdale Air Force Base, where he flew B-17s and was rated for engines. He left the service on June 30, 1946 as a first lieutenant and with a reserve commission. He opened a business in Bossier City, Madden and Larkin, a planning and development company in home building, where he spent the rest of his career.
INTERVIEW ABOUT HIS EXPERIENCES DURING OPERATION MARKET GARDEN
F/O James Larkin (2nd from the left) is looking at the other gliders finding a spot on landingzone W in Son, the Netherlands.
The glider that was flown into the Netherlands by F/O James Larkin.
Another pilot from my outfit, my outfit was altogether there, but another guy from my outfit named Murphy, was flying a glider next to me, and we palled up and went over to Sweere’s house, to the farm, and kind of introduced ourselves and made friends with them, gave them some cigarettes and the girls a bar of soap, and all that stuff that was kind of standard by then.
By the way, you mentioned about the ‘fear factor’ before we left. Normandy was extreme of course because that was everybody’s first combat mission. And the few guys that broke down, couldn’t go, they sent them someplace home or something. But after that, after the Normandy scare, the first combat, the other three missions that I was on, and the C-47 missions I was on hauling supplies over enemy territory, that fear was all gone. We were alert, there wasn’t any Maypole Dance, but I never feared death again like I did on that Normandy thing. Anyone that tells you that they weren’t scared that night is either a liar or an idiot, you know, because of the anticipation.
Alright. Now, Murphy and I go over to the farmhouse and introduce ourselves and they are very nice people, the Sweeres, and we bring them stuff from the .... immediately after we landed the C-47s started dropping parapacks, supplies for the Airborne guys on the ground, and these parapacks had all kinds of different stuff in them. One of them would have land mines, another one nothing but food, another one would have nothing but rifle ammunition, another one would be medical supplies, and the Airborne guys would get out there and open one of those things up, those parapacks, they came down by parachute. They were tucked up under the C-47, and a couple more in the door of the C-47, and they would push them out.
So, you could go out there ... I went out and got stuff the Holland people treasured, you know, some good food and cheese and some other things that were in these parapacks. We just took a little bit of it, it wasn’t any big deal, but those Hollanders that it was a big deal for us to do that. Cigarettes were in some of them, they would send 20 cartons of cigarettes, its amazing.
Well, anyway, that night we stayed in that farm house, in Sweere’s house. They had a room upstairs where I stayed, and Johnny Murphy stayed somewhere else, downstairs they had a room. And then the next day, here come some more gliders in, and the landing zone was starting to get cluttered up with gliders which would come in every which way ... some of them shot up, and some of them, you know, pilots panicked and the glider was tipped upside down or whatever.
On the second day, Colonel Sink, who was in command of the 101st Airborne unit that was there - by the way he is featured in that Band of Brothers, Colonel Sink was a mustached, good looking guy - he came by in a jeep and saw that we were glider pilots and he said, “hey, what are you guys doing.” We said, “well sir, we were just waiting for the British come up and get over that bridge, we going back to Brussels.” He said, “we got six lifts coming in here”, and he knew that we knew there were a total of six days, and he said, “ I need you guys to stay here and keep some landing lanes open.” He said gliders were scattered from Hell to breakfast out there and I am going to send you over one of the Airborne bulldozers, and a jeep, and four of my fellows, four of my infantry men over. And he said then between the six of you and the jeep and the tractor you can pull the gliders out of the way or you can push them out of way, keep landing lanes open. And he said after a lift comes in, you guys get back out there and keep this whole area, it was about a mile or so, keep it open, keep some landing lanes open so that the new gliders would have a place to go and turn off if they wanted to. So, we did that. As a matter of fact we stayed there at that farm house for nine days.
The Germans managed to blow that bridge up at Wilhelmina Canal and slow things down but the British had what they called Bailey Bridges .... they were made-to-order for putting across a stream that width. The width of the canal was only, I don’t know, a couple hundred feet only, and the next day after D-Day, the 18th, they had the bridges up there and they were building it for the tanks and stuff to come across. They had it built up in no time and their tanks and stuff started coming up the road. And there were bridges all the way along, over smaller canals, until you get to Nijmegen, and of course at Nijmegen you had a whoppin bridge which everybody knows about. It took a long time to get that one captured. But that was the 82nd Airborne up there at Nijmegen - they were north of us. Then up at Arnhem was the British Airborne Division. There were three divisions - the British up in Arnhem, the 82nd at Nijmegen, and the 101st at Eindhoven and Son in the south where I was.
(Question about the two men in the photo at the Sweere farm)
The two underground guys - the Dutch underground - of course they were called ‘terrorists’ by the Germans, you know, and they were young fellows, and they had been hiding at Sweere’s farm. If you remember, well you would not remember, they had some machine shops out back near the landing zones and there were different buildings, and these guys had secreted themselves in those buildings and they’d hide there during the daytime, and then at night they would get our and raise all manner of Hell where they could, you know, with the German forces. And, they were just two young fellows that, you know, were mean, adventurous guys. They had a radio, too, they had hidden. They would listen to the radio. I remember seeing the radio in the barn and they had a hiding place. Clever.
And then the Sweeres were very friendly - they welcomed us with open arms. And, they just couldn’t do enough for us and we would try to reciprocate and do stuff for them - mainly bring stuff in from the parapacks. And they were delighted to get the silk from the parachutes - there were parachutes all over the place, and they didn’t have any silk or nylon available on account of the war, so we would bring back parachutes and they would take them apart and makes clothes out of them. I can’t think of all the things that happened, but that gives you an idea of how it went.
(Question about Germans shooting down C-47s)
Yeah, that’s Holland. I tell you, about the forth or fifth day a Canadian, C-47s from the Canadian contingent, that had flown a re-supply mission up to Arnhem. And there were three C-47s coming from the Arnhem direction heading back toward England. Up in the sky, clear sky like this, and boom, right behind them before you knew what was happening was one of those Messerschmitts, and he lines up behind one of those C-47s and vrooom and it starts to fall apart, and he pulls behind another and vrooom and pulls behind another ... he knocks three of them down before you can say Jack Robinson. Pieces of the airplanes coming down, parachutes of the guys getting out adn then, he disappeared, the ME, the Messerschmitt, disappeared. And then after about, I don’t know, I would guess two or three minutes, right across the middle of the Landing Zone, not a hundred yards from where I was standing with Murphy watching the shoot down you know, by the way in the mean time there were dogfights going on around. In Holland, the Germans managed to get some airplanes in the air and we saw two or three dogfights with our guys, but it was always one-sided, they didn’t have a chance. But here comes this Messerschmitt across the Landing Zone right across in front of us at you know 20 or 30 feet above the ground, and behind him are two Spitfires and they are raking him over and they disappear over the horizon. I never knew what happened to that Messerschmitt but I think they probably shot him up, you know. But he had a lot of nerve shooting those things down right in our face, you know, and then coming down on the deck heading back toward Germany.
That was a very exciting little episode that we had.
(Question about other places there Jim may have visited)
Yeah, we were there at Son and we went over to Eindhoven one afternoon after we had cleared some lanes, you know, but Eindhoven was chaotic - the people were, you know, nuts with joy. We went to Sint-Oedenrode, which was not far away, a quarter of a mile or so, and Son, and we stayed kinda close by except that trip we took over to Eindhoven. And we rode in a truck that was carrying some stuff over there. We went along because we didn’t have anything else to do and it was kind of a lark, and a truck was transporting some stuff over there, and we rode back to the Landing Zone on that same truck.
That road, called “Hell’s Highway”, right where we were, was just an ordinary two-lane road with shoulders in most of the places, and tanks there lined up nose to tail, not moving you know for days at a time, and guys up in Arnhem getting shot. I never could understand it. I read books about it, I have heard stories about it and everything, and why those British let their own guys get killed like that and get taken out .... I don’t know because they had all the equipment they needed to get up to Arnhem in just two days. Hell, at long last they finally got up there to rescue part of General Urquhart’s - he was the General of (British) 6th Airborne, umm, they rescued 2,000 of his 8,000 guys I think it was, and it was all British. I’m glad it wasn’t American because if there had been American troops up there there would have been a lot of trouble about it. They were all British, we were just re-supplying them with our aircraft and we were taking those bridges, keeping the road open. That was our job. We (the glider pilots) weren’t supposed to get into the actual battles that occurred.
(Question about the Son bridge)
Yeah, I think I heard it go off. Our Landing Zone was, I don’t know, a quarter mile or so from that area, and I think I heard that bridge go up.
The paratroopers had only been there a couple of hours, and it all seems strange to me that I could hear that explosion, but I heard a hell of an explosion. And later we went down there and of course the bridge was blown up, as a matter of fact, we could see some German tanks on the other side. As a matter of fact, one of the German tanks came up to where the bridge was to make sure it was blown properly, and I remember we were hiding out of sight back a hundred yards or something, and that tank come up and he didn’t know what to shoot, and I just happened to remember that down the canal three- or four-hundred yards was a water tank up in the air. And this guy started shooting at the water tank just for the hell of it. So I remember him shooting that water tank, the German, and then there were two damn 101st guys that got down there in the cattails, there were a lot of weeds and stuff around that canal, and they got down in those cattails and the German was up here and they slipped under him some how and they got their bazooka lined up with that guy and they gave him a charge out of that bazooka and they blew the lid right off of that tank. It caught on fire and killed all those Germans. And after that, we did not see any more German tanks around. There was just that one that came and was horsing around and it cost them of course, to give those 101st guys time to get after them.
So those two guys who blew that tank up I understood later got a nice award - a Silver Star or something.
Since it was a British operation, as soon as the bridge was rebuilt - which was quick ... D plus one, I think the bridge was finished that night, uhh, D plus two ... British tanks start coming in and they set up Command Posts, and since Murphy and I, after we had done our duty, if there was a lift you know - we didn’t have to report to anybody, that was the good thing about glider pilots, they didn’t make any provision for us getting home. There was none ... we were sent on a mission and told ‘get that gun to the Landing Zone or don’t come back’, you know, so we would get the stuff to the Landing Zone were it was possible, or didn’t come back, and in the mean time, we fooled around. And nobody, you know, we weren’t responsible to anybody except our own officers and they were as bad as we were for goofing around you know.
We are now eleven or twelve days from the invasion and Murphy and I are still horsing around over there in Brussels.
We were at a British Command Post on our side of the Wilhelmina Canal and we just dropped in on the thing, just rubber necking, and they had radios going on in there and a couple of officers and had communications going with their tanks across the canal and they were having a tank fight over there, the Germans were still after them, and I could hear those guys talking back and forth on that radio, those tank guys with the Command Post, saying ‘Righto, over behind that windmill ... mate!’ You know, one tank would be telling another ‘behind that windmill, mate’ and you would hear a ‘kaawham’ and a ‘righto, righto ... you got him!’, you know. And we listened to that kind of talk back-and-forth between the tanks and the commanders and that command post. It was a lot of fun.
(Question about what happened to the other glider pilots)
Everybody kind of went their own way. We ran into some of them on the Landing Zone, we would run into some of them just around, you know, and when we got to Brussels we would run into some of our guys, and everybody was working their way back, slowly, toward England.
I got a glimpse of General Taylor, who was commander of the 101st Airborne. He came down to see about that bridge, of course. Colonel Sink, who I saw regularly, and he was kind of everywhere you know, and I had a glimpse of General Taylor one time when he came down, a little parade of jeeps that he had. He had a jeep in front of him with a machine gun mounted on it, then his jeep, then one behind him with machine guns and guys manning them.