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17 September 1944:

The 1st Airborne Division, commanded by General Roy Urquhart, were landing on the drop zones and landing zones just west of Arnhem. Just before the landings took place, the RAF flew several bombing missions, blasting targets that would make the process of reaching the bridge easier for the airborne troops. German barracks, Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns, bunkers and ammo dumps were some targets that were on the hitlist for the 2nd Tactical Air Force. Thirty minutes before the drop of the main force, the 21st Independent Parachute Company was dropped. They acted as pathfinders for the main force, marking the drop- and landing zones. At 12.30 hours these men jumped over Wolfheze.

The main force consisted of the 1st Parachute Brigade (Brigadier Gerald Lathbury), the 1st Airborne Recce Squadron (Major Charles Gough), the 1st Airlanding Brigade (Brigadier Philip Hicks) and the 1st Airborne Division’s commander Urquhart and his staff. The paratrooper elements were to jump over Drop zone X (see map). The 1st Airlanding Brigade landed at Landing zone S (see map) with 350 gliders and had the important task of defending the drop- and landing zones for the next airlift. More forces were to arrive in the upcoming days. In total just over 10000 paratroopers and glidermen were to be delivered on the drop- and landing zones. Other glider elements, engineers, signal corps, divisional headquarters, artillery units, medical troops, were to land on Landing zone Z. Supplies for the division were supposed to be delivered on Landing zone L. The landings for the 1st Airborne Division went very well and hardly any resistance was encountered. Quickly the men assembled and dispersed to their initial objectives; the railroad and road bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem.

It didn’t take long until the Germans took countermeasures. The German forces in and around Arnhem were completely surprised by the Airborne landings. Generalfeld-Marschall Walter Model, commander of Heeresgruppe B, evacuated his headquarters and left for Doetinchem. He ordered General Friedrich Kussin, Feldcommandant of Arnhem, to inform Hitler’s headquarters of the Airborne Landings. Arriving at Doetinchem, Model ordered Obergruppenführer Wilhelm Bittrich, commander of the 2nd SS Panzer Corps, to close down Arnhem. Bittrich already anticipated on the attacks and as soon as he heard of the airborne landings he had sent Oberführer Walter Harzer of the 9th SS Panzer Division ‘Hohenstaufen’, towards Arnhem to close down the main roads leading into the city. He also ordered Hauptsturmführer Victor Gräbner to take a small group of the 9th SS Panzer Division to the road bridge at Nijmegen. The 10th SS Panzer Division ‘Frundsberg’ was also sent to Nijmegen to close down the city.

Recce Squadron’s target, led by Major Gough, was the Arnhem bridge. He was ordered to follow a path alongside the railroad tracks leading into Arnhem but he was stopped by Sturmbahnnführer Kraft’s training battalion at the Wolfhezerweg. The 1st Parachute Brigade continued their advance towards Arnhem, each battalion used a different route called: Tiger, Lion and Leopard.

1st Battalion, commanded by Lt-Col. David Dobie, followed the Amsterdamseweg (Leopard route). They soon bumped into troops of the 9th SS Panzer Division and suffered severe losses. They would not be able to reach the Arnhem bridge and their only option was to dig in and fight the German troops.

2nd Battalion, commanded by Lt-Col John Frost, followed the road next to the river (Lion route) to reach Arnhem. They had minor delays in Oosterbeek when they were welcomed by Dutch citizens, already celebrating their liberation. Because of this delay they didn’t reach the railroad bridge in time, the Germans already blew it up just before Frost’s troops arrived. Frost kept moving forward. He was ordered to hold the south and the north side of the road bridge. Sadly the second objective, the pontoon bridge over the Rhine, was partially down so Frost’s troops weren’t able to cross the river to the southern side of the river. Frost kept advancing and arrived at the Arnhem road bridge at 19.30 hours. He made an effort crossing the bridge, but the Germans had already set up defenses on the southern side of the bridge. A second attempt was made at 22.00 hours but with no effect. The Germans surrounded Frost’s troops by taking Arnhem. Now 600 men of Frost’s battalion were cut off from the rest of the airborne troops.

3rd Battalion, commanded by Lt-Col John Fitch, followed the Utrechtseweg (Tiger route). Soon after they left the drop zones, the bumped into a German staff car. The paratroopers opened fire, thereby killing General Kussin, his driver, guard and interpreter. Further up on the Utrechtseweg they were stopped by Kraft’s troops at Hotel de Bilderberg. After intense fighting the battalion reached Hotel Hartenstein in Oosterbeek where they set up HQ for the division.

The day didn’t go too well for the 1st Airborne Division. The different outfits weren’t able to achieve their goals due to failure in their communication. Also, the presence of the 9th and 10th SS Panzer wasn’t anticipated. Airborne units aren’t well equipped to fight against tanks, therefore it was fairly easy for the German forces to stop the airborne advance on Arnhem and keep a hold of the city.

18 September 1944:

Frost’s positions at the bridge were under constant pressure. Skirmishes between the British paratroopers and the German Panzer troops continued throughout the night and into the morning of the 18th. At around 09.30 hours a column of armored cars from the 9th SS Panzer Division which returned from Nijmegen arrived at the southern ramp of the Arnhem bridge. They tried to cross the bridge but the entire column was annihilated by the British troops who had set up positions on the northern end of the bridge. Anti-tank guns, PIAT’s, rifle and machinegun fire rained down on top of the German troops, no one was able to escape. Frost’s positions around the bridge were precarious and his food, ammunition and medical supplies were running low.

The rest of the 1st Parachute Brigade tried to reach Frost’s troops at the bridge. 1st and 3rd battalion tried to use the same route that 2nd battalion had followed the previous day, but the Germans had already closed down that route. Soon the troops of the battalions received fire from 88mm guns. Harzer had been able to deploy his troops successfully and stopped the British battalions at the St. Elisabeth Gasthuis. Under fire, Urquhart, who was amongst the advancing battalions fled into the streets of Arnhem where he had to hide for several hours, cut off from his troops.

On the 18th, the 1st Airborne Division was supposed to receive new men and material on the drop- and landing zones. But due to bad weather conditions over England, these flights were cancelled. Later that day, the reinforcements for the Arnhem perimeter were delivered on their designated drop- and landing zones. Defending the drop zones S, Y and Z for the landing of the 4th Parachute Brigade commanded by Brigadier John Hackett, were the Kings Own Scottish Borderers and the 1st Airlanding Brigade. One element of the 1st Airlanding Brigade, the South Stafford’s had left to help out 1st and 3rd battalion of the 4th Parachute Brigade. Hackett was ordered to send a battalion towards the Arnhem bridge to support Frost, but after trying to breach through enemy lines, they had to retreat. The South Stafford’s were able to reach the 2 battalions later in the evening.

19 September 1944:

On this day the Germans have had enough time to swing their armor into action. The Germans closed down Arnhem and the British troops of 1st and 3rd battalion, the South Staffords and the Kings Own Scottish Borderers weren’t able to reach Frost’s battalion. Again the fighting was extremely intense and the ranks of the British troops were diminishing by the hour. The British attack on the bridge halted and the troops were forced to retreat to Oosterbeek where they formed a defensive perimeter. Frost’s troops were still cut off and of his formidable force of 600 men, not much was left to hold the positions at the bridge. He had to be relieved as soon as possible. Hackett’s brigade also made an attempt to reach Arnhem but was stopped in his tracks at Oosterbeek. He had to retreat to Wolfheze, back to where he started. While the 4th Parachute Brigade was stopped at Oosterbeek, the Germans flanked their positions and had positioned themselves close to the Drop zone at Wolfsheze. When the 4th Parachute Brigade withdrew, they had to cross open terrain at the Johannahoeve. This is where the Germans waited for them and they strafed the troops with intense machine gun fire. British losses were immense.

Late in the afternoon, troops of the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade (Gen-Maj. Stanislaw Sosabowski) landed on the Wolfheze landing zone with gliders. Out of nowhere German fighter planes came down from the sky and started shooting the gliders. The Germans had also pinpointed the landing zone with artillery fire and barrage after barrage hit the incoming Polish troops. Many gliders and equipment, meant for the attack on Arnhem, was destroyed. The situation at Arnhem became more precarious later that day with German reinforcement attacking from the West. Also, the drop zone (V) for supplies, was in German hands. Because of lack in radio contact between the 1st Airborne Division and the Royal Air Force, the RAF kept dropping the supplies on the drop zone in enemy territory, hereby delivering 90% of supplies, meant for the Airbornes in Arnhem, in German hands.

20 September 1944:

The Germans consolidated their positions in the Arnhem sector. The 1st Airborne Division had retreated to Oosterbeek and Frost’s 2nd Battalion was still holding on to their position at the northern end of the bridge by its fingertips. Troops of British 2nd army, that started at Neerpelt (Belgium) on the 17th, were still stuck in heavy fighting at Nijmegen, unable to reach the Arnhem bridge.

The German troops attacking the positions of 2nd Battalion at the bridge, cleared house by house. The fighting was intense, setting fire to the buildings, shooting point blank at the paratroopers with tanks. During the fight at the bridge Frost was wounded and relieved of his command by Gough. At the end of the day, the Germans were able to eliminate the last pockets of resistance at the bridge. The bridge was in German hands once again.

The troops in Oosterbeek formed a perimeter around Hotel Hartenstein, Urquhart’s HQ. Their only option was to hold ground so 2nd army could cross the Rhine river upon arrival.

21 September 1944:

The remainder of 2nd battalion at the Arnhem bridge surrendered. They were not able to defend their positions much longer. The fight for the bridge was over and the Germans were in full control of Arnhem. Some of the men attempted to escape to the Oosterbeek perimeter set up by the rest of the division, but only few were able to reach friendly lines. The Germans received their much needed reinforcements and they were put into action immediately in the Oosterbeek perimeter. Even though the battles in Oosterbeek were very intense, the British troops were able to withstand them and hold the lines of the perimeter.

Early in the afternoon the rest of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade was dropped just northeast of the village of Driel. The troops should have arrived a day earlier and their designated drop zone was supposed to be just south of the Arnhem road bridge. But with the territory now in German hands, the Polish were dropped close to Driel. The Poles weren’t able to provide much help to the surrounded troops at Oosterbeek. They arrived much later than anticipated due to bad weather in England and not all their troops arrived on the drop zone. The Germans shot at the planes with everything they got. Also, the ferry that the Polish intended to use to cross the Rhine to Oosterbeek was in German hands. The Poles couldn’t do much more than wait until they came up with a new plan of attack. Some Poles were so highly motivated to fight, that some of the troops jumped into the Rhine and swam across to help out the British paratroopers in Oosterbeek.

The paratroopers were in dying need of supplies but the drop zone for supplies was still in enemy hands. The men on the ground tried to get the attention of the RAF pilots who were dropping supplies, but the pilots had orders to refuse any signal from the ground. The British paratroopers had been trying for days to get in touch with 2nd army and finally they got a hold of XXX-corps troops that were close to the Rhine. The radiomen of the 1st Airborne Division were now able to pass on positions of the enemy and ask for artillery support from XXX-corps’ artillery unit. Every time the Germans made a move on the Oosterbeek perimeter, they received a barrage of artillery. This was a huge help and relief for the surrounded airborne troops in Oosterbeek.

22 September 1944:

Recce troops of the Household cavalry had been able to bypass the German defenses north of the Nijmegen bridge and got in touch with Sosabowski, who had dug in with his Polish Parachute Brigade at Driel. The 1st Airborne Division troops in Oosterbeek knew that they couldn’t hold their positions much longer. Two British soldiers were sent across the Rhine to inform Sosabowski of a reinforcement plan. That night, the Poles would cross the Rhine by boat. The only boats available for Sosabowski, were small rubber boats. The first try to reinforce the British troops at Oosterbeek turned into a disaster. The Germans discovered the troops crossing the Rhine and interfered. Only 52 soldiers were able to reach the north side of the river.

23 September 1944:

Major Richard Lonsdale was on the south side of the perimeter at the Oosterbeek church since September 20th, defending ferocious German attacks. The Germans were trying to cut the airborne troops off from the river bank. Lonsdale, wrapped in bandages after receiving numerous wounds during the fighting, made his now famous speech to motivate his troops one more time.

“You know as well as I do there are a lot of bloody Germans coming at us. Well, all we can do is to stay here and hang on in the hope that somebody catches us up. We must fight for our lives and stick together. We’ve fought the Germans before, in North-Africa, Sicily and Italy. They weren’t good enough for us then and they’re bloody well not good enough for us now. They’re up against the finest soldiers in the world. An hour from now you will take up defensive positions north of the road outside. Make certain you dig in well and that your weapons and ammo are in good order. We are short of ammo, so when you shoot, you shoot to kill. Good luck to you all.”

The Polish troops on the other side of the Rhine were now heavily engaged with the Germans and had to withstand attack after attack. Eventually some tanks of XXX-corps arrived to assist the Poles. During the night the Poles attempted to cross the river again by using the small rubber boats they utilized the night before to save the British troops. This time the Poles were a bit more successful. 150 soldiers reached the other side.

24 September 1944:

A short cease-fire was arranged with the Germans at the Oosterbeek perimeter so the 1st Airborne Division troops were able to evacuate their wounded soldiers, which were growing in number. After the cease-fire the fighting for the perimeter continued. The Germans pounded the British lines with tanks, artillery and infantry. Even though the British airborne troops fought as hard as they could, they were no match for the enemy tanks and artillery.

25 September 1944:

Finally more troops arrived on the south side of the Rhine. The 4th Dorset of the 130th Infantry Brigade, 43rd Wessex Division, attempted to cross the river and reach the 1st Airborne Division on the other side of the Rhine but was unable to do so. The Allies decided that they had to retreat the 1st Airborne Division from Oosterbeek. They couldn’t hold out much longer. At around 22.00 hours the retreat started code name ‘Berlin’. Canadian and British engineers crossed the Rhine numerous times to help the British airborne troops reach for the south side of the river. With the lack of boats, a lot of men had to swim across, many drowned during the crossing. Artillery from XXX-corps tried to keep the Germans busy and conceal the retreat. Operation Berlin was stopped in the morning of the 26th because of heavy German gunfire. The engineers were able to let 2200 men across the river. 300 men were left behind in Oosterbeek. With the end of operation Berlin, so came and end to Operation Market Garden.

Video: Lieutenant-Colonel Londsdale’s speech as depicted in the movie: “Theirs is the glory”, perfomed by Lt-Col Londsdale himself.