Maps

1st Para Brigade attacks around the St. Elizabeth Hospital

Pictures

German troops preparing to go into action near the Museum

Soliders and armour of the Assault Gun Brigade 280 move into Arnhem

The St Elizabeth Hospital, as it appears today

The St. Elizabeth Hospital

Wreckage around the St Elizabeth Hospital

Civilian medical services at work amidst the wreckage around the St Elizabeth Hospital

Dutch patients being led out of the St Elizabeth Hospital under a white flag

The Museum, as seen today

German infantry and a self-propelled gun near the Museum in Arnhem

A 20mm self-propelled flak gun looking towards the fighting in Arnhem on Tuesday 19th

German troops around the area of the Museum

1st Para Brigade dead in Arnhem

Two dead soldiers of "D" Company, 2nd South Staffordshires

Captured South Staffords

Prisoners of the 2nd South Staffs being search by German soldiers

Men of the 2nd South Staffords being led away to captivity

1st Parachute Brigade prisoners being escorted through Arnhem on Tuesday 19th September

 

Being more in touch with the situation than the other battalion commanders involved, Lieutenant-Colonel Dobie was allowed to assume command of the advance to the Bridge. With only his one hundred and forty-strong 1st Battalion and half of the 2nd South Staffords present, the remainder of whom were following on behind the 11th Battalion, Dobie decided to mount a two-battalion attack along the riverbank at 21:00. Unfortunately, before they could proceed, a false report reached them from Divisional Headquarters stating that resistance at the Bridge had collapsed and that they were to halt all offensive efforts in that direction. Orders were later received for the remnants of the Brigade to fall back to Oosterbeek, and it was not until 02:30 that it was realised that the Bridge was still very much under British control.

 

This delay cost the Brigade dearly, as it not only allowed the German troops of the Sperrverband Spindler blocking line to organise and harden fresh positions closer to the Bridge, but it denied them almost all of the precious hours of darkness that night. It did, however, give enough time for the 11th Battalion, the remaining South Staffords and the 1st Battalion's "R" Company to come forward. The revised plan was to take place at 04:00, with the 1st Battalion leading the way on the southern-most route, alongside the riverbank. Protecting their left flank, along the Utrechtseweg, were the 2nd South Staffords with the 11th Battalion following behind both of them in reserve.

 

Dobie was unaware that Lieutenant-Colonel Fitch and the remnants of the 3rd Battalion had already attempted the same attack that the 1st Battalion was about to make. They had reached the area of the St. Elizabeth Hospital during the night, but were forced to withdraw when they encountered fierce resistance from Sperrverband Spindler. Only fifty men remained in Fitch's party and, clearly not strong enough to breakthrough unaided, they fell back until they stumbled into the 1st Battalion coming forward. Fitch immediately offered to follow on behind them in the hope of providing their assault with covering fire.

 

The advance went well in the darkness, but as soon as it became light the Battalion was spotted and came under heavy fire from enemy troops who were well dug-in along the steep bank to their front, and also from buildings overlooking their left flank, which the South Staffords had yet to reach. As it grew lighter still, the survivors of 9 S.S. Reconnaissance Battalion, who had suffered so heavily at the hands of Lieutenant-Colonel Frost's men on the previous day, observed the British movement from their positions in the Brickworks on the other side of the River and so added to the opposing fire. The remnants of the 1st Battalion, therefore, were pinned down by heavy fire from all directions bar their rear, and as such they were completely trapped and their losses were severe. Nevertheless, the paratroopers screamed their battle cry of "Waho Mahomed!" and charged what German positions they could with bayonets, but it was a hopeless situation and what remained of the 1st Battalion was cut to pieces. Only thirty-nine men were still able to fight when, at 06:30, Dobie ordered them to break off the attack and seize the houses on the left, but few of them made it. By 07:30 the Battalion's last stand in these buildings was over, having been completely covered by enemy machine-guns and shelled into submission by tanks. Despite the terrible volume of fire ranged against them, the Battalion only suffered nine fatalities during the attack, but many had been wounded and almost everyone involved was taken prisoner; such was the fate of Lieutenant-Colonel Dobie, who had been lightly wounded during the action.

 

The 3rd Battalion fared no better. They had no sooner reached the embankment, from where they could give support to the 1st Battalion, when they too were spotted in the growing light and their positions were swept with machine-gun fire. A creeping mortar barrage then came down, and so, in a quite hopeless position, Lieutenant-Colonel Fitch ordered his men to fall back in two's and three's to assemble at the Rhine Pavilion. Most of them reached it, but Fitch was killed by a mortar on the way.

 

 

The South Staffords set off half an hour late, but they did so with three Companies and three hundred and forty men to the fore, with both "C" and Support Companies following on behind. Their advance was hard and the leading "D" Company in particular took many casualties, losing almost half of its strength and practically all of No.22 Platoon, but by daylight they had managed to arrive in the area encompassing the Museum and St. Elizabeth Hospital. By this time, however, further forward movement was impossible as the increasing light had enabled German infantry, mortars and tanks to trap them. Above all it was the enemy armour which did the most damage as none of the Battalion's anti-tank guns had been able to accompany the forward troops along the steep road, and their only protection, therefore, was the hand-held PIAT and a rapidly dwindling supply of bombs. Once this ammunition was exhausted, the tanks were able to roam at will and engage the British-occupied buildings at point-blank range.

 

At 08:00, an attack on the Staffords from the south-east was quickly repelled, but careful probing movements and patrols from this direction succeeded in locking the Battalion into a defensive position and preventing an easy withdrawal. In the Museum itself and several of the surrounding buildings, "A" Company were eventually cut-off and suffered terribly under relentless shelling and repeated infantry and armour attacks. The remainder of the Battalion attempted to withdraw whilst "A" Company provided covering fire, however as they were about to oblige they were heavily assaulted once more and their positions gradually overrun, resulting in almost all of their men taken prisoner.

 

The Battalion was only able to withdraw a short distance, and with no anti-tank ammunition they were unable to deal with a number of self-propelled guns which had been skilfully placed to keep the British pinned down. The only escape route available to the 2nd South Staffords was to their rear, however it lay across a wide expanse of open ground and their losses would be severe if they attempted to use it. Hopelessly trapped, the Staffords continued to fight until noon, by which time Lieutenant-Colonel McCardie and most of his men had been gradually forced out of their positions and taken prisoner. Major Cain escaped the area and withdrew what men he could, most of whom were from "C" Company, who had been in the rear. The only positive note about the attack was that the Staffords had temporarily liberated the house in which Major-General Urquhart and his fellow officers were hiding; Urquhart immediately commandeered a Jeep and raced back to Divisional Headquarters.

 

 

Several hours before the South Staffords were overwhelmed, McCardie had asked for support from Lieutenant-Colonel Lea's full-strength 11th Battalion. They were about to oblige with a left flanking attack, hopefully enabling the Staffords to resume forward movement, when, at 09:00, a message was received from Divisional HQ ordering the 11th Battalion to halt. Urquhart had returned safely to Oosterbeek and, after witnessing the fighting on the outskirts of Arnhem, had swiftly come to the conclusion that the 1st Parachute Brigade could not breakthrough on their own and so ordered the 11th Battalion to hold their current position and not to make any attempt to intervene in a battle which would only result in their unnecessary sacrifice. As there was no overall leader to command the units fighting in Arnhem, Major-General Urquhart dispatched Colonel Barlow, the deputy commander of the 1st Airlanding Brigade, to take charge of the situation, however he was killed by a mortar shortly after arriving in the vicinity.

 

At 11:00, the 11th Battalion received further instructions from Divisional HQ. Lieutenant-Colonel Lea was ordered to capture a nearby area of high ground known as the Heijenoord-Diependal. It was hoped that their seizure of this dominant feature would open up a gap through which the 4th Parachute Brigade, closely followed by the remainder of the Division, could attack. To facilitate this move, Lea ordered Major Cain and the surviving South Staffords to secure the neighbouring Den Brink high ground, from where they would be able to lend fire support. With their Vickers machine-guns and a rifle platoon providing covering fire, Major Cain and two platoons succeeded in gaining this position, however the Germans then heavily mortared the area, and as the soil was completely unsuitable for digging-in to be practical, the Staffords took many casualties, and at 13:30 they were forced to abandon Den Brink.

 

The 11th Battalion were fully occupied in fighting off German attacks at this time, and as such it was not until 12:30 that they could disengage and begin to move. "A" Company had become cut-off and were experiencing severe difficulties with enemy tanks when they attempted to break-out northwards over the railway line, believing the 4th Parachute Brigade to be on their left flank and not knowing that they were four miles away at this time. Upon realising that there were only German soldiers in this direction, the remnants of the Company made a last stand in a house but were soon forced to surrender. By 14:30, it had become clear to the troops of Sperrverband Spindler that the 11th Battalion was preparing to move north, and they successfully cornered the paratroopers in an exposed position. Bombarded by mortars and hounded by tanks, the Battalion suffered extremely heavily and many of its men were soon captured. Only one hundred and fifty managed to find their way out of the trap, but their commander was not amongst them, having been wounded and taken prisoner.

 

Having absorbed the numerous assaults of the 1st Parachute Brigade in Arnhem, Sperrverband Spindler now went over to the attack and slowly began to blast the remnants out of the town with tanks. In all, only five hundred of the Brigade's men were able to withdraw towards Oosterbeek. The 1st Airborne Division's hopes of a decisive breakthrough now rested with the 4th Parachute Brigade in the north.