Maps

The 1st Para Brigade's attack plan

The actual progress made by the 1st Para Brigade

Pictures

Lieutenant-Colonel John Frost

Members of the 2nd Parachute Battalion's Mortar Platoon leaving the drop zone on Sunday 17th September

The Railway Bridge, which was blown by the Germans on Sunday 17th September

An aerial view of the Railway Bridge

The pontoon bridge, as seen from the north, with its centre span moored alongside it

The road bridge at Arnhem

Arnhem Bridge as seen from the north, a few hours before the airborne landings

Four captured SS Panzer Grenadiers, guarded by paratroopers

 

Moving along the lower "Lion" Route, Lieutenant-Colonel John Frost's 2nd Battalion did not experience the heavy opposition that the rest of the 1st Parachute Brigade had encountered. Krafft did not have enough men to completely screen Arnhem from the British and so he had based his defence between the Railway line and the Utrechtseweg, leaving the river road undefended but for the light patrols of his reconnaissance units.

 

Opposition was still encountered, but Major Tatham-Warter's "A" Company, who had been given the lead, cut their way through this with great speed and skill. They had barely left the drop zones before Lieutenant McDermont's No.3 Platoon ambushed a convoy of lorries, likely carrying the reconnaissance troop of Battalion Krafft's No.2 Company, killing and taking prisoner the thirty Germans inside them. In the woods beyond, "A" Company were attacked and lightly mortared by minor opposition, but these were immediately put to flight when Lieutenant Grayburn's No.2 Platoon charged the position under the cover of a smokescreen.

 

In Oosterbeek the Battalion received an ecstatic reception from the local Dutch people, who dashed out in all their orange paraphernalia to greet the paratroopers and thrust all manner of food and drink upon them. Officers and NCO's politely prevented them from inadvertently halting the advance, although the sound of gunfire ahead persuaded most to return to their homes.

 

 

The tasks assigned to the 2nd Battalion were considerable. Not only did they have to reach the Bridge and capture it, but they also had to seize the Railway Bridge, four miles to the west of Arnhem, and a small Pontoon Bridge in the town itself. "C" Company split-off from the Battalion in Oosterbeek and headed to the Railway Bridge; their intentions were not merely to capture it, but also to cross to the other side of the Rhine so that they would be in a position to attack the southern end of Arnhem Bridge, enabling the Battalion to comfortably secure both ends.

 

With No.8 Platoon providing covering fire and laying down a smokescreen with the Battalion's mortars, Lieutenant Barry's No.9 Platoon began their advance on the bridge in good order. The ground that they had to run across, however, was of a considerable distance and completely devoid of cover, and the Bridge itself was no small structure; so much so that the Platoon had only just reached it when, out of breath, they came to a halt for a few moments and crouched down in case of enemy fire. It was most fortunate that they did this because, moments later, the centre span of the bridge was demolished by a troop of Battalion Krafft; the Platoon's attacking section would have surely been wiped out had they continued, but in the event nobody was hurt. A German sniper opened fire moments later, however, and succeeded in wounding Barry and killing another man. With no hope of salvaging anything from the situation, John Frost ordered "C" Company to withdraw and rejoin the rear of the Battalion's column, proceeding instead to capture a German Headquarters in Arnhem. Although there was to be no force on the opposite bank of the Rhine to capture the southern end of Arnhem Bridge, Frost was nevertheless a little relieved to have all of his rifle companies on the northern bank and not separated by the River.

 

 

As "A" Company drew near to Arnhem they suffered some casualties under the fire of an armoured car, which promptly withdrew when it observed an anti-tank gun being brought forward. The Company pressed on but was again halted shortly after, this time by a machine-gun position sited on an area of high ground known as Den Brink. To prevent the 2nd Battalion's vanguard being delayed by this menace, "B" Company were ordered to advance on Den Brink and clear it. Lieutenant Cane's No.6 Platoon began to move into position, but as they did so they came under fire from another machine-gun and Cane and three other men were killed with several more wounded. "B" Company fought their way onto Den Brink but were not able to clear it of the enemy dug in there. They were, however, able to keep them occupied until darkness fell, after which the troublesome machine-gun post could not observe the British troops moving in the streets below.

 

"B" Company slipped off Den Brink during the night and headed to the Pontoon Bridge, their own objective, located a mile to the west of Arnhem Bridge. Before they had left England, the Company had learned from aerial reconnaissance photographs that the centre span of the Pontoon had been detached and was moored alongside the riverbank. With no means of reconnecting it, the Company hoped to locate boats or improvise some other means of crossing to enable them to assault the southern end of Arnhem Bridge.

 

 

"A" Company entered Arnhem just as it was getting dark. Occasional light resistance was met but all comers were rapidly dealt with. Armoured cars began to appear sporadically in an attempt to hinder the advance, but rather than become bogged down in tackling these, Major Tatham-Warter chose to side-step them by moving his men through houses and back gardens in order to avoid unnecessary confrontation. Frost himself used this method; on one occasion marching the entire Battalion through the rear of a house and out of the front door into the street beyond, much to the displeasure of the owner.

 

"A" Company arrived at the northern end of Arnhem Bridge at 19:30 and proceeded to occupy positions on either side of the ramp. They were very pleased with themselves, having killed or captured one hundred and fifty Germans en route at the cost of a single man killed and a small number wounded. Lieutenant-Colonel Frost had been worried that by the time his Battalion had reached the Bridge the Germans would have destroyed it, but he was most satisfied to arrive and find that it was intact and now under his control. Various German commanders had called for at least some of the vital Bridges in the Market Garden area to be destroyed to put an end to the Operation there and then, however Feldmarschall Model insisted upon leaving them undamaged as he had plans to use them to stage a counter-offensive of his own.

 

"A" Company made two attempts to capture the southern end of the Bridge during the night. The first was a token effort mounted by a vanguard of just seven men, but when these encountered German soldiers on the Bridge they had to fall back as their numbers were insufficient for the purpose. Lieutenant Grayburn's No.2 Platoon attempted a more substantial effort, but they came to an abrupt standstill and suffered eight wounded when a machine-gun opened fire from a pill-box position at point-blank range, later joined by the fire of an armoured car from the other end of the Bridge. Further attempts to cross were rendered impossible when Royal Engineers attempted to silence the pill-box with a flame-thrower and their aim fell wide and set fire to several huts alongside. This turned out to be an ammunition and petrol store, and the subsequent explosions set fire to the paint-work on the Bridge, which continued to blaze throughout the night. Some time later, several German lorries attempted a nervous crossing of the burning Bridge, only to add to the inferno when they were destroyed by heavy fire from the paratroopers dug-in ahead of them. Needless to say, a further assault was now impossible; not only was the whole area lit up as if it were daylight, but the heat from the fires was immense, rendering the Bridge unapproachable.

 

 

Although he had little idea of what was happening elsewhere, Lieutenant-Colonel Frost understood that resistance in the Arnhem area was a great deal stronger than briefings had led them to believe, and he therefore sent out a radio message asking for assistance. Despite the poor performance of the radios, the 1st Battalion received it with perfect clarity. Lieutenant-Colonel Dobie was known to dislike his allocated task of capturing the high ground to the north of Arnhem, and he also recognised that resistance was becoming increasingly determined, making it ever more likely that his objective was unreachable. He therefore decided to ignore his orders and ordered his "T" Company to lead the way to the Bridge. The 1st Battalion kept moving through the night and did all they could to avoid the attention of the enemy, even switching off the engines of their Jeeps and manhandling them and their anti-tank guns silently past German patrols.

 

Resistance, however, continued to be encountered and casualties were increasing. By far the biggest problem were the small groups of men becoming lost in the dark after being delayed by such actions. With various parties coming under fire from snipers and isolated machine-gun posts, along the full length of the mile-long column, the Battalion gradually fragmented and it became easy for the Germans to mop up the stragglers. By morning, the 1st Battalion had lost contact with half of the five hundred and forty-eight men that it had taken into battle.