Pictures

Dirty and tired, but alive. 1st Airborne survivors at Nijmegen

British troops in Nijmegen after the evacuation

Men of the 1st Border, evacuated from Arnhem, at Louvain on the 27th September

Men of the 1st Airborne re-equipping at Nijmegen

Wounded and exhausted soldiers drinking and smoking in Nijmegen

BBC War Correspondents Stanley Maxted and Guy Byam telling their stories at Broadcasting House

Field Marshall Montgomery (far right)

Arnhem bridge being destroyed by American bombers on the 7th October

The road bridge at Arnhem, a month after it was destroyed by American bombers

Men of the 1st Airborne Division on parade at Buckingham Palace on the day of the Arnhem Investiture

Men of the 1st Airborne Division cheer Generals Urquhart and Browning on the day of the Arnhem Investiture

 

Of the approximate ten-thousand six hundred men who fought north of the River, only two thousand three hundred and ninety-eight returned. Of the rest, including the Polish Brigade south of the Rhine and men who died in captivity, as a result of their wounds or other causes until the end of 1944, one thousand four hundred and eighty-five men had died, and six thousand four hundred and fourteen were taken prisoner, of whom about one-third were wounded. Official German figures record that they suffered three thousand three hundred casualties in the Arnhem area, with one thousand three hundred of that number killed. It is certain, however, that these figures are a highly conservative estimate, and further investigations have accounted for at least one thousand seven hundred and twenty-five German dead, and as many as six thousand wounded. The estimated number of total deaths during the Battle therefore, including four hundred and fifty-three civilians and four hundred and seventy-four aircrew, is in excess of four thousand one hundred.

 

Still in the Arnhem area, however, there was an unusually high number of the 1st Airborne Division's men in hiding, courageously sheltered by the Dutch Underground. The force of several hundred men was chiefly organised by Major Tatham-Warter and Brigadier Lathbury. They established communications with the Allies, obtained weapons, and planned to use themselves as a coup-de-main party should XXX Corps attempt a further crossing of the Rhine. When it became clear that no such operation would take place, plans were made, in co-ordination with MI9 and the Belgian SAS, for the evacuation of these men to the British lines. On the 22nd October, under the codename of Operation Pegasus, one hundred and thirty-eight of them, amongst whom were Tatham-Warter, Lathbury and Lieutenant-Colonel Dobie of the 1st Battalion, were carried across the Rhine without mishap. Under false pretences, however, a member of the press interviewed some of these men and his published story prompted the Germans to increase their patrols along the northern bank. As a direct consequence of this, the second operation, codenamed Pegasus II, which took place on the 18th November, failed with several fatalities, and only seven men succeeded in escaping across the River.

 

 

Militarily, Operation Market Garden was a complete disaster. The British press, however, hailed Arnhem as a great success, and it is indeed true that those who participated are worthy of the very highest praise. It is important to recognise that the Battle of Arnhem was not a failure on the part of the 1st Airborne Division. They had been asked to capture and hold Arnhem Bridge for two or three days. The 2nd Parachute Battalion and supporting units held it for four days, whilst the remainder of the Division maintained a bridgehead for a further five, all against far greater opposition than had been anticipated. The fact that the 2nd British Army was unable to reach and relieve them in time was not the fault of the men of the 1st Airborne Division.

 

Field Marshal Montgomery was officially said to be pleased with the outcome of Operation Market Garden and he concluded that it had been 90% successful. This dubious assessment was based on the quantity of bridges and ground that had been captured, but the reality of the situation was that this gain was quite useless without the final bridge at Arnhem. Lacking that final link, he could not proceed with the ambitious plan of finishing the War by the end of the year.

 

Market Garden left the 2nd British Army in an unstable position with vulnerable flanks, and so their eyes quickly turned towards consolidation. XXX Corps promptly abandoned their position on the Rhine and withdrew to a line five miles to the south of Driel, all the land in between becoming a No-Man's Land. On the 1st October, Army Group B launched a three-Korps counterattack on the British position, but within five days this had been repulsed with severe losses. On the 7th October, to deny its use to the Germans, American bombers destroyed Arnhem Bridge.

 

Despite this untidy end, the ground won by the 2nd British Army was not at all strategically useless. On the 24th March 1945, the 6th British and 17th US Airborne Divisions secured a bridgehead over the River Rhine at Wesel. This Operation, which led to the end of the War, had only been made possible through the capture of Nijmegen and the surrounding area.

 

 

The survivors of the 1st Airborne Division were immediately transported to Nijmegen, where they were fed, given clean clothes, and allowed their first real chance to sleep in nine days. They were all flown home, via Brussels, to a heroes' welcome on the 29th September 1944. They were soon followed by the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade Group, but the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, who were to have been withdrawn from the battlefield at the earliest opportunity, instead remained in the area until mid to late November, to help shore up the 2nd Army's position.

 

The 1st Airborne Division was in an exceptionally poor state. Not only had Major-General Urquhart lost 85% of the men under his command, but two of his three brigade commanders were as yet still missing, only one of his nine battalion commanders had returned, and these battalions had suffered heavily in terms of experienced officers and NCO's. In short, Urquhart's fine Division had been all but destroyed, and he was struggling to think of a reason to justify their sacrifice. The Division was reduced to two Brigades with the disbandment of the 4th Parachute Brigade, its remnants being distributed amongst the battalions of the 1st Parachute Brigade. Over the coming months, drafts of reinforcements arrived to swell the ranks, yet the Division was never able to rebuild itself to a state approaching full strength before it too was disbanded in August 1945.

 

The 1st Polish Parachute Brigade Group had performed as well as circumstances had allowed them in Operation Market Garden, but in its aftermath the British commanders conspired to make them a scapegoat for the failure. Montgomery wrote to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, reporting "Polish Para Brigade fought very badly and the men showed no keenness to fight if it meant risking their own lives. I do not want this brigade here and possibly you may like to send them to join other Poles in Italy." Lieutenant-General Browning, meanwhile, wrote to the Deputy CIGS and recommended that Major-General Sosabowski be removed from his position. He was dismissed on the 9th December 1944.

 

 

For the Dutch people left behind, who had prematurely celebrated their liberation on Sunday 17th September, there came only months of hardship. Approximately four hundred and fifty-three civilians were killed during the battle in and around Arnhem, they had not been freed from their oppressors, and their homes were in ruins. As soon as the fighting was over, the survivors were ordered to leave the area and, taking only a smattering of their possessions, began the long and aimless march northwards. What remained of their belongings was looted and sent to Germany, where it was distributed amongst the bombed-out residents of their cities. Desperately short of food, the winter months were particularly severe for the Dutch, and eighteen thousand civilians lost their lives as a consequence. The Arnhem area remained in German hands until April 1945, when the British 49th (West Riding) Division, under the command of the 1st Canadian Army, forced a crossing over the Rhine and, after hard fighting, secured the surrounding area.