Maps

The actual progress made by the 1st Para Brigade

Defensive positions around the Bridge

Pictures

A pre-war photograph of the buildings that were to become Brigade HQ and 2nd Battalion HQ

Men of No.6 Platoon, B Company, reconnoitering west of the bridge

A patrol led by Captain Killick moves westwards to try and link up with the 1st Para Brigade

A patrol led by Captain Killick moves westwards to try and link up with the 1st Para Brigade

Captain Killick leading his patrol west of Arnhem Bridge, Monday 18th September

Captain Killick's patrol returns to the British lines at the bridge under cover of smoke

The wreckage of 20 German vehicles. The result of Graebner's attack on Monday 18th

The wreckage of 20 German vehicles. The result of Graebner's attack on Monday 18th

The wreckage of Graebner's attack, as seen from the south

 

The British arrival at the northern end of Arnhem Bridge was most untimely for the Germans because the 10th S.S. Panzer Division had yet to cross the Rhine in sufficient strength to proceed with their planned defence of Nijmegen. With Lieutenant-Colonel Frost's men in place, the Bridge was quite unapproachable, and so the Division was forced to transfer its men and vehicles across the River using the ferry at Pannerden, six miles to the east. This was a painfully slow and inefficient process, therefore it was ordered that the British at Arnhem Bridge be destroyed as soon as possible to clear the way for traffic. The troops selected for this purpose were of Kampfgruppe Brinkmann, the 10th S.S. Panzer Division's Reconnaissance Battalion, which had been handed over to the control of the 9th Division after their own Reconnaissance Battalion had been dispatched to Nijmegen. Also under the command of Sturmbannführer Brinkmann, as of the early hours of Monday morning, were the eight tanks and four infantry companies of Kampfgruppe Knaust, a unit of Wehrkreis VI, who were to carry out attacks on the Bridge from the north whilst Brinkmann did likewise from the east.

 

During the night, Lieutenant-Colonel Frost had sent out a radio message appealing for reinforcements, and as a result the 1st Battalion had altered its course and was heading to Arnhem, whilst the 3rd Battalion, who did not receive the message, also resumed their advance on the Bridge after resting overnight at Oosterbeek. The 2nd Battalion's "B" Company were still at the Pontoon Bridge, a mile to the west, but as they had been unable to improvise any crossing to the southern bank, Frost ordered them to come to the Bridge and reinforce his defences. German resistance had stiffened by this time and so the Company had to fight its way through opposition, in the process of which most of No.4 Platoon, the rearguard, became cut-off and were forced to seek refuge in a house, which they defended against German attacks for the next twenty-four hours until their ammunition ran out. The remainder of "B" Company, some seventy men, arrived in the Bridge area at approximately 05:30 on Monday morning.

 

"C" Company had similarly been ordered to come to the Bridge, however they were much further behind and in some difficulty. They had made their way into Arnhem on Sunday evening, having involved themselves in several successful skirmishes along on the way, but they were caught in an exposed position and had to shelter overnight in a hotel near the St. Elizabeth Hospital. On the following morning they were preparing to proceed with their objective, the capture of a German Headquarters, when Frost's call for aid was received. Major Dover attempted to lead his men through the town, however their progress was slowed by the obvious difficulties of moving unobserved along streets and through high-walled back gardens in broad daylight. A small group of men managed to slip away and eventually joined up with the 3rd Battalion, but the remainder of "C" Company were cornered by a large German force in a hopeless position, and so, following a brief exchange of fire, Major Dover was left with no option but to order his one hundred men to surrender.

 

With the arrival of "B" Company at the Bridge, however, Frost had some three hundred and forty men of the 2nd Battalion at his disposal, but other elements had arrived during the night to increase this number. The 1st Parachute Brigade Headquarters, less Brigadier Lathbury, arrived with its one hundred and ten men, and with these had come two parties of seventy-five and thirty Royal Engineers of the 1st Parachute Squadron and 9th Field Company respectively, four anti-tank guns of "B" and one of "C" Troop of the 1st Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, and thirty RASC men of the 250 Light Composite Company. There was also a scattering of others, including twelve Glider Pilots and eight men of the Reconnaissance Squadron, together with their commander, Major Gough.

 

All of these units had followed in the 2nd Battalion's wake along the "Lion" Route on Sunday 17th September, but during the night there came one unexpected addition in the form of the 3rd Parachute Battalion's "C" Company, who had been detached in Oosterbeek on the previous day to find their way to Arnhem along the Railway line. For the most part they had met no organised opposition, though at various stages they had encountered four armoured vehicles and destroyed three of them. "C" Company entered Arnhem during the night, and to avoid a confrontation with the now increasing numbers of Germans around them, Major Lewis ordered his men to form-up in the enemy fashion and march to the Bridge in the hope of being mistaken for German troops. The plan worked, but when Major Lewis went forward to inform Lieutenant-Colonel Frost of his arrival, two of "C" Company's Platoons found themselves marching alongside German troops who were about to begin an attack on the British positions. In the darkness it took some time for both sides to become aware of the other's presence, whereupon they clashed violently. The German attack was broken up with heavy losses, but half of "C" Company were cut-off and taken prisoner, and so Major Lewis was only able to lead forty-five into the Perimeter. Their arrival, however, brought the total defence up to a very respectable seven hundred and forty men.

 

 

The only organised action undertaken by the Germans on Sunday night was against the Library (Map Ref 27), which was held by "A" Troop of the 1st Parachute Squadron, under the command of Captain Eric Mackay. They had only been in the building for a few moments when German infantry attacked, and although they were soon repulsed, Mackay concluded that the building was too vulnerable to attack. He therefore withdrew his men into the neighbouring Van Limburg Stirum School (Map Ref 26), where they joined fellow sappers of "B" Troop, and were later reinforced by elements of the 3rd Battalion's "C" Company.

 

When the fires on the Bridge had finally died down, Lieutenant-Colonel Frost considered a third attempt to capture the other end, but it became apparent that the southern approaches were now too well defended by German infantry and armoured cars for this to be possible. Nevertheless, the Airborne troops were effectively in control of the Bridge as they could bring down fire all around it, and it would only require the mere presence of XXX Corps on the opposite side of the River for it to fall completely into Allied hands.

 

By dawn, however, Frost became aware that his force was completely surrounded, yet he remained confident that he could hold out until the rest of the Division arrived, and at this stage he had no reason to suspect that this would not be achieved within a matter of hours. At this stage, time was more pressing for the Germans, who needed to clear the Bridge as soon as possible. Kampfgruppe Brinkmann underestimated the strength of the British positions, and the numerous probing attacks that they made during the night and throughout the following morning, largely consisting of a brief period of light mortaring followed by an infantry charge, resulted only in failure and heavy losses.

 

At 09:30, British lookouts reported that armoured cars were approaching the Bridge from the south. The initial reaction was that the vanguard of the Guards Armoured Division had put in an unexpectedly early appearance, but these hopes were soon dashed when the vehicles were identified as German. This was the 9 S.S. Reconnaissance Battalion, returning from their scouting mission to Nijmegen on the previous day.

 

What their exact intention was remains a mystery, but they either hoped to challenge the defenders or race through them to assist the 9th S.S. Panzer Division's defence of Arnhem against the remainder of the 1st Airborne. Either way it was a complete disaster. The Airborne men were alert and waiting, and they allowed the first four vehicles to pass by unhindered, but those behind were badly shot up by anti-tank weapons and small arms fire. The supporting German infantry were unable to advance more than half way across the Bridge, so dense was the fire levelled at them, while reinforcements, some mounted in extremely vulnerable half-tracks, made equally little progress as they attempted to help. The fighting lasted for two hours before the heavily mauled Germans withdrew to safety, leaving the Bridge littered with their dead and the burning wreckage of twelve of the Battalion's twenty-two vehicles. It is estimated that seventy of their four hundred men were killed during the attack, included amongst which was their commander, Hauptsturmführer Viktor Graebner, who only the previous day had been awarded the Knight's Cross for his bravery in Normandy.

 

The remainder of Monday saw various attacks on the eastern side of the Perimeter, all directed against buildings occupied by the men of the 1st Parachute Brigade's Defence Platoon and the 3rd Battalion. These were all bloodily repulsed with several tanks destroyed; however the defenders were forced to abandoned several of their positions (Map Refs 20, 21, and 23).