Maps

Defensive positions around the Bridge

Pictures

SS Panzer troops near Arnhem Bridge

Panzer Grenadiers moving away from the fighting at the bridge

A disabled tank, to the east of Arnhem Bridge

A disabled tank, to the east of Arnhem Bridge

Wreckage strewn across the bridge

The devastation around Arnhem Bridge

Scenes of devastation as a German Mark III Panzer approaches the Bridge

 

Throughout the four days that the 1st Airborne Division had been fighting to get through to the Bridge, Lieutenant-Colonel Frost and his seven hundred and forty men had been desperately struggling to hold it. Very little in the way of serious enemy activity had occurred during the night of Monday 18th September, but at 03:00 on Tuesday morning, a group of Germans began to assemble alongside the Van Limburg Stirum School (Map Ref 26), completely unaware that the building was occupied by engineers of the 1st Parachute Squadron and men from the 3rd Battalion. The defenders picked their moment and, wishing to save their ammunition, lobbed grenades at the intruders, killing approximately twenty whilst suffering no casualties themselves.

 

Later in the morning, three German Mk III tanks arrived in the eastern sector and began to shell several of the occupied buildings, having cleverly positioned themselves where the British anti-tank guns could not fire on them. Captain Frank, Second-in-Command of the 2nd Battalion's "A" Company, stalked them with a PIAT and successfully knocked out one of them, and in so doing persuaded the remainder to withdraw. Frank had ordered Lieutenant McDermont's No.3 Platoon to abandon one of the buildings (Map Ref 19) which was threatened by the tanks, and in so doing allowed German soldiers to occupy it. "A" Company's irrepressible commander, Major Tatham-Warter, was most annoyed about this and ordered the Platoon to retake the house. They succeeded in doing so, however their commander, McDermont, was mortally wounded in the attempt.

 

Shortly afterwards the Germans appealed to the British to surrender by sending a captured sapper, Lance-Sergeant Halliwell, to pass on the message to John Frost. The Germans were of the belief that the British troops ought to lay down their arms as they had no hope of being relieved by friendly forces. Frost thought the offer to be rather absurd as, despite being surrounded, he held a strong position and had no reason to suspect that either the remainder of the 1st Airborne Division or XXX Corps would not be arriving at any moment, and so he did not even bother to reply to the message.

 

The strength of the British position and their refusal to move left the 10th S.S. Panzer Division in an awkward position, as they had still not been able to pass significant numbers of their forces down to Nijmegen to defend the bridges over the River Waal. Small quantities of men and vehicles were slowly being ferried across the Rhine at Pannerden, six miles to the east, but this was not enough. There was, therefore, only one course of action, to destroy the resistance around Arnhem Bridge as quickly as possible. On the previous day the Germans had learned to their cost, however, that this could not be achieved with a straight forward infantry attack. These attempts had cost them dearly, and so they decided that the only sensible way to proceed was to heavily shell and mortar the British positions, and gradually dig the paratroopers out of each building in turn with small-scale armour and infantry actions.

 

As of Tuesday afternoon, the perimeter around the Bridge was subjected to a savage and continuous bombardment, whereby the occupied buildings were targeted one at a time and systematically levelled from top to bottom. Phosphorus shells were occasionally used to set buildings on fire in an attempt to force the defenders to abandon their position. All of this inflicted heavy casualties upon the British, although most of these were wounded rather than killed. In this regard the Frost's men were at a severe disadvantage as they had very little in the way of medical staff and supplies. The Brigade's medics, 16th Parachute Field Ambulance, had established themselves at the St Elizabeth Hospital, where they still worked, but in captivity under German guards. All the British at the Bridge had available to it were the 2nd Battalion's and 1st Parachute Brigade's Medical Officers and their small team of orderlies.

 

As the bombardment continued, a high number of German snipers had established themselves in positions to restrict British movement as much as possible, and concentrated attacks of tanks and infantry were frequent. Nevertheless the defenders refused to be moved and violently repulsed each thrust as it came. As buildings were demolished and set on fire, officers were tireless in re-assigning men to new positions whilst doing all they could to keep morale high. Fighting patrols were routinely organised to seek out infiltrating enemy troops and drive them back with bayonet charges.

 

During the evening, huge German Tiger tanks attached to Kampfgruppe Brinkmann made their debut on the scene. These were deployed to trouble positions in the north-eastern corner of the perimeter (Map Refs 24 to 26), and they proceeded to attack each building by firing into them at point blank range. It came as something as a surprise to all that the buildings still stood after the terrific structural damage that this inflicted upon them. The only position that had to be abandoned, however, was that held by the RAOC troops of the 1st (Airborne) Divisional Field Park (Map Ref 24).

 

Hand held anti-tank weaponry was ineffective against such monster machines, but the more able 6-pounder anti-tank gunners made several attempts to engage the Tigers. Three crews singled out such a tank and attempted to draw it into a trap, but before the first crew could attack, they were spotted and taken out by the Tiger's machine gun. The two remaining guns, however, had positioned themselves to ambush the tank if it took the bait and ventured a little further inside the defences, but the Tiger did not oblige; satisfied that its attack had already badly weakened most of the positions to the east of the Bridge, it turned away and moved out of the perimeter.

 

As darkness fell on Tuesday, no determined attacks had been brought against the beleaguered paratroopers, though shelling and mortaring continued relentlessly through the night. Many of the buildings in the defences were ablaze, illuminating the surrounding area as if it were still daylight. However, spirits amongst the Airborne men remained high, despite the critical nature of their situation. Up to one hundred and fifty men were now lying wounded in the cellars, and all supplies, whether they be food, water, medical, or ammunition, were now desperately low. Relief was needed most urgently.