A map of the Arnhem area, including drop zones


An RAF Typhoon

Part of the Polish Brigade landing at Grave on the 23rd September

The Driel Ferry crossing

A British munitions truck explodes upon being ambushed by German troops on Sunday 24th

A British Sherman tank passes a knocked-out Panzer. Note the lengths of track bolted to the front, to give extra protection against armour piercing shot

Sosabowski (left) meeting with Major-General Thomas


With the capture of Nijmegen Bridge on Wednesday 20th September, there were no further river obstacles remaining between XXX Corps and the Polish Brigade at Driel, a mere eleven miles to the north. Despite this fact, progress was slow. After the first British tanks had crossed the Bridge on Wednesday, they paused for nineteen hours to rest, refuel and rearm; their supplies having been run down during the prolonged fighting through Nijmegen. This failure to exploit the broken German defences along the River Waal caused bitter resentment amongst the American paratroopers who had suffered such terrible casualties to capture the Bridge.


The Germans had already been able to form a blocking line north of Nijmegen, centred around the town of Elst, but following the overnight collapse of resistance at Arnhem Bridge, they had been able to considerably reinforce this with tanks and self-propelled guns. With the Irish Guards in the lead, the Guards Armoured Division finally resumed their advance at 12:30 on Thursday, only to come to a complete standstill when they encountered the German defences later in the morning. The leading tank was destroyed and blocked the road, which was not wide enough for two tanks to run parallel, and the marshy ground on either side of it was wholly unsuitable for heavy armour. The infantry were quickly pinned down by mortar and small arms fire, and so, hampered by a lack of artillery support and broken communications with the RAF fighter-bombers circling overhead, they could make no progress.


The Guards Armoured Division did not have sufficient infantry strength to continue the advance any further, and so the task of securing a route to Driel around the west of the main German line was handed to Major-General Thomas and his 43rd (Wessex) Division. They were, however, painfully slow in coming forward from their Wednesday night position at Grave, and did not begin to advance north of Nijmegen Bridge until the following day, Friday 22nd September. On that morning, a small number of armoured vehicles of the 2nd Household Cavalry arrived in Driel, having made use of the foggy conditions to slip through the German lines. The leading elements of the 43rd Division, the 5th Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry supported by the tanks of the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards, were sadly unable to follow and they did not reach the Polish Brigade until evening, despite making excellent progress. All that now stood between XXX Corps and a successful end to Operation Market Garden was the River Rhine.


Major-General Urquhart, meanwhile, had been sending urgent messages to his Corps commander at Nijmegen, Lieutenant-General Browning, insisting that the situation was desperate and that relief was required immediately. With the northern bank not secure, infantry from XXX Corps would first need to cross and reinforce the Oosterbeek bridgehead before a Bailey Bridge could be constructed to enable tanks and substantial reinforcements to enter the fold.


On Friday night, with only this vanguard of the ground forces in the area, the Polish Brigade made an attempt to put some of its men across the Rhine, however the only methods that could be used to facilitate this were crude and improvised. Royal Engineers of the 1st Airborne Division had gathered a small number of boats and linked them together with signals cable; carrying fifteen men at a time, it was hoped that two hundred Poles could be brought over by dawn. Unfortunately, the signals cable displayed a consistent tendency to break, forcing the Polish soldiers to slowly paddle against the strong current. To make matters worse, German patrols along the northern bank had spotted the crossing and opened fire on the men forming up on the opposite side. With the prospect of his men being terribly exposed to enemy fire at first light, Major-General Sosabowski called a halt to the operation before dawn. Only fifty-two Poles had been taken over the Rhine.


On Saturday night the Polish Brigade tried again, only this time Major-General Sosabowski had managed to obtain proper assault boats from XXX Corps, capable of carrying sixteen men each. When the boats arrived, however, they were found to only have enough space to carry twelve men, and much time was lost as the Poles reorganised themselves accordingly. Furthermore, it had been expected that experienced British sappers would be on hand to man the craft and deal swiftly with the troublesome current that would hamper the crossing, but none arrived and so the Poles, completely untrained for this task, had to paddle the boats themselves. The crossings did not begin until 03:00 on Sunday morning, an exceptionally late start, and as the Poles struggled to make their way across they came under heavier fire than had been encountered on the previous night. It had been hoped that a battalion-sized force of some six-hundred infantry could have been put across by dawn, however only one hundred and fifty-three Poles were taken across, and some of these, in unfamiliar surroundings, were captured when they accidentally strayed into German positions.


By now, XXX Corps had arrived at Driel in strength, and a properly organised, large-scale crossing was planned for Sunday night. Major-General Sosabowski had surveyed the scene prior to the British arrival, and he correctly believed that, although the German strength was considerable on the far bank, it was mostly concentrated in the immediate area occupied by the 1st Airborne. He therefore proposed a major crossing, involving the whole of the 43rd (Wessex) Division and his Polish Brigade, to take place several miles downstream. It is likely that had his plan been heeded, then the force would have been able to assemble without great difficulty and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat at Oosterbeek. Due to internal friction, the British Commanders, Lieutenant-Generals Horrocks and Browning, and Major-General Thomas of the 43rd Division, had by now lost all patience with the stubborn Polish General, and they ignored his advice and proceeded to undermine his authority.


Major-General Thomas had a plan of his own. He proposed that one of his own units, the 4th Battalion The Dorsetshire Regiment, should cross directly opposite the high ground of the Westerbouwing Restaurant at the south-western end of the Oosterbeek Perimeter; an area that was now firmly under German control. Without Sosabowski's consent, the 1st Battalion was removed from his command with orders to follow behind the Dorsets, and with them would go a large consignment of supplies for the 1st Airborne Division. At the same time as this crossing was taking place, 22:00, the remainder of the Polish Brigade were to cross the River several miles upstream of the Perimeter.


In the event, this latter Polish crossing was cancelled because so few boats could be found, and so priority was given to the Westerbouwing crossing. The 4th Dorsets, although now equipped with proper, motorised craft, experienced the same difficulties and delays that the Poles had suffered on the previous evening. Their "A" and "B" Companies made their way over without too much enemy interference, but this soon increased to such a degree that all further crossings were called off. Three hundred and fifteen Dorsets had gained the far bank, but they had landed in small and scattered groups, directly in amongst the enemy positions. The Battalion never had the chance to properly form-up, and so the isolated groups were easily rounded up by the Germans. Only seventy-five of these men, and none of the much-needed supplies, arrived in the Oosterbeek Perimeter.


This disastrous crossing convinced the British commanders that Operation Market Garden could no longer succeed, and the decision was made to cease all attempts to reinforce the 1st Airborne Division, who instead received the order to withdraw across the River. It was still possible that another, more sensible crossing, could have produced a victory, but the whole Market Garden plan, which had been designed on the assumption that the German Army was beaten, was finally collapsing. On Friday 22nd September, a German counterattack in the Eindhoven area had cut the long and precarious road to Arnhem. British tanks and American troops of the 101st Airborne Division fought desperately to reopen the road, but it would remain blocked for the next forty-eight hours. The dream, of liberating Holland, entering Germany and ending the war by Christmas, was over.