Lieutenant Jerzy Dyrda

 

Unit : Headquarters, 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade Group

 

Lieutenant Jerzy Dyrda was the Adjutant of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade Group, and the following is his account of the Valburg Conference on Sunday 24th September 1944.

 

 

Since December 1940 I was the adjutant of the 1st Parachute Brigade Group. In March 1944 I became a parachute instructor in the South of England. In July 1944 I was recall to the Brigade Headquarters and was appointed to be the Brigade Air Liaison Officer. Volunteering for action I became the stick commander of the first brigade staff group with whom General Sosabowski parachuted. After landing I became officer for special duties to the General.

 

That morning, Sunday, September 24th, 1944 - the eighth day since the beginning of the operation Market Garden - I was on the dyke observing the opposite river bank of the Lower Rhine to find out any changes in our and the German positions which might have occurred there after our last night crossing. A headquarters runner came to me and said: "Lieutenant, you are immediately to report to the General." When I asked what had happened, the soldier replied that some British generals had arrived at Driel and had had an animated conversation with General Sosabowski, our Brigade Group commander.

 

After arriving at the cottage which was our Brigade headquarters, the General told me to take a Sten gun and some grenades as we are going directly to Valburg for a conference with General Horrocks, the XXX Corps Commander. Just then a British jeep pulled up. The driver went out of the car and quickly returned to his unit to the south. Looking at the jeep, I remembered that yesterday Lt.-Col. Mackenzie and Lt.-Col. Myers from the 1st Airborne Division returned from Valburg and the Corps Headquarters. Before going they were told that this would be too dangerous without escort and therefore they got two dingo scout cars and two armoured cars. On the way back they lost one armoured car in an encounter with the Germans. So I felt a little uneasy, but I had consoled myself that a jeep is quicker and more manageable than an armoured car.

 

Sosabowski's old driver, Sgt. Juhas of our Engineer Company, was to drive. Sgt. Juhas was always considered to be a crazy driver. I did not like to drive with him. But this time I was glad he was the driver. The General climbed next to him, and Lt.-Col. Stevens, the British Liaison Officer to our Brigade, and me got into the back of the jeep. Now with the nature and danger of the terrain Juhas went wild. The jeep careered down the narrow roads at a steady 50 miles an hour. At one point bullets whizzed past us from a German patrol, but we could not release our grip on the grab handles to reply and shoot back for fear of falling out of the jeep.

 

I was surprised that the General had to go to the conference. General Horrocks could have given his orders to Sosabowski here at Driel. After all the Germans could attack again our Brigade. So why take away its commander? Thence I concocted that this night large-scale crossings are planned to bring at last relieve to the 1st Airborne Division. But the General muttered only something unintelligible under his moustache, so I knew I was wrong with my guess. But I also knew I had to take heed of the events to come. If the General had gone to the trouble of ordering a special search for me that morning and took me for this conference, and not his A.D.C. {Aide-de-Camp}, Captain Sieczkowski, who had completed his studies at an English college, he must have had known the conference will not be an easy one. Probably the morning talk with General Horrocks had not taken a good turn.

 

All the way we didn't see any boats or river crossing equipment, although all the time we were looking out for it. Before long we reached 43rd Division headquarters, just before Valburg. The British military police directed us to a large tent on a meadow. There already a group of some ten British generals and brigadiers stood outside, as if waiting for us. Sosabowski reported to General Horrocks. Immediately I noticed that the greeting was rather very formal. Horrocks told Sosabowski to enter the tent as the conference will begin at once. But Sosabowski asked if he may take his adjutant and interpreter to the conference. Instantly Horrocks replied, "Oh no, this is not necessary. You know English quite well. Just this morning I talked with you, didn't I?" Sosabowski again insisted that the conference will decide important problems and he might not understand everything. However, Horrocks was unyielding and quickly walked off in the direction of the tent.

 

During many conferences and personal conversations I was always Sosabowski's interpreter, and never my presence was called into question. Then I remembered the rather cool greeting by Horrocks. I was puzzled as here was a commander coming straight from the Lower Rhine where he had parachuted and was given such an indifferent reception. I was surprised the more that the XXX Corps had to come to the Lower Rhine six days ago, and did not mind that delay. Still I did not understand the reason of such a reception. Now I asked myself why was Horrocks so anxious not to have another Polish officer to be a witness of the conference. I did not find a reassuring answer.

 

So I immediately went to General Browning whom I knew well as I always translated his talks with Sosabowski and asked, "Sir, you know my General. Don't you think it would be better if I translate during the conference?" General Browning who always had treated me in a friendly manner, didn't say anything. He just nodded his head and went to Horrocks. Horrocks could not refuse to Browning.

 

When we were entering into the tent, much to my surprise all British generals and brigadiers ostentatiously took their seats only at one side of the long table. Yet General Sosawboski alone was directed to the other side of the table. Even Lt.-Col. Stevens, the British Liaison Officer to our Brigade, sat with the British officers. Undoubtedly, that was a planned demonstration against Sosabowski. General Sosabowski sat down and told me to sit next to him. Seeing that, Horrocks, seated opposite and flanked by Browning and Thomas, the commanding officer of the 43rd Division, said, "No, the Lieutenant may stand behind your chair." I understood this was Horrocks's reaction that he had to give way to Browning's request.

 

The whole conference looked odd to me. It did not look like an officers conference of allied armies. On the contrary, it had clearly the appearance of a court martial session where on one side sat the judges, and opposite them the accused alone.

 

General Horrocks convened the conference stating that, as before, General Dempsey's order to form a strong bridgehead on the other side of the Lower Rhine, is in force. In light of this, there will be two river crossing to-night. The overall commander of the two crossings will be General Thomas to whom he turned the agenda.

 

General Thomas stood up. The contrast between him and General Sosabowski could not have been greater. Like the other British generals, Thomas was resplendent. The scarlet collar tabs and cap showed brightly over the smartly tailored and crisply pressed uniform anchored by brilliantly polished boots. General Sosabowski who four days before parachuted into Driel, though freshly shaved, looked shabby in his used battle-dress. The entire time since having left England, Sosabowski had not removed his boots and had slept a maximum of two hours a day, and was naturally very tired.

 

General Thomas stated that to-night at ten o'clock there will be two crossings. The main crossing will be carried out by his 4th Dorsets Battalion at the ferry site Driel-Heveadorp. (Some hours later it turned out that not a whole British battalion had to be sacrificed, but only half of the Dorsets had to cross the Rhine. Actually much less than half of the Dorsets crossed the river.) The Dorsets will take all supplies, ammunition, and food for the 1st Airborne Division to the other side of the river. After the Dorsets, at the same site, the 1st Polish Parachute Battalion will follow them. The remaining units of the Polish Parachute Brigade will cross the river also at 10 p.m. at the same crossing site they had crossed the Rhine the nights before. The overall commander for both crossings will be Brigadier Walton, the commanding officer of his 130th Infantry Brigade. Boats will be delivered by the 43rd Division. So General Thomas finished his speech.

 

I was staggered by this so short and perfunctory address. It did not give all information needed for organizing the crossings. There was no explanation how many boats will be delivered, of which type, how many soldiers will get into one boat, who would row them: engineers or the soldiers themselves. And first of all when will arrive the boats at the crossing sites. What about smoke-screens, and will be artillery support, direct or indirect; will tanks cover the crossings with their fire, too, at one or both crossings? And in particular, what will happen later? When will start the great offensive to relieve the troops on the other side of the river? Nothing was said about these important questions. Surely, Horrocks could have told Sosabowski these scanty informations when he was at Driel, and Sosabowski's coming to Valburg would have been unnecessary.

 

Now I understood this strange conference was not meant at all to be an operational conference. It was only a mere formality. It was only intended to provoke him to protest against one of these irregular orders and to put Sosabowski out of patience so that the conference would be broken up. Now I had no doubts about the purpose of the conference. Especially, I was shocked by the rude and unceremonious taking away of our 1st Parachute Battalion from under Sosabowski's command. Thomas had the same rank as Sosabowski and he disposed of our battalion without any excuse or explanation. In such cases English courtesy demanded some polite, reasonable phrases appeasing that direct violation of military routine and good manners - the more than Sosabowski was sitting at the same table with Thomas. Thomas should have said at the very least: "It is only for the crossing, or the actual situation demands it. Immediately after the crossing the battalion will return under your command." However, first of all he should have made his apologies that without previous consulting he made that decision. I was asking myself why had he not done so. Every average Englishman would have done that. (A similar incident of taking away a battalion from another brigade happened six days earlier between the Brigadiers Hicks and Hackett from the 1st Airborne Division, also along the Rhine. In that case Hackett strongly objected to being told how to dispose of his troops. The whole literature about Market Garden depicted in detail the altercation between the two brigadiers, Brigadier Hackett was appeased only when Hicks transferred one of his battalions to Hackett's brigade. The altercation between Thomas and Sosabowski is mentioned only by one British author.) More and more I was convinced this was a planned action against General Sosabowski.

 

There was still another grave question. With the Brigade's glider lifts landed with the 1st Airborne on the other bank of the Lower Rhine, with one battalion ferried across the Rhine during the last two nights, and with the present taking away by Thomas of another battalion from under Sosabowski's command, a new predicament arose. Sosabowski so proud of commanding his Brigade Group which he had formed and trained was now, in effect, commanding only a battalion. Moreover, even if all units of our Brigade were on the other side of the river, then our Brigade's units, being in direct fire contact with the Germans, were so scattered among the 1st Airborne units, that Sosabowski would never be able to assemble and to command his whole Brigade Group, until the whole situation would thoroughly have changed. All this looked to me as the XXX Corps's generals were exactly driving at that.

 

Now I was certain that the XXX Corps's generals aimed at proving Sosabowski to object to Thomas's irregular orders and so to cause a breaking up of the conference. Then they could argue that Sosabowski's well known independence and unyieldingness made it impossible to organize an efficient help for the airborne forces on the northern bank of the Rhine and to relieve them, the more that the Polish Brigade occupied the southern Rhine bank.

 

The XXX Corps's generals were under the pressure of the already - in their opinion - lost operation. They knew it was principally caused by their excessive slowness and their undue caution. According to Montgomery's Operational Directive M 525 of September 14th, the thrust northward to secure the river crossings had to be rapid and violent without regard to what was happening on the flanks. Therefore Field-Marshal Montgomery promised General Browning, the Deputy Commander of the 1st Allied Airborne Army, that his 2nd Army will be in Arnhem on the second day of the operation / R.E. Urquhart, Arnhem, London, 1958, p.4/. Also General Horrocks said to a senior officer of the 1st Airborne Division that XXX Corps will be in Arnhem almost as soon as the Airborne Division. Discounting the possibility of failure, he said, "You'll be landing on the top of our heads / C. Hibbert, "The Battle of Arnhem", London/Glasgow 1962/1975, p.46/. Also the official programme of the XXX Corps for advance determined that XXX Corps will be in Arnhem at 1500 hours September 19th / G. Powell, "The Devil's Birthday", p.87/. And now it was already 24th September, the eighth day of the operation and not the promised second day.

 

So when Thomas subordinated Sosabowski, commander of an elite brigade group, under control and orders of brigadier Walton, a young infantry brigadier, I was aware that was a flagrant violation of military regulations. Besides it was Sosabowski's most sensitive point I knew he would not stand that second provocation. So I decided not to translate this provocative order. General Sosabowski was so irritated by the unceremonious taking away from his command his 1st Battalion that he listened only to my translation and not any more of Thomas's words. (General Sosabowski did not learn about that provocation even later. I had no opportunity of telling him after the conference as all the time General Browning was together with him after the conference. Also after lunch there was no time to tell him about my arbitrary concealment. I think the General did not learn about that subordination even after wartime. In any case in none of his three books he did not mention it. The two other attempts to subordinate his Brigade were described by him in detail in all his three books. Sosabowski immediately protested in each case.)

 

I was surprised by the events. The first time during my long experiences I met with such a behaviour by British officers. Previously I found only kindness, friendliness and always exemplary deportment.

 

After Thomas's address a short silence arose. Nobody wanted to speak or to ask a question. Then General Sosabowski got up to speak. I was translating. Sosabowski began with describing the situation on the northern bank of the Lower Rhine. Already since eight days the airborne troops were fighting alone. They were no longer a division, as they had suffered heavy casualties, more than two thirds of their fighting strength. They were surrounded, except for a strip of 200-300 yards of no-mans land in the south, towards the river. They were attacked and shelled all the time. They were exhausted and needed everything, most of all ammunition, food, dressing material and even drinking water. Therefore immediate help is indispensable. But the high ground over the ferry-site at Westerbouwing, occupied by the Germans in strength, dominated a very large part of the river. Therefore a crossing at that place should not be attempted. Besides a crossing of only one British battalion and the remaining units of the Polish Brigade will not change anything in the general situation on the northern river-bank.

 

Sosabowski emphasized once more, a crossing at the ferry-site had no chances of success. There are the strongest positions of the Germans. General Urquhart certainly knew the tactical importance of the Westerbouwing and attempted to seize that height. When his Division did not succeed, so one battalion, and above that from the river-bank, had no chance of succeeding. But during the last days - Sosabowski continued - he was watchfully observing the German positions on the northern bank and he came to the conclusion that at present the Germans had no more reserves, did not receive any reinforcements in Arnhem, and even have shortcomings in ammunition. Our patrols and information received from the Dutch people confirm that some miles to the west from Westerbouwing there are no large German forces. Therefore a powerful crossing assault by a whole division and the remaining units of our Brigade at three or four crossing points farther to the west of the ferry-site will succeed and change the whole situation on the northern bank of the Rhine.

 

Ending his discourse, Sosabowski emphasized once more crossings at the same time at four places farther to the west will ensure a full success at least at two or three places. But if you can't arrange such large-scale crossing - he added - then it would be better to consider a withdrawal of the airborne soldiers from the northern bank. (Of course, General Sosabowski did not envisage the possibility of withdrawal from the northern bank. That would have implied a calling off of the whole Market Garden operation. However, he wanted the XXX Corps generals to realize there is no other alternative to his plan.) Referring to his 1st Parachute Battalion, Sosabowski only mentioned that as the brigade commander he can best select which of his battalions should cross the river with the Dorsets. The fate of his battalion became for him a small matter that could pass in the face of his great plan not to lose once more a battle with the Germans. Once more Sosabowski demonstrated that he had a great sense of proportion and that for him mattered only, Arnhem had to be conquered.

 

Without the slightest hesitation Thomas got up at once and disregarding all propositions made by Sosabowski, stated very surely and unyieldingly that the crossings will start at 10 p.m. as ordered by him. Boats will be available, and the given orders have to be carried out.

 

I translated this haughty statement. However, Sosabowski could not stand this any longer. He rose and he himself answered in English. His fluency in English improved proportionately to his anger. Sosabowski who earlier, during nearly all pre-Market Garden operations always warned the British officers not to underestimate the German reactions, now being convinced that he was right and that his plan was realizable, wanted to make the younger British officers to realize that the Market Garden operation still can be won. The thought of being defeated once more by the Germans at this stage of the war - September 1944 when the Allies had such a predominant superiority in guns, tanks, and planes - was intolerable to him as an officer. Then he was by far the oldest commander among all present ones, and this not only by age. Already before the war he was a professor at the Warsaw War Academy and also before the war he already commanded Polish regiments, whereas General Horrocks, the XXX Corps commander, commanded only a machine gun battalion still in May 1940, during Dunkirk. All this galled Sosabowski.

 

General Sosabowski wanted at any price to persuade the XXX Corps's general into believing that Arnhem can be captured. He never gave up easily his plans. As the generals Horrocks of Thomas adhered rigidly to their previous agreed scheme and autocratically refused even to discuss Sosabowski's proposal, he decided to shock them. He got up again and said, "the crossing at the ferry-site can not meet with success. You won't gain anything by this way. You will only sacrifice your soldiers. Moreover, only one battalion will not change the situation". And as Thomas tried to interrupt him, losing control over himself, he added angrily: "But remember that since eight days and nights not only Polish soldiers but also the best sons of England are dying there in vain, for no effect."

 

Here came Horrocks to Thomas's help. Interrupting both Sosabowski and Thomas, he exclaimed: "The conference is over. The orders given by General Thomas will be carried out." Turning to Sosabowski, he added: "And if you, General, do not want to carry out the orders given to you, we shall find another commander for the Polish Para Brigade, who will carry out our orders." (Geoffrey Powell in his book "The Devil's Birthday" describes "that during the battle Horrocks looked far from fit. Was he perhaps suffering from one of his periodic bouts of illness, the legacy of his North African wounds?... It is hard to offer any explanation other than ill health for Horrocks's failure to exercise greater pressure on his divisions at such a time of crisis.")

 

At the first moment I regretted that Sosabowski had not allowed me to translate. But I understood him. He knew that my more gentle way of translating would have had no effect at all, and here were involved the lives of soldiers. This was the most important fact for Sosabowski. He had a great sense of responsibility for the lives of soldiers.

 

However, I knew also that this conference will have consequences for our Brigade, and first of all for the General himself.

 

When Sosabowski was going out of the tent, he saw General Thomas with Lt.Colonel Stevens, giving him instructions for our Brigade. Sosabowski approached them, but Thomas ignored him entirely. Then after having given his orders to Stevens, he walked off without offering to shake hands with Sosabowski, not making any sign in Sosabowski's direction.

 

Gen. Browning, who didn't say a word throughout the whole conference, approached Sosabowski and invited him to lunch to Nijmegen. Sosabowski, particularly after that incident with General Thomas, was pleased to be invited by General Browning, the more that he still hoped to convince General Browning to his plan of a large-scale crossing. At Nijmegen Browning went with Sosabowski to their mess. Before they dropped me at the junior officers mess, and General Sosabowski told me he will come for me to take me back to Driel after lunch.

 

After more than an hour Sosabowski came back in a newly obtained staff car. I noticed he was quite excited and shortly after, he told me that a greater crossing is not possible as there are not available any boats. Then with a certain satisfaction he related that he had told Browning what he thought of this carelessness. He told him a Polish company commander, when he had to cross only one river, and not six large water obstacles, would not have forgotten to take boats with his company. And what did General Horrocks do, and all his generals and their whole staff? Here at Nijmegen there were hundreds of lorries, also ambulances, but no lorries with boats were seen. Did all the generals forget the boats? Sosabowski embittered as he now understood that the great casualties suffered by our Brigade during our crossings were caused by the small number of boats delivered to us. He could not understand the forgetfulness and carelessness of Horrocks and his generals. Their thoughtlessness permitted the Germans to concentrate their fire on the small number of boats we had received from the 43rd Division.

 

I was alarmed at this turn of events. Gen. Horrocks was a close friend of General Browning. Besides, I realized that the XXX Corps generals won't forget that at the conference Sosabowski exposed their reluctance to make a greater effort to bring help the 1st Airborne Division at so late a time. I knew also that General Sosabowski had lost his last friend among the British generals, and now there were only enemies.

 

So knowing the British mentality, I thought it necessary to warn the General against the consequences to come. May-be I did it in too direct words. The last days were very exacting for all of us. General Sosabowski, knowing that he was in the right and that he did not commit any mistakes, believed that I had exceeded my competences. He was very displeased with my frank warning. In consequence, since that day he did not summon me any more. However, in his last book "The Road Leads Over Fallows", published shortly before his death, he cited more or less precisely my warning, as follows: "No in vain, my intelligent and experienced former adjutant, Captain Dyrda, told me: "Sir, if in connection with the operation the smallest starting point to accuse you that you are guilty for the failure of the operation will be found, it seems to me, you will be court-martialed."

 

In December 1944, on request of the British, General Sosabowski was dismissed from the command of the Polish 1st Parachute Brigade Group, which he alone had formed, not without Polish and British bureaucratic hindrance, trained and commanded so expertly.

 

Comments

 

The Valburg conference was not an ordinary routine conference for the following reasons:

 

- At the conference presided Lieut.-General Horrocks, the commander of the XXX Corps.

 

- In the conference participated Lieut.-General Browning, the deputy commander of the 1st Allied Airborne Army.

 

- The conference determined the first - so much behind time - crossing of the Lower Rhine by a unit of the XXX Corps which had to bring help at last to the airborne forces fighting since eight days in isolation on the northern bank of the river.

 

- At the conference General Sosabowski was ordered also to cross the Lower Rhine with his remaining units.

 

- The plans made by the XXX Corps generals at that conference - or rather before the conference - resulted finally in informing Field-Marshal Montgomery about an alleged lack of keenness of the Polish Parachute Brigade to fight and afterwards in Montgomery's signal to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field-Marshal Alanbrooke of the 17th of October, 1944 which slandered the Polish Parachute Brigade. The signal, found our later to be untrue, was not repeated in any books concerning the Market Garden Operation.

 

- In consequence of that conference the whole Market Garden Operation was called off.

 

- Also in consequence of that conference General Sosabowski was dismissed from the command of the Polish Parachute Brigade Group.

 

Regarding the above-mentioned arguments, it is more than strange - if one does not know the above described facts which occurred at the Valburg conference - that the whole literature about the Market Garden Operation does not methodically mention the Valburg conference even once. In none of the numerous books about Market Garden the name "Valburg conference" does not appear even once. The conference seemed to be under taboo. I think that is the best proof of the authenticity of my relation about that strange conference. Neither General Horrocks, nor General Urquhart, nor General Frost, nor C. Ryan, nor C. Hibbert, nor G. Powell do not mention the Valburg conference. Also Montgomery in his memoirs, Alanbrooke in his personal diaries and biographical notes, nor the Official Account of the British Airborne Divisions "By Air To Battle" nor many other authors make any mention of the Valburg conference.

 

An exception are, of course, General Sosabowski's books. In his two Polish books, published in England, and also in his English book "Freely I served" /p.132/133/ he always describes the Valburg conference, but delineates only his dispute with General Thomas concerning the taking away of his 1st Parachute Battalion from under his command. For many reasons General Sosabowski did not describe the other humiliations which met him at the conference.

 

However, there are two British authors who verify that at the Headquarters of the 43rd Division was held a conference on the morning of September 24th. Of course these authors do not describe any particulars which occurred on the conference and do not mention the Valburg place where it was held. Here are their quotations: G. Powell, "The Devil's Birthday" - The Bridges to Arnhem", London, 1984, p.213: "The final decision to carry out the evacuation of the 1st Airborne Division was reached at a conference at Headquarters 43rd Division on the morning of the 24th."

 

C. Hibbert, "The Battle of Arnhem", Glasgow, 1962/1975, p.216: "The apprehensions Gen.Sosabowski had always felt about the British attitude towards the operation were now being proved well founded. Consequently his own attitude at a conference with Thomas and Horrocks held earlier that day / September 24th / was not immediately co-operative."

 

On page 216 C. Hibbert confirms also that at that conference it came to a clash between Gen.Horrocks and Gen.Sosabowski when General Horrocks "had to assert his authority with General Sosabowski. /p.253/

 

It should be mentioned that General Horrocks although he describes extensively the 24th September in his books and although he had presided at that conference, did not drop even a hint at the Valburg conference.

 

However, in spite of the great silence around the Valburg conference, some of the facts which occurred there, could not be kept in concealment and were described by British authors in their books.

 

Thomas's first provocation, the taking away of the 1st Polish Parachute Battalion, is depicted by Geoffrey Powell / The Devil's Birthday, p.214/ who compared it with the mistake committed by Brigadier Hicks six day earlier when he disposed of one of Brigadier Hackett's battalions.

 

General Thomas's second provocation is narrated by General Urquhart / Arnhem, p.146/ who outright commanded the plan of the subordination of General Sosabowski under the command "of a comparatively junior brigadier". Below is General Urquhart's relation of that event: "On Saturday, September 23rd, Lieut.Colonel Mackenzie reported to General Urquhart that he had convinced nobody at XXX Corps about the seriousness of 1st Division's plight. His skepticism mounted when General Thomas ordered the commander of the leading brigade of his 43rd Division to take the Polish Brigade under command. Compared with the other snags, the renowned independence of Sosabowski was only a minor obstacle. This plan was not going to produce a crossing of sufficient strength to be of any real use. The new command arrangement was thoroughly unsatisfactory and showed little regard for the fact that the Poles were a brigade group of great fighting potential under an experienced commander holding the rank of Major-General. To have put him under a comparatively junior brigadier was just inviting friction." / R.E. Urquhart, Arnhem, London, 1958, p.146/

 

It has to be emphasized that this provocation was made exclusively to humiliate General Sosabowski and to put him out of patience during the conference. Because during that night there occurred circumstances where decisions had to be taken by the overall commander of the two crossings. But at that night of the 24/25th September Brigadier Walton did not intervene at all.

 

That an altercation occurred between Sosabowski and both Horrocks and Thomas during the Valburg conference, is related by Christopher Hibbert / The Battle of Arnhem, p.216/ and by Geoffrey Powell / The Devil's Birthday, p.214/, although in both books in a very naive, untrue and distorted way. /compare my relation p.3-9/

 

It is worthy to emphasize that in none of the cited books the place where the described conversations took place is never mentioned. So the Valburg conference is nowhere named.

 

G. Powell confirms too the discussion between Sosabowski and Browning at Nijmegen after the Valburg conference, writing: "This little affray / between Thomas and Sosabowski at Valburg / did not discourage Sosabowski from complaining forcefully to Browning, when he visited him later that day at Nijmegen, that if ambulances could reach Driel to evacuate the wounded, so could adequate river-crossing equipment." / The Devil's Birthday, p.214/

 

In addition, attention deserves the fact that Lieut.Colonel Mackenzie, the 1st operational officer / GSO1 / of the 1st Airborne Division, got already knowledge of the provocation planned on Saturday, September 23rd, that was the day before the Valburg conference. That is a proof of the fact that the provocations were planned and prepared in detail already on day before the conference.

 

There is also another fact worth noticing. After the war in his book "A Full Lift" / Escape to Action / General Horrocks maintained, "that on September 24th he ordered General Thomas to carry out a reconnaissance farther to the west... because he hoped to side slip the 43rd Division across the Lower Rhine farther to the west and carry out a left hook against the German forces attacking the airborne perimeter. (General Horrocks writes in his "Escape to Action" /p.231/: "I should have ordered General Thomas to carry out a left hook across the Lower Rhine much farther to the west, and so attack the Germans who were engaged with the 1st Airborne Division, from behind." General Horrocks admits he should have ordered the left hook, but he did not.

 

Reading this I was surprised as this idea was just Sosabowski's plan at the Valburg conference of which at that time Horrocks did not want to hear anything. However, after the war and after thinking over his conduct, General Horrocks visibly changed his opinion as he must have understood the importance of Sosabowski's plan, represented without success at the Valburg conference.

 

Also G. Powell sustains that General Horrocks's above statement in those days of September 1944, was inaccurate. In his "The Devil's Birthday" /p.214/ he rectifies this statement gently, explaining that "after the lapse of time Horrocks's memory of events may have been faulty". General Essame, the commander of the 214 Infantry Brigade at the time, equally remembers differently those events. Therefore also Horrocks in his book "A Full Life" / Chapter XVI / sums up his new ideas about Sosabowski's large Rhine crossing with the words, "it is always easy to be wise after the event..." But Sosabowski was already wise at Valburg and tried in vain to convince Horrocks that his plan was the only way out of the situation of those days.

 

Most instructive regarding General Horrocks's way of thinking at that time are also the after-mentioned recollections of General Essame, the 43rd Division historian and commander of the 214 Infantry Brigade at that time, who remembers the facts of those days as follows: "Lieut.-General Horrocks faced the facts 24th September. The position held by the Airborne Division had no military value. It was merely a nebulous area... Horrocks therefore instructed 43rd Division to carry out the evacuation." The above quotation shows best General Horrocks's kind of thinking at that time completely incompatible with Montgomery's Operational Directive M525 for the British Second Army in the Market Garden Operation.

 

The development of the situation of those days surpassed Horrocks's possibilities of action. The quick transition from great optimism (Horrock's initial optimism appeared at its most unaccountable when before and during the first stages of the operation, in which his Corps had to cross six large water-obstacles, he thought it unnecessary to order his forward divisions to take boats with the leading units, and to check the execution of that order. This carelessness retarded the Waal crossing for critical eight hours / G. Powell, The Devil's Birthday, p.196/ and made impossible the greater crossing of the Lower Rhine demanded by Sosabowski on September 24th at the Valburg conference) to utter pessimism, together with the consciousness of the committed mistakes, exerted its fateful influence of Horrocks's mind. The inexcusable plan to make Sosabowski the scapegoat for his and his Corps's errors and omissions did not improve his state of nerves and moral sense.

 

In his book "A Full Life", published in 1960, General Horrocks wrote that, "Looking back I am certain that this was about the blackest moment of my life. I began to find it difficult to sleep. In fact I had to be very firm with myself in order to banish from my mind, during those midnight hours when everything seems at its worst, the picture of the airborne troops fighting their desperate battle on the other side of the river in front. I had sufficient experience to know that any commander who finds it difficult to sleep will soon by unfit to be responsible for other men's lives. And here I was going that way myself - an unpleasant thought."

 

But regardless of all sentiments prompted by various considerations, the plans taken at Valburg to make Sosabowski and his Brigade the scapegoat for XXX Corps's slowness and tardiness were consequently realized. Proper informations about Sosabowski's spurious obstructions and the lack of keenness of the Polish Parachute Brigade were represented to Field-Marshal Montgomery who consequently send following signal to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Viscount Alanbrooke, dated October 17, 1944: "Polish Para Brigade fought very badly here 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."

 

Of course, Montgomery preferred that the main fault for no succeeding in Arnhem was found in a Polish brigade and not in his favourite English commander.

 

Also on December 1st General Sosabowski was shown a letter written by General Browning to General Weeks, Deputy Chief of the Imperial General Staff, with the following incomprehensible charges: "The officer / General Sosabowski / showed himself completely unable to understand the urgency of the operation and showed always the inclination of haggling, and his aversion to do his full part in the operation, if everything was not done for him and his Brigade." General Sosabowski denominated those charges as "groundless and impudent lies" in his last book published in England "The Road Led Over Fallows". Those charges - so I think - could be addressed solely to General Horrocks and General Thomas.

 

Finally, on December 9, 1944, on British request General Sosabowski was definitely dismissed from the command of his Parachute Brigade Group, inspite of his asking to delay the dismissal after a committee of generals had examined his conduct during the Market Garden operation. Such a committee was never convened.

 

So at length the infamous Valburg plans succeeded in reaching their final aim. Mongomery seemed to be convinced - for the time being - that General Sosabowski and the Polish Parachute Brigade were chiefly responsible for not capturing Arnhem. But in course of time Field-Marshal Alanbrooke learned the real causes of the Market Garden failure and knew that Montgomery's signal was only an attempt to excuse his own and the mistakes of the generals of his XXX Corps. Therefore, although he analyzed with full particulars the failure of the Market Garden operation in his war diaries and autobiographical notes, he did not mention neither Montgomery's signal nor a single mistake which had to be committed by the Polish Parachute Brigade. (A. Bryant, Triumph In The West, London/Glasgow, 1947, p.281-286.) Also Field-Marshal Montgomery understood later the baselessness of his accusation and the impossibility of maintaining it. Therefore in all his books there is no criticism of the Polish Parachute Brigade nor or General Sosabowski and also no notice of his unfortunate signal.

 

However, the Valburg conference was still kept in secret. Even after the war when the Polish Parachute Brigade Group was in the British occupation army in Germany, General Sosabowski did not return to his Brigade. But as some facts from the Valburg conference permeated through in shape of intentionally distorted and untrue stories, so in some books about Market Garden General Sosabowski was represented as a narrow-minded, conceited foreigner who allegedly was arguing with General Horrocks and General Thomas, for instance, in words like, "I am General Sosabowski. I command the Polish Parachute Brigade and I do as I like" (C. Hibbert, The Battle of Arnhem, Glasgow/London, 1962/1975, p.216. G. Powell, The Devil's Birthday, London, 1984, p.214.)

 

It is difficult to understand that the same authors who described General Sosabowski like an Afghan rebel leader and not as a Polish General, emphasized that General Sosabowski is "a gallant and extremely gifted commander" / C. Hibbert, p.55/ or that General Sosabowski is "a man with the potential to be a great leader, military or political" / G. Powell, p.176/, had no inhibitions from portraying him in the same books as a conceited and feeble-minded psychopath. They did not ponder that other generals, for instance, General Urquhart, the commander of the British 1st Airborne Division, described Sosabowski in a very positive and favourable way. That also Cornelius Ryan in his "A Bridge Too Far" represented Sosabowski as a general knowing often more than other generals and how foresaw and evaluated the development of the actual situation again more accurately than the other generals. Moreover did these authors not know that already before the war through a succession of years Sosabowski was a professor in the Polish War Academy. Still remains the question of who informed C. Hibbert and G. Powell of such nonsense, and why did these writers believe their probably competent informer without checking up his absurdities. There is no doubt that this was also a planned action, to cover up the Valburg conference event.

 

Of course, General Sosabowski was a difficult man. He himself recognized already in his first book "By the Shortest Way" that he was a difficult person. But that originated mainly from the fact that he knew more and foresaw more accurately new possibilities than other officers, and defended his point of view and arguments intransigently. Then he did not like to compromise, in particular when it concerned the life of soldiers. In addition, as a Polish patriot he had also to consider Polish interests, and wanted also to maintain his Parachute Brigade Group for the liberation of his country. For this purpose the Brigade had been primarily formed.

 

Not all the English wanted to understand those problems. But there were English officers who comprehended those questions. One of them was Group Captain M. Newnhan, the commander of the Ringway Parachute Training School. In his war memoirs (M. Newnham, Prelude to Glory, London, 1947, p.317/318.) he discusses some of our problems as follows: "Neither have I ever sensed a more fervent desire among men to fight for, and return to, their native land. Sosabowski himself was a soldier in the old tradition and steadfastly refused to discuss political matters. He was a soldier, he said, with a duty to obey and carry out the orders given to him by the competent authority... A considerable measure of friendliness and esteem developed between P.T.S. and their Polish pupils. The behaviour of the Polish troops throughout the long period during which they were coming to Ringway was exemplary. But memories are short and friendships and gratitude soon forgotten in this impious and rapacious post-war era in which there is far too much talk about "rights" and little enough about "duty".

 

Now the end of the Market Garden operation came very quickly. At the Valburg conference General Browning convinced himself that XXX Corps could not and did not want to risk a larger crossing than of one battalion. His last conversation with Sosabowski at Nijmegen made him aware that there was no other way out of the present situation than to evacuate the airborne forces from the northern bank of the Lower Rhine. So immediately he drove to General Dempsey, the commander of the British Second Army, who after a talk at St. Oedenrode with General Browning and General Horrocks whom he ordered to come to St. Oedenrode, half way between their commanding posts, decided Sunday late afternoon to withdraw the airborne forces from the Lower Rhine. That decision was finally approved by Montgomery Monday morning, September 25th.

 

However, it was rather strange if not ironic, that, just as the XXX Corps's Generals finally admitted defeat and also General Dempsey and Field-Marshal Montgomery consented to the withdrawal, Field-Marshal Model reported to Field-Marshal von Rundstedt that the situation along the Lower Rhine was continually deteriorating and for the past week he had been able to do no more than delay the British actions. He needs, at the very least, a minimum reinforcement of an infantry and one panzer division, one panzer brigade, two assault gun battalions, together with ammunition and infantry replacement. (G. Powell, The Devil's Birthday, p.219.)

 

Some authors emphasize that the definite decision had to be taken only when it was not possible to send greater units across the Rhine during the Sunday-Monday night. But Horrocks and Thomas did not make any preparations for a crossing in strength. They intended to ferry only half of the Dorset Battalion over the river. That night too, Thomas sent with Lt.-Col. Myers, the chief engineer of the Airborne Division, a letter to General Urquhart informing him that the 2nd Army was not now to form a bridgehead across the Rhine, and by arrangement between Urquhart and himself the Airborne Division was to be withdrawn on a date to be agreed between themselves. Monday early morning Urquhart signalled to Thomas the withdrawal "must be tonight".

 

Summing up, the story of the Valburg conference was to complete the history of the Market Garden Operation. To show the real causes for keeping that conference in secret and to prove that the dismissal of General Sosabowski was to throw the main part of the XXX Corps's blame on General Sosabowski and the Polish Parachute Brigade.

 

The comments were written for the following reason. Already before the war I met many English people. During the war I stayed in Britain for over four years. I had many English friends. I always admired their and other English people's correct and excellent behaviour and their high moral conduct. Before the Valburg conference I would never have believed that such transgressions could be committed by intelligent English people.

 

I am still convinced that the Valburg incidents were an exception from the general conduct.

 

 

My thanks to Joop de Ruiter for a copy of Lieutenant Dyrda's account.

 

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