Acting Corporal Rudi Trapp
Unit : 3rd Company, Bataillon I, 21 S.S. Panzergrenadier Regiment, 10 S.S. Panzer Division
Awards : Iron Cross 2nd Class
The following is Rudi Trapp's report of the battle around Arnhem Bridge. My thanks to Robert Shaw for providing the website with a copy. Rudi Trapp was born on the 27th July 1925, and died on the 27th May 1990.
... in September 1944, after the retreat from France, our battalion gathered in the Deventer area in the framework of the regiment. Little by little scattered comrades of the 3rd company arrive. For reinforcement we get men from the 9th SS Armoured Division "Hohenstaufen" and from the Training and Replacement Battalion 10 from Brünn [Brno, Czechoslovakia?]. SS First Lieutenant Ernst Vogel, whom we had not seen since the armoured personnel carrier battalion formation in 1943 in Southern France, takes over his old 3rd company again.
I and my two comrades from the time of the battalion formation in France, Adolf Lochbrunner and Jupp Wagner, take over the group training of the new arrivals. As the leader of a heavy machine gun group I was decorated in the eastern action of the division with an Iron Cross Second Class.
There are altogether about 12 men from our old company, who came through all of the battles of the year 1944 unscathed, but who only have small arms left. There are only two Model 42 machine guns at the disposal of the company. That is all. Aside from the battle training of the replacement troops we have an easy time of it in Deventer.
On Sunday, the 17th of September, 1944, a bright late-summer day, at noon, we are getting something to eat, huge groups of airplanes fly overhead, but do not drop any bombs.
In the afternoon there is an air-raid warning! Enemy airborne actions have taken place around Arnhem and in South Holland. The enemy has landed there with paratroopers and airborne troops in troop-carrying gliders.
We get the order to go into action. Our mission reads: Advance to the south up to the outskirts of Arnhem and beyond that to the bridge of Arnhem. A distance of about 40 kilometres.
We don't have any vehicles, so in accordance with our orders we commandeer bicycles from the Dutch, also some with solid rubber tires. In the early evening on the outskirts of Arnhem fleeing common soldiers come toward us. Haversack carriers, members of the "Wehrmacht" army. They call to us from afar: "Beat it, Tommy has landed." But we follow our order unperturbed. On the outskirts of Arnhem we lay down the bicycles and proceed in skirmishing order. Moving along close to the fronts of the houses and checking in all directions, our target is as ordered the bridge of Arnhem.
Nothing is to be seen of the inhabitants of the city. The houses all around us appear to be deserted. Now and then, but still some distance away, individual exchanges of fire can be heard. A few blocks further items of British equipment are suddenly lying scattered around. Because of this we search through the adjacent houses and immediately come under fire from all sides.
We have made contact with the enemy. The first dead and wounded are from our own ranks. Since we hardly have any small arms, we take weapons and ammunition from the fallen British paratroopers. Their comrades have entrenched themselves in the interlocking rowhouses of the inner city and it is damned difficult to dislodge them. Night falls and we too bunk down in empty houses and set up a "hedgehog" defence.
House-to-house fighting: throughout the day and also at night, only those have taken part in it know what that signifies. The next morning it continues from house to house. The Tommies have blocked almost all of the entrance doors to the houses in front of us with mine barriers. We fight our way forward with toughness and persistence, drawing the ring around the bridge approach tighter and tighter. Toward evening we had pushed through to the Rhine and see the bridge within range in front of us. The defensive fire of the British gets stronger. All through the night heavy fighting rages from house to house; street by street is conquered. But this night one cannot think of getting any sleep.
It is Tuesday already. I am put into action again and again with my heavy machine gun at various street corners, in order to provide covering fire for my advancing comrades. The Tommies want to switch from one side of the street to the other to avoid being encircled. They do not succeed in doing this. In our position there are wounded British soldiers. A young Englishman has been shot in the testicles and is in great pain. We see to it that the wounded are immediately removed from the front line. Aside from this we also have to protect Dutch civilians. Among them is a seriously wounded woman. Since the houses have partially caught fire from the sustained street fighting, the inhabitants have to get out of harm's way and end up in the middle of the battle action.
During the night we got reinforcements with an armoured personnel carrier. Anti-tank guns, automatic rifles and ammunition. Food supplies are not available. Those we must provide for ourselves from the cellars of the surrounding houses. Preserved fruit. Better than nothing at all.
On the street alongside the Rhine is a former chocolate warehouse. Not a sign of chocolate. Only the warehouse bicycle, actually a three-wheeler, has remained behind. It becomes our means of transportation, to move weapons and ammunition to the front and to bring wounded comrades to the rear.
Doggedly the Tommies defend the entire section of the city around the large church, the prison and the bridge approach. We can't get any further, stay put.
We have visitors in our positions amid the rubble. They are air force observers who are making sketches of our positions, in order to be able to give a Stuka squadron aiming points. Fortunately nothing came of the Stuka bombardment; I remember at that point our Buczacz action, where we were right in the middle of a Stuka attack. In spite of "position sketches."
An 8.8cm anti-aircraft gun supports us in direct line of fire from the bank of the Rhine. The anti-aircraft gunners very effectively soften up several well-defended houses for attack. After the capture of these enemy positions I saw many fallen British soldiers, some of them crushed to death in their defensive nests by the masses of house debris [created by the heavy shelling].
It goes on like that day and night - and once again a morning dawns, in the truest sense of the word!
New enemy airborne landings begin on the other side of the Rhine. "The enemy at our backs!" That's all we needed.
The Tommies at the bridge are getting bombarded by us ad nauseum. I have mounted my heavy machine gun on a tripod, in order to aim it better. But ammunition is lacking. In front of us the "hedgehog" defensive position of the British paratroopers and new landings of the same sort behind us. How will the battle for Arnhem end?
When one thinks about it chills run up and down one's spine! Such a powerful enemy fighting force against us few men, short of ammunition, ravenously hungry, with a three-wheeler as their means of transportation and in spite of this in good spirits.
Contrary to our expectations we then get our own armoured personnel carrier in our battle sector after all. With it we are supposed to provide shelter for our wounded and dead comrades, who are lying between the lines in the field of fire. I take over the covering fire with my heavy machine gun, a further Model 42 machine gun gives me cover.
A full measure of sweeping fire which sounds like a hail storm and [then] out into the enemy-occupied street. The tailgate of the personnel carrier is open, the comrades lying around in the area are brought to safety and the personnel carrier rolls back.
From all of our gun barrels we spray the fronts of the houses with covering fire. We must not hesitate to reload, for the British are also shooting accurately. In one case directly through the pay book and into the heart of the comrade. He is my age, just turned nineteen.
We keep the personnel carrier in our sector. With a further personnel carrier we now have two tracked vehicles with which we can operate in a more or less protected fashion in our battle zone between the church and the bridge approach. Another personnel carrier from our 3rd Company is in action on the other side of the bridge, but it is said to have broken down there. With two other comrades I get the order to establish, with the help of the personnel carrier, the connection with that part of our battle group, which is involved in a stiff battle in the block opposite to us on the other side of the bridge ramp and has used up all of its ammunition.
To do this we have to get through under the bridge ramp. The personnel carrier is loaded up with ammunition and off we go. We get covering fire from our remaining machine guns which are supposed to keep the slope at the bridge ramp under continuous fire, since the English anti-tank gun in position there can plaster the entire area of the street along the bank of the river.
My comrade Bernd Schultze-Bernd, son of a farmer from Sendenhorst in Münster, one of the last "old fighters" from the 3rd company, is to drive the personnel carrier. When the order is given there are tears in his eyes and he says to the commander that he has the feeling that the mission will not end well for him this time. But for a soldier it's "an order is an order"! As a precaution we fill up our pockets with egg grenades [high explosive hand grenades] and cartridge strips for our 08 [Luger pistol]. We race across the intersection toward the bridge underpass and immediately we take a hit on the driver's side. Our personnel carrier slips and skids on, runs into an obstacle and comes to a stop. Our Bernd is dead. The English anti-tank shell has scored a direct hit on him. [My remaining comrade and I] both get out of the crate and [dash] into the closest bombed-out house, between two enemy pockets of resistance. We have get out there immediately. My comrade is to be the first one to run across the narrow street into the house opposite us; I take over the covering fire. It worked. Now I get ready to dash across the street. But it is already too late. Suddenly I am surrounded by a dozen Tommies. I throw an egg grenade toward them, exploit the [few seconds] during which my opponents take cover, run with large strides across the street and down the embankment. A plunge down to the river-bank below. All [my] bones hurt. I pull myself together and run further, splashing into the water of the Rhine.
Behind a half-sunken Rhine tug I take off my wet uniform. With only with my underpants on, but with my Luger in my hand, I swim, aided by the strong river current, back in the direction of our own positions and there I get back to the street along the river. I recognize our camouflage suits up on the bank, [must be] SS men and I call loudly "Acting Corporal Trapp here - 3rd Company - don't shoot!" A short time later I am again among my comrades, who had already given me up [for lost]. I am once again clothed - with parts of the uniforms of fallen comrades.
The battle for the Bridge of Arnhem continues for several more days and nights. Everything around us is burning. Even the church is in flames. Once again it is night - and again a next day dawns.
On the street someone shouts: "Don't shoot - Tommy is surrendering."
It is German soldiers, who had until now been held captive by the English. Slowly the constant battle noise subsides. The Tommies hand over their wounded to us and also all of their German prisoners, among them a number of old service troop personnel, whose nerves are completely shot.
We share our last cigarettes with the wounded Tommies, give them something to eat and drink, get them away from the battle zone and clean up the entire battle terrain, remove the dead and also find a few more bridge fighters, Germans and also Englishmen.
We have to register very heavy losses, unfortunately our commander, SS First Lieutenant Vogel is among them. He fell in the front line. The rest of our company is dead tired and half-kaput, but in spite of all the adversities, our hand-full of men have won against a superior force.
With hardly a chance to catch our breath we are already sitting in a personnel carrier and are members of the Battle Group Knaust. We go across the bridge, now free of enemies, to the other bank [and] into the battle area Elst, to drive back the enemy paratroopers who have landed there. Then I finally get it after all. An infantry shell hits me squarely in the knee. A personnel carrier takes me along to the rear. Next to me is sitting a major of the army, in battle fatigues and with a Knight's Cross at his neck. In response to my groaning he shows me his wooden leg and tries to calm me down, [he says] he can walk again. It was Major Knaust, one of the battle group leaders in the Arnhem Brigade Sonnenstuhl.
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