Major Dennis Stewart Munford


Unit : No.3 Battery, 1st Airlanding Light Regiment

Army No. : 134902

Awards : Bronzen Leeuw


Major Munford commanded No.3 Battery of the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment. The eight guns of his battery were to support the troops at Arnhem Bridge, and to this end Munford accompanied the 1st Parachute Brigade Headquarters to the Bridge to direct their fire. When he and his signallers reached the Bridge at set up their radio, like many other people that first day, they found that they could not contact No.3 Battery, however by dawn on the following morning they had made contact and Munford wanted to get the guns to fire a few rounds for the purpose of registering. He wrote: "There was some reluctance to allow me to do this. Some people were still harking back to the time the paras had suffered from the results of 'drop-shorts' in North Africa - not by the Light Regiment. But I persisted and was allowed to register on the approach road at the south end of the bridge - only about six rounds - but we got both troops ranged on to it and recorded it. 'Sheriff' Thompson, back at Oosterbeek, said it should be recorded as 'Mike One'." "Mike" targets in the Royal Artillery are used to call for the fire of all the Regiment's guns; which in an Airborne operation with a very limited supply of shells would only be used in a very serious situation. Munford called for the firing of several of these in the following days.


At 09:30 that same morning, the Reconnaissance Squadron of the 9th SS Division attempted to cross the bridge from the south. Munford called for fire to be brought down on them as they entered the "Mike One" zone. "I received permission to open fire and, when the German column moved off, all I had to do was call, 'Target - Mike One', and the boys at the battery did the rest. There was no need for further correction. The Germans had to drive through it. I ordered a cease-fire when they left the Mike One area and came on to the bridge; I didn't want to damage the bridge." The shelling did little damage to the armoured vehicles in this column, but the fire was seen to be accurate and several German motorcyclists were seen to be hit.


The following days at the bridge were defined by artillery, but by German pieces bombarding the British positions. Munford wrote: "I remember the 19th as a day of constant pounding. The Germans shot at us with everything including guns of heavy tanks which were cruising the streets. I think they were loading HE [High Explosive] and phosphorus because they were causing so many fires. We collected chunks of masonry and some sandbags we found in the building and built a barrier round the signallers and the set in the corner of the building. Visibility was excellent, as by now we had lost most of the roof and the whole town seemed to be on fire."


Later in the day a self-propelled gun arrived on the scene and proceeded to inflict great damage on the British positions. "It looked like a 105mm and, when the Germans trundled it into position on Tuesday, I was looking straight down the muzzle at about 200 yards. The gun was sitting on the crossroads north of the bridge with the crew sheltering behind a substantial shield. My immediate request to engage it as a 'close' target was not granted as our own chaps were too near but, in consequence of the demolitions following the first few rounds, Tony Hibbert [Brigade Major, 1st Parachute Brigade] told me to go ahead. I requested all help to spot the first round which would be smoke as the area was densely built up. Sam Wilkinson {at 3 Battery command post} must have been surprised to learn from the order that an enemy field gun was in our position since I gave him my own map reference. True to form, 3 Battery gave me a wonderful first round. I reported 'shot' and everyone saw it 200 yards over and we soon put paid to the gun after that."


With reference to Wednesday 20th September. "At first light it all started again and the Germans seemed determined to eliminate us at the bridge. John Frost spoke to Div HQ on my set and told the General that things were getting critical with us, ammunition, medical supplies etc. He was told they were doing our best to reach us but were themselves being contained. Shortly afterwards, John Frost was wounded in both legs by a mortar bomb and Freddie Gough assumed command. The BM [Brigade Major - Tony Hibbert] came to say that arrangements were being made to evacuate the building in the event we were unable to control the fires, we would all help to carry the wounded from the basement. Soon afterwards a tank that had been potting at us hit the corner of the building and pushed our 'sangar', 22 set and most of us down the stairwell. The set was smashed and Bdr Hall badly hurt. Crook, Lowe (OPA [Observation Post Assistant]) and I dug ourselves out of the rubble and carried Hall down to the RAP [Regimental Aid Post], difficult because the stairwell was filled with debris. The cellars were crowded with wounded; we left Hall with the MO's [Medical Officers] and returned to salvage our gear. The 68 set was still functioning but we were unable to contact Captain Buchanan, the FOU [Forward Observation Unit] east of the road by the river. Later, as a POW, I heard that a bomb or a shell through the roof of the OP [Observation Post] had killed them all but, as far as I know, 'Buck' was never found."


"Battalion HQ next door was now burned out and Brigade HQ burning; as everyone else had left the building, we clambered down to the ground floor. Shortly afterwards, I heard Freddie Gough urgently shouting for me and saw him vanishing up the stairs with the tail of his smock unfastened and smoldering. We called him down and beat out the flames. He told us to cease firing as the Germans had agreed to allow us to remove our wounded to collection points where we should find their medical orderlies. We all helped with this task, not forgetting our own Bdr Hall, until the indefatigable Freddie ordered us to rendezvous, if possible, in a school on the crossroads as the truce was broken and 'the bastards are infiltrating our positions'. Tanks were once again prowling the streets and infantry closing in from all directions so we had to leave by vaulting boundary walls behind houses on the main street leading north. We had seen many soldiers killed in the last few days and I did not think I would be so moved as I was when we came upon Dutch civilians lying dead in their own homes and gardens."


The 1st Airlanding Light Regiment's War Diary records Major Munford as making the last wireless broadcast from the bridge, stating "We have been blown off the top storey.  We are quite O.K.  We have killed 300 or 400 Germans for the loss of 30.  The bridge is blocked with German Half Tracks, Armoured Cars etc.  We need small arms ammunition."


When resistance the bridge collapsed, Munford attempted to hide himself in a wooden crate to avoid capture, however, like so many who had done likewise, he was soon discovered and taken prisoner. At 17:30 on Saturday 23rd September, having been held at a temporary POW shelter established at Velp, he was loaded onto a lorry with other captured officers and sent off in the direction of Munich. One of those on board was Major Hibbert, the 1st Parachute Brigade's Brigade Major, and he gave Munford a very pronounced wink as they were about to enter Brummen, and as soon as the lorry had substantially reduced speed the pair jumped off and attempted to escape. Hibbert had a heavy landing and injured himself, yet he made good his escape and was later able to return to Britain. Munford set off in the opposite direction but was soon recaptured. This incident provoked a tragedy, however. As they jumped from the truck, one of the German guards panicked and opened fire with his Schmeisser on the other men in the lorry. One German soldier and four airborne troops were killed outright and a further two were mortally wounded. Amongst the dead was Tony Cotterell, the War Correspondent.


For his conduct throughout the Battle of Arnhem, Major Munford was awarded the Dutch Bronze Lion:


Major Munford established an Observation Post in the attic of a large building on the North West end of Arnhem bridge. He remained on duty at this Observation Post for three days without being relieved, from 2300 hrs 17th September until the building was burnt down at 2000 hrs 20th September. During all this time the attic was under continuous fire from weapons of all calibre, receiving three direct hits from 15 cm shells, and several 81 mm mortar bombs. The attic was also under observation and fire from snipers by whom Major Munford was wounded in the face on the first day. Ignoring his wounds and showing complete disregard for personal safety he maintained the Observation Post in the attic during the whole engagement, thus enabling accurate and effective fire to be brought to bear on the enemy at all times. He continued to give fire orders until the end though the building was burning fiercely and the attic was under the heaviest fire. Eventually his wireless set received a direct hit, killing the operator. He was then ordered to evacuate the building.


After organised resistance had ceased on the bridge he took command of a small party and attempted to lead them through the enemy lines, but was surrounded and taken prisoner. Whilst being evacuated he jumped off a lorry on the move, and succeeded in escaping, but was re-captured again.


Throughout the engagement Major Munford was an example and an encouragement to all ranks in his courage and devotion to duty. His skill, perseverance, and determination alone were responsible for the maintenance of communications with his Regiment. By exposing himself in an exceedingly open and hazardous position for three days he enabled the fire support to be brought down at all times, which was so decisive in holding our force on Arnhem bridge.


See also: Bombardier Hall.


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