The next morning two further attempts were made by the British to reach Arnhem, but the German line was now too strong to break through. At the road bridge, the 9th SS had now surrounded Frost’s Battalion and cut them off from the rest of the Division. At 9 am, units of the 9th SS Reconnaissance Battalion attempted to storm the bridge, but were driven off with 70 killed, plus its commander Hauptsturmführer Grabner, and 12 armoured cars and half tracks destroyed.

German forces were moving against the landing grounds and troops of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers came into contact with advance units of the Dutch SS Wach Battalion threatening to hamper the arrival of the second airlift. The problems with their radio sets made it impossible for the landed troops to warn the incoming gliders and paratroops who came under heavy fire as they attempted to land. Nevertheless, the incoming paratroops gained the upper hand and the Dutch were routed and surrendered “in droves”. The new arrivals were then sent to Arnhem to assist in the attempt to break through to the bridge. Later in the day, the first resupply drop arrived and although most supplies arrived, only a small amount could be collected as the area was not fully under British control. The ground troops were unable to communicate to the aircraft due to the radio faults and airdrops into unsecured areas would be a problem in the days to come.

By the morning of the 19th, the British now had sufficient men to attempt a breakthrough to Arnhem Bridge. The advance began on a narrow front, led by the 1st and 3rd and 11th Parachute Battalions, plus the 2nd Battalion South Staffordshires. The attack was spotted and halted by the German defensive line. Trapped in the open and under heavy fire from three sides, the 1st Battalion disintegrated and the 3rd fell back. The 2nd Staffs were cut off and fought bravely until just 150 remained able to fight, but were overcome by midday. With no hope of breaking through, the remainder fell back westwards towards the main force at Oosterbeek where they were added to the defensive screen around the beleaguered town, referred to by the Germans as “The Cauldron” due to the intensity of the fighting there. In Britain, fog caused delays for the Polish glider troops and the whole parachute brigade failed to take off at all. This was to have serious consequences on the ground when the delayed gliders arrived.

Urquhart sent the 156th and the 10th Parachute Battalions north from Oosterbeek to capture the woods and high ground, but the Germans were by now well dug in and the Paras make could not make any progress. Urquhart ordered them back to the defences at Oosterbeek. The Paras made a fighting withdrawal, being closely pursued by Kampfgruppe Krafft. Their retreat took them across the landing grounds where the Kings Own Scottish Borderers were defending the area for the landing of the gliders borne elements of the Polish Parachute Brigade. Heavy fighting broke out as the gliders attempted to land and many were shot down or crashed on landing, causing heavy losses.

That afternoon the RAF sent 164 aircraft to drop an anticipated 300 tons of badly needed supplies to the British troops. The Germans had anticipated that resupply flights would be made and had moved five flak batteries into the area specifically to attack these flights. As the planes made their approach the flak opened up and shot down ten of the transports and damaging many others. Despite this, the brave pilots, (including Flight Lieutenant David Lord, who was posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross) continued with the mission, but the beleaguered Paras only received about 10% of the cargo, much of which was dropped in prearranged zones which the British had not been able to capture.

At the bridge, Frost’s men continued to hold, but were weakening as the Germans piled on the pressure with artillery and air attacks, made possible by bad weather grounding aircraft in England. The Germans had brought up tanks to their end of the bridge and pounded the British positions constantly until Captain Frank knocked three of them out with the last of the Piat ammunition. Just before dark the Germans sent in a Tiger tank which began pumping shells into each house in turn. Lieutenant Simpson stalked the tank, moving from house to house until he got close enough to drop a gammon bomb on it. Its crew got out and crept along the wall of the house in which he was hiding. He later recalled that, “I dropped a grenade on them and that was that.  I held it for two seconds before I let it drop”.

By the 20th, the division was too weak to reach Frost on the bridge and Urquhart decided to bring all available men back to the town of Oosterbeek. Of his nine infantry battalions, only the 1st Battalion, The Border Regiment, was intact, the rest being badly mauled or scattered. He also secured the ferry crossing at Driel and hoped to hold out till XXX Corps could reach them and establish a new bridgehead over the Rhine using the ferry platforms.

That day’s supply drop fared little better than before. A message had been received in England nominating a new supply drop zone, but the Germans had intercepted it and laid out captured marker panels and set off flares to confuse the pilots, resulting in most of the supplies falling into German hands.

At the bridge, Frost finally made contact with his divisional commander and learned that his reinforcement was now unlikely. One can only wonder at the effect of this news on the men, under constant bombardment, hiding in the cellars, short of food, and facing death at any moment. Frost was then wounded by a mortar bomb and command was passed to Major Gough, who contacted his divisional commander to report his situation. He could not use the radios, but made contact through the Arnhem telephone system which was held and operated by Dutch partisans. To ensure that he could not be identified by any German listening, he referred to himself as, “the man who goes in for funny weapons”. The dwindling number of defenders crouched in the various ruins, calling out the Para’s old North African battle cry “Whoa Muhammed” to each other to check who was still alive. By late afternoon the position was becoming untenable and fire was sweeping through many of the buildings where the wounded were being treated. A two hour truce was arranged and the wounded, (including Frost) were taken into captivity.

By Thursday morning, all resistance at the bridge had ceased. In the final hours of the struggle, a radio message was sent from the bridge, “Out of ammunition, God save the King”.

The Germans rounded up the few remaining Paras hiding in the ruins and took them off to captivity. The Brits, defiant to the last, sang “Roll out the Barrel” as they marched through the rubble to an uncertain future. One of the captives, Lance Sergeant Norman Smith, later recalled that, “The Germans were not very impressed”.

It took several hours for the Germans to clear the bridge and send tanks to attempt the recapture of the bridge occupied by the Americans fighting at Nijmegen, but they were too late. The brave stand at Arnhem had given the allies crucial time to overcome the defenders before they could be reinforced.

The fighting continued in Oosterbeek and the surrounding areas until the 25th of September. The Arnhem operation cost the allies 1,984 killed and 6,584 captured against German losses of some 1,300 killed and 2,000 wounded. The entire Market Garden operation resulted in over 17,000 allied casualties and the loss of 88 tanks and 144 aircraft. German casualties are estimated at about 17,000, plus losses of 30 tanks and 159 aircraft.

Despite the bravery of the attackers, the operation failed and it would be another four months before the allies crossed the Rhine and reached the Ruhr.

The final word must go to Lieutenant General Frederick “Boy” Browning, who said of the operation, “Well, I always felt we tried to go a bridge too far”.

Jim Keys
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Jim Keys

Since his retirement Jim Keys has indulged his passion for history, writing two books on Britain’s past: The Dark Ages and The Bloody Crown. He is currently writing the last of the trilogy, Fighting Brits which covers Britain’s military struggles from the Armada to Afghanistan.

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