Road Trip ~ October 2017~ Day 2~ Arnhem

Operation Market Garden (17–25 September 1944) was an uncompleted Allied military operation, fought in the Netherlands and Germany in the Second World War. Airborne and land forces succeeded in the liberation of the Dutch cities of Eindhoven and Nijmegen, but failed in keeping their further positions in and around the city of Arnhem with its strategically important bridge over the river Rhine.

The operation made massed use of airborne forces, whose tactical objectives were to secure the bridges and allow a rapid advance by armoured ground units to consolidate north of Arnhem. The operation required the seizure of the bridges across the Maas (Meuse River), two arms of the Rhine (the Waal and the Lower Rhine) together with crossings over several smaller canals and tributaries.  Several bridges between Eindhoven and Nijmegen were captured at the beginning of the operation. Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks’ XXX Corps ground force advance was delayed by the initial failure of the airborne units to secure bridges at Son and Nijmegen. German forces demolished the bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal at Son before it could be secured by the 101st Airborne Division. The 82nd Airborne Division’s failure to capture the main road bridge over the river Waal at Nijmegen before 20 September also delayed the advance of XXX Corps.

At the furthest point of the airborne operation at Arnhem, the British 1st Airborne Division encountered initial strong resistance. The delays in capturing the bridges at Son and Nijmegen gave time for German forces, including the 9th and 10th SS panzer divisions who were present at that time, to organize and retaliate. In the ensuing battle, only a small force managed to capture the north end of the Arnhem road bridge and after the ground forces failed to relieve them, the paratroopers were overrun on 21 September. The remainder of the 1st Airborne Division was trapped in a small pocket west of the bridge, having to be evacuated on the 25th of September.  The Allies had failed to cross the Rhine. The river remained a barrier to their advance into Germany until offensives at Remagen, Oppenheim, Rees and Wesel in March 1945. The failure of Market Garden to form a foothold over the Rhine ended Allied expectations of finishing the war by Christmas 1944. (Wiki.)

Well that’s the  history summation, and if you’ve seen the movie A Bridge Too Far, or read the book, you’ll know it was complete clusterfuck from the get go.

We drove from Bruges to Arnhem and initially couldn’t find a way in to the museum and ended up in the War graves cemetery, so decided to visit it.  It was a beautiful autumn day and the cemetery is surrounded by splendid trees, raining their leaves on our heads.

We spent some time looking at the headstones, and as always for me there were tears.

Phil noted all the different badges of army and airforce units, and how many different nationalities were involved.

Although there were Polish forces amongst the headstones they also had their own section,

We managed to find out that in order to visit the museum, you had to park in the local cafe’s car park, and then walk a short way up to the museum.

The Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ in Oosterbeek, is set in what was the Hotel Hartenstein. In the area around Arnhem more than ten thousand men of the British 1st Airborne Division and the Glider Pilot Regiment landed north of the Lower Rhine, whilst the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade landed on its southern banks in order to capture the Arnhem Road Bridge. Over 700 men under the command of John Dutton Frost did manage to reach the bridge and held its northern ramp for 4 days, but the bulk of the British forces were engaged by superior German forces (including the II SS Panzer Corps) and became trapped in Oosterbeek. Major General Roy Urquhart chose ‘Hartenstein’ as his headquarters.  The building unfortunately was covered in scaffolding and coverings, so I didn’t take a shot but this is how it looked back in 1944.

from website http://www.heemkunderenkum.nl/hotel-hartenstein-1944-zwaar-beschadigd/

There is a memorial outside the museum, and caused more tears for me

In the museum an extensive and diverse collection is displayed consisting of original weaponry, genuine uniforms and equipment used in the battle. The numerous photos and films on display provide a realistic picture which is enhanced by interviews with Allied soldiers. I found myself still weeping whilst reading the comments of the soldiers. In addition the museum has an award-winning Airborne Experience exhibition, that depicts the area around Arnhem and Oosterbeek during the battle. This was set in a basement added to the building in 2008.

It starts off in a faux airplane where you hear the noises of flak and feel it shaking

and then you go into the main battle area

Back in the main part of the museum are the details of the main commanders.

Lt Col Frost was in command of 2 Battalion The Parachute Regiment which dropped 6 miles west of Arnhem on Sunday 17th September 1944. The task of this battalion was to seize the main bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem and to hold this bridge until the arrival of 30 Corps. During the advance on the bridge Lt Col Frost commanded his battalion with great initiative and skill and by 2000 hours considerable enemy forces had been outflanked and the northern end of the bridge captured together with sixty prisoners. All attempts to capture the southern end of the bridge failed. The bridge itself was covered by fire from the south bank of the river while the railway bridge further downstream was blown before Lt Col Frost could get a company across. During the night a few other troops arrived and by the morning of Monday 18th September Lt Col Frost found himself in command of a force consisting of one Battalion The Parachute Regiment, Brigade Headquarters, one troop of Royal Engineers and a small party of Royal Army Service Corps. Meanwhile the remainder of the Brigade had met with intense resistance and, with the enemy constantly reinforcing with infantry and armour, all attempts to reinforce the defenders of the bridge proved hopeless. From now until the night of Friday 20th September, Lt Col Frost’s forces numbering at the outside not more than 550 all ranks, were subjected to almost continuous attack by all arms. Despite no re-supply of ammunition and food, this force, under the commanding officer and inspiring leadership continued to fight magnificently; very heavy casualties were inflicted on the enemy, and many tanks, S.P. guns and half track vehicles were destroyed. It was only when the enemy, having burned the defenders out of each house in turn, set fire to Brigade Headquarters house, where there were nearly 300 wounded that had to be surrendered, that co-ordinated defence ceased. Lt Col Frost though wounded on Wednesday morning, showed the greatest courage and determination throughout the battle.  It was largely due to his fine leadership that the position was maintained intact for over three days.  (pegasusarchive.com)

Major Victor Dover of C Company wrote in his book, The Silken Canopy, “Johnny was tall and inclined to be heavily built (not an advantage for parachuting); he had eyes that twinkled behind heavy lids, but they could, at times, flash with impatience if not anger. He grew a rather untidy moustache which he had a habit of pulling and twisting – a habit which helped to keep it rather untidy. He was a dreamer of battles to be fought and to be won; there was no such thing as defeat in his dreams, dreams which became reality. Johnny Frost had a mystical magic – no need for him to write high-sounding messages to his junior commanders or to address the men whom he led with words of inspiration – such was the aura which surrounded him. He was sentimental, sometimes ruthless when he had to be, sometimes aloof, but always calm. I shall never know if he knew fear, but if he did, I never saw it. He chuckled rather than laughed and he chuckled easily and frequently. Johnny was a modest man, almost shy in matters which concerned him personally. On the other hand he was frequently outspoken to officers senior to himself when he disagreed with a proposed plan of action – and he did so with authority and a conviction that was almost divine! 

In June 1944, Major James Anthony Hibbert was appointed Brigade Major of the 1st Parachute Brigade. During the planning stages prior to Operation Market Garden, Hibbert had come into contact with his friend and chief opponent of the plan, Major Brian Urquhart. “He took me into his office and he showed me photographs of German panzer IV’s mainly, I think they were, tucked in underneath woods. And he went to General Browning and said that in his view Operation Market Garden could not succeed. They said that his nerve had broken, of course Browning had every right to make his own judgement, my own view is that Urquhart was a very brilliant chap, he knew what he was suggesting and that was the end of it.” Hibbert also commented that Urquhart was “highly strung but intelligent, and his fear for the 1st Airborne’s safety were justified.” (pegasusarchives.com)

Well I was in bits after all that, so Phil took me off back to the cafe and we had some coffee sitting outside and talking of what we’d seen and learned.

After coffee Phil wanted to return and look around the museum shop and as we walked back up to it I noticed a field next to the museum was full of deer, which was a bit of a surprise. So while Phil went round the shop, I went over to the fence and took some pictures of them.

While I was stood there, a little old chap came up on a bicycle, and stopped and said something in Dutch to me. “Sorry, English” I replied, ‘Ah, no English’ he said pointing to himself, stood a little while watching the deer and then cycled off.  I kept taking pictures, and 5 minutes later the chap returned, got off his bike and stood near me holding his hand out over the fence. All the deer then came gambling over to him as he had horse chestnuts in his hands for them and they were mad for them! I took lots of close ups then of the deers

and I couldn’t ask to take his photo but got a bit of him feeding the deer.

He gave me a chestnut to give them too, but I dropped it! The deer didn’t mind. When they’d eaten the lot he smiled at me and said ‘get good pictures?’  after he’d pedalled off I realised he’d gone to get the chestnuts so I could get the pictures. And I never got to thank him. So I cried of course, the kindness of a stranger in another land is still going strong.

Phil came over to see the deer, and we walked around the fence to see the Daddy!

The bridge at Arnhem is now named the John Frost Bridge, and after dinner we went down to see it.

It was an amazing, humbling, thought provoking experience to visit Arnhem, and each year the Airborne Museum is involved in events commemorating the Battle of Arnhem. It also serves as a gathering place for veterans, civilians and young people. The museum is close to the  cemetery where several hundred of the Allied casualties are buried. Every year the participants of the Airborne March pay a special tribute when the parade is held in front of the museum.

Full set of photographs HERE 

Further reading on Operation Market Garden at the brilliant Pegasus website HERE

 

 

 

 

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