By Moses D.C. Kong
It was September 4, 1944, the Allies liberated the last Belgium before they stopped at Antwerp due to supply shortages. All over Holland, German troops were dashing towards the German border. However, German Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt took advantage of this delay and reorganize the scattered troops into a formadible opponent. Allied Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery (Monty) made plans for a great airborne offensive - the largest airborne operation in history! On September 14, General Eisenhower approves the plan and the attack was scheduled on the 17th of September. Three airborne divisions and the British XXX Corps took part in this operation.
It was September 17, 1944, the skies of Holland was filled with gliders and parachutes. Their target was to hold five main bridges of the narrow highway between Einthoven and Arnhem before the XXX Corps come to relieve them. There were three sectors and limited time. If the Arnhem Bridge was in German posession when the XXX Corps arrive in Arnhem (64 miles from where they start their advance), the bridge will prove to be A Bridge Too Far! However, if it was successful, it could bring an end to the war before Christmas!
Down in the Einthoven Sector, the US 101st Screaming Eagles Airborne Division, led by General Maxwell Taylor, secured the Veghel bridge in the north and the Schijndel Road between the two bridges but the 101st failed to secure the main Son bridge before it blew up. It knocked the operation off schedule.
However in the Nijmegan Sector, the US 82nd All-Americans Airborne Division, led by General James Gavin, secured the southern Grave Bridge immediately after they arrived. Because the division fought all day to secure their landing zones in the Groesbeek Heights, they had no time attacking the main Nijmegan Bridge.
In the Arnhem Sector, the situation was critical! The British 1st Airborne Division, also known as the famous Red Devils for their maroon berets, lost its entire communications with the outside world AND within the division! General Roy Urquhart and his Red Devils fortunately landed safely. Also, a force led by Lt. Colonel John Frost reached the main Arnhem bridge but unfortunately, the force was 500 men strong! General Urquhart and about 9500 of his troops failed to get past Kampfgruppe Spindler guarding the road to help Frost's men.
XXX Corps waited for a pontoon bridge to be built over the Wilhelmina Canal to replace the blown Son Bridge which knocked XXX Corps 36 hours behind schedule! After, they rolled off through Hell's Highway, past the Veghel Bridge to 82nd All-Americans' territory by 8:30 am on the 19th!
Polish reinforcements that were suppose to take off that day was postponed for 24 hours due to fog. They were supposed to drop in the Arnhem Sector.
At 3:30 pm, XXX Corps arrived at Nijmegan but the attack on the bridge was stopped by the Germans. The bridge was sill in German hands. General Gavin knew that the only way to take a bridge was to attack simutaniously at both ends so he planned a river crossing at 1:00 pm on the next day, the 20th of September.
The next day, the Polish reinforcement's airdrop was postponed for another 24 hours. The leader of the Polish reinforcements, General Stanislaw Sosabowski, was stunned!
It was 1 o'clock, led by Major Julian Cook, rowboats crossed the 400 yards long Waal river in an amazing river assault taking the bridge. German Major General Harmel tried to blow the bridge but nothing happened. He and his staff fled Nijmegan. XXX Corps rested and prepared the attack on Arnhem that will take place the next day.
After defending against heavy armoured attacks, Lt. Col. Frost's men finally surrendered to the 9.SS Panzer Division after they ran out of ammunition. Their last radio message was, "Out of ammunition. God Save the King." It was 6:00 pm on the 20th.
XXX Corps made the drive to Arnhem on a road the soldiers called the Island. Both sides were deep dikes where anti-tank batteries might hide. They were attacked by heavy German fire! It was impossible to get through the barrage of shells! The Sherman tanks were blasted to pieces!
General Urquhart and his men were stuck in Oosterbeek, a town west of Arnhem, and the brave Red Devils were surrounded! The North, East and West were Germans, the South was a river!
At Driel, a town across the river from Oosterbeek, the Polish reinforcements finally dropped in...too late. The next day on the 22nd, XXX Corps sent two reconnaissance troops through the secondary road to Driel where finally the tanks reached the Southern bank of the Rhine River. The Polish tried to send troops across the Rhine to relieve Urquhart's men but they failed. German Field Marshal Walther Model orders a quick finish to the Red Devils. The 9th SS Panzer Division increased its strength when finally starting at 2 o'clock in the morning, Urquhart and his troops abandoned their posts and crossed the Rhine to safety. Out of the original 10,005 Red Devils, only 2,163 made it to safety. Urquhart was one of the lucky ones but Frost was not. He was taken prisoner.