Pages Menu

Categories Menu

Posted on Oct 31, 2007 in Front Page Features, War College

Operation Market Garden – Part 2

By Wild Bill Wilder

The 82nd at Nijmegen

Under the command of General James Gavin, the 82nd faced a formidable task. In addition to taking various towns, and six bridges, the hill mass southeast of Nijmegen would have to be seized. Most of the land was flat. The only sizeable hill was vital to controlling the area. This ridge completely dominated the area around the bridges. For this reason, Gavin opted for a battalion of small 75mm howitzers to airdropped on the first day. His forces would land to the east of Nijmegen and proceed directly to their objectives.

Even though lacking in manpower, Gavin sent his men toward the bridges at the Maas and Maas-Waal Canal, and the high ground nearby. He would thus secure an entry point for XXX Corps. The 505th Regiment would take Groesbeck and two bridges over the canal. The 508th would secure Nijmegen. It was the task of the 504th to capture the bridge at Grave, further to the south.


Even though a number of the bridges were destroyed before the paratroopers could capture them, a couple of them were taken so that XXX Corps could proceed. The key bridge was to the northwest, at the city of Nijmegen. Confusion in orders delayed a rapid advance to that point. This was to be deeply regretted later. By the time the Americans had arrived there, reinforcements were on hand.

The German 9th SS Reconnaissance Battalion had gotten through Arnhem before the British gained control of the bridge, and moved south to Nijmegen. Bitter street fighting ensued.  Efforts to fight their way through the city to the bridge were proving difficult. The enemy was resisting fiercely.

Also during the period, the initial landing zones came under attack from German units emerging from the Reichswald forest. A timely charge by a battalion from the 505th caused the Germans to panic and retreat, just as gliders were being released to land in these zones.

By mid-morning of D+2, XXX Corps made its first connection with the 82nd. General Gavin met with General Horrocks and announced his intentions of sending 2nd Battalion, 505th, to attack the bridge from both ends at once. This meant sending part of the battalion in boats across the Waal River. It would be the next morning before the boats could be transported to the front lines. Meanwhile, the 2nd battalion initiated attacks against the south end of the bridge. They were supported by a battalion of tanks and artillery fire from the Guards Division.

On the morning of the next day, after a fierce barrage against the north side of the river, American paratroopers got under way. The crossing was a nightmare. The waters were fierce and treacherous. German fire was taking a deadly toll of men and boats. Of the 26 boats that started out, only 13 made it to the far shore. The remaining boats went back to ferry more men across, all the while taking casualties. Once ashore, the paratroopers charged the enemy, wiping out one strong point after another. Soon they were at the north end of the bridge. At the same time, units on the south end had finally broken through, and tanks began to cross the bridge.

Although charges had been placed to destroy the bridge, they did not go off. This was probably due to the rapid advance of the attackers, the skillful work of US engineers who dismantled charges, and Dutch snipers, who picked off German demolition teams as they prepared the charges. By now, however, it was D+4 and time was running out in Arnhem.

The British 1st Airborne Division

The "Red Devils," as they were known, made their initial landings some six miles to the northeast of the city of Arnhem. This was due to the terrain and buildings, which could prove deadly to landing paratroopers.   The initial drops proved to be highly successful. The casualty rate was less than nominal, and landings were right on target.

Being so far away from the city, however, wasted valuable time and assets. Part of the initial landing force would have to remain at the landing sites to protect them. Thus they could not participate in the actual battle.

Two main objectives were in front of the British. The first was Arnhem and its bridges. The second was the high ground to the north of the city. It would be vital to provide XXX Corps a bridgehead sizeable enough to pass through.

Thus, only three battalions were available for the assault. Two of them became immediately pinned down. One was heading for the northeast for the high ground; the other, directly east toward Arnhem. Both ran into the 9th SS Panzer Division. They were stopped dead in their tracks.

The final battalion, led by Colonel J.D. Frost, took a secondary road and avoided the Germans. An attempt to take the railway bridge failed, as it was blown in their faces. The group proceeded to Arnhem itself. Other units later found their way into Arnhem, so that by that night, some 500 soldiers occupied the buildings and ground overlooking the north end of the bridge. Two attempts to take the south end of the bridge by Frost’s men failed. One was a direct attack across the bridge. The other was by rowboat.   

On D+1, the enemy had begun to react. Division von Tettau attacked the landing zones to the northwest. From the east units of the 9thSS and 10SS Panzer Division moved toward Arnhem to link up with the units in the north. Frost’s position became surrounded, and any attempts to reinforce him ended in disaster.

Meanwhile, the XXX Corps, once across the Waal River, needed another day to consolidate and prepare defenses for that bridgehead. They then proceeded northward, fighting all the way. At Ressen, just eight miles south of Arnhem, a strong enemy force including tanks, infantry and 88 guns stalled the advance again. They would have a difficult time breaking out again (scenario Mktgdn05).

On D+3, September 20th, Colonel Frost’s situation was desperate. No one could get through to him. His perimeter had continued to diminish. He now held only a few buildings. He had been wounded badly and was hardly able to control the situation. On that afternoon, tanks from the 9th SS rolled into the area, leveled their guns and began to fire at point-blank range against the remaining defenders.

It was becoming increasingly apparent with each passing hour that the pendulum of war was swinging toward the German side of the clock. Seeing that all hope was gone, Frost gave the order to leave the wounded, and for remaining paratroopers to break out the best way that they could. None would make it. The bridge now belonged to the Germans.

The rest of the Red Devils were in a similar situation around the drop sites. They were unable to break out. With each passing day, their defensive perimeter was growing smaller. A positive contribution was the insertion of part of the Polish Brigade, under General S.Sosabowski. Even though the weather was foul, 53 aircraft dumped their loads on the south side of the river. The Germans had destroyed the ferry they had hoped to use to cross the river. They used boats to cross and join up with the beleaguered British forces.

[continued on next page]

Pages: 1 2 3


  1. In studying Market Garden, even with some bad weather it does not explain why there was so little Allied air support, against visible German tanks for example. Does anyone know why, was it not effective or practiced by this late point in the war?

  2. It seems to me the article fails, as do most on the subject, to deal with the primary actor in the operation, the XXX Corps. Airborne operations were secondary to the ability of the ground troops to traverse the distance with appropriate speed.

    The answer to the previous question is that the American air support coordination teams sent into Arnhem had non-functioning sets, and one was killed due to direct hit by a mortar round. Since Browning ordered that pilots do not attack without requests from the ground due to expected confused situation on the ground, they followed orders, and did not, hence no air support.