65 years ago today – the charge of the Para Brigades

As dawn broke on the 19th September the battle of Arnhem had reached a critical balance.

4 Battalions of British airborne troops began their advance into Arnhem at daybreak. The 1st and 3rd Battalions of the Parachute Regiment began to advance along the riverside. The 2nd South Staffords, slightly to the north, attacked near the Arnhem Museum, supported by the 11th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment. However, the Germans had thrown together a strong blocking line on three sides, supported by half-tracks, machine guns and mortars. As dawn broke the attack into this urban valley of death ground the a halt. The British were fighting in such a narrow area, with no room for maneouvre of flanking movements. Fighting with no overall commander, the Paras were neither trained or equipped for such a situation. They were forced back to the area around St Elisabeth’s Hospital, taking heavy casualties. However, one positive note was that Major-General Urquhart had re-appeared, after the house he had been sheltering in was over-run by the British.

St Elisabeth's Hospital on the outskirts of Arnhem

St Elisabeth's Hospital on the outskirts of Arnhem

Elsewhere further to the north, the 4th Brigade under Brigadier Hackett were advancing down from the north. Meeting the same German blocking line in the north, they also suffered heavy casualties and were forced to fall back. The 11th Battalion, holding firm in the area to the south, were ordered to attack a piece of high ground to support the 4th Brigades advance. They were spotted by the Germans while forming up and didnt stand a chance. They were heavily mortarted and machine gunned. Many were taken prisoner, and the survivors fell back to Oosterbeek, where the rest of the Division remained. One of these was my Grandfather Private Henry Miller, who was wounded and fell back to the Dressing Station at the Schoonoord crossroads in Oosterbeek.

Just one mile from the Bridge, where the attack ground to a halt

Just one mile from the Bridge, where the attack ground to a halt

Thus ended the last serious attempt to reach Arnhem Bridge. Urquhart pulled his troops back to the area around Oosterbeek, reluctantly coming to the conclusion that nothing could be done to reach John Frost’s force at the Bridge, and that they would have to be left to their own fate. A plan was rapidly developing, almost by accident, to hold firm on the banks of the Rhine and hope that Horrocks tanks could link up with them. There was still a chain-ferry across the Rhine at Heavedorp. But a lack of communication due to poorly performing radios that they had no idea what was going on at Nijmegen or further south, and no-one outside of Arnhem had any news of the Urquhart and his men.

However, the catalogue of errors was firmly coming together. Lack of preparation and training, the distance from the landing zone to the bridge, poor use of intelligence, the underestimation of the enemy and the lack of urgency in XXX Corps advance had already swung the battle of Arnhem firmly away from the Allies had left Operation Market Garden hanging by a thread.

With the British at Arnhem rapidly being forced into a pocket on the banks of the Rhine and fighting for their lives, what was happening further south? Where was XXX Corps?

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Filed under Army, Arnhem, Remembrance, World War One

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