65 years ago today – the hinge of fate

Captain Lionel Queripel VC

Captain Lionel Queripel VC

The remnants of the four Parachute Battalions that had been attacking into the town had fallen back to Oosterbeek. The Headquarters and support troops, as well as the Artillery – were gathering in the village of Oosterbeek.

In the north, the 4th Brigade had been pinned down overnight. As it became clear that their attack had little chance of succeeding, Brigadier Hackett and Major-General Urquhart agreed that the 4th Brigade would disengage and move underneath the railway and attempt to fight their way into Arnhem on the southern route.

What followed was pandemonium. It was against all training and doctrine to disengage in the open, in daylight, when in action. What started as an orderly withdrawl became a pell mell retreat. Rumours began to spread that the Germans had advanced from the east and taken the Wolfheze crossroads, which would have taken the 4th Brigade from the rear, eliminated their escape route and cut them off completely. In the mele most of the Jeeps were passed under a culvert under the railway, and men scrambled up and over the embankment. The Germans followed hot on the Paras heels and inflicted heavy casualties.

Captain Lionel Queripel, a 25 year old Captain in the 10th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, was the senior officer in a group of men cut off and in danger of being overwhelmed. With no regard for his own safety he ordered his men to retreat and covered them, firing his pistol and lobbing hand grenades. he was never seen alive again.

The survivors of the 4th Brigade trickled their way into Oosterbeek, where the rest of the Division was established. Brigadier Hackett and one party of men became surrounded in a hollow, some distance from safety. After sitting it out for several hours they decided to make a charge for it, and safely made it into the forming Oosterbeek perimeter.

After only 4 days of fighting the Germans had completely surrounded the British, both at the Bridge and in Oosterbeek. The British had lost a massive amount of men killed, wounded, missing or captured. They could no longer count on reinforcements, as the Polish Para Brigade’s drop had been cancelled the day before due to poor weather in england, and a new dropping zone had to be found for them. And curiously, given the allies complete air superiority, there was an almost complete lack of close air support. The designated supply dropping zones had been overun too, so the British would be receiving next to no supplies of food, ammunition or medical supplies.

The Germans, meanwhile, were getting stronger all the time. Reinforcements were pouring in from all over Holland and Germany. Heavy weapons were being moved into the battle zone. And with XXX Corps still south of Nijmegen and unable to influence events at Arnhem, what was supposed to be a walkover had turned into a bitter struggle for survival.

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Filed under Army, Arnhem, Remembrance, World War One

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