65 years ago today – Arnherm Bridge

Arnhem Bridge

Arnhem Bridge

Lt Colonel Frost’s force at the Bridge had been locked in a desparate struggle for almost 4 days. Numbering around 740 men, they were short of food, ammunition and medical supplies. They had established communication with the rest of the Division, and learnt on 19 September that there was no chance of them being reinforced, unless XXX Corps arrived soon.

They had suffered high casualties from artillery shelling, and the savage urban fighting was taking its toll. At one point a part of Germans appeared under a white flag, offering a ceasefire. The British replied, memorably ‘I’m sorry, but we cannot accept your surender’. Shortly after Frost was wounded. A 2 hour truce was arranged to allow the wounded the be evacuated safely. By the early hours of 21 September most of the British had been overwhelmed. The last radio message heard from the bridge was “Out of ammo, God save the King”.

It had been estimated that the 1st Airborne Division, 10,000 strong, would only need to hold the Arnhem bridge for two days. 740 men had held it for twice as long against far heavier opposition than anticipated. Their brave stand was surely one of the most impressive Battalion sized actions of the whole war. If only the tanks that had crossed Nijmegen Bridge on the evening of 20 September had known how desparate the struggle was, and that the road to Arnhem was, for a few precious hours, completely clear.

Their fighting also impressed the Germans. One German officer, who had fought at Stalingrad, complimented a British Officer on their urban fighting, and asked where they had learnt it. “It was our first time, but next time we’ll be much better at it”. So impressed were the Germans, many of them of the feared SS, that they rescued as many British wounded as possible from burning buildings.

The Germans were now free to focuss on eliminating the Oosterbeek pocket, and XXX Corps would have to find another way to cross the Rhine.

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Filed under Army, Arnhem, Remembrance, World War One

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