Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Operation Marketplace

(Also called Operation Market Garden)

(Parachuters landing in the Netherlands on September 17, 1944.)

Operation Marketplace was created to free the Netherlands from the Germans.

The operation started on September 17, 1944. It was the largest Allied airborne operation ever.

In the 82nd Airborne Division, 89% of troops landed on or within 3,300 feet of their drop zones and 84% of gliders landed on or within 3,300 feet of their landing zones. This contrasted with previous operations where night drops had resulted in units being scattered by up to 12 miles.

Apparently, German flack was heavy but didn't do much damage. They must not've been good shots.

Capturing the bridges were so important that if the Allies didn't capture them, Operation Marketplace would fail.

The radios that were used for communication were having a bit of trouble at that point. Because of the mis-communication, the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment started taking the 2,000 feet long Nijmegen highway bridge late in the day. They were supposed to start as soon as possible.

The Germans got wind of what was happening rapidly.

Field Marshal Walter Model was staying at the Tafelberg Hotel in a village to the west of Arnhem (Oosterbeek). At first, he was confused about what the British were doing landing in "his" country side. He decided they were trying to kidnap him, and ran for somewhere safer.

Wilhem Bittrich (commander of the 2nd Panzer Corps) had a less-muddled head and sent a reconnaissance company (made of the 9th SS Panzer Division) to Nijmegen to make the bridge defenses stronger.

At 12:00 at night, Commander Model had figured out the situation and given orders for the defence of Arnhem. The normal confusion with airborne operation was not present at Arnhem. The advantage of surprise wasn't too much of an advantage.

On the 18th of September, fog covered everything.

All air operations were cancelled on the 22nd and 24th of September.

September 19

The 1st and 3rd Parachute Battalions pushed towards the Arnhem bridge during the early hours of September 18 and made good progress but they were frequently halted in skirmishes as soon as it became light. With their long and unwieldy columns having to halt to beat off attacks whilst the troops in front carried on unaware, the Germans delayed segments of the two battalions, fragmented them and mopped up the remnants.

Early in the day the 9th SS Reconnaissance Battalion (sent south the day before) concluded it was not needed in Nijmegen and returned to Arnhem. Though aware of the British troops at the bridge, it attempted to cross by force and was beaten back with heavy losses, including its commanding officer, SS-Hauptsturmführer Gräbner.
By the end of the day the 1st and 3rd Parachute Battalions had entered Arnhem and were within 1 mile of the bridge with approximately 200 men, one-sixth their original strength. Most of the officers and non-commissioned officers had been killed, wounded or captured. The Second Lift was delayed by fog and jumped onto a landing zone under heavy attack but landed at full strength (the 4th Parachute Brigade consisting of the 10th, 11th and 156th Battalions of the Parachute Regiment, commanded by Brigadier-General John Winthrop Hackett) and C and D Companies of the 2nd South Staffordshire Regiment.

Grave proved to be well defended and German forces continued to press on the 82nd deployed on the Groesbeek heights to the east of Nijmegen. The 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment defended against German attacks in Horst, Grafwegen and Riethorst. Early in the day, German counterattacks seized one of the Allied landing zones where the Second Lift was scheduled to arrive at 13:00. The 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment attacked at 13:10 and cleared the LZ by 14:00, capturing 16 German flak pieces and 149 prisoners. Delayed by weather in Britain, the Second Lift did not arrive until 15:30. This lift brought in elements of the 319th and 320th Glider Field Artillery battalions, the 456th Parachute Field Artillery battalion and medical support elements. Twenty minutes later, 135 B-24 bombers dropped supplies from low level (100'), 80% of which was recovered.

Faced with the loss of the bridge at Zon, the 101st unsuccessfully attempted to capture a similar bridge a few kilometers away at Best but found the approach blocked. Other units continued moving to the south and eventually reached the northern end of Eindhoven.

At 06:00 hours the Irish Guards Group resumed the advance while facing determined resistance from German infantry and tanks.101st Airborne were met by the lead reconnaissance units from XXX Corps. At 16:00 radio contact alerted the main force that the Zon bridge had been destroyed and requested that a bailey bridge be brought forward.

By nightfall the Guards Armoured Division had established itself in the Eindhoven area[101] however transport columns were jammed in the packed streets of the town and were subjected to German aerial bombardment during the night. XXX Corps engineers, supported by German prisoners of war, constructed a class 40 bailey bridge within 10 hours across the Wilhelmina Canal.

During the day the British VIII and XII Corps, supporting the main attack, had forged bridgeheads across Meuse-Escaut Canal while facing stiff German resistance; 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division was transferred from XXX Corps to VIII Corps so to relieve XXX Corps from having to secure the ground gained thus far. Throughout the day German attacks were launched against XXX Corps and against the newly gained bridgeheads over the Meuse-Escaut Canal, all without success.

During the early morning hours the 1st Parachute Brigade began its attack towards Arnhem Bridge, with the 1st Battalion leading supported by remnants of the 3rd Battalion, with the 2nd South Staffordshires on the 1st Battalion's left flank and the 11th Battalion following. As soon as it became light the 1st Battalion was spotted and halted by fire from the main German defensive line. Trapped in open ground and under heavy fire from three sides, the 1st Battalion disintegrated and what remained of the 3rd Battalion fell back. The 2nd South Staffordshires were similarly cut off and save for about 150 men overcome by midday. The 11th Battalion, (which had stayed out of much of the fighting) was then overwhelmed in exposed positions while attempting to capture high ground to the north. With no hope of breaking through, the 500 remaining men of these four battalions withdrew westwards in the direction of the main force, 5 km (3 miles) away in Oosterbeek.
The 2nd Battalion and attached units (approximately 600 men) were still in control of the northern approach ramp to the Arnhem bridge. The Germans recognised that they would not be moved by infantry attacks such as those that had been bloodily repulsed on the previous day so instead they heavily shelled the short British perimeter with mortars, artillery and tanks; systematically demolishing each house to enable their infantry to exploit gaps and dislodge the defenders. Although in battle against enormous odds, the British clung to their positions and much of the perimeter was held.

To the north of Oosterbeek the 4th Parachute Brigade led an attempt by the 1st Airborne Division to break through the German lines but communication difficulties and enemy resistance caused the attack to fail with heavy losses. The Division, scattered far and wide and hard pressed by the enemy on all sides had lost its offensive capability. Unable to help Lt.-Col. Frost at the bridge, the remaining soldiers attempted to withdraw into a defensive pocket at Oosterbeek and hold a bridgehead on the north bank of the Rhine.
The parachute elements of the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade had remained in England because of dense fog. Their gliders, mainly carrying anti-tank guns and vehicles, were able to take off but had the misfortune to arrive above the landing zone just as the 4th Parachute Brigade was retreating across it and the gliders came under fire from German units pursuing the Brigade.

At 08:20, the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment made contact with the Grenadier Guards of the XXX Corps at Grave. This enabled the Regiment to move on to other missions and place the 3rd Battalion in division reserve. By this time, according to the plan, they were due in Arnhem. XXX Corps were eight miles from Arnhem with six hours in hand, 'The earlier delays had been made up' (Neillands). A combined effort to take the Nijmegen bridge was mounted by two companies from the Guards Armoured Division and the 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The attack got within 400 meters (400 yards) of the bridge before being stopped; skirmishing continued throughout the night. A plan was made to attack the south end of the bridge again while the 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, planned to cross the river in boats 2 km (1 mile) downstream and then attack the north end. The boats, requested for late afternoon didn't arrive. Once again XXX Corps was held up in front of a bridge which should have been captured before they arrived.
The 1st and 5th battalions, Coldstream Guards, were attached to the division. A supply attempt by 35 C-47s (out of 60 sent) was unsuccessful; the supplies were dropped from a high altitude and could not be recovered. Bad weather over English bases prevented the scheduled big glider mission carrying the 325th Gilder Infantry Regiment from taking off, ending any hope for the scheduled reinforcements for the 82nd Airborne.

At 09:50 the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment was going forward to Wijchen, to attack the Edithbridge from its south end. The bridge was secured. After this fierce engagement they pushed on to the traffic bridge south of Wijchen. Another fierce engagement followed and this bridge was secured.

To their south, units of the 101st sent to take Best the day before were forced to yield to German counterattacks during the morning. British tanks arriving during the day helped push back the Germans by late afternoon. Later a small force of Panther tanks arrived at Zon and started firing on the Bailey bridge. These too were beaten back by anti-tank guns that had recently landed and the bridge was secured.

September 20

Lt. Colonel John Frost's force at the bridge continued to hold and established communication via the public telephone system with 1st Division around noon learning that the division had no hope of relieving them and that XXX Corps was stopped to the south in front of Nijmegen bridge. By the afternoon the British positions around the north end of Arnhem bridge had weakened considerably. Casualties, mostly wounded, were high from constant shelling. An acute lack of ammunition especially anti-tank munitions, enabled enemy armour to demolish British positions from point-blank range. Food, water and medical supplies were scarce, and so many buildings were on fire and in such serious danger of collapse that a two-hour truce was arranged to evacuate the wounded (including Lieutenant-Colonel Frost) into German captivity. Frederick Gough took over as commander when Frost left.

The Germans overcame pockets of resistance throughout the day, gaining control of the northern bridge approaches and permitting reinforcements to cross the span and reinforce units further south near Nijmegen. The remaining British troops continued to fight on, some with just fighting knives but by early Thursday morning almost all had been taken prisoner. The last radio message broadcast from the bridge - "Out of ammo, God save the King" - was heard only by German radio intercept operators.
While it was estimated that the 1st Airborne Division, 10,000 strong, would only need to hold the Arnhem bridge for two days, 740 had held it for twice as long against far heavier opposition than anticipated. While 81 British soldiers died defending Arnhem bridge, German losses cannot be stated with any accuracy, though they were high; 11 units known to have participated in the fighting reported 50% casualties after the battle. In memory of the fighting there, the bridge has been renamed the "John Frost Bridge".

Further west the remnants of the 1st Airborne Division were gathering at Oosterbeek for their last stand; those already there were not seriously challenged by the enemy throughout the day. To the east of the village the 1st, 3rd and 11th Parachute Battalions and 2nd South Staffordshires were organised into a defensive position and in desperate fighting later in the day they bloodily repulsed an enemy attack which threatened to cut the division off from the Rhine and so seal the fate of the bridgehead.
In the woods to the west of Oosterbeek the 4th Parachute Brigade was fighting its way towards the divisional perimeter but was under severe attack from German troops supported by artillery, mortars and tanks (some mounting flame-throwers). Their casualties were heavy; the 10th Battalion reached Oosterbeek in the early afternoon but with only 60 men.
Further in the rear, the 156th Parachute Battalion was being more hard pressed and was forced to fight off numerous enemy attacks before mounting counter-attacks of their own; indeed it is a credit to the battalion that they were so successful in these respects that the Germans did not know they were fighting men who were in full retreat. The battalion, down to 150 men mounted a desperate bayonet charge to capture a hollow in the ground in the woods, in which they remained pinned by enemy attacks for the next eight hours. Towards the end of the day the 75 men who could, fixed bayonets and broke through the German lines and retreated into the Allied pocket at Oosterbeek.

Boats ordered by the 82nd Airborne the day before failed to arrive until afternoon and a hasty daylight assault crossing was ordered. At about 15:00 the 3rd Battalion, 504th PIR accompanied by sappers from 615 Field Squadron and 11th Field Company Royal Engineers (who made five crossings) made the crossing in 26 canvas assault boats into well-defended positions. The American unit had no training on the British-made boats. A shortage of paddles required some troopers to paddle the craft with rifle butts. About half the boats survived the crossing under heavy fire, eleven survived the first two crossings. The surviving Paras then assaulted across 200 meters (200 yards) of open ground on the far bank and seized the north end of the bridge. German forces withdrew from both ends of the bridge which was then rushed by Guards tanks and the 2nd Battalion, 505th PIR, securing the bridge at 19:10, D+3. The costly attack was nicknamed "Little Omaha" in reference to Omaha Beach.
To the east, German attacks on the heights made significant progress, capturing the only remaining bridge suitable for tanks. A counterattack at Mook by elements of the 505th PIR and 4th Battalion, the Coldstream Guards forced the Germans back to their line of departure by 20:00. The 508th PIR lost ground at Im Thal and Legewald when attacked by German infantry and tanks. By now it was evident that the Germans' plan was to cut the highway which would split up the Airborne units and cut off the advance elements of XXX Corps.
To the south, running battles between the 101st and various German units continued. Eventually several Panther tanks managed to cut the roads but pulled back when low on ammunition.
When Lieutenant-General Dempsey of the Second Army met Brigadier General Gavin, commander of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, he is reported to have said (in reference to the Nijmegen attack), "I am proud to meet the commander of the greatest Division in the world today."

September 21

Approximately 3,584 survivors of the 1st Airborne Division established themselves in the buildings and woods around Oosterbeek with the intention of holding a bridgehead on the north side of the Rhine until XXX Corps could arrive. Throughout the day their position was heavily attacked on all sides. In the southeast, Lonsdale Force (the remnants of the 1st, 3rd, and 11th Parachute Battalions and 2nd South Staffordshires) repulsed a big attack aided by the fire of the divisional light artillery. In the north the 7th King's Own Scottish Borderers were almost overrun during the afternoon but a counterattack with bayonets restored the situation and the heavily depleted battalion moved further south to occupy a narrower front. The most serious attack of the day was made at dawn against "B" Company, 1st Battalion, Border Regiment which controlled a vital area of high ground in the southwestern tip of the perimeter overlooking the Heveadorp ferry crossing at Driel, which was the division's only straightforward means of receiving reinforcements from the south. The company was attacked by enemy armour and infantry, using captured French tanks equipped with flamethrowers and the heights were lost. Counterattacks failed and the remnants of the company were redeployed. The division was left in a precarious position, controlling just 700 meters (700 yards) of the riverbank. The division held ground to similar attacks elsewhere on their front.
A supply attempt by RAF Stirlings of 38 Group was disrupted by the only Luftwaffe fighter interception during the operation. Fw 190s intercepted the Stirlings at low altitude and shot down 7 of one line of 10 and 15 overall. Anti-aircraft fire accounted for 8 further losses. The Fw 190s were able to penetrate the screen of Allied fighters sent to cover the drop when the U.S. 56th Fighter Group was late in arriving in its patrol sector between Lochem and Deventer. The 56th redeemed itself to an extent by shooting down 15 of the 22 Fw 190s as they departed.

After two days of delay due to the weather, the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade under Major-General Stanislaw Sosabowski entered the battle on the afternoon of September 21, delivered at about 17:15 by 114 C-47s of the U.S. 61st and 314th Troop Carrier Groups. Two of the brigade's three battalions were dropped amidst heavy German fire, opposite the 1st Airborne Division's position on a new drop zone south of the Rhine near the village of Driel. Poor coordination by the RAF and persistent attacks by Luftwaffe aircraft caused their supplies to be dropped 15 km (9 miles) away on the opposite side of the Rhine.
Intending to use the Heveadorp ferry to reinforce the division, they discovered that the opposite bank was dominated by the enemy and that the ferry was missing; it was later found downstream past the road bridge, unserviceable. Unable to help the British, the Polish withdrew to Driel for the night. The 1st Airborne Division made radio contact during the day with guns of the 64th Medium Regiment of XXX Corps' artillery which had advanced with the ground forces and were assigned to the division for support. Unlike many others, this radio link worked throughout the battle and the regiment provided valuable fire support to the division.

Despite the capture of Nijmegen bridge and the clearing of the town on the previous evening, the five tanks of Guards Armoured Division which were across the river did not advance. The Division resumed its advance about 18 hours later, at noon. Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks claimed he needed this delay to sort out the confusion among his troops that had resulted from the battle in Nijmegen. This was a controversial decision that has been examined often in the years since. The Coldstream Guards Group were repulsing an attack on the Groesbeek position, the Irish Guards Group had gone back to Eindhoven to meet another attack, the Grenadiers had just captured the approaches to the bridge with the US paratroops and got five tanks over it to support the Airborne bridgehead and the Wesh Guards were in 82nd Airborne reserve. The Guards Armoured Division was scattered over twenty-five square miles of the south bank of the Waal.
The Market Garden plan depended upon a single highway as the route of advance and supply. This imposed a delay since other units could not be deployed on other routes to maintain momentum. Brigadier General Gavin's diary comment was: "Had Ridgway been in command at that moment, we would have been ordered up that road in spite of all our difficulties, to save the men at Arnhem."[105] He is silent on the 36 hour delay caused by his failure to capture the bridge on schedule. The historian Max Hastings wrote "It reflected poorly on the British Army...". Another version of events quotes Captain Lord Carrington ". . . I certainly met an American officer . . . . the Airborne were all very glad to see us and get some support; no one suggested we should press on to Arnhem.". 'Let us be frank. The 82nd should have taken the Nijmegen bridge on D-Day, September 17. By failing to do so Gavin made a major contribution to the failure of the entire Arnhem operation and it will not do to pass the blame for that failure on to the British or to captain Lord Carrington.' (Neillands, 'The Battle for the Rhine 1944', p. 122.).
The delay enabled the Germans to reinforce the defence already established at Ressen (an SS infantry battalion, eleven tanks, an infantry battalion, two 88 mm batteries, 20 20 mm flak and the remnants of the fighting at Nijmegen [quoted from the US Official History in Neillands p. 125]) south of Arnhem aided by use of the bridge following their capture of its northern end. The advance of the Guards, hindered by marshes that prevented off-road movement, was soon halted by a firm German defensive line. The Guards not having the strength to outflank it, the 43rd Division was ordered to take over the lead, work its way around the enemy positions and make contact with the Polish at Driel. The 43rd was 30 km (20 miles) away and there was a traffic jam between it and Nijmegen. It was not until the following day (Friday) that the whole division crossed the River Waal and began its advance.
The Germans, clearly starting to gain the upper hand, continued their counterattacks all along the path of XXX Corps, although the Corps still managed to advance and the 101st Airborne Division continued to exploit its gains.
At about 15:00, 406 C-47 glider tugs and 33 C-47 cargo carriers delivered supplies to the 82nd Airborne Division. About 60% of the supplies were recovered (351 of the gliders were counted effective), partly with the help of Dutch civilians. Most of the 82nd and 101st, reinforced with British armoured units, were engaged in defensive fighting with the objective of holding the highway corridor. Small attacks were fought all along the corridor.

After the victory of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Wijchen the Germans tried to attack the Edithbridge from the north end. The 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment requested help from the 101st Airborne Division. Advancing directly, they couldn't get close enough to the Germans. It looked like another failure to secure the bridge. The 101st then headed into Wijchen. Ultimately the Germans were not strong enough to defend their position and had to abandon the bridges in Wijchen to the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

More coming soon.

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