Out of ammunition, God Save the King

With Arnhem lost, the Britsh light infantry of 1 Airborne Division holding the increasingly pressured Oosterbeek perimeter some 75 years ago this week, was gratefully able to be evacuated.

Opposed by units that included two Waffen SS panzer divisions (albeit rebuilding) the British had mostly STEN guns, bolt-action No. 4 Enfield .303s, light mortars, and a smattering of anti-tank weapons such as 6-pdr (57mm) rifles and PIATs. Still, they held the line often without water, ammunition, and food for over a week.

Hard to image men with 9mm subguns facing down Tigers rushed to the battle directly from Germany via high-speed train Blitztransport.

British 1st Airborne Division takes cover in a shell hole, Arnhem, 17 September 1944 NAM. 2005-12-38-72

A paratrooper armed with a PIAT and Enfield rifles covers a road at Arnhem, 18 September 1944 Market Garden British NAM. 2005-12-38-50

British paratrooper with STEN defending Divisional Headquarters at the Hartenstein Hotel, Arnhem, on 23 September 1944 STEN Market Garden NAM. 2005-12-38-44

Pegasus flag: Private Morris of Acton, London, 1st Airborne Division’s HQ Hartenstein Hotel, 20 September 1944 Market Garden STEN NAM. 2005-12-38-28

Private J Connington of Selby, Yorkshire, in action with his Sten gun, 20 September 1944 Market Garden NAM. 2005-12-38-21

Troops dug in holding Brigade Headquarters, 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem, Operation MARKET GARDEN, 18 September 1944 STEN NAM. 2005-12-38-49

The RAF and USAAF tried in vain to drop supplies to the embattled Paras but some 93 percent of the loads fell into German hands, who gratefully accepted them. They could use the 9mm ammo, as well as the food and medical supplies. For the weapons they didn’t have ammo for, spares were dropped.

The rundown:

Those 16,000 PIAT rounds would have been very welcome

By 25 September 1944, on the 9th day of the operation (remember, the Paras had been expected to be relieved after just 48 hours) only 2,163 British Airborne troops were able to be evacuated back across the Rhine. The British 1st Airborne went into Holland some 9,000 strong.

1 Abn Divisional commander, Maj. Gen. Roy Urquhart, who during the battle was largely out of touch with most of his units, in concluding his 52-page report on the operation in January 1945, said it was

“…not 100% a success and did not end quite as was intended. The losses were heavy but all ranks appreciate that the risks involved were reasonable. There is no doubt that all would willingly undertake another operation under similar conditions in the future.

We have no regrets. 


  • After 26 May 1943, the British 57mm Anti-Tank Gun became the favorite by the “Allies” as being a “Tiger I” Tank Killer…

    ( https : // nationalinterest . org / blog/buzz/tank-killer-gun-was-first-smash-hitlers-mighty-panzer-tank-57897?page=0%2C1 )

  • Direct rail routing, I understand, but a high-speed train? Carrying x number of 57-ton tanks?

    • The “British” used two different “High Speed Train Locomotives” during WWII! The “Flying Scotsman” (i.e. Class A3 4472) which could hit 100mph and the “Mallard” (i.e. Class A4 4468) which could hit speed up to 126mph…

  • The Nazi-German SVT 877 “Fliegender Hamburger” had a maximum speed of ~77mph. But carrying a load of ~57-ton tanks probably limited the “High Speed” capabilities of the Train Locomotive itself. Considering the time required to reach 77mph and the breaking distance required upon reaching its destination…

  • On Sept 18/19, Heavy Panzer Battalion 503 (s.Pz.Abt. 503), with Mark IV Royal Tigers, was effectively Fed-Ex’d some 600km from Koingsbruck to the Bocholt railhead near Arnhem, Holland via “Blitztransport,” which, as noted by Beevor (pp.132-133) “meant that the Reichbahn had to clear every line and every train short of the Fuhrer’s personal Sonderzug, out of the way.” They had to detrain and travel the last 80km by narrow roads to the battle from the railhead but were fully engaged, 45 tanks strong, by 21 September. Likewise, Pz.Abt. 506 was similarly rushed by rail from closer Sennelager (just 200km from Bocholt), going from a midnight alert to having all 14 of their available tanks loaded on flatcars by 0800 on 18 Sept. Two of the Pz.Abt. 506 Tigers (the rest had broken down while making the 80km sprint from Bocholt!) rattled into Arnhem on the late afternoon of the 19th to much-alarmed British Paras.

    “They looked incredibly menacing and sinister in the half-light,” said Col. Frost, “like some prehistoric monster as their great guns swung from side to side breathing flame.” (Beevor, pp.190-191)

    While the term “high-speed train” is perhaps misused in the above post (and has been duly marked through, late model Tigers were nonetheless rushed to the battle via train from Germany proper and helped ensure the fate of 1 (British) Airborne Div

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