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.
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.
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.
British Lt. Jack Reynolds, aged 22, with LCPL George Parry in the background, gives the classic British two-finger salute to a reportedly grinning German Wehrmacht cameraman as he is captured near Arnhem, The Netherlands 19 September 1944, during the start of the worst chapter of Operation Market Garden, some 75 years ago today.
Reynolds, (SN 190738), joined the colors as a signaler in the Sussex and Surrey Yeomanry in 1939 and served in the Coastal Artillery during the Battle of Britain, exchanging fire with German big guns across the Channel in Dover. He later volunteered for the new glider-borne infantry with S coy, 2 Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment (“South Staffs”) being stood up in 1942, which became part of the 1st Airlanding Brigade in the 1st Airborne Division.
He earned a battlefield commission by 1943, leading the company Recce platoon as part of Simforce through Operation Ladbroke, an element of the Allied invasion of Sicily, where he picked up the MC.
This officer with his party of nine men landed at 2225 hours some four miles south of the Battalion Rendezvous. He led his party throughout the night to Waterloo Bridge encountering stiff opposition on the way during which six of his nine men became casualties. On the way up he collected several stragglers, forming them into an organised group, eventually assisting in the defence of the Bridge, during which two more of his men were killed and another missing.
Throughout the fighting this officer set a very high example of courage and leadership in the face of heavy odds.
Leading S coy’s Mortar Platoon at Arnhem, and facing being overrun after two days of fighting after Allied armor failed to make it to the town in time to save them, Reynolds and his remaining men tried to break out westwards towards Oosterbeek and only took the reluctant decision to surrender after being pinned down and running out of ammunition and water.
The British 1st, 3rd, and 11th Parachute Battalions, along with the South Staffs, had made it to Arnhem but were so mauled that, when the survivors of the four units amalgamated near Oosterbeek on 20 September, they only counted about 450 combat effective members. The rest had been killed, captured, or were still holding out to the East in little pockets.
As for Reynolds, he spent the rest of the conflict in Germany as a prisoner of war, until his liberation in 1945. He was demobilized from the army in 1946.
Jack passed away last month, on 21 August, aged 97.
Vale, Lt. Reynolds.
And of course, remember the entire 1st (British) Airborne this week, who were sent epically “a bridge too far.”
For more on the battle, a great and amazingly comprehensive book about Market Garden is The Battle of Arnhem by Anthony Beevor.
Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division loading aircraft for Holland, 17 Sep 1944:
Part of the epic First Allied Airborne Army, the 82nd, along with the 101st, the British 1st Airborne, as well as later Polish and other Allied units, was to make a daylight combat jump in what is still the largest airborne operation of all time, Market Garden.
The paratroopers and their follow-on glider-borne infantry/artillery were to clear and hold the myriad of bridges in the Eindhoven–Arnhem corridor across the Netherlands while the British XXX Corps, a mechanized unit, was to come up and quickly relieve and reinforce them.
Of course, not all goes as planned…
In honor of the anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem, here is a kit layout for a British Para Lance Corporal from Operation Market Garden in 1944. Can you say STEN mags? Note the one for the gun, seven in the stick pouches, and eight in the two hip pouches for a total of 16 30-round mags or 480 rounds of ammo. When that ran out, well, there are always the two Mills bombs and the Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife. The para who wore this would likely add a couple 50mm mortar bombs and a belt or two of .303 ammo for machine guns.
Image via the Parachute Regiment