World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

The Battle Of Arnhem - Sept 1946

Battle of Arnhem:

From Wikipedia

The Battle of Arnhem was a famous Second World War military engagement fought in and around the Dutch towns of Arnhem, Oosterbeek, Wolfheze, Driel and the surrounding countryside from the 17–26 September 1944.

After sweeping through France and Belgium in the summer of 1944, the Allies were poised to enter the Netherlands. The British forces landed some distance from their objectives and were quickly hampered by unexpected resistance – especially from elements of the 9th SS and 10th SS Panzer divisions. Only a small force was able to reach the Arnhem road bridge while the main body of the division was halted on the outskirts of the city. Meanwhile XXX Corps was unable to advance north as quickly as anticipated and failed to relieve the airborne troops according to schedule. After four days the small British force at the bridge was overwhelmed and the rest of the division became trapped in a small pocket north of the river – where they could not be sufficiently reinforced by the Poles or XXX Corps when they arrived on the southern bank, nor by the RAF's resupply flights. After nine days of fighting the shattered remains of the airborne forces were withdrawn in Operation Berlin.

With no secure bridges over the Nederrijn the Allies were unable to advance further and the front line stabilized south of Arnhem. The 1st Airborne Division had lost nearly three quarters of its strength and did not see combat again.


Arnhem was a victory for the Germans (albeit tempered by their losses further south) and a major defeat for the British army. The Allies withdrew from the southern bank of the Rhine and the front stabilised on "the island" between the Rhine and Waal rivers. Although the Germans counterattacked in October they were repulsed and subsequently the front line in the Netherlands would not move until after the winter. However the bridgeheads across the Maas and Waal served as an important base for subsequent operations against the Germans on the Rhine and the strike into Germany.

Many military commentators and historians believe that the failure to secure Arnhem was not the fault of the airborne forces (who had held out for far longer than planned), but of the operation as a whole. John Frost noted that "by far the worst mistake was the lack of priority given to the capture of Nijmegen Bridge" and was unable to understand why Browning had ordered Brigadier General James Gavin of the US 82nd Airborne Division to secure the Groesbeek Heights before In his analysis of the battle, Martin Middlebrook believed the "failure of Browning to give the 82nd US Airborne Division a greater priority in capturing the bridge at Nijmegen" was only just behind the weakness of the air plan in importance. Nijmegen Bridge.

Likewise, in his assessment of the German perspective at Arnhem, Robert Kershaw concluded that "the battle on the Waal at Nijmegen proved to be the decisive event" and that Arnhem became a simple matter of containment after the British had retreated into the Oosterbeek perimeter. After that it was merely "a side-show to the crisis being enacted on the Waal". Heinz Harmel asserted that "The Allies were stopped in the south just north of Nijmegen – that is why Arnhem turned out as it did." Gavin himself commented that "there was no failure at Arnhem. If, historically, there remains an implication of failure it was the failure of the ground forces to arrive in time to exploit the initial gains of the [1st] Airborne Division".

The air plan was a major weakness in the events at Arnhem itself. Middlebrook believes that the refusal to consider night drops, two lifts on day 1, or a coup-de-main assault on Arnhem bridge were "cardinal fundamental errors"; and that the failure to land nearer the bridge threw away the airborne force's most valuable asset – that of surprise. Similarly Frost believed that the distance from the Drop zones to the bridge and the long approach on foot was a "glaring snag" and was highly critical of the "unwillingness of the air forces to fly more than one sortie in the day [which] was one of the chief factors that mitigated against success."

The Allies' failure to secure a bridge over the Lower Rhine spelled the end of Market Garden. While all other objectives had been achieved, the failure to secure the Arnhem road bridge over the Rhine meant that the operation failed in its ultimate objective. Field Marshal Montgomery claimed that the operation was 90 per cent successful and the Allies did possess a deep salient into German occupied territory that was quickly reinforced. Milton Shulman observed that the operation had driven a wedge into the German positions, isolating the 15th Army north of Antwerp from the First Parachute Army on the eastern side of the bulge. This complicated the supply problem of the 15th Army and removed the chance of the Germans being able to assemble enough troops for a serious counterattack to retake Antwerp. Chester Wilmot agreed with this, claiming that the salient was of immense tactical value for the purpose of driving the Germans from the area south of the Maas and removing the threat of an immediate counterattack against Antwerp. Kershaw views the situation differently, observing that the north flank of the west wall was not turned and the 15th Army was able to escape. Dr. John Warren of the American Historical Division of the USAF believed that the Allies now controlled a salient leading nowhere. John Waddy is of the belief that the strategic and tactical debate of Market Garden will never be resolved.

Although a disaster for the British 1st Airborne Division, their fight north of the Rhine is considered an example of courage and endurance  and one of the greatest feats of arms in the Second World War.

Allied losses

The battle exacted a heavy toll on the 1st Airborne Division from which it would never recover. Three quarters of the unit were missing when it returned to England, including two of the three brigade commanders, eight of the nine battalion commanders and 26 of the 30 infantry company commanders. Some 500 men were still in hiding north of the Rhine, and over the coming months many of these were able to escape – initially in Operation Pegasus. New recruits, escapees and repatriated POWs joined the division over the coming months, but the division was still so much weakened that the 4th Parachute Brigade had to be merged into the 1st Brigade, and the division as a whole could barely produce two brigades of infantry. Between May and August 1945 many of the men were sent to Denmark and Norway to oversee the German surrenders there but on their return the division was disbanded.

The Glider Pilot Regiment suffered the highest proportion of fatal casualties during the battle (17.3% killed). The regiment was so badly depleted that during Operation Varsity RAF pilots were used to fly many of the gliders.  As glider operations were phased out after the war the regiment shrunk and was eventually disbanded in 1957.

The Poles withdrew to Nijmegen where they helped defend the airborne corridor before returning to England in early October. Shortly afterwards the British began the process of making Sosabowski and the Polish Brigade a scapegoat for the failure at Arnhem, perhaps to cover their own failings. On 17 October Montgomery informed Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff that he felt the Polish forces had "fought very badly" and that he did not want them under his command. A month later, Browning wrote a long and highly critical letter of Sosabowski for Brooke's deputy. In it he accused Sosabowski of being difficult, unadaptable, argumentative and "loth to play his full part in the operation unless everything was done for him and his brigade". Browning recommended that Sosabowski be replaced and in December the Polish government in exile duly dismissed him in a move likely made under British pressure. Although it may be fair to say that Sosabowski was difficult to work with, his scapegoating is judged as disgraceful by many historical commentators. Brian Urquhart, who had done so much to warn his superiors about the dangers of Arnhem and later became Undersecretary-General of the United Nations, described the British general's actions as "grotesque and shameful".

Killed in action
or died of wounds
Captured or missing Safely withdrawn
1st Airborne 1,174 5,903 1,892
Glider Pilot Regiment 219 511 532
Polish Brigade 92 111 1,486
Total 1,485 6,525 3,910

                     Other Allied losses

Killed in action
or died of wounds
Captured or missing
RAF 368 79
Royal Army Service Corps 79 44
IX Troop Carrier Command 27 6
XXX Corps 25 200
Total 499 329

The grave of an unknown British airborne soldier at Arnhem, photographed by a British Army sergeant after the liberation of the city in 1945.