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The Battle of Arnhem: Day 1 – Sunday 17 September


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Day 1 – Sunday 17 September

First infantry movements, 17 September.The first lift was preceded by intense bombing and strafing raids made by the British 2nd Tactical Air Force and the American 8th and 9th Air Forces. These targeted the known flak guns and German garrisons and barracks across the area. Meanwhile, the first lift suffered only light losses as the aircraft and gliders flew from British bases to the target area. The first arrivals were the 21st Independent Parachute Company at 12:40, who marked the landing zones for the gliders and parachutists in advance of the main landings.[38] The landings were largely unopposed and the battalions formed up in good order ready to carry out their tasks by 14:45.[39] While the Airlanding Brigade moved into defensive positions around the landing zones, the 1st Parachute Brigade prepared to head east toward the bridges, with Lathbury and his HQ Company following Frost on Lion route. Although some jeeps of the reconnaissance squadron were lost on the flight over, the company formed up in good strength and moved off along Leopard route.[35]

The Germans were unprepared for the landings and initially thrown into confusion. Model—erroneously assuming that the paratroopers had come to capture him—fled his headquarters at the Hartenstein hotel in Oosterbeek and went to Bittrich's headquarters east of Arnhem at Doetinchem where he took personal control of the battle.[40] The 10th SS Division was sent south to respond to the American landings at Nijmegen and defend the "island" (the polder between the Lower Rhine and Waal rivers), while the 9th would defend Arnhem. The 9th SS was at that point making preparations to return to Germany and Harmel was in Berlin trying to secure more men and supplies for his unit. He was instantly ordered to return to Arnhem whilst his division began to prepare its forces for battle. Obersturmbannführer Ludwig Spindler—commander of the 9th SS Armoured Artillery Regiment—quickly organised a small battlegroup (Kampfgruppe Spindler was initially only 120 men but would incorporate 16 separate units over the course of the battle). In the late afternoon, he was ordered to advance west to Oosterbeek and establish a blocking line to prevent the British from reaching Arnhem centre.[41] Meanwhile, the Division's Reconnaissance Battalion under the command of Hauptsturmführer Viktor Gräbner was ordered south to Nijmegen, crossing the Arnhem bridge at dusk. Initially, however, no units were ordered to secure the bridge itself. Arnhem Garrison commander Major-General Kussin was killed by men of the 3rd Parachute Battalion as he sped towards his headquarters, and his death led to a breakdown in command and responsibilities.[42] It was not until late in the afternoon that the Reconnaissance Battalion of 10th SS Division were ordered to secure the bridge. At the time of the landings, only one organised unit was in place to oppose the allied advance toward the bridges (the 16 SS Training Battalion camped in Wolfheze) and their commander—Sepp Krafft—acted quickly to establish a blocking screen west of Oosterbeek.[43]

Horsa and Hamilcar gliders of the 1st Airlanding Brigade litter landing zone 'Z' west of Wolfheze, 17 September. North is at the photo's bottom.The Allied advance quickly ran into trouble. The reconnaissance squadron was ambushed by the northern flank of Krafft's blocking line and withdrew.[44] The 1st and 3rd Parachute Battalions were also stalled by Krafft's defences and spent the rest of the day skirting his line. The 3rd Parachute Battalion went south and halted in Oosterbeek for most of the night[45] while 1st Parachute Battalion went further north but hit Spindler's forces and was unable to reach the Arnhem-Ede road of Leopard route. Instead Dobie decided to abandon his plan and help Frost at the bridge and the battalion headed south into Oosterbeek overnight.[46] Only the 2nd Parachute Battalion was largely unopposed, bypassing the defences that did not as yet reach down as far as the river. They were slowed by cheering Dutch civilians and did not reach the bridges until late in the day.[47] The railway bridge was blown by German engineers as the Allies approached it[48] and the pontoon bridge was missing its central section.[49] At dusk, the men of A Company under Major Digby Tatham-Warter observed Graebner's force cross the bridge. Most of the battalion and various other supporting units—including two jeeps of Goughs squadron, four 6-pounder anti-tank guns, Brigade HQ (but without Lathbury), and Royal Engineers (in total numbering about 740 men)—[50] moved into Arnhem centre as night fell and owing to the oversight in German orders were able to secure the undefended northern end of the road bridge.[51] Lieutenant Jack Grayburn led an attempt to secure the southern end of the bridge but was unsuccessful, and a later attempt using a flame thrower only succeeded in setting the freshly painted girders of the bridge alight.[52] However, the British were able to make good their position and quickly repulsed the 10th SS Reconnaissance Battalion and other German units when they arrived to secure the bridge.[53]

Meanwhile, the Airlanding Brigade moved quickly to secure the landing zones. The 2nd Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment moved into Wolfheze, the 1st Battalion, The Border Regiment secured DZ 'X', deploying its companies around the DZ and in Renkum, and the 7th Battalion King's Own Scottish Borderers moved to secure DZ 'Y'.[54] Here, they ambushed the Dutch SS Wach Battalion as it headed toward Arnhem from Ede.[55] Units of the Airlanding Artillery and Divisional HQ headed into Wolfheze and Oosterbeek where medical officers set up a Regimental Aid Post at the home of Kate ter Horst.[56]

The Allied advance was severely hampered by poor communications in these crucial initial phases.[57] The paratroopers' radio sets range was instantly limited by the wooded terrain and as the battalions advanced they lost contact with Divisional HQ at the landing zones.[58] Over the coming nine days, radio communication within the division, with Browning's HQ at Nijmegen, with XXX Corps and with the United Kingdom would be intermittent and unreliable, severely hampering the British units.[59] Carrier pigeons were even used to make contact with England.[60] Partly as a consequence of this limitation, Urquhart decided to follow the 1st Parachute Brigade and make contact with Lathbury. He found the Brigade HQ on Lion route but was informed Lathbury himself was visiting the 3rd Battalion. Urquhart followed him there but subsequently would not be able to return to Divisional HQ for two days.[61]

Time to play another round of Close Combat 2, A Bridge too far and watch some BoB.
Fallen paratrooper's remains recovered. Hopefully they will be able to ID the remains.