The Battle of Arnhem

The strategic objective of the operation that led to the ‘Battle of Arnhem’ was to create a bridgehead between the Nederrijn and the IJsselmeer with its front to the east. It required deep penetrations or bridgeheads over the River IJssel near Zwolle, Deventer, Zutphen, and eventually Doesburg. The entire bridgehead would have to function as an operational base for an eventual advance north of the Siegfried Line towards the North German Plain and the Ruhr. The tactical objective was to cut off German troops from their launch sites for V2 rockets in the Western Netherlands.  

Airborne troops (Operation Market) had to secure the line of advance from the south and the bridges over the rivers and canals up to the Waal at Nijmegen to prepare the way for the ground troops (Operation Garden). The airborne troops consisted of paratroopers and glider troops. The tactical objectives of the airborne Operation Market were to secure the objectives of the land Operation Garden. But events took a different turn. 

‘It is a sunny Sunday morning, 17 September 1944. The people of Gelderland are in church, expecting another quiet Sunday just like any other. However, in Overasselt, Nederasselt, Ede, Arnhem, and Wolfheze, the serenity of the Sunday morning is brutally disturbed when Allies start bombing the area, causing many deaths. Allied bombers carried out two air raids, one in the morning and one at noon.’

The main targets are the airport at Deelen and the barracks and railway lines in Ede. This is where the Germans who could potentially hold off the paratroopers are located. However, the bombings are done from too great a height. The old centre of Ede and the area around Parkweg are heavily hit and the Twijnstraat completely destroyed. There are sixty-nine civilian casualties while the barracks and railway lines are hardly affected by the bombings. 

The Battle of Arnhem

The strategic objective of the operation that led to the ‘Battle of Arnhem’ was to create a bridgehead between the Nederrijn and the IJsselmeer with its front to the east. It required deep penetrations or bridgeheads over the River IJssel near Zwolle, Deventer, Zutphen, and eventually Doesburg. The entire bridgehead would have to function as an operational base for an eventual advance north of the Siegfried Line towards the North German Plain and the Ruhr. The tactical objective was to cut off German troops from their launch sites for V2 rockets in the Western Netherlands.  

Airborne troops (Operation Market) had to secure the line of advance from the south and the bridges over the rivers and canals up to the Waal at Nijmegen to prepare the way for the ground troops (Operation Garden). The airborne troops consisted of paratroopers and glider troops. The tactical objectives of the airborne Operation Market were to secure the objectives of the land Operation Garden. But events took a different turn. 

‘It is a sunny Sunday morning, 17 September 1944. The people of Gelderland are in church, expecting another quiet Sunday just like any other. However, in Overasselt, Nederasselt, Ede, Arnhem, and Wolfheze, the serenity of the Sunday morning is brutally disturbed when Allies start bombing the area, causing many deaths. Allied bombers carried out two air raids, one in the morning and one at noon.’

The main targets are the airport at Deelen and the barracks and railway lines in Ede. This is where the Germans who could potentially hold off the paratroopers are located. However, the bombings are done from too great a height. The old centre of Ede and the area around Parkweg are heavily hit and the Twijnstraat completely destroyed. There are sixty-nine civilian casualties while the barracks and railway lines are hardly affected by the bombings. 

At the same time, an enormous fleet of aircraft was on its way from England to the Netherlands. 1073 transport aircraft and 500 gliders carrying around 20,000 American and British paratroopers and soldiers, 511 vehicles and 330 pieces of artillery, and supported by 1500 fighter planes. Their objective is to secure the bridge over the River Waal in Nijmegen and the bridge over the Lower Rhine in Arnhem in order to ensure that the ground troops, marching up from Belgium and Eindhoven, could push up north.

Battalion

On 17 September, and over the ensuing days, the heaths of Ede and Renkum and the farmlands near Wolfheze and at Driel act as landing zones for the paratroopers and gliders. The many thousands of British and Polish soldiers who suddenly appear to ‘fall from the sky’ are forever etched on the minds of the people who witnessed those events. After the landing in Renkum had successfully ended, most of the soldiers moved towards Arnhem. On the Sunday night, the Germans and members of the Dutch SS arrive from Ede to attack the Ginkelse Heide. This heath is defended by a Scottish battalion. When the second landing took place on Monday 18 September, the fighting for the heath was at its height. About 10 percent of the 2,000 paratroopers become casualties but the Allies keep control of the heath. During the course of the evening, the Scottish battalion and the second drop of paratroopers left the heath behind to support the attack on Arnhem. For eight long days they fought in this area to reach their objective; to capture the bridge at Arnhem and to hold it. Sadly, after three days, they were beaten back. The troops retreated and headed back to Oosterbeek where, after some intense fighting, 2,400 men were able to cross the Rhine five days later with the assistance of the Poles towards the south as part of Operation Berlin. Overall, some 9,000 men were killed, wounded or made a prisoner of war. In October the local civil resistance tries to get dozens of ‘airbornes’ back to their units under the code name Pegasus 1. In November another attempt, Pegasus 2, fails. Only a handful succeed in making the crossing and getting back. 

Battalion

On 17 September, and over the ensuing days, the heaths of Ede and Renkum and the farmlands near Wolfheze and at Driel act as landing zones for the paratroopers and gliders. The many thousands of British and Polish soldiers who suddenly appear to ‘fall from the sky’ are forever etched on the minds of the people who witnessed those events. After the landing in Renkum had successfully ended, most of the soldiers moved towards Arnhem. On the Sunday night, the Germans and members of the Dutch SS arrive from Ede to attack the Ginkelse Heide. This heath is defended by a Scottish battalion. When the second landing took place on Monday 18 September, the fighting for the heath was at its height. About 10 percent of the 2,000 paratroopers become casualties but the Allies keep control of the heath. During the course of the evening, the Scottish battalion and the second drop of paratroopers left the heath behind to support the attack on Arnhem. For eight long days they fought in this area to reach their objective; to capture the bridge at Arnhem and to hold it. Sadly, after three days, they were beaten back. The troops retreated and headed back to Oosterbeek where, after some intense fighting, 2,400 men were able to cross the Rhine five days later with the assistance of the Poles towards the south as part of Operation Berlin. Overall, some 9,000 men were killed, wounded or made a prisoner of war. In October the local civil resistance tries to get dozens of ‘airbornes’ back to their units under the code name Pegasus 1. In November another attempt, Pegasus 2, fails. Only a handful succeed in making the crossing and getting back. 

The lost battle

The bold attempt to force a quick crossing to the Ruhr district is thus forced to halt at Arnhem. The Battle of Arnhem came to a definite end on Tuesday 26 September. What remained was a totally destroyed city centre and a shattered population. They were then ordered to leave the city within just 48 hours which only gave them time to take their most necessary belongings with them. The approximately 95,000 Arnhemmers believed that they would be returning within the next few days but in fact it turned out to be eight months. The evacuated headed to Apeldoorn, Rheden, Ede or further up the Veluwe.

The Battle of Arnhem was a major blow to the city, and it changed Arnhem (and the region) for ever. The heavy fighting and shelling had destroyed the entire city centre. After the battle was lost, all the Arnhemmers had to abandon their city, only being able to come back to a desolated and looted city in the spring of 1945. Operation Market Garden was the first attempt by the Allied armies during the Second World War to liberate the Netherlands. The operation involved and affected many different nationalities and people: German soldiers, Polish and British paratroopers, the Dutch resistance, and local citizens, including many women and children.

The lost battle

The bold attempt to force a quick crossing to the Ruhr district is thus forced to halt at Arnhem. The Battle of Arnhem came to a definite end on Tuesday 26 September. What remained was a totally destroyed city centre and a shattered population. They were then ordered to leave the city within just 48 hours which only gave them time to take their most necessary belongings with them. The approximately 95,000 Arnhemmers believed that they would be returning within the next few days but in fact it turned out to be eight months. The evacuated headed to Apeldoorn, Rheden, Ede or further up the Veluwe.

The Battle of Arnhem was a major blow to the city, and it changed Arnhem (and the region) for ever. The heavy fighting and shelling had destroyed the entire city centre. After the battle was lost, all the Arnhemmers had to abandon their city, only being able to come back to a desolated and looted city in the spring of 1945. Operation Market Garden was the first attempt by the Allied armies during the Second World War to liberate the Netherlands. The operation involved and affected many different nationalities and people: German soldiers, Polish and British paratroopers, the Dutch resistance, and local citizens, including many women and children.

THE LIBERATION

In 2019/20 it will have been 75 years since the warring soldiers and resisting citizens fought a fierce fight for an unoccupied Netherlands. As part of a free Europe. From 17 to 25 September 1944, the Airborne region was part of the air offensive for Operation Market Garden and the ensuing fighting; the Battle of Arnhem where the Allies’ advance came to a dramatic halt after intense fighting. However, the Rhineland Offensive eventually allowed the Allies to push through to Berlin and to bring about a conclusive end to this black page of 20th century history. 

The nightmare of that time, with all its horrors, hopes, disappointments, and loss of loved ones, has changed forever the lives of the then-residents of the Airborne Region and the young British and Polish soldiers and their families. In those troubled times, everlasting friendships were formed. Following the liberation of the Netherlands, these have been maintained by annual commemorations. Since 1945, schoolchildren have been laying flowers at the graves of the fallen soldiers and English and Polish family members have been coming to stay with families in the Airborne region. 

THE LIBERATION

In 2019/20 it will have been 75 years since the warring soldiers and resisting citizens fought a fierce fight for an unoccupied Netherlands. As part of a free Europe. From 17 to 25 September 1944, the Airborne region was part of the air offensive for Operation Market Garden and the ensuing fighting; the Battle of Arnhem where the Allies’ advance came to a dramatic halt after intense fighting. However, the Rhineland Offensive eventually allowed the Allies to push through to Berlin and to bring about a conclusive end to this black page of 20th century history. 

The nightmare of that time, with all its horrors, hopes, disappointments, and loss of loved ones, has changed forever the lives of the then-residents of the Airborne Region and the young British and Polish soldiers and their families. In those troubled times, everlasting friendships were formed. Following the liberation of the Netherlands, these have been maintained by annual commemorations. Since 1945, schoolchildren have been laying flowers at the graves of the fallen soldiers and English and Polish family members have been coming to stay with families in the Airborne region. 

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