Sunday, August 12, 2012
A Bridge Too Far
I recently had the opportunity to travel to Holland, and I took a day to visit Arnhem and Oosterbeek, best known for the bitter fighting that took place there in September of 1944 during Operation Market Garden. Operation Market-Garden was perhaps the British Ariborne's most dramatic engagement of the war. In a book aptly titled 'A Bridge too Far' Cornelius Ryan tells the story of how the 1st Division -reinforced by the Polish 1st Parachute Brigade- held out for 9 days in the town of Arnhem and its surrounding area under intense pressure, waiting for the ground troops which were supposed to relieve them after only 2 or 3 days. Eight of the bridges leading up to Arnhem were secured, but the 9th one -the one across the Rhine at Arnhem- was not and out of approximately 10,000 men originally in the division, less than 2000 managed to get evacuated. So this post is not about toy soldiers, but about the sites and events that they represent. Seeing sites like this one first-hand greatly helps to understand what actually took place and can be a useful resource for anyone considering setting up a diorama about the battle.
Monument dedicated to the 1st Airborne Division, about 1 km north of the bridge.
The emblem of the Biritsh Airborne is found in several places, around the monument and on the bridge.
After the war, the bridge was renamed John Frost bridge, in honor of the commander of the 2nd Battalion, who held the bridge for 4 days until they ran out of ammo and had to surrender.
View of the famous bridge from the north side. This was the side defended by the British. On the first day they attempted to capture the southern side, but were unable to secure it. During the battle, the area in this picture was strewn with destroyed and burned out halftracks from all the armor that the Germans threw at the paras to dislodge them from the north end of the bridge. BTW, notice the Airborne's Pegasus emblem again.
Similar perspective of the bridge after the battle. Note how the metal structure is different. I later learned that shortly after Market-Garden, the bridge was bombed by the allies to prevent the Germans from sending reinforcements south. The bridge that stands today was rebuilt on the same site, but the metal structure is slightly different.
Side view from the north side. Many paras were defending the bridge from the houses on both sides of the bridge and would have had a similar perspective.
Stairwell and tower on the north end. There are actually two towers on this end which would have offered some protection. This also shows how high the bridge is, even after it has already reached ground. This is probably to allow for river traffic and as protection against the occasional flooding.
View from the southern side. This is the side that the Germans were using to counterattack.
Long ramp leading up to the bridge on the southern side.
View of the Rhine to the east. Gives you an idea of the obstacle that it represented without a bridge.
The Hartenstein Hotel in Oosterbeek, 6.5 km east of Arnhem. You can get there after a short 10-15 min bus ride, but to the paras it must have felt quite farther. This became the HQ of the operation and is where the rest of the 1st Division gathered, having failed to reach the bridge and trying to keep a supply drop zone open.
The Hartenstein Hotel has been converted into a museum dedicated to telling the story of the battle. Here you see some nice life-size scenes of events that actually took place in the Hartenstein.
These scenes are setup in the basement, in the rooms where these events actually took place.
A canister showing the type of supplies that would have been dropped.
British equipment that has been found or dug up in the grounds of the Hartenstein.
Found German items.
British cammo jacket.
A variety of helmets representing the participants in the battle.
Somehow I doubt that the Kriegsmarine was involved in the fighting here.
These are nice to have as reference in case you care to paint this level of detail on your figures.
British para in full jumping gear and RAF pilot.
The museum contains a nice weapons collection.
Helmet of the Polish Parachute Brigade.
Teh man on the right belongs to a panzer unit. Note the antitank weapons on the back wall.
Interesting flamethrowers hanging on the wall.
Mini mortar, with quite a shell in the background.
These mortars certainly offered a good degree of mobility.
German cammo pattern. Looks like platanenmuster to me.
I had always wondered about the color of the scarf worn by the British Paras.
The Hartenstein Hotel from the back. The Paras were deployed in a large perimeter around the grounds and woods that surround the hotel.
On the grounds of the hotel you find some additional points of interest. I don't see however what role a Sherman might have played in the battle. I suspect this one did not get there until '45.
British 17-pounder antitank gun. I wonder whether the British gliders were capable of carrying these. They could carry jeeps, so it is possible that they also brought a few of these along.
17-pounder with battle damage.
Close up of another knocked out 17-pounder.
Memoial on the gounds of the Hartenstein depicting the Ducth people welcoming the British Paras from the sky.
Nice meadow behind the Hartenstein with two additional memorials dedicated to the Airborne.
Detail of the column in the previous picture. Each side of the column is carved with a different motif.
Close up of the other monument on that meadow. When the paras landed on the first day they caught the Germans unaware and for the first few hours there was little opposition. The paras walked from their landing zones through the Dutch towns enjoying the warm welcome of the civilians. That changed shortly after.
The Ducth people remain grateful. To this day they commemorate the event every year with a walk from the Hartenstein to the British war cemetery. The girls of the village bring flowers and care for the graves of the fallen paras. This is the arch where the walk will begin from on September 1st of this year.
The view of the British cemetery from the entrance gate.
The German war cemetery is located 66km south of Arnhem at a place called Ysselsteyn.
View from the northeast corner of the cemetery. It contains the remains of about 1800 men. I did not realize it before my visit, but many of the fallen are the RAF personnel who were trying to bring supplies and reinforcements during the 9 days that the battle lasted.
Each grave contains a quote from the family of the fallen soldier. Some of them celebrate the sacrifice, some of them criticize the senselessness of war. Many of them simply express the emptiness left behind.
Click here to see a post about the British Airborne
Click here to see the British paras in action