INTRODUCTION

As a British soldier my interest in MARKET GARDEN as a whole, rather than just the Arnhem battle, was born out of an incident at the Oosterbeek CWGC cemetery on the fiftieth anniversary. While accompanying a group of Dorset Regiment veterans, red-bereted veterans called out ‘Ah, XXX Corps. On time for a change!’ and other such comments. At first, this seemed to me to be normal banter and friendly rivalry between soldiers of different units but an uncomfortable tension grew between the two groups of veterans. Clearly, after fifty years, feelings of resentment at the defeat and virtual destruction of 1st Airborne Division still ran deep. The Dorsets, who were commemorating their comrades who died crossing the Rhine to join the Paras, knew that they had failed to reach Oosterbeek in time or in sufficient strength to make a difference. However, they also knew that they had fought all the way from Normandy and had done their best. Nor could they, even former company commanders, account for MARKET GARDEN’s failure.

I quickly discovered that there was a lack of detailed information on the part played by the US Airborne Divisions available in the UK. Even, Geoffrey Powell’s excellent book, The Devils Birthday, Bridges to Arnhem 1944 covers the Arnhem battle, in which he fought, in considerably more detail than those at Grave, Groesbeek and Nijmegen. Even in the States, the number of books, on what was regarded by the 82nd Airborne as their most difficult battle of the war, in no way compares with the number of those concentrating on Arnhem. In the case of XXX Corps, a short history was written, complementing General Horrocks’s book Corps Commander, but to piece together a detailed account, I have had to resort to divisional and regimental histories. In these, events are covered in more or less detail, with often imprecise information on what was going on elsewhere on the battlefield. Colonel Robert Kershaw’s book, It Never Snows in September, covers the German perspective of MARKET GARDEN. However, as a Parachute Regiment officer, he too understandably concentrates on Arnhem.

Why is there this disparity? The successful fight for the Nijmegen Bridge was every bit as desperate as that fought by 1 Para Brigade to reach the Arnhem bridge on 18 September 1944. The reason is simple; the correspondents who landed with 1st British Airborne Division were able to file vivid pieces to their editors that made compelling reading and caught the imagination of readers on both sides of the Atlantic. Also, few who have heard a recording of Stanley Maxted’s BBC report can not have been affected by the dramatic events he captured. On the other hand, only two correspondents were accredited to each of the US airborne divisions and in the case of the 82nd Airborne they received no help in filing their stories. At the time, the almost total lack of comment on the US part in the battle has led to lack of knowledge and understanding of the MARKET GARDEN campaign as a whole. This as General Brereton, Commander First Allied Airborne Army, predicted has had an enduring effect:

‘In the years to come everyone will remember Arnhem, but no one will remember that two American divisions fought their hearts out in the Dutch canal country and whipped hell out of the Germans.’

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The Nijmegen road bridge with the rail bridge behind. The city is to the left of the picture and Arnhem is just ten miles across the river to the north.

This book seeks to bring together little known, out of print and archive material into an account covering the 82nd Airborne Division and Guards Armoured Division’s fighting on the Groesbeek Heights and the capture of the Nijmegen Bridges.

This is the first of three Battleground volumes that will cover all sixty-four miles of XXX Corps’s route from Joe’s Bridge on the Escaut Canal to Arnhem on the Rhine. Another volume will cover the Guards Armoured Division’s capture and breakout from Joe’s Bridge onto Hell’s Highway, which was held by the paratroopers of 101st Airborne. The third volume will cover the battles fought on the polder land of The Island by 43rd Wessex Division in their attempt to reach 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem and that division’s evacuation from Oosterbeek. The fighting at Arnhem itself will be the subject of two further books in the Battleground series. Enjoy the tour.

Tim Saunders Lichfield, Staffs

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I am indebted to veterans on both sides of the Atlantic for their help and advice in writing this book. There was not much Battleground style material readily available on the Grave, Groesbeek and Nijmegen areas of the North West European Campaign but veterans’ contributions have helped fill this gap. Again, hard pressed staff from the regimental headquarters of the British units, whose fighting is covered by this book, have been most helpful; be they overworked regimental secretaries or highly knowledgeable volunteers. In America, veterans associations have helped me locate members who had tales to tell. Visits to the Public Record Office and airborne museums in Britain and Holland to view their archives were essential and I thank the staff unreservedly for their help.

It would be invidious to list by name all the Dutch people from the Nijmegen and Groesbeek area who have helped me in so many ways. Their help ranged from locating the more obscure sites to the provision of maps and photographs. However, their greatest contribution was their encouragement, warmth and friendliness. With many ad hoc German formations and units taking part in the fighting at Nijmegen, it has been difficult to make contact with former German soldiers. However, one particular divisional association has been of considerable help in clearing up some of Nijmegen’s MARKET GARDEN myths.

Finally, I will again thank my family for their extremely tolerant support of this project and encouragement. I am also most grateful for the hours they have spent reading through the draft manuscript spotting my errors and inconsistencies. I am particularly grateful to my father-in-law Lieutenant Colonel Geoff Hill (Royal Engineers) for his sound military advice. Thank you one and all.

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