From Ooij and Beek, retrace your steps back through Berg en Dal. Leave town following the road to Heilig Landstichting. After two miles you will arrive at a roundabout on the main Groesbeek / Nijmegen road. Beyond the metal sculpture, the white building is the Sionshof Hotel Restaurant. 1/508 PIR passed this point on the evening of Sunday 17 September 1944 having assembled in the surrounding woods.


Sionshof Hotel located in the centre of the battle area. It was used by journalists covering the battle, officers of the Guards Armoured Division and the 82nd Airborne while in divisional reserve.

The memorial on the wall of the Sionshof Hotel.


The Anglo-American battle in the streets of Nijmegen was one of the most bitterly contested of the MARKET GARDEN campaign. However, with only two reporters accredited to 82nd Airborne, both of whom were busy covering the action on the Groesbeek Heights, there was little contemporary coverage of the ultimately successful Nijmegen battle in either the UK on the US press. Consequently, there has never been the level of interest or knowledge that this highly significant battle deserves. This has led to an enduring underestimation of the achievement of 82nd Airborne Division and Guards Armoured Division in capturing intact the bridges across the Waal and opening of the routes across the Island to the Rhine.

While planning the operation, Lieutenant General ‘Boy’ Browning considered the problems facing 82nd Airborne in Nijmegen. He believed that the 300-foot high Groesbeek Heights that dominated Nijmegen and its bridges were crucial. Writing after the war, the divisional commander, Brigadier General Gavin, summarized the significance of the high ground on planning the battle.

‘The retention and control of the high ground would mean control of the flatlands and the approaches to Nijmegen and the glider landing areas, and would prove to be the key to the success of the over-all Grave – Nijmegen operation.’

Having been denied a coup de main, the need to hold the higher ground led to Generals Browning and Gavin relegating the capture of Nijmegen and its bridges to a task,

‘that was to be completed after other objectives were secure and sufficient troops could be spared from their defence’.

Explanation of this focus on the force protection rather than the objective, can only be explained in General Gavin’s own telling words that:

‘Since August the Luftwaffe and the Wehrmacht had been on the defensive and retreating behind the frontier of Germany, so we were inclined to go about our planning with more preoccupation with our own plans than any concerns for the enemy, since his resistance was expected to be negligible.’

In other words, having secured the Groesbeek heights and the glider LZs for subsequent lifts, they expected that there would be ample time and troops to secure the crossings over the Waal.

The city of Nijmegen, lying on the southern bank of the River Waal, was well heeled and neat before battle visited it in 1944. Nijmegen had been of strategic importance since Roman times and was guarded by an old fort, the Valkhof that covered the approaches to the crossings. It was only in 1937 that the 600-yard road bridge (including elevated ramps) was built. A second, railway bridge crossed the river from the city’s western outskirts, a thousand yards down stream. The old city that lay between the road and rail bridges was a typical maze of streets. However, further from Nijmegen’s centre, the newer portions boasted open boulevards and modern features of town planning such as roundabouts (traffic-circles) and dual carriageways such as the Oranje Single.


Original map of the Nijmegen area.

Sunday 17 September 1944

Follow the Nijmeegse Sebaan/Groesbeek Weg into Nijmegen. Turn right onto Saint Anna Straat and, in just over a hundred yards, drive on onto the Keizer Karel Plein roundabout. Park where you see a space near the roundabout, which can be difficult. Anglo-Saxon drivers should note that while access to the roundabout is controlled by traffic lights, drivers already on the roundabout have to give way to traffic entering from the right.

After a successful jump, the 82nd’s three parachute regiments settled down, largely unmolested, to dig-in. Meanwhile, radio operators monitoring the divisional command net eagerly circulated reports of the seizure of the Grave Bridge. As already mentioned there appeared to be some confusion between General Gavin’s intentions and Colonel Roy Lindquist’s understanding of his mission. At about 18.00 hours, 1/508 PIR abandoned its partly dug trenches and moved to secure the Nijmegen Bridge. At about 22.00 hours Companies A and B 1/508 PIR were briefed and dispatched on their new mission, leaving Company C to follow-on when it managed to find its way to the battalion RV. For the first five miles, Company A had a Dutch Resistance guide who led them to a crossroads in the southern part of the town, where he disappeared never to be seen again. Fed up with waiting, the paratroopers moved forward again. Lieutenant Foley’s 1st Platoon of Company A came under fire from a machine-gun a couple of blocks before they reached the Keizer Karel Plein, scattering the point patrol. Private Dikoon returned fire with his BAR, as riflemen crawled into positions to take on the enemy. The firefight was over quickly and then Lieutenant Colonel Warren, commanding officer 1/508 PIR, encouraged his men forward. ‘Good work men! Keep the ball rolling.’


General Jim Gavin realized by early evening that 508 PIR had not moved to take the vital bridge.

Advancing, the Americans came under fire from the centre of the roundabout and surrounding buildings. In the darkness, Kreizer Karel Plein quickly became the scene of confused fighting. Private Noon recalls how:

‘The noise of battle grew quickly, echoing off the surrounding buildings. Lines of tracer criss-crossed the square. I fired blindly as my night vision was eliminated by the flash of grenades and pools of bright light thrown out from burning buildings on the Kraut side of the traffic circle.’

Surprised and engaged by machine guns Company A, 1/508 went to ground. After a sharp fire fight, Lt Folley ordered two bazooka men forward. Within seconds, armour piercing projectiles hit an armoured half-track that had appeared and passed immediately in front of them. Enemy soldiers piled out of the burning vehicle, scattering into the darkness. Corporal Blue was waiting in the shadows at the edge of the square.

‘An SS Captain jumped the fence and tried to make his getaway between the houses. I said to Johnson, “Get him with your bayonet.” As the captain came between us, Johnson gave a long thrust, completely missed, and his M-1 was dislodged from his hands.... He reached a tall wooden fence and was trying to scale it and I let him have a short burst of three rounds.’


II SS Panzer Corps commander Willi Bittrich.


SS-Brigadeführer Heinz Harmel.

Enemy reinforcements had arrived in the Keizer Karel Plein.

Earlier on Sunday 17 September, as British parachutes blossomed within sight of his headquarters at Oosterbeek, Feldmarschall Model had rapidly appreciated the importance of holding the bridge at Nijmegen if he were to destroy 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem. One of his first acts was to confirm SS-Gruppenführer Bittrich’s estimate that Nijmegen should be II SS Panzer Corps’ Schwerpunkt (point of main effort). He also approved the immediate dispatch of 9th Hoenstaufen SS Panzer Division’s Recce Battalion to Nijmegen, followed by the Frundsberg Kampfgruppe(remnants of 10th SS Panzer Division). II SS Panzer Corps’ two ‘divisions’ were in fact each little more than the equivalent strength of a British brigade or US regiment, with a small number of tanks, self-propelled guns and half-tracks. Commanding the Frundsberg, SS-Brigadeführer Heinz Harmel confirms that:

‘My mission was to block the threat in the south long enough to enable the 9 SS to settle with the British Division in Oosterbeek – Arnhem. This was the main task.’

However, shortly after SS-Hauptsturmführer Graebner’s 9/SS Recce Battalion had crossed the Rhine, 2/Para seized the northern end of the Arnhem Bridge and Nijmegen was effectively isolated from II SS Panzer Corps. Further reinforcement of Nijmegen by the Frundsberg was only possible via a flank march and a very slow ferrying operation across the Rhine, at Pannerden, to the east of Arnhem, or a long march via Emmerich.


SS-Hauptsturmführer Graebner (left) was immediately despatched by Bittrich (right) to Nijmegen. Within 24 hours of this picture being taken Graebner was dead, but his intervention was vital to the fighting for the Nijmegen Bridge.

On the extreme right is Viktor Graebner of the 9/SS Recce Battalion. Note the Hohenstaufen badge.


Just as the Americans had moved forward to the Kreizer Karel Plein, the sound of gunfire was joined by the roaring engines of armoured half-track vehicles and trucks, the crash of vehicle tailgates and the clatter of metal shod boots on cobble stones. This was the leading elements SS-Gruppenführer Bittrich’s reinforcements arriving to occupy a key position – not a moment to soon.The reinforcements joined Nijmegen’s in situ garrison which consisted of a weak company strength NCO training school, some three infantry companies of Landesschutzen from 6/ErzatzBattalion, 406th Division, railway guard and police reserve companies. The first additions were a company of infantry from the Herman Goering Training Regiment which happened to be passing through Nijmegen on the afternoon of 17 September 1944. Another three companies of trainees, from Ersatz Battalion 6, were dispatched to Nijmegen, on Model’s instructions, from Wehrkreis VI. By late evening there were 1,000 men in Nijmegen under the Headquarters of Fallschirmjäger Reserve Training Regiment Henke, who also had both 88mm (4th Company, 572 Heavy Flak Battalion) and 20mm anti-aircraft guns under command for use during the ground battle. With his limited force, Colonel Henke formed close defensive positions around the southern end of both railway and road bridges, with his headquarters in the Hof van Holland fort on the northern bank. In addition, Colonel Henke planned to establish strong points at the Keizer Karel Plein and roundabout, half a mile from the bridges, where the routes into Nijmegen focused. Patrols and outposts would complete the screen that protected his main positions around the bridges.


US Paratroopers who entered the town, had difficulty getting citizens to realise a battle was about to be fought in Nijmegen.


Corporal Blue still on the roundabout recalls:

‘We were standing by a large foxhole dug by the Germans when we heard the cocking action of a German machine-gun. McMillan dived for the foxhole and I followed close behind. I looked up and saw Johnson falling towards the hole with tracer bullets striking him. Within two hours, two of my basic training comrades had been killed.

The Germans spotted us and started throwing grenades at our hole. I pushed Johnson’s body aside and reached for a phosphorous grenade, pulled the pin and threw it at the machine-gun position. The grenade lit up the area. Blinded by the flash and smoke, I could hear the Germans breaking down their MG and withdrawing.’

The arrival of Company B, 1/508 PIR, and Battalion Headquarters stabilized the situation for the Americans. In the darkness the paratroopers displayed the qualities that had earned them the nickname of ‘Red Devils’ from the Germans. Private George Lamm recalled:

‘Capt Adams ordered 2nd Platoon to pass through 1st and 3rd Platoons, to clear and occupy an area adjacent to Company B about the centre of the circle. This move was a ticklish business. Friendly and enemy soldiers were mixed and there wasno definite line. The darkness contributed to the confusion but also assisted us reorganizing. Instructions were passed to units: “Only fire on orders or eye ball to eye ball defence! Use trench knife or bayonet when possible.”


Keizer Karel Plein today.

Private Le Boeuf slipped into a Kraut foxhole, still occupied and used his trench knife on the unlucky German. Sergeant Henderson’s men checked out foxholes we passed over and collected a couple of AA gun crews [from the gun mounted in the centre of the square], who were rather on the elderly side.’

Despite being able to dominate the centre of Keizer Karel Plein, 1/508 could make no further progress towards the bridge that night. The arrival of the SS reinforcements at a crucial point was a defining moment in the battle.

For those wishing to find and visit the Post Office described in the following paragraphs, take the Oranje Single (the wide road to Arnhem on the eastern side of Keizer Karel Plein). In two hundred metres, turn left onto V. Sch Straat. It is suggested that this short excursion be made on foot as the narrow streets and one-way system of the old town can be confusing and finding another parking space a matter of luck.

One piece of information that the local resistance immediately passed to General Gavin’s Headquarters was that the Nijmegen Post Office, about 500 yards from the bridges, was where one of the firing mechanisms for the demolition charges was located. Obviously, its capture and destruction was an important priority if 508 PIR were to stand a chance of capturing the bridges intact. While the battle was raging at the Keizer Karel Plein, a patrol from 1/508 PIR slipped through the German outposts and attacked the Post Office building. After a short but sharp firefight the building was secured and what was supposed to be the firing mechanism was destroyed. As ever, the Germans responded quickly and the paratroopers were surrounded in the building, where they fought for three days, while their ammunition, food and water dwindled and their casualties mounted.

The belated American probe into Nijmegen had failed to take the bridges and without a coherent plan to overcome the unexpectedly strong German defences, 1/508 withdrew to reorganize. They were regrouping on the southern outskirts of the city when General Gavin’s order came for them to make a forced march back to Groesbeek, where the situation had deteriorated, with Corps Feldt occupying the vital landing zones. Back in the city, the Germans set about developing positions as further elements of Kampfgruppe Frundsberg arrived, with SS-Hauptsturmführer Euling taking over responsibility for the close defence of the road bridge.

Monday 18 September 1944

While most of 1/508 PIR were counter-marching back to the Groesbeek heights, Company G, 3/508 remained in the city. In the face of the crisis caused by German 406th Division’s attack on the LZs, a company was all that could be spared for another attempt to take the 82nd’s principal objective.

As the previous evening’s attempt to seize the road bridge had been halted by the Keizer Karel Plein strongpoint, Company G, therefore, took an easterly route towards their objective around the outskirts of the town. However, by the following morning, the German screen and strong points had been reinforced by further SS troops but the majority were mainly, as originally expected, rear echelon troops. The battle hardened paratroopers, with the benefit of daylight and knowing that there was a significant force of Germans defending the bridges, made determined progress. Carefully avoiding the major strong points, they brushed aside the German outposts, as they quickly but methodically cleared the buildings along their route. At this point the German artillery intervened when the remnants of SS-Hauptsturmführer Schwappacher’s SS Artillery Training Replacement Regiment V, in position just north of the river, engaged the Americans who were approaching the road bridge’s main defences. His after action report records how the Police Reservists, who were acting as infantry,

‘... were already streaming back to the rear, when the attack was brought to a halt with precise salvos dropped amongst the leading waves. Our own [SS] infantry now reinforced from the rear and supported by further artillery fire, were able to force the enemy well back to the south. The northern roundabouts came back into our possession.’

The presence of the experienced and aggressive SS panzer grenadiers, supported by significant artillery, swung the balance in favour of the Germans. However, Company G, 3/508 PIR, had very nearly succeeded in reaching the bridge. For a single company to have reached a point within a hundred yards of their objective was a tremendous achievement.

During the ensuing lull in the battle for Nijmegen, the SS soldiers of the rapidly forming Kampfgruppe Reinhold took over the co-ordination and development of the defensive positions. SS-Sturmbannführer Reinhold set up his command post on the northern bank, with FallschirmjägerColonel Henke responsible for the rail bridge and SS-Hauptsturmführer Euling consolidating positions around the road bridge. Tactics remained unchanged; there was an outpost line based on the dual carriageway and two roundabouts, with strong points established at key junctions. The main positions were kept tight around the two bridges and progressively strengthened over the next forty-eight hours, as SS infantry, armour and artillery units from the Frundsberg were ferried across the Rhine at Pannerden on to the Island. The Germans’ growing strength in both quantity and quality meant that Generalfeldmarschall Model could stand by his insistence that the Nijmegen bridges should not be blown with some justification. Such was the strength of the German positions in Nijmegen, the Allies would have to await the arrival of XXX Corps’ armour if they were to have any chance of taking the bridge. With the delay in breaking-out of the Neerpeldt Bridgehead and the blowing of the Son Bridge MARKET GARDEN was already well behind schedule.


SS-Sturmbannführer Leo Reinhold defender of Nijmegen.

Tuesday 19 September 1944

Shortly after the arrival of the Grenadier Group at Grave, the airborne commander, General Browning, met General Horrocks of XXX Corps, accompanied by Major General Adair, in Molenhoek, for the first time. The result was orders for the Grenadiers to mount an attack, with the Americans, on the Nijmegen bridges. General Gavin recorded the decisions:

‘Despite the thinness of our infantry on the Groesbeek – Wyler front, I now felt that I could spare the divisional reserve, Ben Vandervoort’s 2nd Battalion of the 505th. I discussed this with General Browning and an officer from the Guards Armoured Division. Vandervoort was attached to the Grenadier Guards and was at once committed to the battle for the southern end of the Nijmegen Bridge. To replace Vandervoort in divisional reserve, a battalion of the Coldstream Guards was attached to the 82nd. I directed that they be moved to the general vicinity of where Vandervoort had been [Sionshof]. It was most reassuring to have the linkup [with XXX Corps] occur. Not only did it permit me to commit Vandervoort to the capture of the southern end of the Nijmegen Bridge; it now freed the 504th for further use.

A scout car belonging to 5/Coldstream Guards with its commander being briefed on the situation in Nijmegen 19 September.



Diamler armoured car belonging to the 2nd Household Cavalry Regiment.

The Daimler armoured cars of 2/HCR led the Guards Armoured Division into Nijmegen and deployed in an arc to observe the river and the city’s eastern and western flanks. Usually seeking to avoid engagements with the enemy, the Household Cavalrymen were in the unusual situation of their 2-pounder guns being the heaviest weapon available. The Americans pressed them to engage enemy positions that were making life difficult for them. In one such incident, the Germans, in the form of two dug-in 88mm guns, had been firing across the river from the area of Lent. Firing at maximum range the HCR’s 2-pounder guns drove the Germans gunners from their guns. However, pleasure at the enemy’s discomfort was short lived, when a further, hitherto silent, 88mm opened fire but this gun was well camouflaged and out of the diminutive 2-pounder’s range. Meanwhile, the Guards divisional artillery was reporting ‘ready for action’. The 88mm’s grid reference was passed accurately and the first salvo from six 25-pounders found its target. For a while the battle escalated, as the enemy responded by bringing SS-Hauptsturmführer Schwappacher’s artillery into action. Soon 105mm rounds were bursting around the Allies. Captain Cooper left his Daimler and joined the paratroopers on the ground:

‘I decided to get into a trench with the Americans and stayed there for one and a half hours, by which time I was completely deaf and covered with dust. “This sort of shelling is perfectly bloody and gives you a splitting headache and seems to jar the whole system. Every now and again, the spandaus opened up from the other side of the river and bullets whistled over our heads. These American troops are splendid types – extremely brave, cheerful and indifferent to the worst. The bridge, an enormous girdered affair, has been wired for blowing, which the “underground” have twice cut, and is covered by every conceivable German weapon.’

While 2/HCR were doing their bit to even up the firefight on the riverbank, the Grenadier Group and 2/504 PIR were preparing a concerted attack on the well dug-in and reinforced Germans at the two bridges. The Post Office was a subsidiary task for the group attacking the road bridge, as nothing had been heard from the paratroopers who had stormed it on Sunday night. The force was split into two columns:

Western Force

Eastern Force

Objective: Railway Bridge

Objective: Road Bridge

1 troop of tanks from No.3 Squadron, 2/Grenadiers.

3 troops of tanks from No.3 Squadron, 2/Grenadiers.

1 platoon of infantry from No. 2 Company, 1/Grenadiers (mounted in carriers).

3 Platoons of infantry from No.2 Company, 1/Grenadiers.

Company D, 2/505 PIR.

Companies E and F, 2/505 PIR.

A German 105mm artillery piece in action near Nijmegen.



Keizer Lodwijk Plein is today still over looked by the houses from which Lieutenant Dawson engaged the Germans dug-in in the area to his front.

The main through carriageway of Oranje Single has a local traffic road running parallel. Turn onto the local traffic road. After crossing Berg en Dalseweg look for a parking place and walk on towards the southern side of Keizer Traianus Plein (formerly Keizer Lodwijk Plein), where the area of the fighting of 19 September can be viewed.

The plan was for the two forces to seize the bridges, by making an armoured dash through the streets of Nijmegen, led by Dutch guides riding in the leading tanks’ turrets. H Hour was 16.00 hours and both forces set off at speed, with American paratroopers riding on the back of the tanks. Lieutenant Moller’s Sherman, leading the Eastern Force came under fire as it entered the open Keizer Lodwijk Plein, about 300 metres from the bridge. Since Sunday’s encounter battle, the Germans had enhanced the fortifications at the southern end of the road bridge, making excellent use of the surrounding houses and the Valkhof, an old fort that dominated the area. In addition, they had dug deep trenches and had even converted the bandstand into a strongpoint with good fields of fire. In the opening exchange, the leading British tank and a German anti-tank gun were knocked-out. Two further tanks were knocked out by a pair of 88mm guns near the bridge. The paratroopers had at first contact with the enemy, leapt off the tanks and fanned out into the surrounding buildings. It proved impossible for them to advance through the machine-gun fire that swept the square in front of the German anti-tank guns. The Grenadiers’ Number 2 Company were following at the rear of the column and attempted to outflank the German positions but also ran in to a wall of fire as they emerged from the side streets. The Guard’s divisional historian recalls that a temporary advantage was secured when:

‘Lieutenant Dawson found a view-point in a house from which he could overlook the German positions and, after bringing up all available automatic weapons, opened up on the enemy in front. A considerable number were killed and wounded but fire was returned by an 88mm gun; this scored a direct hit on the house which had to be evacuated.’

As darkness set in, it was now all to obvious too the Allies that the enemy was strongly holding the approaches to the bridge and that despite their determined attacks a stronger force was needed. The Eastern Force withdrew back into the city under increasingly heavy enemy artillery fire.

Return to the Keizer Karel Plein and take the Nassau Single and the Kronenburgers Single. Note the public gardens of Kronenburg Park on the right. At the T-junction, in the square, turn left and go through the railway underpass. Look for a parking place.

Meanwhile, the Western Force set off under command of Captain JW Neville from its FUP to the south-west of the town. He recorded how:

‘Our party had been given a guide, a Dutchman who spoke very little English. Nevertheless... we were able to reach our goal, which otherwise would have proved extremely difficult. The paratroopers rode on the backs of the tanks and we set off with the infantry carriers disposed between the tanks, keeping about 40 – 50 yards between each vehicle. I myself rode in the middle, giving instructions concerning the route on the wireless. The route went way out to the west with the result that the Railway Bridge was approached from its western side. To begin with, the advance was comparatively uneventful, with occasional shots from buildings. The principal trouble came from a house in which there were several Spandaus but these were knocked out with the 75mm from the leading tank. At this stage we expected the opposition to increase, but it would appear that they were in isolated houses, for the last 400 or 500 yards before we reached the railway line were comparatively uneventful. No doubt, the Dutch guide had some part to play in this result.’


Nijmegen Railway Bridge 1943.

The encounter with the German outpost had fully alerted the enemy and Captain Neville reported looking back at a crossroads that they had just passed and seeing a German tank heading for what was obviously their last reported position. Meanwhile, a recce of the railway bridge’s southern embankment revealed that it was strongly defended, with mutually supporting machine and anti-tank guns. Captain Neville continued:

‘As the light was beginning to fade, we decided upon an immediate attack. The plan was simple, if unimaginative. Three tanks were to charge the opening in the embankment while the other two gave covering fire. At the same time the Americans aided by the infantry carriers, were to gain the embankment to the south and drive out the machine-gunners from the flank. Alas, the plan did not work. As soon as the leading tanks moved forward across the open space, they came under heavy artillery fire from a battery on the north bank of the Waal. Clearly, these guns had been calibrated in advance. The leading tank was hit and destroyed immediately, and the next was hit immediately afterwards. All but one of the crew in the leading tank were killed and my own driver, contrary to orders and with misplaced bravery, jumped out of my tank and went to the rescue of those trapped. The result was that the two crews were rescued but my driver sustained serious burns. Our attack had lost impetus and the lot of the Americans was no better. They came under exceedingly heavy machine-gun fire, not only from the embankment in front but also from Germans who were by then on all sides. The Germans also had the support of two self-propelled guns, which appeared through the tunnel in the embankment and were engaged by our tanks. By this time it was dark, and since we had failed to make any impression on the defences, I decided to call off the attack during the night.

We withdrew about 100 yards and commandeered several houses for a temporary headquarters. There were about six seriously wounded men who probably would not have survived without medical treatment. I decided to send back in a carrier. The Americans, despite the reverse and a few casualties, were still quite unmoved. We placed our three remaining tanks in strategic places and everyone else took cover in the adjoining houses. The American commander, who was otherwise a most co-operative man, refused at this stage to have anything to do with sentries, on the grounds that his men needed “a good night’s sleep” [they had had virtually no sleep for three days]. Despite some forceful words from me, he remained adamant. To protect themselves against surprise attack, their so-called ‘sentries’ slept behind the doors so that any intruder would have to wake them up before getting in. My own expectation was, that we would be rushed during the night; and at frequent intervals we could hear the Germans moving around us.’



A Sherman Firefly of the Guards Armoured Division in the centre of Nijmegen.

The Allies had been fought to a standstill and it was to be over twelve hours before the next attack could be mounted.

A jeep of the US 82nd Airborne Division, transports a wounded soldier for treatment in Nijmegen.


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