Fighting to establish an outer perimeter

Fighting to establish an outer perimeter

While these efforts were being made to reinforce Frost at the bridge, the rest of the Air Landing Brigade and the 4th Parachute Brigade, which had come in with the second lift, were seeking to establish the outer perimeter and thus fulfil the second part of the original plan. To do so the 4th Parachute Brigade, under Brigadier J. W. Hackett, D.S.O., M.B.E., M.C., assaulted the high ground which had proved such a grim obstacle to its original attackers, the 1st Brigade. They had no better success, for by now the Germans had completely recovered from the initial surprise and, what was worse, had been reinforced. The arrival of the second lift in the afternoon instead of the morning had given the enemy six hours’ respite, and he had taken all possible advantage of it.

Nor were the Border Regiment and the King’s Own Scottish Borderers north of the railway more successful. The second had lost a certain number of men holding the dropping and landing zones; but so effectively had they accomplished their task that the casualties among the 4th Parachute Brigade on landing were very small. At seven o’clock in the evening the Borderers moved forward to occupy the positions allotted to them in the high ground north-west of Arnhem. They reached them with difficulty in the middle of the night and held on the next day, being joined in the afternoon by a number of Poles who had landed in gliders near Wolfhezen and suffered very heavily in doing so.

While the Commanding Officer of the Borderers was conferring with the Brigadier at Brigade Headquarters, the Germans launched an attack. On returning, he says, ” I found the hell of a battle going on.” He had just been ordered to withdraw his battalion south of the railway to avoid being taken in the rear, but, before he could do so, he had to beat off this attack. ” This we did successfully,” he reports, ” Major Cochran, who was afterwards killed, killing twenty of the enemy, and Drum-Major Tate the same number….. All the Boches who weren’t killed turned and went back into the woods, so I took the opportunity of going south.” Eventually the battalion, now reduced to fewer than 300 men, got into a position in two large houses near a small wood just south of the railway.

The Border Regiment were farther to the east, and ” B ” Company, in the village of Renkum, held out successfully against heavy attacks. ” We got ourselves into houses and a factory,” says Lieutenant Skilton, ” and in the morning the Germans started walking round the town. We waited till they got together in the main street into a number of nice little groups. Then we opened lire and killed thirty-live at very short range. That rather upset them, but they returned to the attack, and our position was very heavily shelled with mortars and self-propelled guns, whose fire destroyed most of the buildings we were in, and all our transport.” ” D ” Company was equally tenacious and beat off attack after attack launched against the landing zone it was defending throughout a period of thirty-six hours.

Major Wilson’s Independent Parachute Company and the glider pilots also shared in this heavy fighting. Having laid out the markers for the second lift, the Independent Company then met with snipers from an S.S. Battalion and immediately attacked them. Very soon ” the Germans in their sniper’s suits crawled out of their slits and grovelled on the ground begging for mercy. They were terrified to see men wearing red berets and had to be violently persuaded to their feet.” The assaults of the enemy continued, however, especially during the night and on the morning of the third day, and ” whenever the Germans attacked they all shouted to each other, it being obviously part of the drill, and above their shouts could be heard the voices of the N.C.Os. cursing and swearing and urging them on to battle. This shouting sounded eerie in the woods.”

The glider pilots, after having safely brought the troops to the battle, were now as heavily engaged as their passengers. Those who had flown, in the first lift helped to hold the landing zones and then, when the second lift had come in, fought side by side with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and eventually formed part of the defence of Divisional Headquarters, established at Hartestein. They were soon heavily engaged, and with them were two Troops of the 4th Parachute Squadron R.E., one of whose officers, Captain H. F. Brown, earned a Military Cross for the manner in which he led the Sappers fighting as infantry. Thus after two and a half days of bitter, unceasing strife, the first phase ended. The northern end of the bridge had been taken and was still in our hands; but the rest of the design had gone awry.