December 16, 2019

1944. War Correspondents on the Battle of Arnhem

Eyewitness Accounts of Operation Market Garden
Canadians of the British Second Army during the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944 (source)
From the BBC's The Listener magazine, September 28, 1944:
The Battle for the Rhine Bridges

Despatches broadcast by eye-witnesses

THE ARNHEM BATTLE FROM THE AIR: Through binoculars you could see the ferocity of what was going on down below. Smoke curled up all along both sides of the main avenue of advance, you could see flashes of gunfire everywhere. At one time you could see our guns spitting angrily like alley cats, firing at an incredible speed. Away in the distance in front of us huge clouds of smoke seep lazily up to the sky. Today I was looking at one hour of what our airborne troops have been going through for nearly six days. You felt as though you wanted to swoop down and push our ground troops along the fire-raked corridor but, believe me, the men of the Second Army are not the sort that need any pushing.

Back at our airfield my pilot and I were discussing the battle, and I think he hit the nail on the head when he said, 'When you think of what those airborne types are going through, and are still holding on, you and I are awfully lucky citizens'. Think of those men, encouraged even with a slight increase in the signal of a wireless set, surrounded and pounded on all sides and still they go on. How right he was! These airborne lads in the Arnhem area are in a class by themselves.

Stewart Macpherson, September 22

IN THE 'POCKET' WITH THE AIRBORNE: On this sixth day in this mortar and shell riven pocket the airborne troops are hourly becoming more amazing to me. This morning enemy loud speakers again blared out in clumsy English asking them to surrender. It was a silly thing to do. It made these chaps hopping mad. You should have heard their language. Then the whole area was intensively shelled and mortared for the rest of the morning. Our commander walked around among his men as coolly as though it were their regimental sports day, enquiring and and encouraging. The guts of these airborne chaps is wonderful. . . . The hate has started again. As I write it seems that there is no point of the compass from which we cannot get mortared or shelled or machine-gunned or sniped. One part of the perimeter is held by sergeants—the glider pilots, every one of whom is a sergeant or a staff sergeant. The medical corps are on the job right round the clock. Theirs is a particular sort of courage. Some 943 prisoners have come in today, just Germans who have had enough and are stunned by the cold ferocity of men who don't know what quit means. The artillery of the Second Army has come into range and engaged enemy targets today. It was sheet music. We hope the orchestra swells. We are pretty sure it will.

Stanley Maxted, September 23

GETTING IN SUPPLIES: We knew the boys down there would be hard up for news, so before we set out we collected all the newspapers we could from the mess and dropped 'em for the chaps below. I'd like to say one thing about the glider pilots. We were towing a glider and as we set off the pilot reported he had difficulty in keeping his left wing down. Both he and his second pilot had to hang on to the stick together to keep the craft steady. We asked him if he'd like to be cast off at base. He said no . . . they'd carry on. And they did. . . . Jerry had light flak close up and heavy flak from a good way off. It was not like bombing a large town where you can weave in and out of it. Jerry knew we had to go that place . . . they had it taped. Tuesday was the first night I saw any real anxiety in the mess. The boys who got back went straight to the mess for a drink. Then they were ringing up control tower . . . asking 'Is so-and-so back?' . . . It was the first day we'd any real losses. On Wednesday I saw five kites go down in two minutes. There were others burning on the ground that we hadn't seen go down. Visibility was zero that day. . . As kites were being shot down you'd hear your bomb-aimer say 'There goes "Q Queenie"', and so on. . . .

Pilot-Officer R. W. Passingham, September 23

ALONG THE ROAD TO ARNHEM—JOTTINGS FROM A DIARY:

3 p.m. More reinforcements and supplies coming in by a few hundred more gliders over us. I am going out to a landing zone to watch them arrive, although a pretty sticky fight is going on at one of their zones.

3.30 p.m. It was a highly successful supply mission in that the gliders reached the right zone, but flak took a pretty heavy toll of the tug planes, two of which crashed within 500 yards of us. There is no sense in trying to describe that spectacle—no one would believe you. Two parachutes blossomed out early on. Out of the second glider a body hurtled as the plane screamed earthward, but the parachute apparently was shot up by flak and failed to open.

4 p.m. I decided to move up towards the fighting a mile or so away, but suddenly Jerry brought our woods under heavy artillery fire and I spend the last half-hour in a not nearly deep enough drainage ditch. Shells are still popping in here, within a few dozen yards, but we are going to try to make a run for it in a jeep and get to hell out of here.

4.30 p.m. Our driver really put the jeep through its paces down a path through the woods as shells continued to crack. We couldn't tell exactly where they were hitting.

5 p.m. Decided to go back to Eindhoven and check communications facilities.

6 p.m. We took nearly an hour to make the six miles south to Eindhoven, over the canal ferry and past a solid convoy of British armour and supply trucks. In Eindhoven the tidy city streets were stacked from kerb to buildings with cheering throngs. Flags and pictures of the Queen hung in front of every house.

7 p.m. Found Press headquarters of the Second Army. Just as we are about to turn into the headquarters a lone twin-engined German bomber, flying high, drops flares immediately overhead.

8 p.m. The last hour has been the worst of my life. We tried to get away from the centre of the city, but only managed to get a short way off the main street when the bombers came. We were alongside the city park so we pulled our jeep under the trees when the first of a stick of bombs dropped and crunched right up on us. We stuck there and the rest of the stick walked towards us, until the last burst across the street just 50 feet away. Then a few ammunition trucks began going up in terrific explosions, and there was the high whine of screeching shells.

Walter Cronkite, September 23

MESSAGE FROM ARNHEM: The area in which we are dug in can be best called a garden city, pleasant straight streets with modern houses in their gardens. Now the trees are stripped, the houses smashed, the well-paved roads fitted and littered with equipment, jeeps and improvised German transport, smashed Bren carriers and torn tramlines. Our troops hold position in some of these gardens and houses and I wandered among them during a lull at dusk last night. In the uncanny silence I could hear two paratroops joking and laughing, while a garden wall away a German soldier was asking his companion to fetch some water for cooking. This formation has got its teeth into the German defence position on the northern Rhine and, like the proverbial British bulldog, it won't let go.

Guy Byam, September 24