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Darknight (DC)

DAR: Arnhem Bridge Defense (Mord vs DC)

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It's been a while but I got inspired to do a full AAR with a narrrative for the latest battle between Mord and myself.

I figured I might give a DAR a go, rather than waiting until the end, so hopefully this is entertaining.

 

The basic background to this battle is:

1) I am defending with British Airborne Troops (no armour);

2) Mord is using SS troops (I think) and I told him to pick pretty much whatever he wanted except for Tigers.

 

That's it.

 

 

Now on with the show....

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Arnhem Bridge Defense                   September 18th, 1944             0600 hrs

 

 

Situation:             

Yesterday began the great gamble to bring the War to a speedy resolution.  Operation Market saw the deployment of thousands of airborne troops along a corridor of Dutch territory stretching from Eindhoven through Nijmegen and culminating at Arnhem.  The American 101st ('Screaming Eagles') Airborne Division was dropped at Eindhoven, the American 82nd ('All-American') Airborne Division was dropped at Nijmegen, and the British 1st ('Red Devils') Airborne Division was dropped across the Rhine River in the vicinity of Arnhem.  The airborne drops were undertaken for the purpose of securing major river crossings along the corridor; the river crossings are essential to Operation Garden, which is a strong thrust by British XXX Corps along the narrow route with Arnhem as the ultimate goal.  Unbelievably, there was insufficient airborne transport available for the operation and the Red Devils were only dropped at half strength on the 17th, with the remainder of the Division plus the Polish Parachute Brigade to be dropped subsequently.

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From the Journal of Sgt James FOX:           

Currently serving under RSM Bruce Duncan (senior advisor and XO to Lt-Col Keith) attached to HQ 2nd South Staffordshire Regiment (Airlanding Bn). 

 

We set out on September 17th in high spirits, excited that we were finally getting our chance to get in on the action, which was only natural after having so many operations scrapped and being forced to watch from the sidelines as others chased the Nazis out of France.  The flight was fairly uneventful, though our nerves were on edge with the anticipation of what was to come; it’s a strange feeling to sit in a glider being towed by another airplane.  When we were about a mile out from our prescribed LZ, the cable was released and Capt Thompson, our glider pilot, brought us down safely (if not smoothly; Hicks threw up as soon as his feet touched the ground).  It was about 1315 hrs and only half of the 2nd South Staffordshire Regt was on the ground; we had found out last night that the other half of our regiment (‘D’ & ‘E’ Companies plus some ‘A’ Company personnel and weapons) wouldn't be brought in until the 18th due to a shortage of towing aircraft.  Once we had got ourselves organized and ready to move, the Regimental OOB comprised the following:     

 

  • Lt-Col Keith's HQ (to which I am presently attached while serving with the XO, RSM Duncan)
  • the Bn Pioneer Platoon under Lt Hornsby
  • two MG Platoons under Lts Martin and Archibald (this was Archibald's first time in action)
  • our two ATG Troops under Lts Mercer and Packer (these were the 6-pdr Battalion guns; I later found out that several of the Divisional 17-pdr ATGs were destroyed in their gliders due to landing accidents)
  • 'B' Company under Major Thomas Duncan (older brother of RSM Bruce Duncan)
  • and 'C' Company under Major Hopkins (a somewhat adventurous officer who was leading his first major combat command)

 

 

There was a lot of confusion among Brigade and Divisional Command at the LZ.  The CO of 1st Airborne Division, Major-General Urquhart had apparently gone forward to locate Brigadier-General Lathbury, the CO of 1st Parachute Brigade; apparently the para brigade was being too cautious in their advance and the CO believed it required his personal presence to get things moving again, which of course resulted in the rest of the Division being out-of-contact with the CO.  It was in this confusing situation that Brigadier-General Hicks, the CO of 1st Airlanding Brigade, issued orders that the 2nd South Staffords (half-strength though we were) should attempt to reinforce Brig-Gen Lathbury's 1st Para Brigade in Arnhem; the rest of our regiment would have to catch up when they eventually arrived.

 

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Arnhem:  Aerial Reconnaissance Photo

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Lt Col Keith had us underway immediately and we arrived in Arnhem at approximately 1800 hrs, having encountered minimal enemy contacts along our route.  The town was eerily quiet but Cpl Richards found a local who said that not long before we arrived a column of German vehicles had crossed Arnhem Bridge, heading to the south towards Nijmegen.  Major Hopkins’ “C” Company was immediately dispatched to recce east of the Nijmeegseweg roadway towards the Tram Depot; he was given subsequent instructions to take up positions to block any enemy forces approaching towards the Bridge from east of the town. “B” Company was ordered to spread out and consolidate positions along the western side of the Nijmeegseweg roadway.  Meanwhile, Lt-Col Keith had us set up Battalion HQ at St Eusebius’ Church.  Our original orders were to support the 1st Para Brigade in holding the Arnhem Bridge but our understrength battalion appears to be the only unit in the Division that actually made it to the Bridge; our immediate objective now becomes the establishment of defensible positions to prevent the Germans from controlling the northern side of the Bridge.

 

 

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Arnhem Landmarks and Roads

 

 

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Arnhem: Initial Orders & Intel

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The longer we remain the only friendly units in Arnhem, the more precarious our position becomes because the Germans must be scrambling to respond to Operation Market by this time.  It is know that there are enemy units and vehicles south of the Rhine and we are too understrength to press any patrols across the Bridge to secure the south bank, so it must be assumes that we will see the enemy attempt to move across the Bridge to the north bank at some point.  There is also the likelihood that German units will be found to the east and north of the town, although no contacts have been made yet.  We have no choice but to hold our positions and hope that the rest of the Division completes their assigned tasks.

 

At 1115 hrs, Major Tom Duncan’s “B” Company radioed HQ that their platoons had moved into defensive positions along the Eusebiusbinnensingel and Kade Straat.  At midnight, “C” Company contacted HQ to report their platoons in position along the Eusebiusbuitensingel and Oost Straat; no enemy contacts.  It wasn’t until 0300 hrs on the 18th when we heard from Major Thomson’s “A” Company that their platoons had prepared and occupied suitable positions to support the defense of the Bridge.

 

 

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Troop Dispositions: “B” & “C” Companies

 

 

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Troop Dispositions: “A” Company

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With Dawn approaching, we’re hopeful that other elements of 1st Airborne Division will be able to bolster our presence in Arnhem.  No doubt we will come into contact with German troops today but we are as prepared as we can possibly be for action and confident that we can hold on until reinforced.  Regardless, action seems a preferable alternative at this point to the tense anxiety always present prior to battle.  At least we’ll finally know where the enemy actually is….

 

 

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Arnhem Bridge at Dawn

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No7 Platoon, “B” Company position on the Eusebiusplein

 

 

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Cpl Arnold of No4 Gun, No4 AT Troop, “A” Company keeps watch on the bridge deck

 

 

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Pvt Pitcairn, No12 Platoon, “C” Company waits anxiously near the Bridge

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Dawn (0600 hrs) on September 18th, 1944:

(Sgt Fox’s journal was recreated after the battle from personal notes, After Action Reports, recollections and surviving participants)

 

0600 hrs +1-5        All quiet.  We were roused before dawn to stand to for action during the coming day.

 

0606 hrs                Pvt Seaman (No5 Platoon), manning a forward observation post in the upper floors of a house along the Nieuwe Kade, reports possible enemy troop movements on the south side of the Bridge.

 

0607 hrs                Confirmed. Multiple enemy contacts on the south bridge deck; headed towards the north shore.

 

0608 hrs                German troops appear to be trying to force a crossing of the bridge on foot; no vehicles spotted.

 

0609 hrs                Radio confirmation received at Bn HQ of multiple enemy vehicle contacts on the bridge deck.  Cpl Smith’s Vickers MG, located in the school astride the Nijmeegseweg was suddenly heard to open up on the advancing German infantry; this lasted for less than a minute before an undetermined enemy vehicle on the bridge deck opened up on Cpl Smith’s team.

 

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Cpl Smith (No2 MG Platoon, “A” Company) spots enemy movement on the bridge deck and his team opens fire

 

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Vickers MG fire sweeps the bridge deck

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0610 hrs                Cpl Arnold (4/4 ATG), alerted by the nearby MG fire coming from the Bridge, ordered his gun to open fire on the German troops exposing themselves on the bridge deck; 4/4 ATG got several shots off to unknown effect, but it was the last order given by the gun commander, as Cpl Arnold became the first 2nd South Staffordshire to become a casualty in the battle.

 

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Nerves of steel

 

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Cpl Arnold becomes the 1st casualty of the battle

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0611 hrs                4/4 ATG has begun to attract the attention of most of the Germans on the bridge and the crew has to briefly take cover before they can return fire.  A few more shots are taken but casualties are beginning to mount on the gun team.  Meanwhile, Cpl Smith brings his Vickers back online just as the Germans make a dash for the north side of the Bridge.  A German assault gun is spotted by Pvt Miller (a scout from No8 Platoon) at the southern end of the bridge.

 

0612 hrs                4/4 ATG, now being led by Pvt Boyle, continues to oppose the German bridge crossing.  A lucky shot struck an unseen enemy AFV on the bridge deck, the plumes of black smoke billowing from the abandoned vehicle indicating the small victory.  Seconds later, Pvt Boyle is wounded following a direct hit on the gun position by an HE round but refused to abandon his weapon, despite his team being reduced to two gunners.

 

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Pvt Boyle continues to service his gun despite the mounting casualties on his team

 

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Direct hit on 4/4 ATG position; Pvt Boyle is wounded in the leg by shrapnel

 

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4/4 ATG’s confirmed kill on a German Recce vehicle

 

 

 

0613 hrs                The Bridge begins to swarm with angry Germans….a Stug III has made its way into position to dominate the eastern edge of the Nijmeegseweg roadway and several halftracks are reported moving through the smoke from the destroyed AFV.  4/4 ATG has gone silent but is still not abandoned.

 

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The Germans are beginning to make a determined push to cross the Bridge

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0614 hrs                German attention turns to Cpl Smith’s team in the schoolhouse, killing the gunner and pinning Smith’s team down until Smith grabs the gun himself and tries to put it back into action.  On the Bridge, the German advance stalls as Sgt Young’s Vickers begins to chatter (No1/1 MG Platoon, ‘A’ Company) and Cpl Erskine’s ATG sees an opportunity to strike at an advancing Stug III, apparently disabling the dangerous armoured beast.

 

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2/1 MG, No 2 MG Platoon begins taking casualties….

 

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….as 1/1 MG, No 1 MG Platoon opens fire.

 

 

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Cpl Erskine’s No 4/1 ATG seizes the opportunity to take a clear shot….

 

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….resulting in the possible knockout of an armoured opponent.

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0615 hrs                Confirmed armour kill by No 4/1 ATG.  The Germans are reorganizing their attack, while Cpl Smith makes things hot for any poor souls on the near side of the Bridge.  Meanwhile, Pvt Miller, a scout from No8 Platoon, spotted a possible Panther tank on the far side of the Rhine.

 

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Overall Situation at approximately 0615 hrs, September 18th, 1944

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0616 hrs                A second Stug III on the Bridge silences Cpl Smith’s Vickers permanently with a direct hit on the school building.  Just outside the school, Pvt Boyle’s heroic stand ends in the ultimate sacrifice during a hail of German MG fire; the No 4/4 ATG is abandoned by Pvt Winthrop, the only remaining member of the gun team, and he takes refuge in the school house.  Across the Nijmeegsewg, at the No 4/1 ATG, Cpl Erskine is seriously injured and the rest of his team is forced to seek cover.  As the drama unfolds at the northern end of Arnhem Bridge, Cpl Aldrich’s section from No5 Platoon takes casualties from the recently identified Panther tank.  Cpl Aldrich was assigned to observe enemy movements near the Bridge but one of his men unwisely decided to snipe at some Germans on the South Bank; this attracted fire from the distant Panther and several members of the team were wounded as they extricated themselves from the building. 

 

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2/1 MG, No 2 MG Platoon takes a direct hit on their position….no survivors

 

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Pvt Boyle pays the ultimate price for his heroic actions

 

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Cpl Aldrich attempts to get his men out of a hot spot

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0617 hrs                Waves of Germans appear to be trying to fight their way forward and force their way off the Bridge.  The No 4/1 ATG begins taking accurate mortar fire from an unknown location.  No1 MG platoon acquires more targets and causes a few casualties among the advancing troops; this time Cpl Young’s 1/1 MG is joined by the 1/2 gun under Cpl Liming, which is positioned in the St Walburgis Church tower.  At about this time Pvt Guthrie (No9 platoon, “C” Company) brings his 2” mortar into action, having obtained a good visual of enemy troops at the north bridge exit.  Meanwhile, Pvt Inglis, an ammo bearer from No2 MG Platoon, makes an attempt to save any surviving members of Cpl Smith’s Vickers team in the schoolhouse.

 

0618 hrs                With No 4/1 ATG suppressed, the StugIII could pretty much force the Bridge crossing by itself at this point; several of the shots from the German assault gun seem to have overshot their intended target (No 4/1 ATG) and have alerted Nos 4/2 & 4/3 ATGs, which are positioned in the small park at the end of the northern end of the Nijmeegseweg.  Cpl Aldritch leads the remnants of his team back below the Bridge deck to rescue their wounded mates.  Pvt Inglis has discovered that an abbatoir has replaced the position that had formerly been occupied by Cpl Smith’s Vickers team.

 

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Nos 4/2 and 4/3 ATGs taking incidental fire on their positions at the northern extent of the Nijmeegseweg

 

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Cpl Aldritch leads his remaining men on a rescue mission

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This is great stuff, keep it coming. More than 30 years ago an old girlfriend of mine emigrated to the Netherlands. For a couple of years she lived in a small apartment in Arnhem. She told me that there were bullets embedded in the walls.

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0619 hrs                The Germans are pressing hard to get off the Bridge; they know that remaining on the structure limits their tactical ability and creates a killing zone.  The StugIII lands a direct hit on No 4/1 ATG, instantly killing the remaining gun crew…there are no more AT guns assigned to oppose the crossing, so the way is open.  A previously unspotted Panther tank appears at the south side of the Bridge and begins shelling the St Walburgis Church Tower, making life extremely difficult for Cpl Liming and his team.  Meanwhile, both Pvt Inglis and Cpl Aldrich are forced to abandon their rescue efforts due to enemy fire.

 

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The Germans continue to pressure…they know they must get off the Bridge

 

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No 4/1 ATG disappears after a direct hit from the StugIII

 

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Cpl Liming’s Vickers gains the unwanted attention of an enemy Panther tank

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0620 hrs                With the Panther fixed on the Church tower, Cpl Liming decides to pack up and find another firing position.  Lt Packer (CO, No4 AT Troop) pulls back from his forward position, having lost both gun teams near the school, in order to make contact with his remaining two guns; Pvt Wolseley with No4 Troop HQ team is shot dead by a sniper upon standing up to move.

 

 

0621 hrs                With the Germans on the verge of forcing the Bridge, several units have moved to shore up holes in the defense; the smoke on the Bridge is obscuring line-of-sight for several MG teams in the vicinity of the Nijmeegseweg.  Pvt Thorn, a marksman with No5 Platoon, decided to reposition in a building along Kade Straat, from which he spotted several Germans providing support fire on the south bank of the Rhine.  Pvt Thorn promptly eliminated a German or two and then took a bullet in the shoulder from a mounted MG42.

 

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Several German vehicles are now on the Bridge and steadily moving northwards

 

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Pvt Thorn (No5 Platoon) eliminating Germans on the south bank of the Rhine

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0622 hrs                Thick smoke obscures the northern bridge exit, making it hard to discern how cautious the Germans are being in their advance, though the amount of ammo being laid down on the previous ATG positions seems to indicate that they are nervous about attempting to storm the town.  The 2” mortar of No8 Platoon (Pvt Hill) makes an attempt to eliminate the enemy MG position on the south shore at the base of the Bridge but begins to take fire from their target.

 

0623 hrs                As the smoke begins to dissipate, German infantry rush off the Bridge and into Arnhem.  Bullets begin flying like angry bees as several Paras join the firefight versus the exposed enemy.  No12 Platoon has troops nearby to the east of the breach, waiting in the park near the CAMIZ Milk Factory; a deadly fire is directed at the first Germans off the Bridge, decimating their advance.  A panicked trooper bolts to the western exit and is cut down by the men of No7 Platoon.  Meanwhile, Pvt Hill continues to harass the Germans on the south bank of the Rhine with several well-placed mortar rounds.

 

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The Germans succeed in seizing the north exits off the Bridge…

 

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…but are cut down in the crossfire from several nearby Paras

 

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No12 Platoon opens fire on the enemy from near the CAMIZ Milk Factory

 

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On the western side of the Nijmeegseweg, a soldier is cut down by fire from No7 Platoon

 

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Pvt Hill (No8 Platoon) laying mortar rounds on an MG42 on the south bank of the Rhine

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