World War Two: North Africa (3-12); Seizure of Oran

The second day’s operations promised to be more difficult. Resistance such as that encountered by Combat Team 18 at St. Cloud and Combat Team 26 at Ferme Combier could be expected at other points selected by the French defenders. French opposition was likely to stiffen with a view to delaying the attack until reinforcements from the interior could intervene. Enemy counterattacks were a possibility, and the roads, particularly that from the Foreign Legion’s center at Sidi bel Abbes, were being closely watched for the approach of French columns. American ground units were widely scattered, with small reserves and restricted mobility, and with less armored and artillery support than would have been the case had unloadings kept to the scheduled volume. On the other hand, American land-based aircraft units were prepared to reinforce the carrier-borne aviation in order to increase the margin of Allied air superiority, and naval gunfire support was ready.

The attack planned for 0400, 9 November, toward Oran had to be suspended until St. Cloud was taken. Late on D Day, General Allen issued orders for the investment of St. Cloud from all sides. Combat Team 16 (less the 1st Battalion) was instructed to bar reinforcement of St. Cloud from the Oran side.2 The 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, relieved the 3rd Battalion in Fleurus, and the 3rd Battalion then shifted to high ground west and northwest of St. Cloud, on the road between it and Arcole, where it was to interpose between St. Cloud and an army barracks as best it could without supporting artillery. The 18th Infantry, reinforced by two batteries of the 32nd Field Artillery and by elements of the 16th Infantry, was to attack St. Cloud, after an artillery preparation of fifteen minutes, from the north, east, and south. Support by Twelfth Air Force Spitfires was at first ordered then canceled until the planned drive on Oran. Task Force RED could furnish no armored support in view of the missions to which it was already committed and the incompleteness of its unloading.

The French Counterattack on the Eastern Flank

The French counterattacks expected on D plus 1 seemed before daylight to be impending at Y Beach, and later were reported at the eastern flank of Z beachhead and near Tafaraoui airfield. The enemy was reported to have infiltrated along Djebel Murdjadjo south of El Ancor for a drive northward toward the beachhead of Combat Team 26.

At the easternmost wing of the Center Task Force, reinforcements from the 2nd Algerian Infantry Regiment at Mostaganem were believed to have strengthened the troops that had been driven out by the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, as it occupied La Macta on D-Day afternoon. At daylight, moreover, air reconnaissance revealed that light armored and motorized forces were advancing in column from Sidi bel Addes toward Tafaraoui. Planes strafed and bombed these elements and thereafter watched the highway for the main column of which, presumably, they were the advance elements. The threat which developed on the eastern flank near La Macta was disturbing to the whole plan of operations on D plus 1.

About one battalion of the enemy infantry forded the La Macta river south of the highway bridge, crossed a swamp during the night, and got into the rear of 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry. They approached from the same direction that a reinforcing company of the 1st Ranger Battalion had been expected, and they attacked northeastward toward the coast. Center Task Force sent a company of the 1st Battalion, 19th Engineers, as reinforcements in response to a first report which had been sent back circuitously and which had become garbled in transmission.

The rest of the engineer regiment was alerted for possible movement. Before they could arrive, naval bombardment was also requested by the naval gunfire officer with the force at La Macta who described the situation as “horrible.” With the troops entirely surrounded, he expected a “big attack” shortly after noon by greatly superior forces. The Center Task Force felt compelled to divert forces from other missions to quell this threat to Z Beach.

Signal communications with La Macta were almost nil. Reserves were insufficient, and lacked transport. By voice radio General Rooks directed the Commanding General, Combat Command B, at St. Leu to send to La Macta whatever armored reinforcements could be found, even by recalling a column which was en route to Ste. Barbedu-Tlelat to help Colonel Waters’ force oppose a French armored threat from Sidi bel Abbes. Since the column contained two medium tanks, the only mediums ashore, it promised to provide substantial support to the eastern flank of the Center Task Force. Three Albacore dive bombers, escorted by four Seafires, took off from the Furious at 1241 to silence French artillery reported in action at a point east of La Macta. They returned at 1441, claiming a successful strike at the designated point, but they had observed no clear evidence that the enemy battery was there. The troops in the mean-time were encouraged to hold on. “Help coming: tanks, engineers, bombers, Spitfires,” they were assured. The cruiser H.M.S. Jamaica moved into position during the air attack to join H.M.S. Farndale in naval gunfire support when called. The situation ashore was saved by the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, which drove the French troops away by fire and maneuver. The naval bombardment was held in readiness but not required. The first armored reinforcements plus Company D, 6th Armored Infantry, were used in a reconnaissance and demonstration to the east and southeast.

The situation at La Macta cleared up before arrival of the armored column with the medium tanks. The column was accordingly stopped a second time and ordered to resume progress toward Tafaraoui airfield in time to join Task Force RED for the third day’s operations. General Oliver’s headquarters platoon of light tanks at La Macta was replaced by another platoon which remained near La Macta during the night.

The engineer company was placed in the gap between La Macta and En Nekala, the marshland through which the morning attack had been launched. Arrangements were made to relieve the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, after dark with the 1st Battalion, 19th Combat Engineers, from corps reserve and with two batteries of the 7th Field Artillery Battalion. The infantry would thus be freed for operations next morning with the remainder of Combat Team 16 as the attack closed on Oran from the east. The enemy threat to the beachhead at Les Andalouses which had been reported before dawn turned out to be a minor danger which was readily controlled by General Roosevelt’s own forces. The American attack there, somewhat like that at Mehdia Port-Lyautey during this same morning, was imperiled by a shortage of ammunition and by the suspension of beach landings. At noon, one landing party was brought by determined and skillful navigation through the heavy swell with ammunition already loaded on its own motor transport. Combat Team 26 continued its attack subject to shelling from Cap Falcon and other batteries, and in the face of resistance from about 600 men of the 2nd Regiment of Zouaves on the heights west of Mers el Kebir. Combat Team 26 was making very slow progress over terrain advantageous for defense, against heavier shelling than that to which other attacks ashore were being subjected.

French Armored Counterattack Near Tafaraoui

A third French counterattack was launched by an armored force upon elements of Combat Command B in the vicinity of St. Lucien, seven miles east of Tafaraoui airfield. The initial effect of this threat was to stop the northward movement from Tafaraoui by most of the RED flying column which had just started its march to La Senia. French artillery fire from the hills west of Tafaraoui had already delayed these troops at a road junction directly north of the airdrome when they received word of the approaching French armored force. One reinforced tank company continued to La Senia despite the artillery fire, but the remainder turned back to defend the airfield, for protection of the Twelfth Air Force fighter base so recently established at Tafaraoui was essential. Reinforcements consisting of a platoon of light tanks, another of tank destroyers, two medium tanks, an antiaircraft artillery battery, and a convoy of air force ground troops were reported en route at 1015, but the armor was later diverted toward La Macta, as indicated above.

The French armored force assembled in the vicinity of St. Lucien while the Americans organized an attack to drive it off. The reconnaissance platoon of the 1st Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment (Lieutenant William Beckett, commanding), established contact with the French between Ste. Barbe-du-Tlelat and St. Lucien, while Company B, 1st Armored Regiment (Captain William R. Tuck, commanding), and a platoon of tank destroyers moved from Tafaraoui airfield early in the afternoon and launched an attack. The tank destroyers laid down a base of fire from a hill about 800 yards from St. Lucien while the tanks advanced with two platoons abreast and a third 500 yards behind them. The French force was driven from the field leaving fourteen ruined E-35 tanks behind. Captain Tuck’s force, which had lost one man, one tank, and one half-track, held St. Lucien until relieved that night by Company E, 6th Armored Infantry. Thus French armored intervention had failed to regain Tafaraoui airfield, but by catching the Americans without reserves, had upset the advance on La Senia airfield and Oran from the south.

La Senia airfield was not seized until 1000, 9 November, after many airplanes had already flown off, presumably to French Morocco. A few remained dispersed on the ground or in the hangars. Some of the defending troops retired toward Oran. The first American elements to reach the airfield were a few light tanks and self-propelled guns under the command of Colonel Todd, a portion of the flying column of Task Force GREEN. They reached their objective via the highway north of the Sebkra d’Oran and around the French barrier at Misserrhin, arriving on the southern part of the airdrome soon after sunrise. Resistance by the garrison was nominal. The GREEN flying column at first reported taking 60 airplanes and over 300 prisoners, a figure eventually reduced to 159 prisoners with 61 rifles and 4 machine guns, all captured without losses. If the airfield was easily taken, its possession was soon rendered precarious by aggressive artillery bombardment from two batteries of French 75-mm. guns near Valmy which outranged the tank guns. The party was pinned down, waiting for reinforcements from either Colonel Waters of the RED column or Colonel Robinett’s GREEN force. Each of them had his own pressing problems, but Company A, 1st Armored Regiment, with a platoon from Company E, 6th Armored Infantry, the advance section of Task Force RED, arrived by afternoon. When the enemy’s 75’s at Valmy began shelling the airfield heavily, a detachment of Colonel Todd’s force attacked and drove the crews out of their positions. The detachment did not hold the ground but returned to the airfield that night, after destroying three enemy guns. All French planes left in the hangars were destroyed.

Misserrhin Is Bypassed by the GREEN Flying Column 9-10 November Task Force GREEN approached La Senia in two sections. While Colonel Todd’s advance party was pressing along the highway, Colonel Robinett had, as noted above, strengthened the protection of the western flank and started eastward. His command grew constantly through the addition of detachments and disabled vehicles left behind by Colonel Todd’s advance party, and through the arrival of a few elements from the rear. Signal communications by radio with the beachhead and between advancing elements of the Center Task Force were seriously inadequate and remained so until the morning of 10 November. The flying column was not heard from for many hours. 22 On 9 November, the main body of Task Force GREEN expected to reach La Senia, and if early enough in the day, to turn toward Oran itself.

The defenders of Oran developed one of the principal bastions of their outer ring at Misserrhin, eight miles from Oran and seven miles along a branching road from La Senia. There the lofty mass of Djebel Murdjadjo loomed high above the narrow strip of level ground adjoining the great salt flats of the Sebkra d’Oran. The sebkra was considered impassable by heavy vehicles. The highway from the west entered a village of stone and concrete structures well adapted to defense. Its other features of strength were supplemented by a battery of 75’s emplaced on a bold height and protected by bunkers occupied by machine gunners and riflemen. Some armored cars were also available.

Colonel Todd’s depleted flying column had slipped past Misserrhin after nightfall on D Day and had continued early on D + 1 along the edge of the sebkra to La Senia airfield. By the time Colonel Robinett’s Headquarters, Task Force GREEN, reinforced, arrived at the Misserrhin bottleneck, the enemy had strengthened the garrison there and was ready for a protracted engagement. Neither a frontal attack down the road by tanks at 1030, supported by artillery fire, nor an arduous attempt at noon to move to the northern flank succeeded.

One tank was knocked out on the road, thereafter forming a partial roadblock. Task Force GREEN’S lack of infantry hampered its operations severely. At 1615, after more armor and artillery had come up, Colonel Robinett decided that, rather than wait to bring up infantry and resume the fight for the village, he would continue after dark along the sebkra’s rim, bringing to Todd’s advance force on the airfield the reinforcements, ammunition, and gasoline which he reported to be greatly needed.

At dusk, Robinett’s column swung to the south and began what proved to be a difficult but successful night march to join Todd on the airfield. The column was soon by error traversing the muddy basin but discovered that it could keep going. Word from the beach was brought by Lieutenant Bremner (RN), who then took back a series of messages from Colonel Robinett, the most important of which was that all possible reinforcements and in particular Colonel Kern’s infantry should use the same route and reach the airfield by daylight. In total darkness, the column reached a point south of its goal, turned north, found a way onto firm ground, and about 0100 joined the small force already there. Task Force GREEN prepared to attack the Valmy area first and then, perhaps in conjunction with Task Force RED from Tafaraoui, to advance against Oran. Early in the morning, when Kern’s infantry units arrived, along with a company of tanks and with trucks of gasoline and ammunition, Colonel Robinett had under his command a composite force. St. Cloud Is Finally Bypassed The attack on St. Cloud by the 18th Infantry, reinforced, which began about 0700, 9 November, bogged down by noon in the face of persistent and heavy French fire when the troops were only part way through the village. Casualties were considerable.

The regiment then planned to pull the infantry back, reorganize it for a converging attack by all three battalions, smash the town with massed artillery preparations for half an hour, and then send the infantry in once more. When General Allen was informed of these plans, he visited the regiment’s forward command post, checked the situation with Colonel Greer, and directed that the proposed operation be suspended and that there be no further artillery bombardment of St. Cloud. With General Fredendall’s concurrence, he ordered instead that the village be contained with one reinforced battalion; the others were to go westward immediately after nightfall to participate in an attack on Oran. The general situation permitted such an action, while the Allied policy of holding to a minimum all destruction of civilian life and property was much better served by bypassing St. Cloud than by pulverizing it.

[NOTE NA-122C: Troops defending St. Cloud has been identified as the 16th Tunisian Infantry Regiment, the 1st Battalion of the Foreign Legion, an armored unit, a battalion of 75-mm. guns, and a battery of 155-mm. guns. CTF G-2 Rpt 2, 2400, 8 Nov 42.]

The Approach to Gran From the East and South

The situation late on 9 November permitted planning for a final attack on Oran next morning. At General Allen’s command post at Renan, Colonel Claude B. Ferenbaugh, operations officer of the Center Task Force, General Allen, General Oliver, and some of their staffs developed such a plan. The counterattacks of the French had all been repelled. In that process, their only available armored force had been overwhelmed.

The French had lost all their airfields near Oran. French infantry and artillery were defending organized islands of resistance at St. Cloud, Valmy, and Misserrhin, and might similarly offer resistance on the edge of Oran. American forces for the attack would include five battalions of the 1st Infantry Division from the east, to be supported by most of the 1st Infantry Division’s artillery, under Brigadier General Clift Andrus, and three battalions from the northwest, to be supported by the 33rd Field Artillery Battalion, and aided by naval gunfire against the French coastal batteries impeding General Roosevelt’s advance. The tanks, tank destroyers, armored infantry, and supporting units of Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, were strung out from Arzew to Tafaraoui airfield, and then to La Senia airfield and Misserrhin; but General Oliver could hurry Task Force RED toward La Senia, bypassing Valmy, and might establish contact with Task Force GREEN in time to bring it into the concerted attack after detouring around Misserrhin. From the south, then, one or more armored columns could be sent into the heart of Oran. Written orders were drafted while the preparations began.

The night marches which the 16th and 18th Infantry, reinforced, had to make in order to arrive at the designated sectors of the line of departure had already begun, but they required successful and energetic action by troops who were nearing exhaustion. After weeks on shipboard, they had been on the alert or in motion for forty-eight hours. Exact directions had to be sent forward to the leading elements. In the case of the 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry, the orders directed that it return to the 16th Infantry’s zone by shifting southward over a lateral route connecting the road between Arcole and Oran with that between Fleurus and Oran.

The 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry, had already succeeded in slipping past the French forces in Arcole without arousing more than an outpost near a farm along the route, despite the hampering effect of a considerable number of French prisoners. The unit had actually arrived at the city limits and was preparing, in the absence of any opposition, for missions within Oran when an officer from division headquarters arrived with the formal orders directing it to shift to the south and there go into regimental reserve. Colonel Cheadle had to follow an instruction which involved forfeiting advantages already in hand. The battalion (Major Frederick W. Gibb) was compelled to pull back and march down a road actually nearer the city than that envisaged in the field order. In consequence, the 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry, soon found itself squarely between the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, and a sizable French force just as a sharp fire fight broke out. It was pinned down as most of the crossfire passed overhead.

The 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry (Major Joseph B. Crawford), had come along the Fleurus-Oran road after overcoming slight resistance at two points, but in the vicinity of St. Eugene it ran against a strongpoint maned by the 1st Battalion, 2nd Zouaves, and the 68th Regiment of African Artillery. The fighting at that obstacle persisted for several hours before the French were obliged to surrender. While these operations were in progress, the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, was being brought by truck from La Macta to join the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, in the assault scheduled for 0715 hours, 10 November.

The two battalions of the 18th Infantry, which had been released from the investment of St. Cloud in order to make parallel advances along the coastal road and the road through Arcole to reach the northerly section of the line of departure, could not meet the schedule. The 3rd Battalion, 18th Infantry, with the 32nd Field Artillery Battalion in support, was engaged in capturing the coastal battery on Pointe Canastel and other French positions in that area throughout the morning. It could not get to Oran itself until about 1350, 10 November. The 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry, which followed the 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry, on the road through Arcole hours later, was less fortunate than Lieutenant Colonel Frederick W. Gibb’s force, for it found the defenders at Arcole aroused and stubborn. The French artillery included some 155-mm. guns of the 66th Regiment of African Artillery in positions defended by the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Zouaves. Although the attacking force overcame the main resistance in a lively engagement, it could not get to the edge of the city before 1100 hours.

Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, undertook in preparation for the attack to concentrate its two task forces near La Senia airfield. The area through which these forces expected to attack at daylight was level and cultivated, and crossed by several almost parallel roads running north-northwesterly into Oran. A branch railroad embankment crossed these roads between La Senia airfield and La Senia village and joined the main line from Ste. Barbedu-TWat through Valmy to Oran. At La Senia village, almost three miles south of Oran, and at Valmy, about four miles farther south-southeast, the French had assembled forces which had to be reckoned with. Task Force GREEN, reinforced by infantry and other units from X Beach just before daylight, organized for an attack on Valmy in total darkness and still in ignorance of the Center Task Force’s final plan of attack. At Tafaraoui airfield Task Force RED prepared to start at daybreak in order to reach, if not a juncture, at least a position for close parallel action by both parts of Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, in attacking Oran without stopping to seize either Valmy or La Senia villages.

General Oliver gathered what supplementary elements he could spare from the roadblocks in the area east of Tafaraoui to strengthen his attacking force, and at 0604 resumed radio communication with Colonel Robinett, transmitting orders to prepare to attack Oran. Robinett had intended to employ Task Force GREEN against the French force near Valmy before swinging toward Oran, but General Oliver could not approve any action which would delay the jump-off beyond the 0715 H Hour set in the Center Task Force’s plan. Accordingly, Robinett canceled the operation against the Valmy batteries and the plan of operations was reorganized hurriedly, although to meet the designated H Hour was out of the question even if La Senia village, like Valmy, were to be bypassed.

By daybreak, 10 November, Oran was completely enveloped by forces which, although at varying distances from the city’s limits, were closing in for concentric attack. All sides of the city seemed likely to be penetrated before the end of the day. If the defenders could hold out long enough, a relief force might break through the surrounding cordon, but otherwise the city was bound to capitulate. The ring of encircling American troops had not succeeded in attaining positions for the simultaneous attack at 0715 as planned on the previous evening, but they would be ready later in the day.

The Final Attack on Gran, 10 November The Rodney, Jamaica, and Aurora stood ready to furnish naval gunfire support, and Force H, the Royal Navy’s covering force, had come near enough during the night to furnish, if called for, a dive-bombing attack on the battery at Fort du Santon. General Roosevelt’s force was expected to persevere in conformity with its original orders until improved communications made it possible for General Allen to supplement them with direct instructions. A Twelfth Air Force Spitfire acting as courier dropped a message near the command post at Bou Sfer before 0900 directing General Roosevelt to “shoot the works on F. O. No.1 at once.” Earlier, as elements of Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, organized for the attack, the French guns near Valmy began shelling them and drew counterbattery fire for about half an hour. Many French shells exploded near the troops, particularly those in Colonel Robinett’s command, but miraculously they caused no casualties.

General Oliver’s very small advance force was less fortunate in this respect, for its progress was barred by the steep embankment of the railroad and blocked at two underpasses by heaps of disabled vehicles and empty oil drums. While these barriers were being cleared away, shells from guns near Valmy and from heavier coastal guns directed inland struck with destructive effect on some of Oliver’s vehicles and personnel. A few of the Valmy 75’s were disposed of by fire from Battery C, 27th Armored Field Artillery (with Colonel Robinett), while some well-concealed gun positions east of Valmy were overrun by Company C, 1st Armored Regiment (Captain Rudolph Barlow), on its way up from Tafaraoui. The coastal guns were neutralized by naval gunfire. Not until after 0900 were elements of Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, almost ready to start into Oran.

From Task Force GREEN, Colonel Robinett sent a composite column under Colonel Todd to the French Military Headquarters in the Chateau Neuf and to the adjacent port. The column consisted of two and one-half companies of light tanks, one company of armored infantry, a tank destroyer section, and some supporting weapons attached to the tank units. On the high ground south of La Senia he held a small reserve force.

A little later, Colonel Waters accompanied the first section of Company B, 1st Armored Regiment (Captain William R. Tuck), into the city along a parallel road less than a mile to the east. Clouds of brick-red dust rose behind the vehicles as they crossed the open plain under scattered fire of large caliber guns which caused no casualties. No sounds of battle could be heard on the La Senia airfield once the roadblocks at the city’s edge had been blasted by gunfire. The two columns shortly after 1015 entered a city silent except for snipers, the only group which remained actively hostile. The public buildings were barricaded but not the streets. Todd’s column went straight to General Boissau’s headquarters and to the port beyond it. The infantry took measures to prevent further destruction of the invaluable port facilities. Colonel Kern went to Camp St. Philippe and procured the release of its Allied prisoners, totaling about 500. Colonel Waters sent one section of Tuck’s company cruising about the city while with another he turned eastward toward the area about to be attacked by the 1st Infantry Division. Some of his tanks ran out of gasoline and had to be refueled within the city, but others demonstrated to General Allen that he would not need the artillery preparation and air strafing attacks which had been rescheduled for noon. His infantry were able to march unopposed to occupy those key points of the city which had been assigned to them, while Colonel Waters gave General Fredendall a ride into Oran in his tank. Meanwhile La Senia village surrendered without resistance to a small tank detachment from Colonel Robinett’s reserves.

General Boissau and a representative of Admiral Rioult accepted the terms of a provisional armistice covering French forces, including coastal batteries, pending agreement on formal terms of surrender. A ceasefire order was issued at 1215. The French tricolor flag was to be flown with the white flag of truce. General Fredendall was asked to confer upon the terms of surrender.

At about 1230, Admiral Rioult and General Boissau met General Fredendall, Colonel Ferenbaugh, Major Russell F. Akers, Jr., and others, including a representative of Commodore Troubridge, to negotiate the terms of capitulation. It was agreed that the French tricolor should continue to fly, with the white flag beneath it, that French forces should be confined to quarters but retain their arms, while American troops were to occupy key positions near sea coast defenses, that harbors, airfields, and other facilities needed by the Center Task Force should be made freely available. General Boissau was to retain his command and to police the city of Oran. All Allied and French prisoners were to be released at once. When Captain Peters, commander of the RESERVIST Force, had been released, the Commanding General, Center Task Force, and his party withdrew. At 0945 next day, Headquarters, Center Task Force, was transferred from the Largs to the Grand Hotel in Oran.

The suddenness with which the armored force penetrated Oran, after most of its defenders had been drawn to its outer defenses, brought about surrender there before parallel action could be forced on all the French military installations and units in the field. Combat Team 26, for example, was still struggling to get the guns of Fort du Santon suppressed by air or naval bombardment, and naval shells were still falling there when, at 1330, orders were sent out to the H.M.S. Rodney to suspend firing and thus permit the surrender of the battery. The armistice found the 2nd Battalion, 26th Infantry, in possession of Ain et Turk, the 1st Battalion on the heights of Djebel Murdjadjo, from which a force of thirsty, hungry, and dispirited Zouaves had been driven, and the 3rd Battalion, which had been relieved on the heights by the 1st Battalion, on its way down the road into Oran. At St. Cloud, the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, reinforced, had been ordered to attack the village on the morning of 10 November. All its attacks were repulsed, and St. Cloud was still in French hands, but the defenders were negotiating for a surrender when they received General Boissau’s orders to cease fire. The surrender of St. Cloud yielded some 400 prisoners and fourteen 75-mm. guns, eight heavy and fifteen light machine guns, four 37-mm. guns, and four 60-mm. mortars. With the end of the fighting at St. Cloud, organized resistance in the Oran area ended. What remained was enough sniping to keep the occupying troops on edge for several days.

Aftermath of Victory

Although a few isolated French units were still shooting at Allied planes, sniping at American troops, and defiantly postponing acceptance of defeat on 11 November, occupation and organization of the area by the Allied forces proceeded speedily. The beaches at Mersa bou Zedjar, Les Andalouses, and near St. Leu were abandoned.

The personnel, and such transports as had not already been unloaded and sent back via Gibraltar, were shifted from transport areas into the ports. Arzew, Mers el Kebir, and the outer section of Oran’s harbor were available without delay. The inner harbor of Oran could not be used until after a blocking ship had been removed from its entrance channel, and it could be fully used only after other hulks had been pulled from the berths at dockside. During the evening of 10 November, two truck convoys brought naval parties from Arzew to Oran where energetic action brought that port into partial use in a surprisingly short time. Salvage was carried out by U.S. Navy elements, reinforced by a British vessel and its complement.

Antisubmarine protection was furnished with materiel supplied by the Royal Navy. French authorities placed all available tugs, salvage equipment lighters, port facilities, and local pilots at the disposal of Rear Admiral Andrew C. Bennett (USN), who, as Commander, U.S. Naval Operating Bases, Oran Area, became responsible for the functioning of the ports. The ports of Nemours, west of Oran, and Mostaganem to the east were surveyed but were found limited to shallow-draft vessels and open to submarine attack. General Fredendall stationed the ground forces under his command near the airfields and in control of the road net leading to Oran. The outlying French communities were inspected, with official visits to the principal military and civil authorities. The paratroopers were ferried eastward for new missions, and the Twelfth Air Force elements labored to organize the fields at Tafaraoui and La Senia for maintenance and efficient control of air operations. The first follow-up convoy could be expected on 13 November.

F or the problems of a political nature which would confront the Center Task Force once hostilities were suspended, General Fredendall had been furnished with a political adviser, Mr. Leland L. Rounds. He was a civilian who had been in Oran for the preceding year and a half, until shortly before the expedition left the United Kingdom, as one of the consular representatives of the United States. He was also deputy civil administrator under Mr. Robert Murphy of General Eisenhower’s headquarters.

The nearness of Oran to Spanish Morocco and to the Spanish mainland made necessary, as the planners of Operation TORCH had well recognized, that the Allied foothold in the area be firmly established. The French civil administration was controlled by adherents of the government at Vichy. For several months, the fascistic Service d’Ordre Legionaire and similar organizations had been molesting those suspected of anti-Vichy or pro-de Gaulle sentiments. A number of German and Italian armistice commissioners had been working with a network of pro-Axis sympathizers in Oran. Mr. Rounds and Colonel Bentley, who had been released earlier that same day, and a party of four enlisted men on 10 November gathered up a suitcase full of documents at the villa which had been hurriedly vacated by the German commissioners and turned them over to Colonel Edwin B. Howard, G-2, Center Task Force.

Identifying and restraining Axis sympathizers in the Oran area proved unwelcome to General Fredendall. He adopted the policy of “very mild arrangements” and of permitting civil officials to retain their positions undisturbed. The inevitable hostility which existed between such officials and the pro-American Frenchmen who had risked their lives or personal freedom before the landings in order to prevent a useless battle encouraged the administrative authorities to make reprisals on them. The relative unconcern of the American military leadership made it necessary for the Americans with whom they had co-operated before the invasion to protect these anti-Axis French. For both the Frenchmen who had taken such risks and those Americans who were concerned with their misfortunes after the victory, the events of the ensuing weeks were deeply disillusioning. The fact that Allied military policy in these matters was never put to the test by an Axis counterattack in the vicinity may have been fortunate. The seizure of Oran was accomplished in less than three days by military means alone.

Of the three great task forces, the Center Task Force was the only one which could subsequently claim to have won a decision wholly by force of arms. Success at Oran resulted from a series of circumstances, some fortuitous and some the result of imaginative planning or energetic improvisation. Well-calculated measures got the convoys to their destinations without enemy interference.

Surprise got them ashore without significant French opposition. Determination got them inland and at their main objective rapidly. As General Fredendall radioed to General Eisenhower, they “went to town.” No arm or service, except perhaps the airborne group, was superflous to the victory of the Center Task Force and each performed outstanding feats, but none was more clearly responsible for the swiftness of the French collapse than the armored force. In little more than forty-eight hours after being brought offshore, one portion of that force had arrived in the heart of Oran and another had demonstrated its invulnerability to French armor. Casualties had been below expectations, and fell most severely on the ill-considered Royal Navy project for storming Oran harbor by direct assault from the two small cutters. About half of those engaged were killed and only about 10 percent emerged unscathed. They were the preponderant portion of the 1st Armored Division’s losses, of 191 killed, 105 wounded, and 9 missing, a casualty figure in comparison with which the losses incurred by Task Forces GREEN and RED were negligible. The 1st Infantry Division’s casualties-85 killed, 221 wounded, and 7 missing-reflected the hard fighting in which the division was engaged at various points and the fact that it had faced so large a proportion of the enemy. Other units, including the Parachute Task Force, sustained but minor losses. The enemy’s casualties were less than those of the attacking force, and considerably less than among French units defending Casablanca, Port-Lyautey, and Safi.

With Oran in Allied hands, the Center Task Force prepared to establish contact with the Western Task Force through the Taza gap, and with the Eastern Task Force in the vicinity of Orleansville, killed at Casablanca as 475, at Oran 165, and at Algiers, 11. At Casablanca the wounded were even more numerous.

SOURCE: Northwest Africa: Seizing The Initiative In The West; by George F. Howe (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: North Africa (3-13); Occupation of Algiers

World War Two: North Africa (3-11); First Day’s Operations Against Oran

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World War Two: Gilberts and Marshalls(6) Makin; Reduction of the West Tank Barrier

Advance of the 2nd Battalion to the Barrier: Following the leading waves of amphibian tractors and medium tanks in to Yellow Beach of Butaritari came the assault companies of the 2nd Battalion Landing Team, Company E on the left and Company F on the right. To Company E, commanded by Captain Bernard E. Ryan, was assigned the task of establishing a line across the island west of the East Tank Barrier and holding there against possible attack from the east until the West Tank Barrier had been eliminated. This was intended to be primarily a defensive mission and the details of the company’s actions on D Day will be treated later.1 Company F, under command of Captain Francis P. Leonard, with elements of Company G later attached, had the main offensive mission of moving against the West Tank Barrier in co-ordination with the 1st Battalion Landing Team, which was supposed to be approaching the same objective simultaneously from the opposite direction.

The preliminary mission of Company F was for its two assault platoons, the 2nd on the left and the 1st on the right, to move directly across, the atoll. This mission completed, the 1st and 3rd Platoons were to swing right, with the 1st on the left flank, and head westward for the West Tank Barrier. The 2nd Platoon was to revert to company reserve and follow the center of the line some fifty yards behind. Two light machine guns were stationed between the assault platoons, and the 60-mm, mortars remained in the vicinity of Yellow Beach to support the attack from that area. To the rear of Company F, Company G (minus 2nd Platoon), commanded by Captain Paul J. Chasmar, was to land and to act as reserve force for Captain Leonard’s company as it moved to the south and west.

The main enemy installations of the West Tank Barrier were first encountered by Company F rather than by the right half of the special landing group of the 105th Infantry, which had been landed in amphibian tractors. That group had become involved almost immediately in cleaning up the lower end of On Chong’s Wharf and in demolishing various shelters between the wharf and the highway in the area through which they were to deploy for the move westward.

As soon as the two assault platoons of Company F waded ashore and finished their reorganization at the beach, they plunged inland. Only scattered rifle fire greeted them during this movement. The only established enemy positions found by the assault troops during the first two hours in this area were two machine gun emplacements and seven wholly or partly demolished buildings located at the base of On Chong’s Wharf and abandoned by the enemy.

Company F’s initial move from the beach was, as planned, almost due south. The 1st and 2nd Platoons, with the two light machine guns of Company H, the heavy weapons company, carried along between them, started out for the ocean shore. It took them until shortly after noon to reach the opposite side of the island. They struggled through the debris and over the marshy ground beyond the east-west highway without coming to grips with the unseen and scattered Japanese riflemen. Some of the defenders withdrew deeper into the woods, but some remained behind in concealment to keep up a nerve-wracking fire on the American infantrymen as they advanced across the island. Company F lost one man killed and one wounded from this harassment and managed to eliminate four Japanese and four Korean laborers. Although a number of shelters were encountered, no fire was received from them.

The only serious handicap to the troops as they moved southward was the terrain and vegetation and a breakdown of communications between the 1st and 2nd Platoons of Company F. Their radios had become waterlogged and messenger service between the platoons was inadequate. The result was a gap between the two assault platoons. To fill this growing hole in the line, Company F’s 3rd Platoon was brought forward from reserve and committed. This meant moving Company G (less 2nd Platoon) closer to the advance where it could be used if further strength was needed. However, Company G’s 3rd Platoon had already been ordered to take a light machine gun squad and relieve the special landing group at the base of On Chong’s Wharf. This relief started at 1145, and the diversion of 3rd Platoon, Company G, from the main line of advance necessitated calling on some elements of Company H as reinforcement for Company G in its role as reserve. These reserve troops now moved into the center of the island and combed the area behind the advancing line.

The mopping-up operations were described in detail by 1st Sergeant Pasquale J. Fusco: Smoking out the snipers that were in the trees was the worst part of it. We could not spot them even with glasses and it made our advance very slow. When we moved forward, it was a skirmish line, with each man being covered as he rushed from cover to cover. That meant that every man spent a large part of his time on the ground. While at prone, we carefully studied the trees and the ground. If one of our men began to fire rapidly into a tree or ground location, we knew that he had spotted a sniper, and those who could see the tree took up the fire. When we saw no enemy, we fired occasional shots into trees that looked likely.

As the advance elements of Company F reached the ocean shore they found no live installations. The center platoon did come upon two unoccupied machine gun emplacements with a barbed-wire barricade and a rifle trench—all abandoned by the enemy. Though these positions had been primarily designed to resist a landing from the south and to control the road along the ocean shore, they could have been used upon troops advancing from the lagoon. Luckily they were not. Company F’s first mission was accomplished with amazing ease.

On arrival at the ocean Company F immediately began to reorganize its lines, a movement completed by about 1230. The platoon of Company G that had relieved the special landing group near On Chong’s Wharf had been forced to withdraw during the time the destroyer Dewey shelled the hulks, but it now recovered the ground it had given up and took position straddling the island highway on the right flank of Company F.

Meanwhile, Colonel McDonough, 2nd Battalion commander, had accompanied Company F in its advance toward the southern shore. Shortly before its reorganization, he left the line and returned to Yellow Beach in an effort to bring up the medium tanks to support the coming advance toward the West Tank Barrier. He ordered Captain Wayne C. Sikes, a tank officer, to take charge of the tanks in the center of the line while Lieutenant Colonel Harmon L. Edmondson, commander of the 193rd Tank Battalion, proceeded at once to the south shore with two of the mediums. By 1230, five more had crossed the island and were ready to assist on the left flank of Company F’s line.

With these five tanks in support, Company F immediately jumped off for the main attack to the westward. The tank-trap clearing still lay some 300 to 400 yards away. As the troops approached it they found a number of underground shelters that yielded both Japanese soldiers and labor troops. Some of the labor troops were armed with knives and at least one carried a rifle. After the tanks had moved up and put heavy fire against the shelters, infantrymen followed with TNT pole charges, which were shoved into the openings of shelters. Flame throwers, which would have been the ideal weapon against such emplacements, had been doused during the landing and were of no use. During this first engagement Company F lost eight killed and six wounded. By that time it had come within range of fire from entrenchments running along the West Tank Barrier. Later, five machine gun nests buttressing the trench defenses in this area were discovered. For two hours no advance was made on the right. Meanwhile, on the left, the 1st Platoon, which was supported by Colonel Edmondson’s five tanks, reached the barrier by 1330.

On the right half of the line advancing westward, the 3rd Platoon of Company F found the going tougher, partly because it had only three tanks to support it. Directly south of On Chong’s Wharf and about half way across the island was a large enemy air raid shelter in the path of the advance. It was about thirty feet long with blast-proof entrances on either end. Hand grenades tossed into the shelter had been tossed out again. One medium tank had come up and shelled it with 75-mm. with no apparent success. Finally the same tank, accompanied by two infantrymen and four engineers, succeeded in reducing it. The tank, covering the dismounted personnel, moved slowly in from the left flank. Two BAR men, one on the flank of the tank and one in the rear of it, moved with it until they got to ground where they could cover the baffle entrance. The four engineers, one of whom was 1st Lieutenant Thomas B. Palliser, a platoon commander of Company C, 102nd Engineers, advanced to the rear of the tank and then between the two BAR men. Palliser himself took the lead. Behind him came the platoon sergeant. Both were covered by two engineer riflemen.

At first they tried to use a flame thrower, but as in all other efforts to use this weapon on Makin, the attempt failed because of the soaking the equipment had received during the landing. This failing, a TNT pole charge was employed. The platoon leader placed the charge between the outside of the baffle entrance and the interior wall of the shelter. A fifteen-second fuze gave the detail ample time to clear back to cover. The resulting explosion did not collapse the shelter, but it killed all the personnel inside—twelve Japanese. In spite of this successful engagement in the center of the line, the men on the right remained pinned down by fire from rifle pits fringing on the eastern edge of the barrier. At this juncture Colonel McDonough sent in the 3rd Platoon of Company G with orders to take three medium tanks and move around the Japanese left (north) flank. On each side of the highway, along which the center of this platoon advanced, were three machine gun positions. Two that faced the lagoon between road and beach were connected by a trench with a small shelter.

To knock out these two emplacements, two eight-man squads crawled forward to within about fifteen yards of them and then took stations according to available cover. The BAR men and their assistants covered the main entrances. Two men from each squad armed with grenades made ready on either side of the entrances. They rushed the pits and heaved grenades in them; then, without stopping, dashed to the other side and blasted the entrances with several more grenades. Once the grenades exploded, the BAR men and assistants followed up with bayonets. Two other men then inspected the pits covered by the rest of the squad. Not a man was lost in this action, and the enemy positions were silenced.

This left one remaining machine gun position in the area assigned to the 3rd Platoon of Company G. Efforts on the part of infantrymen to direct their supporting tanks to attack it failed. No radio communications existed between tanks and infantry and an attempt on the part of one lieutenant to direct one tank against this target by pounding his rifle butt on the top of the tank failed to elicit any response from the crew inside. As the three tanks moved on past the emplacement without attacking it, Staff Sergeant Michael Thompson, commanding Company G’s 3rd Platoon, undertook to rush the position singlehanded. His action can best be described in his own words: I worked my way slowly forward, hugging the ground. I could see the muzzle of the gun, projecting beyond the pit, but it did not seem to be manned. . . . I rushed the pit, jumped in and seized the machine gun to swing it around and face it down the connecting trench. … I dropped the machine gun. . . and grabbed my rifle. Three Japs in the trench, a short distance from me, were beginning to stir. They looked as if they had been stunned by an explosion. So I shot them. Then I walked down the trench and came to an object, well covered with palm leaves. I pulled the leaves back and discovered a much-alive Jap soldier. So I shot him also. Then the rest of the platoon came up and took over. The three tanks that had left this emplacement undisturbed continued on across the tank barrier without serious opposition. About 1600 they met some light tanks attached to the 1st Battalion that had come along the main highway from the western beaches. Thus, a preliminary junction of the two attacking forces on the northern end of the line was achieved.

Meanwhile, at the south end of the line an advance patrol from Company B had succeeded in contacting Company F at about 1500.17 In the center resistance continued until about 1650, by which time most of the enemy fire had been eliminated by the guns of the four medium tanks leading the assault in that area. By 1655 firm contact was established on the southern end of the line between Companies B and F and an hour later the troops of the 1st and 2nd Battalions had established contact all along the West Tank Barrier.

Advance of the 1st Battalion

While the 2nd Battalion was moving across the island from Yellow Beach and gradually wiping out resistance east of the West Tank Barrier, Colonel Kelley’s 1st Battalion was moving toward the same objective from the opposite direction. On the right (south) was Company B, commanded by Captain Henry Berger; on the left Company C with Captain Charles E. Coates, Jr., commanding. Company A, commanded by Captain Lawrence J. O’Brien, after securing Flink Point went into reserve. From the heavy weapons company a machine gun platoon was assigned to each of the two companies in attack. The mortar platoon was assigned to operate as a separate entity in support of the whole battalion, although actually mortars were not used by the battalion during the first day’s operation because of the thin deployment of the enemy and because of the narrow gap between troops of the 1st and 2nd Battalions that were approaching each other from opposite directions.

About 1130 Colonel Kelley set up his command post on the beachhead line on the west edge of Rita Lake and began personally to direct the advance westward. The first objective was the Second Phase Line, which ran through the east end of Joan Lake about 1,200 yards ahead. Between these two lines the enemy was afforded excellent opportunities to set up positions easily covering the firm ground. The defenders had taken advantage of the first of these opportunities. In the area around Jill Lake the Japanese had established two machine gun positions and an antitank gun emplacement commanding the main east-west highway, while fire trenches and another machine gun nest covered the ocean shore and the area immediately to the north of it. However, these were unmanned and no fortifications were to be found at the Second Phase Line.

Only occasional rifle fire met the advancing American troops. Most of this came from lone riflemen, or snipers, stationed in trees or in the underbrush. Undoubtedly the prevalence of tree snipers on Makin was sometimes exaggerated by the American troops that fought there, with the result that there was much promiscuous and sometimes dangerous strafing of tree tops. Nevertheless, in this particular area the Japanese had prepared among the fronds at the tops of certain trees places where they cached rifles and left gourds of water and sake. To mark such trees they tied to them girdles of fronds about four feet above the ground so that a rifleman could run to a tree, snatch off the marker, climb up by notches cut in the trunk and wait for likely targets.

The light tanks had not come forward beyond Jill Lake because on the highway, between that pond and another just north of it, a large crater made by a naval shell had engulfed the leading tank of the column causing a roadblock. The highway at that point was a causeway off of which other tanks could not move to bypass the first. Hence, the lead tank had to be towed off and the shell hole filled before the column could proceed.

By about 1400 the troops had reached the Second Phase Line just east of Joan Lake. In the advance from Jill Lake only two Japanese were reported killed. About the same time, the light tank mired on the causeway was extricated, and the entire tank platoon commenced moving to the front to support the infantry. Meanwhile, no direct radio communication had been established with the 2nd Battalion. Frantic radio messages from Colonel Kelley to the supporting planes and to regimental and division command posts failed to elicit any very clear information as to the position of the 2nd Battalion, which was advancing toward his own troops. At the same time fire from friendly troops had pinned down his own front lines. In spite of these difficulties, division headquarters dispatched the message, “Continue your attack vigorously to effect a junction with McDonough without delay.” The advance was resumed.

Company B on the right made the most rapid progress. Fire from the east side of the West Tank Barrier, then under attack by the 2nd Battalion, held them up for a while, but an advance patrol under 1st Lieutenant Patrick J. Raleigh was sent forward and about 1500 succeeded at last in establishing contact with Company F. On the left, Company C ran into more difficulty when it encountered the only determined resistance between Red Beach and the West Tank Barrier. About 150 yards west of the barrier and to the south of the east-west road, the enemy had emplaced a Lewis machine gun concealed by a natural dip in the terrain and protected by riflemen concealed in and among surrounding trees.

The gun’s fire cut obliquely across the main highway, between two sharp bends, and stopped the 1st Platoon, Company C, in a small clearing south of the highway. North of this emplacement, on the lagoon side of the highway, was a large palm tree that had around its base a square of heavy coconut logs and raised earth. The platoon leader, 2nd Lieutenant Daniel T. Nunnery, took cover at the base of this tree and proceeded to study the surrounding area. He was shortly joined by Captain Coates, Company C’s commander.

In a moment, Colonel Kelley, the 1st Battalion commander, moved to reconnoiter the position indicated by Lieutenant Nunnery. In an effort to keep Company C moving to the tank trap and join with the 2nd Battalion, he sought out Captain Coates. On the way, he met Colonel Gardiner J. Conroy who was ordering a tank up to fire into the enemy position. Colonel Kelley advised that his troops would be endangered by such fire and informed the regimental commander that he would have Captain Coates continue the advance, bypassing the pocket, and leave his support platoon to reduce it.

Colonel Kelley moved out to the trees to instruct Captain Coates, who promptly shouted “get down.” Just in time Colonel Kelley threw himself to the ground, avoiding an enemy machine gun burst. When Captain Coates signaled to his left platoon, that unit moved over to the lagoon, and under the cover of a three-to-four-foot bank proceeded east and around the clearing toward the tank barrier.

In the meantime Lieutenant Nunnery, still under the palm tree, was shot through the head and killed. Between his body and the machine gun lay an American rifleman, shot through the arm. Chaplain Joseph A. Meany, who had come up with Colonel Conroy a few minutes before, rushed out to the wounded man and dropped down beside him. He too was shot, although his life was saved by a small medal and identification disk that deflected one of the bullets. Another soldier dashed out to aid the chaplain and dropped dead at his feet. The whole area was now alive with the cracking of rifles and the rattle of the machine gun.

From the lagoon side now appeared a lone figure walking into the center of the scene. It was Colonel Conroy, erect, evidently believing that only a few Japanese riflemen were holding up the company. Colonel Kelley shouted to him to get down. He hesitated, and as he did a rifle cracked and the regimental commander went down with a bullet between his eyes. The time was then 1455.

[NOTE GM2828-AC: This account of the incidents leading up to the death of Colonel Conroy was derived from the following sources: Interv, Captain Coates, Marshall Intervs, p. 24; Marshall, Makin Notes, pp. F18-F19; Ltr, Colonel Gerard W. Kelley to Major General Harry J. Malony, 31 Jan 49, OCMH; 27th Inf Div G-3 Msg File, 20 Nov 43, Msg 89. Colonel Conroy’s body was buried in Gate of Heaven Cemetery on Makin Island on 21 November 1943, L. W. Yarwood conducting burial services. (Sworn affidavit of L. W. Yarwood, 14 Sep 50, filed in OCMH.) General Holland Smith’s report that Colonel Conroy’s body was still lying where it had fallen two days after his death is erroneous. Smith, Coral and Brass, p. 126.)]

Command of the regiment now passed to Colonel Kelley, while that of the 1st Battalion was assumed by its executive officer, Major James H. Mahoney. The light tanks that had been brought forward by Colonel Conroy retired on Colonel Kelley’s order without firing a shot because of the danger of their hitting friendly troops. For the same reason mortar and machine gun fire had to be withheld.

1st Lieutenant Warren T. Lindquist, leader of the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon was ordered to await the reduction of the position by the support platoon of Company C, or under cover of darkness (whichever occurred first) to crawl out and bring Chaplain Meany in. The latter proved to be the solution, and as darkness fell Lieutenant Lindquist and several of his men crawled out, found the chaplain, who had administered first aid to himself, and carried him back to the 1st Battalion aid station.

Meanwhile, Company C had advanced to the edge of the West Tank Barrier clearing. Company A, which had been in reserve throughout the first phase of attack, was ordered to advance from its position near Rita Lake and mop up in the rear of Company B. By the time it had come up to Company B, the latter unit had established contact with Company F on the opposite side of the barrier. By 1755, after Company F had finally destroyed the last of the enemy in the center of its line, contact between the two battalions extended the length of the barrier.

The first portion of the plan for occupying Butaritari Island was accomplished, therefore, late on D Day. In the entire zone from the western beaches to the center of the Citadel area, enemy resistance had been overcome except for one small wedge-shaped pocket northwest of the West Tank Barrier clearing. On orders from division headquarters the attack was halted, and positions for the night were selected and secured.

Holding Action on the East

While Company F, with elements of Company G attached, was moving across the island and toward the West Tank Barrier, a second force of the 2nd Battalion moved to the left to take up a holding position. This left-wing force consisted of Company E, half of Detachment Z of the 105th Infantry aboard LVT’s, and before the end of the day a platoon of light tanks. Company H, the heavy weapons company, was in reserve on the beach.

The prescribed plan was for the 1st Platoon of Company E to push due south across the island to the ocean shore on the left flank of Company F. It was then to turn left and act as company reserve behind the 2nd Platoon. The mission of this latter unit was to advance inland from the beach to a point roughly fifty yards behind the main east-west highway and then to swing left and extend its line to the ocean shore. The 2nd Platoon would then form the right flank of a line, running from the lagoon to the ocean, which was intended to seal off the eastern portion of the island.

One reinforced squad of the 3rd Platoon was to mop up the sandspit near King’s Wharf, while the main body of this platoon pivoted to the left and tied in with the 2nd Platoon. The extreme left flank of the new line would be manned by the left half of the special landing group, Detachment Z. It was expected that by nightfall this composite force would reach a line along a dirt road that crossed the island from the foot of King’s Wharf, an advance of about 500 yards from the point of pivot on Yellow Beach. During most of D Day these maneuvers would be commanded by the Company E commander, Captain Ryan, since the battalion commander, Colonel McDonough, was personally supervising the drive on the West Tank Barrier. Colonel McDonough’s executive officer, Major Claire, had been detained in his small boat off the reef while the hulks were being brought under fire.

As Captain Ryan’s 1st Platoon moved south across the island it met only desultory resistance—chiefly random fire from lone riflemen in trees and bushes. On its left flank, near the main island highway, the platoon encountered two fortified positions, one a machine gun and the other an antitank emplacement containing a 37-mm. gun commanding the highway. The first had been abandoned and the second, with its cover still on, had been disabled by preliminary bombardment.

Near the ocean shore road the troops discovered storage buildings for bombs and food, but these too were undefended. Just beyond the road was a machine gun emplacement that had been designed principally to cover the ocean approach and was flanked by rifle pits and double-apron barbed wire. The gun was turned against the Americans approaching from the north but was shortly put out of action by the 75-mm. gun of a medium tank. Ten Japanese were killed. Altogether the 1st Platoon suffered only three killed and one wounded during its trek across the island.

The 2nd Platoon of Company E met even lighter opposition in an area having fewer enemy installations. It moved up quickly to take its position on the right flank of the eastern line across the island. The platoon met sniper resistance but continued to move forward slowly to the line, only being held up for a short while until the 3rd Platoon on its left was able to move forward. Three men were wounded during this movement.

Mopping up the sandspit proved to be an easy job for the reinforced squad of the 3rd Platoon. All resistance in that area had previously been eliminated either by preliminary aerial and naval bombardment or by the amphibian tractors that had landed part of Detachment Z on the left flank of the first wave. The squad, its mission completed, waited for the left wing of the Company E line to move along the beach as far as the base of the sandspit.

Just southwest of King’s Wharf, the main body of the 3rd Platoon, Company E, was stopped before a group of positions, strongly constructed and cleverly disguised, lying directly opposite the sandspit south of the island’s main highway. Essentially, this emplacement consisted of a well-reinforced pit, three feet deep, immediately off the road and a tunnel that ran some thirty-five yards south connecting the pit to a concrete pillbox. The American troops approached the tunnel’s west side, which was “blind,” that is, had no apertures. It was merely a part of a dirt bank that rose about eight feet from the taro patch before it. The top of the tunnel was no different in appearance from the surrounding terrain, except that it contained small concealed burrow holes large enough to permit a man to squirm out. Running across the top was a shallow trench about fifteen yards long. The east wall contained a number of oblong apertures wide enough to permit ingress and egress. The entire structure was heavily constructed and may have served as an air raid shelter as well as an entrenchment. In front of this position the 3rd Platoon was stopped for about four hours. As the troops came up to the position, the Japanese held their fire and the nature of the emplacement was not at first discerned.

Three men climbed the west wall and took positions in the kneeling trench, apparently not realizing that there were Japanese beneath them and not noticing the burrow holes. Meanwhile, the machine gun on the right flank of the tunnel had pinned down the body of the platoon, thus leaving the men on top unsupported. Suddenly from the apertures on the east, or far side of the tunnel, a group of Japanese emerged and charged the men on top with bayonets. One of the Americans was killed and another wounded before the platoon’s fire cut the Japanese down. More came out. The wounded man was bayoneted to death and the third man was bayoneted but later escaped. Other skirmishers who had not approached the tunnel embankment withdrew immediately.

Next, bazookas and rifle grenades were brought to bear against the tunnel position but with small success. Enemy fire was now holding back the entire line. Finally the battery of 105-mm.’s, which had by now come ashore and set up positions on Ukiangong Point, was requested to fire into the area. A total of five missions was fired, chiefly to interdict reinforcements that might be brought to the tunnel from the woods beyond King’s Wharf. Company E’s 60-mm. mortars also laid down a barrage for the same purpose.

Upon completion of the artillery fire, Captain Ryan sent a detail of seven men under Staff Sergeant Hoyl Mersereau to work around to the rear, east of the position. Their mission was to take the apertures under fire and keep any more enemy raiding parties from emerging. Mersereau and his men crawled and crept in a wide circle, eventually reaching a point about forty yards away from the reverse slope of the mound. Here, taking shelter behind a low bank, they began firing into the openings.

With this protection, Company E now worked men forward on the west side of the tunnel. An attempt to use flame throwers at this juncture failed since these weapons were still out of commission. The company commander then turned to the engineers, who brought up charges of TNT and dropped them into the machine gun positions at either end of the tunnel. After these were detonated, light tanks were brought up to fire their 37-mm. shells into the entrances. At last the enemy, driven to desperation, began to emerge from the apertures with bayonets fixed, only to be cut down by rifle fire from Mersereau’s detail. About 1600, some four hours after the mound was first encountered, it was possible to leave it and move forward. Eight Americans had been killed or wounded in the action. A small detail was left to mop up as Ryan’s company moved on. Another fifty yards eastward the advance was again halted, this time by enemy fire coming from a log emplacement and a trench about five feet deep and thirty-five yards in length. The terrain in the area was too thickly wooded to set up all-night positions, so, under orders received at 1720, Company E withdrew to an area south of the sandspit’s western edge near the center of the island. As it was digging in for the night, a platoon of Company G appeared to reinforce it.

First Day: The Summing Up

Thus by the end of the first day of fighting a firm foothold had been established on Butaritari. The 2nd Battalion occupied an area between the West Tank Barrier and a line extending from the base of King’s Wharf across the island to the ocean shore. The 1st Battalion was in contact with the 2nd all along the West Tank Barrier, although a small wedge like pocket northwest of the barrier, which was contained by Company C, remained to be cleaned out.

Artillery was in position on Ukiangong Point and had already fired missions in support of the 2nd Battalion on the eastern front. About 1100, the 105th Field Artillery had commenced landing immediately behind the combat elements of the infantry. All three batteries (less B Battery’s 105-mm. howitzers) were in position by 1430.

However, no artillery support was called for or delivered in the main battle zone. The scheme of maneuver did not permit firing in support of the 1st and 3rd Battalions after the landing of the 2nd Battalion on Yellow Beach. With the two forces moving toward each other, the gap between them was too narrow to permit safe delivery of supporting fire.

American casualties on the first day were low. The total reported for 20 November was twenty-five killed and sixty-two wounded seriously enough to require evacuation. Estimates as to Japanese casualties are impossible to arrive at with any degree of accuracy. As of 2100 on D Day, division intelligence estimated that fifty Japanese had been killed. But next morning, the 2nd Battalion reported a total of 200 Japanese dead to have been discovered in the Citadel area alone as of 0700. In addition, the battalion reported the capture of forty-one prisoners, mostly labor troops.

One thing was clear. A far smaller number of enemy had been engaged by the attacking infantry and tanks than had been anticipated. From Yellow Beach south to the ocean and west to Red Beaches, only a few fortifications and entrenchments had been located and many of these were abandoned. The supposition upon which the landing plan had been based—that the western end of the island would be the main area of resistance—had proved false. By the end of the day it was clear that the bulk of enemy troops (estimated next morning to be about 200) had abandoned whatever defenses they had built up in the area and had withdrawn to the eastern end of the island to await the advance of the attacking troops.

SOURCE: Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls: BY; Philip A. Crowl, & Edmund G. Love

World War Two: Gilberts and Marshalls(7); Makin-Consolidating the Beachhead

World War Two: Gilberts and Marshalls (5); Landings on Makin

World War Two: Europe (2-7); Operation MARKET-GARDEN-Invasion From the Sky

Along a fifty-mile corridor extending from Eindhoven to Arnhem the sky in early afternoon of 17 September grew dark with a second cloud of planes and gliders. A minute or so after 1300, the cloud opened and seeded the sky.

“a remarkably beautiful late summer day”

Thousands of Dutch civilians craned to see the show. As many a soldier has come to know, civilians in a war zone possess a kind of sixth sense that tells them when to parade the streets and when to seek shelter. Those civilians paraded the streets. Most were strolling casually home from church. Others had sat down to Sunday dinners. Here and there, at once a part of the crowd and yet isolated, strolled German soldiers absorbing the sunshine and rest of a day away from their posts. Until the planes came, none knew 17 September as anything but another occupation Sunday.

From battalions on the scene to the Führer’s spartan command post in East Prussia, surprise in German headquarters was equally great. An SS battalion commander was entertaining an intimate lady friend. Upon first sight of the parachutes, the occupation “mayor” of Arnhem dashed out on a personal reconnaissance, only to take a British bullet for his troubles. The Armed Forces Commander Netherlands, General Christiansen, was dining leisurely with his chief of staff at a restaurant far from the scene near Amsterdam.

The commander of the First Parachute Army, General Student, was at his desk in his command post in a cottage only nine miles west of one of the designated American drop zones. To Student the appearance of the Allied armada came as a “complete surprise.” The 17th of September, 1944 [General Student recalled later] was a Sunday, a remarkably beautiful late summer day. All was quiet at the front. Late in the morning the enemy air force suddenly became very active. . .. From my command post at Vught I was able to observe numerous enemy aircraft; I could hear the crash of bombs and fire from air craft armaments and antiaircraft guns in my immediate vicinity …. At noon there came the endless stream of enemy transport and cargo planes, as far as the eye could see . . . .[NOTE MS # B-7I7 (Student). German clock time was an hour behind the British Summer Time used by the Allies.]

While Student had a front row seat, his superior, Field Marshal Model, sat virtually upon the stage. [NOTE KOS -12: Boeree, The Truth About the Supposed Spy at Arnhem, provides an informative, well documented trip around various German headquarters at the time of the Allied strike.] Model’s headquarters of Army Group B was in a hotel at Oosterbeek on the western outskirts of Arnhem. Parachutists and gliders of the 1st British Airborne Division came to earth about two miles away. Unaware of this ripe chance to capture the commander and entire staff of Army Group B, the British made no immediate move against the hotel. Model and his coterie folded their tents and stole away. They did not stop until they reached headquarters of the II SS Panzer Corps beyond the Ijssel River about eighteen miles east of Arnhem.

In East Prussia, first reports of the airborne landings threw Hitler’s headquarters into a state of high excitement. Although report after report came in, the over-all picture remained obscure. Only highlights emerged. Hitler’s personal reaction could best be described as febrile. The narrow escape of Model and his staff from the British at Oosterbeek appeared to impress him most at first. “At any rate,” Hitler raged, “the business is so dangerous that you must understand clearly, if such a mess happens here-here I sit with my whole supreme command; here sit the Reichsmarschall [Gӧring], the OKH, the ReichsFührer SS [Himmler ], the Reich Foreign Minister [Ribbentrop ] : Well, then, this is the most worthwhile catch, that‘s obvious. I would not hesitate to risk two parachute divisions here if with one blow I could get my hands on the whole German command.” During the first hour or two, no German commander could begin to estimate the scope and strength of the Allied operation. Reports and rumors of landings at almost every conceivable spot in the Netherlands spread through every headquarters. As late as the next day OB WEST still was excited enough to pass along the fantastic report that a U.S. Airborne division had landed at Warsaw, Poland.

By a stroke of luck for the enemy, this kind of delirium was not to last long at the lower headquarters. Someone in an American glider that was shot down near the First Parachute Army’s command post was carrying a copy of the Allied operational order. Two hours after the first parachute had blossomed, this order was on General Student’s desk. Having the Allied objectives and dispositions at hand obviously facilitated German reaction. Possibly as a result of the captured Allied order, Field Marshal Model divided the affected zone into three sectors corresponding roughly to the sectors of the three Allied divisions.

To General Student and the First Parachute Army Model gave the dual mission of containing the British ground offensive opposite the Meuse-Escaut bridgehead and of destroying the 101st Airborne Division in the vicinity of Eindhoven. Already committed along the Meuse-Escaut, Kampfgruppe Chill was to oppose the British ground troops. For fighting the Americans, Model gave Student the 59th Infantry Division, so fortuitously in transit near Tilburg, and the107th Panzer Brigade. Under command of Major Freiherr von Maltzahn, this panzer brigade had been en route to Aachen to engage the First U.S. Army.

The job of contesting the 82nd Airborne Division at Nijmegen fell to Wehrkreis VI, the rear echelon German headquarters which controlled Corps Feldt and the 406th (Landesschuetzen) Division. These Wehrkreis units were ordered to destroy the airborne troops along the high ground southeast of Nijmegen, seize and hold the rail and road bridges across the Waal River at Nijmegen, and stand by for continued operations “in a southerly direction.” Model must have recognized this as a pretty big assignment for a makeshift force like Corps Feldt; for he advised Wehrkreis VI that he intended shifting to Nijmegen corps troops and increments of parachute troops under General der Fallschirmtruppen Eugen Meindl, commander of the II Parachute Corps. Yet this help obviously could not arrive immediately, for General Meindl’s headquarters would have to move from Cologne.

Whether from design or merely because the troops were at hand, Model sent stronger forces against the British at Arnhem. To General Christiansen as Armed Forces Commander Netherlands he gave a task of attacking toward Arnhem from the northwest and north. General Christiansen would have at his disposal Division von Tettau, a collection of regional defense and training battalions quickly thrown together under command of Generalleutnant Hans von Tettau, Christiansen’s director of operations and training. In the meantime General Bittrich’s II SS Panzer Corps with the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions was to move toward Arnhem. After the bridge across the Neder Rijn at Arnhem was secure, the 10th SS Panzer Division was to continue south to Nijmegen The panzer corps was to be reinforced with a motorized infantry battalion commandeered from Wehrkreis VI, even though that headquarters could ill afford to part with anything.

Bearing the proud names Hohenstaufen and Frundsberg, the two SS panzer divisions under Bittrich’s command were drastically depleted. Badly mauled at Caen and in the Argentan-Falaise pocket, the two divisions apparently had the strength only of reinforced regiments. The 9th SS Panzer was the stronger with 1 armored infantry regiment, 1 artillery battalion, 2 assault gun batteries, 1 reconnaissance battalion, 1 company of Panther (Mark V) tanks, and increments of engineers and antiaircraft troops. The 10th SS Panzer probably had 1 armored infantry regiment, 2 artillery battalions, 1 reconnaissance battalion, 1 engineer battalion, and I antiaircraft battalion.

[NOTE MG89-Ga3: Strength of these two divisions on 17 September is a matter of some conjecture. Neither of the usual sources (records of the General Inspekteur der Panzertruppen and OKH, Zustandberichte, SS-Verbaende-Strength Reports of SS units) is rewarding in this instance. Figures given are based upon the Bittrich Questionnaire, copy in OCMH. Wilmot, The Struggle for Europe, page 532 and 532n, says the divisions each had the “the strength of a brigade plus some thirty tanks and assault guns.” Although Wilmot provides no direct source for this information, he notes that Rundstedt’s chief of staff (Westphal) “was as surprised as the Allies to find that II SS Panzer Corps had so much armor,”]

Confronted with a dearth of reserves all along the Western Front, the Commander in Chief West, Rundstedt, could do little immediately to help. About all Rundstedt could contribute on the first day was approval for rerouting from Aachen the 107th Panzer Brigade and another unit, the 280th Assault Gun Brigade; but these obviously could not reach the threatened sector for a day or two. As for Hitler, he had to content himself for the moment with somewhat empty orders to throw all available Luftwaffe fighters into the fray and with bemoaning the Luftwaffe’s failure to set everything right. The entire Luftwaffe was incompetent, cowardly, the Führer raged. The Luftwaffe had deserted Him.

Hell’s Highway: 101st Airborne Division / Eindhoven

On the Allied side, from the moment men of the 101st Airborne Division came to earth on 17 September, they began to fight a battle for a road. Theirs was the responsibility for a 15-mile segment of narrow concrete and macadam ribbon stretching northward and northeastward from Eindhoven in the direction of Grave. That segment men of the division were to nickname Hell’s Highway.

The objectives vital for subsequent passage of the British ground column were located at intervals along the entire 15-mile stretch of road. This meant that a lightly manned and armed airborne division would be widely extended in taking and defending the objectives. The division commander, Major General Maxwell D. Taylor, later was to compare the situation to the early American West, where small garrisons had to contend with sudden Indian attacks at any point along great stretches of vital railroad. The dispersion of the 101st Airborne Division’s objectives made sense only in light of the expectation of early contact with the British ground column, probably within twenty-four hours after the jump.

With this and the widely separated objectives in mind, General Taylor concentrated in his early lifts upon bringing in his infantry rather than his artillery. Centrally located artillery of the caliber available to airborne troops, he reasoned, could not reach targets on the extremities of his division. The number of objectives meant that the perimeter defenses about them would be so small that guns emplaced within the perimeters could render no more than limited service. Infantry and mortars were to do the work at first along Hell’s Highway.

Recalling dispersion that had plagued the division in Normandy, General Taylor insisted upon drop zones fairly close together, no matter how scattered the objectives. Two regimental drop zones and the division landing zone were located near the center of the division sector, west of Hell’s Highway in a triangle marked by the villages of Zon, St. Oedenrode, and Best. Dropping close to Zon, the 506th Parachute Infantry (Colonel Robert F. Sink ) was to secure a highway bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal a few hundred yards south of Zon, then was to march south on Eindhoven. Coming to earth just to the north, the 502nd Parachute Infantry (Colonel John H. Michaelis) was to guard bothdrop zones in order to ensure their use as a glider landing zone and was to capture a road bridge over the Dommel River at St. Oedenrode.

Because General Taylor believed his over-all position might be strengthened by possession of bridges over the Wilhelmina Canal south of Best, four miles from Zon off the west flank of Hell’s Highway, Colonel Michaelis was to send a company to these bridges. The remaining parachute regiment, the 50lst Parachute Infantry (Colonel Howard R. Johnson), was to drop a few miles farther north near Veghel to seize rail and road bridges over the Willems Canal and the Aa River.

Despite flak and small arms fire, only 1 Pathfinder plane and 2 of the other 424 parachute aircraft of the 101st Airborne Division failed to reach the drop zones, although some planes went down after the paratroopers had jumped. Incurring casualties of less than 2 percent in personnel and 5 percent in equipment, 6,769 men made the jump. They did it in half an hour beginning three minutes after H Hour, at 1303. Among the casualties was 1 man killed by antiaircraft fire as he poised in the open door of his plane. While floating earthward with parachutes open, 2 other men were cut to pieces by the propellers of a crashing C-47.

One of only two units of the division which were not delivered to the correct drop zone was the 1st Battalion (Lieutenant Colonel Harry W. O. Kinnard, Jr.), 501st Parachute Infantry. Scheduled to drop just west of Veghel, between the Aa River and the Willems Canal, the battalion instead came to earth three miles to the northwest. The battalion nevertheless had a compact drop pattern and in less than an hour was on the move to seize the bridges over the Aa River at Veghel. An officer and forty-six men, including eight jump casualties, stayed behind at a chateau (Kasteel) to care for the casualties and to collect equipment bundles. While the bulk of Colonel Kinnard’s battalion marched directly down a main road toward Veghel, an advance patrol occupied the railway bridge over the Aa without contest. Only as the battalion entered Veghel in quest of the highway bridge did any Germans fight back, and these offered only desultory, halfhearted fire.

Meanwhile the main force of this regiment had been landing southwest of Veghel on the other side of the Willems Canal. Unopposed in the drop and assembly, one battalion organized within forty-five minutes, quickly secured the nearby village of Eerde, and sent a detachment to throw a roadblock across Hell’s Highway between Veghel and St. Oedenrode. The remaining battalion dispatched a small force to seize the railway bridge over the Willems Canal and then marched toward the highway bridge over the canal on the outskirts of Veghel. Inside Veghel, this battalion contacted Colonel Kinnard’s men, who by this time had secured the road bridge over the Aa River. In approximately three hours, Colonel Johnson’s 501st Parachute Infantry had seized all its D-Day objectives. Now the real problem was to organize a defense in spite of ecstatic Dutch civilians.

In late afternoon a message arrived that cast a shadow on the day’s success. At the chateau (Kasteel) northwest of Veghel, a force of about fifty Germans supported by mortars had surprised the officer and forty-six men who had stayed behind to collect equipment bundles. Mindful of the need to· defend Veghel securely as darkness approached, the regimental commander, Colonel Johnson, could spare no more than a platoon for the relief of these men. A few hundred yards short of the chateau German fire forced this platoon to dig in for the night. The next morning it was obvious that the platoon either had to be reinforced or pulled back. Still apprehensive about the defense of Veghel, Colonel Johnson ordered the platoon withdrawn. That afternoon Colonel Kinnard sent a small patrol in another attempt to contact the bundle-collecting detail. “I am now at Kasteel,” the patrol leader reported by radio, “. . . there are no signs of our men here but bloody bandages.”

Other than Colonel Kinnard’s battalion, the only unit of the 101st Airborne Division that was not delivered to the correct drop zone on D-Day was a battalion of Colonel Michaelis’ 502nd Parachute Infantry. The regiment was scheduled to drop on the northernmost of the two drop zones between Zon and St. Oedenrode; this battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Patrick F. Cassidy, came down two miles away on the neighboring drop zone. Although delayed by this misadventure, Colonel Cassidy’s battalion by nightfall had brought a persistent bunch of rear echelon Germans to heel in St. Oedenrode and thereby secured both a main highway and an alternate bridge over the Dommel River. Deploying to defend the village, Colonel Cassidy sent a patrol northeast along Hell’s Highway to contact the 501st Parachute Infantry at Veghel.

Another battalion of the 502nd Parachute Infantry deployed to protect the glider landing zone, while the bulk of the third battalion moved to an assembly area near Zon, ready to assist if need be the march of the neighboring regiment on Eindhoven. At the same time a company of this battalion proceeded upon a separate mission, to capture the rail and road bridges over the Wilhelmina Canal southeast of Best. Although these bridges were not assigned objectives for the 101st Airborne Division, General Taylor considered them valuable for three reasons: first, as an outpost protecting his glider landing zone and his main positions along Hell’s Highway; again, as alternate crossings of the Wilhelmina Canal should the Germans destroy the bridges at Zon; and again, as control of a main highway (between Eindhoven and’s Hertogenbosch) by which the Germans otherwise might feed r:einforcements to Eindhoven. To do the job, Colonel Michaelis sent Company H reinforced by a light machine gun section and a platoon of engineers.

En route to the bridges, the Company H commander, Captain Robert E. Jones, lost his way in a thick woods, the Zonsche Forest. Emerging near a road junction east of Best, the company came under fire from a small group of Germans apparently rallied by some local commander. The Germans gained the upper hand when infantry reinforcements and several small cannon arrived by truck from the direction of Hertogenbosch. These could have been an advance detachment of General Poppe’s 59th Infantry Division, which was detraining at Tilburg under orders from the First Parachute Army’s General Student to enter the fight. Goaded by radio messages from his battalion commander to get somebody to the bridges over the Wilhelmina Canal, Captain Jones organized a reinforced patrol.

A platoon leader, Lieutenant Edward L. Wierzbowski, was to take a rifle platoon and the attached engineers and machine gun section to the bridges. Lieutenant Wierzbowski found in turn that casualties and disorganization had left him with but eighteen riflemen and twenty-six engineers. The lieutenant and his little force still were picking their way through the Zonsche Forest toward the bridges when night came, and with the darkness, a cold, penetrating rain.

Back at regimental headquarters, Colonel Michaelis meanwhile had become perturbed about reports of Company H’s encounter. He directed that the rest of the company’s parent battalion go to Captain Jones’s assistance. The commander, Lieutenant Colonel Robert G. Cole, started with the battalion toward Best at 1800, but darkness fell before physical contact could be established with Captain Jones.

In the meantime, Lieutenant Wierzbowski and his men had crawled the last few yards on their bellies to reach the Wilhelmina Canal several hundred yards east of the highway bridge. Slithering along the dike, the men neared the bridge, apparently undetected. While the lieutenant and a scout crawled ahead to reconnoiter, the main body of the patrol slid down the embankment to await their return. A barrage of “potato masher” hand grenades came suddenly from the darkness on the other side of the canal. Scared, a couple of men scrambled up the bank of the dike. Others followed. The night erupted with the fire of machine guns and rifles. Some of the men stampeded back toward the forest.

When he heard this firing, Lieutenant Wierzbowski had come within sight of the bridge, only to find it covered by German sentries. Scurrying back, he discovered he had left but 3 officers and 15 men, and 3 of these wounded. They had their individual weapons, plus a machine gun with 500 rounds of ammunition, a mortar with 6 rounds, and a bazooka with 5 rockets. Here, as the cold rain fell, the men dug in for the night.

As these events had developed, the 101st Airborne Division’s D-Day glider lift had begun to arrive. Although not as immune to mishap as the parachutists, a total of 53 out of 70 gliders landed successfully with 32 jeeps, 13 trailers, and 252 men. Of those that failed to make it,1 fell in the Channel, 1 crash-landed on the landing zone, 2 collided in the air above the landing zone, 2 were unaccounted for, 4 landed in friendly territory, and 7 came down behind enemy lines.

[NOTE MG56-Ab9: Another glider narrowly escaped a crash. When flak knocked out both pilot and copilot, Corporal James L. Evans, a passenger unfamiliar with the controls and himself wounded by flak, steadied the ship until he could rouse the dazed pilot.]

The part of the division headquarters that had not parachuted with General Taylor came in by glider. Also arriving by glider were reconnaissance, signal, and medical units. A radio net linked division headquarters with the three parachute regiments within minutes after the glider landings. By 1500 medics were treating casualties in a temporary hospital erected in a field and at 1700 began a major operation. An hour later the medics moved to a civilian hospital in Zon.

Before the gliders arrived, General Taylor’s third regiment, the 506th Parachute Infantry, had assembled after a near perfect drop on the southernmost division drop zone near Zon. Unhampered by opposition, a portion of one battalion assembled in less than forty-five minutes. Commanded by Major James L. LaPrade and accompanied by General Taylor, this battalion moved south to bypass Zon and come upon the highway bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal from the west flank. After capture of this bridge, the 506th Parachute Infantry was to continue south about six miles to Eindhoven.

As Major LaPrade and his men advanced, they came under deadly fire from an 88-mm. gun emplaced south of the Zonsche Forest. Hope for quick capture of the bridge from the flank began to fade. As soon as the other two battalions of the 506th Parachute Infantry assembled, the regimental commander, Colonel Sink, directed them in a column of battalions to Hell’s Highway, thence south through Zon toward the canal. In Zon the leading battalion also came under fire from an 88, but a platoon acting as a point deployed among the buildings and advanced undetected within fifty yards of the gun. A round from the bazooka of Private Thomas G. Lindsey finished it off.

Evidently expecting that Major LaPrade’s flanking battalion would have captured the highway bridge, these two battalions made no apparent haste in moving through Zon. They methodically cleared stray Germans from the houses, so that a full two hours had passed before they emerged from the village. Having at last overcome the enemy 88 south of the Zonsche Forest, Major LaPrade’s battalion caught sight of the bridge at about the same time. Both forces were within fifty yards of the bridge when their objective went up with a roar. Debris from the explosion rained all about.

Rushing to the bank of the canal, Major LaPrade, a lieutenant, and a sergeant jumped into the water and swam across. Though Germans in a house on the south bank opened fire, other paratroopers found a rowboat and ferried a squad across. This advance party reduced the opposition. The little rowboat made trip after trip across the canal while a platoon of engineers improvised a shaky footbridge, but not until an hour before midnight was the entire regiment across.

Perturbed by civilian reports of a strong German garrison in Eindhoven, Colonel Sink was reluctant to enter the city by night. Aware that Eindhoven was a secondary objective on the division’s timetable and that the British had been told the city might not be taken on D-Day, General Taylor approved a halt until daylight.

As matters stood, the British ground column was no closer to Eindhoven than were the paratroopers, so that this conservative approach worked no hardship. Yet it was a distinct risk, because General Taylor and Colonel Sink hardly could have known where the British were at the time. One of the gliders that failed to reach the 101st Airborne Division’s landing zone had contained attached British signal personnel; without them, immediate contact with the XXX Corps proved impossible. Not until the next morning, when the 506th Parachute Infantry made radio contact with some American signalmen attached to the 30 Corps, could the Americans learn how far the British had advanced.

Behind an artillery barrage that began an hour after the first troop carrier aircraft passed over the British lines, the XXX Corps had attacked on schedule with tanks in the lead. Against five German battalions, including two SS battalions that XXX Corps intelligence had failed to detect, the spearhead Guards Armoured Division had made steady progress. In view of the fact that woods and marshy ground confined the attack to a front not much wider than the highway leading to Eindhoven, progress was remarkable, though not sufficient to take the tanks to Eindhoven. As night came the British stopped in Valkenswaard, their “formal” objective. The objective of Eindhoven, which General Horrocks had indicated he hoped to reach on D-Day, lay six miles to the north.

Against ineffective delaying actions by small enemy groups, Colonel Sink’s 506th Parachute Infantry pressed the advance on Eindhoven early on D plus 1, 18 September. By midmorning, the leading battalion had knocked out a nest of two 88-mm. guns and pushed deep into the heart of the city. Colonel Sink had expected to find at least a regiment of Germans in Eindhoven; he actually flushed no more than a company. Having taken four bridges over the Dommel River and a canal in the city by noon, the paratroopers spent the rest of the day rounding up enemy stragglers and clearing the southern outskirts for entry of the Guards Armoured Division. As they performed these tasks, Eindhoven went on a binge. As if by magic the city blossomed with the national color. “The reception was terrific,” said one American officer. “The air seemed to reek with hate for the Germans …. ”

In the carnival atmosphere the paratroopers failed for a long time to hear the fretted clank of tanks they were listening for. At 1130 the first direct radio communication with the Guards Armoured Division had revealed that the armor still was five miles south of Eindhoven, engaged in a bitter fight. At 1230 hopes rose with the appearance of two British armored cars, but these had sneaked around the German flank to reach Eindhoven from the northwest. Shadows were falling when about 1900 the paratroopers at last spotted the head of the main British column.

The Guards Armoured Division pushed through Eindhoven without pause. At Zon, British engineers, who had been forewarned that the bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal was out, set to work. During the night they installed a Bailey bridge, so that at 0645 (D plus 2, 19 September) the armor rumbled across. The ground advance was proceeding swiftly, but was it swift enough? General Horrocks’ XXX Corps was at least thirty-three hours behind schedule.

Though overshadowed by the events at Eindhoven, the side show that had developed near Best actually provided the 101st Airborne Division’s stiffest fighting on D plus 1 and 2. Destruction of the bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal at Zon having lent exigency to the 502nd Parachute Infantry’s mission of securing alternate bridges, Colonel Michaelis early on D plus 1, 18 September, committed it second battalion to the Best fight.

The answer to the situation at Best lay in General Poppe’s 59th Division. No sooner had this force detrained at Tilburg than the First Parachute Army’s General Student sent the bulk of the division to secure the bridges near Best. In the meantime, three companies reinforced by two replacement battalions and a police battalion were to cut Hell’s Highway at St. Oedenrode.

The Americans could be grateful that General Poppe’s division faced an ammunition situation that was “nearly desperate,” having had to leave behind most of its ammunition when ferried across the Schelde estuary as part of the Fifteenth Army. As it was, the two American battalions had all they could do to hold their own. The fresh battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Steve A. Chappuis, tried to drive to the bridges over the Wilhelmina Canal but had to fall back to a defense with Colonel Cole’s battalion on the edge of the Zonsche Forest. A timely strike by a flight of P-4 is held the Germans off. Colonel Cole himself fell, dead of a German bullet through the temple.

All through the day of D plus 1 the sound of firing had fanned hope of relief in the minds of Lieutenant Wierzbowski and his group of fifteen men along the dike near the highway bridge. Then, at 1100, the hundred-foot concrete span over the Wilhelmina Canal trembled and lifted with a violent explosion. The objective for which the 502nd Parachute Infantry continued to fight the rest of the day was no longer worth fighting for.

The experiences of Lieutenant Wierzbowski and his little group were a testimonial to the kind of hardship small, isolated units sometimes are called upon to endure. In midafternoon their troubles increased when a small German force attacked. One man was killed outright. Seriously wounded in the base of the spine, another slowly died from loss of blood. Obsessed with a belief that enemy fire had torn off his testicles, one of the engineer officers pleaded with Lieutenant Wierzbowski to kill him. Wierzbowski finally convinced him his wounds were not that serious. Two German bullets hit the platoon’s lead scout, Private First Class Joe E. Mann, who already had incurred two wounds; now both his arms hung useless. Though an engineer lieutenant and a sergeant tried to break through for aid, the lieutenant was captured and the sergeant wounded.

Hope stirred again during the late afternoon and early evening. First, a British armored car and a reconnaissance car appeared on the opposite bank of the canal. The British tried to raise headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division on their radio, but to no avail. They provided fire support until later in the evening when a platoon of paratroopers who had gotten lost stumbled onto Lieutenant Wierzbowski’s position.

Although this platoon agreed to defend one of Lieutenant Wierzbowski’s flanks, the men fell back during the night in the face of a small German attack. Again Wierzbowski and his little group were alone. Then a small patrol from Colonel Chappuis’ battalion stumbled onto the position. Though the lieutenant sent word of his plight by this patrol, the report was not to reach Colonel Chappuis until the next morning. Distorted in transmission, the message said only that the bridge had been blown.

As a misty daylight began to break on D plus 2, 19 September, Lieutenant Wierzbowski spotted a small German force bearing down on his position. Though the lieutenant yelled an alarm, the Germans already were too close. Two German grenades rolled down among the wounded. Although the men tossed these out before they exploded, another hit the machine gun and blinded the gunner. A moment later another grenade rolled into this man’s foxhole. One eye blown out entirely, the other blinded, the soldier groped wildly for the grenade. He found it and tossed it from his foxhole only a split second before it exploded. Another grenade fell behind Private Mann, who was sitting in a trench with six other wounded. Mann saw the grenade come and felt it land behind him. Helpless, his arms bound and useless from the wounds incurred the day before, he yelled: “Grenade!” Then he lay back to take the explosion with his body. [NOTE MG-7AB: Private Mann was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. The Dutch have erected a memorial in his honor in the Zonsche Forest.]

“Shall we surrender or fight?” the men had asked persistently. As the Germans made a final charge, Lieutenant Wierzbowski gave them a succinct answer: “OK. This is the time.” Only three of his men had gone unscathed. They had virtually no ammunition. Their last grenade was gone. One man put a dirty handkerchief on a rifle and waved it.

[NOTE MG 8-AB: Corporal Daniel L. Corman played dead by falling across what he thought was the corpse of his foxhole mate. Unmoving, Corman stayed there until late afternoon when other paratroopers at last arrived. Then he found that the man he had been lying on still had a breath of life in him.]

In the meantime, a kind of stalemate had developed in the fighting along the edge of the Zonsche Forest. Though the two American battalions held their own, their regimental commander, Colonel Michaelis, could not reinforce them without neglecting defense of St. Oedenrode, which was one of his primary missions. The solution came at last in the juncture with the British ground troops, whereby a squadron of British tanks and a modicum of artillery support became available. Arrival by glider in the afternoon of D plus 1 of two battalions of the 327th Glider Infantry under Colonel Joseph H. Harper also helped. [NOTE MG-9AB:] Because of rain and mist along the southern air route, this glider lift had come in via the northern route and brought successful landing of 428 out of 450 gliders of the 101st Airborne Division. A total of 2,579 men, 146 jeeps, 109 trailers, 2 bulldozers, and some resupply had arrived.

[NOTE MG-9AB: Like all glider regiments, the 327th Glider Infantry had but two organic rifle battalions. In informal reorganization between actions in Sicily and Normandy, the glider regiments of both the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions had gained a third battalion by splitting between them another regiment, the 401st. Thus, the 1st Battalion, 401st Glider Infantry, while retaining formal status as an independent unit, normally functioned as the 3rd Battalion, 327th Glider Infantry.]

General Taylor ordered his assistant division commander, Brigadier General Gerald J. Higgins, to take over-all command of the two battalions of the 502nd Parachute Infantry near Best, contingents of the 327th Glider Infantry, a squadron of British tanks, and elements of British artillery and to reduce all enemy east of the highway between Eindhoven and’s Hertogenbosch and north of the Wilhelmina Canal. Though the destruction of the Best highway bridge had eliminated the original purpose of the Best fighting, the job of protecting the west flank of the 101st Airborne Division remained. The British tanks made the difference in an attack that began at 1400 on D plus 2.

Within German ranks, a festering disintegration by late afternoon became a rout. “Send us all the MP’s available,” became the cry as hundreds of Germans began to give up. For almost three days a bitter, costly, and frustrating fight, the action at Best now became little more than a mop-up.

By the end of D plus 2 the prisoners totaled more than 1,400, and the paratroopers actually counted more than 300 enemy dead. Some of the prisoners came in with Lieutenant Wierzbowski and the survivors of his little band. They had been taken to a German aid station and there had talked their captors into surrender.

Best itself remained in German hands, and much of the territory taken had to be abandoned as soon as the mop-up ended. Now the battle of Hell’s Highway was developing into the Indian-type fighting General Taylor later was to call it, and these men from Best were needed at other points. The engagement near Best had been costly and had secured neither of the bridges over the Wilhelmina Canal, yet it had parried what could have become a serious blow by the 59th Division. General Poppe now had scarcely a shell of a division.

While the fight raged at Best on D plus 1 and 2, the rest of the 101st Airborne Division was maintaining defensive positions at Eindhoven, Zon, St. Oedenrode, and Veghel. From Eindhoven, Colonel Sink’s 506th Parachute Infantry sent a battalion to either flank to widen the base of the MARKET-GARDEN corridor, but in both cases Sink recalled the troops before they reached their objectives. On the west the battalion returned because the XII British Corps had begun to advance along the left flank of the corridor and was expected soon to overrun the battalion’s objective. The battalion on the east returned because Colonel Sink learned that a column of German armor was loose in the region and he wanted no part of a meeting engagement with armor.

Late in the afternoon of D plus 2 this German column struck toward Zon in an attempt to sever the thin lifeline over which the British ground column was pushing toward Nijmegen It was Major von Maltzahn’s 107th Panzer Brigade that on D-Day had been rerouted from Aachen to the assistance of the First Parachute Army. Although General Student had ordered the panzer brigade and General Poppe’s 59th Division to make a concentric attack toward Zon, the 59th Division at the time the brigade arrived was hors de combat.

 Even without the 59th Division the German attack came close to succeeding. Only a scratch force that included General Taylor’s headquarters troops was available at the time for defending the Bailey bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal at Zon. Darkness had fallen, a British truck struck by a round from a German tank was burning brightly atop the bridge, and a Panther was pumping round after round into a building housing the division command post when General Taylor himself arrived with reinforcements. He led part of a glider infantry battalion and a lone 57-mm. antitank gun. One of the first rounds from this gun knocked out a German tank near the bridge. Bazooka fire disabled another. The Germans appeared to lose heart after this, and traffic gradually began to flow again along Hell’s Highway.

Another German blow against Hell’s Highway on D plus 2 came from the air, perhaps as a direct result of Hitler’s exhortations that the Luftwaffe put his little world right again. About a hundred German twin-engine bombers came out of hiding after nightfall to bombard the central part of Eindhoven. Because most American units held positions outside the city, they incurred no damage; but more than a thousand civilians were killed or wounded, and British units were heavily hit. Whether from lack of planes, fuel, or trained crewmen, or because of all three, this was the only major strike by long-range German bombers during the course of the campaign in the West during the fall of 1944.

At both Veghel and St. Oedenrode during these first days, Colonel Johnson’s 501st Parachute Infantry and Colonel Cassidy’s battalion of the 502nd Parachute Infantry had held their positions about the canal and river bridges against persistent but small German attacks, most of which were in company strength. The strongest -by three companies of the 59th Division reinforced by police and replacement units-struck Colonel Cassidy’s battalion on D plus 2 on the road to Schijndel.

Hard pressed at first, Colonel Cassidy’s men gained assistance from Sergeant James M. (Paddy) McCrory, commander of a crippled tank that had dropped out of the British ground column. Although the tank could make no more than five miles per hour, McCrory plunged unhesitatingly into the fight. When the paratroopers tried to thank him, he brushed them off. “When in doubt,” Sergeant McCrory said, “lash out.” His words became a kind of unofficial motto of the battalion.

General Taylor had hoped to be in a stronger position by the end of D plus 2 with the addition of most of his airborne artillery. But the bugaboo that threatens all airborne operations had developed. The weather closed in. Though the flights on D plus 2 were postponed until late in the day on the chance the weather might clear, troops in the gliders still were to speak of a mist so thick they could see nothing but three feet of tow rope stretching out into nowhere. Because the glider pilots could not detect when their mother planes banked, many gliders turned over and had to cut loose prematurely.

The Air/Sea Rescue Service worked overtime plucking ditched crewmen and passengers from the Channel. Many planes and gliders turned back. On the other hand, weather at German bases must have been better; for the Germans sent up more than 125 Messerschmitt’s and Focke-Wulf’s. A total of 1,086 Allied troop carrier, tow, and resupply planes and 428 gliders took off on D plus 2. A large part of these returned to base, while 45 planes and 73 gliders were lost.

Probably because the 101st Airborne Division’s landing zone was relatively secure, General Brereton allotted General Taylor, at the expense of the 82nd Airborne Division, 384 gliders for the D plus 2 flight, more than twice the number originally planned. Only 212 of these arrived. After missing the landing zone and circling vainly, 82 tow planes returned to England. These were minus 31 of their gliders which cut loose behind friendly lines, 16 known to have crash-landed in enemy territory, and 26 not accounted for.

Those glider men who landed behind German lines and eventually rejoined their units brought with them harrowing tales of hairbreadth escapes punctuated with praise for the Dutch underground. Most of these men were artillerymen, for the flights bringing in the artillery units were particularly cut up. Of 66 artillery pieces and antitank guns that started the flight, only 36 arrived. None was larger than the 75-mm. pack howitzer; all planes towing gliders with 105-mm. howitzers had to turn back.

Difficulties imposed on the 101st Airborne Division by the adverse weather could not be ignored, and General Taylor’s “Indian War” to keep open Hell’s Highway would remain critical as long as men and supplies had to go north over the highway. Nevertheless, at the moment, a situation had developed farther north that overshadowed events along Hell’s Highway.

Moving on Grave and Nijmegen, the British ground column was hard pressed to cross the Maas and Waal Rivers and reach the British airborne troops at Arnhem. To ensure passage of the ground column, the 82 Airborne Division at Nijmegen was fighting against time.

Six Bridges and a Ridge: 82nd Airborne Division / Nijmegen

For the 82nd Airborne Division, the mere possession of the towns, the bridges, and the highway in the division’s assigned sector was not sufficient to ensure the passage of the 30 Corps ground column. Even the bridges over two of the most formidable water obstacles along the entire path, the sprawling Maas and Waal Rivers, were overshadowed by another feature of terrain: the hill mass southeast of Nijmegen This high ground is generally triangular in shape, but the most pronounced and highest elevations are mainly along the north and east, forming a wooded ridge line that extends southeast

from Nijmegen past the resort hotel of Bergen Dal to the vicinity of the village of Wyler, thence south through Groesbeek to the village of Riethorst, close to the Maas River. Roughly 300 feet in height,  the ridge line is about eight miles long. At the base of its eastern slope lies the Dutch-German border, where the ground rises again to the east into a big forest, the Reichswald.

In the eyes of the 82nd Airborne Division commander, Brigadier General James M. Gavin, (General Gavin was promoted to major general during the course of this operation.) possession of the ridge represented the key to success or failure. “With it in German hands,” General Gavin was to note later, “physical possession of the bridges would be absolutely worthless, since it completely dominated the bridges and all the terrain around it.” General Gavin believed that if he held this ridge, the British ground column ultimately could succeed, even if his airborne troops should be driven away from the bridges. The high ground also represented a ready airhead for later operations.

An understanding of General Gavin’s concern about this ridge involves going beyond consideration of the usual importance of high ground to success in almost any operation. The high ground in this instance was unusual in that almost all surrounding terrain was predominantly fiat. Not only did the high ground dominate all the other objectives-the bridges over the Maas, the Maas-Waal Canal, and the Waal-it also represented the only real barrier to counterattack should the Germans strike from the east from the direction of the Reichswald. This last the 82nd Airborne Division G-2, Lieutenant Colonel Walter F. Winton, Jr., predicted might constitute the major reaction to the landings.

From the direction of the Reichswald the Germans would have two major routes, one leading from Kleve along the north edge of the forest east into Nijmegen, the other, from Venlo, passing along the south edge of the forest and thence northeast through the villages of Riethorst and Mook and generally alongside the Maas-Waal Canal into Nijmegen The possibility of counterattack from this direction took on added credence from the Dutch resistance reports of panzer formations assembling in the Netherlands. The 82nd Airborne Division was led to believe that this armor was concentrating in the Reichswald. This information became “a major and pressing element in the pre drop picture of German forces.”

The possibility of encountering German armor underscored, in General Gavin’s mind, the importance of the defensive aspects of the 82nd Airborne Division’s assignment. Unlike the 101st Airborne Division, the 82nd could anticipate contact with the ground column no sooner than D plus I, at the earliest, and even this was highly conjectural. General Gavin believed it necessary to plan his fight “in such a manner as to be able to conduct a good fight, well in hand, for at least three days, and almost certainly well beyond this time, if need be.

Had the entire strength of the 82nd Airborne Division been available on D-Day, all assigned objectives might have been designated to be taken at once as a matter of course, despite the threat of the Reichswald and delayed contact with the ground column. As it was, because of the limitations of the D-Day lift, the question of priority of objectives entered the picture. In anticipation of a heavy fight before the ground column could provide artillery and antitank support, General Gavin allotted a portion of his D-Day lift to a parachute artillery battalion.

He also scheduled arrival of the rest of his artillery on D plus 1. This meant that the glider infantry regiment could not arrive until D plus 2, so that for the first two days the 82nd would have but three regiments of infantry. If these three parachute infantry regiments tried to take all assigned objectives, they would be spread dangerously thin for holding the objectives in the event enemy armor materialized from the Reichswald.

Take only the bridges and you probably could not hold them without the high ground. Take only the high ground, the Waal bridge at Nijmegen, and the Maas-Waal Canal bridges, and the ground column could not get across the Maas either to use the other bridges or to relieve the airborne troops. With only so many troops at hand, General Gavin saw no solution at first other than to take first the high ground and the Maas and Maas-Waal Canal bridges-thereby ensuring juncture with the ground column-then Nijmegen, General Gavin and his staff were not alone in this thinking. Indeed, the directive from the corps commander, General Browning, was “clear and emphatic” to the effect that the division was “not to attempt the seizure of the Nijmegen Bridge until all other missions had been successfully accomplished and the Groesbeck-Bergen Dal high ground was firmly in our hands.” In his formal order General Browning stated: “The capture and retention of the high ground between Nijmegen and Groesbeck is imperative in order to accomplish the Division’s task.”

[NOTE MG-11AB: Hq Br Abn Corps, Opn Instr No. I, Allied Abn Opns in Holland. General Browning was to recall later: “I personally gave an order to Jim Gavin that, although every effort should be made to effect the capture of the Grave and Nijmegen Bridges as soon as possible, it was essential that he should capture the Groesbeek Ridge and hold it-for … painfully obvious reasons . . .. If this ground had been lost to the enemy the operations of the 2nd Army would have been dangerously prejudiced as its advance across the Waal and Neder Rhein would have been immediately outflanked. Even the initial advance of the Guards Armoured Division would have been prejudiced and on them the final outcome of the battle had to depend.” Ltr, Browning to Maj Gen G. E. Prier-Palmer, British Joint Services Mission, Washington, D.C., 25 Jan 55, excerpt in OCMH.]

On the other hand, the question of taking the magnificent 1,860-foot span across the Waal River at Nijmegen obviously was not dismissed summarily. The bridge in relation to strength available to take it on D-Day was the subject of continuing discussion, not only before D Day but after the jump. As late as mid-afternoon of D plus 1 General Browning disapproved a projected plan for taking the Nijmegen bridge and directed instead that the 82nd Airborne Division continue to concentrate for the time being upon defending the high ground and the bridges over the Maas and Maas-Waal.

After “almost daily” discussions about the Nijmegen bridge in relation to the over-all plan, General Gavin and his staff finally decided, “About 48 hours prior to take-off, when the entire plan appeared to be shaping up well,” that they could risk sending one battalion in a quick strike for the bridge. This was admittedly a minimum force, but if the Germans were not in strength at the bridge and if the expected counterattacks from the Reichswald could be held with a smaller force than originally deduced, the risk would be justified because of the nature of the prize. “I personally directed Colonel Roy E. Lindquist, commanding the 508th Parachute Infantry,” General Gavin recalled later, “to commit his first battalion against the Nijmegen bridge without delay after landing but to keep a very close watch on it in the event he needed it to protect himself against the Reichswald.”

In the end, the 82nd Airborne Division was to try to seize all its objectives on D-Day: bridges over the Maas at Grave; over the Maas-Waal Canal near Honinghutje,[NOTE MG-12AB] Hatert, Malden, and Heumen; and over the Waal at Nijmegen; plus the high ground. The only exception was the railroad bridge at Nijmegen for which no force apparently was allotted.

{NOTE MG-12AB: The Honinghutje bridge was not mentioned in 82nd Abn Div FO 11, 13 Sep 1944, which listed assignments. General Gavin in his letter to OCMH says that the 504th and 508th Parachute Infantry Regiments together were to take the bridge. The task “was to depend upon the development of the fight once the landings were accomplished.” Presumably the same was true of rail bridges over both the Maas and the Waal.]

The drop zone of the 508th Parachute Infantry (Colonel Lindquist) was on the high ground north of Groesbeek. In addition to the one-battalion assignment against the Nijmegen bridge, Colonel Lindquist drew responsibility for a major portion of the high ground from Nijmegen past the resort hotel of Bergen Dal to the village of Wyler, thence generally south to the vicinity of Groesbeek, a total distance of about six miles. The regiment also was to block enemy movement southward from Nijmegen and was to assist in taking the bridges over the Maas-Waal Canal at Hatert and Honinghutje, the last on the main Grave-Nijmegen highway. A final assignment involved securing the northernmost of two glider landing zones on the eastern slopes of the ridge line, south of Wyler.

The 505th Parachute Infantry (Colonel William E. Ekman) was to drop south of Groesbeek. The regiment then was to take Groesbeek, high ground in the vicinity, the southern glider landing zone southeast of Groesbeek, and the ridge line extending south as far as the Kiekberg (Hill 77.2), a high point overlooking the village of Riethorst. Patrols from this regiment were to assist in taking the Maas-Waal bridges at Heumen and Malden.

The principal assignment of the remaining regiment, the 504th Parachute Infantry (Colonel Reuben H. Tucker), was to take the 9-span, 1,800-foot bridge over the Maas River near Grave. In keeping with the theory that bridges are best taken by assault from both ends, one company was to drop south of the river. The rest of the regiment was to drop between the Maas and the Maas-Waal Canal. Other assignments included blocking enemy movement between the river and the canal from the west, assisting in taking the Honinghutje bridge, and capturing the Malden and Heumen bridges. Gaining at least one of the four bridges over the Maas-Waal Canal was vital, for the canal is a sizable waterway, in most places about 200 feet wide. The 504th also was to guard against counterattack from the west.

The flight, drops, and landings of the 82nd Airborne Division on D-Day, 17 September, proved even more phenomenally successful than did the 101st’s. Employing the northern air route, the serials encountered only sporadic flak that was highly inaccurate even ‘as it grew heavier near the drop zones. Only 1 of 482 planes and 2 of 50 gliders failed to reach the target area. Incurring only 2 percent casualties, 7,277 men made the jump. At least 2 were killed, 1 who was struck by a supply bundle and another whose parachute failed to open. Only 7 out of 209 men who arrived by glider were injured. Eight 75-mm. guns arrived without incident.

The only miscalculation was the dropping of one battalion of the 508th Parachute Infantry a mile north of the assigned drop zone, but this had little effect on subsequent operations. Both General Gavin and the British Airborne Corps commander, General Browning, jumped with skeleton staffs.

Resistance to the drop and assembly was “negligible,” although some individuals had to fight their way off the drop zones. The 508th Parachute Infantry met resistance from “a few widely scattered” antiaircraft crews and “some isolated labor troops,” but the general picture was as summed up by the G-2 : “Landed against almost no opposition.”

Taking the Objectives

The task of seizing the big highway span over the Maas River near Grave was easier because one stick of sixteen men failed to get the green light signal to jump until “a bit late.”When the signal came the officer in charge of this stick, Lieutenant John S. Thompson, noted that his plane was directly over a group of buildings. He decided “to wait a few seconds and jump on a field just southwest of the Grave Bridge.” The result was that he and his men came to earth only about 700 yards from the south end of the bridge, while the rest of the company of the 504th Parachute Infantry that jumped south of the Maas came down more than a mile away.

Lieutenant Thompson lost no time getting started toward the bridge. Despite occasional small arms fire, he and his men made their way through drainage ditches to the vicinity of a tower near the bridge. Two hits from a bazooka silenced a 20-mm. flak gun in the tower. In keeping with established practice, the men made every effort to prevent any Germans from moving about near the bridge, lest they, set or activate demolitions. As the men reached the bridge, they cut all visible wires.

In the meantime, the main body of Lieutenant Thompson’s parent battalion had been assembling on the other side of the Maas River. As the battalion reached the north end of the bridge, only a flak gun on river flats nearby offered any real problem. In less than three hours, the 504th Parachute Infantry was in firm control of the Maas bridge, one of the major prizes of the entire MARKET-GARDEN, operation. That the Germans had failed to demolish the bridge could be explained either through the precautions Lieutenant Thompson and his men had taken or through prisoner revelations that the bridge was to have been blown only on order of the German corps commander, who was not present.

The bulk of Lieutenant Thompson’s parent company had been unable to reach the bridge from the drop zone west of Grave because of small arms fire from the town. Aware that a twelve-mile gap existed between the company and closest units of the 101st Airborne Division at Veghel, the company commander set up a roadblock across the main highway to forestall German reinforcements from the south. That night a patrol went into Grave to investigate strange noises emanating from the town. The patrol found civilians gathered in the town hall lustily singing the Dutch version of “Tipperary.” The Germans had gone.

Of the other two battalions of Colonel Tucker’s 504th Parachute Infantry, one swept stray Germans from between the Maas and the Maas-Waal Canal as far west as the main highway, while the second set out to take two bridges over the canal. Both bridges were near the southeast end of the canal where it joins the Maas River, one near the village of Malden, the other at Heumen. These bridges were important not only as possible routes north for the ground column but also as connections between the 504th Parachute Infantry and the other regiments on the high ground to the northeast.

The battalion commander, Major Willard E. Harrison, sent a company to each objective. The men who charged the bridge at Malden saw their objective go up in smoke as they made a final dash toward it. At Heumen, small arms fire from an island in the canal a few yards north of the bridge stymied advance until at last 8 men infiltrated to a point near the bridge from which they could spray the island with machine gun fire.

Covered by this fire, 2 officers, a corporal, and a radio operator ran for the bridge. Three of them made it. Before dark, another officer and 6 men rowed across the canal to join the trio. Yet the presence of this little force on the east bank of the canal had no apparent effect upon the Germans who were covering the bridge from the island.

The American company commander, Captain Thomas B. Helgeson, expected the bridge to be blown at any moment. As approaching darkness provided some concealment, Captain Helgeson sent the battalion demolition squad to search for and cut demolition wires. “The bridge had been prepared for demolition,” men of the battalion recalled later, “and nobody knows why it was not blown.”

Darkness at last provided the antidote for the German fire from the island. Soon after nightfall, a strong patrol stormed across a footbridge and overran the German positions. Six hours after H Hour the Heumen bridge was safe. It subsequently was to serve as the main route across the Maas-Waal Canal for the British ground column.

Of two other bridges over the Maas-Waal Canal-one near Hatert, northwest of Malden, the other on the main Grave-Nijmegen highway near Honinghutje-only the Hatert bridge was attacked on D-Day. To Hatert went elements of the 504th and a platoon of Colonel Lindquist’s 508th Parachute Infantry, only to find the bridge demolished.

Before dawn the next morning, Colonel Lindquist sent a platoon to seize the bridge at Honinghutje. When German fire pinned this platoon to nearby drainage ditches, another platoon arrived to help. Together they stormed the bridge, but not before the Germans hurriedly set off demolitions. Though the explosion failed to demolish the bridge, it weakened it to the extent that the ground column subsequently avoided it in favor of a more circuitous route via the Heumen bridge.

Like Colonel Tucker’s battalions, those of Colonel Lindquist’s 508th Parachute Infantry and of Colonel Ekman’s 505th Parachute Infantry had assembled within an hour after the D-Day drop. One battalion was moving toward its objective within twenty minutes after the drop.

With the assistance of the Dutch underground, one battalion of the 505th Parachute Infantry rounded up stragglers in Groesbeek. The battalion then occupied a peak (Hill 818) of the ridge line in woods west of the village, constituting a division reserve, and also sent patrols southwest toward Heumen where soon after dark they contacted the 504th Parachute Infantry at the Heumen bridge.

Part of another battalion occupied the Nijmegen-Groesbeek ridge south of Groesbeek, including the Kiekberg (Hill 772), which overlooks the village of Riethorst and the highway leading from the Reichswald to Mook and Nijmegen A company later in the day cleared Riethorst and set up roadblocks. Although patrols attempted to seize a railroad bridge over the Maas River near Mook, the Germans blew the bridge with moments to spare. Colonel Ekman’s remaining battalion dug in along the ridge at Groesbeek and north of that village and sent a company-size patrol east to the Reichswald.

Because of the proximity of the 505th Parachute Infantry to the Reichswald, these men were particularly concerned about the report they had received in England that the Reichswald was a nest of German armor. They breathed more easily when the patrol returned with word that “no tanks could be seen.” This was in keeping with information provided by Dutch civilians soon after the landings to the effect that “the report about the 1000 tanks in the Reichswald was false.”

Colonel Lindquist’s 508th Parachute Infantry had begun work in the meantime on a variety of missions. One battalion moved west toward Hatert to assume defensive positions astride the Nijmegen-Mook highway, in order to block enemy movement southward from Nijmegen into the division’s perimeter. This was the same battalion which sent a platoon on the unsuccessful quest of the Hatert bridge over the Maas-Waal Canal and the next morning sent two platoons to the Honinghutje bridge. Another battalion advanced north from the drop zone to occupy the northern prong of the wooded ridge line, a three-and-a-half-mile stretch extending from the southeastern fringe of Nijmegen past Hotel Bergen Dal. This the battalion had accomplished by nightfall of D Day “without serous resistance.” Occupying the village of Beek at the foot of the ridge and thereby physically cutting the important Kleve-Nijmegen highway would have to await the next day.

In the hands of the remaining battalion of the 508th Parachute Infantry rested a special destiny. This battalion, the 1st, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Shields Warren, Jr., represented the 82nd Airborne Division’s best chance for a cheap and rapid capture of the highway bridge over the sprawling Waal River at Nijmegen [NOTE MG-13AB] After receiving General Gavin’s pre-jump orders in regard to the Nijmegen bridge, Colonel Lindquist had earmarked Colonel Warren’s battalion as one of two battalions from which he intended to choose one to move to the bridge, depending upon the developing situation. General Gavin’s understanding, as recalled later, was that Warren’s battalion was to move “without delay after landing.”

[NOTE MG-13AB: Although extensive combat interviews were conducted with personnel of the 508th Parachute Infantry, they are inexplicably missing from Department of the Army files. The story has been reconstructed from unit records; Gavin’s letters I to Westover and OCMH; letters to OCMH from Colonel Warren, 5 July 1955, Colonel Lindquist, 9 September 1955, Colonel Thomas J. B. Shanley formerly Executive Officer, 508th Parachute Infantry, 2 Sep 55, and Rev. Bestebreurtje, 25 Oct 56; a postwar interview with Colonel Lindquist by Westover, 14 Sep 45, copy in 82nd Airborne Division Combat Interview file; and Westover, The American Divisions in Operation MARKET, a preliminary narrative written in the European theater short! y after the war, copy in OCMH.]

On the other hand, Colonel Lindquist’s understanding, also as recalled later, was that no battalion was to go for the bridge until the regiment had secured its other objectives, that is to say, not until he had established defenses protecting his assigned portion of the high ground and the northern part of the division glider landing zone. Instead of moving immediately toward the Nijmegen bridge, Colonel Warren’s battalion was to take an “assigned initial objective” in the vicinity of De Ploeg, a suburb of Nijmegen a mile and a quarter southeast of the city astride the Nijmegen-Groesbeek highway. Colonel Warren was to organize this objective for defense, tying in with the battalion near Hatert and the other near Hotel Bergen Dal, “be prepared to go later.” and then was to into Nijmegen

The assembly and movement to De Ploeg took approximately three and a half hours. After organizing a defense of the objective, Colonel Warren about 1830 sent into Nijmegen a patrol consisting of a rifle platoon and the battalion intelligence section. This patrol was to make an aggressive reconnaissance, investigate reports from Dutch civilians that only eighteen Germans guarded the big bridge, and, if possible, capture the south end of the bridge. Unfortunately, the patrol’s radio failed to function so that Colonel Warren was to get no word from the patrol until the next morning.

As darkness approached, General Gavin ordered Colonel Lindquist “to delay not a second longer and get the bridge as quickly as possible with Warren’s battalion.” Colonel Warren, in the mean-time, had found a Dutch civilian who said he could lead the battalion to the bridge and en route check with resistance headquarters within the city for the latest developments on German strength at the bridge. Colonel Warren directed Companies A and B to rendezvous at a point just south of Nijmegen at I goo and move with the Dutch guide to the bridge. Company C, a platoon of which already had gone into the city as a patrol, was withheld in regimental reserve.

Although Company A reached the rendezvous point on time, Company B “got lost en route.” After waiting until about 2000, Colonel Warren left a guide for Company B and moved through the darkness with Company A toward the edge of the city. Some seven hours after H-Hour, the first real move against the Nijmegen bridge began.

At the edge of the city Company A halted again while a patrol searched the first buildings. Finding no Germans, the company continued for several blocks up a main thoroughfare, the dark, deserted Groesbeekscheweg. As the scouts neared a traffic circle surrounding a landscaped circular park near the center of Nijmegen, the Keizer Karel Plein, from which a mall-like park led northeast toward the Nijmegen bridge, a burst of automatic weapons fire came from the circle. The time was about two hours before midnight. As Company A formed to attack, the men heard the noise of an approaching motor convoy emanating from a side street on the other side of the traffic circle. Enemy soldiers noisily dismounted.

No one could have said so with any finality at the time, but the chance for an easy, speedy capture of the Nijmegen bridge had passed. This was all the more lamentable because in Nijmegen during the afternoon the Germans had had nothing more than the same kind of “mostly low quality” troops encountered at most other places on D Day.

Although the enemy commander, Field Marshal Model, had entrusted Corps Feldt under Wehrkreis VI with responsibility for Nijmegen, he apparently had recognized the dire necessity of getting a more mobile and effective force to the Nijmegen bridge immediately. Sometime during late afternoon or early evening of 17 September Model had dispatched an advance guard from the 9th SS Panzer Division’s Reconnaissance Battalion to defend the highway bridge. The commander of the II SS Panzer Corps, General Bittrich, in turn directed the entire 10th SS Panzer Division to move to Nijmegen The main effort of the II SS Panzer Corps, General Bittrich believed, should be directed toward thwarting the Americans at Nijmegen, whereupon the British at Arnhem might be defeated in detail. He directed the first arrivals of the 10th SS Panzer Division-an infantry battalion and an engineer company-to relieve the 9th SS Panzer Division’s Reconnaissance Battalion, which presumably then was to return to Arnhem.

The 9th SS Reconnaissance Battalion apparently had gotten across the Neder Rhine at Arnhem before British paratroopers reached the Arnhem bridge, but the men of the 10th SS Panzer Division were too late. They subsequently crossed the Neder Rijn at a ferry near Huissen, southeast of Arnhem. Whether it was troops of the 9th or of the 10th SS Panzer Division which reached the Keizer Karel Plein was conjectural, though probably it was the former. What mattered was that they had arrived in time to stop the first American thrust toward the Nijmegen bridge.

When Company A attacked at the traffic circle, the SS troops counterattacked. The men of Company A became so disorganized in the darkness that they might have had to withdraw altogether had not Company B arrived to help stabilize the situation. While Colonel Warren reported news of the encounter to his regimental commander and asked reinforcement by Company C, the commander of Company A, Captain Jonathan E. Adams, Jr., received a report from Dutch civilians that the control mechanism for demolishing the highway bridge was housed in the main post office, only a few blocks north of the Keizer Karel Plein. Captain Adams himself led a patrol of platoon size to destroy the mechanism. Though guards at the post office put up a fight, the paratroopers forced the building and destroyed what they took to be the control apparatus. Getting back to the traffic circle was another proposition. The Germans had closed in behind them. For three days these men and sympathetic civilians were to hold out at the post office until relief came.

In the meantime Colonel Warren had tried to get a new attack moving toward the highway bridge; but this the Germans thwarted just before dawn with another sharp counterattack. While the counterattack was in progress, General Gavin arrived at the battalion command post.

Noting that the companies had become “very heavily engaged in close quarters in city streets under very difficult circumstances,” General Gavin directed that the battalion “withdraw from close proximity to the bridge and reorganize.” This was to mark the end of this particular attempt to take the Nijmegen bridge. A new attack to gain the bridge grew out of an early morning conference between General Gavin and Colonel Lindquist.

In considering alternate means of getting the bridge with the limited forces available, it appeared possible that one company still might succeed if the advance was made along the less constricted southeastern and eastern fringe of Nijmegen The unit designated was Company G, part of the 3rd Battalion, 508th, under Lieutenant Colonel Louis G. Mendez, Jr., which was defending the three-and-a-half-mile stretch of high ground centered on Bergen Dal. Company G already had occupied Hill 64, little more than a mile from the south end of the highway bridge.

At 0745 on 18 September, D plus 1, Company G under Captain Frank J. Novak started toward the bridge. Civilians showered the paratroopers with fruit and flowers as the advance began; but closer to the bridge the crowds markedly thinned. The reason soon became apparent. From dug-in positions about a small traffic circle south of a common, the Hunner Park, which embraces the southern approaches to the bridge, the Germans lay in wait. The center of the defense was a historic observation tower, the Belvedere, and medieval walls surrounding it. Company G was but two blocks from the Maria Plein when the Germans opened fire. With small arms and antiaircraft guns ranging from 20- to 88-mm., they searched the streets opening onto the circle.

Captain Novak quickly deployed his men and attacked. Storming into the teeth of the enemy fire, they gained a position only a block from the traffic circle. German artillery fire emanating from the north bank of the Waal reinforced the defense. The men of Company G could go no farther.

Reinforcement of Company G appeared inadvisable. The battalion commander, Colonel Mendez, could send no help without jeopardizing his defense of the high ground in the vicinity of Hotel Berg en Dal. The regimental commander, Colonel Lindquist, had only a company in reserve, and this company probably would be needed to clear one of the division’s glider landing zones for a glider lift that was scheduled to arrive almost momentarily. Some consideration apparently was given at division headquarters to reinforcing the troops in Nijmegen with a portion of the 505th Parachute Infantry, one battalion of which was in division reserve in the woods west of Groesbeek, but it was not done.

At 1400 on 18 September Colonel Mendez ordered Company G to withdraw from Nijmegen to Hill 64. Nijmegen and the highway bridge so vital to relief of the British airborne troops farther north at Arnhem remained in German hands. Of three attempts to capture the bridge on D-Day and D plus 1, one of patrol size had failed because it was too weak and lacked communications; another of two-company size, because the Germans had had time to reinforce their garrison; and the third of company size, for the same reason. Though small, at least two of these attacks conceivably might have succeeded except for their timing. No attempt to seize the railway bridge over the Waal at Nijmegen had been made.

The problem of the glider landing zones, which appeared to be one of the reasons why no stronger effort was made at Nijmegen, had grown out of two factors: the location of the landing zones and the 82nd Airborne Division’s shortage of infantry in relation to its numerous and widely dispersed objectives. The landing zones were situated near the bottom of the eastern slopes of the ridge between Groesbeek and the Reichswald. Though the landing zones had been fairly well cleared on D-Day, not enough infantry could be spared to hold them in strength. Beginning soon after daylight on D plus 1, the equivalent of two understrength man battalions began to infiltrate from the Reichswald onto the landing zones.

Some of this infiltration reached the proportions of strong local attacks, one of which encircled a company of the 508th Parachute Infantry near Wyler and others which exerted troublesome pressure against easternmost contingents of the 505th Parachute Infantry. The enemy troops probably were advance guards of Corps Feldt’s 406th (Landesschuetzen) Division, only “line-of-communications” troops, as American intelligence soon fathomed, but supported by flak wagons mounting 20-mm. antiaircraft guns.

Since Allied tow planes and gliders took off from England at 1000, their arrival soon after midday was almost a certainty. In preparation, Colonel Lindquist released the reserve company of Colonel Warren’s battalion of the 508th Parachute Infantry to battalion control and directed that the company secure a line of departure overlooking the northern landing zone. After the other two companies had withdrawn from the Keizer Karel Plein in Nijmegen, they moved to assist in the clearing operation. The 505th Parachute Infantry scheduled one company to clear the other landing zone in an attack to begin at 1240.

As events developed, German pressure against the 505th Parachute Infantry was so strong that the designated company was not freed for its attack without some difficulty. Fortunately, resistance on the landing zone itself proved light and disorganized. The southern landing zone was cleared with a half hour to spare. Opposition on the northern landing zone was stiffer. Beginning at 1300, after the troops had made a forced march of eight miles from Nijmegen, the attack by Colonel Warren’s battalion might have stalled in the face of intense small arms and flak gun fire had not the paratroopers charged the defenders at a downhill run. At the last minute, the Germans panicked. It was a photo finish, a “movie-thriller sight of landing gliders on the LZ as the deployed paratroops chased the last of the Germans from their 16 20-mm. guns.” The enemy lost 50 men killed and 150 captured. Colonel Warren’s battalion incurred but 11 casualties.

The gliders had been flown in via the northern air route over the Dutch islands. Totaling 450, they brought primarily the last of General Gavin’s artillery, one parachute and two glider battalions. Following the gliders by about twenty minutes, a flight of 135 B-24 bombers dropped resupply south of Groesbeek. A good drop pattern resulted in an estimated recovery of about 80 percent.

Involving not only the 82nd Airborne Division but the British and the 101st Airborne Division as well, these new landings on D plus 1 gave the Germans a jolt This was in spite of the fact that the omniscient Hitler had predicted the course. “Tomorrow,” the Führer had noted at his D-Day conference, “they will surely come back; they are making such a fuss-appeal to the Dutch, and all that… ” The possibility which disturbed the Germans on the scene was that the new landings might mean arrival of additional Allied divisions. Several hours passed before German intelligence determined the true nature of the reinforcement.

The gliders having arrived, the 82nd Airborne Division by midafternoon of D plus 1 was in a position to focus attention upon gaining a bridge over the Waal at Nijmegen Though enemy pressure from the Reichswald had been troublesome, it was more a “feeling out” than actual attack. “The intent was,” noted the 82nd Airborne Division G-2, Colonel Winton, “to apply pressure and gain information.” Noteworthy German counteraction had not developed elsewhere, except in the neighborhood of the 505th Parachute Infantry’s reserve battalion west of Groesbeek where two somewhat bizarre incidents had occurred. After nightfall of D-Day, a German-operated railroad train had slipped out of Nijmegen and escaped through Groesbeek to the east. Before daylight on D plus 1, another train had tried it. This one the paratroopers knocked out with a bazooka and small arms fire. Though many of the Germans aboard escaped into the surrounding woods, they eventually were rounded up, sometimes only after hot little skirmishes.

A battalion each of the 505th and 508th Infantry Regiments had acted offensively during the day to improve the division’s over-all position. A battalion of the 505th had cleared the village of Mook, southeast of Heumen, on the important Venlo-Nijmegen highway. Colonel Mendez’ battalion of the 508th had secured Beek, at the foot of the ridge below Hotel Berg on Dal, and established roadblocks there astride the Kleve-Nijmegen highway.

If the few instances where casualties were recorded could be taken as indication, American losses had been-light. On D-Day, for example, one battalion of the S04th Parachute Infantry had incurred 19 casualties. On D plus 1 the entire 505th Parachute Infantry had lost 63 men. The battalion of the 508th Parachute Infantry which was defending near Hatert lost but 7 men wounded on D-Day. Enemy killed were an estimated 150; German prisoners, 885.

 The situation had been relatively quiet in the sector of the 504th Parachute Infantry between the Maas-Waal Canal and the Maas River and in the bridgehead south of the river, though some concern still existed that the enemy might move from the west against the 504th. Neither had the enemy been markedly troublesome in the sector of the battalion of the 508th Parachute Infantry, which was just across the canal near Hatert. Parts of both these units, General Gavin must have reasoned, might be used in a new attack against the Nijmegen highway bridge.

In response to a request from General Browning, the British Airborne Corps commander, General Gavin in mid afternoon of 18 September outlined a plan for seizing the bridge that night. He intended using a battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry “in conjunction with” the 508th Parachute Infantry to envelop the bridge from the east and west.

General Browning at first approved this plan. Then, “on giving it more thought, [and] in view of the situation in the 30th Corps, he felt that the retention of the high ground South of Nijmegen was of greater importance, and directed that the primary mission should be to hold the high ground and retain its position West] of the Maas-Waal Canal.” General Gavin thereupon apparently called off the projected attack; for he “issued an order for the defence of the position.

The “situation in the 30th Corps” to which General Browning referred certainly represented no incentive for urgency at Nijmegen At this time, contact between the ground column and the 101st Airborne Division at Eindhoven still was two and a half hours away. It might be a long time before the ground column reached Nijmegen Whether the prospects of difficulty in holding the high ground in the 82nd Airborne Division’s sector justified delay in renewing the attack at Nijmegen, even in view of the “situation in the 30th Corps,” was a matter for conjecture. Few concrete indications that the Reichswald was rife with German armor, or even infantry, had developed. Civilians had told men of the 505th Parachute Infantry on D-Day that the Germans had no armor in the Reichswald. Patrols from the 505th had found no armor. One patrol reported that the “high ground” in the Reichswald was unoccupied. “Towers are empty, woods are tank obstacles-too thick.” The 82nd Airborne Division’s G-2 estimated that the enemy had “probably two battalions of mixed Line of Communications Troops” in the Reichswald, though he modified this low evaluation by listing first among enemy capabilities the likelihood of continuing piecemeal attacks, “but in increasing strength,” from the forest. No tangible incidents of armor in action had developed; most vehicles reported as tanks turned out to be flak wagons.

On the other hand, General Gavin recalled later that the “Dutch underground chief” told him during the morning of 18 September that “the Germans were in strength both with armor and infantry in the Reichswald area.” The division intelligence section noted early on 18 September that “civilians continue to report massing of German troops in the Reichswald Forest.” In late afternoon of the same day ninety-seven Spitfires and Mustangs of the British 2nd Tactical Air Force bombed and strafed the Reichswald in response to a request from General Gavin. The 82nd’s airborne artillery delivered harassing fire on the forest from time to time.

No matter what the true situation in the Reichswald-which no one could have The incident on D plus I was one of the few instances, other than on D Day, when tactical air made any substantial contribution to direct support of U.S. troops on the ground in this operation. Adverse weather was partly responsible. Also, technical problems prevented aircraft of the 2nd Tactical Air Force from operating while Eighth Air Force fighters were escorting the various lifts of airborne troops and supplies. The effect of these two factors resulted on occasion in a local German all’ superiority, a surprising paradox in view of Allied air superiority in the theater.

known with any certainty at this point General Gavin endorsed the corps commander’s view that the best practice for the moment was to focus upon holding what he had. General Gavin’s confidence in the ability of his paratroopers made the decision easier. “To those on the ground,” he recalled later, “there was no doubt . . . that the bridge would be captured and it would be captured in time to relieve the Arnhem forces.” General Gavin’s earlier experience in airborne combat reinforced this view. He recalled later: “Experience indicated that we could expect a linkup in about two days and we felt quite sure of one in three. If, therefore, by the end of the third day the bridge were in my hands, and I had fought a good battle with whatever might develop in the remainder of the area, I felt that I would have been fortunate enough to have done a good job as planned.” On the basis of this theory, General Gavin had another full day in which to tackle the Germans at Nijmegen.

Perhaps the ultimate test of how urgent was the need for the bridge at Nijmegen lay not in the “situation in the 30th Corps” but in the status of the British airborne troops farther north at Arnhem. But this no one at Nijmegen-including both General Gavin and General Browning-knew much about. The only report that had been received on the fighting at Arnhem had arrived through the 505th Parachute Infantry at 1040 on 18 September.

An intelligence unit of the Netherlands Interior Forces, located in this regiment’s sector, had a telephone line to Arnhem. Because the telephone network was one connecting power stations and waterworks and messages over it had to be disguised as technical messages concerning the operations of these public utilities, the message about the fighting at Arnhem was necessarily brief. The 505th Parachute Infantry noted the message this way: “Dutch Report Germans Winning over British at Arnhem.”

The Red Devils at Arnhem / 1st British Airborne Division

For all the lack of details, the message from the Dutch had not failed to state the situation as it actually existed with the 1st British Airborne Division at Arnhem. Having jumped into the quickest enemy build-up of any of the three Allied divisions, the paratroopers soon had found themselves in a bad way. The Germans were winning over the British at Arnhem. The British misfortunes had not begun with the D-Day landings. Like the two American divisions, men of the 1st Airborne Division-who called themselves Red Devils-experienced phenomenally successful flights, drops, and glider landings.

Not an aircraft was lost as 331 planes and 319 gliders dropped or deposited their loads with almost loo-percent success on the correct drop and landing zones. Unlike the Americans, the British sent their gliders in first. They brought an air-landing brigade, which was to protect the drop and landing zones, plus a light regiment of artillery and lesser antitank, medical, and reconnaissance units. Close behind the gliders came a parachute brigade with the primary mission of seizing the highway bridge over the Neder Rijn at Arnhem.

The difficulties the British soon began to encounter arose not from any failure to achieve surprise. They were attributable to chance presence of General Bittrich’s II SS Panzer Corps in assembly areas beyond the IJssel River a few miles east of Arnhem and to location of the British drop zones a long way from the objectives at Arnhem. Bowing to reputed difficulties of terrain and flak concentrations close to the city, the planning staffs had selected drop zones six to eight miles away, northwest of the suburb of Oosterbeek.

By the time the parachutists could assemble and approach the bridge, four invaluable hours had passed. The location of the drop and landing zones imposed an added burden in that the troops defending these zones could take no part in the main action. They would be tied up for three days until the three successive lifts had arrived. This meant that on D-Day only a brigade would be available for seizing and holding the main objectives. These objectives included not only the bridge at Arnhem but, as in the case of the 82nd Airborne Division, high ground. This was the high ground north of Arnhem, its capture essential to fulfilling one of the 1st Airborne Division’s missions of providing a bridgehead of sufficient size to enable the 30 Corps to pass through.

The Red Devils had not long to wait to experience the difficulties emanating both from the dispersion’ of effort and the presence of the SS panzer troops east of Arnhem. Of three parachute battalions, two ran into serious difficulty almost at the outset. One heading northeast toward the high ground, the other moving east toward Arnhem, they both encountered armored reconnaissance patrols or advance guards of the 9th SS Panzer Division. When darkness came on D-Day, the two British battalions still were held up, one near Wolfheze Station, about two miles northwest of Oosterbeek, the other on the western outskirts of Oosterbeek. This left but one British battalion moving toward the vital bridge over the Neder Rijn. Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel J. D. Frost, this battalion bypassed the Germans at Oosterbeek by taking a secondary road close to the river. En route toward Arnhem, one company detoured to capture

the railroad bridge, only to see the Germans blow it. “It seemed,” said one man, “to curl back on us …. ” Another company became involved in a fire fight in outlying buildings of Arnhem. This left but one company and the battalion headquarters to sneak through back streets toward the north end of the highway bridge. At 2030 this little band under Colonel Frost seized the north end.

The bridge still was intact. During the night another company also broke through to the bridge, but of the third, only remnants escaped from the fight in Arnhem. Colonel Frost’s force at the highway bridge numbered at peak strength about 500.

Colonel Frost tried twice that night to capture the south end of the bridge, once by attacking across the bridge and again by sending a platoon across the river in rowboats. Both attempts failed. As daylight came of D plus I, the men holed up in buildings about the north end to begin a dogged defense of their precarious grip on this vital prize.

Not long after daybreak (18 September) the enemy orders and preparations of the night before began to show effect. From the west, Division von Tettau, the haphazard collection of rear echelon and regional defense units belonging to the Armed Forces Commander Netherlands, attacked the air-landing brigade which was defending the drop and landing zones near Wolfheze Station. From the east, the bulk of the 9th SS Panzer Division, and possibly some of the 10th SS, bypassed Colonel Frost’s little band at the highway bridge, pushed through Arnhem, and attacked westward, apparently in an attempt to link with Division von Tettau

 The presence of the SS troops thwarted reinforcement of Colonel Frost at the bridge. Spurred by radio appeals for help, the two battalions of the British parachute brigade which had been held up on D-Day side slipped to the south early on D plus I to try to reach the bridge. As they entered the western fringe of Arnhem, they ran head on into the attacking Germans. This rather than new airborne landings in reality stalled the German attack. Yet the meeting engagement brought high British casualties. [NOTE MG-17AB] Entire companies were cut off, and only shattered remnants survived so In late afternoon the remaining men of one battalion, numbering about 140, launched a last effort to reach the bridge. They could make no headway.

[NOTE MG-17AB: With one encircled group was the brigade commander, Brigadier G. W. Lathbury. Seriously wounded, he had to be left behind. Many days later, after having been treated for wounds at a German-controlled hospital, Brigadier Lathbury escaped and eventually led some 120 Red Devils through enemy lines to gain the south bank of the Neder Rijn. See By Air to Battle, pp. 130-131.]

Despite Division von Tettau’s pressure against the air-landing brigade holding the drop and landing zones, the British commander, Major General R. C. Urquhart, released an understrength battalion to go to the aid of the parachute brigade. The battalion could not penetrate a German cordon that had closed behind the paratroopers.

Delayed by the same soupy weather in England that had held up second lifts of the American divisions, the British lift on D plus I arrived about 1500. With this lift came the remainder of General Urquhart’s division, including the other parachute brigade and last contingents of the air-landing brigade. Although this fresh parachute brigade was scheduled to capture high ground north of Arnhem, General Urquhart immediately diverted a battalion eastward to assist the hard pressed men that were trying to reach Colonel Frost. Another battalion attempted the original mission, while General Urquhart withheld the third as a reserve.

The fresh paratroopers could make only slight inroads on the SS troops. Not until early the next morning (D plus 2, 19 September) did they reach the remnants of the other battalions in the edge of Arnhem. Even then the composite force could make no appreciable gains in the direction of the highway bridge. Eventually they had to give up. Those who remained, no more than 200 men out of three battalions of paratroopers and one battalion from the air-landing brigade, filtered back after nightfall on D plus 2 through the German cordon to the vicinity of the drop and landing zones.

Their inability to reach the highway bridge was all the more frustrating because General Urquhart still had radio communication with Colonel Frost and knew that the gallant little band at the north end of the bridge still held out. The remainder of General Urquhart’s division had been fighting in the meantime against increasing odds to hold the drop and landing zones. Under strafing from German planes, shelling by mortars and artillery, and intense ground attacks from both Division von Tettau and the II SS Panzer Corps, the perimeter began to shrink. The only hope for immediate relief lay in the scheduled arrival during the afternoon of D plus 2 of the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade. Even this hope failed as the weather closed in. Only a few gliders and no additional paratroopers arrived.

As evidenced by the lack of information about the British situation at General Browning’s headquarters near Nijmegen, General Urquhart’s communications to the outside had failed. His radios were not strong enough to transmit successfully from the wooded and urban districts in which the British had to fight. General Urquhart thus had no way of notifying British bases in England not to drop the day’s resupply on those of the drop zones the Germans had by this time overrun. As a result of this and of the weather, virtually all the resupply panniers dropped on D plus 2 fell into German hands. Critical shortages in food and ammunition were quickly manifest.

Pinning his hopes on arrival the next day of the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade or on an early juncture with the 30 Corps ground column, General Urquhart disposed his depleted forces about his perimeter and in other positions designed to maintain a corridor to the Neder Rijn at the site of a ferry near Heveadorp, southwest of Oosterbeek. Perhaps either the Polish paratroopers or the ground column might push reinforcements across the river at the ferry site. Because of the failure of communications, General Urquhart had no way of knowing that early arrival of the ground column still depended upon getting a bridge at Nijmegen

SOURCE: THE SIEGFRIED LINE CAMPAIGN; by: Charles B. MacDonald (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Europe (2-8); Operation MARKET-GARDEN-Decision on the Ground

World War Two: Europe (2-6); Operation MARKET-GARDEN-Planning

World War Two: Europe (2-6); Operation MARKET-GARDEN-Planning

A maxim of war is that you reinforce success. In early September of 1944, the problem was not to find a success but to choose among many. The very nature of General Eisenhower’s strategic reserve narrowed the choice. His reserve was not conventional but airborne.

In anticipation of an opportunity to use this latent strength, General Eisenhower as early as mid-July had solicited his planners to prepare an airborne plan marked by “imagination and daring.” Spurred by this directive and the glittering successes of the breakout and pursuit, the planning staffs had begun almost to mass produce blue-prints for airborne operations.

By mid-August creation of a combined Allied airborne headquarters controlling most of the airborne troops and much of the troop carrier strength in the theater had implemented the planning. This headquarters was the First Allied Airborne Army. General Eisenhower’s desire for a suitable occasion to employ the army was heightened by the fact that the U.S. Chief of Staff, General Marshall, and General Henry H. Arnold, Commanding General, Army Air Forces, wanted to see what a large-scale airborne attack could accomplish deep in enemy territory.

By the time the first Allied patrols neared the German border, eighteen separate airborne plans had been considered. Five had reached the stage of detailed planning. Three had progressed almost to the point of launching. But none had matured. The fledgling plans embraced a variety of objectives: the city of Tournai, to block Germans retreating from the Channel coast; the vicinity of Liege, to get the First Army across the Meuse River; the Aachen-Maastricht gap, to get Allied troops through the West Wall. In most cases fast-moving ground troops were about to overrun the objectives before an airborne force could be thrown in.

No matter that circumstances had denied an immediate commitment of SHAEF’s strategic reserve; the maxim of reinforcing success was nonetheless valid. Indeed, each day of fading summer and continued advance heightened desire for early use of the airborne troops. The paratroopers and glider-men resting and training in England became, in effect, coins burning holes in SHAEF’s pocket. This is not to say that SHAEF intended to spend the airborne troops rashly but that SHAEF had decided on the advisability of buying an airborne product and was looking about for the right occasion. Even the Germans believed an airborne attack imminent, although they had no fixed idea where.

The fact that a sensitive ear might have detected portentous sputtering’s as the Allied war machine neared the German border did little or nothing to lessen interest in an airborne operation. Except in the case of General Bradley, who was reluctant to relinquish the support of troop carrier aircraft flying supply missions, the signs that the pursuit might be nearing an end heightened the desire to use the airborne troops. Both General Eisenhower and Field Marshal Montgomery began to look to the airborne forces for the extra push needed to get the Allies across the Rhine River before the logistical situation should force a halt and enable the Germans to recoup behind the Rhine.

Most of the airborne plans considered in the last days of August and in early September focused upon getting some part of the Allied armies across the Rhine. Among these was Operation COMET, a plan to seize river crossings in the Netherlands near Arnhem along the projected axis of the Second British Army. COMET still was on the drawing boards when concern mounted that the one and a half airborne divisions allotted for the job would be insufficient. On 10 September COMET was canceled. Though canceled, COMET was not abandoned. On the day of cancellation, 10 September, Field Marshal Montgomery approached General Eisenhower with another proposal that was in effect a strengthening of COMET. After General Eisenhower had endorsed it, this plan looked like the real thing.

The new plan was labeled Operation MARKET. Three and a half airborne divisions were to drop in the vicinity of Grave, Nijmegen, and Arnhem to seize bridges over several canals and the Maas, Waal (Rhine), and Neder Rijn Rivers.

They were to open a corridor more than fifty miles long leading from Eindhoven northward. As soon as an adequate landing field could be secured, an air portable division was to be flown in as reinforcement. In a companion piece named Operation GARDEN, ground troops of the Second British Army were to push from the Dutch-Belgian border to the Ijsselmeer (Zuider Zee), a total distance of ninety-nine miles. The main effort of the ground attack was to be made by the 30 Corps from a bridgehead across the Meuse-Escaut Canal a few miles south of Eindhoven on the Dutch-Belgian frontier. On either flank the 8 and 12 Corps were to launch supporting attacks.

Operation MARKET-GARDEN had two major objectives: to get Allied troops across the Rhine and to capture the Ruhr. Three major advantages were expected to accrue: (1) cutting the land exit of those Germans remaining in western Holland; (2) outflanking the West Wall, and (3) positioning British ground forces for a subsequent drive into Germany along the North German Plain.

Although the proposed operation prompted some objections at 12th Army Group, at First Allied Airborne Army, and even among some members of Field Marshal Montgomery’s staff, it conformed to

General Arnold’s recommendation for an operation some distance behind the enemy’s forward positions and beyond the area where enemy reserves normally were located; it afforded an opportunity for using the long-idle airborne resources; it was in accord with Montgomery’s desire for a thrust across the Rhine, while the enemy was disorganized; and it appeared to General Eisenhower to be the boldest and best move the Allies could make at the moment. At the least, General Eisenhower thought the operation would strengthen the 21st Army Group in its later fight to clear the Schelde estuary and open the port of Antwerp to Allied shipping. Field Marshal Montgomery examined the objections that the proposed route of advance “involved the additional obstacle of the Lower Rhine (Neder Rijn) as compared with more easterly approaches, and would carry us to an area relatively remote from the Ruhr.” He considered these to be overridden by the fact that the operation would outflank the West Wall, would be on a line which the enemy would consider least likely for the Allies to use, and would be within easy range of Allied airborne forces located in England.

Operation MARKET-GARDEN was nothing if not daring. It was particularly so in light of a logistical situation that, at best, was strained and in light of the unpredictable nature of the weather in northwestern Europe at this season. Set against these factors was the climate of opinions that pervaded most Allied headquarters during early September. This was the same optimistic period when the First Army was preparing to dash through the West Wall in a quick drive to the Rhine. Not until the day Operation MARKET began was the First Army to experience any particular trouble in the West Wall; even then it would have been hard to convince most Allied commanders that this rugged countenance the Germans had begun to exhibit was anything more than a mask.

Fairly typical of the Allied point of view was SHAEF’s estimate of the situation a week before the airborne attack. The SHAEF G-2 estimated enemy strength throughout the West at 48 divisions with a true equivalent of 20 infantry and 4 armored divisions. Four days before the airborne attack the 1st British Airborne Corps calculated that the Germans in the Netherlands had few infantry reserves and

a total armored strength of not more than fifty to one hundred tanks. While numerous signs pointed to German reinforcements of river and canal lines near Arnhem and Nijmegen, the British believed the troops manning them were few and of a “low category.” Thinking back after the operation was over, the 1st British Airborne Division recalled, “It was thought the enemy must still be disorganized after his long and hasty retreat from south of the River Seine and that though there might be numerous small bodies of enemy in the area, he would not be capable of organized resistance to any great extent.”

This is not to say that warning notes were not struck. By 10 September, the day when General Eisenhower approved the operation, the British had remarked that “Dutch Resistance sources report that battered panzer formations have been sent to Holland to refit, and mention Eindhoven and Nijmegen as the reception areas.” A few days later the SHAEF G-2 announced that these panzer formations were the 9th SS Panzer Division and presumably the 10th SS Panzer Division. They probably were to be reequipped with new tanks from a depot reported “in the area of Cleves [Kleve] ,” a few miles across the German frontier from Nijmegen and Arnhem.

News of these two German armored divisions near Arnhem caused particular concern to General Eisenhower’s chief of staff, Lieutenant General Walter B. Smith. Believing strongly that the Allies would have to employ not one but two airborne divisions at Arnhem if they were to counter the German armor, General Smith obtained the Supreme Commander’s permission to go to Field Marshal Montgomery with a warning. Either they should “drop the equivalent of a second division in the Arnhem area” or change the plan and move one of the American divisions, scheduled to drop farther south, up to Arnhem. But, General Smith recalled after the war, “Montgomery “ridiculed the idea” and “waved my objections airily aside.”

The likelihood of encountering enemy armor in the vicinity of the drop zones obviously was of serious concern to airborne commanders, particularly in view of the fifty-mile dispersion of the airborne drop. American commanders, whose troops possessed even less in the way of antitank weapons than did British airborne troops, were especially perturbed. There were other disturbing signs. Stiffening resistance around the British bridgehead across the Meuse-Escaut Canal did not go unremarked. The G-2 of the 82nd U.S. Airborne Division noted further, “A captured document indicates that the degree of control exercised over the regrouping and collecting of the apparently scattered remnants of a beaten army [was] little short of remarkable. Furthermore, the fighting capacity of the new Battle Groups formed from the remnants of battered divisions seems unimpaired.”

Despite these warnings, the general view appeared to be as recounted after the operation by the British Airborne Corps. This was that “once the crust of resistance in the front line had been broken, the German Army would be unable to concentrate any other troops in sufficient strength to stop the breakthrough.” Although the XXX British Corps would have to advance ninety-nine miles, leading units “might reach the Zuider Zee between 2-5 days after crossing the Belgian-Dutch frontier.”

The Germans In the Netherlands

Had MARKET-GARDEN been scheduled two weeks earlier than it was, the Allies would have found the German situation in the Netherlands much as they predicted. For not until 4 September, when news of the fall of Antwerp had jolted Hitler into dispatching General Student and headquarters of the First Parachute Army to the Dutch-Belgian border, was cohesion of any description introduced into German defenses along this “door to northwestern Germany.” General Student had at first but one corps, the LXXXVIII Corps under General der Infanterie Hans Reinhard, and one division, the 719th Infantry Division under Generalleutnant Karl Sievers. The corps headquarters General Student had borrowed from the neighboring Fifteenth Army. The division was a “fortress” division that had been guarding the coast of the Netherlands since 1940.

Though at full strength, this one division was scarcely sufficient to cover the entire corps front, a fifty-mile stretch along the Albert Canal from Antwerp southeast to Hasse Lieutenant General Reinhard therefore concentrated the bulk of the 719th Division in the west near Antwerp where he expected the main British attack. A drive north from Antwerp was logical, for by continuing in this direction the British might seal off the island of Walcheren and the peninsula of South Beveland from the Dutch mainland. This appeared expedient; for even though seizure of Antwerp had trapped the German Fifteenth Army against the coast the bulk of that army yet might escape across the Schelde estuary to Walcheren and South Beveland and thence to the mainland. If the British corked up these two promontories, they might annihilate the Fifteenth Army at will and in so doing clear the seaward approaches to Antwerp, without which the port was useless.

General Reinhard hardly could have anticipated that Field Marshal Montgomery was so intent on getting a bridgehead across the Rhine that he would turn his drive northeastward toward the left wing of the LXXXVIII Corps in the direction of Eindhoven. From a local viewpoint, the reorientation of the British drive meant that the 719th Division’s Albert Canal line would be hit along its weak eastern extension.

Prospects for averting a major breakthrough across the Albert toward Eindhoven were dark, when from an unexpected source came assistance. It emerged in the form of an audacious and prescient commander, Generalleutnant Kurt Chill. Retreating from the debacle in France with remnants of his own 85th Infantry Division and two others, General Chill had received orders to assemble his survivors in the Rhineland. Soon thereafter, General Chill perceived the critical situation along the Albert Canal. Acting with independence and dispatch, he postponed his withdrawal in order to set up straggler rallying points along the canal.

By nightfall of 4 September General Chill had caught in his net a conglomeration of Navy, Luftwaffe, and military government troops and men from almost every conceivable branch of the Wehrmacht. A crazy-quilt mob-but General Chill managed in a matter of hours to fashion a fairly presentable defense that was sufficient to repulse the first minor British probes toward the canal.

On 6 September General Chill reported to General Reinhard to subordinate his Kampfgruppe Chill to the LXXXVIII Corps. General Reinhard must have embraced the reinforcement with delight; for on this same day the British had penetrated the extended outposts of the 719th Division to force a bridgehead over the Albert at BeerinGeneral (This was one of the bridgeheads subsequently employed by General Corlett’s XIX U.S. Corps to get across the canal.) To General Chill fell the problem of containing the bridgehead.

For all the danger inherent in the Beeringen bridgehead, the First Parachute Army commander, General Student, could take satisfaction in the fact that tangible subordinate units now were controlling the bulk of his front from Antwerp to Hassel Only on the extreme eastern wing near Maastricht was there an out and-out gap, and this he was to fill the next day, 7 September, with the 176th Division under Colonel Landau. (This was the division which subsequently opposed the left wing of General Corlett’s XIX Corps.)

During the next fortnight, some of General Student’s own parachute troops began to arrive in the army sector. Having been either rehabilitated or newly constituted, these units included five new parachute regiments, a new parachute antitank battalion, about 5,000 service troops, a battalion of the 2nd Parachute Regiment, and another formation with a noble record, the 6th Parachute Regiment. Under command of Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich-August Freiherr von der Heydte, the 6th Parachute Regiment had acquitted itself admirably enough in Normandy to attain the prestige, if not the strength, of a division. The regiment had been reconstituted to a strength considerably in excess of a normal parachute regiment.

General Student threw in the bulk of his parachute troops against the British bridgehead at Beeringen. First he committed one of the newly constituted parachute regiments, the battalion of the 2nd Parachute Regiment, and the entire 6th Parachute Regiment, all organized into a Kampfgruppe that took its name from the commander, Colonel Walther. Next General Student threw in three of his remaining new parachute regiments, organized into Parachute Training Division Erdmann under Student’s chief of staff, Generalleutnant Wolfgang Erdmann. [This unit later was re-designated the 7th Parachute Division.] These units were responsible for the stiffening German resistance noted along the Dutch-Belgian border. Yet the end result was merely to weaken the German paratroopers on the very eve of MARKETGARDEN.

By mid-September the British had defeated every effort to repulse them at Beeringen and had pressed forward an additional twenty miles to throw two bridgeheads across the Meuse-Escaut Canal. The main bridgehead was at De Groote Barrier on the road to Eindhoven. There the British paused to await their role in MARKET-GARDEN.

From west to east the First Parachute Army was lined up in this order of battle: From Antwerp to the juncture of the Albert and Meuse-Escaut Canals was General Sievers’ 719th Division. Opposing the two British bridgeheads beyond the Meuse-Escaut were Kampfgruppe Chill and Kampfgruppe Walther, the latter with at least two battalions of Colonel von der Heydte’s 6th Parachute Regiment still on hand. All these troops were under General Reinhard’s LXXXVIII Corps. From the bridgehead on the Eindhoven highway east to the boundary with the Seventh Army near Maastricht were the two divisions under General Student’s direct control, Division Erdmann and the 176th Division.

 In the meantime, the trapped Fifteenth Army under General der Infanterie Gustav von Zangen had been taking advantage of the reorientation of the British drive. Leaving some units to hold the south bank of the Schelde, Zangen began to ferry the bulk of his army across the estuary. Divisions released by this movement he assembled behind the western wing of the First Parachute Army. The first of these divisions was the 245th Infantry, a collection of chaff that even a mild wind might blow away. On 16 September this division was transferred to the First Parachute Army’s LXXXVIII Corps and utilized by General Reinhard to back up the line in rear of Kampfgruppe Chill. The second was the 59th Infantry Division under Generalleutnant Walter Poppe, which was in transit to the First Parachute Army’s sector just as the Allied airborne landings occurred. General Poppe still had about a thousand good infantrymen and a few engineers, a field replacement battalion, eighteen antitank guns, and about thirty 105-and 150-mm. howitzers.

Both the First Parachute Army and the Fifteenth Army were subordinate to Field Marshal Model’s Army Group B, the same headquarters which controlled General Brandenberger’s Seventh Army at Aachen. In addition, Field Marshal Model exercised tactical control over forces of the Armed Forces Command Netherlands, a headquarters not appreciably unlike that of a U.S. communications zone. Specifically, an armed forces commander was the highest military commander in occupied territories (like Norway or the Netherlands), which were governed by a civilian (Nazi party) Reich commISSIOner (Reichskommissar). His duties were to represent the interests of the Wehrmacht with the civilian administration, to safeguard the administration, to guard military installations such as railways, roads, and supply dumps, and to co-ordinate the needs of individual branches of the Wehrmacht m his territory. In the Netherlands this post had been held since 1940 by the senior Luftwaffe officer, General der Flieger Friedrich Christiansen.

Even though the First Parachute Army and part of the Fifteenth Army had moved into the Netherlands, General Christiansen’s Armed Forces Command Netherlands on the eve of MARKET-GARDEN still was charged with considerable responsibility.

Much as U.S. forces draw army rear boundaries delineating responsibility between the armies and the communications zone, the Germans had drawn a line across the rear of their two armies in the Netherlands. General Christiansen still was charged with defending all territory north of that line, which followed generally the Maas and Waal Rivers. Because MARKET-GARDEN involved a penetration deep into the enemy rear areas, Christiansen and his troops would be embroiled in the fighting much as would the field armies.

Through events culminating in departure of the 719th Division for the Dutch-Belgian border, General Christiansen had lost to the active fighting commands all of three divisions which originally he had possessed for defense of the Netherlands. As mid-September approached, he had left only a miscellany of regional defense and housekeeping troops of all four services: Army, Navy, Luftwaffe, and Waffen-SS.

 Because the Allied landing zones at Nijmegen and Arnhem were but a few miles from the German border, troops and headquarters of another of the enemy’s rear echelon formations also might become involved. This headquarters was Wehrkreis VI. Similar in some respects to the corps areas into which the United States was divided before the war, the German Wehrkreise were, in effect, military districts.

The headquarters of these districts were administrative commands responsible for training replacements, organizing new units, and channeling materiel. Adjacent to the corridor the Allies planned to seize in the Netherlands, Wehrkreis VI embraced almost the whole of the province of Westphalia and parts of three other provinces. During the course of the war, Wehrkreis VI had activated numerous divisions and, as the war in the West had taken a turn for the worse, had relinquished as combat divisions even its replacement training units, the very framework about which the replacement system functioned. In mid-September the only major headquarters remaining in Wehrkreis VI was an administrative unit. This too had to go into the line to occupy the West Wall north of Aachen as the 406th (Landesschuetzen) Division.

 Upon reaching the front, the 406th Division came under an ad hoc corps staff headed by General der Kavallerie Kurt Feldt, formerly Military Governor for Southwest France (Militaerbefehlshaber Suedwestfrankreich) until the inexorable march of events had dethroned him. In recognition of the provisional nature of the command, General Feldt’s corps became known not by numerical designation but as Corps Feldt. Except for the 406th Division, General Feldt had only a smattering of armored replacement units. Within his lone division the troops represented the very last reserve Wehrkreis VI possibly could muster: vanous Alarmeinheiten (emergency alert units), numerous “ear” and “stomach” battalions, and several Luftwaffe battalions formed from Luftwaffe noncommissioned officer training schools.

The Allied airborne attack under normal circumstances might have encountered only a portion of the First Parachute Army, those two divisions of the Fifteenth Army which by mid-September had escaped across the Schelde, and those scratch rear echelon formations of Armed Forces Commander Netherlands and Wehrkreis VI. But as luck would have it, Field Marshal Model late on 3 September had issued an order that was destined to alter markedly the German strength in the immediate vicinity of the Allied landing zones. On 3 September the Army Group B commander had directed that the Fifth Panzer Army, retreating in disorder from France, release the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions to move to the vicinity of Arnhem for rehabilitation.

Two days later Model ordered that headquarters of the II SS Panzer Corps under SS-ObergruppenFührer und General der Waffen-SS Willi Bittrich also move to the vicinity of Arnhem. General Bittrich was to direct rehabilitation of the 9th SS Panzer Division and two panzer divisions (the 2nd and 116th), which were to move to the Netherlands whenever they could disengage from combat under General Brandenberger’s Seventh Army.

 In failing to include the 10th SS Panzer Division in the charge to General Bittrich, Model apparently had in mind another order which he issued formally four days later on 9 September. He instructed the 10th SS Panzer Division to continue past Arnhem into Germany for rehabilitation presumably more thorough than could be accomplished near Arnhem. At the same time, Model altered General Bittrich’s orders in regard to the 9th SS Panzer Division. Seeing the threat to Aachen posed by continuing advance of the First U.S. Army, Model instructed the 9th SS Panzer to prepare to move against this threat.

Unfortunately for the Allies, only minor elements of either of these SS divisions had begun to move away when the first Allied parachutists landed unsuspectingly within half a day’s march from their assembly areas. Field Marshal Model thus had a ready reserve with which to fight back.

Seven Days for Planning

On the Allied side, the planning and command for the airborne phase of MARKET-GARDEN became the responsibility of the First Allied Airborne Army. The army commander, Lieutenant General Lewis H. Brereton, had been a top air commander in the Pacific and the Middle East. Having moved to England as commander of the Ninth Air Force for the air war against Germany, General Brereton had assumed command of the First Allied Airborne Army on 8 August 1944.

He was given operational control of the following: headquarters of the XVIII U.S. Corps (Airborne), commanded by Major General Matthew B. Ridgway; headquarters of the 1st British Airborne Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General F. A. M. Browning, who served also as deputy commander of the First Allied Airborne Army; the IX U.S. Troop Carrier Command under Major General Paul L. Williams; and two Royal Air Force troop carrier groups (38 and 46) . American airborne troops under General Brereton’s control were the veteran 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions and the untried 17th Airborne Division, the latter not scheduled to participate in MARKET. British troops at his disposal were the 1st Airborne Division and the 52nd Lowland Division (Air-portable), plus special air service troops and the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade, the latter to serve in MARKET under command of the 1st Airborne Division.

The first major planning conference -on Operation MARKET convened in England late on 10 September, only a few hours after General Eisenhower in a meeting with Montgomery at Brussels had given his approval. The first conference dealt primarily with command and administration. As deputy commander of the First Allied Airborne Army, General Browning was to direct operations on the ground through headquarters of his British Airborne Corps. He and his headquarters were to fly in with the airborne divisions. The XVIII U.S. Corps was relegated to certain administrative functions and to general observation of the planning and conduct of the operation. Once the ground troops overran the airborne divisions, command was to pass to the 30 British Corps. Responsibility for the complex troop carrier role fell to the commander of the IX Troop Carrier Command, General Williams. The overall commander was General Brereton.

Although planning proceeded swiftly, Operation MARKET did not mature without acute growing pains. At the outset, lack of supply threatened to stunt or at least delay growth. On I I September Field Marshal Montgomery protested to General Eisenhower that the Supreme Commander’s failure to give priority to the northern thrust over other operations (that is, to the exclusion of other offensive operations) meant that the airborne attack could not be staged before 23 September, and possibly not before 26 September.

This delay,” the British commander warned, “will give the enemy time to organize better defensive arrangements and we must expect heavier resistance and slower progress.” General Eisenhower promptly sent his chief of staff, General Smith, to 21st Army Group headquarters to assure Montgomery that Allied planes and American trucks could deliver a thousand tons of supplies

per day. Confirming this in writing, General Eisenhower promised this tonnage until about 1 October. At the same time, he said, the First U.S. Army would have sufficient supplies to continue its attack at Aachen.

Except that Montgomery urged that emergency supply be continued a week past I October, by which time a through railway supporting the British should be in operation, he was thoroughly placated. “Most grateful to you personally and to Beetle,” Montgomery wrote the Supreme Commander, “for all you are doing for me.” Making the usual salaam to the vagaries of weather, he set forward the target date six days to 17 September.

Field Marshal Montgomery’s decision meant that the First Allied Airborne Army had but seven days for planning and preparation, a period strikingly short even in view of the similarity to the defunct operation COMET-when contrasted with the long weeks and even months of planning and special training that had gone into most earlier airborne operations. Yet one of the cardinal reasons for executing MARKET at all was to take advantage of German disorganization: each day’s delay lessened that advantage. With that in mind, Field Marshal Montgomery had made his decision on the side of speed. In approving, General Eisenhower noted that not only could advantage be expected from speedy exploitation of the enemy’s condition but that an earlier release of the U.S. airborne divisions might be effected. This was desirable because of proposed operations to support General Bradley’s 12th Army Group.

One of the more crucial decisions facing General Brereton and the staff of the First Allied Airborne Army was that of daylight versus night attack. Moving by day, planes and gliders would be exposed to more accurate flak. This was a serious consideration, both because the C-47 (Sky train) troop carrier planes were low-speed aircraft possessing neither armor nor self-sealing gasoline tanks and because marked increase had been noted recently in antiaircraft guns in the vicinity of the target area. On the other hand, moving by night invited greater danger from enemy aircraft. Although the enemy’s daylight fighter force had been reduced almost to inconsequence, his night fighters had retained some measure of potency.

In regard to the actual drop, it went without saying that a daylight operation should provide a better drop pattern. To realize what could happen in the dark, one had but to recall the Normandy operation when drop sticks had scattered like windblown confetti.

A major factor governing selection of a night drop in Normandy had been a need to co-ordinate airborne and seaborne units. The plan for co-ordination of air and ground efforts in Operation MARKET-GARDEN imposed no restrictions. Neither had the Allies at the time of the Normandy drop possessed the unquestioned air supremacy they now had attained. It was an air supremacy that could be maintained through proximity of the target area to bases in England, France, and Belgium. Assured of a comprehensive anti-flak program, General Brereton made his decision: by day.

Another question was which of two routes to take to the target area. The more direct route from England passed over islands in the Schelde-Maas estuary. The aircraft would be subject to fire from flak barges and coastal flak positions and would have to fly some eighty miles over enemy-occupied territory. The alternative was a longer southern route. Over friendly Belgium most of the way, this route involved a maximum flight over enemy territory of sixty-five miles. On the other hand, flak was thick among the enemy front lines south of Eindhoven.

General Brereton and his planners considered that one long column would expose rear elements to an alerted enemy and that parallel columns along the same path would provide too many flak gunners with optimum targets. With these points in mind, they found a solution in compromise. The two divisions scheduled to land farthest north were to take the northern route across the Dutch islands.

The other division was to follow the southern route across Belgium to a point near Bourg-Leopold, thence north across the front lines into the Netherlands. A third task of selecting appropriate drop and landing zones was more complex. Factors like flak, terrain, assigned objectives, priority of objectives, direction of flight-these and countless others entered into the consideration, so that in the end the drop zones that were selected represented, as always, compromise in its least attractive connotation. The division scheduled to land farthest north, for example, wanted drop zones close to and on either side of the major objective of the Arnhem bridge across the Neder Rijn. Because of the buildings of the city, flak concentrations close to the city, and terrain south of the bridge deemed too boggy and too compartmented by dikes, this division settled for drop zones only on one side of the river and no closer to the bridge than six to eight miles. Whether flak and terrain might not have been less of a problem than distance from the objective hardly could have been answered unequivocally during the planning stage; indeed, the actual event may not always provide an unqualified answer.

Terrain in the target area was unusual, a patchwork pattern of polder land, dikes, elevated roadways, and easily defended waterways. The biggest obstacles were the three major rivers, ranging in width from 200 to 400 yards, which provided the basic motive for airborne participation: the Maas ( Meuse), the Waal (Rhine) , and the Neder Rijn. The proposed corridor also encompassed two smaller rivers, the Dommeland the Aa, and three major canals: the Wilhelmina, the Willems, and the Maas-Waal.

Because of these waterways, the texture of the soil, and innumerable drainage ditches and dikes, a vehicular column would be road-bound almost all the way from Eindhoven to Arnhem. This was a harsh restriction. Although the cities of Eindhoven, Nijmegen, and Arnhem are communications centers, all with more than 100,000 population, only one main highway passes through them in the direction the ground troops in Operation GARDEN were to take. It runs from Eindhoven through St. Oedenrode, Veghel, Grave, and Nijmegen, thence to Arnhem. The planners had to consider that failure to secure any of the bridges along this route might spell serious delay and even defeat for the entire operation.

Between Eindhoven and Arnhem the highway passes through fiat, open country with less than a 30-foot variation in altitude over a distance of fifty miles. The only major elevations in the vicinity of the road are two hill masses: one north of the Neder Rijn, northwest and north of Arnhem, rising to more than 300 feet; the other between the Maas and Waal Rivers, southeast of Nijmegen, rising to 300 feet. The two elevations represented some of the highest ground in the Netherlands.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the terrain is the extent and density of the vegetation. Almost every path and road is lined on either side by trees. Almost every field and every dike is topped by trees or large bushes. The result, during spring, summer, and early fall, is severe restriction of observation. Indeed, those who would fight in the Netherlands would encounter just as many problems of observation as did others in earlier wars in Flanders and the Po Valley of Italy. In terrain like this, it is difficult for the stronger force to bring its full power to bear at anyone point, and the ability of the weaker, defending force may be considerably enhanced.

Either the bridges over the waterways or features necessary to ensure seizure and retention of the bridges made up the principal objectives assigned to the three airborne divisions. Dropping farthest south between Eindhoven and Veghel, the 101st Airborne Division was to secure approximately fifteen miles of the corridor, including the city of Eindhoven and bridges at Zon, St. Oedenrode, and Veghel.

The 82nd Airborne Division was to drop in the middle to capture bridges over the Maas at Grave, the Waal at Nijmegen, and the Maas-Waal Canal in between, plus the high ground southeast of Nijmegen To the 1st British Airborne Division fell the role farthest from the start line of the ground troops, that of securing a bridge over the Neder Rijn at Arnhem and maintaining a bridgehead north of the river sufficiently large to enable the XXX Corps to pass through en route to the Ijsselmeer. The 1st Polish Parachute Brigade was to drop on D plus 2 to strengthen the British at Arnhem, and the 52 Lowland Division (Air-portable) was to be flown in north of Arnhem as soon as landing strips could be prepared. Reinforcing the British was in keeping with the fact that the 1st Airborne Division would be the last to be relieved by the ground columns.

Operation MARKET was the largest airborne operation ever mounted and was destined to retain that distinction through the rest of World War Two. Nevertheless, the size of the initial drop was restricted by the number of troop carrier aircraft available in the theater. Only about half the troops of the three airborne divisions could be transported in one lift.

Naturally anxious that all their strength arrive on D-Day, the division commanders asked that the planes fly more than one mission the first day. They pointed to the importance of bringing all troops into the corridor before the enemy could reinforce his antiaircraft defenses or launch an organized ground assault For their part, the troop carrier commanders dissented.

Flying more than one mission per aircraft, they said, would afford insufficient time between missions for spot maintenance, repair of battle damage, and rest for the crews. High casualties among the airmen might be the result if weather remained favorable, they pointed out, and if combat aircraft assumed some of the resupply missions, the troop carriers might fly but one mission daily and still transport three and a half divisions by D plus 2.

Although it meant taking a chance on enemy reaction and on the weather, General Brereton sided with the troop carrier commanders. He decided on one lift per day. Although subsequent planning indicated that it would in fact take four days to convey the divisions, General Brereton stuck by his decision.

The D-Day lift would be sufficient for transporting the advance headquarters of the British Airborne Corps, the three parachute regiments of both the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, and three major increments of the 1st Airborne Division: a parachute brigade, an air landing brigade, and a regiment of air landing artillery.

Enough space remained in the first lift to permit the division commanders a degree of flexibility in choosing small units of supporting troops to go in on D-Day. In the second lift, on D plus 1, the remainder of the British airborne division was to reach Arnhem, the 101st was to get its glider infantry regiment, the 82nd its airborne artillery, and both American divisions another fraction of their supporting troops.

On D plus 2, despite anticipated demands of resupply, the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade was to join the British at Arnhem, the 82nd was to get its glider infantry, and the 101st was to receive its artillery. On the fourth day the tails of all divisions might arrive.

For the D-Day lift the 101st Airborne Division was allotted 424 American parachute aircraft and 70 gliders and tugs, while the 82nd Airborne Division was to employ 480 troop carriers and 50 gliders and tugs. The 1st Airborne Division was to have 145 American carriers, 354 British and 4 American gliders, and 358 British tugs. Variance in the number of parachute and glider craft assigned the British and American divisions stemmed primarily from organizational differences. The variations between the American divisions were attributable to differences in objectives and proposed tactical employment. The 101st, for example, was to use the second lift to build up infantry strength, while the 82nd, in anticipation of a longer fight before contact with the ground column, was to concentrate on artillery. Some elements of all divisions not immediately needed were to travel by sea and thence overland in wake of the ground column.

While the airborne planning proceeded in England, planning and preparation for the companion piece, Operation GARDEN, progressed on the Continent under General Dempsey’s Second British Army. The 30 Corps under Lieutenant General Brian G. Horrocks was to strike the first blow on the ground an hour after the first parachutists jumped. As soon as logistics and regrouping might permit, the 8 and 12 Corps were to attack along either flank of the 30 Corps and gradually were to assume responsibility for the flanks of the salient created by the main attack. The advance of these two corps obviously would be affected by the strained logistical situation, by belts of marshy terrain crossed by few improved roads leading northward, and by the weakness of the 8 Corps, on the right, which would possess at first only one division.

The start line for the main attack by the 30 Corps was the periphery of the bridgehead north of the Meuse-Escaut Canal beyond De Groote Barrier, thirteen miles below Eindhoven. By moving behind a heavy curtain of artillery fire and fighter bomber attacks, General Horrocks hoped to achieve a quick breakthrough with the Guards Armoured Division, supported by the 43rd and 50th Infantry Divisions. In his formal orders, General Horrocks assigned the armor a D-Day objective of the village of Valkenswaard, six miles short of Eindhoven, which was the designated point of contact with the 101st Airborne Division. Yet General Horrocks said informally that he hoped to be in Eindhoven before nightfall on D Day.

Certainly the corps commander’s aside was more in keeping with Field Marshal Montgomery’s directive that the ground thrust be “rapid and violent, and without regard to what is happening on the flanks.In the same manner, a D-Day objective of Eindhoven rather than Valkenswaard was more realistic if General Horrocks was to succeed in expectations of reaching Arnhem “before the end of D plus 3” and of attaining the IJsselmeer, ninety-nine miles from his start line, in “six days or less.”

Directing that vehicles advance two abreast along the single highway through Eindhoven to Arnhem, General Horrocks prohibited southbound traffic. Over this highway to Arnhem, he told a briefing conference, he intended to pass 20,000 vehicles in sixty hours. Yet the British commander hardly could have been as sanguine as he appeared, judging from questions he asked later, in private. “How many days rations will they jump with? How long can they hold out? How many days will they be supplied by air?

What Did the Germans Know?

In hope of deceiving the Germans into believing that the Allied supply situation denied offensive action other than that already under way by the First and Third U.S. Armies, the British withdrew their advance patrols, in some cases as much as ten miles. They might have spared themselves the trouble. The Germans already had noted with apprehension a “constant stream” of reinforcements concentrating behind the right wing of the Second British Army. From 9 to 14 September the intelligence officer of Field Marshal Model’s Army Group B issued daily warnings of an imminent British offensive, probably to be launched in the direction of Nijmegen, Arnhem, and Wesel. The objective: the Ruhr.

Projecting himself with facility into the position of the Allied high command, the Army Group B G-2 on 14 September put imaginary words into the mouth of General Eisenhower in the form of a mythical order:. . . The Second British Army [he imagined the Supreme Allied Commander to say] will assemble its units at the Maas-Scheldt [Meuse-Escaut] and Albert Canals. On its right wing it will concentrate an attack force mainly composed of armored units, and, after forcing a Maas crossing (see order to First U.S. Army), will launch operations to break through to the Rhenish-Westphalian Industrial Area [Ruhr] with the main effort via Roermond. To cover the northern flank, the left wing of the [Second British] Army will close to the Waal at Nijmegen, and thus create the basic conditions necessary to cut off the German forces committed in the Dutch coastal areas [the Fifteenth Army].

As far as the ground picture was concerned, this German intelligence officer should have been decorated for his perspicacity. The British actually had intended earlier to do as the German G-2 predicted, to strike close along the left flank of the First U.S. Army to cross the Rhine near Wesel. But the introduction of Operation MARKET had altered this concept drastically.

The German conception of what the Allies would do with their airborne reserve was far more daring than anything the Allies actually considered. Even though the Germans on the basis of purely strategic considerations expected an airborne operation about mid-September and even though they had a long-time paratrooper in command of the sector the Allies had chosen (First Parachute Army’s General Student), they could not see the southern part of the Netherlands as a likely spot. In putting words into the mouth of General Eisenhower, the Army Group B G-2,[NOTE 44D-AB-2] for example, predicted airborne operations in conjunction with the ground offensive which he outlined, but he looked far beyond the Netherlands to a spot fifty miles east of the Rhine.

[NOTE 44D-AB2: “In conjunction with [the Second British Army’s attack],” the G-2 noted in his mythical order, “a large-scale airborne landing by the First Allied Airborne Army north of the Lippe River in the area south of Muenster is planned for an as yet indefinite date …. ” Ibid. Eight days earlier this same G-2 had predicted, more conservatively, airborne operations near Aachen and in the Saar region. Summary Estimate of Allied Situation, 6 Sep 44, A Gp B KTB, Ie/AO.]

As incredible as an operation like this might have appeared to the Allies at the time, the Germans saw no fantasy in it. Indeed, a step higher up the ladder of German command, at OB WEST, Field Marshal von Rundstedt endorsed the view that the Allies would use their airborne troops east of the Rhine. Even within Hitler’s inner circle of advisers, none saw disparity between this prediction and reality. On the very eve of MARKET-GARDEN, the chief of the Armed Forces Operations Staff, Generaloberst Alfred JodI, voiced his concern about possible airborne landings in the northern part of the Netherlands, northern Germany, and Denmark.

Thinking independently of his G-2, the Army Group B commander, Field Marshal Model, strayed equally far from reality, but with results not unfavorable to the Germans. Having received a report on 11 September that the Allies were assembling landing craft in British ports, Model reasoned that this meant a seaborne invasion of the Netherlands. Reports as late as the morning of 17 September, D-Day for Operation MARKET, of “conspicuously active” sea and air reconnaissance of the Wadden Islands off the Dutch coast fed both Model’s and Rundstedt’s apprehension. Both believed that the Allies would drop airborne troops in conjunction with a seaborne invasion. Even as Allied paratroopers and glider-men were winging toward the Netherlands, Rundstedt was ordering a thorough study of the sea- and air-landing possibilities in northern Holland. The results were to be reported to Hitler.

As for Field Marshal Model, he had gone Rundstedt one better. As early as 11 September, Model had alerted General Christiansen, the Armed Forces Commander Netherlands, and ordered him to defend the coast of the Netherlands with all forces at his disposal. Model went so far as to order that mobile interceptor units be formed from various forces, including elements of the II SS Panzer Corps that had been sent to the Netherlands for rehabilitation.

No indications existed to show that this order had any effect on the actual Allied attack. Another order, however, issued to provide Army Group B a reserve, did serve the Germans well. This was a directive from Model on 12 September transferring the 59th Division (General Poppe) from the Fifteenth Army to the sector of the First Parachute Army. As a result, the 59th Division was in transit near Tilburg, seventeen miles northwest of Eindhoven, when the first Allied parachutists dropped. This good fortune-plus the chance presence of the II SS Panzer Corps near Arnhem-was all the more singular because not only Model but no other German commander, including Hitler, had so much as an inkling of the true nature, scope, or location of the impending Allied airborne operation.

[NOTE: Oreste Pinto, Spy Catcher (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1952), maintains that presence of the SS divisions near Arnhem was the result of a betrayal of the MARKET-GARDEN plan before the event by a Dutch traitor. The theory has no basis in fact. It ignores German surprise at the landings as well as the fact that Model ordered the SS divisions to the Netherlands on 3 September, before the Allies even considered a plan like MARKET-GARDEN. The divisions were, in fact, ordered to Arnhem as the first step in later commitment of them in the Ardennes counteroffensive, an operation which Hitler had already decided upon. A retired Dutch army officer, Colonel T. A. Boeree, has prepared a point by-point refutation of the betrayal story and has provided a copy of his findings, entitled The Truth About the Supposed Spy at Arnhem, for OCMH. A commission of inquiry of the Netherlands Lower House has reported its findings on the matter in the fourth volume of its proceedings (Staten-Generaal Tweede Kamer Enquetecommissie Regeringsbeleid 1940-1945,]

The Flight to the Corridor

Back in England, troops not already on the airfields began to assemble on 15 September and were sealed in at daylight the next morning. At headquarters of General Browning’s British Airborne Corps, the general belief, as recalled later, was “that the flight and landings would be hazardous, that the capture intact of the bridge objectives was more a matter of surprise and confusion than hard fighting,

that the advance of the ground forces would be very swift if the airborne operations were successful, and that, in these circumstances, the considerable dispersion of the airborne forces was acceptable. 58

The troops themselves underwent the inescapable apprehensions that precede almost any military operation. In spite of their status as veterans, their fears were in many instances magnified for Operation MARKET. Not only were they to drop far behind enemy lines; they were to fly for a half hour or more over enemy territory and land in the full light of day. Neither of these had they done before September, made the final, irrevocable decision. D-Day was the next day, 17 September. H Hour was 1300.

The campaign began that night when the Royal Air Force Bomber Command started a program to eliminate as much as possible of the enemy’s antiaircraft defense while at the same time concealing

the fact that anything unusual was in the offing. A force of 200 Lancaster’s and 23 Mosquitoes dropped some 890 tons of bombs on German airfields from which fighters might threaten gliders and C-47’s. Another force of 59 planes struck by night at a flak position. In each case, the pilots reported good results. Particularly effective was a strike against an airfield where the enemy’s new Messerschmitt 262 jet aircraft were based. So cratered were the runways after the RAF raid that no jets could take off on 17 September.

Early on D-Day morning, 100 British bombers escorted by Spitfires renewed the assault by bombing three coastal defense batteries along the northern air route. As time pressed close for the coming of the troop carriers, 816 Flying Fortresses of the Eighth Air Force, escorted by P-51 ‘s, took up the fight. They dropped 3,139 tons of bombs on 117 flak positions along both the northern and southern routes. Six other B-17’s hit an airfield at Eindhoven. Including escorts, 435 British and 983 American planes participated in the preliminary bombardment. Only 2 B-17’S, 2 Lancaster’s, and 3 other British planes were lost.

To weave a protective screen about the two great trains of troop carriers, 1,131 Allied fighters took to the air. Along the northern route, a British command, Air Defense of Great Britain, provided 371 Tempests, Spitfires, and Mosquitoes. Along the southern route, the Eighth Air Force employed 548 P-47’s, P-38’s, and P-5 I ‘so Adding to the total, the Ninth Air Force employed 212 planes against flak positions near the front lines along the Dutch-Belgian border. All flights got an invaluable assist from the weather. Overland fog at the airfields in England had cleared by 0900.

Over the North Sea and the Continent the weather was fair with a slight haze. Visibility varied from four to six miles. Had the day been tailor-made it hardly could have been better for an airborne operation.

Beginning at 1025 on Sunday morning, 17 September, 12 British and 6 American transport planes flew into the east to drop Pathfinder teams on drop and landing zones 20 minutes before H-Hour. Close

behind them, from the stationary aircraft carrier that England had become, swarmed the greatest armada of troop carrying aircraft ever before assembled for one operation.

A force of 1,545 transport planes and 478 gliders took off that day from 24 airfields in the vicinity of Swinden, Newbury, and Grantham. Converging at rendezvous points near the British coast, the streams of aircraft split into two great trains to cross the North Sea. Along the northern route American planes: 1,175; British planes: 370; American gliders: 124; British gliders: 354. northern route went the planes and gliders carrying the 1st and 82nd Airborne Divisions and General Browning’s corps headquarters. Along the southern route went the 101st Airborne Division. Beacons and searchlight cones marked both rendezvous points and points of departure from the coast, while two marker boats fixed the routes over the North Sea.

A small percentage of planes and gliders aborted over England and the sea. To save personnel who ditched in the sea, the Air/Sea Rescue Service, a component of Air Defense of Great Britain, had placed a string of seventeen launches along the northern route and ten along the shorter southern route. In addition, planes of Air Defense of Great Britain, the British Coastal Command, and the Eighth Air Force flew as spotters for ditched planes and gliders. During the course of Operation MARKET, a total of 205 men were snatched from the sea.

The average time of flight from base to target area on D-Day was two and a half hours. From thirty to fifty minutes of this time was spent over enemy territory. Once the planes and gliders on the northern route reached the Dutch coast, they attracted flak ranging from light to heavy; but few aircraft were hit. Many German batteries were silent, victims of the preliminary bombardment. Others gave in quickly to ubiquitous British escort craft.

Along the southern route the 101st Airborne Division encountered concentrated flak as soon as the planes headed across German lines. One of the Pathfinder planes was hit and crashed. Some of the lower-flying planes and gliders in the main waves drew small arms fire. Although some serials escaped the flak almost without losses, others incurred severe damage. Yet few crippled planes fell before reaching the targets and releasing their loads. The paratroopers had unqualified praise for pilots who held doggedly to their courses, sometimes with motors in flames or wings broken and often at the price of their own lives after passengers or gliders had been released. No instance of a pilot resorting to evasive action under the stress of antiaircraft fire came to light on D-Day.

Luftwaffe reaction was hesitant, almost nonexistent. Although Allied pilots spotted approximately 30 German planes, only one group of about 15 Focke-Wulf 190’s dared to attack. These engaged a group of Eighth Air Force fighters over Wesel but quickly gave up after shooting down but 1 U.S. fighter, hardly fair exchange for the loss of 7 German planes.

The airmen executed two other missions on D-Day. Almost at H-Hour, 84 British planes of the 2nd Tactical Air Force attacked German barracks at Nijmegen, Arnhem, and two nearby cities; and after nightfall the RAF Bomber Command executed two dummy parachute drops with 10 aircraft each at points several miles to both east and west of the actual drop zones.

Planning staffs for Operation MARKET had been prepared to accept losses in transport aircraft and gliders as high as 30 percent. In reality, losses were a phenomenally low 2.8 percent. The enemy shot down not one plane or glider carrying the British airborne division and knocked out only 35 American troop carriers and 13 gliders, most of them along the southern route. Of the escort, the British lost 2 planes, the Americans 18. Total losses in transports, gliders, and fighters were 68.Out of a total of 4,676 transports, gliders, fighters, and bombers that participated on D Day, only 75 craft failed to get through.

Almost exactly at H-Hour transports in the leading serials began to disgorge their loads in the beginning of what was to become the most successful drop any of the three airborne divisions ever had staged, either in combat or training. British landings were almost 100 percent on the correct drop and landing zones. The 82nd Airborne Division’s landings were “without exception” the best in the division’s history. The 101st Airborne Division’s operation was a “parade ground jump” that from any viewpoint was the most successful the division had ever had.

A total of 331 British aircraft and 319 gliders and 1,150 American planes and 106 gliders got through. Within an hour and twenty minutes, approximately 20,000 American and British troops landed by parachute and glider in good order far behind enemy lines. The unparalleled success of the drops and landings made it clear early that the decision for a daylight operation had been, under the circumstances, a happy one. Up to this point, the Allies had staged an overwhelming success.

SOURCE: THE SIEGFRIED LINE CAMPAIGN; by: Charles B. MacDonald (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Europe (2-7); Operation MARKET-GARDEN-Invasion From the Sky

World War Two: Gilberts and Marshalls (5); Landings on Makin

Red Beaches: On 20 November sunrise at Makin came at 0612. Weather was fair. Wind was east-southeast at thirteen knots, which meant there was relatively little surf either at the main landing beaches on the west coast or inside on the protected lagoon. At 0603 the first of the troop-carrying transports, Leonard Wood, arrived on station in the transport area off Red Beaches on the western coast of Butaritari and commenced to lower her boats. Within four minutes the three other transports and the cargo ship carrying the 165th Regimental Combat Team had followed suit. Admiral Turner sent the signal that H Hour would be at 0830 as planned and that William Hour for the landing on Yellow Beach on the north shore of the island would tentatively be 1030, a time subsequently confirmed.

From 0610 to 0640 carrier-based planes, as scheduled, bombed, dive-bombed, and strafed the western beaches and inland. As they drew away, naval guns of the accompanying battleships, cruisers, and destroyers opened fire and kept up a steady rain of shells until 0825, just five minutes before the first troops hit the shore. While this was taking place a half-hour rain squall almost hid the island from the anxious watchers aboard ship. Happily, by 0800 the rain lifted and landmarks, though still obscured slightly by smoke and dust raised by naval fire, came into fairly clear relief. As the ships ceased fire, aircraft again flew in low to strafe the beaches in a five-minute attack. Twenty minutes later naval guns again took up the chorus, keeping their bombardment well to the front of the advancing troops.

The damage wrought during this first day by naval and aerial bombardment was considerable. In the immediate region of the main beaches and eastward little real damage was done—the destruction was generally confined to coconut trees, native huts, and a few dummy gun positions. In the area of the West Tank Barrier, neither the ditch nor the log barricade of the trap was seriously damaged except for one direct hit from a heavy bomb near the northern terminus of the trench system.

Just to the east of the main tank trap lay a well-defined trench system running at right angles to the beach. These trenches were comparatively shallow and were revetted at ends and intervals with coconut logs. The area was reported to be badly shot up. One trench received a direct hit from a 2,000-pound bomb which, in the words of Admiral Turner, “considerably scrambled the trench, Japs and trees for some distance.” Sixty-two enemy dead were later counted in this one area, most of whom were the victims of a combination of concussion and air bursts. In the area south of Yellow Beach and east to the East Tank Barrier all buildings were reported destroyed. Three 80-mm. antiaircraft positions at the base of King’s Wharf and two light tanks revetted to act as pillboxes were severely damaged. Forty-one enemy dead were counted, of whom twenty-five were apparently killed by concussion from heavy bombs.

Although the covered shelters in this area were not destroyed, a careful examination made by the 27th Division’s artillery commander after the landing showed that there was little in the area around Yellow Beach that was not covered either by a direct hit or by fragmentation. In his opinion, “a high degree of neutralization was obtained.” Admiral Turner’s final conclusion was that “the effect of naval and air bombardment was highly satisfactory; and contributed materially in the reduction of hostile resistance.” “However,” he added, “there was not enough of it.”

While the ships of the naval gunfire support group pounded away at Butaritari, troops of the 165th Infantry continued to debark. In the early morning light they clambered down rope cargo nets into the waiting LCVP’s. As soon as each craft had received its allotted quota of men (about thirty-six each), it moved off for a short distance and joined other small boats circling in the assembly area.

At 0643 two LCVP’s left the side of Neville. Carrying a special detachment of the reinforced 2nd Platoon of Company G, 165th Infantry, and nineteen marines of the 4th Platoon of the V Amphibious Corps Reconnaissance Company, they were headed for Kotabu Island about a mile and a half north of Flink Point. Naval bombardment preceded them as they plunged into the ground swell for a ride of almost an hour’s duration.

Shortly thereafter the three tractor-laden LST’s that had moved in separate convoy to Butaritari hove into view through the morning mist and took station in the transport area at about 0700. Within an hour all the amphibian tractors bound for Red Beaches were in the water, circling and waiting the signal to approach the beaches.

At 0750 the order was given to move to the line of departure. The amphibian tractors formed two inverted V’s, each pointed toward a beach, and one by one the other landing craft pulled off from their circles and formed a series of triangular formations constituting the subsequent landing waves. Two destroyers, Phelps and MacDonough, had taken station approximately 2,800 yards west of Red Beaches. When the first landing wave was between them, the two ships began to move slowly toward the island firing their 5-inch guns. At 0815 the first wave of amphibian tractors passed through the escorting destroyers and headed for the beach. They were followed by two waves of LCVP’s carrying the main body of the 1st and 3rd Battalion Landing Teams at approximately five-minute intervals.

The first wave of the 1st Battalion headed for Red Beach on the left and contained 233 men in seven boats; the following waves consisted of only six boats each. In the first wave, at the rear center, was Lieutenant Colonel Gerard W. Kelley, the battalion commander, together with the commander of Company D, the air-ground and Navy liaison parties, and some battalion communications personnel. To the right was the first wave of the 3rd Battalion, heading for Red Beach 2. It had a similar boat schedule, with Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. Hart, the battalion commander, and the commanding officer of Company M riding in the same boat. Each battalion was accompanied by two LCM’s carrying light tanks with their crews, one light machine gun squad, two rifle squads, and other personnel.

As the leading wave of LVT’s approached the beaches they commenced to fire their rockets, but with less than even moderate success. Many fell short into the water; others would not fire at all because of defects in their firing mechanisms caused by salt water. At 1,000 yards the amphtracks’ (amphibian tractors’) .50-caliber machine guns opened fire, joined 200 yards farther in by their .30-Caliber machine guns. No sustained fire from the beaches was encountered. Off Red Beach 2 enemy rifle fire wounded one seaman and killed another, but these were the only casualties recorded during the ship-to-shore movement. About forty yards offshore the amphibians came over the coral reef. No barbed wire, mines, or other obstacles impeded them. At approximately 0831 the tractors touched the rocks and lumbered up the beaches. The men of the special landing groups scrambled over the sides. Some sought cover, but many stood still, waiting first for enemy fire before taking precautions. Major Edward T. Bradt, commanding the 3rd Battalion, 105th Infantry, and in charge of the special landing groups, later described his action. “I jumped down from my boat [sic] and stood straight up for two or three minutes, waiting for somebody to shoot me. Nobody shot! I saw many other soldiers doing the same thing.”

Following the LVT’s came the first three waves of landing craft at about five minute intervals. The first wave was scheduled to put a total of 460 men and eight tanks ashore in an area removed by approximately 3,000 yards from the main defenses on the island. Although intelligence had revealed the presence of rocks and coral pinnacles along the approaches to the shore, Admiral Turner’s staff was satisfied that landing boats could get ashore there at any time.

They were wrong. The reef was studded with coral boulders about forty yards off shore. Coming in on a rising tide, some of the landing craft were able to slip past the boulders and were held less than a boat’s length (thirty-six feet) from the water’s edge, but many were broached, stranded, or forced to put to sea again. The tanks, waterproofed for the landing, rolled off the ramps into water which did not quite drown them out. Ahead of them, the men struggled in swells sometimes over their heads, stumbled over rocks and slipped on boulders, or sought cover at the edge of the beach.

Red Beach, on the left, was a rubble of coral boulders and proved usable for only fifteen yards of its width. The seven landing craft of the first wave encountered great difficulties getting ashore. Some did not make it. The amphibian tractors that preceded the first wave had to abandon their original objectives to assist the boats stranded on the reef. Those few landing craft that did reach shore, moreover, found it difficult to withdraw and allow later assault waves to land. As the tide receded, landing operations were further complicated. Only the absence of enemy opposition in this area made possible a landing without heavy casualties. Under any kind of enemy fire the natural obstacles to a landing here would have probably proved catastrophic to the attacking troops.

The carefully prepared sequence for the arrival of various elements of the assault and shore parties on Red Beach was thrown into confusion by these conditions. At best, only three boats could be landed at one time, and the fifth wave was not able to get ashore until shortly after 1000, over an hour behind schedule.

The landing on Red Beach 2, despite better conditions, was also delayed. The 3rd Battalion Landing Team, composed of 1,250 men, was scheduled to land there in seven waves at five-minute intervals. Beginning at 0840 the first three waves landed, but the remaining boats landed singly, and it was 1022 before the seventh wave arrived off the beach. During D Day, in addition to these troops, Leonard Wood sent ashore 4 tanks, 1 bulldozer, 5 jeeps, 4 antitank guns, and other portable equipment. For the same period the transport Calvert disembarked 913 troops (of the 1st Battalion Landing Team) and eighty-two tons of equipment, but at nightfall much of the cargo was still afloat in landing craft.

Establishing the Beachhead

General Ralph Smith’s plan called for the rapid capture of Flink Point and Ukiangong Point and the occupation of all of the area east of Red Beaches to the first beachhead line about 1,300 yards inland. The 1st Battalion Landing Team on the left was to take Flink Point and the left half of the beachhead line. The 3rd Battalion Team on the right was to capture Ukiangong Village and Point and was responsible for the right half of the beachhead line. On the completion of this phase of the action, the 1st Battalion Landing Team would relieve the 3rd and the latter was to go into division reserve in the area north of Ukiangong Village.

The main force of the 1st Battalion moved directly forward toward the beachhead line, meeting only insignificant rifle fire but retarded somewhat by the thick vegetation and by debris and water-filled craters resulting from the air and naval bombardment. Their supporting light tanks were of no assistance to the infantry until late in the day. Bad communications between tanks and infantry and terrain difficulties slowed up the former’s advance. Except by staying on the road, they could make no headway against the combined obstacles of debris, shell holes, and marsh, and on the main road inland they were held up by large craters left by naval shells.

The 1st Battalion advanced with two companies abreast. On the right, Company B and part of the 1st Platoon of Company D, a heavy machine gun platoon, covered the widest zone; their first action was the seizure of an undefended observation tower that was protected by barbed wire and log barricades. On the left, Company C moved straight ahead without waiting for its heavy weapons platoon to land. Company A remained in dispersed formation in battalion reserve.

At the end of the first phase, at approximately 1030, Companies B and C held the left half of the beachhead line just east of Rita Lake, the largest of several shallow ponds. The eastern edge of this pond stretched almost the entire length of the beachhead line south of the point at which it was crossed by the island highway. There, Company B had established contact with Company K of the 3rd Battalion just across the highway on its right flank. Meanwhile, Company A had been dispatched northward to occupy Flink Point and had progressed about halfway out that peninsula.

While the 1st Battalion was pushing forward against practically no opposition in its sector, the 3rd Battalion on the right was making almost equally rapid progress against an area that it had been believed would be more vigorously defended. The special landing group of Detachment X had swung to the right after landing in amphtracks and established a defensive position on the southern flank. Company K moved almost straight eastward; Company I fanned out in a triangular area between the main highway and the ocean south of Company K’s sector; and Company L, assisted by a part of the special landing group, turned south to take Ukiangong Village and to clear the whole point beyond it.

Contrary to expectation, no enemy fire came out of the huts of Ukiangong Village, and the native residents had all deserted. By 1040 Company L could report practically all of Ukiangong Point secured without opposition. What had been thought to be defense installations proved instead to be a stone-crushing plant, two large dummy guns, some square piles of coral rock, and a few bomb shelters. Sixty natives were discovered on Ukiangong Point, but thus far no enemy had shown himself.

Meanwhile, Company K was pressing its advance on toward and beyond Rita Lake. Finally, almost two hours after the landing, one unit of this company met the first Japanese to be encountered. Five of the enemy were killed. At 1055 Company K reached the first beachhead line on the east shore of Rita Lake and shortly thereafter was relieved by elements of the 1st Battalion and went into reserve.

Thus within less than two and a half hours after the initial landing, the beachhead had been secured to a line 1,300 yards inland. Ukiangong Point had been occupied and preparations were already under way for making that area suitable for the establishment of artillery positions from which the main attack eastward to the tank barrier could be supported. Part of Flink Point had been secured and nothing stood in the way of securing the whole of that peninsula, which was completed, in fact, by 1240. No opposition of any consequence had yet developed. Except for the initial difficulties in getting the troops ashore against natural rather than manmade obstacles, the landing had been a pushover.

Yellow Beach

Early in the morning of D Day, Admiral Turner had confirmed that William Hour for the landing on Yellow Beach would be 1030. According to the plan this beach, which lay between On Chong’s Wharf and King’s Wharf on the northern (lagoon) shore of Butaritari, would be assaulted by the 2nd Battalion Landing Team of the 165th Infantry reinforced by tanks of the 193rd Tank Battalion. This force was to move the short distance across the island to the ocean shore, then branch to right and left (west and east). The group on the right would move toward the West Tank Barrier in conjunction with a simultaneous push from the other side of that barrier by the 1st Battalion Landing Team.

The group on the left would establish positions west of the East Tank Barrier and hold there pending the reduction of the West Tank Barrier and the capture of the entire “Citadel” area including the village of Butaritari.

The troops charged with assaulting Yellow Beach were carried aboard the transport Neville, the LSD Belle Grove, and the LST 779. Aboard Neville were the 2nd Battalion of the 165th Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John F. McDonough, and the reconnaissance platoon that was scheduled for tiny Kotabu Island just north of Flink Point. Belle Grove carried the tanks of Company A, 193rd Tank Battalion, boated in LCM’s. Embarked on LST 779 was Detachment Z of the 105th Infantry loaded in the sixteen LVT’s that would make up the initial assault wave.

After receiving the word at 0800 that the Kotabu detail had taken that island without opposition, this naval task unit moved into its assigned transport area just west of the lagoon and commenced debarking its landing craft. The LST proceeded through the channel and into the lagoon before launching its amphtracks with the special landing groups aboard. As the tractors circled, the landing craft behind them slowly formed assault waves.

By 0915 they were ready to move toward the beach. In the first wave were the sixteen amphibian tractors. Following it at an interval of about one minute came the second wave, eight LCM’s carrying medium tanks, followed about two minutes later by the third wave, seven LCM’s carrying medium tanks. In the fourth wave, which came two minutes later, were two troop-carrying LCVP’s accompanied by four LCM’s with light tanks aboard. The next four waves were made up of LCVP’s carrying the bulk of the assault troops with one bulldozer embarked in the seventh wave.

As the landing forces moved toward Yellow Beach the destroyers MacDonough and Phelps opened fire with their 5-inch guns, commencing at 1005. The sun by now was bright, and the lagoon calm. The beach, in flames, was covered by billowing smoke. About 1,100 yards from the beach the LVT’s discharged their rockets—six from each boat—laying down an area barrage along the beach’s edge. In contrast to what had happened earlier in the morning during the approach to Red Beaches, the rockets worked. At 1025, with the first wave still about 600 yards off the beach, the two destroyers ceased firing to allow a last-minute strafing run by the carrier planes. As the planes neared the beach, the first waves of amphtracks slowed down for fear of coming under their fire. The later waves slowed down too, and kept their proper intervals, except for those carrying medium tanks, which bunched up slightly. These delays caused the landing schedule to be set back about ten minutes, but at least there was no piling up of waves as there had been during the approach to Red Beach.

As the troops renewed their progress toward shore, they came under enemy fire for the first time about 500 yards from the beach. This may have come from two steel hulks that lay sunk in the shallow water of the lagoon, or from On Chong’s Wharf, or from a small green and white patrol boat moored to the wharf, or from the shore itself. Also, from King’s Wharf on their left, the amphtracks were hit by bullets. Under this cross fire the men crouched low in their tractors as they made the last three hundred yard run into the beach. The first touchdown was at 1041.

One of the amphtracks ran up the seaplane ramp on King’s Wharf. The men disembarked and worked their way inland by crawling along the western slope of the causeway, which masked them from enemy fire. Unable to bring their weapons to bear, the Japanese quickly fled and the pier was taken by the attackers without further contest. On the far right of the first landing wave one of the tractors developed a defective steering device and landed too far to the west in the On Chong’s Wharf area. All of the others landed properly on Yellow Beach and began to move inland, swerving to the right or left before disembarking the men of the special landing group. Enemy shellfire struck two of these vehicles, and among the dismounting men five were reported killed and twelve wounded. One lone tractor went completely out of control and drove straight across the island toward the ocean shore through the main Japanese defenses. It finally hung up in a shell crater and two of its crew were killed by enemy machine gun fire while the others escaped to take cover in the brush.

The first mission of the two halves of the special landing group was to clear the enemy from the two wharves and construct defensive beach blocks from the base of each wharf to points about 150 yards inland. King’s Wharf fell without a contest, once the first troops had landed. On Chong’s Wharf, although beaten to kindling wood, still offered some cover to the enemy and a force moved in to seize it at once.

Deploying by squads, the right half of the special landing group swung forward against light opposition, pivoting on the base of the wharf. It continued to move westward in a line stretching about 150 yards from the base of the wharf. Little except light rifle fire was encountered. Two machine gun positions were found at the base of the wharf, but they were manned by dead Japanese, evidently killed by naval fire. While a squad worked out along the pier, the inland end of the group’s line came up against a series of dugouts or bombproof shelters. Grenades were thrown inside, killing some of the enemy immediately. Others were taken prisoner as they emerged and still others stayed within and temporarily avoided capture. Now and then the Americans received a random shot, but no one was injured. All the shelters inland from On Chong’s Wharf were cleaned out before noon. About thirty-five prisoners, mostly Koreans, were taken and an estimated twenty of the occupants were killed.

Only 100 yards behind the first wave of amphibian tractors came the LCM’s with their medium tanks. They hit the reef lying from 150 to 200 yards offshore and could proceed no farther since there was only about 2.5 to 3 feet of water over the reef. Ramps were lowered and the medium tanks lumbered forward through the shallow water. All but two of the fifteen tanks reached the shore safely. These two foundered in shell holes in the reef. In one of them was Captain Robert S. Brown, who commanded the medium tanks and who was thus left out of the action during the critical phase when his presence ashore was most needed. The difficulties of the other foundered tank were later described by the sergeant in command: We . . . went forward about 25 yards and hit a shell hole. We got out of that and went about 15 yards more and hit another. The water was about 7 feet deep and our tank drowned out. The tank immediately filled with smoke after hitting the second shell hole.

My driver said the tank was on fire. The crew dismounted right there with great speed through the right sponson door. I remained inside the tank. As soon as the crew got out of the tank they were machine gunned from the shore and with more speed they came back inside the tank. Something like an hour and a half later we were picked up by an alligator.

Two of the mediums to land were hung up in taro pits, although one eventually freed itself and succeeded in getting into the action before being hung up again. The remaining eleven made their way to the ocean shore of the island, then split up and moved east and west against the two tank barriers. There was no effective coordination between tanks and infantry, the tanks operating independently. One ran over a shelter while the infantry stood by and killed about a dozen Japanese who came out. Another wiped out a machine gun nest at the base of the sandpit before proceeding across the island to join the other tanks going east. One tank moved directly into Butaritari Village but encountered no opposition. Machine gun nests and pillboxes were found in fair abundance, but no difficulty was reported in wiping them out. No personnel casualties were reported by any of the tank crews.

Behind the tanks in the fourth and fifth waves came the troops of the 2nd Battalion, 165th Infantry, boated in LCVP’s. Like the tank-carrying craft ahead of them, these too grounded on the reef. After a short hesitation the men debarked into knee-deep water and began their slow passage into shore. The intensity of fire from the enemy increased. Radios, flame throwers, bazookas, and other equipment were soaked or lost. Yet, in spite of the fact that the troops were fairly closely bunched in the water, they escaped with few casualties. Most of the fire was low in the water and generally inaccurate. Only two were killed; none wounded.

At the beach the men of Companies E and F, constituting the fourth and fifth waves, divided. Up to this time the landing troops had had little or no opportunity to locate definitely the almost incessant fire that was being poured upon them from the right flank as they approached the beaches. At the outset it was believed that at least a portion of this fire originated from the two battered and scuttled hulks that rested on the bottom just off the end of On Chong’s Wharf. The first effort to eliminate this source of fire was made by an LCVP from Neville. Under command of Boatswain Joseph V. Kasper, this boat mounted three of its guns on the starboard side and ran for the hulks at an angle permitting all guns to fire at once. Until one gun jammed and the cross fire from the beach compelled it to withdraw, the boat poured a rain of lead against the supposed enemy position. The fact that Boatswain Kasper was fatally wounded during the run added weight to the belief that these derelicts constituted a serious menace to the attacking troops.

For the next two hours naval attention centered around the two wrecked ships, somewhat to the detriment of the troops already ashore. All landing operations were held up for over an hour, from 1125 to 1250, while carrier planes bombed and strafed the hulks. Five bombers missed by wide margins and when an attempt was made to skip-bomb the targets, the bombs merely bounced over the hulks. Then at 1219 the destroyer Dewey opened fire on the same targets and kept it up until 1257. In such close quarters, firing on the hulks endangered American forces approaching the beach. Some of the destroyer’s shells hit the old ships and inflicted observable damage, but others passed over the heads of the special landing groups and hit inland. As a result Captain William Ferns, who commanded the special landing group, pulled his men back 100 yards east onto On Chong’s Wharf and immediately requested the cessation of all naval and aerial bombardment Soon the bombardment ceased.

[NOTE GM446: Interv, Captain Ferns, Marshall Intervs, p. 56. Captain Ferns states that there were two destroyers participating in this shelling. Admiral Turner’s narrative of the action, however, indicates that only one, Dewey, was firing at this time. Fifth Amph Force Rpt, Capture of Gilbert Islands, Incl A, p. 17.]

Meanwhile, landings of later waves on Yellow Beach had been interrupted. Medical aid men, who were needed ashore, and Major Dennis D. Claire, who was supposed to command the forces moving to the left from Yellow Beach against the East Tank Barrier, were still afloat in landing craft waiting to go in. In spite of the distraction caused by the hulks, the assaulting troops had penetrated the Citadel area, the most strongly fortified on the island, lying between the two tank barriers. In spite of adverse hydrographic conditions and in spite of moderate fire from the shore, the first phase of the assault on Yellow Beach had been successfully completed with only minor casualties.

SOURCE: Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls: BY; Philip A. Crowl, & Edmund G. Love

World War Two: Gilberts and Marshalls(6) Makin; Reduction of the West Tank Barrier

World war Two: Gilberts and Marshalls(4); Japanese Fortify

World War Two: North Africa (3-11); First Day’s Operations Against Oran

With the fall of darkness on 7 November, the Center Naval Task Force turned from its course east of Oran and doubled back toward the landing areas at which three major sections of the ground troops were to be set ashore. The lights along the coast were still burning shortly before midnight as the combat-loaded transports and their escorts met beacon submarines north of Cap Figalo and Cap Carbon.

Oran was to be gained by an envelopment from three beachheads to be established far to the east and west of the city, outside the wide bight between Cap Falcon and Pointe de l’ Aiguille. More than fifty miles lay between the easternmost and westernmost landing points.

The plan of attack prescribed amphibious landings by (1) an armored task force (GREEN) at Mersa bou Zedjar, (2) one regimental combat team (26th) at Les Andalouses, (3) two regimental combat teams (18th and 16th), and (4) a second and larger armored task force (RED) near Arzew. The eastern landings near Arzew were to be facilitated by (5) the 1st Ranger Battalion, which was expected to send parties clambering up the heights southeast of Cap Carbon to take one coastal battery and into Arzew Harbor to capture another. (6) A paratroop task force was to be brought to La Senia and Tafaraoui airfields, and (7) a small force (RESERVIST) was to make a direct assault on Oran harbor to prevent destruction of the port facilities which were so necessary for later operations.

The armored task forces were expected to thrust inland before daylight to insure the early capture of the airfields, particularly those at Tafaraoui and La Senia, and to close on Oran from the south. The infantry units were directed to encircle the city from west and east and to block the approach of reinforcements from interior stations. To accomplish this mission the main body of the 1st Infantry Division, landing at Arzew, was ordered to gain and hold a division beachhead line extending from the heights of Djebel Khar, a prominent feature located between Pointe Canastel and St. Cloud, through Fleurus, then skirting the northern end of a salt lake and the road junction south of En Nekala, and reaching the Golfe d’ Arzew just east of La Macta. The 26th Infantry was to capture Djebel Santon and Djebel Murdjadjo dominating the western approach to Oran.

Naval forces were to furnish gunfire support, to protect the transport areas and landing beaches from seaborne interference, and, in the initial phases preceding the capture of airfields, to provide all available air support. Two destroyers each were assigned for fire support off Mersa bou Zedjar and Les Andalouses, and two destroyers and the cruiser Jamaica for the same role at the Golfe d’ Arzew. The cruiser Aurora took its station north of Mers el Kebir, while farther out were the battleship Rodney (with 16-inch guns able to fire over twenty miles) and three destroyers.

All naval gunfire was to be withheld until it became certain that surprise had been lost. Counterbattery fire was thereafter permissible, but after 1245, when Allied troops were expected to have occupied most of the beachhead, it was to be directed at batteries actually firing and at the same time well clear of Allied troops and of Arzew, unless specifically ordered by Commodore Troubridge. Five British forward observation officers were to move inland with the separate elements of the landing force to direct naval gunfire on appropriate targets. Patrolling motor launches off Oran and each of the landing zones were to furnish an antisubmarine screen. The naval air support would come from the carriers Furious, Biter, and Dasher (fifty-seven aircraft), between twenty and thirty miles offshore, protected by the antiaircraft cruiser Delhi and screened by destroyers. The defenses of Oran against these forces were far from negligible. Sea approaches to Oran and Arzew were protected by thirteen batteries of coastal guns, some of which could be turned against inland targets.

The heaviest were the four 7.6-inch guns on Djebel Santon and the three 9.4-inch guns on Pointe Canastel. Naval gun crews were 2 Other batteries from west to east were as follows: Cap Falcon, two 75-mm. guns; An et Turk and Bouisseville, each four 75-mm. guns; Mers el Kebir, six 75-mm. guns; area of Ferme Ste. Marie and Ferme Combier, about four miles west of the harbor, four 40-mm. guns; Fort Lamoune, at the base of the breakwater, two 40-mm. guns; Ravin Blanc and Gambetta, each four 75-mm. guns (Gambetta also four 120-mm. guns) ; Pointe d’Espagnole, last of the eastern harbor defenses, two 75-mm. guns; Fort du Nord, at Arzew, four 105-mm. guns; estimated to total 4,000, including troops who maned antiaircraft weapons adjacent to the coastal batteries. The strength of the Oran Division (General Boissau) in the area was estimated at 10,025, a figure expected to reach almost 18,000 within twenty-four hours and 22,525 by D plus 5 through reinforcements from inland stations. The Army airfield adjacent to the civilian airdrome at La Senia, the Navy airfield at Tafaraoui, and the seaplane base at Arzew, were part of the defense system, and normally based just under 100 planes. At Mers el Kebir and in the western extremity of Oran harbor, several French naval vessels were usually moored.

The assault convoys succeeded in finding their beacon submarines in each case at about 2130 hours. After releasing motor launches to pick up the “leading-in officers” from the submarines, the transport groups for each beach, preceded by mine sweepers, headed for positions near which the first formations of landing craft were scheduled to assemble. While approaching the coast and then while waiting to leave the transport, troops heard the current broadcast of the Army-Notre Dame football game, via short-wave from New York City, over the public address system of at least one ship.

The Royal Navy’s methods of bringing assault troops to the assigned beaches near Oran (and Algiers) differed somewhat from those used by the U.S. Navy near Casablanca. British standing operating procedure required that, as convoys arrived at rendezvous points marked by beacon submarines, motor launches should be sent to the submarines to take aboard the piloting teams for each beach. The submarines then proceeded toward a point nearer the shore, and released teams in portable boats which took positions still closer to the beaches. The motor launches meanwhile joined the flotillas of landing craft, assumed guiding stations in the first waves, and moved in with the assault. Landing craft crews were not expected to exercise the same degree of navigational skill as the trained and practiced guides, on whom, in consequence, a critical responsibility rested. After successful arrival of the first boat formations, the transports were to move in through mine swept channels from first positions about five and a half miles offshore, thus shortening the round trips of later ship-to-shore movements.

The simultaneous landings by the several elements of the Center Task Force are here described in sequence from west to east, for at this stage, the pattern of operations can thus be most clearly recognized. Following the initial stage of penetration inland, actual progress of the attack was determined by the points of strongest French resistance, a fact which controls the organization of the narrative of that phase of the operation.

The Landings at Mersa bou Zedjar

The westernmost beachhead was that of armored Task Force GREEN, consisting of about one third of Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, under command of Colonel Paul M. Robinett. Task Force GREEN was to operate directly under General Fredendall until in such proximity to the remainder of Combat Command B (Task Force RED) that control could be exercised effectively by the commander of that unit, Brigadier General Lunsford E. Oliver. Robinett’s force was organized into assault troops, shore party, “flying column,” and main body. No units were held in reserve before the landings. 5 One company of the assault troops was designated to land on each of X-Ray Beach’s two sections to establish the beachhead and to signal when the head-lands jutting into the bay from the beach had been cleared. The shore party-9 officers and 186 enlisted men of Company F, 591st Engineer Boat Regiment-was to operate in two separate sections to reconnoiter beach exits, find assembly areas for troop units and vehicles, and determine sites for supply dumps. It was ordered to construct roadways over the sand with Sommerfeld matting, to unload landing craft, to establish a medical aid station, to guide and control traffic on the beach, to assist in setting up signal communications and in defending the beach. While the beachhead was being linked by Army radio with Headquarters, Task Force GREEN, and with Headquarters, Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, and through the Royal Navy’s beach signal party with the Senior Naval Officer Landings, X Beach (Captain G. R. G. Allen, RN), on the Batory, as well as with Commodore Troubridge and General Fredendall on the Largs, the flying column and part of the main body were to be coming ashore.

[The total complement of Task Force GREEN was 103 officers, 4 warrant officers, and 2,150 enlisted men. Assault troops (Lieutenant Colonel William B. Kern commanding) consisted of 1 st Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry (less Company B and detachments). Shore party (Captain Kenneth Kennedy commanding) was Company F, 591st Boat Regiment, 1st Engineer Amphibious Brigade. Flying column (Lieutenant Colonel John Todd commanding) included the 1st Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment (less Companies A and B and a detachment of Headquarters Company); Company B, 6th Armored Infantry (less two platoons); the 2nd Platoon, Company C, 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion; and the 1st Platoon, Company A, 16th Armored Engineer Battalion (reinforced) . Main body (Colonel Robinett commanding) was comprised of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 13th Armored Regiment (less detachments) ; a detachment of the 141st Armored Signal Company; 1st Platoon, Reconnaissance Company, and Companies A and B, 13th Armored Regiment; Battery C, 27th Armored Field Artillery Battalion; Battery D, 106th Separate Coast Artillery (AA) Battalion; two platoons of Company B, 6th Armored Infantry; Company C, 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion (less one platoon); a platoon of Company B, 16th Armored Engineer Battalion (less detachment); and a detachment of Company B, 47th Armored Medical Battalion. Info from CTF Troop List, 21 Sep 42.]

The 1st Platoon, Reconnaissance Company, 13th Armored Regiment (1st Lieutenant Richard H. Van Nostrand), was expected to push inland on reconnaissance and security missions, setting up roadblocks near the crossing of the Rio Salado on the west and at Bou TIelis on the east, and reporting the situation at Lourmel. The flying column was to move out as soon as it could be reorganized ashore, advancing first on Lourmel to secure the landing strip and other facilities there as well as to take over defense of the roadblocks and free the reconnaissance platoon for advance toward its next objective. It was then to prepare to attack either toward Tafaraoui or La Stnia, depending on progress of operations farther east. Battery D, 106th Separate Coast Artillery (AA) Battalion, was designated to set up its machine guns on the beach while waiting for the 40-mm. Bofors to be brought ashore. Units of the main body would assemble in assigned areas within the beachhead preparatory to an inland march as soon as conditions allowed.

X-Ray Beach’s two sections on the bay of Mersa bou Zedjar were separated by a jutting rocky headland. X WRITE Beach at the northeast was adjacent to the village and its inner edge was lined with small French houses. A second headland at the other end of X WHITE formed a sheltered cove with a narrow and dangerous entrance but with a depth which would permit a close approach to the beach itself. X GREEN Beach was more approachable but on a shallow bay. Both sections of X Beach extended inland about thirty yards to high dunes, and in the case of GREEN Beach, to a single exit up a steep slope over deep, soft sand. WHITE Beach permitted access to the village at two narrow points between the seaside dwellings. Small landing craft were to bring light vehicles and personnel from the troop transports to WHITE Beach.

Besides the Batory, the convoy at X Beach consisted of the transports Queen Emma, Princess Beatrix, Benalbenach, Mary Slessor, Mark Twain; Walt Whitman, and Bachaquero. Twenty light tanks and various other vehicles of the Task Force were on the Bachaquero, one of three Maracaibos used by the Center Task Force. They were, as stated earlier, prototypes of the LST’s, converted to tank carriers from shallow-draft oilers used on Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela. A group of thirty-nine landing craft could be assembled for unloading from the other vessels. Navigation at night into the cove was deemed too risky for the Bachaquero, which was directed to land at GREEN Beach as soon as the beachhead had been secured.

As the ships drew near to the point for initial release of landing craft, their schedule of landings was thrown awry by the fortuitous appearance, on a course paralleling the coast, of a small, fully lighted French convoy of five vessels bound for Oran under the escort of an armed trawler. One of them was stopped and boarded, but the others sped eastward until they sighted the Allied ships off Les Andalouses. They then reversed course. Hemmed in by the warships escorting the Batory and her group, these vessels ran ashore off Cap Figalo while their escort fled. The effect of their interference was to hold back the mine sweepers and disrupt the schedule of landings on X Beach.

A delay which at first threatened to be much longer was held to thirty-five minutes at WHITE Beach by bringing the transports to and lowering the landing craft while still more than a mile farther from shore than the plans provided. As the troop-filled boats assembled for the run to shore, the motor launch bringing the guide for the Queen Emma’s flotilla from the beacon submarine did not find that ship in time to lead in the assault. The boats started in at midnight on a passage bound to take more than an hour, from points not only farther out, but farther west than had been expected, because of a current for which allowance had not been made. During the passage to shore the motor of one of these landing boats caught fire, spreading to gasoline and fuel oil, and although the craft was abandoned and sunk, surface oil burned until after daylight. Surprise had been compromised.

As a consequence of these mishaps, the second wave at X GREEN Beach actually landed before the first, while on X WHITE Beach the scheduled sequence was more closely followed. After the beachhead was reported secured by the assault troops commanded by Lieutenant Colonel William B. Kern, the tank ship Bachaquero, touching bottom at 7 feet, came to a stop more than 360 feet offshore. The 16th Armored Engineers worked for three hours to set up a pontoon bridge, but this did not quite reach dry ground. The shallow bay caused difficulties also for the LCM’s bringing in the lighter vehicles. They were pushed off the bottom by bulldozers but in the process sustained damage to rudders and propellers which eventually reduced the serviceable lighters from thirteen to three.

While the armored vehicles waited to use the bridge, and while landing craft brought in the lighter vehicles, other boats ferried personnel from ship to shore. Just as off the Moroccan coast, the boats had difficulty finding their way in the darkness to the proper transports, especially when returning several miles from the beaches to the ships for second loadings. At the transports, some uncertainty was noted among the British naval officers in the boats and the U.S. Army officers on the decks as to who should take things in hand and expedite action.

On being put ashore Lieutenant Van Nostrand’s reconnaissance platoon struggled to get its vehicles over soft sand to firm ground, where it organized and at 0603 started inland up the black top road toward Lourmel. Tanks began rolling from the Bachaquero to the shallow water at the end of the pontoon bridge an hour later, all of them coming ashore before 0815. Over metal road mat, they cleared the beach to firm ground. Headquarters, Task Force GREEN, was set up on the headland between GREEN and WHITE beaches as the tanks came in. The vehicles, guns, and equipment arrived in landing craft from the transports at a much slower rate.

The flying column started toward Lourmel at about 0900, shortly after word came of a clash between the reconnaissance platoon and a French armored car near the village. While Lieutenant Colonel John Todd’s force approached Lourme!, the spearhead group kept the village and airstrip under control and, about 1130, set up a roadblock southwest of Er Rahel on the approach from Tlemcen. Later in the day, reconnaissance was extended along the road to the southwest as far as Ai’n Temouchent. Communications between X Beach and the units inland failed as they advanced down the southern slope of the hills between them and the coast. Radio contact between Headquarters, Combat Command B, at St. Leu and the inland elements of the GREEN flying column was also hampered and erratic until early on 10 November. Back on the beaches, meanwhile, the unloading of vehicles and heavy equipment was expedited by using sections of ponton bridge as ferries from the Benalbenach, and, despite some misfortunes, the situation enabled part of the main body of Task Force GREEN to move during the afternoon through Lourmel toward the next objective.

As previously noted, the force had alternative plans for movement either by the road south of the Sebkra d’Oran, in order to approach Tafaraoui airfield from the west, or along the highway between the southern base of Djebel Murdjadjo’s rugged massif and the northern edge of the Sebkra d’Oran, in order to reach La Senia airfield. Orders from General Oliver, Commanding General, Combat Command B, were at noon transmitted through Colonel Robinett to Colonel Todd, directing Task Force GREEN to use the shorter northern route to La Senia. The GREEN column would thus operate independently until it had captured La Senia airfield either alone or, if need be, in conjunction with elements of Task Force RED after the latter had secured Tafaraoui. Todd’s flying column broke through French roadblocks at Bou TWis and Bredea during the afternoon, and spent the night southwest of Misserrhin. Its radioed reports were not received after 1530 by Headquarters, Task Force GREEN, which followed from H Interv with Brig Gen Paul M. Robinett, 7 Mar 49.

The Landings at Les Andalouses (Y Beach)

On Y Beach near Les Andalouses, the 26th Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division under Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, assistant division commander, and Colonel Alexander N. Stark, Jr., commanding officer of the 26th Infantry, commenced its landing operations in circumstances somewhat similar to those at X Beach. The transport group consisted of Glengyle, Monarch of Bermuda, Llangibby Castle, Clan MacTaggart, and Salacia, escorted by the cruiser H.M.S. Aurora. The Senior Naval Officer Landings, Y Beach, was Captain E. V. Lees (RN) on the Glengyle. Forty-five landing craft of different types were distributed among these ships. While the Aurora engaged the small French convoy which disrupted the scheduled landings at Mersa bou Zedjar, and drove it back to the west, the transports lowered their boats at 2320 and commenced the slow disembarkation of assault troops. The ladders thrown down the sides of the Monarch of Bermuda had rungs two feet apart, so that the heavily loaded soldiers, each carrying almost ninety pounds, made their way down in darkness at an unexpectedly slow rate. The landing craft with the first wave from this transport joined those from the Glengyle and started the six-mile run to shore at 2345, led in by Lieutenant T. E. Edwards (RN) in a motor launch. About an hour later, the troops could see the flashing signal from the team near shore, but the first of the craft from the Monarch of Bermuda did not reach their portion of Y Beach until after H Hour (0100), while those from the Glengyle made such slow time that they did not touch down until 0116. The delay in the schedule was not very troublesome because there was no enemy resistance, but what did prove thoroughly disrupting was the discovery of an unexpected sandbar paralleling the shore. It had a clearance of from six inches to three and a half feet at different points, but what the incoming forces did not realize was that the water between it and the beach was often as much as five feet deep. The first of the small boats cleared the bar, but the first three LCM’s from the Glengyle, arriving in the third boat wave, stopped at 0145 and disembarked jeeps and guns, which started forward, rolled under water, and had to be salvaged much later.

Combat Team 26’s second assault wave meanwhile came in from the Llangibby Castle in eight LCP’s, waited for clear access to the landing site, and beached on Y GREEN at 0138. By 0340, the transports had moved into position about 2,000 yards offshore and dropped anchor. As early as 0500, the unit’s command post on the Glengyle reported that 2,670 men and 33 motor vehicles had landed. An attempt by the French warship La Surprise to interfere with these landings was prevented by H.M.S. Brilliant, which sank her at 0715, after an engagement of more than a half hour.

[NOTE OR-26-TY: Combat Team 26 included 5,262 officers, warrant officers, and enlisted men, the larger elements being the 26th Infantry Regiment, the 33rd Field Artillery Battalion, Batteries C and D of the 105th Coast Artillery (AA), and the 2nd Battalion of the 531st Engineer Shore Regiment. CT 26 AAR, 21 Nov 42. (2) The report of the Senior Naval Officer Landings, Y Beach, sets the figures at 5,578 men with 395 vehicles. Rpt in App. II to Incl I of NCXF, TORCH Dispatch.]

Y (or “Yorker”) Beach, on the southwestern part of a wide bay, and near a high sheltering promontory and the small village of Les Andalouses, was almost midway between Mersa bou Zed jar and Oran. Extending about ten miles to the northeast and east from the beach was the Plaine des Andalouses, a level cultivated area between the coast and the precipitous slopes of a great hill mass. Four villages bordered the plain. El Ancor at the southwest and Bou Sfer in the south central position nestled close to the base of the hills. Les Andalouses at the west and Ain et Turk at the northeast were each in part a seaside resort for Europeans.

The beach near Ain et Turk had been used at least twice by invaders bent on the conquest of Oran, including Spanish reconquest in 1732, but this time it was to be taken from the rear. The principal roads accessible from Y Beach linked Les Andalouses with Bou Tlelis, just north of the Sebkra d’Oran, and via a road junction at Bou Sfer with Ain et Turk and Mers el Kebir. From the latter, at a fork near the western end of the valley between Djebel Santon and Djebel Murdjadjo, a road branched to Oran over the northern slopes of Djebel Murdjadjo and the heights west of the city. Thus the area, somewhat like that adjacent to Mersa bou Zedjar, was a natural pocket hemmed in by high hills within which an attacking force was vulnerable to energetic counterattack. On the Plaine des Andalouses, such a force was subject to ready observation and in the last phase of its fifteen-mile advance to Oran, might well come under cross fire from Djebel Santon and Djebel Murdjadjo.

The 2nd Battalion, 26th Combat Team, reinforced, landed on the west (Y GREEN) and the 3rd Battalion, reinforced, in the center (Y WHITE), in the assault. The 1st Battalion remained in reserve at the beachhead until committed next day. Rifle squads from each assault battalion were left to guard the flanks of the beachhead while the other units proceeded inland. Company G, with an antitank platoon attached, took the village of EI Ancor and established a system of defenses astride the road leading from it to the southwest. When three French armored cars approached from the direction of Bou Thelis at about 0800, they were destroyed by accurate 37-mm. antitank and 60-mm. mortar fire. The main body of the 2nd Battalion pressed eastward with the mission of clearing the area of Cap Falcon- Ain et Turk Bouisseville. The 3rd Battalion left a detachment to occupy Bou Sfer, east of which Battery B, 33rd Field Artillery Battalion, set up its 75-mm. pack howitzers, and continued along the road toward its objective, Ferme Combier, some five miles farther to the east. Just before reaching it the unit was pinned down shortly after 0740 by artillery fire from Djebel Santon and close-by Ferme Ste. Marie and by small arms and automatic fire from Djebel Murdjadjo. There it remained for the rest of D Day until it could be reinforced.

The waters off Y Beach were within range of the coastal guns of the Fort du Santon. At daylight intermittent shelling of the transport area began. Shortly before 0900, the transports there came under more accurate fire, and at 0917, the Llangibby Castle received the first of several damaging hits which obliged her to move farther west and out of range. Most of the personnel of Combat Team 26 had already gone ashore, but motor vehicles, guns of the 33rd Field Artillery Battalion, ammunition, and supplies remained to be landed. The Service Company was ferried from the Llangibby Castle about 0930 and, after reassembling from somewhat dispersed landings, reorganized and set about clearing the beach itself of supplies. The battery at Fort du Santon resumed firing at 1050 and drove the Monarch of Bermuda out of range after one hit. From time to time bombardment from H.M.S. Rodney silenced it temporarily, but could not knock it out.

The Direct Assault on Gran Harbor (Operation RESERVIST)

On H.M.S. Largs, reports from the landings on X and Y Beaches, and from those on Z Beaches to be described below, confirmed the Center Task Force commanders, ground and naval, in the belief that surprise had been achieved and that resistance was insignificant. The small cutters, H.M.S. Hartland and H.M.S. Walney’ and two attendant motor launches were waiting off Oran for orders to enter the harbor with their special force to execute Operation RESERVIST. The bulk of this force, 17 officers and 376 enlisted men, had been drawn from the 6th Armored Infantry, 1st Armored Division, and were under Lieutenant Colonel George F. Marshall, commanding officer of its 3rd Battalion. They had been brought to Gibraltar on H.M.S. Leinster on 5 November and remained aboard her in the harbor until transferred late the next day to the cutters. With the soldiers in the special force were 4-officers and 22 seamen of the U.S. Navy, 6 U.S. Marines and 52 Royal Navy officers and ratings, as well as the ships’ crews. About noon on 7 November, the operation for which they had trained in a Northern Ireland harbor was explained to them. It was, they then realized, a “suicide mission.”

In charge of the operation and mainly responsible for its planning was Captain Frederic T. Peters, RN, a retired officer who had volunteered for this undertaking. He rode in the Hainey, which was itself commanded by Lieutenant Commander P. C. Meyrick (RN). In charge of the Hartland was Lieutenant Commander G. P. Billot (RNR). Canoes were carried on the Walney for use by special teams in boarding ships to prevent their being scuttled in the harbor entrance or alongside the wharves. Captain Peters even contemplated seizing the fortified batteries above the harbor, and perhaps receiving the surrender of the city itself.

Although an operation to gain and hold Oran harbor invited approval, for success it had to begin either before H Hour with full surprise or much later when the French naval authorities were almost unable to resist and about to destroy what they could no longer defend. Operation RESERVIST was instead allowed to begin at 0245,8 November, just after the French had been aroused by a general alarm which gave them time to man their defenses, and at a time when they could hardly regard their defeat as imminent. A French naval force controlled the port and was expected to resist the Allies with all the means at its disposal. Thus the forebodings of the special force were justified.

The Walney approached the harbor in the shadow of the cliffs rising from the eastern edge of the bay. The Hartland followed at a five minutes’ interval. The sound of sirens in the city could be heard, and all city lights were blacked out while the ships were still a good distance from shore. The harbor extends eastward along the southern limit of the bay from the base of steep hills.

It is enclosed on its northern edge by a breakwater 3,000 yards long and across the eastern end by a smaller jetty extending from the Mole du Ravin Blanc with an opening about 200 yards wide. Access to the port through this aperture was blocked by a floating boom past which the Walney planned to force its way. Fixed fortified batteries commanded the entrance, the harbor itself, and all adjacent waters, while dual-purpose artillery, machine guns, and the naval guns of warships in the northwestern corner of the long narrow harbor could be brought to bear on intruders. Toward this potential Vesuvius the Walney and the Hartland bent their course, a few minutes before 0300, 8 November.

As the first ship neared the entrance, and one of the motor launches sped forward to lay a smoke screen, a searchlight’s beam shot out over the bay. Tracer bullets sprayed out considerably ahead of the Walney’s bow. Then the beam found the vessel, and artillery fire came her way at once. A large American flag at her stern, and the reiterated assertion over a loud speaker on the Walney that the approaching force was friendly, made no impression. A shell soon jarred the ship, throwing men to the deck. Captain Peters had her turned to the north, saw that the Hartland was still following, and circled to try for the harbor entrance at top speed. In thus persisting, he disregarded a somewhat equivocal message received during the approach from headquarters on H.M.S. Largs, which reported: “No shooting thus far; landings unopposed”; and instructed the RESERVIST force: “Don’t start a fight unless you have to.” On the second approach, shell and machine gun fire ripped into the Walney with drastic effect, but she reached the boom, broke it, and slipped inside the harbor.

Abruptly then the French fire shifted to the Hartland while the leading vessel slid slowly toward the western end of the port in complete darkness and sudden, extraordinary silence. Three canoes and their crews were launched over the side. Not long after the Walney had passed between the Mole du Ravin Blanc and a floating drydock moored near the northern breakwater, a French destroyer was observed approaching head on from the west. An attempt was made to ram it. The effort failed, and as the two ships scraped past each other, the destroyer’s guns raked the Walney’s decks, causing many casualties. The intrepid survivors continued westward beyond the Mple MilIer and then encountered a devastating barrage from both sides and from dead ahead, of an intensity compared with which the preliminary fire had been merely an introduction. Fires blazed up. Ammunition became ignited. The ship’s guns went out of action. All but one of the officers on the bridge were killed and he was wounded. The courageous troops and their commander, Colonel Marshall, kept up small arms fire, some until they fell and others until they eventually received orders, shouted from man to man, to abandon ship. The Walney was left a semi-submerged wreck not far from the sunken French warships at the western end of the harbor. The Hartland also persisted in the attack and was caught by heavy fire just short of the smoke screen at the harbor mouth. Most of her gun crews and many of the troops crouching below decks were wounded or killed during this approach. Commander Billot was temporarily blinded by a shell splinter. The ship failed to find the entrance and struck the jetty south of it.

The wounded commander had the vessel backed off and again sent forward despite the blows already sustained and the certain prospect of more ahead. This time the Hartland succeeded in the effort to enter the port. As she swung round the end of the Mole du Ravin Blanc to reach a debarkation point near its base, her course took her past the French destroyer Typhon at its moorings beside the mole. Pointblank fire tore through the thin unarmored hull, exploded inside, set the ship blazing at several points, and put her wholly out of control. As she drifted, in danger of exploding, Commander Billot ordered that she be abandoned. One hour after the Hartland had come under fire outside the harbor, all survivors left the doomed and blazing vessel in two motor launches which then withdrew seaward.

Ruthless resistance had completely frustrated the daring venture. Of the 17 officers and 376 enlisted men of the 6th Armored Infantry, 9 officers and 180 enlisted men were killed or presumed dead while 5 officers and 152 enlisted men were wounded. Only 3 officers and 44 enlisted men landed unhurt. U.S. Navy casualties were 5 killed and 7 wounded; Royal Navy losses, 113 killed and 86 wounded. All survivors were held first as civil, then military, prisoners while the battle for Oran proceeded, its ultimate outcome almost unaffected by this bloody episode.

Naval Air Support for the Landings

At first light, eight Albacore dive bombers from H.M.S. Furious and six Hurricane fighter escorts from each of the two auxiliary carriers took off, formed up at 5,000 feet above H.M.S. Furious, started inland at approximately 0600, and climbed to 8,000 feet. They crossed the coast between X Beach and Y Beach, continued to a point east of Lourmel, and followed the northern edge of the Sebkra d’Oran to Valmy. Dropping propaganda leaflets there, they swung back over La Senia airfield in broad daylight to be greeted by strong antiaircraft fire and enemy fighters. Each Albacore carried six 250-pound general-purpose bombs with which it accurately struck and wrecked the empty hangars on the northwestern side of the airdrome, inflicting destruction which was later to be regretted. In the ensuing dogfights, five Dewoitine 520 French fighters were claimed shot down and others damaged. A second attack on La Senia airfield and a strike at Tafaraoui airfield were delivered a few minutes later by ten Seafires from H.M.S. Furious in low-level strafing runs against grounded planes and antiaircraft batteries. Again French fighters contested the action unsuccessfully. In these two missions, three British planes were outright losses while others of each type were forced down at various points ashore as their fuel ran out, sometimes after failing quickly to find their mother ships.

Other aircraft took off from the carriers to patrol and reconnoiter between the two airdromes and Z Beaches as the troops assembled for their inland advances, or to investigate the highways as far as Sidi Bel Abbes and Mascara for signs of French military movement from the interior toward Oran. Such French aircraft as were in operation near Oran confined their resistance to the defense of the airdrome and left the landings at the beaches almost undisturbed.

The Landings Along the Golfe d’ Arzew Much the greater proportion of the Center Task Force was scheduled to land along the Golfe d’Arzew, either in the vicinity of the town of Arzew or over the Z beaches extending eastward from it. Naval units in this part of the convoy from Gibraltar, not including the vessels destined for Operation RESERVIST, totaled thirty-four transports and more than twenty escorting warships. They reached the beacon submarine, five and one-half miles from Cap Carbon, beginning at 2130 as the plans prescribed, and turned into the Golfe d’Arzew. Although the night was dark the beacon light at Arzew was clearly visible.

Rangers

The landing force troops were organized as follows: Combat Teams 16 and 18 and a Ranger force in two sections, attached to the 1st Infantry Division, all three under command of Major General Terry Allen, and Task Force RED of Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, commanded by General Oliver. The Senior Naval Officer Landings, Z Beaches, for these eastern landings was Captain C. D. Graham (RN) with headquarters on H.M.S. Reina del Pacifico. His first step was to get the Rangers ashore in the vicinity of Arzew.

The Ranger force had four objectives. The chief mission was to capture two coastal batteries, one of which was emplaced in the Fort du Nord above Arzew port on the high ground to the north, and the other in Fort de la Pointe at the base of the hill at the northeast corner of the harbor. They were also to seize part of the town of Arzew adjacent to its port, and the heights directly above Arzew. To gain these objectives, the 1st Ranger Battalion (Lieutenant Colonel William O. Darby) split into two detachments. The first, consisting of two companies, went in small boats from the Royal Scotsman to the protective eastern barrier of the harbor; they scrambled onto the quay, overpowered two sentries in a brief exchange of gunfire, and caught the garrison asleep. Soon they held Fort de la Pointe and the northern side of Arzew. Colonel Darby led four companies from the Royal Ulsterman and Ulster Monarch up the cliffs from a landing point southeast of Cap Carbon and, after proceeding for about one mile, worked up a ravine to the rear of the main battery of four 105-mm. guns at the Fort du Nord. Heavy mortars were set up. Three companies approached the barbed wire barrier, and when the scouts attempting to cut it drew fire the Rangers deployed during a mortar barrage and then rushed the battery enclosure. The guns were captured and prepared for demolition in case of a counterattack; the position was organized for defense; and a green signal flare at 0400 made known to watchers that the battery was neutralized. Contact was established between the two Ranger sections at about the same hour.

The port was to be controlled and operated at the earliest practicable time by an advanced U.S. naval base unit. Parties of U.S. and Royal Navy personnel, with a few U.S. Marines, filled a landing craft from H.M.S. Royal Ulsterman and went to the port entrance, waited several minutes for the Rangers’ signal that their mission at Fort de la Pointe had been successful, and at about 0200 passed through the unobstructed opening. They continued to the inner harbor and, in the darkness, while the Rangers could be heard taking Fort de la Pointe, boarded and seized control of four small vessels moored there.s1 Until daylight, resistance in Arzew was negligib1e.32 When snipers, machine guns, and one small field piece opened fire from the perimeter of the port and the high ground west of the harbor, troops already ashore quickly silenced them. Back in the hills, however, a 75-mm. gun harassed the landings on Z Beach by spasmodically shelling the ships offshore after they had moved in about 0630 to anchor. Protective smoke was used to shield the ships from the enemy gunners.

The three sectors of Z Beach extended more than three miles from a point somewhat southeast of Arzew to an eastern limit beyond the village of St. Leu. The approaches were generally good, the grades easy and the yellow sand fairly firm, but the exits were limited to breaks in a low, rocky cliff. The two main hazards were exposure to wind and surf and vulnerability to artillery fire from the heights above Arzew. As a result of minor derangements during the initial debarkation and the five-mile approach in formation by landing craft, all assault waves could not touch down at the three appointed sectors of Z Beach on schedule. Combat Team 18 began landing on the western sector, Z GREEN, at 0120; Combat Team 16, in the center sector, Z WHITE, at 0100; and Z RED on the east, to be used by Task Force RED, Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, was reported ready to receive the armored force about 0330.

[NOTE NAO-81142-OS5: Rpt of Captain Ansel, USN, Port of Arzeu [Arzew], 30 Nov 42, in Incl 6 of NCXF, TORCH Despatch. Captain Walter Ansel was in command of the Navy party. Commander H. Archdale (RN) commanded the British component… The assault force was aided by a Foreign Legionnaire, Captain Edgar Guerard Hamilton, an American whose duty at Fort de la Pointe had almost ended, but who was still there when the attack began, and was known to be a likely source of help. He is said to have identified himself to captors by discovering among them a fellow townsman from a small New England community. TORCH Anthology, Vol. I, Ch. 9, p. 9. CIA OSS Archives]

Combat Team 18 on D Day

The 18th Combat Team (Colonel Frank U. Greer )-7,092 strong-landed on Z Beach GREEN from H.M.S. Ettrick, the Tegelberg (Dutch), and H.M.S. Reina del Pacifico, beginning at 0120. The landing craft formation, though led in by motor launch, contained some stragglers which kept arriving at scattered points for more than ten minutes, a process which made reorganization more difficult than had been expected. The 3rd Battalion was sent to Arzew to occupy the town and relieve the Ranger detachment. The 1st Battalion was sent directly inland to seize St. Cloud and the high ground of Djebel Khar, west of it. From 0730 to 0840, the 2nd Battalion of the 18th Infantry, the 32nd Field Artillery Battalion with two of its guns, and the antitank company came ashore.

The 3rd Battalion first met resistance about 0400 near the Arzew barracks and naval base southwest of the harbor. The barracks was readily seized, with sixty-two prisoners taken, but the naval base on the south jetty required a concentration from 60-mm. mortars before it would capitulate. Thirteen seaplanes, fueled and loaded with torpedoes, were captured ashore intact. By midmorning the entire city had been mopped up and only snipers on the outskirts remained to be cleared.

The 1st Battalion encountered French opposition for the first time about three miles west of Renan where it was attacked by five armored cars. All were destroyed or immobilized by antitank rifle grenades, and the advance continued as far as the village of St. Cloud, astride the main road about one third of the way from the beach to the edge of Oran. St. Cloud lay in the center of an open agricultural area, its 3,500 inhabitants protected by walls and houses of masonry and concrete. Although a lone American reconnaissance car had passed through the village without incident in the early morning, the small local guard had been roused and reinforced from a barracks along the road toward Oran when the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, approached to seize it. The advance guard was met just before noon by a heavy volume of rifle and machine gun fire from the 16th Tunisian Infantry Regiment, and from a battalion of the Foreign Legion concealed among the houses. The first American attack was quickly repulsed by this fire, augmented by the 75-mm. and 155-mm. shellfire of a battalion of the 68th African Artillery Regiment along a line northwest of the town.

The self-propelled 105-mm. assault guns of the Cannon Company, 18th Infantry, were sent up from the beach and with the 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry, reinforced the 1st Battalion in time for a second unsuccessful attack from the south at 1530. Late in the afternoon, the 3rd Battalion (less Company K) arrived from Arzew and assembled on the high ground north of St. Cloud preparatory to an attack from that direction. During the night, plans were issued for a concerted attack to open at 0700, 9 November. Combat Team 16 on D Day The 16th Combat Team (Colonel Henry B. Cheadle), numbering S,608, landed on Z WHITE and Z RED beginning at 0100. The 3rd Battalion on the west advanced against light opposition from isolated farms to the vicinity of Fleurus, a few miles south southwest of St. Cloud. Fleurus was developed as a block to French road communications.

The 1st Battalion on the east first took Damesme and St. Leu by surprise and ahead of schedule, and cleared Z RED for the later landing of Task Force RED, Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division. It then moved eastward through Port-aux-Poules and sent a force southeastward to En Nekala, occupying each place with one infantry company. At La Macta, some opposition from elements of the 2nd Algerian Infantry Regiment was met. The first Americans to enter were ambushed. A co-ordinated attack by Company B and Headquarters Company, 16th Infantry, with a few guns, and with H.M.S. Farndale standing by for naval gunfire support, opened at 1230. An hour later they had captured La Macta, and by 1400 a defense line east of the village, beyond the highway and railroad bridges over the La Macta river, barred the French reinforcements which were expected to be sent toward Oran from Mostaganem and Perregaux. Company A, 16th Infantry, was placed on the southwest flank. The 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, after coming ashore on the initiative of its commander at 1000, was released from corps reserve and sent toward Fleurus on the southern flank of the division.

[NOTE NAO-81142-Z: (I ) CT 16 AAR, 21-24 Nov 42. (2) Spec Periodic Rpt, 0200, 9 Nov 42; Msg, SNOL (Z) to Task Force RED Takes T afaraoui Airfield The armored task force of 4,772 men, under command of General Oliver, which had the mission of capturing Tafaraoui and La Senia airdromes, was brought to Z Beach and Arzew on the transports Durban Castle and Derbyshire and the Maracaibos Misoa and Tasajera. After Z RED Beach had been reported cleared, the Maracaibos beached a little before and a little after 0400, put out their pontoon bridges, and began unloading at 0600. They were fully unloaded at 0759 despite fire from a battery near St. Leu.43 Combat Command B’s plans for Task Force RED were in outline much like those for the smaller Task Force GREEN, described earlier in this chapter. Senior Officer CTF, 0100, 8 Nov 42 (msg cited but not filed ); Msg, Farndale to NC CTF, 1610, 8 Nov 42, Entry 281. All in CTF G-3 Jnl. (3) Captain S. V. Ralph, The Operations of the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, in the Invasion of North Africa, 8 November-II November 1942, MS. The Infantry School, Fort Benning, Ga., 1947-48. This manuscript relates the personal experience of a battalion adjutant.]

The shore party on Z RED Beach consisted of the 2nd Battalion, 591st Boat Regiment, less Company F (at Mersa bou Zed jar). A reconnaissance force consisting of the Reconnaissance Company (less one platoon in Task Force GREEN), 13th Armored Regiment, was expected to land first from the Maracaibos, to assemble near the beach, and at H plus 3 hours to move inland expeditiously to the village of Ste. Barbe-du-Tlelat, a distance of about twenty miles to the southwest. That small village was the hub of a network of main and secondary roads along which the reconnaissance force [Reconnaissance Company, 13th Armored Regiment (-) ] could disperse to reconnoiter the areas near Sidi bel Abbes, Oggaz, St. Denis-du-Sig, Perregaux, Tafaraoui, and Mascara, and toward La Senia to establish contact with Task Force GREEN.

[NOTE NAO-81142-R: (1) Msg, CT 18 to CT 18 rear (intercept), 0704, 8 Nov 42, Entry 90, in CTF G-3 In!. (2) Task Force RED, Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, contained: Headquarters, Combat Command B; Reconnaissance Company (less a platoon), Maintenance Company (less a detachment), Service Company (less a detachment), a detachment of Headquarters Company, and the 2nd Battalion-all of the 13th Armored Regiment; the 1st Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment; the 2nd Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry (+); the 27th Field Artillery Battalion (less Battery C) ; Company B, 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion (+); Company B, 16th Armored Engineer Battalion (-); a detachment of Company E, 16th Armored Engineer Battalion; the 106th Coast Artillery (AA) Battalion (less Battery D) ; Company B, 47’th Medical Battalion; the 2nd Battalion, 591st Engineer Boat Regiment (less Company F); Company B, 1st Armored Support Battalion (-); and a detachment of the 141st Armored Signal Company.]

A flying column (Lieutenant Colonel John K. Waters) consisting of the 1st Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment (less Company C), Company E, 6th Armored Infantry, one heavy platoon of Company B, 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion, one platoon of the 16th Armored Engineer Battalion and a reconnaissance section, attached, was to assemble near St. Leu and advance swiftly along the same road to Tafaraoui airfield via Ste. Barbedu-TIelat. If the Paratroop Task Force were found already in control, Colonel Waters was authorized to transfer to its commander the responsibility for protecting the airfield and to continue on further missions, including that of covering the assembly near Tafaraoui of the main body of Task Force RED and preparing for an advance on the La Senia airport and, after that, on Oran. The parachute force was to be attached to Colonel Waters’ command during joint operations should they be required to seize and hold Tafaraoui airfield. The main body of Task Force RED would assemble at St. Leu, where General Oliver’s command post was to be established. In addition to some vehicles from the Maracaibos, the main body would include others from the Derbyshire and Durban Castle and light tanks of Company C, 1st Armored Regiment, which were to be unloaded at the Arzew docks. It would include Company B, 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion (less the heavy platoon with the flying column) and all but one battery of the 106th Coast Artillery (AA) Battalion, which was to furnish antiaircraft protection both on Z RED Beach and at Tafaraoui airfield.

The reconnaissance force moved out at 0820, followed some fifteen minutes later by the light flying column.45 Headquarters, Combat Command B, was set up in a police station in St. Leu while Colonel Waters’ force hastened through Ste. Barbe-du-llelat to Tafaraoui airfield, north of the village and more than twenty-five miles inland. Brushing aside all resistance, it arrived at the airdrome at 1112, and deployed for the attack. The airborne troops had not yet arrived.

Roads north and northeast of the airdrome were blocked to prevent escapes as Company A, 1st Armored Regiment, attacked from the south and Company B, 1st Armored Regiment, with the 1st Platoon of Company E, 6th Armored Infantry, attacked from the east. A vigorous assault by the tanks quickly took the airfield, with some 300 prisoners, while an ammunition train approaching from Oran was seized as it neared the field. It was now possible to order Task Force GREEN to approach La Senia by the more direct route north of the Sebkra d’Oran. At 1215, Tafaraoui airfield was declared ready to receive Allied planes from Gibraltar. La Senia airfield, on the other hand, had not yet been captured, and the French there sent bombers the few miles to Tafaraoui to counterattack. Carrier planes, with the loss of one, knocked down four French aircraft. When the first two squadrons of Twelfth Air Force Spitfires from Gibraltar were landed at 1630 at Tafaraoui, four French planes, which had been mistaken for an expected carrier plane escort, jumped them and killed one American pilot before they were themselves destroyed or driven off.

The armored advance by Colonel Waters’ force from Tafaraoui airfield against La Senia airdrome was deterred by French air attacks, by enemy batteries, and by the threat of counterattacks from the south. During the night, as part of the main body of Task Force RED reinforced the flying-column, a section prepared to start for La Senia at 0600, 9 November.

Airborne Troops

The Airborne Troops of the Center Task Force Back in England, late on 7 November, as the men of the Paratroop Task Force (Colonel William C. Bentley, Jr.) stood by the transport planes at St. Eval and Predanneck in Cornwall on five-minute alert, word arrived that the “Peace” Plan would be used. (Instead of parachute drops, aircraft would land troops.)

The take-off would be set back. The planes did not assemble over the southwest tip of England, therefore, until 2200. Rain, fog, faulty radio intercommunication, and defective running lights interfered with the maintenance of formation. When the airplanes climbed through clouds to 10,000 feet above sea level to surmount the crests of Spain’s northern mountains, they became…. The two squadrons were from the 31st Fighter Group commanded by Colonel John R. Hawkins. They had been the first such unit to reach the United Kingdom, had been part of the Allied air cover for the Dieppe raid on 19 August 1942, and were in aircraft which had been assembled at the Gibraltar airdrome. The 52nd Fighter Group (Colonel Richard Allison) was ready for the mission but unable to take off until after Hawkins’ unit cleared the airstrip. completely dispersed. The beacon signal from the ship off Oran, being sent on a frequency other than that expected by the transport planes, was never received. The widely separated aircraft, unaware that the “‘War” Plan had been reinstated while they were in flight, were heading toward a hostile reception.

[NOTE OS-4949: A warning that General Boissau in Oran had been apprised of the imminent Allied arrival, that the fifth column plans had broken down, and that a state of full alert existed was reported by Office of Strategic Services radio from Oran to Colonel Eddy on 7 November 1942. OSS Rpt, TORCH and the SOE Signal Stations at Gibraltar, p. 5. CIA OSS Archives. General Eisenhower transmitted this report to the Combined Chiefs of Staff in a message (Review 2) sent at 0232, 8 November 1942.]

Six of the air transports wandered far to the west of Oran. One landed at Gibraltar; two in French Morocco; and three in Spanish Morocco. The parachutists of a seventh C-47 were dropped while over another point in Spanish Morocco. Sixty-one paratroopers were interned by the Spanish Government. Of the thirty-two planes which arrived over Algeria about 0600 at various points along the coast, all were low in fuel. The troops were exhausted by the long, cramped flight. Southeast of Lourmel, near Source Blanche, a group of twelve planes on Colonel Bentley’s order dropped their passengers by parachute. Before long they were trudging toward Tafaraoui, which they reached the next day. One of the C-47’s continued over Tafaraoui airfield only to receive antiaircraft fire and to turn off while sending warning by radio that the “War” Plan was in effect after all. All but four of the C-47’s then landed at the western end of the Sebkra d’Oran, beginning at about 0830, and there established a defensive position, reinforced later by a platoon of light tanks. Meanwhile Colonel Bentley, after his plane had dropped the paratroopers, continued over Tafaraoui and La Senia, where he observed evidence of hostile forces. He was then forced to land on a salt flat south of Oran before he could rejoin the others. Two other transports settled down near his, one still loaded with troops. All these Americans were captured and imprisoned by French civilian police. Thus the morning passed with the paratroopers scattered and ineffective.

By afternoon of D Day, with Tafaraoui airdrome in Allied hands, Colonel Edson D. Raff attempted to have the flyable C-47’s at the western end of the Sebkra d’Oran assembled on the field, but the French continued their resistance. Fighters from La Scnia forced down several of the transports and inflicted casualties on the crews and paratroopers. Artillery in the hills within range of Tafaraoui dropped 75-mm. shells on the airfield for about an hour, damaging some newly arrived C-47’s. By nightfall, only fourteen of the transports remained operational. Of the 556 paratroopers, only ahout 300 could be assembled on 15 November at Maison Blanche airfield, near Algiers, for the next operations.

The Situation as D Day Ends

Commodore Troubridge and General Fredendall on the Largs could assess the situation of the Center Task Force twenty-four hours after its arrival off Oran as distinctly promising despite some setbacks and some uncertain prospects. The beach landings had been successful, although the pace had fallen behind expectations. Arzew had been captured intact, and its small port was being used to the full. Repeated weak challenges to the Allied naval blockade off Oran and Mers el Kcbir had been repulsed without any interference in the landing operations and with loss of three small French warships.

French aviation had offered negligible opposition. Each of the three major beachheads had been established. From the beachhead on the western flank, Task Force GREEN was firmly established in possession of Lourmel airstrip and on its ways to La Senia airfield, slated for attack at dawn. Combat Team 26, 1st Infantry Division, under General Roosevelt had crossed the Plaine des Andalouses to occupy the road centers at El Ancor, Bou Sfer, and Ain et Turk, and was scheduled to attack next the coastal battery on Cap Falcon and to push through Ferme Combier and past Djebel Santon. To the south, Task Force RED had occupied Tafaraoui airdrome and was preparing a detachment to push northwestward to the La Senia airfield in the early morning.

In the beachhead inland from the Golfe d’ Arzew, General Allen had advanced to the prescribed division beachhead line, except in the area of St. Cloud, where the French had stopped the 18th Infantry. Already ashore were 10,472 men of the reinforced 1st Infantry Division and 1,026 men of General Oliver’s Task Force RED, 1st Armored Division. Corps troops numbering 2,522 had been landed, of which the 1st Battalion, 19th Engineers (Combat), was the one striking force in reserve. Only 340 vehicles belonging to these units had been landed. The increasing roughness of the surf, after damaging scores of landing craft, forced the suspension of all beach landings, before daylight, both along the Golfe d’ Ar214 zew and at Les Andalouses. The cove near Mersa bou Zedjar remained usable, if considerably hampered by the swell. The direct assault on Oran harbor and the airborne attack on Tafaraoui airdrome had each badly miscarried, although the extent of the losses remained unknown at Center Task Force headquarters.

SOURCE: Northwest Africa: Seizing The Initiative In The West; by George F. Howe (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: North Africa (3-12); Seizure of Oran

World War Two: North Africa (2-10); Oran and Algiers