Hell’s Highway, 1944 – John Antal Turns a Game into a Narrative
Editor’s Note: The January 2009 issue of Armchair General magazine featured the Combat department article, “Hell’s Highway, 1944.” This exciting tactical decision game placed readers in the role of Staff Sergeant Matthew Baker leading a combined U.S.–British recon squad of 101st Airborne Division paratroopers and infantrymen of the British Irish Guards Regiment. The squad’s mission is part of the largest airborne operation of World War II – Operation Market-Garden, involving 35,000 Allied paratroops and the armored forces of the British XXX Corps, in September 1944. The 60-mile long road over which XXX Corps fought its way in an attempt to link up with beleaguered British and Polish paratroopers attacking the key bridge over the lower Rhine River at Arnhem became known as “Hell’s Highway.”
The following article by John Antal is the action-packed story of how Sgt. Baker’s squad accomplished the mission presented in the ACG magazine Combat article. It is adapted from his new novel, Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway, a companion book to the exciting new “must have” video game from Ubisoft/Gearbox.
Hell’s Highway, 1944
A combined reconnaissance squad from the 101st Airborne Division and the British Irish Guards during Operation Market Garden scouts “Hell’s Highway” — and faces a critical combat decision.
Lieshout, Netherlands, 2:00 p.m., Saturday, September 23, 1944: In a woods overlooking the road near the village of Lieshout, Netherlands, Staff Sergeant Mathew Baker struggles on knees and elbows along the forest floor blanketed with pine needles.
Scared, cold, wet, and tired, Baker thinks, “Why is war always this way?
“The road should be up ahead, keep moving,” Baker whispers to Corporal Zanovitch as he crawls on his belly to the edge of the trees.
Baker is five feet, eleven inches with the build of a Notre Dame linebacker. His closely cropped brown hair and blue eyes make him look older than his twenty-one years. His youth and confidence belie the fact that he is a veteran of many skirmishes and battles. Now, he is the leader of a small group of soldiers facing imminent combat.
The rumble of distant artillery reminds him that there is a bigger war going on.
Maybe there is still a chance for the beleaguered British 1st Airborne and the Polish Brigade at Arnhem? The British 1st Airborne, the Red Devils, had been told to seize the bridge at Arnhem and hold on for two days — three at the most. Now it is already nine days and the tanks of the British XXX Corps have yet to reach them.
It seems hard to believe that only a week ago Baker and his men had been safe in England. More poignantly, only a few days ago, all those who had died in battle in the past few days — in the towns and fields near Son, Eindhoven, St. Oedenrode, and Veghel — were still alive.
Only seven days ago.
That is the funny thing about time, he thinks. Whether it is seven days or seventy years, dead is dead.
It began on September 17, 1944, the 101st Airborne Division’s second D-Day of WWII, and Staff Sergeant Mat Baker was a part of it. The greatest airborne fleet ever assembled, 35,000 Allied paratroopers, roared across the skies from the United Kingdom and spanned the Channel waters for Operation Market Garden. The air armada was so large that while the first planes were dropping paratroopers on drop zones (DZs) and gliders were crash-landing on landing zones (LZs), planes and gliders transporting the division were still taking off from airfields in England.
Some genius had decided that this airborne assault would occur in broad daylight, and the German antiaircraft gunners had a field day. German flak, a term derived from the German acronym for antiaircraft cannon, met the invaders en route, hot and heavy, bursting in bright flashes of orange and red and remaining as black puffs in the sky, but the huge armada droned steadily on.
Formations of slow-flying, two-engined C-47 Skytrain aircraft held firm despite the enemy’s fire. Pilots of burning planes struggled with controls as they flew to their designated DZs, but stayed on course as paratroopers jumped from the aircraft and plummeted earthward.
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