Operation Market Garden – Part 2
(The first article on Operation Market Garden deals with the general overview of the action. In this section, the actions of the three major airborne units are discussed. You can find the first article here.)
The 101st at Eindhoven
The airborne aspect of the operation, or "Market," landed on the first day approximately one-third to one-half of each division. The drops were a huge success, with only 2 per cent casualties. This was in sharp contrasts with casualty estimates as high as 30 per cent. That is not to say, however, that this aspect of the operation was too easy.
Even after fighter bombers had led the way and leveled most of the visible antiaircraft emplacements, the transport aircraft were greeted by well hidden batteries. As the C-47s flew over, camouflage netting was suddenly swung back hidden enemy positions. Some of the paratroopers told of seeing haystacks opening to disclose nests of 88mm and 20mm AA guns.
In some areas the flak became very intense. One paratrooper recalled being awakened by the firing, and gazing out of the small window in his transport, watched horrified as one C-47 to his left burst into flames, and then another. He stated that he had never felt so helpless, and his entire body tightened, waiting for the next shell that would take him and his buddies in flames to the earth.
At that moment the jumpmaster called the men to hook up and line up. In a matter of seconds, the entire stick of paratroopers was in the air. As the soldier looked above him, the plane from which he had just jumped was in flames and beginning to dive to earth. Thankfully, this was the exception and not the rule.
The 101st Airborne would be dropped in the first of the targets of Market Garden. It was the drop zone closest to XXX Corps and they would be the first to link up with the British. The task of the division was the capture of the bridges at Zon, St. Oedenrode, Veghel and Eindhoven. They also had the responsibility of controlling 15 miles of the road, which they would soon rename "Hell’s Highway."
General Maxwell Taylor, commander of the "Screaming Eagles," ordered that his first drop be mostly infantry. Artillery would help little, since it did not have the range to cover the area for which he was responsible. He was also counting on the speedy arrival of XXX Corps. He concentrated his drop zones together to avoid the scattering that had occurred during the Normandy invasion.
Three regiments, the 501st, 504th, and 506th, immediately spread out to secure their objectives. The next day more reinforcements arrived, including transportation in the form of jeeps, brought in by glider. The 506th proceeded south toward Eindhoven. When they reached the Wilhelmina Canal, the bridge was blown in their faces. They finally got across the canal and entered Eindhoven. In bitter street fighting, the city was secured. At about 7AM on the third day (Sept.19th), the XXX Corps began passing over a Bailey bridge set up across the canal.
Though this crossing was crucial to the success of the operation, the fiercest fighting for the 101st occurred around the city of Best. With the destruction of the main bridge, the 502nd immediately sought out other bridges that might be used. The German 59th Division was guarding these bridges and put up a spirited defense.
Attacks by two American battalions who rushed the bridges were beaten off. Timely air support from US P-47s and shortage of ammunition for the enemy stopped the attack. Col. Cole, commander of the 2nd Battalion was killed by a German sniper. Many other paratroopers also gave their lives in this area.
Another small unit, stationed near the Wilhelmina Canal was under constant attack by opposing forces. The platoon scout, Pfc. Joe Mann, had been wounded three times, and his arms were useless. As he lay among the wounded, a grenade was tossed in their midst. Seeing it, and with no use of his arms, Pfc. Mann cried, "Grenade!" and then lay back to take the explosion with his body. He would receive the Medal of Honor posthumously.
The only major air strike by the enemy came on D+2, when over 100 twin engine bombers attacked the center of Eindhoven at night. Over 1,000 civilians and a number of British troops were killed. During the third day, Germans attacked at various points within the boundaries of the 101st. The 107th Panzer Brigade almost overran the Division HQ. Timely use of a few antitank guns, brought in by glider, stopped the assault. This "indian raid" style of fighting would continue throughout the Market Garden Operation as the 101st tried to keep the highway open for the Allies.
The grave of an unknown British soldier, buried by the Germans.
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