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British and German Account of Hand to Hand Fighting in Arnhem

Discussion in 'Operation Market Garden' started by Jim, Aug 25, 2010.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Lieutenant Joseph Hardy of the Border Regiment landed outside Arnhem. His actions under fire and, as the recommendation for his MC stated, ‘his vigour and contempt for danger’, were largely responsible for the successful withdrawal of B Company to the main Battalion position.

    My unit had been cut about in the Sicily and Italy affairs, so that a lot of our men were very young, and quite new to this fighting business. I thought that I had seen it all before, until I reached a point possibly half way towards the area where we were to congregate. Here I found two young lads, so delighted to be back on to terra firma, that they decided to get their gear off and brew up a cup of tea. I screamed at them so long and loud that I might have been heard five miles away, reminding them that this was war, not some sort of bloody picnic, but it was extremely hard to keep a straight face. Within seconds I had them back into their gear and travelling towards the forming up area at a very healthy pace; probably muttering to themselves that Joe Hardy was a rotten old b…….

    Our duty was to hold the landing strips until the second lift came in, but the weather broke down in England and things started to go wrong. We eventually took up our positions to cover the western side of a defence circle, and found that it was much more heavily wooded country than we had expected it to be. At the time, all our communications were by wireless, and in the wooded country, reception of signal was very, very, poor. We were able to make contact with A, C and D Companies, but B Company, who had been sent right out to the western edge of the defence perimeter, were completely out of touch. It was considered that they would be the first to be hit by any enemy force advancing from the west, so it became imperative that, as their wireless link was screened out, the next best thing was to run a telephone line out to them. The only two persons who had no specific duty other than to supervise were I and Signals Sergeant, Jock McClusky. Off the pair of us went, hell for leather, down the Utrecht Road to the village of Renkum. We arrived there just on dark, tested the line and it worked like a dream. No problems at all.

    I had expected that B Company would be sitting astride the Utrecht/Arnhem road, so that when the enemy came along, they would be able to surprise them then, as enemy weight increased, they would be able to disengage and move back to the outer perimeter of the battalion position. However, the company had reached the village of Renkum then turned left down a lane towards the river. It did not strike me as being a good position, but I had them back in touch with the telephone. Jock and I jumped into the jeep, me in the passenger seat, with a Sten automatic laid across my knee, and we made our way up the lane to the main road. Just before the lane joined the main road, there was a fairly steep rise in the ground and as we neared the road junction, I saw the outline of two soldiers, heading towards Arnhem. The Company Commander had not told me that he had any men this far up the lane `they were not B Company men at all, they were Germans. Jock slammed the brakes on, and I half leapt and was half thrown over the bonnet of the jeep. I landed at the feet of the two German boys with my automatic pointed at their guts, and the only stupid thing that I could think of to say was, 'How's about it, chum'. I honestly believe that they were just the slightest little bit more frightened than I was. They dropped their Schmeissers we picked them up, bundled the two Germans into the jeep and turned back into B Company lines.

    With radio links between the scattered companies and HQ blocked by trees, the British have to rely on jeeps to drive quickly from one position to another to relay intelligence and instructions.

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    Two Dutch interpreters’s questioned the Germans, and they told us that they were part of a unit that was marching along the Utrecht! Arnhem road, that they had been the connecting file between the companies in front of and behind them. This meant, of course, that there was at least one company, perhaps two or three of enemy troops on the road that I had been going to take back to my HQ. The B Company Commander told me that his second-in-command’s glider had gone astray and suggested that I take over as second-in-command. I reported the situation to HQ. There was little we could do until dawn, and then the instruction came that we were to fight our way out. So, we discussed how we might do a break-out job, and while we were doing so, it became obvious that the enemy had decided to make their HQ straight opposite the edge of the lane, about 200 yards directly in front of us, and they still didn't know that we were there. Soon after dawn, a German motor cycle and sidecar drove into the HQ and all the soldiers rushed over, no doubt to ask what was going on. It is hard to estimate how many there were, but there were a lot, and I had them covered with about three Bren guns at about 200 yards' range. I had no thought of them being exactly the same sort of lads as my own fellows, no thought that they had parents, wives or children, no thought of the fact that some of the same sort of people had killed my brother before Dunkirk. They represented a target, and I gave the order to open fire. War is a dreadful, disgusting, horrible waste! It took the enemy some time to recover from what we had inflicted on them, during which time I had a look round the area. The water level in the Rhine was about 10-12 feet below the ground level and it appeared that, with a bit of luck, it might be possible to get our troops, obscured from the enemy by the house that was the Company HQ, down to the water's edge. From here they could advance in single file perhaps half a mile towards Arnhem, and then break out into the open to deal with anything between us and the Battalion position. I suggested to the CC that he led the company out, and I would do a rearguard job with one platoon. The enemy now started to throw everything they had at us, and proved our theory that there were an awful lot of them. Our position quickly became a very unhealthy sort of place to be. A sergeant lying next to me was hit and killed instantly. but it became clear that all the enemy fire was directed at us, the rearguard, and that the men dropping down the riverbank were getting away with it. I gave them time to travel a couple of hundred yards, then had my own fellows sneak away a few at a time. The scheme worked to an almost unbelievable degree. We had to leave our dead there, of course, and the two German prisoners were killed by their own fire. The Germans continued to lay a tremendous amount of fire on the place; they must have had an odd sort of feeling when they put their attack in to take the position, only to find that we had gone. We were greeted back at HQ as conquering heroes. We had killed a great number of the enemy and had virtually walked through an enemy that was perhaps five or six times stronger than we were. The citation for gallantry paints a rosy picture of what went on that day, it makes no mention at all of Lady Luck, she had been gallant in the extreme.

    Herded into a small area in an open field, a mixed group of British puts a brave face on captivity, maybe in the hope that it would not last very long.

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    Jock and I went back to HQ. The enemy, presumably having taken Renkum, closed in on the battalion position and started to make life quite difficult for us. The enemy were in the open ground to the west. There was plenty of cover for them and they came in quite close, bayonet close on a number of occasions, but they were beaten back time after time. On the third or fourth day, I had a message over the wireless from one of my Signals Corporals, attached to D Company. I shall never forget it. He said, with not the slightest quiver in his voice, There is a flamethrower coming in to our HQ now sir. Goodbye and good luck.' Corporal Larry Cowan must have been killed within seconds of sending the message. D Company as a fighting unit had ceased to exist, a few may have been taken prisoner, but most of them were killed. I had taken two homing pigeons with me. I had not very much faith in them, but taking them was a way of ensuring that I was carrying as heavy a load as any of my men, and there was always a chance that they could be useful. I released the first one with a message from a senior airforce officer to Air Defence Great Britain. A couple of days later I ran out of pigeon food and realised that if the bird was weakened through being starved, it would stand no chance of getting home at all. I requested permission to release it. I sent the following message, which amounted to a load of nonsense:

    'From Lieut JSD Hardy: Have to release birds owing to shortage of food and water. About eight tanks laying about in sub unit areas, very untidy but not causing us any trouble. Now using as many German weapons as we have British. MGs most effective when aiming towards Germany. Dutch people grand, but Dutch tobacco rather stringy. Great beard growing competition on in our unit, but no time to check up on the winner.'

    Sgts Whawell and Turrell of the Glider Pilot Regiment search the ruins of a Dutch school for snipers as furious house-to-house fighting closes in around them.

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    The bird miraculously arrived back at Corps HQ and the newsmen got hold of the message. It made headlines in the English papers the next day and was given such a degree of importance that it ended up in the War Museum, classified as one of the epic messages from a field of battle. Come the fourth, fifth and sixth days, the men were becoming terribly tired. There was no sleep, they were down to their last scraps of food, and they were haggard, weary almost to the point of collapse. There were continual rumours of disaster, but through it all, the men were steadfast, confident and could still raise a smile. A patrol was sent out at one time, and they had no sooner left, than the NCO returned with the news that they had been hit by shellfire. I went out to see what could be done, and found a young lad, just barely 18, with a gaping hole in his back. He was beyond help, but still conscious, with only seconds to live. Try as I might, I shall never forget the look in the lad's eyes. Try as I might, 1 could never explain it. I think it was somewhere around the sixth day that our Artillery Officer was killed, and that left me, as Signals Officer, to take over his job. I asked for shellfire on a few occasions, but the best they could do was a few rounds. On the eighth or ninth day, I again had to ask for shellfire, and was answered by a very, very American voice that told me he represented a regiment of 'Long Toms', and asked how much do I need. I asked him what the danger area was from his type of shellfire. He explained and I told him that I wanted him to plaster an area so that the inner edge of his danger area was within a few yards of our troops. I took it that he was firing from 10 to 12 miles away. It was very effective. As each day came along, we were all quite sure that this would be the day that the Second Army would reach us. We had become used to the hunger, but the shortage of water was punishment indeed. We were also short of ammunition; the men had to make every shot count. Finally the message came through that we were to pull out. We had to observe absolute silence, and to add to our misery, it was pouring with rain. It was a journey through hell, but finally we made it.
     
  2. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Willi Renner of the 2nd German Parachute Battalion

    Willi Renner was a sergeant in the 2nd Battalion of the German 6th Parachute Regiment and was involved in fierce house to house fighting in the town of Reusel, south of Eindhoven, as Operation Market Garden began.

    Willi Renner of the 2nd German Parachute Battalion.

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    Hand grenades were thrown up or down, and our raiding group, which consisted of about 15 men, was given the task of fighting clear one street's worth of houses. That meant clearing the enemy out using whatever means possible. The best method, of course, is to make them run away, to avoid having to shoot them. Of course, if they don't run away, you have to use force, and to use force, in a war context, means to shoot them. So we had to shoot at them or throw hand grenades, and there were, of course, losses on both sides. On the way back, while clearing the houses, we came upon an Englishman who had been shot in the stomach. I assumed that the man had been hit by someone from the street or something like that, and that his own men had left him lying there in the house as they couldn't take him with them.

    I came towards the house and, while we ran, shots came out of the cellar window. A few metres to the left of me, one of our men was hit in the throat. Blood came pouring from his throat, it was terrible. Another comrade of mine was hit in the chest. In his wallet he had a picture of his girlfriend, and the bullet went straight through the photo. Another comrade of ours was shot through the thigh. These were the three casualties that we could see at this stage, and of course, we now knew that there were people still in the house, shooting at us from the cellar. We took cover to the right and ran round to the other side of the house. We moved so that we couldn't be seen by the English soldiers in the house, and kicked in one of the cellar windows. We threw in a hand grenade, whether it was one or a few, I can't remember exactly. There was a terrible explosion. It's a terrible thing when a grenade explodes in such a small space, I had experienced this myself. The English emerged, a few of them were wounded and some inside must have been dead.

    Everyday life in Arnhem town is turned upside down as debris and bodies litter the streets and German armour rumbles under the trees.

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    Four of them came out and I took them back with me. Just before this, we shot at some English who had tried to run away across a turnip field. They had been trained how to run in this situation, lie down, jump up, run, throw yourself down again, and so on. So, the direct fighting was now over, and we searched the house to check whether anyone else was there, and now we had to take care of the wounded and dead men. We took from the dead men all their papers, all their valuables, their watch and identity tag and packed this all away. Then the dead were buried and the wounded taken to the main field hospital. I was given the job of taking the four prisoners back. Everything was going smoothly until at one point I could see that the prisoners had become afraid. The first thing that came to mind was that these men were afraid that they were going to be shot. Then things relaxed a little. We exchanged cigarettes. These were only young men and they were suffering from the psychological effects of the house fighting, the guilt that they might have killed someone and the shock from the exploding grenades.
     

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