|How Arnhem was lost around Eindhoven
by Ruud Bruyns
A lot of explanations have been written about the failure of Operation Market Garden, better known as the Battle of Arnhem after the ultimate goal of the operation. In the mainly English speaking literature there has been very few references to Dutch sources, while there have been many detailed publications about Market Garden. The most notable are ‘Een andere kijk op de slag om Arnhem’ (Another Perspective on the Battle of Arnhem, 2009) by Peter Berends, and ‘Einddoel Maas’ (End Goal Meuse, 1984) and ‘Brabant bevrijd’ (Brabant liberated, 1993) by Jack Didden en Maarten Swarts. The latter argue that Market Garden was lost in Brabant. I want underline their thesis and want to add some new perspectives to this in this article.
Betrayal by a Dutch spy?
At the 15th of September a German patrol at the Dutch-Belgian border near Eindhoven caught an officer of the Dutch Royal Army named Christiaan Lindemans. He demanded to be send to the
Abwehr (German counter-intelligence) HQ in Driebergen as soon as possible. Lindemans was attached to the HQ of the Dutch prince-consort Bernhard and learned there about Operation Market Garden. In fact he was a German spy who wanted to inform his masters about the oncoming onslaught, in fact the biggest air landing operation in history.
Luckily for the Allies, the Germans received Lindemans’ account lukewarm and took no precautions against airborne operations. On the contrary, Field-Marshall Walther Model had established his headquarters in Oosterbeek in the middle of the anticipated British drop zone and the tattered units of II. SS Panzer-Corps, which was temporarily based around Arnhem, was bound to take off for Germany from September 17 onwards. This did not mean the Germans were not concerned about oncoming Allied
During a briefing at the 15th of September at Model’s HQ it was acknowledged that a British thrust was most likely to happen in the direction of Eindhoven. The road from the Belgian town of Hasselt to Eindhoven had been the scene of extensive combat for two weeks between German and British forces among were two major British armored divisions (Guards and 11th). The audacious capture of the bridge over the Meuse-Scheldt canal by Irish Guards at the 10th September overcame the last natural obstacle for the drive to Eindhoven.
German build-up around Eindhoven
From the 3rd of September the Germans had been franticly building up forces between Antwerp and Aachen to plug the gap which would expose the Ruhr, the industrial heartland of Germany, to Allied capture. From the 10th of September the Germans were concentrating their main forces at the above mentioned British bridgehead over the Meuse-Scheldt canal to block the anticipated Allied advance. Regiments of
Fallschirm-Jäger (airborne soldiers), once a selected elite but now recently drafted conscripts with a veteran cadre, were brought in.
The main force was initially Fallschirm-Jäger Regiment (FJR) Von Hoffmann (two battalions), which was reinforced by a Luftwaffe penal battalion, FJR Von der Heydte (three battalions) and a SS-battalion reinforced with 10 assault guns. Within three days roughly seven battalions were directed to contain one small British bridgehead. On the 14th of September a strong but abortive attack was undertaken by Von der Heydte’s regiment in order to destroy the bridgehead. More important however was the change of command.
Oberst (colonel) Erich Walther took overall command of the forces around the bridgehead at the 13th of September. Walther was an experienced
Fallschirm-Jäger, participating in all parachute campaigns (Norway, Holland and Crete), and a trusted troubleshooter as commander of FJR 4. In this command he effectively blocked the main Allied advance in Italy twice in Sicily at Mount Etna and at Monte Cassino. In Holland he was again entrusted with saving the German army by blocking the Allied advance.
Beginning of Operation Garden
An intense artillery bombardment heralded the beginning of Operation Garden, the ground offensive to relieve the British and American airborne forces, on the morning of September 17. Despite the enormous firepower put on the German lines the advancing British tanks were caught by anti-tank fire. Not until the beginning of the afternoon the Germans were dislodged and the British advanced until Valkenswaard, just south of Eindhoven, and put on a bivouac at 17:30. The Germans got a respite and used it to put a new stand to block the British advance.
The next day the same scenario as the previous day was unfolding itself: the British tanks advanced, ran into anti-tank fire and spend most of the day clearing out German positions. It was not until late in the afternoon that they reached the main first bridge just north of Eindhoven, which happened to be blown up by the Germans. Meanwhile more than 48 hours were lost to relieve the airborne forces down the road in Nijmegen and Arnhem. Even worse, Nijmegen bridge was not yet taken and forces around Arnhem bridge were surrounded.
The 20 kilometer drive to Eindhoven had cost British XXX Corps two days instead of the anticipated two hours. Besides, it was not until the 19th of September that contact was made with the American forces around Nijmegen. Meanwhile the Germans in the south kept their focus on Eindhoven, which was bombarded by the
Luftwaffe during the night of September 19. The center of Eindhoven was packed with British supply vehicles and had no anti-aircraft defense. The next day Eindhoven’s streets were clogged up with charred and exploded trucks.
At the 20th of September the British paratroopers at Arnhem bridge surrendered to the Germans and the remainder of the British paratroopers was encircled at Oosterbeek. Although there was also an Allied success with the capture of Nijmegen bridge, this could not be exploited without securing the supply lines in Brabant. At the 19th of September the Germans moved in Panzerbrigade 107, which made a brief encounter at the bridge just north of Eindhoven, called Son bridge. This brigade was put under the command of Erich Walther.
Panzerbrigade of Walther’s combat command directed an attacked against Veghel’s bridge and managed to cut of the supply corridor towards Nijmegen on the 22nd September. It took the Allied forces the whole next day to clear out the Germans from Veghel and restore the supply link. It was to no avail because the next the supply route again briefly blocked by a German force south of Veghel, consisting of
Fallschirm-Jäger of FJR Von der Heydte and a battalion ‘Jungwirth’. Not until September 26 was the road cleared of German troops.
Meanwhile the British forces north of Nijmegen ran into stiff German resistance and the decision was taken to evacuate the remaining British paratroops in beleaguered Oosterbeek. Supply problems in Brabant prevented further offensive operations in the Nijmegen area and this meant the end of Operation Market Garden, only one week after it began. The British spend the rest of September expanding the corridor, because although the Germans were cleared from the roads the main supply route was still under German artillery fire.
Although the Germans had no clue about the extent of the Allied offensive, they were aware of the direction of the attack. They reinforced their forces near Eindhoven according to their capabilities in this stage of the war. Units suggesting elite status like
Fallschirm-Jäger and Waffen-SS were scraped together and put under the command of Erich Walther, a seasoned veteran with an impressive status of holding on against overwhelming odds. The Germans were ready and waiting when the British attacked in the morning of the September 17 1944.
Walther’s hastily formed forces were no match for the British forces but managed to delay the advance of the relief force for the American and British paratroops for a crucial 48 hours. Within these 48 hours the Germans brought in reinforcements and turned the tables in Arnhem. The Germans kept the pressure on the British supply lines in Brabant by bombarding Eindhoven and constantly cutting the corridor, making further major offensive operations beyond Eindhoven impossible. Arnhem was lost and the main fighting shifted to the south.
Copyright © 2011 Ruud Bruyns
Written by Ruud Bruyns. If you have questions or comments on this article,
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About the author:
Ruud Bruyns MA has studied at Leyden University in the Netherlands and his major was military history. His final thesis was a case study on the performance of the Royal Dutch Colonial Army (KNIL) in Indonesia. Since his graduation he has written several articles in various magazines on military history, especially on World War II. he has a keen interest on 20th century warfare, ranging from conventional warfare to guerrilla warfare.
Published online: 03/13/2011.
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