Document Source: Operations of the 3rd Platoon, Easy Company, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, 1st Allied Airborne Army, during the seizure of the Bridge in Nijmegen, September 19-20, 1944, in Holland by Capt John D. Phillips, Platoon Leader.
By the early fall of 1944, the Allied Armies were suffering a serious handicap to the continued rapid advance along the Western Front in that they were badly in need of supplies, and no Army was capable of making a sustained offensive. This situation had developed because the Seaports serving the Armies were so far to the rear that the supply lines could not adequately carry the tremendous burden required. The Armies needed to plan and execute a decisive offensive or the war would go on into the summer of 1945, and thus give the Axis leaders the time they desired to recover from their losses and improve their defenses or negotiate a better peace.
Confronted with these conditions the Allies devised a plan to deliver the final blow on the Axis. This plan was designated Operation Market Garden, Operation Market was the airborne phase and was to be coordinated with the ground effort. All armies on the Western Front would halt their advance for the time being, except the UK 2-A which would receive all supplies that could be adapted to its use and prepare for an all-out effort. The UK 2-A, in conjunction with the US 1-AA/BA, would advance from a line generally along with the Albert Canal and the Escaut Canal in Belgium to the Zuider Zee in Holland in an effort to cut off the German armies in Western Holland. The Allies could then strike around the northern end of the Siegfried Line, straight into Germany, and eliminate the tenacious task of making a frontal assault through the Line. The advance would be along a narrow front, following one road through Eindhoven, Grave, Nijmegen, Arnhem, and Apeldoorn, and spearheaded by the UK XXX Corps with the US VIII Corps on the right and the UK XII Corps on the left, advancing more slowly on the flanks.
The purpose of Operation Market was to land airborne troops in areas where they could seize bridges over the Meuse River, the Waal, and the Neder Rijn Rivers along the route of advance of the UK 2-A, and open a corridor for the spearhead to pass on northward. Missions of the airborne task force were as follows: the US 101-A/B was to seize bridges over the Aa River and the Willems Vaart Canal near Veghel, over the Dommel River at St Oedenrode, over the Wilhelmina Canal near Zon, and the city of Eindhoven. The US 82-A/B was to capture the bridges over the Meuse River at Grave, over the Waal River at Nijmegen and over the Meuse-Waal Canal between.
The UK 1-A/B, together with the PL 1-PPB were to capture the bridges at Arnhem. In each case, the surrounding area was to be held until the Guards Armored could effect a junction, and then the airborne troops were to protect the sides of the corridor. The UK 52nd (Lowland) Division (Air Portable) was to come into the Arnhem area as soon as an airstrip could be prepared by the A/B Engineers. The mission of the US 82-A/B specifically stated that the high hill mass in the Groesbeek area would be seized, organized, and held. This is the highest ground in all of the Netherlands. The Commanding General of the US 82-A/B (Gen James M. Gavin) was directed by the Corps Commander that all other missions, would be accomplished before the seizure of the Nijmegen Bridge was attempted.
On Sept 16, 1944, the US 82-A/B closed at airfields in England 24 hours before take-off time. Last-minute briefings and equipment checks were made of all personnel, bundles, and aircraft. Starting at 0950 Sept 17, the Division took off for the flight to Holland. The flight took approximately three hours, the first serials landing at the drop zones at 1250. All units landed on their prescribed drop zones with, the exception of the 2/505-PIR, which was dropped two thousand yards northeast of its scheduled drop zone. Following the drop, all the units reorganized and moved to their assigned objectives while eliminating the local enemy resistance, and by 2300 hours the initial missions had been accomplished. The US 504-PIR had dropped west of the Meuse-Waal Canal on three separate battalion drop zones. One battalion captured the bridge at Heuman and two bridge sites near Blankenburg and Hatert, the bridges at these sites having been destroyed by the enemy before to the arrival of the troops. One battalion cleared the western sector of the division area of all enemies and blocked movement on the Grave-Nijmegen highway. One battalion had dropped troops on either side of the Meuse River at Grave and both forces moved against the bridge, capturing it at 1430. The town of Grave was abandoned by approximately 400 enemies and occupied at 2300.
The US 505-PIR dropped on drop zones in the vicinity of Groesbeek, seized the town, and cleared all enemies from its area. Contact with the US 504-PIR was made on the bridge near Heuman. The US 508-PIR dropped on drop zones northeast of Groesbeek and upon receipt of information from the Dutch underground that the town of Nijmegen held few troops, moved to take the Waal River bridges. Their attack was stopped by heavy enemy resistance about 400 yards from the highway bridge and the regiment established roadblocks to prevent any movement to the south. One company encountered considerable enemy resistance in clearing glider landing zones in the area northeast of Groesbeek.
D+1 found the US 504-PIR and the US 505-PIR conducting vigorous patrol activities, capturing additional secondary bridges over the Meuse-Waal Canal and disrupting enemy communications. Easy Co 505-PIR captured a train loaded with supplies and personnel trying to escape into Germany. Because of strong enemy resistance being encountered by the company previously sent to clear the glider landing zones northeast of Groesbeek, the US 508-PIR withdrew one battalion which had been in the town of Nijmegen, to assist in this mission.
Complete surprise was effected and the landing zone was secured by 1400. At 0900 one company again moved into Nijmegen and was stopped by the enemy upon reaching the same area in which the regiment had been stopped the day before. Furious fighting raged through the day and at 1500 the company was withdrawn to the vicinity of Berg en Dal. During the morning, 450 gliders were lifted from bases in England and towed to the landing zones in the vicinity of Groesbeek. This lift was made up of one AT battery of the 80-A/B-AAA, 319-GFAB, 320-GFAB, 456-PFAB, and 307-A/B Medic Co. The glider recovery was quite satisfactory even though several gliders overshot the landing zone and landed in enemy territory across the Dutch-German border. The arrival of the artillery battalions was indeed a welcome sight and they were immediately put into action, one battalion being put in direct support of each of the Parachute Regiments.
On D+2 contact was made with the UK Guards Armored Division by the US 504-PIR at Grave. This regiment, less 3 of its companies, left to guard the bridges at Grave, Heuman, Heninghute, and to patrol the highway from Grave to the Heninghute bridge, was moved east to the Meuse-Waal Canal where they relieved the 2/508-PIR. One battalion was placed in the division reserve. The US 505-PIR, less the 2/505 continued to hold its sector in the south of the division area, conducting extensive patrol activities throughout the day. The US 508-PIR seized high ground along the Nijmegen-Cleve Highway between Ubbergen and Wyler, establishing roadblocks at these points in addition to those at Beek and in Thal. Repeated vicious counter-attacks against positions in Teufels Berg during the course of the day were repulsed.
At about 1100 on Sept 19, the Commander of the 2/505 was called to the Division HQ where he received a special mission for his unit. This mission was to accompany the UK Guards Armored Division north to Nijmegen and capture intact, if possible, the vital bridge crossings of the Waal River. The 2/505 located in the vicinity of Groesbeek was alerted and after placing individual packs in a dump started the move to Nijmegen at 1245 under the command of the Battalion Executive Officer. The Commander of the 2/505 had gone forward to coordinate plans for the seizure of the bridges with the Commander of the British tanks unit and the Dutch underground. The Dutch partisan elements stated that the bridges were prepared for demolitions and heavily defended by German SS and Parachute Troops.
As the 2/505 reached the outskirts of the town the CO rejoined the column and halted it, the Company Commanders were called forward and the following order was issued: Easy 505, with one section of LMGs attached, was to lead the attack into the town, assaulting the enemy positions located in the Park and along with the approaches to the highway bridge. Upon reaching the bridge the company was to move rapidly across the river and go into a defensive position 200 yards from the north end of the bridge, its right flank extending back to the river and contact being made with Fox 505 on the left. Fox 505, with 7 tanks attached, was to follow Easy 505 to the Park area and upon entering the Park would move to King 505’s left flank and assist in the assault to the bridge, following Easy Co across the river and taking up a defensive position on Easy Co’s left and extend the left flank back to the river line. Dog 505, with one section of LMGs and eight tanks attached, was then to move northwest through the town to seize and hold the railroad bridge. The 81-MM mortar platoon would go into position on the outskirts of town and be prepared to support attacks on either of the two bridges.
The orders issued to his platoon leader by the Easy 505 CO were as follows: the 1st Plat. was to lead the assault and move along the right side of the Park area; the 3rd Plat. would follow the 1st Plat. and upon reaching the Park, move through the center and onto the bridge; the 2nd Plat. would follow the 3rd Plat. and coordinate with the 1st Plat. in supporting the 3rd Plat. with small arms and 60-MM mortar fire; Hqs Co and the attached LMG section would move to the edge of the Park and await further orders; CO would be with the 1st Plat.
A few minutes were taken by the Company Commanders to orient their attached tanks and the battalion started moving at 1600. As the column moved through the town artillery started to fall causing a few casualties. It was now known that the enemy had concentrated the bulk of his force around the highway bridge, and as the head of the column approached the Park, through which ran the entrances to the bridge, it came under heavy fire. Easy and Fox Cos deployed in an attempt to feel out the enemy defenses; the attached tanks, in trying to go into positions to fire on the enemy were met by a withering fire from anti-tank and machine guns. This resulted in the loss of four tanks.
Easy 505 moved through the streets of Nijmegen encountering very little enemy fire until the column reached a point about two blocks from the approaches to the highway bridge. Here, it was met by a hail of automatic and AT fire. At first, it appeared the enemy had prepared a successful trap for the company as they were receiving fire from the flanks as well as the front. Using smoke hand grenades to cover their movements the company managed to move into the buildings overlooking the Park, which in many cases still contained enemy strong points. Here the fighting raged from building to building and from room to room throughout the afternoon. The extent to which the enemy had prepared the defense of the bridge soon became evident. AT guns covered every street approach and automatic weapons were fired from numerous loopholes in an old Dutch fort which was the center of resistance. Attempts to place the tanks into firing positions had already resulted in four of them being knocked out. The troops within this enemy position consisting of SS and Paratroopers fought with a fanaticism never before witnessed by these veterans of Sicily, Italy, and Normandy.
The company was ordered to take positions in buildings on the edge of the Park and the balance of the afternoon was spent fighting to this point. The troops moved through houses and buildings in the area, hurling hand grenades into the windows and firing as they entered. Groups of three or four would close in hand-to-hand fighting with nests of Germans found in the rooms. The destruction, deaths, and wounded found the next day testified to the ferocity of this fighting. The men being well aware of the positions they were to occupy by nightfall fought individually and collectively to reach them.
That night, the company was in positions overlooking the Park area and was able to pour small arms and mortar fire into the enemy emplacements. The company held on throughout the night in spite of a terrific pounding by enemy artillery which included white phosphorus, causing numerous fires. One platoon infiltrated into the park from the right flank and with knives and bayonets moved from one emplacement to another killing and capturing many of the confused enemies.