Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Arnhem/Oosterbeek II – Go west young man!



A short bus ride from Arnhem takes you west to the very nice suburb of Oosterbeek, past the St Elizabeth’s Hospital (now apartments) which was a significant landmark in the battle. The bus stop for the Hartenstein is within the eastern line of the British perimeter defences  which begin at the western edge of the village. 

 This section of the perimeter was held by 10th Parachute Battalion (Lt Col K.B.I. Smyth [died of wounds], went in: 582, died: 92, evacuated: 86, Missing: 404) from 20 to 22 September and then reinforced by 21st Independent Parachute Infantry Company (Maj B.A. Wilson, went in:186, died: 20, evacuated: 120, missing 46) from 23 September. 

The statistics I’ve just quoted come from Martin Middlebrook’s book and are included to give an idea of the way units almost disappeared during the battle yet retained their will to fight. The term ‘missing’ includes those taken prisoner (including many wounded) and those who simply disappeared which is an unfortunate fate for many soldiers. 

The whole of the perimeter is loaded with locations of unit positions and it would be worth a full tour. Another point worth making is that the British positions were not continuous lines of trenches, but rather groups of slit trenches often separated by tend of yards, the gaps being ‘filled’ by firepower and aggressive patrolling. Bear in mind though that it is not now as it was in September 1944 and many new homes have been built. Nevertheless, at the main Oosterbeek crossroads not that much has changed, although many buildings have been rebuilt. One significant building is a house (‘Quatre Bras’) which was defended by 21 Independent Parachute Company and is the scene lf David Shepherd’s painting:




A short walk west along the Utrechtse Weg is the Hartenstein Museum, which has to be one of the best museums I’ve visited. It has been recently refurbished and it reopened in April this year in time for the preparations for the 70th anniversary and is a fine example of what can be done with an historically significant building used to house an admittedly small, but important museum.





Front and rear elevations with balck and white photos of the buildings in Septtember 1944

The displays are excellent and the focus of the museum is first class. The local population played a key role in the battle, providing intelligence as well as guides (especially for the withdrawal) and unquestionably important support for the hard pressed medical services. This is recognised in the museum by interesting displays and, more significantly, audio accounts from civilians who took part in the battle. Not forgotten is the ‘Hunger Winter’ of 1944/45 when Holland was isolated and in German hands.












Frosts medals and hunting horn, Hackett's beret and battle dress and Urquart's Dennison Smock.




















 



 (If anybody wishes, I can add captions to describe the weapons etc.)

The Hartenstein is surrounded by a very nice park. The area behind the museum was once the Divisional Admin Area for 1st Airborne division from 20 September as the building housed the HQ and Defence Platoon (went in: 142, dead: 14, evacuated: 70, missing: 58). 



Just southwest of this space is a damage 17 Pdr which marks the approximate position of the artillery HQ and further back are the tennis  courts which housed the German prisoners.




 

 I stumbled across the following photo on the web of a 17 Pdr knocked out in Oosterbeek. and the damage to the gun shield and breech seems to be very similar to that on the gun above. Could they be the same 17Pdr?


A knocked out 17-pounder anti-tank gun, named "Pathfinder", on the Benedendorpsweg  to the east of the Church in Oosterbeek.
Sited at the eastern side of the museum is this 17pdr : No3 Gun, 'D' troop, 1st Air Landing Anti-Tank Battery, Royal Artillery. Commander was Sgt George Thomas. The gun was knocked out on 22nd September in Oosterbeek and Sgt Thomas and Bombadier John McCullock were killed.
Sited at the western side of the museum is this 17pdr : No1 Gun, 'X' troop, 2nd (Oban) Air Landing Anti-Tank Battery, Royal Artillery. Commander was Sgt Horace 'Nobby' Gee.


Across the Utrechtse Weg is the Airborne Monument on what was known as the ‘Triangle’, home for the Divisional Admin Area from 18 – 20 September. 



It’s a hell of a monument and imposing, although quite plain. A small wooded area immediately west of the Triangle housed the HQ of the 1 Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron (Maj C.F.G. Gough [POW], went in: 181, died: 30, evacuated 73, missing: 78).




And with that it was time to head back into Arnhem.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Arnhem/Oosterbeek I - Introduction






So, as I mentioned in an earlier post, Chris and I had just over a week in Amsterdam at the beginning of the month. Lovely city and very nice people without exception. We did most (but deliberately not all) of the touristy things and nipped across to Haarlem for a day, but a bone of contention was a suggested expedition to Arnhem by yours truly. I’d take a couple of guide books for the famous ‘Bridge too Far’ battle, but I wasn’t convinced it was a good idea. My objection was that, as Chris is still working and doing an increasingly stressful job, the break was for her rather than me and it should be geared accordingly. Her view was that Arnhem was only about 60 or so miles away and easily doable with the excellent Dutch railway system and I’d been interested in the battle since I was a kid. Common sense prevailed and off I went. I’ve been around the block a few times and don’t get fazed easily, so the prospect of a trot across Holland raised barely a ripple. However, I ignored one of my long held principles which is “never assume”.



We’d decided on Saturday 12th as the best day to go because there was a barbecue at the apartment complex which Chris could attend (amongst other things) and travel would be quieter at the weekend. It would also avoid any reduced rail service on Sunday. Arnhem is only just over an hour away by train, I knew which buses to get and the weather was lovely. What could go wrong?




I’ll tell you what could go wrong. Dutch national railways (Nederlandse Spoorwegen – ‘NS’) are in first class condition because of regular and preventative maintenance which they do most weekends: the Dutch have a bit of a giggle about this I found out later. So, instead of Weesp – Amsterdam – Utrecht – Arnhem as planned, it was Weesp – Zwolle – Arnhem which is the Dutch equivalent of travelling from Manchester to, say, Stafford via Leeds. Approximate travel time of, say an hour plus extended to two and a half hours. Still, plenty to look at and Holland is an attractive place. It also meant travelling through Apeldoorn which was the location of the ‘Airborne Hospital’ set up by the Germans and where Dad was based for a short time during the War.




To be honest, I wasn’t that bothered. Because of the everlasting ankle problem, I’d only planned to visit the bridge in Arnhem and then shoot out to Oosterbeek to see the Hartenstein Museum and sniff around the Divisional Admin Area and adjoining locations (if the ankle held out).




So, for the uninitiated, what’s this Arnhem thing then? It was the furthest point of airborne phase of Operation Market Garden (17–25 September 1944), an only partly successful Allied military operation fought in the Netherlands and Germany in the Second World War. It was the largest airborne operation up to that time, the idea being that a carpet of airborne troops would capture a series of bridges between the Allied bridgehead over the Meuse-Escaut Canal at Neerpelt and the Neder Rijn (Lower Rhine) at Arnhem (‘Market’) over which the ground forces would advance into Germany (‘Garden’).It was the culmination of the broad/narrow front argument between Eisenhower/Bradley and Montgomery whose aim was to batter his way into Germany over the Lower Rhine and head for the Ruhr, Germany’s industrial heartland.




Several bridges between Eindhoven and Nijmegen were captured at the beginning of the operation but Gen. Horrocks' XXX Corps ground force advance was delayed by the demolition of a bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal, an extremely overstretched supply line at Son, and failure to capture the main road bridge over the river Waal before 20 September. At Arnhem, the British 1st Airborne Division encountered far stronger resistance than anticipated. In the ensuing battle, only a small force managed to hold one end of the Arnhem road bridge and after the ground forces failed to relieve them, they were overrun on 21 September. The remainder of the division, trapped in a small pocket west of the bridge at Oosterbeek, had to be evacuated on 25 September. And the rest, as they say, is history.




Arnhem has been pretty much rebuilt after the squabble for the bridge and the later attentions of the Allied airforces so, although many of the street lines are broadly similar to before the war, the only thing to see is the bridge, now called the ‘John Frost Bridge’ which has been rebuilt along the lines of its predecessor which was finally bombed by the Allies in October 1944 to stop German reinforcements moving south. However, my first objective was the Hartenstein, so off to the bus station. Be careful, there are two!



To try to make some sense of all this I’ve broken these notes into five sections: this introduction, a talk about Oosterbeek, a description of my adventures in Arnhem at the bridge, some things to think about regarding the Arnhem element of the campaign and ending with a few wargaming ideas. It’s certainly not a history of Operation Market  Garden or even the Arnhem phase of the operation. It’s rather an outline of what I saw and something about those who fought there. I haven’t gone into detail about the British, Polish and German units because there simply isn’t the space (or time). Nevertheless, anyone even slightly interested in this battle to read some of the excellent books which have been written about it. I’ve listed a few in the final part, but they’re what I consider a minimum. This is a complicated affair filed with continual movements and reorganisations, conspiracy theories, bad generalship and bitter recriminations so do read more about it.

(Yes, I know the paratroops in the photo are American and as for the formatting, we  can only pray!)

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Ideas Competition!

Loki has come up with a great idea to let you influence figure production and the chance to get a prize for your trouble. Go here on 

http://napoleonicwargamingadventures.blogspot.co.uk/

 to see the instructions and get thinking!

There are some great suggestions already and I found it interesting to see how others thought about it. Good read anyway, as usual!

Quiz Results ! ! ! !



Just been through a really interesting three weeks which included a dead washing machine, an apparently suicidal DAB radio, a crunched bumper (self-inflicted), a dead iMac (you won’t believe the amount of stuff I didn’t get round to backing up!) and, an hour before we were about to disappear to the airport, a blocked drain. Ah well, it’s not as bad a time as some of you have been going through, but it’s been a genuine pain in the nethers. Nevertheless, the good news is that the closing date for the competition has passed and I can now announce the winner: NOBODY !
I hadn’t expected a tsunami of entries, given that WWII probably isn’t everyone’s cup of wargaming tea, but even the ONE I did receive was so wide of the mark I thought it was a wind up. I didn’t think the questions were that hard. Judicious use of Google and a bit of imagination should’ve given the answers pretty quickly, particularly for the WWII buffs. Anyway, the answers are:
a) Although not everyone’s best friend, this officer’s sense of humour saved many lives on D-Day. Who was he?
Answer: Major General Richard Hobart GOC 79th Armoured Division
Originally forced to resign, he became a lance corporal in the Home Guard, but was later re -commissioned and appointed to the command of 79th armoured, the division tasked with producing and operating specialist armoured vehicles capable of performing tasks normally carried out by combat engineers. He began to refine and further develop specialist vehicles which became known as ‘Hobart’s Funnies’ or ‘Funnies’ for short: Sherman DD (Duplex Drive) amphibious tank, Churchill Crocodile flame thrower tank, Sherman Crab flail tank etc., etc.

b)  Appropriate name for an Airborne commander? Who was he and who did he command?
Answer: Major General Richard ‘Windy’ Gale GOC 6th Airborne Division – get it?

Optional extra question:
c)  How did England manage to make such an arse of their World Cup effort? Answers should be kept to a maximum of 200 words.

Trick question – nobody knows and I’m buggered if I do!

Now, as I mentioned earlier, we’ve just had a holiday (arranged at the last minute around what Chris could get off work and what was available/appealed) which was just over a week in Amsterdam. During this (and following several serious discussions) Chris ordered me to get across to Arnhem, which I did last Saturday. It was only about 50 miles away and, given the really good Dutch rail system even I had to admit it would have been silly not to – considerate husband see? Anyway, more of this in a subsequent post when I’ve sorted the photos out, so watch this space.