|Market-Garden Campaign Pt. 1|
|The Kraftt Line|
In September of 1944 it had become accepted wisdom to the Allies that the war that had raged for five years would finally be over with a total German defeat. After the stellar successes of the Red Army in Eastern Europe, and the annihilation of the German Army in France, it looked as if one big push toward the heart of Germany could suddenly bring a conclusion to the fighting. In September, the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe, General Eisenhower, had four army groups under his command that were poised to strike at vital parts of Hitler’s rapidly shrinking empire. After the fall of Normandy it seemed like the Wehrmacht in the West was in a state of collapse. The battered armed formations and frantic Nazi administrative elements fled pell-mell toward Germany, leaving a vacuum that was quickly filled up by equally expedient Allied mechanized soldiers. The Twelfth Army Group and its rapacious Third Army each commanded by Generals Bradley and Patton respectively had plans of their own to bring a decisive defeat to the failing Reich. However, at this point the Allied armies had begun to over extend their supply lines which were still anchored in Normandy, and all important fuel to drive an offensive was becoming stretched thin. If an all-out offensive was to happen in one sector, it would have to come at the expense of others. Field Marshall Montgomery, in command of the 21st Army Group, successfully impressed upon Eisenhower the possible fruits of a successful thrust across the Rhine into Holland, where it was known as the Neder (and henceforth will be referred to as such). Montgomery envisioned that strong attack through this area would expose the Ruhr valley, the centerpiece of German industry, to quick defeat and capture by Allied forces and could possibly end the war before 1945.
A rapid drive through Holland would be no easy task. The Germans found this out for themselves during their invasion in 1940. Sparse lowlands, taken up by farms built on soft fertile ground, were cordoned off by a daunting series of rivers and canals. Any assault through this terrain could be stopped in its tracks if any of the crossings to these rivers were blocked or destroyed. While engineers could always build new bridges on the quick, the lost time would allow the enemy to bog down and trap an offensive.
In order to sustain momentum of a planed advance over this region, it was decided that the 1st Allied Airborne army under command of Lt. General Brereton would land at major bridges at Son, Nijmegen, Grave and Arnhem. While they held the bridges, the XXX Corps under the command of Lt. General Horrocks would drive north to relieve the surrounded airborne soldiers. The furthest bridge from the starting line of XXX Corps would be the one at Arnhem. The soldiers there would have to hold out the longest, but if the advance went as planned they should be relieved two days after the drop. The 1st Parachute brigades and 1st Airlanding Brigade would land west of Arnhem and attempt a quick ‘coup de main’ to take the bridge and establish a perimeter. In addition the 4th Parachute Brigade and 1st Polish parachute brigade would land on the second day and reinforce those that had already landed. There was an opportunity to land all four brigades at once, but it was decided that in order not to overstress the pilots flying to Holland, that they go in two ‘lifts’ in two days, weather permitting. This would crucially deplete the strength of the force that would touch down north of the Neder, and in the case that the Airborne Division did run into significant armed opposition they might lack the strength to complete their objective.
To a degree, Allied estimates of German strength in the area were true. The units that were typically assigned to Holland were rear units, engaged in either light training or dull garrisoning duties. Interspersed between the motley collection of Luftwaffe training units and inadequate Volksturm formations were a smattering of Dutch SS soldiers. This would change in the wake of the Wehrmacht’s collapse in France. The vicinity of Arnhem would quickly become a center for increased activity as Germany’s battered divisions sought refuge to recuperate and re-arm. Generaloberst Kurt Student was quickly reforming the First Parachute Army near the Belgian-Dutch border. In September, Fieldmarshal Model had ordered the Second SS-Panzer Corps to encamp to the northwest of Arnhem. While significantly depleted from the Normandy defeat, they still possessed strong armored forces that would frustrate Allied tankers moving in from the South and pose an intractable difficulty for the lightly armed airborne soldiers landing around Arnhem.
There was yet another issue to compound the impending problem of dropping into an area that certainly was not just occupied by the dregs of the Wehrmacht. There was a decision to drop all of the soldiers several kilometers from their objectives so as to not expose both plane and man to unnecessary anti-aircraft fire. This, above all else, would contribute to the travails and failures of Market-Garden over the course of the operation. All of the units landing in Holland had a long way to travel to reach their objectives, and they would certainly lose the element of surprise doing so. Quick thinking and resourceful commanders would respond to the threat and send forces to interdict the airborne soldiers before they reached their distant objectives. Major Sepp Krafft quickly organized his under equipped training battalion in a blocking position east of Wolfheze. Immediately as soldiers began landing west of the hamlet a company struck the organizing forces to the south-east. The recon Squadron for the Airborne Division had landed on the wrong ‘LZ’ and hastened to get to Arnhem in their vehicles. As they sped along the road to Oosterbeek they would run into stern resistance from Krafft’s men.
Scenario MG-1: The Kraftt Line
At 1540 hours on the 17th of September, 1944, the Recon Squadron for the 1st Parachute Brigade began to move out from its ‘LZ’ toward Arnhem. They must safely traverse the road to the city around a German platoon hastily assembled to block any movement eastward.
The Recon Squad must reach Arnhem where it can link up with the 2nd Battalion. Clearing out enemy soldiers is not important, as the ground can be held by the footmen to follow. Using speed and maneuver, avoid as much enemy contact as possible, push past their forces onward to your objective.
You may only possess a single platoon, but the objective is simply to find a way to stop the Recon Squad from reaching their objective. Block key point along their route and move to count any maneuvers they might attempt around your forces.
The recon squad used all their speed to traverse the dirt road, but they were not mindful of the tactics that they normally deploy to make sure the way ahead was properly cleared. Normally the individual sections of a recon troop would leapfrog formations, one covering while the other advanced, but this was not done properly. As a result, the squadron was ambushed by a railway embankment just past Wolfheze. The ensuing firefight mauled C Troop and cost them many of their irreplaceable vehicles and many good soldiers. The full weight of the two brigades would prove to much for the ad-hoc defenses as the battle widened all along the line. Krafft and his men would retire from their untenable position at 1800 hours and join Major Spindler's larger blocking line to the northeast, content that they had delayed the British for the crucial hours needed to seize the bridge.
A relatively small yet pitched battle can have drastic consequences. The 1st Airborne would find itself in this position shortly after landing. This training battalion would pin and hold the 1st Battalion into place and once part of Spindler's blocking line force the entire division south toward Oosterbeek where the 9th SS-Division was launching its own attacks. A short quick ambush such as this was a microcosm of what was developing in the larger battle around Arnhem. The next week would be punctuated by sharp deadly engagements between two sides operating in what amount to a disorganized melee. However, the German forces, as out matched man to man as they were, could afford the losses and could resupply much easier than their British opponents.