|Market-Garden Campaign Pt. 2|
|Hell's Highway Christened|
As the units landing in the airdrop secured their positions on Sunday, September 17th of 1944, the XXX Corps under the command of General Horrocks formed up a few miles south of the Holland-Belgium border to launch the second half of the Market Garden operation that would see an armored spearhead penetrate deep into Holland and link up with the Airborne forces holding key points along the way. In order for the airdrop to have any hope of success, the area each drop secured would have to be reinforced, established and widened with forces on the ground. Without this, the surrounded forces, cut off and behind enemy lines, would be encircled and destroyed in detail. The Allied high command believed that just as there were only the sparsest elements of resistance that could be brought to bear against the airborne soldiers, only a paltry defense could be offered up against any armored strike.
For the part of the Germans, there had already been a great deal of fighting in Belgium. They assumed that a strike across the Dutch border was more or less a given, as Allied offensives struck in this general direction. It was only a few days prior to Market Garden that the bridges that lead to the Belgian-Holland border were actually captured by XXX corps. As such there could be no element of surprise as was evidenced by the airborne landings themselves. For the tankers pushing towards Arnhem, their opponent had been both fighting and watching them for some time and was preparing for the next round of combat that was to take place.
Certainly, the German forces exploited a certain degree of territorial advantage over the Allied liberators up to this point. In France and Belgium, they had made expert use of the terrain features unique to each region to slow and pin down Allied armies. It took time to adapt to these new realities, but eventually Allied armies were able to mitigate or nullify these advantages. However, the end result was still that a relatively weaker force in material, manpower and now even training was able to offer up more resistance than they should have in the face overwhelming Allied combat superiority. Holland would be no different, but it would offer the Germans just as many obstacles as benefits in the coming days. It became quickly apparent that the low-lying boggy terrain, in addition to the design of the few roads cutting through the countryside would be a hindrance to any passing vehicles, German or Allied. Roads were either elevated, sunken or surrounded by difficult ditches or embankments, forcing most vehicles to stay on the main roads. In addition to this, the surrounding ground was extremely soft, and any tank wishing to travel cross-country would quickly become stuck. Lastly, there were, as in France there plenty of places to hide and launch ambushes from in wooded lots or obstructions cordoning off agricultural land. All this helped balance the odds for the shrunken German armies, and they took full advantage of this.
To work against the possibility of ambush, especially one that would delay an operation where time was crucial, the XXX Corps turned to the preponderance in air and artillery power that they could bring to bear. Preregistered targets along the road were given to the aerial and ground attackers and two hours before the assault, they slammed the stretch of road soon to be dubbed Hells Highway with everything they had. The XXX Corps had expected that the preceding artillery and aerial bombardments would neutralize any German anti-tank defenses in the sector. However, as was proving the case since the Allies landed in Normandy, such preparatory strikes had little effect on dug in and concealed soldiers and equipment. When the time came to execute the attack, the forward positions of the units around the border of Holland and Belgium were neutralized, but this would draw in Allied armor in closer to better protected units in the interior. To lead this spearhead into Holland the tanks of the veteran Irish Guards division formed up and waited for the bombardment to end and the mobilizing orders to be given. They would be the first Allied armor to enter Holland and the first to experience the difficulties of what would be called Hell’s Highway.
Scenario MG-2: Hell's Highway Christened
At 1435 Hours the spearhead of the XXX Corps advance into Holland, the Irish Guards Division, moves along the road to Valkenswaard. SS and Fallshirmjäger forces lie in wait, hidden amongst the trees and boggy terrain.
Time is of the utmost importance here, as armored forces must make it to Eindhoven and link up with the 101st Airborne as soon as possible. Any hold up here could leave the Paratroopers stranded. Conversely, any supply lines cannot be maintained with extensive enemy presence still in the area. Destroy all opposition if possible and speed on your way to Valkenswaard so that the spearhead can move onward to Eindhoven before sundown.
The bombardment has made everyone hunkering down in the trench-works behind the border distinctly aware that a massive Allied operation was underway. The marshy forested terrain has been your home for the last few months and now it will be your greatest weapon as the haughty Allied tanks rumble forward, certain that they will simply drive on through to the Rhine. Ambush and annihilate the Allied spearhead to a man. Damage, destroy and immobilize all vehicles and put a stop to this offensive before it gets started.
German forces in the area simply laid waste to the spearhead. The preparatory bombardment had been for naught. Only with continued bombardment and aerial strikes were the German guns silenced, and their soldiers forced to retreat to their hiding places in the woods. Over the next few hours, no less than 250 sorties were lead by Typhoons to strike at targets along the five mile stretch of highway. Once in the open, the German guns and vehicles became easy prey to more remote attacks. Still, the XXX Corps faced a difficult problem as the road was the only reliable passage to Eindhoven. Cross-country travel for the Allied tankers was rendered impossible by the imposing earthen obstacles along the roads and the soft ground that would have to be traversed off the main highways.
Burning and wrecked vehicles clogged the highway, slowing down the movement of additional forces to continue the push to their target of Valkenswaard. As reserves moved up along the road the encountered further ambushes that stalled their line throughout the day. The first tanks arrived in Valkenswaald at 17:30 hours, well short of their end-of-the-day target of Eindhoven. All told, two regiments supported by a StuG company held of an entire corps for the better part of a day. It was clear that the lightning thrust of an armored breakthrough was not to happen here. The Wehrmacht was no longer in freefall, and the Allies had a tough slog to Arnhem and beyond. (German Victory 14 – 0)