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Market-Garden Campaign Pt. 3
The Bridge at Best
Patrick Graham


As an entire British Airborne Division descended to the earth to hold one of the bridges in Holland, so did two American Divisions land to hold open the vital routes that hopefully would lead into Germany. Both the 101st and 82nd airborne divisions were veterans of Normandy where they held an important bridgehead into the Contentin peninsula. The 82nd had also fought in the Mediterranean Theatre. Now they would hold the bridges at Son, Grave and Nijmegen (and smaller ones at St. Oedenrode and Veghel) while they waited for the advance of XXX corps. Upon landing they faced the same problems that confront the 1st Airborne on the Neder. Both divisions were dropped too far from their objects to effect a ‘coup de main’ and hold the bridges intact.

The 101st Airborne would land closest to XXX corps and was expected to link up with them at the end of the first day at Eindhoven. This was, of course, not to happen as XXX had suffered no less than four ambushes as it moved from its start line and would encamp during the night of the 17th at Valkenswaard. Nonetheless, the 101st would perform superbly during the first day of the Operation, achieving most of its objectives. From the LZ they branched out in all directions, towards Veghel, Son, and Eindhoven. The Germans put up a good fight, but the Paratroopers outmatched the mostly garrison forces along the highway and at scattered strong point. The bridge at Son would be blown when it became apparent to the defenders that they could not hold off the Paratroopers for long. There were several alternative routes that were secondary objectives for the day. Should a crossing at Son become too difficult, other bridges could be used to bring XXX corps across.

At Son ran the Wilhelmina Canal, which served to direct the water flow along the lowlands of Holland and through its fertile farms. The 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment under the command of Colonel John H. Michaelis was tasked to cover the LZ as the 506th PIR moved against Son. They were then tasked to take the secondary bridge over the canal located just south of the town of Best. Leading the attack is H Company (which drew the short straw). The road leading to the bridge was clear and, like most roads in the country side of Holland, buffered on either side by farmland. The regiment had no clear intelligence on enemy presence in the sector other than a light garrison at the bridge itself likely under strength and under equipped.

The Whermacht commanders, who had reacted so quickly to the airborne threat around Arnhem would repeat the feat at Best. The weight of the 59th Infantry Division had been mobilized into action and would move quickly toward best and the bridge. The bridge of course, was only defended by the usual scrabbly sort of garrison soldiers of the like that defended so many other bridges such as the famous Pegasus bridge over the Caen Canal. They lacked the resources, the will or any expectation to hold the bridge against a determined attack, which made their reinforcement all the more important. With the Son Bridge destroyed, Allied engineers were forced to take time to throw across a replacement. Fieldmarshall Model has ordered that as many bridges as possible be held instead of blown up so to assist in the launching of counter-attacks, but if there was no other alternative all bridges could eventually be destroyed.

Scenario MG-3: The Bridge at Best

At 1800 hours on September 17th, 1994, Company H of 2/502nd PIR set out from its ‘LZ’ to capture the bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal at Best. The bridge garrison must hold the bridge until reinforcements arrive from the 59th Infantry Division.

Allied Objectives

Secure the bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal and form a perimeter around it. If the bridge cannot immediately be taken, you can still achieve a favourable position by entrenching close enough to it and force the enemy to expend significant resources countering your presence in the area. By pinning the enemy forces, a limited objective may be achieved by relieving pressure on Hell’s Highway.

Axis Objectives

The bridge garrison will not be able to hold the bridge for long against a concerted attack from the Americans. It will take time for reinforcements from the 59th division to arrive, but they possess superior mobility in their half-tracks. Do not allow the American Paratroopers to reach the bridge. If possible, cut them off and force them into the woods or destroy them outright.


The clashes that erupted on the road forced the 502nd to move through the woods instead to try to out flank the reinforcements. They ended up hopelessly lost in the forest north of the canal. A single platoon made it through and attacked the garrison but was beaten back to the hills where they began digging in. They would be showered with debris as the bridge was finally blown by the panicking Germans. As the rest of the 502nd moved into the area to combat the rapidly expanding German blocking lines, they would hold the 59th at bay until they could be reinforced by the armor of XXX Corps. A combined attack by both the British and the Americans would throw back the Division and secure Best. The bridge itself was blown, but to the 502nd, they had fought a hell of a battle and came out the victors.

General Taylor would liken the fighting along the highway in this section to ‘Indian Wars’ where there was no coherent front. While the fighting for control of the highway began all the way at the Dutch/Belgian border, it would be the 101st that would bestow the name of Hell’s Highway to the roads that stretched to the bridge at Arnhem. Relatively small organizations of soldiers would defend points on a throughway across a frontier. In this case, the 101st would need to maintain the integrity of the highway while outnumbered by German forces in the area. The key to do so would lie in drawing off significant portions of the Whermacht host through constant small offensive actions. If the enemy was sufficiently tied down, he could not launch attacks of his own to sever the vital highway. At Best a single regiment of paratroopers tied down an entire German Division. While they did not secure the bridge, they had protected the vital highway leading north. The battle would not go so well elsewhere and the conduit would be severed several times be for the Market Garden operation came to a close.

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