|Market Garden Campaign Pt. 4|
|The Race Around Nijmegen|
|by Patrick Graham|
One of the greatest problems faced by the soldiers tasked with the defense of the ‘corridor’ between the Dutch/Belgium border and Arnhem was covering large swaths of territory with relatively few. In some cases, such as the previous scenario, Allied forces found that they could tie down large numbers of Axis soldiers with comparatively fewer paratroopers. On the other hand, in many cases, small groups of men were quickly swept aside by superior German forces. This was the inevitable result of tasking small patrols of men to hold objectives, while the main body of the landing force was concentrated to strike at strong points or other heavily defended objectives.
The 82nd Airborne had an auspicious history under its belt before it had touched down in Holland. Converted into an Airborne Division out of the former All-American Division, itself made famous in the First World War, the 82nd was the first of its kind. The Division had fought in North Africa and took part in the costly drops on Sicily. Most of the Division with the exception of the 504th was transferred from Italy in November 1943 to prepare for Operation Neptune, the airborne component of Operation Overlord, or the invasion of Normandy. The battle of France had cost the Division over 5000 casualties but had their performance had instilled confidence in the concept of the Airborne soldier This in turn influence the decision to find a situation where the could be used to their fullest potential. ‘Market-Garden’ by its design would test the very limits of what a single Division could accomplish. The leader of the 82nd Airborne, Jim Gavin was well known as a ‘fighting general’; astute and aggressive in mind, a man who leads well. Even Gavin and his Chief of Staff complained vociferously that the 82nd was being asked to do the work of two divisions without the logistical support to make it feasible. It was clear from the get-go that the 82nd Airborne would have to do a lot of running back and forth to cover and defend all of the positions assigned to it. While the 101st covered the area between Eindhoven and Grave, the 82 would cover what lay between Grave and Nijmegen.
Upon touching down in Holland, the 82nd found that just like the 101st and 1st Airborne Divisions they were too far from their objectives to surprise their hosts. Of chief importance was the capture of the Nijmegen road bridge. The request was made to drop the division on both sides of the bridge, but it was considered to dangerous in the face of the presumed Anti-Aircraft defenses in the area. Additionally the Division was to land in two separate lifts, just like its counterparts. The second part of the Division was supposed to land on D-Plus 1 but it simply was not to be due to the inclement weather across The Channel. As it was, Gavin was faced with a tough choice as to what was to take priority with the few men he had on the first day of the operation. South of Nijmegen were the imposing Groesbeek Heights that if held in German hands could flank and enfilade any units around the Nijmegen Bridge. He made the controversial decision that control of the land surrounding Nijmegen was more important than the bridge itself. The 508th battalion began the long walk from the LZ up to the heights and then around the town itself. Half heart attacks toward the bridge itself were furiously repelled by the new arrivals from the 9th SS-Panzer Division.
As it was on D-Plus two the 508th was to make another go of strike out at Nijmegen, however Gavin was still faced with severe problem created by manpower shortages. The second lift was finally to arrive after the weather had cleared up further west. If the 508th could not clear Nijmegen in time they would have to make the long job south to the LZ and secure it for the arrival of the rest of the 82nd later in the day. Scenario Card Description:
Market-Garden Campaign Pt. 4: The Race Around Nijmegen
At 0900 hours on September 18th the 1st Battalion of the 508th regiment begins to move toward its objectives for the Day, the town of Nijmegen, before being called back to defend the LZ. Attacks from German forces in several forces seek to divide the battalion and hopefully force it to concede all of its objectives.
Allied Objectives: Your orders are to take the area south of the bridge at Nijmegen. However, once the Germans sweep the LZ, your primary objective becomes reclaiming the LZ from enemy hands. Make all haste to try to capture the bridge and then turn your attention south so that the LZ will be clear for the arrival of the second lift.
Axis Objective: Your attacks on the Allies won’t be able to coordinate well, but the distance between the two combat zones will work to your favor as well. The strike against the LZ can come at any time you desire, so time it well with movements of the 1st Battalion to catch them off guard. Hold the bridge and the LZ and do as much damage as possible to the Paratroopers.
Aftermath: The 508th was unable to seize the bridge before being called off to deal with the threat to the LZ in the south. The poor caliber of the soldiers attacking the LZ made an attack against their perimeter on the LZ much easier than it should have been. Facing the Paratroopers charging down the slope were an array of 20mm guns mount on tanks and half tracks, yet after only desultory fighting the Luftwaffe soldiers fled back to the forest. Still, they had accomplished two things. Firstly, they had inadvertently pulled the 508th away from Nijmegen allowing its further reinforcement. Also while being beaten back by the Paratroopers attack they continued to harass the LZ As it was the second lift began landing just as the enemy were fleeing the area; something that must have made a spectacular sight. The second lift landed safely, and as they assembled preparations were made to continue the attack on Nijmegen once XXX Corps made their own arrival.
However, if the Germans were not cleared from the LZ before the second lift’s landing general mayhem would have ensued, with confused soldiers falling in the midst of a fierce firefight. This very scenario unfolded for the Polish landing further north where they encountered fighting already sweeping the LZ when they landed. Confused, they fired on both friend and foe causing needless casualties. Such was the chaos of the Market Garden operation that was only to get much worse.