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Published: June 11th 2016
Our destination today was the city of Maastricht in the Netherlands cheesy Limburg region. But our route mostly followed the route taken by Allied forces beginning on September 17, 1944 in the heroic and disastrous Operation Market Garden. This actually consisted of two actions: the largest airborne drop ever used to capture multiple bridges along the route of advance (Operation Market) and a ground advance up the only road using the airborne troops as a carpet (Operation Garden). The airborne forces had to take 6 bridges nearly simultaneously. Although it would be best if all bridges were captured intact, a considerable amount of bridging material was made available. The airborne forces were to include the US 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions, the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade, and the British 1st Airborne Division (in order from nearest the Allied lines to the farthest). The plan was based in no small part on Allied intelligence estimates that the Germans were in disarray and were not present in very large numbers in the battle zone, and were particularly lacking in armored units. About a week before the planned operation, ULTRA intercepts indicated the movement of the German 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions
to the area near Arnhem (the farthest bridge to be captured). Eisenhower's chief of staff arranged a meeting with General Montgomery and advised him of Ike's concerns. Montgomery was completely dismissive and refused to alter the plan. The chief intelligence officer of the British 1st Airborne Division went to its commander, Gen. Browning, and told him that aerial photographs indicated a much stronger force at Arnhem than had been expected. Browning not only dismissed his concerns, but had the intelligence officer sent on sick leave for "nervous strain and exhaustion".
There were other problems in the plan and execution, but initial results were good. Most troops were dropped very near their objectives in the daylight drop. The 101st captured four of the five bridges to which it was assigned, but the Germans managed to blow the Son bridge before it could be captured. The 82nd initially focused its efforts on the Groesbeek Heights for strategic reasons, rather than the Nijmegen Bridge. The 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment tried to take the Nijmegen Bridge, but was late in arriving our do a bad drop a distance from that objective. Inability to capture some of the smaller bridges over small waterways and
canals could be overcome with new bridging, but the bridges at Arnhem and Nijmegen crossed branches of the Rhine and those waterways could not easily be bridged. The Nijmegen Bridge that was to be taken on the first day was taken on the 4th day. The British troops of Operation Garden crossed the bridge, but halted and refused to advance to the bridge at Arnhem. The Arnhem Bridge that was to be taken and held by 10,000 troops for two days ended up being taken and held by Col. John Frost's 700 men for four days. In the end, strategic, tactical, and logistical errors and failures resulted in a loss of the entire operation. Of the 10,000 troops of the British 1st Airborne Division, 8000 became casualties. The US 101st Airborne also suffered great losses. The Allies managed to hold the salient going up to the Nijmegen Bridge, but Arnhem was truly "a bridge too far".
We started at Nijmegen. There, in an extraordinary action, men of two companies of the 82nd Airborne Division crossed the Waal River in flimsy canvas boats, successfully eliminated the Germans awaiting them from embankments on the other side, and proceeded to take Fort
Hof van Holland and the Nijmegen bridge. 26 boats started the first crossing, with 13 making it across. the combat engineers then had to get back in the boats and go back for more troops. 11 boats made the second trip, and only 5 successfully completed the third. A battalion surgeon and a chaplain elected to make the crossing and both survived. Maj. Julian Cook who led the assault by the 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, won the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions that day, and the next Pvt. John Towle received the Medal of Honor for actions cited in the following citation:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty on 21 September 1944, near Oosterhout, Holland. The rifle company in which Pvt. Towle served as rocket launcher gunner was occupying a defensive position in the west sector of the recently established Nijmegen
bridgehead when a strong enemy force of approximately 100 infantry supported by 2 tanks and a half-track formed for a counterattack. With full knowledge of the disastrous consequences resulting not only to his company but to the entire bridgehead by an enemy breakthrough, Pvt.
John Frost Bridge - Arnhem
Essentially the same design as the one that was here in 1944
Towle immediately and without orders left his foxhole and moved 200 yards in the face of intense small-arms fire to a position on an exposed dike roadbed. From this precarious position Pvt. Towle fired his rocket launcher at and hit both tanks to his immediate front. Armored skirting on both tanks prevented penetration by the projectiles, but both vehicles withdrew slightly damaged. Still under intense fire and fully exposed to the enemy, Pvt. Towle then engaged a nearby house which 9 Germans had entered and were using as a strongpoint and with 1 round killed all 9. Hurriedly replenishing his supply of ammunition, Pvt. Towle, motivated only by his high conception of duty which called for the destruction of the enemy at any cost, then rushed approximately 125 yards through grazing enemy fire to an exposed position from which he could engage the enemy half-track with his rocket launcher. While in a kneeling position preparatory to firing on the enemy vehicle, Pvt. Towle was mortally wounded by a mortar
shell. By his heroic tenacity, at the price of his life, Pvt. Towle saved the lives of many of his comrades and was directly instrumental in breaking up the enemy counterattack.
Finding ourselves with extra time after leaving Arnhem, and with a busy day planned for tomorrow, we went on over to Aachen and Primmer. Aachen was essentially leveled in the battles of the fall of 1944, so what we went to see was the Aachen Imperial Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in northern Europe and the site of coronation of kings of the Holy Roman Empire from 936 to 1531. It was constructed by order of Charlemagne, and his remains have been here since his death in 814. It is a beautiful church with wonderful stained glass and what seems like acres of inlaid tilework . The remains of Charlemagne rest in the gold Karlsschrein. Another reliquary is said to contain Christ's swaddling cloths, St. Mary's cloak, John the Baptist's beheading cloth, and Christ's loincloth.
Next we visited Prummern. When we were growing up, our parents' best friends were Bob and Sue Adden, and they remained best of friends until Mother's death. Bob was a lieutenant in the battle for Aachen, and was wounded at Prummern. I will let him tell the story in an interview done by The Citadel: "RA: Well, (Laughter) as
I said we were attached to the British Second Army and they were furnishing some tanks. We had to go through a minefield. The tankers wanted the infantry to go first and we, of course, wanted the tanks to go first. But, it ended up we went through the minefield and there were a number of pillboxes and trenches, the Germans had dug trenches all along the way. My section, the mortar section, was attached to Company B in the attack; so we were going along with Company B. We got in the trench and it was leading up toward the pillboxes and we got the infantry, the riflemen from Company B and took some of the pillboxes; of course, artillery blasted them pretty well. I remember one pillbox we went in, my runner and I and several others, there on the table was a Luger pistol. Of course, I had been warned about they would attach explosives to things like that knowing you’d pick them up, so I hesitated. My runner from (Laughter) Pageland, South Carolina, he said, “Look, Lieutenant what I found!” and he reaches over and picks up this Luger pistol. So he had a nice souvenir.
We got to the town of Prummern. The riflemen moved in. We went in with them. The rest of our platoon had set up mortars back in position before we attacked. We got into this town, Prummern, and it was late in the afternoon. So I sent word back to the rest of the platoon that we were in there and we would spend the night in this town. So, we found a house with a nice cellar--put the men in the cellar. Several of us stayed up on the ground floor, and we heard Germans running around all night long. But none of them came into our house, where we were. We were in a building right next to the church there in this small town. Anyway the next day--well, that night--as I said I was standing close to the door and saw this German figure come up to the door and I thought, “Well, I’m going to have to shoot my first German.” I hadn’t even fired my weapon up until then, of course. So I squeezed down on the trigger and the safety was on (Laughter), it didn’t go off. He just turned around and left. He
saved his own life by my gun not going off. The next morning, the First Lieutenant who was in command of our platoon came up and he said that we were to set up an observation post with the front line troops. Well, we hadn’t been told that the riflemen with Company B and the other companies had pulled back out of Prummern during the night. So, the First Lieutenant and I and our runner started out to set up an observation post. We went about three or four blocks, I guess, from where we were; it was a small town. We came to a road; the street we were on dead-ended at this road and there was an open field beyond so, the First Lieutenant ran across the street and the runner ran across the street. I started across the street and I got shot. A rifle bullet hit me in the back and knocked me down. My rifle went one way, my helmet went one way (Laughter) and there I was in this dirt street, but there was a little embankment. So I crawled to this embankment and then I looked down to the left and there
were two German tanks and a bunch of German soldiers. One of them took his machine pistol and I guess he emptied it at me. I could see the bullets hitting the ground and getting closer and closer. Finally, they just settled in on me and I got hit five more times. They thought I was dead so they just left me there; lucky they never came over to examine me although the tanks went up and down the street the rest of the day. In fact, they were so close one time I had to pull my legs in to keep the tank from running over my legs. I took my glasses off which, later on, I was sorry I did that. I figured I’d look deader if I didn’t have my glasses on. (Laughter) I just had to lie there until later in the afternoon. JB: So you were there like what, twelve or eighteen hours? RA: No, no, only about five or six hours, seven maybe. See, this was in the middle of, I’d say nine or ten o’clock in the morning. JB: Okay. RA: Until about four o’clock. It began to get
dark early and the German tanks and infantry pulled out--went back the other way down the road. In the meantime, the two that had been with me, our runner and the First Lieutenant, they got captured. After a while, after the Germans had left, at least I’d thought they’d left, I got up and started to walk back to the Aid Station. I looked down the road and the German tanks were still there so I went back and laid down where I’d been. I could have just as easily gone across the street and been out of sight but I went back and lay down a little bit longer. The Aid Station also had not been told that the riflemen had pulled back the night before and they were in the middle of the town, too. They were out in front of the rifle companies. I only had about two or three blocks to walk to the Aid Station and I got in there and the doctor put his arm around me and that’s when I passed out. I just passed out then. I didn’t remember much. I do remember some time during the night a priest coming in
and asking if he could pray for me and I said, “Yeah, go ahead; every little bit helps.” So, I was there at the Aid Station. The next day the major, I think he was a major or a lieutenant colonel in the military police in my regiment came up, and he knew me because he was from Orangeburg. He found out that I was there and he went back to Regional Headquarters and while he was there a report came in that I was missing in action. He told the adjutant that I wasn’t missing, that I was wounded and that I was in the Aid Station. He said but the doctor said he didn’t think I was going to live. So the adjutant said, “I’ll send it in as ‘Killed in Action’.” (Laughter) And this friend said, “Well, you’d better not do that; that might worry his mother.” So, they just sent it in that I was Wounded In Action at the time. I stayed there in the Aid Station until they were able to get an ambulance up. They moved me to a field hospital in Heerlen, Holland, just across the border from Germany. I stayed there, I guess, about eight days. I’m not sure. They closed up the wounds as well as they could. One of them was a broken arm that they put sort of a makeshift cast on it. They got an ambulance through there and took me to Belgium back to--not Brussels, another big city . I can’t think of the name; I’ve been there a number of times. JB: Not Amsterdam? RA: No, this was in Belgium. JB: Belgium. RA: Anyway, I was in a hospital there; they had a hospital set up. I was there only one night. The Germans bombed the hospital but actually it hit a wing that I wasn’t in so I just heard about it. I didn’t know a thing about it. I just stayed there one night and they moved me to an airfield to be shipped by air over to England. But the weather wasn’t very good and I stayed-- they had set up sort of a waiting area in a power plant near the airport. (Laughter) So I was just on a table there in this power plant for two or three days before I was finally flown over to England and went to the hospital in Cirencester, England which was western England. I was there until I shipped home at the end of January, 1945. I was moved out. While I was in the hospital in England, one of my classmates came in, too. What’s his name? Names just sort of leave me now. He was president of The Citadel later. He had lived in Orangeburg and his folks lived in Kingstree at the time. I should be able to remember his name but--. JB: It’ll come back. RA: Yeah. So that was my experience. I was there in the hospital. I got shipped home and came in at Boston and from there they moved me down to a hospital in Camp Pickett, Virginia. I stayed there until August, 1945. A lot of that time, I was home on leave, but I was officially in the hospital. Then I went back to active duty in August, 1945. I went back to Alexandria but this time to Camp Livingston and stayed there a few weeks; then moved up to Camp Robinson in Arkansas. I was in an Infantry Replacement Training Center. I was the only officer in the battalion who had had any experience with mortars so I had to teach mortars to the whole battalion. That’s how I got into teaching. That was the first teaching job I had. My first assignment was twelve hours of teaching one day. I was there, then got out of the service in March, 1946. I returned to The Citadel in June, 1946 and graduated in March, 1947. That was my war experience."
After leaving Primmer, we headed for Maastricht and our hotel for the night. Time for ein bier.
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