Collision at the bridge



Collision at the bridge

The rest of the battalion pressed forward, and came under fire from some high wooded ground called Den Brink. This position was fiercely attacked by ” B ” Company, which took and held it at the cost of quite a few casualties. Meanwhile, ” A ” Company skirted the position to the south, and moving close to the river, entered the town of Arnhem, where they met with small, scattered parties of Germans who were killed or captured. At eight o’clock, their eyes, straining through the September dusk, perceived the road bridge at last. Its half-circle steel span was intact, and German transport was moving across it. The buildings commanding its northern end were immediately seized. A pill-box, which gave trouble, was successfully dealt with by a six-pounder anti-tank gun and flame-throwers. Lieutenant Grayburn then attempted to rush across the bridge in order to capture its southern end. An anti-aircraft gun and a German armoured car firing straight up the bridge brought this attack to naught, and Frost had to be content for the moment to hold on firmly to the northern end. He tried his best, however, to seize both ends and dispatched ” B ” Company, which had captured Den Brink, to cross the river lower downstream by means of a German pontoon bridge and by barge so as to outflank the southern defences of the road bridge. This they failed to do, for there were no barges and the pontoon bridge had been destroyed.

By the time Frost realized this, night had fallen; but he held on. When dawn came, he found himself in command of a mixed force of between 600 and 700 men, with some six-pounder anti-tank guns. They were not long left in peace. About 11.30 in the morning a German column of six half-track vehicles led by five armoured cars some fifteen to twenty yards apart, approached the bridge from the south. The armoured cars roared over it and went straight on into the town of Arnhem until they were tackled by the six-pounder anti-tank guns, which destroyed a number of them. The half-tracks were even less fortunate. When the leading vehicle arrived outside a school in which Lieutenant D. R. Simpson, M.C., R.E., with a number of Sappers, was installed, it ran into immediate trouble. Its driver and those of the rest were without the protection afforded by the armoured roofs, for these had been removed a few moments before by the six-pounders in action at the bridge itself. When, therefore, the half-tracks arrived at the school, their occupants fell an easy prey to the Sappers firing from its windows and from those of nearby houses.

The school itself stood in its own grounds and was of a square horseshoe shape, the ends of the two arms of the horseshoe being not above ten yards from the road. ” I had men in one end,” reported Simpson,” and Captain Mackay had some in the other. As the half-tracks came by, Corporal Simpson and Sapper Emery, whose conduct that day was outstanding, stood up and fired straight into the half-tracks with Sten and Bren guns. The range was about twenty yards.” Five out of six of the half-tracks were knocked out almost at once, and created a block at the northern end of the bridge which made it impossible for any vehicles to pass. The driver of the sixth half-track, seeing the fate of the others, tried to bypass the obstacle created by the burning vehicles of his comrades, and pulled on to an asphalted path which ran under the windows of the school. His vehicle did not get far. It was hit, its crew climbed out, and sought the cover of the bushes, but were killed before reaching them.

After this unsuccessful attempt by the enemy to rush the bridge, he had recourse to continuous and heavy shell and mortar fire, which did a certain amount of damage to the houses in which Frost and his men were holding out. A heavy attack supported by several tanks and S.P. guns developed towards evening. It was driven back with the loss of one tank. Just as darkness fell, four of the houses held by the parachutists were set on fire and they had to seek other quarters.