The 3rd Battalion breaks into Arnhem
The 3rd Battalion breaks into Arnhem
So, for a night and a day, did the 2nd Battalion hold to the vital objective. The fortunes or, to speak more truly, the misfortunes of the 3rd and 1st-Parachute Battalions must now be considered. The 3rd Parachute Battalion under Lieutenant-Colonel J. A. C. Fitch had been engaged on their approach march to the bridge for less than an hour when, at a cross-roads about a mile and three-quarters south-east of Wolfhezen and half that distance from Oosterbeek, they ran into German infantry supported by two armoured cars. ” B ” Company, forming the advance guard,” were rather taken aback with this first sight of armour, because the six-pounder attached to them was facing the wrong way when the cars appeared and was knocked out when trying to face round.” Nevertheless, a German staff car containing four staff officers was wiped out and the armoured cars dealt with, despite a lack of Piats. After this, ” C ” Company advanced through ” B ” towards the railway with orders to find any route they could by which to reach the bridge. This was the last seen of them by the rest of the battalion. What happened to them was this. They moved down a small by-road and the platoons soon became separated. The leading one fought an action against a captured British jeep filled with Germans and pressed on, being presently caught up by the other two platoons, which had attacked an ammunition lorry and blown it up. At dusk all three, now much reduced in numbers, reached the railway station at Arnhem and then moved on towards the bridge, through a town deserted save, says Sergeant Mason, ” for two Dutch policemen…..We walked down a main street towards the bridge. Just before reaching it, a German car was blown up by a gammon bomb thrown by the leading platoon.” A confused fight then ensued, and eventually what was left of the company entered the school close to the bridge and there joined the Sappers fighting beside Frost’s 2nd Battalion. On the way to the school Private McKinnon in the hope of finding food, entered a butcher’s shop of which the owner, having no meat, gave him bread, wine and cheese. ” He asked,” says McKinnon, ” if he could bring his daughter down to see me. She was twelve years old and she had one line of English to say. ‘ Many happy returns after your long stay away.’ ”
In the meanwhile the other companies of the battalion remained near the cross-roads a mile from Oosterbeek until two hours before dawn. Their advance then continued until they reached a point in Arnhem itself near the railway, where they came under heavy and persistent fire from eighty-eight mm. guns. By that time the Headquarters Company, with which marched the mortars and machine-guns and a rifle company, were cut off from those in front, whose men presently got into houses and opened fire whenever possible on the German self-propelled guns and infantry. By one p.m. they were under mortar fire, which continued for the next three hours, and at three o’clock Lieutenant Burwash, M.C., with a party of men in a carrier, arrived at Battalion Headquarters, having forced a way through the intervening Germans. They arrived somewhat exhausted, having run (he gauntlet of several enemy posts; but they had with them some much-needed ammunition. This was distributed with difficulty, and it was decided to break out of the houses at four p.m. and push on at any cost to the bridge. Undeterred by their already heavy losses, the battalion did so, but was soon surrounded by an ever-increasing number of the enemy and split into two groups which defended themselves with vigour through the night but could make no progress. At dawn on the next day, the 19th, all that were still left reached the river bank and seized a large house called the Pavilion, but could not advance from it. There they were presently joined by such elements of the 1st Battalion as remained. ” Casualties were being suffered at an ever-increasing rate.” The Germans, too, were in poor case. Those on the ” promenade side ” of the Pavilion ” were very scared and wouldn’t come down to the machine-gun emplacements overlooking the road and fire their guns.” Some, however, were made of sterner stuff, notably the crew of a Spandau firing from a point near the junction of the pontoon bridge and the road along the river’s bank. They remained at their gun and prevented any further advance.