The gliders arrive on schedule



The gliders arrive on schedule

The remainder of the first lift, consisting of the 1st Battalion of the Border Regiment and the 7th Battalion of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, arrived on schedule. It was their duty to seize and hold the landing grounds and dropping zones, so that the second lift, due to land on the next day, might do so in safety. Lieutenant-Colonel R. Payton-Reid, commanding the Borderers, paints a dry picture of the flight and the arrival. “We started off,” he says,” in a certain amount of low mist, which caused some of the gliders to release over England. However, when we got over the Channel it was bright and clear. We had a good trip, not bumpy. Three of my gliders went down in the sea. They were all picked up in fifteen minutes by the Air Sea Rescue Service. It was interesting to see the Dutch islands all flooded completely, except for a few buildings sticking up out of the water. There was no flak.

“The first glider came down at 1.30 and we all moved off at three o ‘clock. Everything was unloaded by then. We had no local help. There were one or two crashed gliders. We couldn’t get out the motor bikes and one anti-tank gun. A lot of the gliders’ undercarriages came up through the bottom because we landed on very soft ground. Eight gliders didn’t arrive, otherwise we were complete, just over 700 men and forty officers. The battalion landed to the tune of its regimental march, ‘ The Blue Bonnets over the Border, ‘ played by a piper who continued to march up and down the rendezvous till all the men had reached it.”

Throughout the afternoon and the night the Borderers held the dropping zones, being thrice unsuccessfully attacked by the Germans. What happened to the Border Regiment covering the dropping zones to the south – those to the north were held by the Borderers – was very similar. They suffered to a certain degree from mortar fire, which by the end of the 18th had destroyed all the vehicles belonging to ” B ” Company.

Whether the course of the battle in the first twenty-four hours would have been changed, had it been possible for Major-General Urquhart to use these two Battalions of the Air Landing Brigade to reinforce the hard-pressed 1st Parachute Brigade, must at present remain a matter of conjecture. The tenacious resistance of the Germans on the high ground west and north of Arnhem proved too strong for the comparatively lightly armed parachute battalions to overcome. Had more troops been thrown into the battle, success might well have been achieved, but it was precisely this possibility which was denied to Urquhart. At any cost he had to hold the landing zones so that his reinforcements might be able to land without incurring prohibitive casualties. At the crucial moment, therefore, on the afternoon of that September Sunday, he lacked just that added punch which might have knocked down the German guard. Had the whole Division been carried in one lift, the Border Regiment and the Borderers would not have had to play a comparatively static role in the first and all-important twenty-four hours, nor would the South Staffords have had to go into action with only half their strength.

The impossibility of arranging for all units to arrive together was one reason why the 1st Airborne Division failed to hold the crossings of the Lower Rhine. Another was also to become apparent in the first twenty-four hours. The plan provided for the arrival of the second lift containing the balance of the Division at latest by ten in the morning of Monday, the 18th. That day broke fine and clear over Arnhem, and the spirits of the men fighting in its streets and in the woods around its trim houses were uplifted when they saw the bright sun and the clear sky. Major Wilson was soon busy putting out more markers, for he and his men heard the sound of aircraft approaching. They had been told that any they might see or hear would be friendly, but, as they were completing their task, they looked up and saw a number of Messerschmitt 109s diving upon them. They leapt hastily for cover. The minutes began to go by, and then the hours, and still the second lift did not appear, for on this side of the Channel cloud and foggy conditions prevented combinations from taking off till after midday. It was not until between three and four in the afternoon that they arrived in the landing area. This delay of several vital hours still further complicated a situation which was becoming increasingly difficult.