Daily Herald: Monday, September 18, 1944 – ‘Airborne Army’
AIRBORNE ARMY CAPTURES DUTCH TOWNS NEAR REICH BORDER
Thousands Of Paratroops Landed Before AA Guns Opened Fire
From STANLEY WOODWARD, “Herald” War Reporter, Somewhere In Holland, Sunday
Men of the First Allied Airborne Army, who landed behind the German front line in Holland to-day from a great sky-train of more than a thousand gliders, troop-carrying planes and towing planes, had cleared the enemy from several Dutch towns before nightfall.
Strong units swooped down near the German border, and by night English and American troops were established. The strong fighter and bomber support made the move a success. Losses from flak were small.
It is as yet too soon to assess the tactical situation, but the landing has definitely gone according to plan.
Mortar, machine-gun and artillery fire are going on around us.
We have seen the first prisoners. They looked fit, surly and bewildered. And some of them are unusually young.
The planes and gliders landed with their loads or dropped their paratroops right to time table.
I travelled with them in the fourth glider and landed with them in a turnip field near a house, outside of which a Dutch family greeted us in their Sunday best.
I am writing this from my half-dug foxhole in a little wood near that turnip field.
On the way over it seemed that all the gliders and aircraft in the world were gathered together.
As the enemy began to rush troops to the areas of Holland menaced by the Allied air landing, General Dempsey’s Second Army launched a big offensive from its main bridgehead on the Escaut Canal.
The attack was preceded by a barrage from hundreds of guns. When the barrage lifted, tanks lumbered across followed by British Infantry.
Tommies rode on top of the tanks and carriers. Ahead of them a creeping barrage swept forward 200 yards per minute, while more infantry stalked the woods and fields on both sides.
The landing in Holland was the greatest airborne invasion ever known – and it took the Germans by surprise.
Not a Nazi plane was in the sky when the aerial armada crossed the coast, and clouds of paratroops, followed by glider-borne units, were dropping on their objectives before the enemy’s A.A. guns opened fire.
At first, German resistance on the ground was light, but later reports said that stiff opposition had developed in many places.
Jeeps, Tanks, Guns Landed
Supreme H.Q. is maintaining secrecy about the area where the assault from the air was made. But a broadcast to the people of Holland revealed that our troops were landed south of the Rivers Rhine and Lek.
Berlin said that a strong landing was made at noon on the north bank of the Rhine near Nijmegen, and that other landings were near Tilburg and Eindhoven, and near the mouth of the Rhine. The German News Agency said later that landings were still taking place.
British, American, Polish and Dutch troops took part in the landings, which began at noon. Some of the gliders probably carried light guns, jeeps and light tanks.
“Everyone in Holland seemed to have been to church,” said a fighter pilot.
“They had been walking home in their Sunday best, but everybody was standing in the streets. You could almost see their open mouths.
“The gliders went down as if they were parking. There they were parked together, wing-tip to wing-tip, in straight lines, just like cars in a garage.
“They were all bang in the right spot, and unloading was going on. In one place I got right down and saw the local people in their Sunday best lending a hand with the unloading.
“In another landing zone, the troops were already leaning over an orchard wall talking to a crowd of girls.”
Weather conditions were ideal. Low clouds provided cover for the unarmed, unarmoured troop-carriers, but over the zones where paratroops were to drop and gliders to land the clouds lifted and gave perfect visibility.
Enemy Positions Pounded
The paratroops were in action with the enemy long before the last of the gliders had reached the target.
Fifteen hours before the landing the Allied air forces opened a terrific attack on enemy positions in Holland.
Late on Saturday afternoon, Marauders and Havocs bombed Dutch dykes, to impede German concentrations and reinforcements. At night, Lancasters and Mosquitos hit Dutch airfields.
Yesterday morning 850 Fortresses bombed gun positions over a wide area and Mosquitos strafed barracks. The Forts operated in sections with six to 12 bombers in each, and each section was allotted different gun-sites.
Just before the landings began, United States fighters, flying low to draw enemy fire, swarmed down on enemy gun positions in a day of “suicide” flying.
The fighters, carrying fragmentation bombs and extra ammunition, swooped down to roof-top height to draw the guns’ fire and then silenced them with bombs.
At the same time, Spitfires, Mosquitos, Mitchells and Bostons attacked the barracks, bombing and strafing the soldiers’ quarters, and rocket carrying Typhoons attacked flak ships.