John Frost Bridge, Arnhem (Image ©Stephen Berridge)
When the Oxf and Bucks went “A Bridge Too Far”
The Battle of Arnhem and the subsequent defence of the Oosterbeek Perimeter have passed into legend and the subject of numerous books and films, meaning that the story of the Operation is quite well known by most who have an interest in military history, what is probably less known is the contribution of the Regiment in Operation Market Garden.
Operation “Market Garden”
“Market” was the Airborne element of the operation, with three Allied Airborne Divisions being dropped behind enemy lines in Holland with the task of capturing and holding until relieved by ground forces, all the bridges along a “corridor” from the Belgian/Dutch border along a single road to the river Rhine at Arnhem.
The American 101st Airborne Division were to capture the bridges around Eindhoven, the American 82nd Airborne Division the bridges around Nijmegen and the British 1st Airborne Division along with the Polish Independent Parachute Brigade the bridges at Arnhem on the Rhine.
“Garden” was the land based element with the main thrust along the “corridor” being made by Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks’s British 30th Corps, with the 12th and 8th Corps on each flank. 30th Corps objective was to advance along the corridor linking up with the Airborne Divisions and reaching the Rhine at Arnhem within four days! From there the British 2nd Army could then cross the River Rhine, the last natural barrier, and then turn into the Ruhr and Germany itself and end the war by the end of 1944.
“This is a tale you will tell your grandchildren... …and mightily bored they’ll be”
Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks, commanding British 30th Corps
Operation Market Garden (Garden – Ground Forces)
1st Battalion (43rd) Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
Operations by the 53rd (Welsh) Division in 12th Corps, containing the 43rd, aimed to protect the left flank of the land based “Garden” force, 30th Corps, pushing through the airborne corridor from Eindhoven to link up with the Market forces at Arnhem.
On 20 September the enemy withdrew through De Kruisberg, leaving a small force to cover the retreat. The 43rd followed at night to push ahead in single file through the town to protect the flank of 15th (Scottish) Division forming a bridgehead on the Wilhelmina Canal at Best.
The advance by the 43rd in the direction of Oirschot attracted heavy fire. The blown bridge at Oirschot was reached at midday on 21st and the nearside bank of the canal was made secure to protect the western flank of the Scottish Division. The canal was a formidable obstacle but could be crossed by wading infantry.
The village of Dun was captured and where Regimental Headquarters was established until 5 October.
Nijmegen, Holland - October 1944
On 5 October, the 43rd was ordered to move up to Nijmegen bridgehead as reserve battalion. The move was full of small incidents of enemy action and manoeuvre. The Battalion led the attack by 71st Brigade to liberate 's-Hertogenbosch, which was secured by 27th, but the remnants of the enemy did not withdraw completely over the Maas to the north.
Operation Market Garden (Market – Airborne Forces) ARNHEM
The objectives of the 1st British Airborne Division were to capture and hold the bridges over the river Rhine at Arnhem, however in the end only a force slightly over battalion strength managed to reach and hold the northern approaches to the Road Bridge. Only the Second Parachute Battalion (less C company, who were separated in the town), reinforced by part of 1st Parachute Brigade HQ, individual members of 1st and 3rd Parachute Battalions and some attached arms personnel actually reached the Divisional objective – the Bridge.
Stephen Berridge has long been a volunteer at Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Oxf & Bucks Light Infantry - his knowledge has helped us put together a number of our exhibits - most recently a new Battles display featuring stories from Arnhem.