65th Anniversary of “Operation Market-Garden”: Arnhem 2009

You might not have noticed many (if any) programmes about it on television, but last week was the 65th anniversary of “Operation Market-Garden”.  Market-Garden was Field Marshal Montgomery’s big gamble to try and leap-frog across the rivers of southern Holland and finally into Germany itself by crossing the Rhine at the town of Arnhem – and possibly end the war in 1944.  Of course, as we all know now, this “airborne carpet” scheme didn’t quite work out that way – especially at Arnhem, the famous “Bridge Too Far.”

I jumped at Arnhem for the 60th Anniversary with the Pathfinder Parachute Group – an experience I’ll never forget, especially as we jumped onto a small DZ right next to John Frost Bridge. 

The Bridge 

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend this year’s commemorations.  But I wasn’t the only one, apparently Prince Charles (Colonel-in-Chief of The Parachute Regiment) had some pressing paperwork to attend to, and Gordon Brown didn’t bother to turn up either.  Well, that’s just as well – he would probably would have just made another gaff, like referring to John Frost Bridge as “Obama Bridge” or something.

Fortunately, the boys from The Parachute Regiment (supported by the RAF) did show up – and conduct a mass jump – to honour and commemorate the veterans who travelled down to Holland for one last hurrah.  Also present – as always – were the men and women of The Pathfinder Parachute Group.  You’ll find their stories and photos on their website soon. 

In the meantime, here’s a report about the official ceremonies.

On Saturday (18 Sept.), soldiers from The Parachute Regiment and other UK airborne forces jumped onto the drop zone at Ginkel Heath near Arnhem to honour those who made the jump 65 years ago.In front of huge crowds on a beautiful, clear day, and around 50 veterans, a total of more than 1,000 Allied troops, including Dutch and US, parachuted onto the site to commemorate Operation Market Garden.

Arnhem65_01 

Nine C-130 Hercules aircraft from three nations and the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s DC3 Dakota were used for the commemorative drops.

Operation Market Garden took place between 17 and 25 September 1944; the brainchild of Field Marshal Montgomery, it was one of the most controversial Allied operations of World War II.

The intention was to capture bridges on the key routes through Holland near Arnhem and Eindhoven to Germany by inserting three airborne divisions behind enemy lines by glider and parachute – some 20,000 troops, 511 vehicles and 330 artillery pieces.

However, the German Army provided stubborn resistance that prevented the link-up of British and US armoured forces with those who were deployed by air. This meant that a bloody defensive battle had to be fought by the 1st Airborne Division in the streets of the Dutch town, leading eventually to the evacuation of the hugely depleted formation.

Over 1,500 British soldiers were killed in the vicinity of Arnhem and nearly 6,500 captured. Five Victoria Crosses were won.

To mark the loss, a service was held at the Airborne Memorial at Ginkelse Heath over the weekend. The crowds stood in silence as the Last Post was played, echoing across the heathland, before wreaths were laid by.

The occasion was particularly poignant for one paratrooper, Private Robin Corless. 65 years ago Pte Corless’s great-uncle, Pte John Bernard Corless, landed on the same drop zone.  Pte Corless, a member of 4th Battalion The Parachute Regiment, the Paras’ Territorial Army battalion, was among the 500 paratroopers who made the jump in much less dangerous conditions on Saturday.

Today does feel very personal, to know my great-uncle landed here 65 years ago. 

“Today we jumped with just 26 blokes in the air at once, it was perfect weather; I had a perfect exit leaving the plane and a perfect landing.

“I can’t imagine how horrendous that would have been with enemy firing, with a lot more equipment, carrying water and ammunition; that must have been absolutely terrible.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it was just absolutely amazing as you look down to see the amount of people, the drop zone, the other jumpers. It was a lot to take in and when I eventually got to the ground and had a couple of moments to look around it was absolutely fantastic.

“And it’s fantastic to see all the people turn out, because this will be the last big anniversary.”

65TH ANNIVERSARY OF OPERATION MARKET GARDEN 

More than 150 of the paratroopers were from 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (2 PARA), which took the Arnhem Bridge, the famous ‘A Bridge Too Far’, before having to fall back when Allied support couldn’t get through.

Captain Will Hunt, Adjutant of 2 PARA, said:

“This has been without doubt the most enjoyable parachute jump I have ever done; the weather was beautiful, the wind speed when I jumped was zero, and, as atrocious as it was 65 years ago dropping into this drop zone, it is actually beautiful, rolling, flat heathland.

“As we finished, thousands of people are clapping you off and you feel a bit of a fraud because we are the lucky ones, both because we chose to do it and because of the conditions, but 65 years ago they didn’t have a choice.

“But in essence the young paratrooper is the same creature that he was 65 years ago, and still demonstrates the same core values and spirit; for these young men on that plane jumping into the unknown is the same as walking out of a Forward Operating Base in Afghanistan expecting to come under contact.”

On Sunday, 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment held a memorial ceremony on the Arnhem Bridge itself, renamed the John Frost Bridge, after the then Commanding Officer of 2 PARA.

65TH ANNIVERSARY OF OPERATION MARKET GARDEN

[65th Anniversay Photos: Cpl Rupert Frere RLC, Crown Copyright/MOD 2009]



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