The Netherlands / Vector of Memory

John Frost Bridge




At 20:00 on 17 September, the 2nd Parachute Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel John Frost reached the Rhine Bridge in Arnhem. This was the northernmost bridge to be captured during Operation Market Garden. If the British could hold the bridge until Allied ground troops reached them, the road to the heart of Nazi Germany was open. In the original plan of Operation Market Garden, the entire 1st Airborne Division would defend the Rhine Bridge with some 10,000 men. In reality, the northern end of the bridge was taken by Frost and some 750 soldiers. After more than three days of sustained fighting, they had to surrender. Most of the British troops, including Frost, were taken prisoner. For 81 of the 750 British soldiers, the Battle of the Rhine Bridge cost their lives. In 1977, the Rhine Bridge was renamed the John Frost Bridge.

The Battle of Arnhem, 17-26 September 1944, was the last episode of Operation Market Garden. This bold attempt to achieve a swift breakthrough to heartland Germany beyond the Rhine, came to a halt in Arnhem. Bad luck seemed to guide the operation. There were no usable dropping areas closer to the bridge. Seasoned SS Panzer (armored) units happened to be in the Arnhem region to rest and reorganize, so the lightly armed paratroops met with unexpected and heavy resistance. The German tanks blocked the access roads to Arnhem, so no supplies and reinforcements could reach the small British combat group under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel John Frost near the bridge in downtown Arnhem.

The failure of the operation was also due to bad weather conditions in England. It was very foggy. The resupply aircrafts could not leave as scheduled and arrived in Holland much later than planned. By that time most of the selected drop zones had been reconquered by the stronger German forces. To add to the confusion radio communication between the Allied forces failed. And of course the worst problem: the land forces – Operation Garden – did not arrive in time to relief their airborne comrades. After the Battle of Arnhem, on 26 September, 95.000 citizens of Arnhem and surrounding towns were forced to leave their homes as the Germans wanted to turn the North bank of the Rhine into a heavily fortified line. Arnhem became a ghost town.