The Netherlands / Landmark

The road bridge at Arnhem




For more than three days, 750 British airborne troopers held out at the northern end of the bridge. Surrounded by German troops and without the possibility of reinforcements or new ammunition, they managed to stop the German attacks every time. But the situation became more and more difficult: they had almost run out of ammunition, the number of casualties was rising sharply, and the Germans systematically pushed the British back into an ever-smaller area. In the night of 20-21 September, the battle was over. The remaining British soldiers tried to escape, but virtually all British had either been killed or ended up as prisoners of war.

On 17 September 1944 around eight o'clock in the evening, about six hours after the airborne landings at Renkum, the first British airborne troopers arrive at the road bridge. Gradually more of them follow, and buildings on both sides of the embankment are taken and prepared for the defence. Several attacks are made to take the other side of the bridge as well, but none of them is successful. During the night, more British troops arrive at the bridge, and finally, around 750 men of the division manage to reach the road bridge.

From the very first night, German troops also arrive in the area. They surround the British positions around the bridge and ensure that no other British can reinforce them. The first, albeit limited, attacks on the British positions are also made at this time. The battle of the bridge, that is to last for more than three days, has begun.

From the following morning, the German attacks gradually become more systematic and heavier. Attacks are made from various directions. The best-known attack is made by part of a German reconnaissance battalion under command of SS Hauptsturmführer Viktor Graebner. With his column of armoured vehicles, he tries to force a way across the bridge from the south bank in the morning of 18 September 1944. His group comes under heavy British fire, and almost his entire column is eliminated on the bridge during a battle that lasts two hours. Most German troops are killed or made prisoners of war. Viktor Graebner does not survive the attack.

As a result of this attack and other German attacks, the British run out of ammunition fast. As they are surrounded, supplying new ammunition is impossible. Supplies have to be used with utmost care, and wherever possible, German weapons and ammunition are used. Time and again, the British manage to beat off the German attacks, but gradually they are pushed back into an ever-smaller area. The number of wounded is rising sharply.

When the first Tiger tanks arrive late Tuesday afternoon, the British have hardly any means left to defend themselves from them. The German tanks systematically demolish and set fire to the houses to drive off the British in this way. On Wednesday, the British are forced to withdraw completely into the heavily hit buildings on the west side of the bridge and finally in the gardens behind Frost's then headquarters, that today accommodates the East Netherlands Public Prosecution Service. By midnight, the last British try to escape from the area, around 150 men in total, according to major Tatham-Warter. But the battle for the road bridge is over. Of the 750 British soldiers who had managed to reach the bridge, 81 have been killed or have died of their injuries. Many others were wounded.