The Waterloo of the South Staffordshires

The Netherlands




On 18 September 1944, one day after the first British airborne landings took place and lieutenant colonel Frost managed to reach the bridge with around 750 men, the Germans have taken up solid positions in Arnhem to prevent the British from reaching the road bridge. During the night of 18-19 September and in the early morning of the 19th, British units make a desperate attempt to break through the German lines and reach the road bridge. A battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment attacks from the Utrechtseweg but gets stuck at the Museum.

To relieve the men of lieutenant colonel Frost at the road bridge and to help defend this bridge, the battalion commanders of three British battalions near Lombok decide to make a joint attack on the German line between them and the road bridge. They decide that the 1st Parachute Battalion will advance via Onderlangs, while the South Staffordshires will attack from the Utrechtseweg. A third battalion, the 11th Parachute Battalion, will be kept in reserve.

Owing to various circumstances, the attack of the South Staffs begins half an hour after that of the paratroopers at Onderlangs. This enables the Germans to focus on both groups separately.

When the South Staffs advance via the Utrechtseweg, all goes rather well until they pass the St Elisabeth Hospital. In the area between the hospital and the school, which was almost completely open at the time, the British soldiers come under heavy fire from two sides; from houses to the north of the railway line and from the factory south of the Rhine. From that moment on, the advance proceeds with more difficulties and casualties, but around half past six in the morning, the South Staffs manage to reach the museum and the houses across the street.

The British soldiers take up positions here. Some platoons occupy the houses on the north side of the Utrechtseweg, while other units occupy the museum. Mortars are set up in the hollow just to the west of the museum. Because of the fierce German opposition, they are prevented from advancing further into the city. The reserve battalion is called up to assist in the attack by attacking between the Utrechtseweg and the railway line.

However, this attack fails to materialise, because the Germans launch a counterattack on the Utrechtseweg from the direction of the Station. Not only the German infantry participates in this attack, but also German armoured vehicles from which the South Staffs can hardly protect themselves. Slowly and methodically, the Germans fight their way forward. The South Staffs are increasingly hard-pressed, and they are running out of ammunition. After eleven o'clock, the remaining British decide to pull back in the direction of Lombok, but large part of them are unable to get away. Of the 767 men who landed at Arnhem, only 375 are left at the end of the day. Major Cain, the commanding officer of B Company of the South Staffordshire Regiment, would later refer to this day as “the Waterloo of the South Staffs”.