From ‘Neptune’ to ‘Market’ II

The task of the 82nd was to take and hold bridge over the Maas outside the village of Grave five miles southwest of Nijmegen, at least one four bridges over the Maas-Waal Canal between Grave and Nijmegen and the bridge over the Waal at Nijmegen itself. Success in holding the crossings was dependent on possession of the Groesbeek heights; a ridge thirty feet high about two miles southeast of Nijmegen. This ridge was the only high ground for miles around and dominated the whole region. Nijmegen, a town of 82,000 population on the south side of the Waal was reported to have around it least 22 heavy anti-aircraft guns and 86 light pieces and was thought likely to contain a large garrison. South of the town between the canal and the ridge the country was wooded, so drops to take objectives other than the Nijmegen Bridge would have to be made west of the canal or south east of the ridge. Units put down near Nijmegen on `D-Day’ might suffer heavily from flak on the way in, would be quickly engaged by fairly strong enemy forces and would have to deal with those forces for many hours in isolation from the rest of the division. Furthermore, without the ridge and crossings over the Maas and the canal, the Nijmegen Bridge would be worthless. Brigadier General Gavin and his staff therefore determined to put first things first and leave Nijmegen to be taken by ground attack after the other objectives were secured. This decision was later confirmed in very explicit terms by General Browning.

Gavin chose to bring in most of the division in a belt of drop and landing zones between three and four miles southeast of Nijmegen on the far side of the Groesbeck heights so that he could attack the ridge as quickly as possible with maximum force and then set up a defensive perimeter including both ridge and zones. This seemed to minimize the risk of an enemy occupation of the landing area such as had happened in Normandy. At the northern end of the belt was DZ `T’, an oval 3,000 yards long from east to west and three-quarters of a mile wide, framed in a neat triangle by a railway along its south side and by two roads which intersected at the village of Wyler a few hundred yards north of the zone. Approaching serials would pass close to the bridge at Grave about seven miles short of the zone and over the Maas-Waal Canal about three miles before reaching the zone. Three thousand yards southwest of DZ `T’ was a slightly smaller oval, DZ `N’, bordered on its western and northern sides by the woods of the Groesbeek Ridge. The junction of the canal with the River Maas a mile and a half east of DZ `N’ made an excellent landmark on the line of approach.

Between and overlapping both DZs was a rough oblong averaging 3½ miles from north to south and l½ miles from east to west, which had been selected for glider landings. This was split into a northern half, LZ `T’ and a southern half, LZ `N’. The latter had small fields averaging 200 yards in some sections. However, there were few high obstacles and the Germans did not seem to be erecting any. Experts calculated that by daylight the two zones could receive between 700 and 900 gliders, all the 82nd would need. LZ `N’ was also selected as destination for parachute resupply missions to the 82nd Division. Its zones would have a particularly distinctive network of waterways, roads and railways south of Nijmegen. If a pilot could come within sighting distance of Grave, he would have an abundance of landmarks thereafter. One regiment had to be put within striking distance of the bridge at Grave and for this purpose DZ `O’, an oval drop zone over 1½ miles long from west to east and almost a mile wide, was marked out on flat, open land astride the Eindhoven-Nijmegen road halfway between the Grave bridge and the Maas-Waal Canal. The troops dropped there were to attack both the Grave Bridge a mile to their west and three bridges over the canal between one and two miles east of them. Having had the horror of men being cut off on an earlier mission, Gavin laid great stress on taking at least one bridge over the canal to ensure contact between this outlying regiment and the main force in the Groesbeek area. Convinced that the big bridge at Grave would be defended and prepared for demolition, Colonel Reuben Tucker, commander of the 504th Parachute Regiment, which was picked for the mission to DZ `O’, urged that the proper way to attack the structure was to drop men on the south bank of the Maas and rush the bridge from both ends. Just 36 hours before `Market’ began, Tucker’s proposal was accepted and orders were given that a company of his paratroops be dropped on a special DZ on the south side of the river half a mile from the end of the bridge. The ground there was low, marshy and heavily ditched, a bad drop zone, chosen deliberately to achieve quick access to the objective.

The initial tasks of the 101st Division were to take a bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal at Zon five airline miles north of Eindhoven, a bridge over the Dommel River at Sint-Oedenrode four miles north of Zon and four bridges over the Aa River and the Willems Canal at Veghel, which was five miles northeast of Sint-Oedenrode and thirteen miles southwest of Grave. After that, but before nightfall if possible, the 101st was to take Eindhoven and four bridges there over the upper Dommel. Of these objectives the two canal bridges were much the most important, since the canals were sixty feet across and too deep for tanks; none of the rivers were over 25 feet wide and the Dommel at Eindhoven was a mere creek. Faced with the problem of taking objectives strung out over more than fifteen miles of road General Maxwell Taylor decided to bring in most of his division to a single area midway between Sint-Oedenrode and Zon from which he could strike quickly against both places and then move readily against Eindhoven. Available for his purpose was a large open tract on the west side of the north-south road about l½ miles north of Zon. South of the open land lay a belt of woods, known as the Zonsche Forest, extending to the Wilhelmina Canal running east and west from Zon. A road and a railway running northwest from Eindhoven crossed the canal about a mile southwest of the tract and a mile southeast of the little town of Best. On the open area the divisional staff marked out an oblong 4,000 yards long and 2,800 yards wide, which it split longitudinally into two equal drop zones, DZ’s `B’ and `C’. The long axes of these zones ran east-northeast. Troop carriers approaching them by the southern route would be on a heading of north-northeast. A landing zone, LZ `W’, was drawn to include most of the oblong but was slightly narrower from north to south and extended 1,000 yards further west. The zone was considered more than sufficient for 400 gliders and most of its fields were over 300 yards in length.

One parachute regiment would have to be dropped farther north for the taking of Veghel, at DZ `A’, a potbellied oval about two miles long from east to west, up to 2,000 yards wide and about a mile southwest of the town. North of the zone was a railway running east to Veghel. Southeast of the zone was the Eindhoven-Arnhem road. The bridges over the Willems Canal were only a few hundred yards northeast of DZ `A’, but the Aa River was a mile further on. Thus the paratroops would have to secure a crossing over the canal and move through a populated area before attacking the road and railway bridges over the river. Lieutenant Colonel W. O. Kinnard, a battalion commander, proposed that his unit be dropped north of the Willems Canal in position to move against the river bridges immediately after assembling and his battalion was given a new zone DZ `A-1′, a flat, open area on the northeast side of the canal about a mile north of DZ `A’.

Even though `Market’ was to be flown by day previous experience indicated a need to provide navigational aids. `Eureka’ beacons and M/F (CRN-4) beacons for use with radio compasses were placed at the wing assembly points, `Eureka’s, M/F beacons and the aerial lighthouse known as occults were put at the points of departure from the British coast. About halfway between England and the Continent on both the northern and the southern route were stationed marker boats code named `Tampa’ and `Miami’ with `Eureka’ beacons and green holophane lights. All the beacons except the occults were operated by troop carrier personnel. No beacons were to be provided on the northern route between `Tampa’ and the zones because that 150-mile stretch was all over water or enemy territory.

The American aircraft in `Market’ were equipped with radio compasses and `Rebecca’. As in `Neptune’, only flight leaders were to operate `Rebecca’. However, this time if formations broke up, the lead ship in each element would operate its set. IX TCC had asked on 18 June that half its aircraft be equipped with both SCR-717 and either `Gee’ or Loran. Its request for SCR- 717 was considered excessive, but its quota was raised to two and then three sets per squadron. The command had also won authorization to install `Gee’ equipment on all its aircraft. However, so long as a serial held together only its leader would have much occasion to use SCR-717 or `Gee’. The aircraft of 38 and 46 Group were equipped with both `Rebecca’ and `Gee’ (but not radio compasses or SCR-717) and all crews were authorized to use them. Under the RAF system of flying in column the risk of interference was small enough to permit such general use of sets. The bombers employed for resupply had radio compasses, but no `Rebecca’ sets.

The Americans planned to employ six `sticks’ (a number of paratroops carried in one aircraft) of pathfinder troops. A pair of teams with one officer and nine enlisted men apiece was to be dropped on DZ’s `O’, `A’ and `B-C’ respectively. Each pair was to be responsible for setting up a `Eureka’, an M/F beacon, panel `T’s and letters and smoke signals. Each zone had its distinctive colour combination of panels and smoke. By the 16th the pathfinder drop was scheduled for 1245, 15 minutes before the main force arrived. The RAF were to dispatch a dozen modified Stirling bombers of 38 Group to drop pathfinder teams twenty minutes before `H-Hour’, half on DZ `X’ and half on LZ `S’.

Eighth Air Force and Air Defence of Great Britain would fly escort and cover for the missions and protect them from anti-aircraft. If desired, Ninth Air Force would help with the latter task. Between missions the Second Tactical Air Force RAF, whose aircraft lacked staying power for escort work, would protect the airborne troops from enemy aircraft and be available for close support missions. At night Second TAF would be assisted by night fighters of ADGB. Measures were also prescribed to neutralize in advance, as far as possible, those enemy flak batteries and air bases which were in a position to endanger `Market’. For this purpose Eighth Air Force was directed to reconnoitre the troop carrier routes to locate flak positions and to bombard those positions with its heavy bombers at the latest possible time before `H-Hour’ and RAF Bomber Command was to attack enemy airfields on the night of `D-1′.

`Market’ would be the first major test of resupply by air. Resupply by parachute avoided the difficulties of a glider tow and the hazards of a glider landing, but it was inefficient and wasteful. A C-47 capable of carrying about three tons could deliver little more than a ton by parachute from its pararacks (large cylinders containing supplies slung under the belly of the aircraft) or in bundles pitched out its side door. Installation of conveyor belts in the cabin was helpful in handling bundles but such conveyors did not go into production in the United States until the spring of 1945. Moreover, the bundles had to be small to get out the door or fit the pararacks. Even the 75mm howitzer had to be broken down into several parts to be dropped. Approximately 200 C-47s were required to carry the 265 tons a day of automatic supply set up for the 82nd Division. Stirlings could carry three tons apiece, but 38 Group had scarcely enough of them to meet the needs of one British division. Plans were made for a resupply mission by about 250 B-24 Liberators of Eighth Air Force 2nd Bomb Division on `D+1′ after a request by the troop carriers to free their aircraft from resupply work in order that they might be devoted to bringing in more airborne troops. Though practicable, it would prove both inefficient and hazardous and beset with unsolved problems and the 8th Air Force felt its participation in `Market’ seriously interrupted its bombing programme and could not be expected to loan its B-24 groups frequently or for long.

On 15 September escort and flak-suppression on the northern route between England and the IP was entrusted to ADGB. Beyond the IP, Eighth Air Force would perform those tasks. On the southern route Eighth Air Force was to fly escort between the Belgian coast and the zones. It also agreed to provide perimeter patrols to intercept enemy air-aircraft approaching the `Market’ area from the east or north. Airborne Army asked that four groups of fighter-bombers be provided to neutralize flak and ground fire on the southern route between the IP and the DZ during the missions. That responsibility was given to Ninth Air Force. Another request by Airborne Army was for rocket-firing aircraft to break up possible attacks on the 82nd Division by tanks reported lurking in the Reichswald Forest, which lay two or three miles southeast of the zones of that division. On 16 September Ninth Air Force was asked to provide a group of rocket-equipped fighters, but it was unable to make them available in time for use on `D-Day’.

At `H-Hour’ Eighth Air Force was supposed to deal with German garrisons in Arnhem and Nijmegen but objected to employing its high-level heavy-bomber formations over towns with friendly populations, so medium bombers of Second TAF were given the job of attacking German barrack in those towns on the morning of `D-Day’. Dummy drops were to be made from forty aircraft of Bomber Command on the night of `D-Day’ at point west of Utrecht, east of Arnhem and at Emmerich to delay, if only momentarily, the movement of German ground reinforcement from Holland and the Rhineland against the air-heads at Arnhem and Nijmegen. Weather permitting, the resupply mission on `D+1′ was to be undertaken by 252 B-24s with ball turrets removed.

Almost without exception the troop carrier units in `Market’ had flown missions before. The Ninth Troop Carrier Command had the same three wings, fourteen groups and pathfinder unit that it had had in `Neptune’ and all wings and all groups but the 315th and 434th had participated in at least one other airborne operation, either in 1943 or during the invasion of southern France. The RAF had in 38 Group the same ten squadrons which they had used in June but had increased 4 Group from five to six squadrons. In most cases the troop carriers were located at good bases, at which they were well established and were teamed with troops which were stationed nearby and had flown with them before from those bases. The RAF had made no changes of station since June. Their squadrons were located in pairs at eight bases, six of which were bunched about eighty miles west of London and thirty miles northwest of Greenham Common. The others, Keevil and Tarrant Rushton lay respectively thirty and sixty miles south of the rest. From these eight airfields would fly the glider echelon of the 1st Airborne Division, which had been in readiness with gliders loaded since the marshalling for `Linnet’ on 2 September. The 53rd Wing and its groups still held the bases at and around Greenham Common that they had occupied during `Neptune’. Once again they were to lift the 101st Division, which was in its old billets nearby. The 442nd Troop Carrier Group was attached to the 53rd Wing on 11 September for `Market’, moving that same day from Fulbeck to Chilbolton in Hampshire and making large-scale supply flights from there on the 12th. The 442nd were to tow 65 gliders containing 252 men, 32 jeeps and 32 trailers with platoons of the 326th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion engineers over the Groesbeek Heights.

The 52nd Wing and its groups remained at the same bases around Grantham which they had held since March. The only change needed was the addition of pierced steel plank for glider marshalling on muddy ground at Cottesmore, Fulbeck and Barkston Heath. Besides carrying the 82nd Division, the wing was also to lift the British paratroops of First Division and the Polish Brigade. The 50th Wing was to assist it in carrying the American troops. This Wing and the 439th, 440th and 441st Groups had been moved to Balderton, Fulbeck and Langar in the Grantham area in preparation for that operation. However, on 8 September, they had been ordered to France to concentrate on air supply operations for the ground forces. By 10 September the air echelons of the 439th and 441st Groups and a detachment of wing headquarters were actually in operation in the Reims area5 and most of the wing’s equipment and all its refuelling units were either already in France or in transit to France. At 2330 on 10 September the wing was alerted for `Market’ and ordered to be at its British bases ready to operate by 2400 on the 11th. The bases were then being closed out for release to the British. Strenuous efforts by supply and engineering officers of the wing and IX TCC set Balderton, Langar and Fulbeck functioning again and provided necessary unit equipment, including refuelling units borrowed from the 52nd Wing.

On 16 September IX TCC had 1,274 operational aircraft and 1,284 assigned and available crews. The RAF had 321 converted bombers in 38 Group and 164 Dakotas in 46 Group. The supply of gliders had increased despite the loss of almost all of those used in Normandy. On 1 July IX TCC had had 1,045 operational Wacos. These were only enough to lift the glider echelon of one division, so on 8 August in anticipation of operations involving several divisions a new glider assembly programme had been inaugurated at Crookham Common with the objective of producing at least forty completed Wacos a day. This time IX AFSC employed 26 officers and over 900 men under direction of the 26th Mobile Repair and Reclamation Squadron. Well organized and adequately equipped, they proved capable of assembling sixty (and once even 100) gliders in a day. By the end of August IX TCC had 1,629 operational Wacos and by 16 September it had 2,160 of them. Plans called for the employment of about ninety percent of these gliders in `Market’. The British had 812 Horsas, the Americans only 104 of them. In addition to its Horsas 38 Group possessed 64 of the huge Hamilcar gliders, which were capable of carrying tanks. About 1,900 American glider pilots were on hand at the end of August, but the arrival of 200 more by air a few days later gave IX TCC a total of 2,060 on the eve of `Market’. Since Williams and Brereton had decided not to use co-pilots on American gliders, they had enough glider pilots for the proposed missions, but they would have virtually no reserves. The British glider pilots, who were organized as ground troops in a special glider pilot regiment, would make a much better combat showing in `Market’ than the American glider pilots, who were simply an element within the troop carrier squadrons. Proposals were that the American glider pilots be put under the command of the airborne divisions to make good soldiers of them but Lieutenant General Ridgway decided that since the primary duty of glider pilots was to fly gliders, they belonged with the troop carriers.

As in June, the aircraft of IX TCC were without armour or self-sealing fuel tanks. While in England on a tour of inspection in the latter part of June, Robert A. Lovett, Assistant Secretary of War for Air, promised that IX TCC would get at least enough for its pathfinders. However, the tanks were then very scarce; AAF Headquarters was unwilling to reallocate them; and the troop carriers got none. Some were shipped in September but did not arrive in time for `Market’. Only about 400 of the Wacos had nose reinforcements of either the Corey or the Griswold type and only about 900 had parachute arrestors. Large orders for arrestors and protective noses had been sent to the United States long before `Market’, but delivery had been slow. One cause of delay had been disagreement and vacillation in the United States as to which type of nose should be produced.

`Market’ is unique as the only large American airborne operation during World War II for which there was no training programme, no rehearsal, almost no exercises and a generally low level of tactical training activity. In the month before `Market’ only two paratroop exercises, totalling 288 sorties were flown and no glider exercises at all. Less formal tactical training was also on a very low level. Only 306 airborne troops were carried during the two weeks before `Market’. From 12 August to 17 September there were only five days on which FAAA did not believe that an airborne operation was just around the corner. This belief made training plans seem superfluous and realistic exercises a rash commitment. On 14 September the troop carrier units were alerted and restricted and American airborne troops began moving into bivouac at the bases. Early in the evening on the 15th wing commander and key members of their staffs were fully briefed at Eastcote. On their return that night they briefed the wing staffs and the group commanders. About the same time field orders for the operation arrived at the wings from troop carrier headquarters. Early next morning rigid restriction and security measures, such as had been in force before `Neptune’, were imposed at all bases. During the day group staffs were briefed and win] and group field orders were issued. In the afternoon and evening of 16 September `D-1′, the groups briefed their combat crews. The briefings were generally regarded as well organized and comprehensive. However, detailed maps (1:50,000 and 1:25,000) were in such short supply that there were hardly enough for the group staffs and as usual there was an acute lack of low level photographs of the zones and run-in areas The final briefings, held on the morning of the 17th just before the crews went to their aircraft were short and were concerned mainly with weather conditions.

While General Brereton was the final judge of the routes and timing for `Market’, the verdict really lay in the hands of the Staff Weather Officer of IX TCC and the Senior Meteorological Officer of 38 Group, acting at Ascot as joint weather officers for Airborne Army. `Market’ needed three days in a row of good flying weather to give it a reasonable chance of success. Every day at 1630 the weather officers issued a four-day forecast for use by the commanders and their operations staffs at Ascot and Eastcote. They also issued daily 24-hour forecasts which were sent to all troop carrier wings and groups by teletype or telephone. Actual conditions over Belgium were checked before each day’s operations by three flights by aircraft of the 325th Reconnaissance Wing of the Eighth Air Force, timed so that telephone reports could be made to Airborne Army and Eighth Air Force at H-8, H-6 and H-4. This was intended to prevent such unpleasant surprises as the cloud bank which upset operations in Normandy. At 1630 on 16 September (`D-1′) the experts delivered a favourable report on the coming four-day period. A high-pressure system was approaching Belgium from the southwest and would be over it next day. Fair weather with little cloud and gentle winds would prevail until the 20th. The forecast did predict fog on and after `D+1′, but only during the early morning. With auspices so favourable Brereton gave orders at 1900 hours that next day the airborne carpet would be laid along the road to Arnhem.

Twenty-one-year old Private Edward John `Johnny’ Peters, a sniper in the 1st Battalion, The Border Regiment, had been billeted with his unit in pig stys on a farm close to Burford in Oxford since August. Born on 12 February 1923 in Liverpool, he had three sisters and one brother. His father served on the Western Front during World War I. Before he volunteered to join the army on his 18th birthday on 12 February 1941 `Johnny’ had been an apprentice blacksmith. He remembers with distain, `We were called the `stillborn Army’ because for three weeks nothing happened.

`Then it did.’

3 thoughts on “From ‘Neptune’ to ‘Market’ II

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