Operation Berlin (iii)

This was a British operation to evacuate the remnants of Major General R. E. Urquhart’s 1st Airborne Division across the Nederrijn river at the end of the Arnhem battle in ‘Market’ (25/26 September 1944).

It was at dawn on 25 September that the 1st Airborne Division was ordered to pull back over the Rhine river. No such effort to be started until nightfall, and the remnants of the division had therefore to survive the following daylight hours.

In a departure from their tactics of the last few days, which had been relatively cautious and worked on the basis of attrition rather than outright assault, the Germans formed two potent Waffen-SS Kampfgruppen and made a significant thrust along a narrow front in the eastern sector. This succeeded in breaking through the thin front line and for a time the division was in severe danger. The attack met increasing resistance as it pushed deeper into the British lines, however, and was finally broken up by a heavy bombardment by the field guns of the 64th Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery.

Employing ruses to persuade the Germans that its positions remained unchanged, the 1st Airborne Division began its withdrawal at 22.00. British and Canadian engineer units ferried the troops over the Rhine, covered by the Polish 3/Parachute on the northern bank. By a time early on the next morning this effort had extracted 2,398 survivors, leaving 300 men to surrender on the northern bank at first light when German fire prevented their rescue.

The 1st Airborne Division and other units involved north of the Rhine had embarked on their undertaking with about 10,600 men, and of these some 1,485 had died and 6,414 were taken prisoner, about one-third of the latter being wounded.