Operation Battle of the Nijmegen Salient

The 'Battle of the Nijmegen Salient' was a series of engagements fought between Allied and German forces in the Netherlands (30 September/8 October 1944).

The battle occurred in the aftermath of the linked 'Market' and 'Garden' operations that were as failed Allied attempt to secure a croissing of the lower Rhine river, cut off the German forces in the Netherlands and end the war quickly.

Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model, commander of Heeresgruppe 'B', and the commander of the German forces during 'Market' and 'Garden', attempted to regain the salient round Nijmegen which had been seized by the Allies and thereby contain the offensive and drive the Allied forces off the Betuwe, which became known as 'The Island'. SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Wilhelm Bittrich led the II SS Panzerkorps in the counter-offensive, in particular with the aim of retaking Nijmegen and its bridges. The German forces were not prepared to make assaults and many units lacked armoured support. Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery’s Anglo-Canadian 21st Army Group commanded the area from southern Holland to the coast of the North Sea. British forces on 'The Island' were led by Major General G. I. Thomas, commander of the 43rd Division and who also commanded an ad hoc force assembled to defend the area. Despite losing some ground, the British managed to repel all the attacks. British troops then launched a counterattack from 4 October and managed to recapture all of the lost ground and gained a number of villages. The British were then reinforced by Major General Maxwell D. Taylor’s US 101st Airborne Division, and further German efforts were again defeated. After the Arnhem road bridge had been destroyed by US medium bombers on 7 October, sporadic fighting continued for another three days, but the Germans made no other major assault. In overall terms, the German forces suffered heavy losses in infantry and armour. While already committed to the defence of the salient, the 21st Army Group sent some of its resources to aid the Canadian effort to open the Scheldt river estuary and thereby make the port of Antwerp available for the logistical support of the Allied armies.

In September 1944, the Allies had launched the 'Market' and 'Garden' operations as the twinned elements of the major offensive from the Dutch-Belgian border across the south of the Netherlands through Eindhoven and Nijmegen toward the Rhine river bridge at Arnhem. The object was to cross the Rhine river and bypass the northern end of the 'Siegfried-Linie' defences in preparation for the final drive toward Berlin, but also to cut off the German forces still in the Netherlands. Allied airborne troops managed to take the bridges, but delays and toughening resistance resulted in defeat at the Rhine river bridge in Arnhem. The advance stopped to the south of the lower Rhine river, resulting in the creation of a narrow salient that ran from the north of Belgium across the south-east of the Netherlands, and therefore vulnerable to attack. The area between the Rhine and Waal rivers became the new front line on the Betuwe, also known to the Allies as 'The Island'.

During the latter stages of 'Garden', the overland advance to link with the 'Market' airborne forces, Thomas’s 43rd Division had moved up in order to relieve Major General A. H. Adair’s Guards Armoured Division. Elements of the 43rd Division took Oosterhout on 22 September, and then gained Opheusden and Doodewaard on the following day, but were unable to push the front line any farther forward. The Household Cavalry managed to reach the Polish troops of Generał brygady Stanisław Sosabowski’s 1st Independent Parachute Brigade at Driel following, after which the 4/Dorset Regiment attempted to reinforce Major General R. E. Urquhart’s 1st Airborne Division but suffered heavy losses after crossing the river. A conference had already been held at Valburg and the decision taken that 1st Airborne Division should be evacuated and this was achieved successfully on the night of 25/26 September in 'Berlin'. With the completion of the evacuation, Thomas was made responsible for the defence of 'The Island'. Brigadier N. W. Gwatkin’s 5th Guards Armoured Brigade and Brigadier G. E. Prior-Palmer’s 8th Armoured Brigade as well as Brigadier F. Y. C. Knox’s 69th Brigade were placed under his command. In reserve were Brigadier D. S. Gordon’s 151st Brigade and Brigadier Sir A. G. B. Stanier’s 231st Brigade of Major General L. O. Lyne’s 50th Division, which had come up in support.

The German bridgehead on 'The Island' by this time initially encompassed the villages of Elden, Elst, Huissen and Bemmel. Elst was lost on September 25 after several days of bitter street fighting with troops from the 43rd Division, and on the following day the Germans then crossed the Rhine river in battalion strength and managed to gain a small bridgehead at Randwijk. This was held only lightly by the reconnaissance troops of the 43rd Division, but as soon as the Germans were seen, the 43rd Reconnaissance Regiment was soon reinforced by elements of the Hampshire Regiment and Somerset Light Infantry with additional support from tanks of Brigadier Prior-Palmer’s 8th Armoured Brigade. The British intention was to take out the dike road near Randwijk, which was used by the Germans to ferry their units. Despite German air interference, the British were able to force the Germans out after a final gun battle in the village church: the Hampshire Regiment took prisoner 150 Germans. The German bridgehead to the south of the Nederrijn was effectively destroyed. On the same day the 69th Brigade launched an attack to secure the area in front of it: Bemmel was captured by the 5/East Yorkshire Regiment, and on the following day the Green Howards secured the area of Heuvel, but were unable to take Baal and Haalderen as a result of the heavily defended brickworks, from which the Germans were able to call down heavy artillery fire including that of Nebelwerfer rocket launchers.

Model regarded the Allied bridgehead to the north of the Waal river as a major threat, and feared that the Allies could still use the area as a springboard for an advance to the north to cut off General Gustav-Adolf von Zangen’s 15th Army in the western part of the Netherlands and threaten the plains of north-western Germany. In a special Führerweisung issued on 25 September, Adolf Hitler had personally ordered the destruction of the Allied forces in the area of Nijmegen and Arnhem. For Model it was imperative to recapture the ground the Germans had lost in the Betuwe in order to restore the situation: this was to be achieved by swift action before the Allied front had settled. Model therefore ordered Bittrich, commander of the II SS Panzerkorps, to destroy the Allies between the Nederrijn and Waal rivers with co-ordinated armour and infantry attacks from the north and east. With SS-Gruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Heinz Harmel’s 10th SS Panzerdivision 'Frundsberg' already engaged on 'The Island', Bittrich was given Generalmajor Harald Freiherr von Elverfeldt’s 9th Panzerdivision and Generalmajor Siegfried von Waldenburg’s 116th Panzerdivision for the counterattack. These two latter formations were brought up from the critical Aachen sector, where the US 1st Army had penetrated the 'Siegfried-Linie' defences. On arrival, the 9th Panzerdivision assumed command of the Kampfgruppe 'Knaust' and Kampfgruppe 'Bruhn', extemporised battle groups composed of reserve and depot infantry, and which had earlier engaged the British 1st Airborne Division. The other armoured formation in the Arnhem area, SS-Standartenführer Walter Harzer’s 9th SS Panzerdivision 'Hohenstaufen', was pulled out of the line to be relocated to Paderborn for rest and refit.

To ensure effective co-ordination of the counterattack, all the German units on 'The Island' were placed under command of Bittrich’s II SS Panzerkorps so that Bittrich could devote his attention exclusively to the conduct of the forthcoming operation. In addition, the headquarters of SS-Obergruppenführer Curt von Gottberg’s XII SS Corps on 27 September assumed command over all the German forces operating in the area to the west of Arnhem.

Three corps were involved in the undertaking: General Eugen Meindl’s II Fallschirmkorps to the east of Nijmegen, Bittrich’s II SS Panzerkorps on 'The Island', and von Gottberg’s XII SS Corps. The last operated from the northern bank of the Nederrijn river to the west of Arnhem to the southern bank near Kesteren and Ochten, the area in which the Nederrijn and Waal rivers approached within a few miles of each other. These three German corps were to launch co-ordinated attacks designed to cut off the Allied concentration at Nijmegen through the south of the Waal river and Nijmegen, from Groesbeek to the Maas-Waal Canal. The II Fallschirmkorps was to launch a converging attack in the area to the north of the Waal river against the Nijmegen bridgehead from the east and west of the II SS Panzerkorps and XII SS Corps respectively. There was also a plan to destroy the road bridge at Nijmegen in the hope that this would hamper the flow of Allied supplies and reinforcements. On learning of the failure of its destruction during its capture by the Allies, Hitler had ordered an inquiry.

The Allied forces, under the overall command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, were already having logistical issues as their lines of communication had become overextended and flow of supplies thereby impeded, and now were in need of supplies for the coming winter. The Scheldt river estuary had to be cleared so that the huge port of Antwerp could be opened to Allied shipping, facilitating the delivery and onward movement of supplies to the new stabilised front line. This had been delayed not just by 'Market' and 'Garden', but because Boulogne, Calais and Cap Griz Nez had been under siege by General H. D. G. Crerar’s Canadian 1st Army. By the time 'Market' and 'Garden' were over, Calais and Cap Gris Nez still had not fallen. On 1 October, Calais and Cap Griz Nez finally fell, but the damage to the port was severe, and the facilities were not available for some time, so Allied eyes and expectations were fixed firmly on Antwerp. Much of the 21st Army Group, primarily the Canadian 1st Army, now concentrated its effort on taking the Scheldt river, Walcheren island and Westkapelle. Additionally, the thin salient of Market Garden East and Market Garden West had to be expanded as they were earmarked for support of the Scheldt river operation and to pin the Germans in the area.

From 28 September, the II Fallschirmkorps launched a series of assaults from the Reichswald area against the Allied positions to the east of Nijmegen. Delays in the preparations of the II SS Panzerkorps meant these were repelled, however, as they were not sufficiently supported by only the XII SS Corps, even though the latter carried out some local diversionary attacks across the Nederijjn river toward Kasteel Doorwerth and Wageningen: these too were repulsed.

Before the offensive started, Model ordered both of Nijmegen’s bridges to be destroyed so that the forward flow of Allied reinforcements could be hindered. The British had already installed strong anti-aircraft defences there, however. German fighter-bombers launched many sorties to blow the bridges, but this was a costly failure: in just one day 46 fighters were lost to the RAF and anti-aircraft fire. So a way in which to destroy the bridge by other means was sought. Frogmen of the Marine Einsatzkommando special forces said that they could attempt it, and on 28 September three groups of four German frogmen set off from a location 6.2 miles (10 km) upstream of the bridges to place explosives under them, and then to continue another 14.9 miles (24 km) with the river current in an attempt to return to their lines. The operation was a partial success: the railway bridge was blown up, one span breaking away and falling into the river, making the bridge totally unusable, but the road bridge was only slightly damaged because the mine had been badly placed. Of the 12 men, three were killed, seven were taken prisoner and two managed to return to their lines. Unfortunately for the Germans, however, the bridges were repaired, albeit temporarily, as Royal Engineers were able to erect a Bailey bridge over both the railway bridge and the damaged section of the road bridge.

The start of the German offensive had to be postponed several times as a result of difficulties in assembling the 9th SS Panzerdivision and 116th Panzerdivision. Allied bombing and a shortage of petrol caused considerable delay in the scheduled assembly of troops and equipment for both of these divisions, which had to be re-routed by rail and road transport from the fighting at Aachen. The II SS Panzerkorps' attack, originally set for September 29, was therefore was shifted to the following day. By then, however, both Panzer divisions had arrived without their tank units and had to be supported by armoured units already present, and only one regiment of the 116th Panzerdivision had arrived. The 9th SS Panzerdivision had organised itself into two assault groups: on the left the Kampfgruppe 'Volker', based on the 2/11th Panzergrenadierregiment, and on the right the Kampfgruppe 'Reich', based on the 2/10th Panzergrenadierdivision. Supported by a company of PzKpfw VI Tiger II heavy tanks of the 506th schwere Panzerabteilung, the Kampfgruppe 'Volker' was to strike first to the south of Elst near Heuvel. The 9th SS Panzerdivision's primary target was the Elst area, and from there the division was to move farther to the south against Nijmegen bridge.

On 30 September the German counter-offensive opened with the attack of 70 tanks and the equivalent of an infantry division on were thrown against the 5/East Yorkshire Regiment on the outskirts of Bemmel. This attack was repelled easily during the day, and the Germans suffered heavy losses, mainly to artillery fire. Another pre-emptive strike on British defences had also been ordered in the form of an early morning crossing of the Rhine river at Kasteel Doorwerth 1 mile (1.6 km) downstream of Driel. At 06.00, crossing in rubber boats the Germans were shot to pieces by British fire, however, and while reinforcements came forward all the rubber boats had been destroyed.

The main counterattack of the II SS Panzerkorps began as planned on 1 October 1 against an extemporised British force including the 5/Wiltshire Regiment, 4/Somerset Light Infantry, 3/Irish Guards and 7/Green Howards. In early morning mist, and under a creeping barrage, the Kampfgruppe 'Volker', supported by Tiger II tanks, struck at Heuvel against the 7/Green Howards, the left-hand battalion of 50th Division’s 69th Brigade, and here the fighting raged all day. Supporting the Green Howards was the 3/Irish Guards, which also held the hamlet of Aam around an unfinished road which was to connect Arnhem and Nijmegen. Meanwhile in Elst the 4/Somersets were defending the town, and managed to repel the German attacks. St Martin Church was used by Royal Artillery forward observers and was a target for the German artillery in return, but the thick walls meant that the church suffered only modest damage.

In the afternoon the two battle groups that constituted the 10th SS Panzerdivision, the 21st SS Panzergrenadierregiment and 22nd SS Panzergrenadierregiment, launched an attack against the British right flank at Bemmel from the area of Baal all the way to Haalderen. The latter attack, against Bemmel, was supported by tanks which struck the positions of the 6/Highland Light Infantry, which had taken over from the 5/East Yorkshire during the previous day and now experienced its first day in the front line. The German attack had been repelled by 16.20 having petered out in the face of heavy British defensive artillery fire and boggy ground which was unsuitable for tank operations.

The Kampfgruppe 'Reich', comprising infantry of the 10th Panzergrenadierregiment, assaulted the positions of the Irish Guards on and around the high embankment to the east of the unfinished road near Aam, but this attack was also blunted with heavy casualties as Sherman tanks and artillery devastated the German infantry. Later in that same afternoon, at about 16.30, the East Yorkshires were ordered to relieve the Green Howards, even though severely attacked by German tanks and infantry, and subjected to heavy shellfire. The East Yorkshires had to abandon the Heuvel area, which remained a no man’s land, and the British had held off all German attempts to dislodge them. The Germans had lost some eight tanks, including two knocked out and the rest bogged down or broken down. One Tiger II was destroyed by five PIAT hits.

By the evening the two battalions of the Regimentsgruppe 'Grollmann' launched an attack on Snodenhoek, the area to the north-west of Elst, as their immediate objective. The 2/156th Panzergrenadierregiment, which had formed near Rijkerswoerd, was to strike to the left of the Griftdijk, which was the road linking Arnhem and Elst. It was to be followed shortly after by the 1/156th Panzergrenadierregiment, which was to advance on the right and win a passage over the railway level crossing in the area of De Leer. Since the Panzer division had arrived without its own tanks, five Tiger II heavy tanks of the 506th schwere Panzerabteilung and four PzKpfw V Panther battle tanks of the 9th SS Panzerdivision were attached in support. The Germans attacked the British defences along the Linge-Wetering Canal to the north of Elst, a position held by the 4/Somersets. Once again, the German attack was a complete failure and the Germans were driven back. The attack on 5/Wiltshires at the level crossing was supported by tanks which advanced along the railway line. The Wiltshires were supported by direct fire plans from 5.5-in (137.7-mm) guns, which inflicted heavy casualties: several tanks were knocked out and one Panther succumbed to a PIAT team. The 4/Wiltshires were supporting, and in a combined counterattack took more than 100 prisoners on that day.

All the German attacks on 1 October were repelled in bitter fighting. During the night the Germans maintained their pressure and in the early hours of the following morning launched a renewed assault on the Irish Guards' positions. Here the Germans used the unfinished causeway as their axis of advance, and in this second attack on Aam, the German infantry was supported by eight Panther tanks. The Germans used flamethrowers, allowing them to overrun a few forward positions and knock out a 17-pdr heavy anti-tank gun, but in return three German tanks were destroyed, one by a PIAT, another by a Sherman and a third by a 17-pdr gun. Again the German attack had been a complete failure.

On 2 October, concerned about the weight of the German attack on the Allied bridgehead, Thomas requested air support for attacks on the German bridgehead to the south of Arnhem in an effort to disrupt the German counterattacks. Late in the afternoon the sky cleared sufficiently for Hawker Typhoon single-engined ground-attack fighters to scatter the German armour and infantry among the orchards. The Typhoon warplanes also targeted the ferry sites at Huissen and Pannerden, as well as German artillery positions, known troop concentration areas and the passage points to the eastern side of the Nederrijn river. The air attacks were also aimed at the Arnhem road bridge itself. Over the same period, twin-engined medium bombers targeted Huissen and 't Zand, which were suspected concentration areas for the German troops. At about 11.00 some 24 North American B-25 Mitchell twin-engined medium bombers dropped their bomb loads right in the centre of Huissen and destroyed a large part of the small town and killing 106 civilians. That same afternoon medium bombers targeted the villages of Angeren, Gendt, Doornenburg and Pannerden, causing more civilian losses.

Despite the failures on the first few days, Heeresgruppe 'B' insisted on a continuation of the offensive, but commanders including Bittrich realised that in the face of the poor ground conditions and the strength of the British defences, further attempts to force a breakthrough were pointless. German morale began to plummet: during the daytime of October 2, three deserters from the 1/156th Panzergrenadierregiment came over the railway embankment near the De Laar farm, and divulged to the 5/Wiltshires the fact that another attack was to take place that evening. The deserters informed their interrogators that their company commander had refused to take further responsibility for another assault, and had been sacked. The renewed attack by the 1/156th Panzergrenadierregiment during the evening of October 2 did gain a foothold at the level crossing, but was halted by heavy British defensive fire. The next day a counterattack by the 5/Wiltshires drove the Germans back behind the railway by a time early in the afternoon and consolidated their position. The following evening the depleted 5/Wiltshires in the De Laar area, having lost 24 men killed, were relieved by the 4/Wiltshires, which until then had been held in 129th Brigade reserve.

During the night of 2/3 October a renewed German effort against Elst was launched, but again the German infantry were unable to carry the British position, suffering heavy losses to artillery fire controlled by observers in the church tower. On the following day, A Company of the 4/Somerset Light Infantry counterattacked the area to the north of the canal and drove the Germans back to Point 9.5, midway between De Oude Tol and De Gouden Klomp, in the process taking 37 prisoners, a figure which had risen to 80 prisoners. In the two-day battle. the Somersets suffered about 150 casualties, but in return had inflicted just as many, if not more, on the Germans.

Meanwhile, farther to the north the Kampfgruppe 'Zander', which had only recently arrived at the Arnhem bridgehead, made an attempt to seize Driel. On October 4, the Germans had established positions around a farmstead, as troops assembled in nearby open fields. Their objective was to seize the northernmost part of the railway embankment, which obstructed all views to the west and was held by the 1/Dorsets. The Germans launched an attack on each side of the railway line supported by Panther tanks firing from across the river, but despite gaining a foothold the Germans were eventually repulsed by the Dorsets. On the following day renewed assaults brought nothing but more heavy casualties, and the Dorsets remained firm.

On 5 October, near the De Laar farm, an effort was made by D Company of the 4/Wiltshires to push back the Germans who had infiltrated into the area to the west of the railway. No. 8 Platoon of A Company was placed under command of D Company for this undertaking and together with No. 18 Platoon succeeded not only routing the Germans in front of them but also taking 97 prisoners. The British casualties were heavy, however, and B and D Companies had to be amalgamated into one unit.

On 3October, Thomas had ordered the 151st Brigade and 231st Brigade to relieve the hard-pressed 69th Brigade. These fresh units were ordered to counterattack and drive the Germans from the Bemmel area. In the first phase, the 231st Brigade was to secure the left flank of the division; the area of Heuvel was to be attacked by the 1/Dorsets, while the orchards opposite the Houtakker farm were to be attacked by the 1/Hampshires. The 151st Brigade was to attack towards Baal with the 8/Durham Light infantry and Haalderen with the 9/Durham Light Infantry. Just before the British could launch their attack, the Germans struck first on 3 October. The II SS Panzerkorps attacked that evening in an attempt to secure the area of Heuvel and Vergert with Bittrich’s last reserve, the 10th SS Panzeraufklärungsabteilung. A heavy minute artillery barrage, which lasted 20 minutes and struck the entire 231st Brigade area, preceded the attack. The German attack struck the 2/Devons and 1/Hampshires hard, and the formers' C Company was surrounded: the 3rd Squadron of the 1/Coldstream Guards fired at muzzle flashes for two hours, and the German attack was repelled. A counterattack by B Company of the 2/Devons, supported by tanks of the 3rd Squadron, restored the position.

The German attack had no impact on the British plans and the counterattack jumped off on schedule at 12.00 on 4 October. Heuvel was attacked by 1/Dorsets as planned and, in bitter fighting, secured what was left of the hamlet and taking prisoner nearly 100 Waffen-SS soldiers of the Kampfgruppe 'Bruhn', which had little more than 100 men left. The Dorsets suffered heavy casualties, some 89 in all.The Durham Light Infantry battalions were supported by Sherman tanks of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards of Prior-Palmer’s 8th Armoured Brigade. With an artillery barrage and close support from rocket-firing Typhoon warplanes, the 8/Durham Light Infantry captured Haalderen, all objectives being taken by 17.30, after suffering 40 men wounded. However, the 9/Durham Light Infantry encountered heavier resistance at Baal, with A Company losing all but one of its officers. A German counterattack, comprising eight tanks, was repelled, but the objectives were taken. The 6/Highland Light Infantry was sent to the south of Haalderen to take positions beyond it, including a number of brick factories, but the battalion’s attack was costly, in part as a result of inaccurate maps. The battalion was also struck by 'friendly fire', and one platoon was ambushed with 30 men taken prisoner. Nevertheless the attack succeeded, and the Germans withdrew from the area, after which the 6/Durham Light Infantry came up to relieve the Highland Light Infantry. The two brick factories on the banks of the Waal river were taken, and further German opposition melted away in front of them. The Durhams managed to surround two Panzergrenadier companies, of which 150 men were taken prisoner, together with mortars, anti-tank guns and Panzershreck anti-tank weapons. The Royal Dragoon Guards lost two tanks and seven casualties.

On the following day, after the Durham battalions were secure on their objectives, the third phase of the counterattack began. During the late afternoon and evening, after struggling against incessant mortar and artillery fire, the 2/Devons finally succeeded in mopping up the Germans in the orchards around Vergert. More than 30 men of the 9th Panzerdivision were taken prisoner in the process, and the battalion’s position was further strengthened by the arrival of D Company, which had been relieved by the Coldstream Guards farther to the west. The company thickened the centre of the position by occupying the area between A and B Companies. The Devons had suffered nearly 60 casualties, and reported that the fields to the north of their positions were littered with German dead.

Reports from British patrols also found that the Germans had withdrawn to the line of the Wettering Canal, their original starting line being their only credible defensive position. The 50th Division’s brigades had effectively crippled the 10th SS Panzerdivision, and the Guards Armoured Division was withdrawn on 6 October to Malden, some 4 miles (6.4 km) to the south of Nijmegen, for rest.

After the attacks of the 9th Panzerdivision and 116th Panzerdivision in his corps' centre against Aam and Elst had been defeated, Bittrich, who was under strong pressure from Model to continue the assault, decided to change tactics. On the corps' right, near the Nederrijn river, an effort was to be made to seize Driel and a diversionary attack was also to be made at Opheusden by Generalleutnant August Dettling’s 363rd Volksgrenadierdivision.

By the early hours of 5 October, the 43rd Division had handed over its positions to the 506th Parachute Infantry, a regiment of Taylor’s 101st Airborne Division brought up from Eindhoven: the US regiment had no heavy artillery, but was supported by British artillery units, the 43rd Division’s anti-tank and mortar platoons, elements of the Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry, as well as the divisional reserve. One of the most difficult handovers was with the 1/Dorsets near Driel, where they were under a continual bombardment and in close proximity with the 116th Panzerdivision. That evening another German attack reached the wooded area to the west of the embankment, and part of this force infiltrated between C and D Companies. After bitter fighting the Germans were thrown back, losing some 36 men taken prisoner, before the Dorsets under great difficulty handing over to the Americans.

At Driel by the north/south railway embankment facing, the US paratroopers found themselves attacked by the 116th Panzerdivision with the support of two Sturmgeschütz III assault guns. One of these was knocked out by a British 6-pdr anti-tank gun in an underpass, sand the other withdrew. The German infantry attempted to retreat but two Panzergrenadier companies were surrounded and taken prisoner by the Americans. The defeat forced the 116th Panzerdivision to withdraw behind the embankment.

Meanwhile at Randwijk aggressive patrolling soon landed the paratroopers in a head-on engagement with a troop concentration of German infantry forming up for an attack. This was an attack to provide a diversion for the larger assault that was to be attempted on Opheusden. The area was defended by the US paratroopers, one 35-man platoon of whom, from Company E, routed two German companies of about 300 men. Including those of Company F, the US casualties were one man killed and 22 men wounded, whereas the German casualties were 50 men killed, about 100 wounded and 11 taken prisoner. On 6 October the 506th Parachute Infantry, in a day of stiff fighting again supported by British artillery, seized 150 Germans as prisoners in the area and inflicted heavy losses estimated at 300 men.

During the morning of 6 October, the Germans launched their assault on Opheusden. Opposing the Americans were the 363rd Volksgrenadierdivision, which completely surprised the US paratroopers and captured the village. A combined Anglo-US counterattack was attempted with the support of tanks of the Royal Scots Greys and with the assistance of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. The Germans were driven out of parts of the village, but heavy fighting continued. The Dorpsstraat was one of the streets where house-to-house fighting took place, and the battle on Dalwagenseweg road went on for three days. A windmill provided refuge to more than 100 of the seriously injured on each side. The Americans began to run out of ammunition and their casualties were mounting, however, so the decision was made to withdraw. The battle of Opheusden thus ended as a stalemate: the Germans nor the Allies could not capture the whole village. Over the next two days, Opheusden was pounded by rockets from Typhoon warplanes as well as artillery, leaving it a smouldering ruin. The supporting 5/Cornwalls also suffered the loss of nearly 70 men, and were relieved by a fresh US battalion later in that day.

There was now a lull in the battle as the Germans attempted to bring up more supplies. The Allied high command now ordered the destruction of the Arnhem road bridge. After poor weather on 5 and 6 October, an attempt was made on 7 October as seven Martin B-26 Maurauder twin-engined medium bombers of the USAAF’s 344th Bombardment Group scored several direct hits on the road bridge, which was completely destroyed. The bombs had in fact triggered German demolition charges that had been placed on the bridge, and the bridge’s central span collapsed into the river. The destruction of the road bridge was the final blow for the German offensive: unable to bring up heavy armour and artillery, the Germans halted plans for further operations.

Sporadic attacks on the Allied salient continued, but major fighting ceased on 8 October. Around Opheusden the fighting continued, but on only a reduced scale, and the Germans could advance no farther and the village remained a no man’s land.

The German counter-offensive, in particular the counterattack of the II SS Panzerkorps, had achieved little and had suffered heavy losses in men and matériel. Tanks had been able to deliver little in the way of practical support as cross-country movement in the flat and waterlogged terrain was virtually impossible. Without the close support of armour, the German infantry thus found it impossible to overcome any position. The Germans lost the villages of Baal, Heuvel and Haalderen to British counterattacks. On 4 October, the 10th SS Panzerdivision suffered its worst day since arriving in the Netherlands, and its losses were so high that they division could not mount an attack for some time. The 116th Panzerdivision had suffered some 800 casualties in the attack. The Germans were now experiencing the tactical problems associated with their lack of new non-commissioned officers to replace those lost. British field guns had fired nearly 12,500 rounds on the last day, which had inflicted a punishing toll on the Germans. Tank losses were also heavy: the 10th SS Panzerdivision lost eight of its supporting Tiger tanks to British anti-tank fire as well as mines and artillery fire. The 363rd Volksgrenadierdivision was effectively destroyed in the fighting in and around Opheusden.

The British losses were moderate in overall terms, but those in the infantry units were considerable. Most of these losses were caused by heavy artillery and mortar fire, which was reported as 'intense'. The 4/Somerset Light Infantry had 105 casualties including 20 men killed.

The Allies made no further attempts to enlarge the Nijmegen salient. Reflecting the change in Allied strategy, emphasis was now shifted to operations aimed at clearing the Scheldt river estuary. To expand the thin 'Market' and 'Garden' salient, 'Aintree' was designed to expand the salient eastward in the direction of Overloon, and the later 'Pheasant' toward North Brabant: both operations were largely successful in their aims.

On 9 October, the Oberbefehlshaber 'West' sought approval from thre Oberkommando der Wehrmacht for the complete abandonment of the Arnhem bridgehead area, but the request was refused. The 10th SS Panzerdivision received orders to establish strong defensive positions to the south of Arnhem in the Elden area, at Huissen and at Doornenburg, while maintaining a defensive screen close along the Linge Canal. The railway embankment to the north of Elst was occupied by the Kampfgruppe 'Harzer', which was renamed as the Sperrverband 'Gerhard' after its commander, Major Gerhard, and served only as a blocking force. By 10 October the remaining Germans abandoned the few brickworks they still held as a result of their high casualties and scant supplies. The 116th Panzerdivision left the Arnhem bridgehead area, and its units were gradually ferried across the Nederrijn river, and then only at night, to avoid the attentions of the British artillery and aircraft, and was eventually transferred to the Aachen front. The 9th Panzerdivision was next to be withdrawn and was withdrawn from 13 October, leaving the 10th SS Panzerdivision as the sole formation in the bridgehed until the middle of November, when it too was transferred to the Aachen area. The Waffen-SS men turned over their positions on 'The Island' to the newly created 6th Fallschirmjägerdivision.

At about the same time, the British XII Corps assumed responsibility for the Nijmegen salient. The 50th Division remained in position in the eastern half of 'The Island' until the end of November, assisted for short intervals by the 160th Brigade, 71st Brigade and US 508th Parachute Infantry, the last a regiment of the US 82nd Airborne Division. The 50th Division was then relieved by the 49th Division, while the 51st Division took over from the US 101st Airborne Division.

For the 50th Division, the battle was to be its last. The formation’s casualties had been severe: almost 900 men including 12 officers and 111 other ranks killed in action, and 30 officers and 611 other ranks wounded and another 114 missing since the start of the German counterattack. On 29 November the division was relieved and pulled back into Belgium for return to the UK as the 50th Infantry (Reserve) Division for training.

von Rundstedt, the Oberbefelhshaber 'West', now received the authority for Model to abandon the Arnhem bridgehead, and the Allies for their part ordered the evacuation of the liberated part of 'The Island' as they expected that the area would be flooded by the Germans. Model opted to thin his forward defences, however, and this happened on 14 October when German units in the bridgehead were reduced to smaller units. Dutch men, women and children were evacuated to the southern Netherlands and Belgium, and the area became known as the Manneneiland (men’s island) with the presence only of soldiers.

Fighting continued to take place, and two notable actions took place during the winter. In the early hours of 4 December, Generaloberst Kurt Student’s airborne forces, in the shape of the 16th Fallschirmjägerregiment, launched an assault against the British at Haalderen. The attack fell headlong into well-defended positions held by elements of the 49th Division. The paratroopers were repelled, the leading assault company of 160 men being wiped out. Another and indeed larger attempt was made on 18 January 1945 by the 7th Fallschirmjägerregiment against the British western flank at Zetten. The battle raged for a few days and resulted in bitter fighting, but again the German attacked faltered despite gaining a foothold in Zetten. Supported by Canadian tanks, the British then counterattacked and surrounded the Germans, resulting in an entire battalion being destroyed: some 700 men were killed, wounded and, for the most part, taken prisoner. This was the final German attack on 'The Island'.

'The Island' was fully captured in April 1945 during 'Anger', when the 49th Division supported by Canadian armour threw the Germans back over the Rhine river. The civilians returning to 'The Island' after the war’s end found the area as one of total devastation.