This year it was 70 years ago that the American and British (and let not forget the Polish) paratroopers landed in Holland. It was the airborne part of the Operation Market Garden. In September 17, 1944 thousands of young man dropped from the sky onto Dutch soil (Market) simultaniously with the British XXX Corps thrust northwards from the Belgian border (Garden). The goal was to create a corridor around the German border fortifications, so that tanks and infantry could penatrate deep into Germany with Berlin as the ultimate prize!
Holland*, unfortunatly, is poor tank country. With a soggy soil it's good land for agriculture, but traffic is restricted to hard topped roads. The only usable road ran from the Belgian border through Eindhoven and Nijmegen to Arnhem where the Rhine river could be crossed. Key objectives for this operation were the numerous bridges spanning several rivers and canals. Time was the all important factor and if a bridge was captured intact it would speed up the advance of the XXX Corps, since the airborne troops, being lightly armed, could only hold out this long.
Right from the start things went awry. Dutch resistance report that recently two German SS divisions were recouperating in the vicinity of Arnhem. This information, however, was brushed aside because the British were set to follow through with this operation. The Airborne troopers were up against a formidable foe, not the tired old men and teenage kids as they were told.
Since Holland is pretty much below sea level, all rivers and canals usually have high shoulders, called dykes, to keep the water in. On top of these dykes were the roads, high and dry. And in everyones view. Any tank on these roads could be seen miles away. Obviously this couldn't and wouldn't work as dreamed up in the preliminary planning by the British staff.
Well, enough is written about this battle in books and how it ended just short of Arnhem resulting in the destruction of the heroic British and Polish airborne units there.
This battle with all its heroic feats are remembered and celebrated in Holland every year. So this year it was going to be a big celebration! This years celebrations fell simultaneous with the 200 year celebration of the Dutch Army. A British re-enactment organization went for the recreation of the British XXX Corps, making the same journey as it did seventy years ago. This time with the help of the (modern) Dutch Army.
For the smaller re-enactment groups, mainly portraying (American) paratroopers, there was a big base camp set up at Veghel. From here were several liberation tours organized for all kinds of vehicles. Our humble group joined this base camp for two weekends. Choosing a theme for this year's event we came up with the idea of being a press unit. Picked was the 167th Signal Photo Company, under control of the 12th Army Group. This resulted in a curious bumper marking: 12AGP 167SPC * PHOTO 23. Dressed in OD's and a tanker jacket, we mingled as a Yank correspondent and a photographer.
To complement the jeep, we hurriedly restored a trailer. This came in handy, because we needed the space in the jeep for all the people. All the equipment fitted easily in the trailer. With the canvas cover in place we were ready to go anywhere! Frank was dressed in period civilian clothes and moved aroud on an authentic bicycle. We erected a Pyramidal tent and called it home.
The first saturday, however, we spent recreating a photo of M43 jumpsuit clad Signal Corps men bring in captured German Paratroopers. Being one man short for recreation of this particular photo, we found a man willing from the crowd that had gathered. Donned in a german poncho and bare headed he portrayed just the character we needed. Thanks for helping us out!
Some men build a live size replica of a CG-4AWaco glider. Although they did a grand job, is was, unfortunatly, behind some trees and way out of sight. Anyway, we decided that it needed a little decoration and chalked some slogans on it to cheer it up! (We did ask permission!)
The next day we were at Son with a group of paratroopers who set up a display at the center of town along the road where one of the liberating convoys would pass. we had a swell time and before we knew, it was already time to pack up and return to our modern lives.
* The Netherlands are generally known as Holland in the US. Only the two western provinces of the Netherlands are called (North-, and South-) Holland. In the Netherlands 'Holland' just means the western part of the Netherlands, not the whole country.