Operation Market-Garden - Part 4
In the meantime, a stalemate had developed in the fighting along the edge of the Zonsche Forest. Though 2nd and 3nd and Battalions held their own, Col. Michaelis, could not reinforce them without neglecting defense of St. Oedenrode, which was one of his primary missions.
The solution came at last in the juncture with the British ground troops, whereby a squadron of British tanks and a modicum of artillery support became available. Arrival by glider in the afternoon of D plus 1 of two battalions of the 327th Glider Infantry under Col. Joseph H. Harper also helped. Because of rain and mist along the southern air route, this glider lift had come in via the northern route and brought successful landing of 428 out of 450 gliders of the 101st Airborne Division. A total of 2,579 men, 146 jeeps, 109 trailers, 2 bulldozers, and some resupply had arrived.
General Taylor ordered his assistant division commander, Brig. Gen. Gerald J. Higgins, to take over-all command of the two battalions of the 502nd Parachute Infantry near Best, contingents of the 327th Glider Infantry, a squadron of British tanks, and elements of British artillery and to reduce all enemy east of the highway between Eindhoven and Hertogenbosch and north of the Wilhelmina Canal. Though the destruction of the Best highway bridge had eliminated the original purpose of the Best fighting, the job of protecting the west flank of the 101st Airborne Division remained.
The British tanks made the difference in an attack that began at 1400 on D plus 2. Within German ranks, a festering disintegration by late afternoon became a rout. "Send us all the MP's available," became the cry as hundreds of Germans began to surrender. For almost three days a bitter, costly, and frustrating fight, the action at Best was now little more than a mop-up. By the end of D plus 2 the prisoners totaled more than 1,400 with more than 300 enemy dead. Some of the prisoners came in with Lieutenant Wierzbowski and the survivors of his little band. They had been taken to a German aid station and there had talked their captors into surrender.
Best itself remained in German hands, and much of the territory taken was abandoned as soon as the mop-up ended. Now the battle of Hell's Highway was developing into the Indian-type fighting General Taylor later was to call it, and these men from Best were needed at other points. The engagement near Best had been costly and had secured neither of the bridges over the Wilhelmina Canal, yet it had destroyed the 59th Division which could have affected the security of Hell’s Highway if left intact.
While the fight raged at Best on D plus 1 and 2, the rest of the 101st Airborne Division maintained defensive positions at Eindhoven, Zon, St. Oedenrode, and Veghel. From Eindhoven, Col. Sink's 506th Parachute Infantry sent a battalion to both flanks to widen the base of the MARKET-GARDEN corridor, but in both cases Sink recalled the troops before they reached their objectives. On the west the battalion returned because the XII British Corps had begun to advance along the left flank of the corridor and was expected soon to overrun the battalion's objective. The battalion on the east returned because Col. Sink learned that a column of German armor was loose in the region and he wanted no part of a meeting engagement with armor. Late in the afternoon of D Plus 2, the 107th Panzer Brigade struck toward Zon in an attempt to sever the thin lifeline over which the British ground column was pushing toward Nijmegen. Even without the 59th Division, the German attack came close to succeeding. Only a scratch force that included General Taylor's headquarters troops was available at the time for defending the Bailey bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal at Zon. Darkness had fallen, a British truck struck by a round from a German tank was burning brightly atop the bridge, and a German Panther tank pumped round after round into the building which housed the division command post when General Taylor himself arrived with reinforcements. He led part of a glider infantry battalion and a lone 57-mm antitank gun. One of the first rounds from the 57-mm knocked out a German tank near the bridge. Bazooka fire disabled another. The Germans appeared to lose heart after losing two tanks and withdrew. Traffic gradually began to flow again along Hell's Highway.
Another German blow against Hell's Highway on D plus 2 came from the air, perhaps as a direct result of Hitler's exhortations that the Luftwaffe put his little world right again. About a hundred German twin-engine bombers came out of hiding after nightfall to bombard the central part of Eindhoven. Because most American units held positions outside the city, they incurred no damage; but more than a thousand civilians were killed or wounded, and British units were heavily hit. Whether from lack of planes, fuel, or trained crewmen, or because of all three, this was the only major strike by long-range German bombers during the course of the campaign in the West during the fall of 1944.