Operation Market-Garden - Part 5
Lt. Col. Cassidy's 1st Battalion, 502nd PIR held their position about the canal and river bridges against persistent but small German attacks, most of which were in company strength. The strongest —by three companies of the 59th Division reinforced by police and replacement units— struck 1st Battalion on D plus 2 on the road to Schijndel. Hard pressed at first, Lt. Col. Cassidy's men gained assistance from Sgt. James M. “Paddy” McCrory, commander of a crippled tank that had dropped out of the British ground column. Although the tank could make no more than five miles per hour, McCrory plunged unhesitatingly into the fight. When the paratroopers tried to thank him, he brushed them off. "When in doubt," Sergeant McCrory said, "lash out." His words became a kind of unofficial motto of the battalion.
General Taylor had hoped to be in a stronger position by the end of D plus 2 with the addition of most of his airborne artillery. The flights on D plus 2 were postponed until late in the day on the chance the weather might clear. Troops in the gliders spoke of a mist so thick they could see nothing but three feet of tow rope stretching out into nowhere from their gliders. Because the glider pilots could not detect when their mother planes banked, many gliders turned over and had to cut loose prematurely. The Air/Sea Rescue Service worked overtime plucking ditched crewmen and passengers from the Channel. Many planes and gliders turned back. On the other hand, weather at German bases must have been better; for the Germans sent up more than 125 Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs. A total of 1,086 Allied troop carrier, tow, and resupply planes and 428 gliders took off on D plus 2. A large part of these returned to base, while 45 planes and 73 gliders were lost.
Because the 101st Airborne Division's landing zone was relatively secure, General Brereton allotted General Taylor, at the expense of the 82nd Airborne Division, 384 gliders for the D plus 2 flight, more than twice the number originally planned. Only 212 of these arrived. After missing the landing zone and circling vainly, 82 tow planes returned to England. Of these planes 31 of their gliders cut loose behind friendly lines, 16 were known to have crash-landed in enemy territory, and 26 were not accounted for. Those glider men who landed behind German lines and eventually rejoined their units brought with them harrowing tales of hairbreadth escapes punctuated with praise for the Dutch underground. Most of these men were artillerymen, for the flights bringing in the artillery units were particularly cut up. Of 66 artillery pieces and antitank guns that started the flight, only 36 arrived. None was larger than the 75-mm pack howitzer; all planes towing gliders with 105-mm howitzers had to turn back.
Difficulties imposed on the 101st Airborne Division by the adverse weather could not be ignored, and General Taylor's "Indian War" to keep open Hell's Highway was critical as long as men and supplies had to go north over the highway. Nevertheless, at the moment, a situation had developed farther north that overshadowed events along Hell's Highway. Moving on Grave and Nijmegen, the British ground column was hard pressed to cross the Maas and Waal Rivers and reach the British airborne troops at Arnhem. To ensure passage of the ground column, the 82nd Airborne Division at Nijmegen was fighting against time.
For all the adversities north of the Neder Rijn, hope still existed as daylight came on D plus 5, 22 September, that the 43rd Infantry Division might break through at Ressen, relieve the British paratroopers, and bring over-all success to Operation MARKET-GARDEN. The XXX Corps commander, General Horrocks, ordered the division "to take all risks to effect relief today."
Yet, almost coincident with this hope, another major threat to the success of the operation was developing to the south in the sector of General Taylor's 101st Airborne Division. Despite an aggressive defense designed to prevent the enemy from concentrating at any one crucial spot to cut Hell's Highway, General Taylor on 22 September faced report after report from Dutch sources of large-scale German movements against the narrow corridor from both east and west.
The 101st Airborne Division commander, General Taylor, had recognized since late on D plus 2, 19 September, when his command post and the Bailey bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal at Zon had almost fallen to the first strike of the 107th Panzer Brigade, that his division had entered a second and more difficult phase of the fighting. The point was underscored in the morning mist of D plus 3, 20 September, when the 107th Panzer Brigade struck again at the Zon bridge. Though a reinforced battalion of infantry was positioned to protect the bridge, German tank guns soon controlled the bridge by fire. The bridge might have fallen to the Germans had not ten British tanks belatedly responded to an SOS dating from the crisis of the night before. Knocking out four German tanks, the British forced the enemy back. Recognizing that he had not the strength to maintain a static defense along the 15-mile length of Hell's Highway, General Taylor on D plus 3 chose to conduct limited offensive operations to keep the Germans off balance.
On D plus 4, 21 September, a reconnaissance by a company of Col. Michaelis' 502nd Parachute Infantry encountered stiff resistance near the village of Schijndel, four and one half miles northwest of St. Oedenrode. This coincided with civilian reports that the Germans were concentrating south of Schijndel for a counterattack upon St. Oedenrode. Col. Michaelis and the commander of the 501st Parachute Infantry, Col. Johnson, decided to press the Germans near Schijndel between them. Two battalions of Johnson's regiment would take Schijndel from the north. Thereupon two of Michaelis' battalions would attack northward against the German force that was south of the village.
In a swift move after dark on D plus 4, Col. Johnson took Schijndel not long after midnight on 21 September. Although a surprise counterattack against the village at dawn delayed the start of the second phase of the planned maneuver, Col. Michaelis' two battalions were able to begin their role by midmorning of D plus 5 on 22 September. Progressing smoothly, the attack gave promise of bountiful success. Then, abruptly, at 1430, an urgent message from General Taylor forced a halt.
General Taylor had learned that the Germans were concentrating for a major blow to sever Hell's Highway in the vicinity of Veghel and Uden. The maneuver near Schijndel during the morning of 22 September was occupying the bulk of Col. Johnson's 501st Parachute Infantry, but one battalion of that regiment still was in defensive positions in Veghel. Yet not a man was in Uden, the other place which the Americans believed the Germans would strike. General Taylor shifted his efforts to controlling Uden.