Operation Market-Garden - Part 6
The Battalion Jungwirth joined the fight to cut Hell’s Highway and moved down a secondary road and by nightfall approached the hamlet of Koevering, located astride Hell's Highway a little more than a third of the distance from St. Oedenrode to Veghel and heretofore unoccupied by the Americans. Upon receiving reports of this enemy movement, the commander of 1st Battalion, 502nd Parachute Infantry at St. Oedenrode sent two companies racing toward Koevering. Arriving minutes ahead of the Germans, these companies denied the village; but they could not prevent Battalion Jungwirth from cutting Hell's Highway a few hundred yards to the northeast.
Through the night airborne and British artillery pounded the point of German penetration in an attempt to prevent reinforcement. The 907th Glider Field Artillery Battalion in firing positions only 400 yards from the Germans laid the guns of one battery for direct fire, operated the others with skeleton crews, and put the rest of the artillerymen in foxholes as riflemen. Yet the commander of the 6th Parachute Regiment, still managed to redeploy a portion of his forces to the point of penetration.
Marching during the night from Uden in a heavy rain, Col. Sink's 506th Parachute Infantry attacked at 0830 the next morning (D plus 8, 25 September) to squeeze the Germans from the northeast. A regiment of the 50th British Infantry Division and a reinforced battalion of the 502d Parachute Infantry pressed at the same time from the direction of St. Oedenrode. As the day wore on, Battalion Jungwirth and reinforcements from the 6th Parachute Regiment held firm. By nightfall the Allies had drawn a noose about the Germans on three sides, but a small segment of Hell's Highway was still in German hands.
During the night Battalion Jungwirth withdrew in apparent recognition of the tenuous nature of the position. The Germans nevertheless had held the penetration long enough to mine the highway extensively. Not until well into the day of D plus 9, 26 September, did engineers finally clear the road and open Hell's Highway again to traffic.
The elimination of this break near Koevering marked the stabilization of the 101st Airborne Division's front. Although the Germans struck time after time in varying strength at various positions along the road, never again were they able to cut it. Actually, General Reinhard's LXXXVIII Corps to the west of the highway concentrated primarily upon interfering with Allied movements through artillery fire, and General von Obstfelder's LXXXVI Corps to the east was too concerned with advance of the VIII British Corps to pay much more attention to Hell's Highway. By nightfall of 25 September patrols of the VIII Corps had contacted contingents of the XXX Corps at St. Antonis, south of Nijmegen, thereby presaging quick formation of a solid line along the east flank of the corridor. Both General Taylor's 101st Airborne Division and General Gavin's 82d Airborne Division would defend in place while the British tried to make the best of what had been happening at Arnhem.
Before the two U.S. divisions jumped in Operation MARKET, General Eisenhower had approved their participation with the stipulation that they be released as soon as ground forces could pass the positions they had seized and occupied. This had led to an expectation that at least one of the divisions might be released as early as forty-eight hours after the jump. Nevertheless, when the British Red Devils withdrew from north of the Neder Rijn to signal the end of the airborne phase, both American divisions still were in the line.
By 9 October, the British had widened the waist of the corridor to about twenty-four miles. Thereupon, the 12 Corps assumed responsibility for the "island" between the Waal and the Neder Rijn in order to free the XXX Corps for a projected drive against the Ruhr. Field Marshal Montgomery intended to strike southeast from Nijmegen in order to clear the west bank of the Rhine and the western face of the Ruhr and converge with a renewal of First Army's push against Cologne.
Even as October drew to an end and enemy pressure against the MARKET-GARDEN salient diminished, no release came for the two U.S. divisions. Like the 101st Airborne Division, part of General Gavin's 82nd moved northward onto the "island." Here the men huddled in shallow foxholes dug no more than three feet deep lest they fill with water seepage. In an attempt to deceive the Germans into believing the Allies planned another thrust northward, patrol after patrol probed the enemy lines.
On 2 October, General Eisenhower reminded Field Marshal Montgomery of the conditions under which use of the U.S. divisions had been granted and pointed out that the maintenance of the divisions had been based on that plan and that he contemplated using the two divisions about the middle of November. "To enable this to be done," he said "at least one of these divisions should be released without delay, and the second one within a reasonably short time thereafter."
Despite the letter of 2 October urging quick release of the American airborne divisions, General Eisenhower was not unsympathetic to the British manpower problem. He knew that British Empire troops available in the United Kingdom had long since been absorbed and that only in reinforcement from the Mediterranean Theater, a long-range project, did the British have a hope of strengthening themselves. Even after Montgomery decided in early October that his commitments were too great and enemy strength too imposing to permit an immediate drive on the Ruhr, General Eisenhower did not press the issue of the airborne divisions. Though relieved temporarily of the Ruhr offensive, the British had to attack westward to help the Canadians open Antwerp. General Eisenhower had not underestimated the desirability of relieving the airborne troops; rather, he saw from his vantage point as Supreme Commander the more critical need of the 21st Army Group. At a conference with his top commanders on 18 October in Brussels, he gave tacit approval to the continued employment of the two U.S. divisions. They were to be released, he said, when the Second Army completed its part in clearing the approaches to Antwerp.
The ordeal did not end for the 101st Airborne Division until 25 November 1944. After 69 days since their parachute landing near Zon, the first troopers of General Taylor's division began to withdraw. Two days later, on 27 November, D plus 71, the last American paratroopers pulled off the dreaded "Island" north of the Waal. Once relieved, the Paratroopers of the 101st moved by truck along the same route they fought for so staunchly. In Nijmegen, Grave, Veghel, St. Oedenrode, Zon, and Eindhoven, the newly liberated Dutch people roared "September 17" as the Paratroopers passed.
During the two phases of MARKET-GARDEN the 101st Airborne Division sustained significant casualties. In the airborne phase, from 17 to 26 September, the 101st Airborne Division lost 2,110 men killed, wounded, and missing. In the defensive phase, from 27 September to 27 November, the Division lost 1,682 men.