Parachutists drop on Arnhem to mark 1944 disaster
Around 1,000 parachutists landed in the Netherlands at the weekend in a re-enactment of the failed Allied mission to end the Second World War.
The 75th-anniversary commemoration in Ede of the September 1944 Battle of Arnhem was attended by Britain’s Prince Charles, colonel-in-chief of the Parachute Regiment, Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands and Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. More than 10,000 personnel died in the nine-day operation.
Tom Rice, 98, a veteran of the US army’s 101st Airborne Division jumped last week and announced he was “going to do it until I’m 100”.
Another veteran, 97-year-old Sandy Cortmann parachuted over the Dutch city where he was captured 75 years ago.
Cortmann completed a tandem drop with Corporal Mike French of the Red Devils army parachute display team on to Ginkel Heath near Arnhem.
He was congratulated by the heir to the British throne.
Cortmann from Aberdeen, who was 22 during the operation, said the jump was “thoroughly terrifying”. He said: ”When the door opened I thought, Christ, what a way down.”
But it was “absolutely wonderful to see the ground so far below, my God”.”I can’t remember much about the jump in 1944, we were just a bunch of young lads out for a good time if you like, but it turned out rather terrifying in the end with the guns and mortars and things opened up. They were all aimed at us.”
On September 17, 1944, Operation Market Garden saw nearly 35,000 Allied paratroopers drop too far behind enemy lines to capture key roads and bridges to allow an incursion into Germany’s industrial Ruhr heartland.
Market Garden was proposed by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, who favoured a single thrust north over the River Rhine, allowing the British Second Army to bypass the Siegfried Line and attack the Ruhr.
The British ground troops were expected to reach the airborne forces in two to three days, which proved hopelessly over-ambitious.
The fighting around Arnhem saw more than 1,500 Commonwealth soldiers killed, nearly 6,500 captured and the awarding of five Victoria Crosses: given for exceptional courage under effective enemy fire.
Poor weather and other errors, including a landing site that was too far from a key bridge and substandard radios, combined with determined German defence, meant the operation ended in defeat.
Immortalised in the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far, more Allied troops died during Market Garden than during the D-Day landings in France.
British paratroopers in Oosterbeek. Picture credit: Wikimedia