You may recall the 1970s movie, "A Bridge too Far"? On Monday we went to see the Canadian cemetery at Oosterbeek near Arnhem and the War Museum.
Uncle Bruce made his second landing here as a pilot of a Waco Glider. The first was in Normandy a few months earlier. He crashed and injured his back when a jeep he was transporting burst through the fabric of the cargo compartment. The WACO could carry a howitzer or a jeep or 14 airborne troops. It was a "million dollar" wound.
About 20,000 American and 10,000 Commonwealth soldiers parachuted in or landed in gliders. The bridge at Arnhem would have shortened the war by six months, had it been captured and held.
Unfortunately, two unexpected Divisions of Armored Panzers were resting up near Arnhem and the lightly armed British and Americans were badly outclassed by the German defenders.
I remember Uncle Bruce had very little love for the SS troops, who, he told me, had a nasty habit of machine-gunning inconvenient prisoners.
Here's some Wiki background:
In World War II, during Operation Market Garden (September 1944), the British 1st Airborne Division and the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade were given the task of securing the bridge at Arnhem.
The units were parachuted and glider-landed into the area on 17 September and later. The bulk of the force was dropped rather far from the bridge and never met their objective. A small force of British 1st Airborne managed to make their way as far as the bridge but was unable to secure both sides. The Allied troops encountered stiff resistance from the German 9th and 10th SS Panzer divisions, which had been stationed in and around the city.
The British force at the bridge eventually surrendered on 21 September, and a full withdrawal of the remaining forces was made on 26 September. These events were dramatized in the 1977 movie A Bridge Too Far. (The bridge scenes in the movie were shot in Deventer, where a similar bridge over the IJssel was available, as the area around Arnhem bridge had changed too much to represent WWII era Arnhem). As a tribute, the rebuilt bridge was renamed 'John Frost-bridge' after the commander of the paratroopers. The current bridge is the third almost-identical bridge built at the same spot. The Dutch Army destroyed the first bridge when the Germans invaded Holland in 1940. The second bridge was destroyed by the US Army Air Forces shortly after the 1944 battle.
A second battle of Arnhem took place in April 1945 when the city was liberated by I Canadian Corps of the First Canadian Army.
Owing to the Allied withdrawal, the vast majority of their dead had to be left on the battlefield. Here they were buried in simple field graves (some little more than their own slit trenches) or in small mass graves dug by the Germans. Kate Ter Horst, whose house was used as a first aid post during the battle, found the graves of 57 men in her garden when she returned after the war. After Arnhem was liberated in April 1945, Grave Registration Units of the British 2nd Army moved into the area and began to locate the Allied dead.
A small field north of Oosterbeek was offered on perpetual loan by the Netherlands government to the Imperial War Graves Commission in June 1945 and the dead were reburied there. Many of those killed during Arnhem's liberation were also buried at the same site. The cemetery was completed in February 1946, originally with the graves marked by metal crosses, although these were replaced by headstones in 1952. Most of the German dead were buried in the SS Heroes Cemetery near Arnhem after the battle, but reburied in Ysselsteyn after the war.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records 1759 graves in the cemetery as of 2004. 1432 of these are Commonwealth, including British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealanders. The cemetery is also the last resting place of 73 Polish soldiers, (many of them exhumed and moved from Driel, to the disappointment of Driel's residents)and 8 Dutch civilians - some killed in the fighting and some former Commission employees. 253 of the graves are unidentified.
As of 2003 there were still 138 Allied men with no known grave in the area, and they are commemorated at the Groesbeek Memorial. However, evidence of the battle is often discovered even today, and the bodies of Allied servicemen are reinterred at the Airborne Cemetery. When found, bodies are exhumed and Dutch Graves Registration staff attempt to identify them before they are reburied.