|Battlefield tour 156 Battalion The Parachute Regiment in the Battle of Arnhem by VVAM on 28 April 2019 (the day after Kingsday). We follow the track of Company Commander Colonel Geoffrey Powel 'C' Company 156th Parachute Battalion, 4th Parachute Brigade, 1st Airborne Division. Our guide is Nick Kelso, a Brit, living in The Netherlands. With him we make a walk on the former battlefield.|
|In 2011 we took part in the now legendary battlefield tour with Colonel John Waddy, commander of the 156th Battalion.|
Map with our hiking routes.
|We leave by bus from the Airbornemuseum to the Ginkelse Heide. There the 156th battalion, as part of the 4th Parachute Brigade, led by General Shan Hackett, landed on the Ginkel Heath on 18 September 1944. This battalion consisted of 603 men. Besides an HQ and Support company there were three rifle companies, consisting of a Company HQ and three platoons with 35 men each. This brought the strength of a company to 125 men. The Support company had with it:|
Four 6 pounder anti-tank guns from the 1st anti-tank Battery RA.
Four Vickers machine guns
Seven 81 mm morter
|The 156th battalion departed from Saltby airport on 18 September 1944. The airfield is used by the RAF as well as by the USAAF. The best known user was the 314th Troop Carrier Group of the USAAF. This unit dropped with its C47 Dakota's a.o. paratroopers on D-day (American 82nd Airborne Division) and at Arnhem (British 1st Airborne Division).|
|Nowadays the field is used by the Buckminster gliding club. Parts of the runways and taxiways are still easy to recognize.|
|Departure of the Airbornes from England. The first landing took place on the 17th and the second the next day on the 18th of September. The 156th battalion came along and landed as part of the 4th Parachute Brigade.|
Ginkel Heath on 28 April 2019
|The battalion arrived above DZ Y on the Ginkelse Heide between 15.00 and 15.10 hours. There was a delay of four hours. Of the 127 aircraft for the whole 4th Parachute Brigade, five were shot down by anti-aircraft guns. A sixth aircraft was taken out after landing. Also Dakota CN619 with on board half of the medium machine gun platoon was lost at Dodewaard. A glider landed prematurely near Eindhoven.|
|Hamilcar with Universal Carriers arrived at LZ X. The link-up between the battalion and the glider part of the platoon was at the Wolfheze railroad crossing.|
|The aircraft were led to the Dropzone (DZ) by a Eureka beacon, which was placed just south of the current A12 by the 3rd platoon of the 21st Independent Parachute Company (Pathfinders) of Lieutenant Hugh Ashmore. The DZ was under enemy fire, because on the ground there was a battle going on between the 7th Kings Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) and Wachtbataillon NW/3 consisting of Dutch Waffen SS, from the guard of camp Amersfoort, which was stationed in Camp Amsvorde, where now the Leusderweg crosses with the Laan 1914.|
|Britse para's bij het spoor tussen Oosterbeek en Wolfheze. De soldaat links op de voorgrond is uitgerust met een PIAT anti-tankgeweer.|
|In the morning we follow the route taken by Company Commander Powell and his men. First by bus from the Ginkelse Heide where they jumped to the station of Wolfheze and from there their advance along the railway line to the bridge near Arnhem. In the afternoon the station is the starting point again and we follow the retreat to Oosterbeek. Finaly we arrive at Hackett's Hollow, where initially the perimeter could not be reached and the paratroopers were encircled in a pit led by General Hackett. Only by means of a storm attack they manage to break through the German encirclement and reach their own lines. But at the cost of heavy losses.|
|After the landing on Ginkel Heath the 10th and 156th battalions depart through the woods to Wolfheze via the railway, and then arrive at the crossroads at the Wolfheze station. This railway becomes a problem. We see that where we start to walk in the footsteps of Powell, access to the railway is still easy, as the area is flat. There I took a picture of the sign 'Einde Wolfheze'. We walk down the road in the direction of the famous Diver under the railway line. We see that 100 meters further on it has become much more difficult to cross the track with their equipment. That would only be possible in Oosterbeek, but there are still three divers under the track. Through these divers the British and Polish airborns could hardly escape from the encirclement by the German Kampfgruppen at Wolfheze.|
|Finaly the airbornes reached their comrades in the Wolfhezer and Bilderberg forests.|
|On the way to the culvert at Wolfheze our guide tells about the experiences of the C Company, led by Powell, who was the first to arrive at the culvert. With their jeeps the men were on their way to the bridge near Arnhem.|
|We follow the path and arrive at the place where the airbornes were ambushed by the troops of Kampfgruppe Kraft. The jeeps of Powell were attacked. Afterwards, nothing is reported by Powell's unit about jeeps and casualties. We hear that the culvert we see is not the only one. There are two other culverts, one has been shut down because a gas pipe runs through it. There was also a small station in front of the racecourse, where horses' cheeks are unloaded. That was at track level, so that was also a possibility to cross the track.|
|After Brigadier Hackett was ordered to relinquish his 11th battalion, he changed his advance route from the Ede-Arnhem road to the same railway line that Powell and his men passed. Hackett realised that the tactical situation required different decisions. This also appeared when C Company with No. 10 Platoon as striker around 21.00 hours encountered a German lineup, west of the Dreijenseweg. This platoon, led by Sergeant Black, was ambushed and four men were killed. Two scouts were missing and eight were injured. Not a good start for the 156th battalion. Our major Geoffrey Powell explored the situation and ordered Lieutenant Wilcock, commander of the 9th platoon with Lance Corporal John O'Reilly in it, to move to the left. This manoeuvre got stuck on German machine-coloured fire. This led to the entire battalion being pulled back at the railway tunnel at Wolfheze, where the day before the Reconnaissance Squadron had been jammed at Ausbildungs und Ersatz-Battaillon 16 van Sturmbahnführer Krafft.|
Ambush in Wolfheze
|To prevent the Germans from completely destroying the 4th Parachute Brigade, General Urquhart, in consultation with General Hackett, decided to retreat the remainder of the 4th Parachute Brigade to the south, beyond the railway line . The railway embankment and the sunken track at Oosterbeek formed a good natural defence line in the late afternoon of 19 September. Here the British were relatively safe.|
|Here were the men of the 4th Parasquadron Royal Engineers, not far from the headquarters, which was located behind a hill in a pit near the junction of roads a little further on.|
|We walk through the beautiful Wolfhezer forests. After we stopped to think about the place where casualties fell among the men who defended the headquarters of the 4th battalion, marked with wreaths with poppies.|
Johannahoeve na de slag
|Then we arrive at Johannahoeve.|
|On 19 September, the 156th battalion left under Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Richard de Bacquencourt des Voeux, to occupy three strategic heights. The first looked out over the Johannahoeve, the second in the woods at estate Lichtenbeek and last an altitude known as 'The Dome', five kilometers from Arnhem. The 10th parabatallion moved up along the Amsterdam road to provide cover on the left flank. As soon as the three heights were secured, the battalions had to continue towards Arnhem. To their surprise, the 156th battalion to the Johannahoeve unhindered rise. The Germans, who had made it difficult for them the previous day, had retreated during the night on the Sperrlinie.|
Onze battlefieldtourgroep bij Johannahoeve
|Op weg door de Bilderbergbossen naar de Dreijenseweg, waar Powell met zijn C compagnie de weg probeerde over te steken, luisteren we geboeid naar onze gids en naar de andere deskundigen in de groep over wat hier gebeurde.|
|Locatie waar zich een Brits Dressing Station bevond. Hier werd hulp gegeven aan de gewonden bij het gevechtsgebied.|
|We staan hier bij het punt waar de airbornes probeerden de Dreijenseweg over te steken.|
De Dreijenseweg, waar zich de Duitse Sperrlinie bevond. Powell en zijn mannen probeerden hier de weg over te steken en kwamen onder vuur van de Duitse tanks en pantserwagens.
|The British advanced further, but at the Dreijenseweg they faced fierce German opposition. With the bayonet on the rifle they carried out a charge to break through the German defense line. They managed to overrun the front positions, but the attack broke down on the fire of armoured vehicles.|
Een Sd. Kfz 250 on Dreijenseweg. With their light armament the British had no answer to the German armored cars.
Here we walk up the hill on estate Lichtenbeek.
This group picture I made of our nice and interested battlefield group on the hill Lichtenbeek.
|Despite the high number of casualties, an officer and six men managed to reach the Lichtenbeek estate and establish a defensive position on the Lichtenbeek hill. We hear that surrounded and under fire of the Germans Powell stays on the hill and prays for his men. One hour later they are captured.|
|After the B-company also broke down on the German defense, Hackett gave the order to withdraw. The battalion had lost about half of its men. In the meantime, the 10th battalion on the Amsterdamseweg, near the water pumping station, had also been caught against the Sperrlinie of Kampfgruppe. Spindler. They too could not compete with the German tanks and armoured cars and had to withdraw with heavy losses.|
|Another view on the Airborne Cemetery Oosterbeek|
|At the end of the morning program we walk through the forest to the Oosterbeek cemetery, but then seen from a completely different side than we are used to. We come from the forest at the Air Despatch Monument and have a unique view of the Airborne Cemetery. There the bus is ready to take us to restaurant De Tijd in Wolfheze, close to the station. After lunch we will start with the afternoon part of the tour.|
|Back in Wolfheze|
|After lunch in restaurant De Tijd in Wolfheze, we continue the battlefield tour again at station Wolfheze. In the morning we saw Powell and his C Compagny moving from here along the railway to Arnhem. In the afternoon we see that the airbornes are retreating from station Wolfheze to Oosterbeek, while they are under heavy fire and there is a great chaos, where the paratroopers are cut off from ammunition and supplies. It is 19 September. The second day for the 156th battalion. This day will be a dramatic one, especially at the end of the afternoon and at night. Through the Wolfhezerbos and the Bilderberg forests the airbornes of C Company return to Oosterbeek and finally arrive at Hackett's hole, where our tour also ends. They join the men of General Hackett who are trapped there and with a bayonet attack on the Germans, who surround them, they barely manage to reach the perimeter.|
|Our guide gives an explanation of the events in and around Wolfheze in the afternoon and evening of Tuesday 19 September.|
|On 19 September at 4 p.m. the Polish gliders arrive at Landing Zone (LZ) L located just north of the railway line between Wolfheze and Oosterbeek, called Papendal. This landing area is defended by the King's Own Scottsh Borderers (KOSB). They end up in the middle of an enormous battle and chaos during the withdrawal of the 4th Brigade. A nightmare. Brigadier Hackett, who is in charge of the 4th Brigade, realizes that the Wolfheze - Oosterbeek railway will be a big problem, especially in view of the wounded people they have with them and the jeeps and guns. They can't just cross the railway line. That's why he focuses on keeping Wolfheze in his hands, because Oosterbeek seems far away. But for the defense there are not enough airbornes in Wolfheze. That's why he wants to secure the crossing over the railway at Wolfheze as soon as possible. Therefore jet 10th battalion has to return as soon as possible to that point at station Wolfheze. These men arrive just in time to drive the Germans back. At four o'clock in the afternoon of 19 September, Hackett gives the order to the rest of the 156 battalion to withdraw. From that moment on everything went wrong. There is no more coordination. Groups of paratroopers disintegrate and become disoriented. A number of 270 men manage to cross the railway further on and end up in the Oosterbeek perimeter, but unfortunately this does not apply to the rest of the brigade. The unit has fallen apart and most of it is isolated and is deprived of ammunition and supplies. They are trying to cross the railway at various places. Powell with his C company, who is still reasonably intact, crosses the railway line and on the other side goes back to Wolfheze. They had discovered that jeeps could pass through a number of tunnels (divers) underneath the railway line, together with their 6-pounder guns. While some are ordered to cross the railway, others have to go back to Wolfheze. So the 156 battalion falls apart. In the evening of 19 September there is a group of 400 men at Wolfheze. There are men from the 10th battalion and the 156 battalion and the Brigade HQ. Furthermore, there is everything: genius, glider pilots, Poland, in short a mixture of soldiers, without struture and without supply line. The defence of Wolfheze has to make do with the ammunition they have. That will be a real problem. Hackett realizes the importance of keeping Wolfheze in control with the crossing of the railway and reports this by radio to General Urquhart, who is located at the Hartenstein headquarters in Oosterbeek. Hackett is not located in Wolfheze, but is at the Brigade HQ, about 2 kilometres away. It is not possible to have contact with Wolfheze. This is the situation on Tuesday evening 19 September. However, it was still possible for the paratroopers to reach the Oosterbeek perimeter via the Wolfhezerweg, because the crossing was initially in the hands of the Border Regiment. When they would have left between 6 and 9 o'clock in the evening, they would have had a good chance to reach the perimeter.|
|That's what glider pilot Louis Hagen did too. Through the War Diary it is known that two companies of the Reconnaissance Squadron also went over the Wolfhezerweg to the perimeter of Oosterbeek. Around eight o'clock that evening they dug themselves in opposite Hartenstein. Furthermore, the Medical Corps, consisting of 48 men, managed to reach the perimeter via the Wolfhezerweg. Meanwhile Hackett is stuck in the woods and has no more control over the men at Wolfheze. Unfortunately nobody tells the four hundred men who are still near Wolfheze that they have to cross the Wolfhezerweg to reach the perimeter. A dramatic situation has arisen. That evening, Hackett radioed to Urquhart to suggest a retreat in the night. He says, however, without it being clear why, that they have to wait until the light comes out. With this, the last possibility to reach the perimeter is lost. In the woods of Wolfheze there are a total of a thousand paratroopers, who could have participated in the work at Oosterbeek or could have taken up a position on the Westerbouwing. Perhaps the course of the battle would have been different.|
|Para's at the railroad crossing in Wolfheze cover in a bomb crater|
|At nine o'clock in the evening of 19 September, the Border Regiment leaves the Wolfhezerweg with intersection and heads towards the Oosterbeek perimeter. After that time there will be no more coming through. It is impossible to use the Wolfhezerweg anymore. This has been tried by various groups of the 156 battalion. Also groups of the A company of the KOSB tried it. Most of them are captured.|
In this hopeless situation the difference between the paratroopers and the normal soldiers comes to the fore. The A company KOSB surrenders because they are without ammunition and surrounded. The paratroopers run towards the Germans with the bayonet on the rifle. Often they manage to break out.
John O'Reilly, a member of the 156 Parachute Battalion, also tried
to get through the German encirclement that evening, which didn't
work out. However, the next morning a bayonet attack was carried out
on the surrounding Germans and he and eight
came through. He was never arrested. Finally he went along the Rhine
during the escape operation Pegasus I in October 1944.
Right: Charlotte, granddaughter of John O'Reilly with a book about 156 Parachute Battalion & 4th Parachute Brigade 'Walking in their Footsteps'
|The tragedy is that if Hackett hadn't been distracted by the divers under the railway line between Wolfheze and Oosterbeek, which seems a short way to the perimeter, but had gone along the initially still open Wolfhezerweg, then they could have reached the perimeter.|
British paratroopers in Oosterbeek
|We are now at the other side of the culvert under the railway line at Wolfheze and hear what happened at this location while everyone is retreating. We hear about the exceptional courage of Captain Queripel, who had gathered a group of men around him and thus stopped the Germans for a while.|
|The exceptional courage of Captain Queripel|
14.00 hours on Tuesday 19 September, the Company of Queripel reached
a main road that ran over a dike towards Arnhem. The advance was
under continuous machine gun, which at one point became so heavy
that the Company was split on both sides of the road, and suffered
Captain Queripel immediately continued to reorganize his forces, crossing the road several times under extremely heavy and precise fire. During this period he carried a wounded sergeant to the regimental post while shooting at them. He himself was injured in the face.
After organising his forces, Captain Queripel personally led the attack against an enemy strongpoint. The enemy position consisted of a captured British anti-tank gun and two machine guns. Despite the fire directed at him, Captain Queripel managed to kill the crew of the machine guns and also recapture the anti-tank guns. As a result, the advance could continue.
Captain lionel Queripel
|The above action took place at the
Dreijenseweg, which runs from the station of Oosterbeek to the
Amsterdamseweg. The British tried to break through in the direction
of Arnhem, but were thrown back by the strong German opposition. At
the end of the day the whole 4th Parachute Brigade retreated behind
the railway, between Wolfheze and Oosterbeek
Later that same day, Captain Queripel noticed that he had been cut off with a small group of men and took a position in a ditch. By that time he also had wounds in both arms. Without regard to his wounds, amidst the very heavy mortar and gunfire, he continued to inspire his men to resist with hand grenades, pistols and the few remaining guns.
|Now back to Geoffrey Powell, whose trail we're following this day. He mentions the disintegration of the 156th battalion, partly caused by a misjudgment of Sergeant Hackett. He was distracted by the divers. His idea was that these divers could quickly reach the other side of the railway to escape from the German fire. But on the other hand the Germans also came into the woods and sat in decks. Precious time was lost. It would have been better if Hackett and his men had gone back to Wolfheze to quickly reach the Oosterbeek perimeter via the Wolfhezerweg. Now the 156th battalion and the 10th battalion had fallen apart. Everywhere were groups, which were also cut off from supplies and communications.|
|After the airborne landings of the English at Wolfheze they had to use the long and heavily fought road to Oosterbeek and Arnhem. Soon, however, the Germans regained a lot of ground. All important transitions of the railway were guarded. The English found this culvert and found out that when they folded down the windows of their jeeps, removed the antennas and kept everything inboard, they could carefully drive through the culvert.|
|We continue our route through the Bilderberg forests. In his book Men at Arnhem Powell describes the battles in the Bilderberg forests in a unique way, as if he takes you from tree to tree with his hand. C Company consisted of 80 men. Lieutenant Donaldson of No. 11 Platoon was his only remaining platoon commander. He was wounded during the fighting and was probably shot in cold blood by the Germans. The three-hour fighting near the water tower cost C Company too many losses, so Major Powell decided to withdraw. Brigadier Hackett decided not to attack further south, but to take the Van Tienhovenlaan in an easterly direction. Meanwhile the group of seven officers and 120 men was enclosed by Krafft from the north and by the Unterführerschule Arnheim and Bataillon Eberwein from the west. Hackett then ordered the 10th battalion to lead the attack. After a slow start the 10th battalion left so fast that the connection with the 156th battalion and Brigade HQ was lost. The 10th battalion managed to reach its own troops with only 60 men near the Valkenburglaan in Oosterbeek around 13.30 hours.|
|Elly walks through the Bilderberg forests during our battlefield tour, where we follow the trail of Colonel Geoffrey Powell.|
An eye for nature in the Bilderberg forests. Petrified mushrooms on the tree trunk of this very old tree. Can we still see traces of war on this tree?
Water tower in the Bilderberg forests, where the C Company of Powell fought for three hours.
|On our way to the Hackett hole at Oosterbeek we pass the place in the forest where the major of the 4th Parachute Brigade Charles Dawson, while retreating to Oosterbeek, was hit in the right shoulder on 20 September 1944. Shortly afterwards he was photographed. However, after taking this picture he was killed. It looks like we are standing on the spot given the position of the trees in the picture and as it seems now.|
|Probably we are standing here where Charles Dawson was hit in the shoulder and killed shortly after. Captain Booty took this picture.|
|The trees on the site where Charles Dawson died still clearly show traces of the war.|
|Finally the trail of Powell ends where he and his men join Sergeant Hackett and his 4th Parachute Infantry Bigade, where they are heavily attacked by the Germans around them. Two days earlier he landed on the heath of Ginkel with 2500 men. This place is known as Hackett's Hollow. These are pits near the Valkenburglaan, near the Sportlaan, where Sergeant J.W. Hackett, commander of the 4th Parachute Infantry Brigade, with his remaining 150 men of the 156 Parachute Regiment fought a way out on 20 September 1944 against the overwhelming German majority which consisted of flame throwing tanks. After being detained at this place for more than 8 hours, he decides by means of a bayonet charge to fight his way out to the edge of the western perimeter, about 150 meters away.|