During my search about Operation Market Garden, I found this…
Albie Gotze was there and he gave a lecture on his experience as a Typhoon pilot.
The main talk of the evening, My Role as a Fighter Pilot at Arnhem, was given by General Albie Gotze and was one of our series of “I was there” talks. This provided for a remarkable evening, as our speaker not only went into considerable detail on the battle itself, but also added the personal touch at relevant points, as he explained his role as one of the fighter pilot escorts to the ground troops. To start we heard how events evolved from the break through at Falaise; the use of Eisenhower’s broad front and the related support problems, the lack of a decisive supreme commander, the impact of British failure to take the Beveland Peninsular, the thrusting and conflicting demands of Montgomery and Patton and much more – all of which led to acceptance of Montgomery’s plan for an airborne attack to secure a gateway into Germany and the Ruhr, codenamed Market Garden. The ever careful Montgomery shook his colleagues by suggesting that his plan, resulting in The Battle of Arnhem, should take place “immediately” but the briefing to his senior colleagues led to one of the most famous comments of the war when Lt. Gen Browning pointed to Arnhem bridge on the map and said “I think we might be going a bridge too far”. It proved to be a correct judgement.
The plan was monumental with just 7 days to launch the first ever fully equipped airborne force to drop deep behind enemy lines in daylight, in joint operation with ground troops, and using 1187 troop carriers, 478 gliders, 5000 aircraft of all types to deploy a total of 35, 000 men. The aim was to take all identified bridges and to hold open a 64-mile wide corridor for the army advance through Germany. How this was all planned was given in detail, including specific targets by unit, air support operations, weather, security, the choice of landing and drop zones and most controversial of all – the use (and non-use) of available intelligence. Most fascinating of all was the role of our speaker; after a tour on Hurricanes he volunteered for ops on Typhoons and joined 137 Squadron on 28 August 1944. His role and those of his pilot colleagues both before and during the 9 days of the battle (when 35 pilots were killed) made his description of the battle even more fascinating than usual.
The battle started before dawn on 17 September 1944, when 1400 bombers supported by over 1500 fighter escorts, bombed German positions in preparation for the airborne armada to arrive at their drop zones around 1100 hours. That was a sight our speaker saw from the air and he said about it “my feelings at the time were of awe and wonder, I will never forget it”. But misfortune followed, with the recent arrival of the 9th and 11th Panzer Divisions in the area, the operational plans for Market Garden being found on the body of a USA officer – plans that were passed immediately to the German high command – and most of the 1st British Airborne Division radio equipment being lost. This last misfortune was the reason for the almost total loss of communication between this unit and the approaching ground troops. With the airborne drop underway, XXX Corps started their ground attack into Holland, with Albie Gotze and his co-pilots giving close air support, but despite making initial progress they were clearly behind schedule by the end of day 2. The 1st Airborne were also losing their initiative, a problem compounded by their CO – General Urquhart – losing contact with his HQ for 36 hours at a time when the Dutch underground were reporting that the Germans were winning the battle at Arnhem Bridge. With the Germans having full knowledge of their plans, the signs were already ominous for the main attacking forces. Several sorties being repulsed and although the north end of the bridge was secured by 0600 on 18 September, all the troops in the action were surrounded. This put the emphasis on the bridge at Nijmegan, where the Germans were waiting, after the bridge at Zon was blown up be the Germans.
From that confused start to the battle, Albie Gotze then took us through the detail of the battle as it unfolded on a day-by-day basis, giving equal emphasis to the 4 main airborne units – 1st British, 82nd American, 101st American and 1st Polish – and the ground troops of the 2nd Army – VII, XXX, and XII Corps. He added to this with the roles played by air support, including the way that B24 Liberators flew in supplies through heavy flak, and how the Typhoons, flying at anything from 500 to 50 feet attempted to neutralise that flak – all explained with personal knowledge. The success or otherwise of taking the target bridges was described, together with the determined attempt by German forces to stop the advance of the ground troops and the capture of the bridges by the airborne troops. The battle ran from 17 – 26 September, 9 days of fierce fighting and heavy casualties that did not achieve the anticipated objectives, and eventually the airborne troops, who never did receive the timely help from ground forces, had to withdraw and this they did. Our speaker then summarised the reasons for failure, including: airborne troops landing too far from their objectives, the bad luck of the late arrival of Panzer troops, the speed of German response aided by knowledge of the allies plans, the impact of the worsening weather, the communications failure, the inability of the ground forces to advance within the planned time and Eisenhower’s reluctance to channel all his resources to this hugely important operation. Although it was a failure, it was an epic and heroic battle for all the men who fought at Arnhem on both sides. As General Albie Gotze stated, “It was a victory for the human spirit, it has a special quality, a flavour almost of mystique”. The talk we received more than matched the quality of the battle itself.
Albie Gotze also flew in Korea with the SAAF.
Tomorrow, first-hand experience in flying a Hawker Typhoon…