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Last Updated: Friday, 17 September, 2004, 03:00 GMT 04:00 UK
'Dismal failure' at Arnhem Bridge
By Susannah Cullinane
BBC News Online

Joe Michie (left) and Graham Scopes (right)
Mr Michie and Mr Scopes both had perfect drops
After General Montgomery's daring operation to cut World War II short by forcing a narrow corridor from the Netherlands into the heart of Germany he praised the survivors.

He wrote: "There can be few episodes [in the annals of the British Army] more glorious than the epic of Arnhem...

"In years to come it will be a great thing for a man to say: 'I fought at Arnhem'."

The beginning of the operation had the markings of success.

Soft landing

London resident Joe Michie, now aged 84, was a sergeant in the Glider Pilot Regiment.

On 17 September 1944 his Horsa glider carried a gun and a trailer for the South Staffordshire Regiment.

Archival footage of the Arnhem landings shows the gliders being towed from Britain to the Netherlands by Halifax or Dakota aircraft.

We flew across the North Sea, which was absolutely calm and beautiful and we flew across Holland no bother at all
Bill Michie

Later, grainy black and white fields are littered with the craft, trailing broad dirt tracks behind them.

Out of the 320 gliders used in Operation Market Garden just 38 failed to arrive.

"A few [gliders] came adrift on the way. The rope might have been shot away by flak or the tug might have had engine problem and had to release its glider," Mr Michie said.

"A number landed in Holland and the pilots were collected by the Dutch, who risked their lives."

But Mr Michie said the gliders had an advantage over planes in that they relied on gravity to land normally, so were unlikely to crash if they came under fire.

"Gravity never breaks down and gravity is always there so we can come down quite smoothly," he said.

'Somebody said we're all on an exercise in England '

Mr Michie's experience of the landing was textbook perfect: "We were on the first day and it was absolutely unopposed.

"We took off from Manston airfield near Margate and we flew across the North Sea, which was absolutely calm and beautiful, and we flew across Holland no bother at all.

"We could see all the people running out on the streets.

"We got to the bridge, pulled off, landed and unloaded and several of us gathered for a rendezvous on a farm.

"There was a hill and about six of us sat on it and somebody got out a beer and somebody said we're all on an exercise in England - it was just like an exercise.

'Dismal failure'

Graham "Bluey" Scopes, 83, of Buriton in Hampshire, also had a successful landing but remembers the operation as "a dismal failure".

Mr Scopes was a corporal in 'A' Company of 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment.

The battalion took off from Lincolnshire and was dropped in daylight behind enemy lines eight miles from the target - eight road and rail bridges across the Rhine.

Our objective was to hold the bridge and I suppose we did until the ninth day and then we gave up and it was every man for himself
Graham Scopes
The plan was for the paratroopers to take the bridges and hold them until the arrival of the 30 Corps, which were expected to push through from the south.

"Although the initial drop was a surprise the Germans soon got their act together," Mr Scopes said.

"Because of the intense fighting we were the only battalion to reach the [Arnhem] bridge."

"After that it was street fighting all the way - there were no defined battle lines or anything like that, we were in very confined conditions."

Meanwhile, 30 Corps failed to break through the German lines.

"Our objective was to hold the bridge and I suppose we did until the ninth day and then we gave up and it was every man for himself," Mr Scopes said.

In total 7,167 men were listed as killed, missing or wounded after the battle.

Troops landing at Arnhem
We were dropped far too far away from our objective
Graham Scopes
He himself was wounded on the fourth day.

Mr Scopes said veterans agreed the operation was a failure but there were a number of theories on why.

Some believed the military hierarchy didn't take enough notice of Dutch intelligence, he said.

"They believe if we'd taken more notice more people would have arrived at the bridge... many lives could have been saved.

"To have a DZ [drop zone] eight miles from our objective was absolutely stupid.

"We were dropped far too far away from our objective."

The operation's planners were also unaware of the presence of an SS Panzer tank division in the area.

"Nobody carried weapons to combat a Tiger tank," Mr Scopes said.

Jumping back to Arnhem
17 Sep 04  |  UK
Veterans march remembers Arnhem
16 Sep 04  |  Europe
Veterans remember Arnhem campaign
12 Sep 04  |  Gloucestershire
Parachutists mark Dutch battle
12 Sep 04  |  Lincolnshire



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