Arnhem-Oosterbeek, 18th Sept 1944, starting at 08:00.
Three Companies of 10th Parachute Battalion from 4th Parachute Brigade, advancing from the Oosterbeek area towards Arnhem, encountered a blocking line consisting of three companies of 2nd Panzer Grenadier Battalion, 9th SS Panzer Regiment and two companies of 9th SS Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion.
The Panzer Grenadiers were astride the main road, while the railway line was blocked by a company of obsolete French S-35 tanks “liberated” during the retreat from Normandy. To the rear was Hauptsturmführer Gräbner’s HQ, including his captured Humber armoured car.
The Para’s deployed and halted, calling for reinforcements from 1st Airlanding Brigade, holding the drop zones to their rear. Pushing on to Arnhem was paramount, but they had insufficient strength on their own.
Gräbner assessed the situation and also called for support from 3rd Panzer Grenadier Battalion, holding the Rhine railway bridge to his left. At the same time he ordered the tanks to probe forwards.
Luckily for the paratroopers, they had a troop of 17pr Anti-tank guns in tow, which deployed and made short work of two platoons of S-35s. The third platoon was caught by a mortar “stonk”, which put them out of action too.
10th Parachute Battalion deployed their 3rd company, with Vickers MG support, to their right to guard the railway line. The intention was to use the support weapons to keep the enemy’s heads down until reinforcements arrived.
The Germans had no intention of letting that happen, so one rifle company was moved to the top of the low hill to their left flank. Opening fire on the British before they could deploy the Vickers guns, they forced them away from the railway line.
However this forward move put the German company within range of the British mortar platoon, which swiftly retaliated.
The remains of the company moved down to the road to take some shelter in the trees that lined it. A second company, with a MG platoon, advanced to the railway crossing near their centre.
By now the British had established their own machine guns and fired at the company in the roadside trees, causing some damage. But this success was short-lived, for just after 08:30 two companies of 3rd Panzer Grenadier Battalion arrived across the railway bridge to the British right flank.
The British mortars fired again at the enemy sheltering beside the road and put the last platoon out of action. Things were going well for the Para’s, if it were not for this new threat from the south. But where the hell were the glider boys?
The two newly-arrived German companies used their machine guns to great effect against the enemy machine gunners. The parachute company fell apart.
The Germans were now able to advance and deploy, allowing two more reinforcing companies across the bridge.
It was now 09:00. Three companies of the 2nd Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment arrived on the northern road (British left flank).
Gräbner took control of the situation. Spotting that the advancing British could outflank his position and march on into Arnhem, he ordered the 3rd Panzer Grenadiers to take over blocking the left flank while he shifted the two companies of the 2nd Battalion to the right, including the mortar platoon which was in the farmyard. He moved his own HQ swiftly to block the roadway on his right flank. Although unable to take serious offensive action he hoped this might delay the enemy long enough for 2nd Battalion to get to grips. He also called Division HQ for support.
While the South Staffs. made their best speed along the road a company of 7th King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSBs) arrived along the Utrecht railway line in the British centre. A few minutes later a second company of KOSBs arrived.
Under fire from the Germans moving to block them, the follow-up companies of the South Staffs abandoned the road and moved up the hill into the heavily wooded area.
The mortar platoon of 10 Para shelled the nearest Germans in support of the KOSBs.
At 09:30 three batteries of 10th Panzer Division field artillery in Arnhem were released to Gräbner for support. Spotting for them from his armoured car he was able to halt the South Staffs. The whole battalion made for the woods, but continued to advance slowly around the German right flank.
They now received the attention of the German mortars, but only a few casualties were suffered.
10 Para, on the right flank, now attacked the 3rd Battalion Panzer Grenadiers
In support of the the lead Company of 7 KOSB, who swung right and took the road toward the now abandoned farm, reaching the eastern level crossing.
3rd Bn Panzer Grenadiers retaliated against 10 Para with concentrated MG and rifle fire and the Para’s gave up after severe casualties.
Two companies of South Staffs. advanced to the edge of the woods, from where they opened fire on the German HQ. No serious damage was inflicted, but Gräbner pulled back 250 yards.
On the German side 2nd Battalion continued to attack the enemy in the woods, while a company of 3rd Battalion raced to cut off the advance of the KOSBs.
They were too late as the determined glider troops beat them to the farm.
A second company of KOSBs advanced to attack the intercepting Germans.
One company of South Staffs managed to get past the Germans and moved on towards Arnhem.
Shortly after 10:00 a second artillery barrage drove the remaining South Staffordshires back into the woods with further casualties.
As the lead KOSB company continued to advance down the main road Gräbner realised that he was outflanked and pulled the rest of 2nd Battalion back to form another blocking line further east.
3rd Battalion dug in to defend the rail bridge from further attack from the north side. Firing could now be heard from the south bank of the Rhine, but that is another story.
Total losses during this engagement (killed, wounded and missing)
Germans: 27%, British 33%
The cost had been high, but the British were one step closer to relieving their friends on the road bridge.