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Battle of Nijmegen: Taking the Bridges Over the Waal.

19-06-2017

Boats ordered by the 82nd Airborne  under commander James “Slim Jim” Gavin, in Nijmegen the day before failed to arrive until afternoon and a hasty daylight assault crossing was ordered. At about 15:00, the 3rd Battalion, 504th PIR , commanded by Major Julian Aaron Cook

, began their assault across the Waal. The American paratroopers were rowed across the Waal by members of C/307th EN BN in 26 canvas assault boats provided by the British.

  The American unit had no training on the British-made boats. A shortage of paddles required some troopers to paddle the craft with rifle butts. About half the boats survived the crossing under heavy fire, and eleven survived the first two crossings. Before the day was over, C/307th crossed the Waal five times while ferrying across two battalions of the 504th. The surviving paratroopers then assaulted across 200 metres (220 yards) of open ground on the far bank and seized the north end of the bridge. 48 soldiers didn’t survive the crossing.The costly attack was nicknamed “Little Omaha” in reference to Omaha Beach. German forces withdrew from both ends of the bridge which was then rushed by Guards tanks and the 2nd Battalion, 505th PIR , securing the bridge at 18:30, D+4.

To the east, German attacks on the heights made significant progress, capturing the only remaining bridge suitable for tanks. A counterattack at Mook by elements of the 505th PIR and 4th Battalion, the Coldstream Guards  forced the Germans back to their line of departure by 20:00. The 508th PIR  lost ground at Im Thal and Legewald when attacked by German infantry and tanks. By now it was evident that the Germans’ plan was to cut the highway which would split up the Airborne units and cut off the advance elements of XXX Corps . To the south, running battles between the 101st  and various German units continued. Eventually several Panther tanks managed to cut the roads but pulled back when low on ammunition. When Lieutenant General Miles Dempsey of the Second Army met Brigadier General Gavin, commander of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, he is reported to have said (in reference to the Nijmegen attack), “I am proud to meet the commander of the greatest Division in the world today.”

One of the crossing survivor’s was Lieutenant Colonel Jim “Maggie” Megellas.
     

Despite the capture of Nijmegen bridge and the clearing of the town on the previous evening, the five tanks of Guards Armoured Division  which were across the river did not advance. The Division resumed its advance about 18 hours later, at noon. Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks  claimed he needed this delay to sort out the confusion among his troops that had resulted from the battle in Nijmegen. This was a controversial decision that has been examined often in the years since. The Coldstream Guards Group were repulsing an attack on the Groesbeek position, the Irish Guards Group  had gone back to Eindhoven to meet another attack, the Grenadiers had just captured the approaches to the bridge with the US paratroops and got five tanks over it to support the Airborne bridgehead and the Welsh Guards were in 82nd Airborne reserve. The Guards Armoured Division was scattered over twenty-five square miles of the south bank of the Waal.

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