In 1944, the city saw heavy fighting during Operation Market Garden. The objective in Nijmegen in September 1944 was mainly to prevent the Germans from destroying the bridge. Capturing the bridge allowed the British Army XXX Corps to attempt to reach the British airborne troops in Arnhem. At one time, the bridge held close to 20 25lb anti-tank guns and two anti-aircraft guns. The Germans made repeated attacks on the bridge using bombs attached to driftwood, midget submarines and later resorted to shelling the bridge with 88mm barrages. Troops were positioned on the bridge giving an excellent arc of fire in case of attack. Troops that couldn't fit onto the bridge were positioned in a bombed out house slightly upstream of the bridge. During the shelling, the house was hit, killing 6 soldiers and wounding 1 more. Nijmegen was liberated from German captivity by the First Canadian Army in November of 1944 for the last time. This city would later be used as a springboard for Operation Veritable, the invasion across the Rhine River by Allied Troops
At 08:20, the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment made contact with XXX Corps at Grave. This enabled the Regiment to move on to other missions and place the 3rd Battalion in division reserve. By the afternoon of the 19th, advance units of XXX Corps were arriving in Nijmegen. By this time, according to the original plan, they were due in Arnhem. A combined effort to take the Nijmegen bridge was mounted by two companies from the Guards Armoured Division and the 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The attack got within 400 yards of the bridge before being stopped; skirmishing continued throughout the night. A plan was developed to attack the south end of the bridge again while the 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment planned to cross the river in boats a mile downstream and then attack the north end. The boats, requested for late afternoon, never arrived. Once again XXX Corps was held up in front of a bridge. The 1st and 5th battalions, Coldstream Guards, were attached to the division. A resupply attempt by 35 C-47s (out of 60 sent) was unsuccessful; the supplies were dropped from a high altitude and could not be recovered.
Boats ordered by the 82nd Airborne 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 made the crossing in 26 canvas assault boats into well-defended positions. The 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; survivors then assaulted across 200 yards of open ground on the far bank and seized the north end of the bridge. 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 after four days of struggle. The costly attack was nicknamed "Little Omaha" in reference to Omaha beach. 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. However, 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 the running battles between the 101st and various German units continued, eventually with several Panthers cutting off the roads but pulling back when low on ammunition. When General Dempsey of the 2nd Army met 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." Despite the capture of Nijmegen bridge and the clearing of the town on the previous evening, the Guards Armoured Division did not begin their advance until some eighteen 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. Half of the division had been detached to assist the 82nd Airborne Division elsewhere as the Germans sought to cut off the tip of the advance. What remained was short of fuel and exhausted from their difficult fight to secure Nijmegen. The Market/Garden plan depended upon a single highway as the route of advance and resupply. This imposed a delay since other units could not be deployed on alternate routes to sustain the forward momentum. Gavin's diary comment was: "Had Ridgway been in command at that moment, we would have been ordered up that road in spite of all our difficulties, to save the men at Arnhem." The historian Max Hastings wrote "It reflected poorly on the British Army...". In the event, this delay enabled the Germans to considerably shore up their defences to the south of Arnhem, aided by their capture of both ends of the bridge. The advance of the Guards, hindered by marsh land that prevented off-road movement, was soon halted by a firm defensive line. Not possessing the strength to outflank it, the 43rd Division was called up to take over the lead, work their way around the enemy positions and make contact with the Poles at Driel. However, the 43rd was 20 miles away and had an enormous traffic jam in front of them. It was not until the following day that they finally crossed the River Waal and began their advance. The Germans, clearly starting to gain the upper hand, continued their counterattacks all along the path of XXX Corps, though the British and 101st continued to exploit their gains. At about 15:00, 406 C-47 glider tugs and 33 C-47 cargo carriers executed a resupply mission for the 82nd Airborne. About 60% of the supplies were recovered (351 of the gliders were counted effective), partially with the help of Dutch civilians. Most of the 82nd and 101st, reinforced with British armour units, were engaged in defensive missions with the objective of holding the highway corridor. Small attacks were fought all along the corridor.
|Nijmegen Waal Bridge in 1944 after the battle.|
|These photograph I made of the Waal Bridge on Saterday 8 September 2007.|
|Our guide Wybo Boersma explaines what happened in the area around the bridge.|
|This postcard is to remember Jan van Hoof. He might have saved the Waal Bridge at Nijmegen. Although this is not certantly proved that he saved the bridge indeed after more than 60 years it is sure that he played an important role in the liberation of Nijmegen. On several places in the city Jan van Hoof is remembered by monuments.||Monument to Jan van Hoof at the Waal Bridge in Nijmegen.|
|The Waal Bridge at Nijmegen 1944.|