TRIBUTE TO THE AMERICAN COMBAT GLIDER PILOTS OF WORLD WAR II
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AIRBORNE DROP INTO HOLLAND IN ADVANCE
OF GROUND ASSAULT - OPERATION "MARKET," THE AIRBORNE PHASE OF "OPERATION MARKET GARDEN"
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Military historians generally agree that Operation Market Garden failed in its ultimate objective, seizing a key bridge over the Rhine River that would allow Allied forces to pour into Germany at a time when Nazi forces were reeling back from the Allied build-up on the Continent. While it may have failed in achieving this objective, its purposes were strategically sound and justifiable. Had it completely succeeded, Allied forces would have secured the area north and west of the port of Antwerp so it could be used unimpeded by the proximity of Nazi forces, they would have been able to advance into Germany much faster, and they would have completely cut the Nazis off from positions on the North Sea Coast from which they were launching the deadly V-1 and V-2 rockets against the civilian population of England.
It can be argued that at least one objective was partially achieved - shortening the time the Nazis had to continue launching their deadly rockets against the long-suffering Britons. It is not possible to say for sure, but perhaps hundreds or thousands more British civilian lives were saved by this operation.
An innocent British civilian - a boy - dead in the aftermath of a V-2 attack.
Brigadier General Anthony C. McAuliffe, Artillery Commander of the 101st Airborne Division, gives last-minute instructions before takeoff during the invasion of Holland. 72th Troop Carrier Squadron. Photo from USAA Magazine January/February 2002.
Members of the 82nd Airborne Division prior to the Holland invasion. Photo courtesy of Mary Martin and Troy Wynne - From Donald D. Martin's collection.
C47s Lined up in England loading for Operation Market Garden.
Parachutes over Holland. Note the long line of transports top center of picture
and a smaller group of transports not easily visible at lower altitude in the
lower left of the picture.
"In September 1944 Dutch villagers and a policeman watch gliders carrying units of the 82nd Airborne Division toward a target behind the German Lines." -- "Smithsonian" Magazine, June 1994.
Paratroopers over Holland.
Glider Pilots Wendell Williams (KIA March 24, 1945 in Operation Varsity.) and Horace McLin during the Holland invasion - Photo courtesy of Mary Martin and Troy Wynne - From Donald D. Martin's collection.
U.S. Army Air Corps identify plate from WACO CG-4AFO, Serial Number 42-77552, flown by Flight Officer Horace McLin into Holland. Courtesy of Paul Strik, The Netherlands.
Glider Pilots Go Into the Line at Nijmegen
Unlike the British Glider Pilots who were integrated into the units they piloted into the battlefield, and who continued fighting with them once on the ground, American Glider Pilots, once they landed, were ordered to immediately find their way back from the front to assembly points from which they could be brought back to their bases. There were too few of them and their training took too long to risk them further on the battlefield. In most cases, these orders were impossible to follow since they usually landed behind enemy lines and the American Glider Pilots simply stayed and fought with the units they delivered until Allied lines moved up and made contact with the airborne units. In Normandy and Holland, this took as long as one or two weeks.
During Operation Market Garden, General James Gavin, Commanding General of the 82nd Airborne Division, wanted to pull the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment out of the line to serve as a ready reserve so he could better respond to what had become a dangerously fluid combat situation. He instructed Major Hugh Nevin, the senior Glider Pilot assigned to his staff, to ask the Glider Pilots present for fifty volunteers to form a provisional company to fill the gap in the line. Major Nevin asked for the fifty volunteers from the Glider Pilots who had been assembled in the area following their landings. Over one-hundred Glider Pilots - reportedly all who where assembled - stepped forward. Major Nevin later reported that General Gavin was very impressed and never forgot this commitment to duty. This is reportedly the first time in U.S. history that a ground combat unit was formed completely of officers holding aeronautical ratings. Others contend that the first such unit was formed in March 1945, in Germany during Operation Varsity in which American Glider Pilots composed a provisional company that fought the famous "Battle of Burp Gun Corner." By filling the 504th's position in the line of battle, the Glider Pilots freed the 504th to make its famous Waal River Crossing described below.
-- Sources: Major Hugh Nevin and Captain Joseph Brennan, USA, DSC (Permanent Disability Retired List), Platoon and Company Commander, Company "I" 505th Parachute Regiment, U.S. 82nd Airborne Division.
The Long Flights to the Insertion Points
Landing safely at planned insertion points during Market Garden (and all the other long-range missions the Glider Pilots flew) was fraught with dangers. For example, because the airborne assault was so huge, there were not enough Glider Pilots to allow for a pilot and co-pilot in each glider. Most, if not all, gliders took off for Holland with only one pilot. A seriously injured or dead pilot meant the only option was for the Glider Infantry trooper riding in the co-pilot's seat to try to land the glider with his only flight training being what he had learned in the short time during the flight.
On September 19, 1944, the third day of Market Garden, the weather was so poor that tow ships and gliders flew at very low altitude across the English Channel, sometimes so low that the prop blast from the tow ships blew salt water back to the gliders. Tow ships and gliders crossing the Continent's shoreline at cities and towns sometimes had to gain altitude to clear the buildings. These low altitude flights frequently resulted in gliders plowing into the water if wind and prop blast caught the pilots before they could correct and remain airborne.
Some of these flights took as long as three hours. The gliders were not easy ships to fly and long flights were physical marathons for the pilots. The air control surfaces - flaps, rudder, spoilers, etc. - were all directly wired to the pedals and steering yoke. They were not hydraulically-assisted like many other aircraft. This meant that the Glider Pilots spent hours on the equivalent of a modern day exercise machine before they got to their insertion points. If they survived the poor weather and intense anti-aircraft fire, pilots, nearly exhausted from hours of keeping their craft under control without co-pilot relief, had to call on all their diminished physical abilities to land safely.
Gliders on the ground at Arnhem.
Gliders on the ground at Arnhem.
Waal River Bridge at Nijmegen, Holland.
Nijmegen, Holland after the battles
Grave, The Netherlands area - "Dropping Polish paratroopers amidst U.S. WACO gliders already landed. From the Liberation Museum 1944 Guide, Groesbeek, The Netherlands.
A picture from a postcard from the Liberation Museum. 82nd Airborne Landing Zone "T," Groesbeek, The Netherlands, September 19, 1944.
Long download but worth it.
Waal River Crossing by the 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, U.S. 82nd Airborne Division -- Nijmegen, Holland
"I know not how to aid you, save in the assurance of one of mature age, and much severe experience, that you can not fail, if you resolutely determine, that you will not."
--Abraham Lincoln, July 22, 1860 Letter to George Latham
This scene in the picture above depicts the daylight Waal River Crossing in canvas boats propelled by paddles on September 20, 1944, by the Third Battalion of the 504th Parachute Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, straight into the teeth of German machine guns and artillery. This is one of the most famous assaults in modern military history. The 504th sustained over 50% casualties (approximately 25% casualties crossing the canal and another 25% casualties taking the northern end of the Waal River Bridge - Source: Captain Joseph Brennan). To add perspective to this heroic action, it is interesting to note that the Light Brigade at Balaclava sustained 40% casualties, and General George Pickett's Division at Gettysburg sustained 60% casualties in its charge against Union forces at Cemetery Ridge. The difference between the 504th's action and those of the Light Brigade and Pickett's Division is that the 504th accomplished its mission despite taking similar horrific casualties. In his book, A Bridge Too Far, author Cornelius Ryan cites sources who describe this action as "...a second Omaha Beach landing." (A Bridge Too Far - Page 92)
The 504th undertook this mission in broad daylight because the Commanding General of the 82nd Airborne Division, General James Gavin, was operating under orders to advance as fast as possible to open the way for British 30th Armored Corps, under the command of British General Sir Brian Horrocks, to move up the road to Arnhem and relieve British and Polish airborne units that had been fighting there for several days. When General Gavin ordered this daylight crossing, minutes and hours counted. General Gavin knew this mission was going to be extremely difficult and gave the 504th's commanding officer, Colonel Reuben Tucker and the commander of the Third Battalion - designated to make the crossing - Major Julian Cook, a list of "proven combat leaders" from other 82nd units that he could augment to the 504th to help him lead his men across the canal. Lieutenant Joseph Brennan (later Captain and this website author's uncle) of the 505th Parachute Regiment was one of the officers who joined Cook's battalion for the crossing. (Source: Captain Joseph Brennan corroborated by General James Gavin in a conversation with the website author's father after the war) In recounting his story of the crossing, Captain Brennan said they wanted to get across the 400 yards of open water as fast as humanly possible and those without paddles used their rifle stocks as paddles. One of the troopers in his boat, all too aware of his slim chances of surviving and probably not thinking straight, began paddling furiously with his rifle barrel.
The Waal River Bridge, in the Dutch city of Nijmegen, just a few miles south of Arnhem, was the last critical bridge on the road to Arnhem where British and Polish airborne units were desperately fighting in an attempt to hold the Arnhem Bridge over the Rhine River (the ultimate objective of Operation Market Garden) against vastly numerically superior SS forces. The American 101st Airborne Division in the region of Eindoven, Holland, and the American 82nd Airborne Division in the region of Nijmegen, Holland, had both accomplished their missions of capturing critical bridges thus securing the road up which the British 30th Corps was to advance to Arnhem.
Following the successful capture of the Waal River Bridge by the 504th by what was then past sunset, commanders of the 30th Corps waiting in Nijmegen at the southern end of the bridge informed General Gavin that they planned to send the armored column across the captured bridge when infantry and more gasoline and other supplies caught up with them, most likely in the morning. One account of this decision was that they had been ordered not to advance at that time by the Allied Command with British Lieutenant General Frederich "Boy" Browning holding overall command of Operation Market Garden. An oral history account by Lieutenant Thomas Pitt, one of the survivors of the crossing, cites the 30th Corps commanders present as saying they would not move their armor at night. This version was corroborated by Captain Joseph Brennan who also made the crossing. This decision was and still is a source of controversy. There were many factors to consider including intelligence reports indicating that the Germans had massed forces on either side of the eleven-mile road between Nijmegen and Arnhem and were waiting for the armored column to proceed with the intention of pinching them off and crushing them.
This turn of events did not sit well with General Gavin and the 504th which, had they known this information in advance, could have made the crossing that night and sustained far fewer casualties. The 504th had sustained 134 killed, wounded and missing, more than half its strength. (Cornelius Ryan - A Bridge Too Far - page 476) Of the 10,000 British and Polish airborne forces parachuted into Arnhem, and left stranded by the armored ground forces that halted at Nijmegen, only 2,000 were able to escape and rejoin Allied forces.
-- Source: Captain Joseph Brennan, one of the officers augmented to the 504th for the crossing - also one of the wounded.
General James M. Gavin, Commanding Officer of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division
From the Liberation Museum 1944 Guide, Groesbeek, The Netherlands
Link to oral history account of the Waal River Crossing by Lieutenant Thomas Pitt, 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.
Dad's last glider mission.
Dad's Glider Before Taking Off for Holland.
Service record entry listing Dad as Missing in Action, an entry made in the records of many Glider Pilots during Operation Market Garden. He was taken prisoner with Sergeant Brasil Thompson (KIA Korea) who rode in the co-pilot's seat (both were severely wounded and burned before Dad crash-landed the burning glider). After overcoming their two guards at night, they escaped, fortunately right into the hands of members of the Dutch Resistance who were watching from an adjacent field with the intention of freeing them. They were placed in a cart, covered with a tarp onto which the Dutch shoveled cow manure, and taken to St. Lidwina Catholic Maternity Hospital in Schijndel, The Netherlands where they remained being treated for their wounds until Allied units liberated the town. (The Glider Gang by Milton Dank, pages 188-190; Silent Wings by Gerard Devlin, pages 263-265, 317; Kilogram by Bob Minick, pages 137-138, 143-144).
Cargo: Jeep with gasoline cans, three Glider Infantry Troopers. Gas cans were punctured by flak. Gasoline leaked throughout the floor of the glider and was ignited by tracers. Troopers sitting in the jeep were uninjured. Dad and Sergeant Thompson sitting in co-pilot's seat were burned and badly wounded by flak. Needing to keep his hands on the controls, Dad was unable to cover his face to protect himself from the flames. After crash-landing, Dad ordered the uninjured troopers to find their unit's assembly point and he and Sergeant Thompson, after a firefight with an SS squad, hid in a nearby barn that turned out to belong to a Nazi sympathizer. She notified the SS who took Dad and Sergeant Thompson prisoner. The SS who came to take possession of Dad and Sergeant Thompson were from the same unit of the SS Squad Dad and Sergeant Thompson surprised from their hiding place in a ditch near the burning glider. The SS, upon realizing this, kicked both badly wounded prisoners nearly senseless.
Note the burned jeep still in the wreckage. This photo was given to Dad at a recent Glider Pilot reunion by a man who explained that his job was to take pictures of every glider that landed in the vicinity of Eindoven, The Netherlands. He said there were three gliders that were completely burned and two of those carried jeeps. This picture was taken near Schijndel where Dad was hidden from the Nazis by the nuns who ran St. Lidwina, a Catholic maternity hospital, one of the locations where the Dutch hid and cared for Allied wounded at extreme risk to their own lives.
View of burned out glider from a ditch, possibly Dad's glider.
The "Mary Lee" before taking off for Holland.
"Huize St. Lidwina" Schijndel, The Netherlands
In 1944, St. Lidwina was a Catholic maternity hospital. During the war, the staff of this hospital hid downed Allied airmen from the Nazi occupiers. During Operation Market Garden, the brave staff of this hospital hid and cared for many wounded Allied airborne troops and glider pilots. The hospital staff shared everything they had with the wounded.
Copyright 2000-2014 by T. J. Brennan - All rights reserved. This website has been set up solely as a memorial to the Glider Pilots of World War Two and has no commercial intent. Unless otherwise noted, material on this website may be downloaded or copied with prior permission from the website owner for educational and other non-profit purposes. Any material used from this site must appear in published form (online or otherwise) with proper attribution which must include the full URL link to this website. Use of any of the material on this website for commercial, economic or for any other similar purpose is prohibited. For permission, please contact the website owner.