“As the convoy gathered momentum, it was inevitable and entirely appropriate that someone from one of the vehicles should have shouted that unofficial yet universally acknowledged battle cry of the Corps, “Bash on Recce!” – Remember Arnhem by John Farley Those of you who have travelled to or read about the D-Day landings in Normandy will no doubt know the story of Pegasus Bridge. It is here that an operation that by it’s execution defines the concept of a Coup de Main. In landing Gliders within yards of the objective and using the key advantage of Airborne Forces, namely surprise, the men of both D and B Companies of the Oxf & Bucks within 10 minutes had secured both of these vital bridges, key to securing the Eastern Flank of the Invasion. Due to issues well documented elsewhere, it’s well known that a Coup de Main style operation was denied to the 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem and that the Parachute and Glider landings would have to take place anywhere from 6.5 to 8 miles from the final objective, the Road Bridge over the Neder Rijn at Arnhem (not forgetting of course the Railway and Pontoon bridges) Instead, there was devised a plan to employ the Jeeps of the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron, a Divisional Unit, to dash ahead of the advancing 1st Parachute Brigade and seize the Road Bridge as quickly as possible. It goes without saying that this wasn’t really the job of a Recce Unit but despite the reservations of it’s Commander, Major Freddie Gough the Squadron was given the task anyway.
On the Leger Tour which I occasionally have the privilege of Guiding, I take our Coach as far as is possible in the tyre tracks of the Squadron from the point it moved away from the Landing Zones to where it’s leading elements were ambushed in that Race to the Bridge. Using a combination of Google Earth, Streetview and my own photos here is both the route and a story that can be followed from the comfort of an armchair. We start with the arrival of the Jeeps, brought in aboard 22 Horsa Gliders which landed as part of the 1st Lift on Sunday 17 September landing on LZ ‘Z’. The men of the Recce Squadron arrived via Parachute shortly after landing on DZ ‘X’. From this point the men collected their Jeeps and made for the Rendezvous Point marked on the above map at 1.
It’s here where one of the myths, largely perpetuated by A Bridge Too Far arises, in that a large number of the Jeeps simply did not arrive. This is untrue. What is true is that in the confusion of the landings it was believed that some of the Jeeps were missing and that when Urquhart got to hear of this he summoned Freddie Gough, who at that point was on the move with the Squadron, back to Divisional HQ. In all, around half an hour was lost before the Jeeps began to move at around 3.35pm We now move onto the Parallelweg, following the leading element, C Troop, and it’s leading No. 7, 8 and 9 sections. As it’s name suggests and the picture below illustrates this was a road that ran along the adjacent Railway line and led to the level crossing in Wolfheze. The leading Jeeps of C Troop moved forward in a ‘leapfrog’ formation, meaning that a certain point, the lead section, No.9 would pull in and allow the following No.8 Section under Lt. Peter Bucknall to come through to the head of the column, Once this manoeuvre was executed the former leading section would then fall back in covering the rear of the Troop. At this point all was going well as Bucknall, accelerating with some impetuosity, reached the end of the Parallelweg and turned left onto the Wolfhezeweg at the level crossing.
So far so good. It’s at this point however that out Tour Coach cannot follow further as the Johannahoeveweg quickly stops being a road and becomes a track. All is not lost however, as our hotel, the Bilderberg, is located just a mile away and as I’ve done so previously, I’m quite happy to take Guests on an early morning pre-breakfast stroll to the ambush site. Along this this track sped Bucknall and slightly behind came the other Jeep of No.8 section commanded by Sergeant Tom McGregor. As the track dipped down they came to a clearing in the small valley flanked by small embankments and it was here where Sepp Krafft’s men were waiting. Sturmbannführer Sepp Krafft commanded the SS Panzer Grenadier Depot and Reserve Battalion 16. Once the landings started Krafft quickly and accurately surmised that the Bridges were the objectives of the 1st Airborne Division and deployed his men accordingly to block the advance where possible. They had only just arrived beforehand and so the half hour lost by the Recce Squadron at the RV point was to prove crucial.
As Bucknall drove into the clearing firing broke out and the Jeep was hit repeatedly before coming to a stop further ahead. The following jeep commanded by McGregor reached where the gate is on the photo above before receiving sustained fire. One man, Trooper Dicky Minns was hit and fell from the jeep. The other men aboard, Tom McGregor, ‘Taffy’ Thomas, Jimmy Pierce and Reg Hasler quickly dismounted and took what shelter they could find in the exposed position from the intense fire.
Thomas and Hasler, along with the badly wounded Minns took shelter from the intense firing under their Jeep. Meanwhile, McGregor and Pierce dived into a shallow ditch. They tried to return fire but owing to the skilful way Kraft’s men had concealed themselves they were difficult to locate nevermind hit. McGregor, in trying to locate the enemy, raised himself upwards on his haunches and was immediately shot through the head, dying instantly. The others, realising their situation was becoming hopeless took the decision to surrender. The following No. 8 and 9 Sections of C Troop had been ordered to dismount and approach the scene on foot. In the subsequent fighting they encountered the same problem as McGregor’s men in finding it difficult to locate let alone dislodge the Germans. In short time the Recce Squadron extricated themselves from the position and the dash towards the Bridge ended ignominiously. It still remains a mystery to this day why the Squadron did not attempt to move further North in an attempt to outflank Krafft’s blocking line. In total, four men were taken Prisoner and another seven died, either during the fighting or from their wounds. The seven still lie together to this day in Oosterbeek CWGC Cemetery in Block 16, Row B, Graves 5-10.