Ken Beaton: The 82nd is my division

A member of the 82nd Airborne Division is about to enter a canvas Goatley boat. Normally used by engineers to build bridges, the ‘troopers’ of the 82nd crossed the Waal River in Goatley boats. They didn't have enough paddles. Many troopers used the butt of their M-1 rifles to paddle.

A member of the 82nd Airborne Division is about to enter a canvas Goatley boat. Normally used by engineers to build bridges, the ‘troopers’ of the 82nd crossed the Waal River in Goatley boats. They didn't have enough paddles. Many troopers used the butt of their M-1 rifles to paddle.

How would you stop a four-story tall German V2 rocket traveling at a supersonic speed from destroying an entire block in London if you were Prime Minister Winston Churchill on Sept. 8, 1944? Immediately, you’d meet with your top general, Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, “Monty,” to plan the capture of V2 launch sights in Germany. Eisenhower was in favor of Operation Market Garden because he wanted to keep the German army retreating under pressure from Allied forces.
In nine days, Monty’s Operation Market Garden was planned and launched on Sept. 17, 1944. Three airborne divisions, the U.S. Army’s 82nd, the “All-American Division” and the 101st “Screaming Eagles,” with the British 1st Airborne Division and the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade, jumped or landed in gliders and planned to secure every bridgehead along 60 miles of Highway 69 in Holland, “Hell’s Highway,” including the last bridge in Arnhem crossing the Rhine River into Germany.
Highway 69 was a two-lane, partly-raised highway on a flat flood plain. The land couldn’t support tanks and trucks loaded with supplies and troops. Hell’s Highway was lined on both sides with trees which prevented a clear view of possible enemy troops.
The Dutch resistance reported to London a large number of German Tiger tanks carefully hidden under the trees in key locations. What did the Brits do? They sent a RAF Spitfire at 400 mph on photo reconnaissance. When they developed the recon photos, they didn’t see any hidden German Tiger tanks, ignoring the Dutch underground reports.
It is crucial to check your equipment before you go into battle. Nobody in the British 1st Airborne Division had tested the division’s radios before departing. The Brit paratroopers landed near the bridge at Arnhem to discover, “Our radios have the wrong crystals!” The 9th SS Panzer Division, “Hohenstaufen,” and the 10 SS Panzer Division, “Frundsberg,” were in the Arnhem area and quickly reacted to engage the 1st Airborne.
The Allies had 1,438 C-47/Dakota transports, 321 converted RAF bombers, 2,160 Waco gliders, 916 Airspeed Horsas and 64 General Aircraft Hamilcars gliders. With only 2,060 available glider pilots, the co-pilots were assigned to fly the remaining gliders. This left room for an additional soldier in the co-pilot’s seat.
The Allies’ IX Troop Carrier Command could only carry 60% of the paratroopers and gliders which meant two lifts, the first on Sept. 17 and the second on Sept. 18. Since Sept. 17 was a new or dark moon and Allied airborne doctrine prohibited any big operation without light, they dropped in daylight.
The commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, Gen. Gavin, wrote about Operation Market Garden in his diary, “It looks rough. If I get through this one, I will be lucky.” He was critical of British Gen. Frederick Browning when he wrote that he, “unquestionably lacks the standing, influence and judgment that comes from a proper troop experience… his staff was superficial… Why the British units fumble along… becomes more and more apparent. Their tops lack the know-how, never do they get down into the dirt and learn the hard way.”
Another difference between Brit military officers and U.S. officers, the British officers have titles like “Sir or Lord.” U.S. officers were academy graduates, Officer’s Candidate School graduates or earned a battlefield commission. Americans earned they’re command. There’s a big difference between a person who earns the right to be an officer compared to a birth lineage. Beside, the Brits stop everything at 4 p.m., “Tea Time, it’s tradition.”
Several months before Sept. 7, 2011, my wife and I had booked a six-country, 15-day World War II Tour. On Sept. 7, we flew from Reno to Toronto, where we connected to an Air Canada “red eye” flight to Frankfort International Airport in Germany. We passed through customs by 11:30 a.m. local time on the 8th. (Germany is nine hours ahead of PDST.)
In 15-days it’s impossible to see every sight in the six countries. We visited five American Battle Monument Cemeteries; a World War I cemetery, the Meuse-Argonne, and four World War II cemeteries, Ardennes American Cemetery, Lorraine American Cemetery, Luxembourg American Cemetery, and the Normandy American Cemetery. Several of the battlegrounds we toured were Bastogne, Belgium, Ponte du Hoc and the five D-Day Beaches in Normandy, and Hells Highway in Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem, Netherlands.
On Sept. 19, 2011 we were walking in Nijmegen’s business district when I noticed two well-dressed men about the age of World War II veterans. I approached them and introduced myself. As soon as the first gentleman spoke, I knew they were Brits. One vet was a tanker. He served with “Monty” in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, and Operation Market Garden. The other Brit was a sailor in the British Merchant Marine. He survived three ships being torpedoed by U-boats in the freezing North Atlantic. I wanted to have a pint or two and listen to their war stories. Unfortunately, our tour was leaving for the next destination, Nijmegen’s 82nd Airborne Museum.


The British gentleman on the left was a member of a tank crew in the British 8th Army. Ken Beaton is in the middle. The gentleman on the right was a British merchant sailor. He was on three torpedoed merchant ships in the frigid North Atlantic. 
When the 82nd Airborne Division landed in 1944 at Nijmegen, the citizens were grateful. They never forgot about being liberated from the Nazi hobnail boots. They built and volunteer at the modest museum honoring their liberators. Hans, our tour guide, proudly gave a brief history of the museum. He closed, “The 82nd is MY DIVISION,” with glistening eyes.
The entire Dutch population paid dearly for Operation Market Garden’s failure. The Germans didn’t allow any food transported into Holland, the winter famine of 1944-45. The Dutch were forced to eat tulip bulbs. 20,000 Dutch starved to death.
While Churchill and Field Marshall Montgomery claimed Operation Market Garden to be 90% successful, there were a number of U.S. military leaders who expressed their criticism of Market Garden. Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands had the best sarcastic quote, “My country can never again afford the luxury of another Montgomery success!”

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