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Eight Days in Arnhem

by wolfy262

Contributed by 
wolfy262
People in story: 
Leonard Derek Moss
Location of story: 
Arnhem, Holland - part 1
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A1979742
Contributed on: 
06 November 2003

My father, Leonard Derek Moss, grew up in the East End of London. He was born on September 11 1924. When left school at 14 to become a cabinet maker’s apprentice, but on his 18th birthday he was drafted into the army as an infantryman. After passing through his basic training he joined the Parachute Brigade because they earned an extra two schillings a week danger money.

In September 1944, as a member of the 11th Parachute Batallion, 4th Parachute Brigade, he was allocated to take part in the second day of Operation Market Garden. My father recalled that they had endured 16 false alarms and stand downs until finally being given the go-ahead.

On day one of the mission, Sunday 17th September 1944, the battle plans had fallen into German hands. German forces were sent to the indicated drop zones for allied troops resulting in fierce battles between them and the British forces detailed to hold them. The Luftwaffe, by now aware of where the British paratrooper drop would take place, patrolled the skies until they ran out of fuel. They were unaware that take off from Britain of the second wave had been delayed by fog. This was a lucky escape for the airborne forces were themselves unaware of the problems encountered on day one of Operation Garden.

Operation Market Garden - Day 2. Monday, September 18th, 1944.

My father, PFC Len Moss of the 11th Parachute Batallion, 4th Parachute Brigade, flew in on the second day of Operation Garden, to be dropped on Ginkel Heath some six miles outside of Arnhem. This was further away than they would have liked. He has just turned 20 years old a week earlier.

Flying in to the drop zone in a Dakota C47 the paratroopers could hear the flak exploding all around them. They were taking extremely heavy fire from German gun emplacements around the drop zone. Len Moss was number two in the drop stick and was a PIAT man (Portable Infantry Anti Tank, the British equivalent of the Bazooka). He carried the PIAT, had a pneumatic trolley to transport it when on the ground and a huge kit bag strapped to his leg with three PIAT Bombs. His number two was PFC Bill Kent who carried all the other PIAT bombs. They were a team and very close friends.

Through the small rectangular glass windows behind each man in the C47, ominous tell-tale grey and black puffs of smoke could be seen by the Para’s. This was German Anti-Aircraft fire from 88mm guns on the ground.

At the rear of the plane by the door, stood a tall American DISPATCHER, chewing gum and leaning casually on the frame like he'd seen it all before.

First in line and ready to go out of the door is LIEUTENANT ALAN VICKERS, a grim-faced professional looking Officer.

A loud burst of flak shook the whole airframe. An explosion occurred close by and spent shrapnel scrapes along the C-47's metallic fuselage prompting a few nervous glances from the less experienced Paratroopers. This was not what they had to expected to encounter.

Some of the other Para’s my dad recalled included PRIVATE JOHN VULLIGER and SERGEANT TOM "GINGER" DRISCOLL.

Another Anti-Aircraft round exploded below the C-47. Several small pieces of shrapnel rip explode through the fuselage floor and disappear out the roof. Daylight was clearly visible through the holes.

The Dispatcher checked his watch once more, hooked his safety line to the airframe and shouted. The Paratroopers stood and attached their parachute static lines to a rod that ran the length of the C-47's fuselage roof. Each man checked the line of the man in front and they sound off down the line...

By the door was Len’s large metal trolley used for hauling the P.I.A.T pack. The Dispatcher started to check it over prior to deployment.

More Anti-Aircraft air burst shells exploded close by in quick succession rattling the whole airframe. This time small arms fire from Germans on the ground ripped through the fuselage. The C47 engines feathered back enabling the C47 to lose altitude. They were going to jump at just 500 feet. The men recognised this sign and shuffle on the spot expectantly like commuters waiting to board a train.

A red light above the door by the Dispatcher's head came on. The red light stays on. Everyone looked at the un-lit green bulb beside it expectantly. There was another explosion close by outside. Things were getting rocky.

The Dispatcher hurled open the door in readiness and air rushed in. The sound of exploding Anti-Aircraft fire suddenly got much louder.

EXPLOSIONS and puffs of black smoke rose from the ground tell the Para’s that this is a very hot zone.

The ground was just five hundred feet below, looking like a patchwork quilt of fields. It was pitted with shell holes and British gliders from the previous day’s drop burn throwing up plumes of thick smoke.

There were other aircraft around too, mainly C-47's hauling gliders. Hundreds of them. Shedding their load. The sky was awash with men and parachutes.

Nearby.

A large WACO Glider detached itself from the C-47 hauling it, the cable dropping away like a streamer. But as the glider's nose points down towards the ground it breaks up in mid-air spewing out men and equipment like confetti. They had no chance.

Paratroopers continued to leap from other C-47's.

One plane was hit by German anti-aircraft fire, the wing sheering off in one jagged edged chunk. The aircraft twisted and headed groundwards like a stone.

Several Paratroopers drifting down through the air found the C-47 spinning out of control towards them. One was turned into mince-meat and a cloud of blood as he was caught in the spinning propeller blades.

Back inside the C-47.

Most people's eyes were on that red light.

Red light. Red light. There was an explosion right outside the door.

Vickers and Moss could see what was happening below without straining or craning their necks like the others had to. The drop zone appeared to be on fire — they shouldn’t be meeting this kind of resistance.

The red light died. Green light on.

The Dispatcher jettisoned the pneumatic trolley and watched the parachute engage. Then he turned bug-eyed to Lt Vickers, shouting at him to go, go, go!

Lt Vickers moved into the doorway and inexplicably froze, his legs apart, hands on the door frame. Between Vickers's legs Len Moss could see a C-47 in flames from tip to tail, crashing towards the ground. Parachutists jumped from it, many on fire, even as it ploughed into woodland and becomes an orange inferno.

The Dispatcher looked at Vickers angrily. He was holding everyone up. Moss's trolley was now out of sight and he knew that he’ll never see it again. The Dispatcher shouted at him to get out.

Vickers hurled himself out through the door. Moss tried to take a step, but unexpectedly struggled with the huge pack strapped to his leg. Under pressure from the eager men behind, he tumbled out through the doorway awkwardly.

Outside.

Falling...

...twisting, like a bullet...

...out of control.

500 feet…

Up above him, the C-47 spewed out Paratroopers, static lines engaging their parachutes.

Moss was in trouble, turning and twisting his rigging lines so much that his canopy is almost closed.

Bullets whizzed past him from the ground and anti-aircraft shells continued to explode all around.

The ground was rushing upwards quickly.

400 feet…

It was chaos below. Men ran all over the place avoiding enemy fire. Mortar shells exploded throwing up clouds of smoke and dirt while fires burned out of control.

But there was no time to go sight seeing.

Moss reached up to pull the release pins on his leg pack, but he couldn’t get it. That parachute needed urgent attention.

300 feet…

Grunting, he twisted. Furiously.

Somehow, he managed to untangle the lines and get the parachute canopy deployed, just in time, but...

...he landed very awkwardly, stiff legged on the ground.

That really, really hurt!

Paratroopers were landing all around. It was chaos as heavy machine gun fire raked the area from concealed German positions in the woods. Men were being hit, wounded, killed.

Gunfire exploded nearby, ripping into the ground, throwing up puffs of dirt. The air was alive with flying lead.

The wind caught Moss' parachute and took it while he was trying to struggle up and release himself. He was thrown off balance.

His leg was weighed down by the heavy pack — he was suddenly being pulled in two directions at once as bullets tore through the canopy material.

Bill Kent landed nearby...

...in an awkward heap.

Moss called for help but Kent had his own problems. Kent was trying to get up. Engulfed in his parachute like a ghost, he flapped around as the material had holes ripped in it by stray bullets.

In desperation, Moss hit the upper body release buckle on his parachute harness. This was the wrong way to do it, but who cares?

From a nearby copse, a German Spandau MG41 machine gun unloaded. Belt fed.1600 rounds per minute. It sounds like tearing paper and cuts neat lines through the heather.

Moss wriggled out of the top chute harness and sat up as the heather is cut away in a line behind him. Just inches away. With added incentive he rolled forwards, escaped the rest of the chute and disengaged the heavy pack from his leg.

Moss and Kent ran away as best they could, hauling the heavy equipment bags. Moss was clearly troubled by his leg and back injury. Smoke and flames billowed up all around them from the landing zone. Mortar shells whooshed overhead and exploded nearby, plus there was heavy enemy machine gun and rifle fire.

The two young Paratroopers scurried past the crashed fuselage of a British Horsa glider which had dug a deep furrow, nose down in the earth. Several dead soldiers lay face down in the heather, killed when they tried to disembark.

Pausing the gather their breath both men doubled up in the foetal position when a huge chunk was cut out of the fuselage by a concentrated burst of machine gun fire.

Hauling the PIAT and ammunition bags, the two men ran in a low semi-crouch, forced to zig-zag because of the numerous mortar and shell holes in the ground. Other men were running with them, veering off on their own paths, disappearing in and out of the smoke.

Under an intense barrage of mortar fire, Moss and Kent took cover in a large shell crater which was still smoking. They looked around. This was no man's land. Wreckage lay strewn all over the place and men continue to run in all directions. Yellow smoke rises on one side of the heath Drop Zone, near some woods.

Yellow marker smoke from some nearby woods marked their intended destination.

WOODS - GINKEL HEATH DROP ZONE

In the woods soldiers gathered, reforming into ordered groups. Yellow smoke drifted through the woods from the DZ. Distantly they could hear the cough of mortars, chattering machine guns and the occasional explosion of a German 88mm shell.

Already the medics were overworked tending to the wounded whose cries were mournful and desperate. Lieutenant Vickers walked through the woods followed by several paratroopers. He was holding a walkie-talkie tightly to his face and trying unsuccessfully to contact someone but none of the radio sets seemed to work.

Through the trees comes PFC RA Smith, looking as if he's hot off the Drop Zone. His face is covered in blood — someone elses. During the drop a Para was shredded by shellfire covering Smith with various body parts.

At a briefing the soldiers are told that the 4th Parachute Brigade, has been dropped farthest away from Arnhem. They're some seven or eight miles away from the in Arnhem. The 11th Battalion been ordered up to re-inforce Col Frost - his 2nd Battalion already in possession of the North end of the Arnhem bridge.

The 11th Paras are ordered along a country road.

Distantly a few farmhouses burn, smoke rising from the ruins. The men can hear explosions and artillery, sporadic mortar fire and the occasional crack of a rifle.

Along the length of the road, Paratroopers from the 4th Parachute Battalion are strung out in a forced marching column. Every so often a Jeep or a truck roars along the road, parting the column of soldiers like a boat's bow wave.

Moss is lagging behind, clearly having problems keeping up with the pace. He's still hauling the 33 pound PIAT and bombs and is in agony from his back injury.

After a while the column ahead stops dead, causing a knock on effect that slows the traffic up all the way to the tail. Breathing hard, Moss gratefully accepts the rest, slumping down on the roadside bank.

Some sporadic machine gun fire goes off up ahead and then there's a distant whistling. Getting louder. It becomes a whoosh.

Everyone takes cover, diving this way and that behind trees, into bushes, down banks.

Louder.

For a split second the wooshing stops and then KERBOOM!

The mortar shell explodes nearby, followed by several more incoming shells. Dirt and smoke are thrown up into the air but, as suddenly as it started, the firing ceases.

Through the falling dirt and choking smoke, A LONE SOLDIER can be heard screaming for help. Moss looks up from his hiding place and sees the soldier covered in blood, screaming in agony. A couple of MEDICS run to his aid.

Slowly, the rest of the soldiers emerge and resume their places in the static column. It's as if nothing happened.

A Jeep then parts the way, heading back down the road from the head of the column. Sitting in the passenger seat is Lt Vickers. He orders that all the PIATs and bombs to be loaded into the jeep and sent up to the front line as they’re encountering German armour. This suits Moss fine. Moss and Kent load the PIAT and bombs into the back of the vehicle.

(It’s later learned that the jeep full of PIATs and bombs was commandered by a Padre who wanted to attend a funeral. Neither he nor the jeep were heard of again. It’s assumed he was killed and the jeep destroyed, thus depriving the Para’s of greatly needed anti-tank weapons)

Moss and a group of soldiers were ordered to investigate a farmhouse nearby in a field where a German mortar crew have been spotted. They approach the farmhouse which seems deserted. Some chickens cluck and strut near the main farmhouse building. It's a surreal scene. Eerily quiet.

The troop start to make their way towards the buildings, using whatever cover comes to hand and making ready to offer covering fire should it be needed.

Moss and Kent reach the main farmhouse. He peers around a low wall into the yard.

A German mortar has been set up nearby, sandbagged and camouflaged. It's quiet. Discarded empty boxes of mortar shells lie nearby.

Moving to the farmhouse doorway. Wooden, old. Moss pushes it open and peers inside. Checking those corners.

The inside of the farmhouse has been wrecked.

Moss and Kent move inside, cautiously.

Glass crunches underfoot. Furniture, broken, smashed. There's not a whole plate or bowl anywhere.

Sat, in the corner, on a wooden stool is a DUTCHMAN. Middle-aged, he's balding, dirty and small. He looks up, face stained with tears, eyes red.

He shakes his head as if to ask 'why?' and then puts his head into his hands in desperation. His whole life, all he's worked for, has been destroyed.

Outside they hear some machinegun fire. They run outside and see a Paratrooper emptying the whole magazine from his Sten gun into a leafy tree — branches, twigs and leaves are flying in all directions. The soldier runs out of bullets.

Silence.

Then, a German voice calls out timidly from within the tree.

The branches rustle as a pair of booted German legs swing down. The heel of one of them has been shot off.

A young bespectacled GERMAN SOLDIER, maybe in his late teens, drops down to the ground, face white with fear and his hands up in the air in a gesture of surrender.

Some of the Paratroopers start giggling and joking that Kent couldn't hit a barn door. Kent just looks at his Sten gun in amazement. The German Soldier starts laughing too and points to his boot, raising it to show that the heel is barely hanging on by a thread.

The Paratroopers lead their German prisoner across the field towards the now moving column of men as they march up the road.

OOSTERBEK

Oosterbek is a small prosperous village so far untouched by the war. It has neat resort hotels, landscaped villas, tree-lined roads.

Two and a half miles east the distant chatter of machine guns and the cough of mortars can be heard drifting in on the wind. There's a lot of smoke rising from and hanging over Arnhem.

Villagers look on with worried faces from their gardens and windows as columns of British Paratroopers arrive all the time. They're digging slit trenches, setting up machine gun posts and six pounder anti-tank gun positions. They're turning the place into a fortress.

Moss, Kent, Smith, Driscoll and Vulliger are resting in a trench they've dug outside a small pretty house, which is surrounded by a hedge and low white picket fence.

A Jeep roars past throwing up a cloud of dust, disappearing down the road towards Arnhem.

At that point something dark and wispy starts to drift down on the wind - it's ash-like. Some falls across Kent's face and he blows it off. Moss catches some in his hand. It's all around, falling out of the sky like light snow. It’s ash - from Arnhem, carried on the wind.

Tuesday 19th September

ARNHEM OUTSKIRTS - NIGHT

It's dark but the sky is illuminated by the glow of distant fires. Lines of tracer gunfire arc into the sky, while flares and the muzzle flash of large artillery offer eerie flashes. We're on the outskirts of Arnhem town and the heavily built-up areas ahead of us look badly shelled.

Countless British Paratroopers scramble over the piles of masonry, down streets and through buildings as they advance. Moss, Kent, Driscoll, Vulliger and Smith are amongst them.

During the night of the Monday 18th and early hours of Sunday the 19th the soldiers made somewhat hesitant and devious progress through the streets of Arnhem. The 11th Battalion and 2nd South Staffordshire Regiment began to move through the heavily built-up area between St Elizabeth's hospital and the Arnhem town museum. They were heading for the bridge in an attempt to relieve Lieutenant Colonel John Frost and the men of the 2nd Parachute Battalion.

ARNHEM - DAWN

It's unusually quiet, apart from the occasional report of a rifle or small arms fire. The sun rises over the town of Arnhem and a thick misty haze has settled all around.

ST ELIZABETH'S HOSPITAL - DAWN

The large hospital building stands in a cobbled stone square, surrounded by old buildings and alleyways. It's probably one of the oldest parts of the town.

From here we can see the river Rhine, the waterfront buildings and the huge iron span Arnhem bridge in the distance.

A couple of companies of the 2nd South Staffordshire had been sent earlier to reinforce the men already on the north end of the bridge. They return with tales of incredibly stiff resistance from veteran SS troops backed up by armour — tanks and self-propelled guns. This was not what they expected.

The dead, wounded and dying are being ferried all around in vehicles and on stretchers, while several large groups of able-bodied men assemble and listen as orders are given out by serious-faced Officers. These men had landed on the 17th as part of the 1st Airborne Landing Brigade and had made progress overnight.

Mortar fire starts to rain down on the surrounding area and multi-barrelled flack guns open up from German positions in brick-fields on the opposite bank of the Rhine. There are also heavy bursts from MG 34 and 42 machine guns.

Nearby is a road running down towards the Rhine.

It's littered with burning vehicles of all descriptions - German and British, taken out in the heavy fighting.

A column of British Paratroopers make their way along the road down towards the river, presumably heading for the bridge.

Moss started to see knocked out German Self-Propelled Guns and Tanks he realised that they were up against tough opposition.

RIVER FRONT - ARNHEM - DAY

With St Elizabeth's Hospital behind them and the museum to the north, hundreds of British Paratroopers make their way along the river front towards a huge steel girder bridge.

Wrecked and burning vehicles litter its length. Smoke rises from the northern far end where Colonel Frost and men of the 1st Airborne Division are trapped by German armour. The German's hold the southern end too.

Leading up to the southern end of the bridge is a quarter mile wide stretch of exposed territory.

British officers shout encouragement to their troops and soon they're breaking into a run, heading for the bridge.

Excitement, fear, enthusiasm - all these emotions are written on the young faces.

A German shell whooshes through the air and explodes nearby killing the Officer, tossing his body into a bloody crumpled heap. This is the signal for the German's, who've been lying in wait, to attack.

From the far river bank, from the bridge, from buildings around the southern end of the bridge, the German's unleash an incredible barrage of fire - small arms, heavy machine guns, mortars, 88mm artillery, anti-aircraft guns, self-propelled guns and tanks. The enemy lets loose catching the British in a quarter mile wide gap which makes them sitting ducks.

It's carnage. British soldiers are cut down like corn before the scythe.

Using smoke bombs the Brit's encourage each other on despite the horrendous casualties - there are heaps of dead and slithering pools of blood. Within minutes most of the officers are dead or wounded. Some of the remaining soldiers take shelter in road side buildings while they're being shelled. They can't reach the bridge because enemy fire is too intense.

Everywhere men are struggling forwards either trying to find their troops or join Frost at the north end of the bridge.

Men from Lieutenant Colonel DAVID DOBIE'S 1st Battalion get within a few hundred yards of the bridge before being beaten back by horrendous enemy fire and losses.

Meanwhile, back at the rear of the column...
The advance has halted. Quite literally, the confusion and carnage up ahead has brought the rear of the column to a grinding halt.

Moss and the other Paratroopers at the rear can see the fearful pasting their men are getting from the Germans. He looks down to the water's edge where a dead civilian in blue overall is lying in a ditch by a water pipe. Water is lapping around his body.

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