- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Leonard Derek Moss
- Location of story:
- Arnhem, Holland
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 06 November 2003
Men, their faces shell-shocked, covered in blood and dirt, carrying wounded with them are already retreating.
A barrel-chested RUDDY-FACED SERGEANT with a fierce moustache waddles past, his arm supporting a wounded comrade. His boots are squelching as he walks, oozing blood.
Lieutenant Colonel Fitch orders them to retreat to the Rhine Pavilion restaurant complex to regroup and take up positions.
Lieutenant Vickers then appears out of the retreating crowd, shouting orders and doing his best to salvage something from the awful situation. They were to fall back and try to get to the bridge from the north and the museum.
STREETS - ARNHEM - MORNING
Narrow streets. Echoing with the sound of rifle and machine gun fire, all too close.
On either side of us old buildings rise high up into the sky, their plasterwork peppered with bullet holes. Every so often the scurrying Paratroopers come across dead German and British soldiers.
Dutch civilians risk their own lives to pile up and cover the dead bodies in white sheet. In places the corpses are stacked nine or ten high by the side of the road.
Moss and Kent move forwards and crouch down at a street corner looking into a small square, which other alleyways meet.
Out in the open is a six pounder Anti-tank gun, set up but apparently abandoned with discarding SABOT shells littering the road.
Looking up the road Moss sees a stationary German self-propelled gun about a hundred yards away, engine running, spewing out heavy black diesel fumes. Kent sees it too.
Moss wants to take a shot at the German but he knows there’s too much to do in the open — they’d have to run out into the open, pick up a shell, load it, traverse the wheel which is on the far side, operate the elevation and fire.
Moss looks back and sees the last of their Paratrooper colleagues disappearing up a side street.
Both men, keeping low, turn and scurry away in a crouch, heading up the narrow side street in pursuit of the vanishing silhouettes.
ARNHEM TOWN SQUARE - MORNING
High up. Looking down through an archway onto the cobbled town square which has an ornate fountain in the middle. Behind us is a large bell and somewhere below us a clock mechanism whirs and ticks with ancient precision.
British Paratroopers make their way cautiously across and around the edge of the square taking cover where they can. Progress is slow.
KERBOOM! The whole square is shaken by an explosion, sending brickwork and masonry all over the place.
Tearing through the smoke and dust, machine gun bullets ricochet across the town square.
At the end of the street.
A King Tiger Panzer tank rolls and squeaks into view. Heavily armoured, engine chugging under strain and sporting an 88mm cannon it looks like an awesome sight. 60 tonnes of pure mechanical menace.
Everyone else who's seen it doesn't need to be told what to do. They all run for cover, this way and that.
The King Tiger advances down the narrow street, scraping along both sides, just able to squeeze through. The machine gun on the front spits hot leaden death and several of the slower soldiers are cut down.
Moss runs across the square towards a large building he's seen several other soldiers disappear into, but because of his injured leg he makes slower progress. His rifle slips from his grasp as he scrambles over some rubble. It clatters to the ground. He hesitates for a moment then decides there's not enough time. Moss carries on running for cover.
The tank turns into the far side of the square, the turret rotates and flames belch from cannon. The shell explodes through the carved fountain in the middle of the square.
INT. BANK - TOWN SQUARE
The inside of the bank has been damaged by the previous day's fighting. The windows are all smashed and the huge, once proud oak doors hang loosely from their hinges.
Several Paratroopers take cover from the explosion outside. Moss scrambles in through the door followed by a cloud of dust and debris. Outside the intense sound of machine gun fire can be heard.
SGT TAFFY MORGAN’s squad captured some German soldiers earlier. He says they’re up against the battle-hardened 9th Hohenstaufen and 10th Frundsberg Panzer Divisions. They're veteran SS troops.
The paras think that they’ll be relieved soon and be better able to deal with the tanks when XXX Corps arrive. They get on that radio and call up support - some PIAT's to take care of that tank.
Through a door in one side of the room, a heavy steel vault can be seen. A direct hit from an earlier barrage appears to have damaged it, lifting the hinges on one side.
Moss wants to raid the bank and bury any wealth found there for later in the war but the officer says he’ll shoot any man that indulges in looting.
The Paratroopers are ordered to leave the bank and double time it down the street towards a large ornately decorated building set in wide grounds. They come under sporadic machine gun fire forcing Moss, Kent and Vickers to take cover.
Moss, lies prone behind the CORPSE of a young German soldier. He has all his kit and apart from some blood running from his mouth, looks peaceful. He's no older than Moss and for a moment the young Brit freezes, held by the sight of a dead man just a few inches from his face.
Moss looks up to see that the others are already disappearing down the street. Only Kent has remained behind to call him on. Moss picks up the dead German's rifle and sets off.
MUSEUM - DAY
Nestling between a heavily built-up area and the river is a large museum building, set in its own grounds with heavily wooded area. It's already seen extensive shell and battle damage. British Paratroopers are over-running the area but are under constant heavy bombardment from German positions at the southern end of the Arnhem bridge.
Moss and Kent, separated from their group in the chaos run this way and that, searching for a safe place to sit out the barrage.
There are SEVERAL LOUD EXPLOSIONS close by. They must be shells of some kind, but they're ear-shattering. Huge divots of earth are thrown up as craters appear.
Moss throws himself over a low stone wall and crawls along on his belly for cover. Showered with dirt he comes face to face with another soldier coming the other way. It's Sgt Driscoll and he's breathing hard as if he's just run a marathon.
The two men grin weakly at each other. Driscoll tells him that there’s a machine gun emplacement back there just behind an outhouse and they have to take it out.
The battle rages.
Close by we can hear intense small arms fire and mortar shells exploding as the conflict intensifies. A small plume of smoke rises from behind a line of trees above which the roof of the main museum buildings can be seen.
In front of us is a large brick out house that maybe before the war was used to store museum exhibits in. Beyond that, a two man German machine gun crew fire an MG 34, spraying the whole area with a deadly barrage. The corpses of several British Paratroopers testify to their accuracy.
Moss and Ginger observe this from relative safety, behind a thick brick wall. They decide to wait until the Germans have to change the air-cooled barrel.
As if on cue, the Germans are forced to stop firing. They reload and change the smoking machine gun barrel over for a 'cooler' replacement.
Driscoll seizes his chance and steps out with his Thompson sub machine gun. It goes off with a very gangster-like rat-a-tat-a-tat. Smoking shells tinkle on the floor as he sprays the German position.
The GERMAN GUNNER is hit several times and for some reason screams comically... "Ow, ow, ow, ow"
Following suit, Moss steps out from his hiding place and fires the rifle he'd earlier confiscated. He hits the German Gunner killing him.
The GUNNER'S MATE, realising that he'll never man the MG 34 on his own, stands up holding a Schmeiser Pistol small machine gun. He fires from just thirty feet away, spraying the area around Moss rather inaccurately with bullets.
Looking surprised at this unexpected turn of events, Moss and Driscoll step back behind the wall he was using as cover. Bullets ricochet off it. Driscoll pulls a hand grenade from his tunic and hurls it over the wall in the direction of the machine gun emplacement.
Seconds later the grenade explodes.
Driscoll and Moss run out screaming and firing, but their bullets impact only with a pile of split sandbags.
The Gunner's Mate is running away towards some woods in a zig-zagging pattern. Moss takes aim and looses four shots from the standing position. All of them miss and the German manages to escape.
RAILWAY CUTTING - BEHIND MUSEUM - DAY
Moss and Driscoll emerge from an area of dense undergrowth, on the edge of a wooded area behind the museum buildings.
Before them stretches a railway marshalling yard that runs alongside the River Rhine. A few hundred yards away stands the Arnhem Bridge, still being held by Lt Col Frost and his men. Burning vehicles litter its length and fires burn, sending up plumes of black smoke.
From the houses on the escarpment opposite, the area is being raked by machine gun fire and 20 mm flak. Hundreds of dead British Paratroopers lie where they fell in the assault that failed earlier that day. The scene is one of incredible devastation.
Trapped on the tracks between several burning railway carriages, a small group of Paratroopers are pinned down by exploding mortar shells.
Down below them, two men stand in a trench on the edge of the cutting. They're silhouetted against the background and are trying to clamber out of a trench which is under fire. Moss recognises one man as PFC WILLIAMS from his squad.
Moss and Driscoll want to help but before they can do anything, a burst from an MG 42 catches Williams in mid-rift cutting him in two. He simply folds in half.
A loud explosion rings out in the air above Moss and Driscoll showering them with leaves and branches. They think they’re being hit with air burst shells. It turns out that they're mortar rounds falling short of the museum and hitting the trees.
Several hundred yards away, in the garden of a house on the opposite escarpment, small puffs of smoke show a German mortar crew in action.
Sandbagged, a FOUR MAN GERMAN MORTAR CREW, including a Spotter with binoculars, are firing with deadly monotony.
Another shell whizzes overhead - the two men look scared, not knowing quite where the incoming mortar shell will land. After a few moments, it explodes above them sending a particularly large branch crashing down.
Both men turn and run back into the woods.
WOODS - BEHIND MUSEUM - DAY
Running through the trees Moss and Driscoll meet Kent and a small group of Paratropers coming the other way. Some are wounded and being supported by the able bodied. Moss says that the railway is crawling with Germans — the others say that there are Germans behind them too.
The sound of German voices approaching through the woods and the sight of some crouching, bobbing silhouettes is enough to send the British Paratroopers scattering in all directions.
Moss and Kent head off together, slithering down a steep slope and coming to rest by an abandoned German MG 34 emplacement, secured behind some sand bags.
Gratefully the two men slink down behind it and take a breather. Lying down Moss stretches out his right leg and rubs it with a grimace. It's still troubling him.
Kent pops his head over the sandbag barrier just to take a look around and there's a gunshot. KERCHING! Something metal rings out and hums, like a bell resonating. Kent drops down as his small backpack is ripped open and then the heel of his boot is shot off.
He pulls off his tin hat and sees a hole in the rim. Moss leans over, puts his finger in the bullet shaped hole in his friend's backpack and then looks at the damaged boot.
More gunfire. This time the controlled burst of an MG 34 aimed at Kent rips into the sand bags and earth. Moss rolls aside and scrambles behind a tree for more cover.
Peering out from behind it he sees a German head pop up from behind a cutting fifty yards away and open fire on them.
When the barrage ceases the German head disappears.
Taking aim with the German rifle, Moss secures himself against the tree and waits. Sure enough, after a few moments, the German pops back up showing his upper torso.
Moss' finger squeezes on the trigger.
Much to his amazement the rifle fires a tracer round which is easy to follow as it passes straight through the surprised German's chest.
A lone figure comes stumbling through the smoke, crashing down through some trees and rolling to a halt at Moss' feet.
He and Kent help the man take cover behind the sandbags.
A LANCE CORPORAL, maybe in his 20's, staggers into view. He's caked with blood and dirt. Clearly on the brink of exhaustion he gasps for air. Kent takes out his water canteen and pours a little into the man’s mouth which he chokes on greedily. He speaks through gulps of air.
He’s just come from the front line. They're being cut to pieces by self-propelled puns and have run into an SS Panzer Division complete with Tiger tanks. There's a bottle-neck between the river and the railway and we're stuck in it.
RAILWAY CUTTING - DAY
Moss and co meet up with a large collection of beleaguered Paratroopers who gather in a sheltered cutting below a wooded area. Moss is summoned up to a group being briefed by Lt Vickers. Reluctantly, Moss grabs his gear and follows Kent to a small group of Paratroopers being briefed by Lt Vickers who's pointing things out on a small section of folded map.
He says that it’s proved impossible to get through to the bridge and relieve Lt Colonel Frost's 2nd Battalion with such a heavy weight of opposition. They've been ordered to withdraw.
There's an uneasy murmur amongst the men. No one likes the idea of retreating but the 11th Battalion and the South Staffs have been nearly wiped out and the remnants are only now being reformed.
Vickers has been given the task of clearing some woods along the railway. If they can clear a section from here to here, they should be able to slip back to their our own lines pretty easily.
WOODS - DAY
Smoke drifts across the densely wooded area while the sound of distant small arms fire is carried on the wind.
Vickers leads his mean through the trees in a stretched out line, pistol in hand. Moss is right beside him.
Then, all falls silent. No firing, no shelling. Just the gentle breeze. It's quite unnerving.
Eventually Vickers and his line of men reach the edge of the copse and find themselves looking down a cutting where a detachment of GERMAN GRENADIERS are climbing up.
It's hard to tell who's more surprised.
Some of the German's prepare their 'potato masher' hand grenades while a few of the British Paratroopers have the presence of mind to fire using the advantage of high ground.
Moss aims his rifle at one German who's drawn his arm back and is ready to throw.
CLICK! His rifle fires on nothing. Should have checked the clip. Moss reaches for the pistol on his belt but that grenade is already on its way...
...sailing through the air...
The first grenades, falling short, explode harmlessly sending up clouds of dirt but the German's are already returning fire.
Heavily out numbered, Lt Vickers has no choice but to order his men out.
The Paratrooper's turn and flee back through the woods, and to his credit, Lt Vickers returns fire with his pistol. He's the last man to leave.
ST ELIZABETH'S HOSPITAL - DAY
British Paratroopers are retreating from Arnhem to the Oosterbek perimeter. The air is alive with machine gun fire and mortar shells explode nearby.
The once proud St Elizabeth's Hospital has been transformed from a building of beauty into a structure damaged by small arms fire, mortars and artillery.
The wounded lie everywhere, German prisoners are huddled into confined spaces, British Paratroopers man slit trenches, setting up machine guns and six pounder anti-tank positions.
Teams of men with belt-fed Vickers machine guns are taking up positions at the hospital road juncture. They're job is to cover the retreat of Paratroopers coming down the road. However, they come under immediate mortar fire from advancing German positions.
Moss is amongst a group of Paratroopers retreating down the road, hiding in buildings, scurrying here and there amidst the constant hail of mortar shells and sniper fire.
ARNHEM OUTSKIRTS - NIGHT
The dark night sky is illuminated by fire as the city burns. Silhouettes of wrecked buildings take on odd shapes as lines of tracer gunfire arc into the sky. The sound of artillery, mortars and machine gun fire bear testament to the fact that somebody somewhere is fighting hard.
The Para’s all felt for Lieutenant Colonel Frost's 2nd Battalion stranded and cut off at the Arnhem bridge, but they knew it would be suicide to try and reach them. They were secretly relieved they'd been ordered to retreat back to Oosterbek.
We're on the outskirts of Arnhem town. It's a wasteland - a mass of rubble, wrecked buildings, charred timber and bodies. The dead lie in heaps, stacked by the side of the road like sacks of grain.
Every road was now blocked by Panzer tanks and self-propelled guns. Minute by minute the situation was worsening. When the order came to withdraw, it was a motley array of British Paratroopers that began the forced march.
Countless British Paratroopers retreat from enemy fire and shelling, moving at a fast pace. As they started to make their way out of Arnhem, Moss looked at the faces around him and knew that they had been given a beating.
Moss is one of hundreds of faces in the retreating troop columns and each step brings a grimace to his face. His pace is slower than that of everyone else and he seems to be struggling to keep up.
They navigated the outskirts of the town under cover of darkness but the enemy fire was so severe the withdrawal was undertaken in a very haphazard manner. German tanks started to move in behind the Para’s and there was no let up in the pace. Moss was trying his best to keep up but it was becoming harder and harder with his bad back and leg. He knew that unless he did something soon he would fall behind and risk capture or death.
Mortar fire starts to rain down on the road, scattering the columns of men. Moss scurries one way, slipping into a muddy ditch that runs alongside that side of the road. He's joined by several more soldiers and in a semi-crouch they continue on their way trying to escape the mortar fire.
Kent and Smith run towards a slit trench. KERBOOM! A mortar bomb explodes close by.
They're racing for the trench.
KERBOOM! Another mortar shell explodes.
Both men dive headlong for the trench but Smith is slightly quicker and disappears head-first into the bottom.
The last mortar shell sends Kent flying into the trench screaming. He's in agony.
Smith rolls Kent over and he can see several large chunks of mortar shrapnel sticking out of his smoking back.
With the brief barrage over Moss scrambles out of the ditch and looks around for his friends.
The flow of British troops is never ending and pretty soon, despite his shouts, Moss finds himself swept along with the tide of human bodies.
Moss staggers away to the side of the road, still looking back for his friend. There he comes across Jeep loaded with crates and hitched up to a trailer.
The JEEP DRIVER is British, business-like and not hanging around for anybody. Having secured something on the trailer, he leaps up into the vehicle and starts the engine.
Moss leaps up onto the rear tailboard and the Jeep Driver takes off so violently that the young Paratrooper is nearly thrown off. His upper torso is in the trailer and his feet dangle just off the ground.
The Jeep Driver puts his foot to the floor and heads off down a narrow badly made side road away from the main column of retreating troops.
In ordinary times this journey would be hard enough, but the road is littered with burned out vehicles, rubble and shell holes. The vehicle swerves all over the place and is violently shaken by hitting the potholes at such high speed.
Holding on tightly to the tailboard, Moss' back is jarred and he shouts in pain. Again his feet nearly fall free and he's left hanging in the air.
The ruined and wrecked landscape of buildings soon gives way to a more rural countryside setting.
The Jeep comes to a sharp corner in the road and takes it with no let up in speed. The jarring and vibration has Moss’s bad leg and back in agony - whether by choice or by force of momentum, Moss is thrown free.
Landing in the grass with a heavy thud, he rolls down a steep earthen bank...
Gasping for air, winded and face down in the grass, the young Paratrooper lies there dazed for several moments before raising himself up on his elbows. Nothing appears to be broken.
Up above him, somewhere in the gloom at the top of the earthen bank, a clanking whirring sound can be heard. Mechanical.
He starts to get to his feet only to freeze. Looking up, his neck is met by the butt of a rifle. SMACK!
Moss comes round, slowly.
Who hit him and why? Why isn’t he dead? Why can’t he move. A hundred questions race through his mind.
Blackness. Oppressive blackness, with just one tiny ray of light. Coughing. Pained coughing. Something stirs and grains of dirt are being disturbed.
Moss realises that he’s buried alive, trapped in a slit trench that has collapsed in for some reason. He tries to move his head, but he can’t.
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