Hell's Highway: Chronicle of the 101st Airborne Division in the Holland Campaign, September-November 1944by George Koskimaki
Hell’s Highway is a history, most of which has never before been written. It is adventure recorded by those who lived it and put into context by an author who was also there. It is human drama on an enormous scale, told through the personal stories of 612 contributors of written and oral accounts of the Screaming Eagles’ part in the attempt to/i>… See more details below
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Hell’s Highway is a history, most of which has never before been written. It is adventure recorded by those who lived it and put into context by an author who was also there. It is human drama on an enormous scale, told through the personal stories of 612 contributors of written and oral accounts of the Screaming Eagles’ part in the attempt to liberate the Netherlands. Koskimaki is an expert in weaving together individual recollections to make a compelling and uniquely first-hand account of the bravery and deprivations suffered by the troops, and their hopes, fears, triumphs, and tragedies, as well as those of Dutch civilians caught up in the action. There have been many books published on Operation Market Garden and there will surely be more. This book, however, gets to the heart of the action. The “big picture,” which most histories paint, here is just the context for the real history on the ground.
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A Chronicle of the 101st Airborne Division in the Holland Campaign, Septemberâ?"November 1944
By George E. Koskimaki
Casemate PublishingCopyright © 1989 George E. Koskimaki
All rights reserved.
This is history as witnessed by participants in the greatest airborne operation of the entire war. The Market-Garden operation covered a period of a week, interrupted by bad weather during three days of the campaign.
The narrative includes the stories of pilots and crew members of the C-47 troop carrier transport planes, glider pilots, glider troops and paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division and one glider trooper from the British 1st Airborne Corps who was part of the 101st operation. The stories of former Dutch underground-resistance fighters as well as Dutch citizens are included in the account.
The narrative takes the reader from the return of the bloodied but now veteran 101st Airborne Division from Normandy back to England where they prepare for the second airborne operation after several aborted missions.
The pathfinder mission, the paratroop flights and the glider lifts over several days are described by the participants. Descriptions of the operations to seize the objectives assigned to the Screaming Eagles are provided by the men with their little human interest tales.
No attempt is made to analyze the soundness of various moves but the tales unfold as they happened. Hell's Highway has much that has not appeared in previous historical accounts of the Market-Garden campaign.
The actions of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions received very little attention from the media during or since the war's end. The focus was concentrated on the plight of the gallant British 1st Airborne Division and the Polish Airborne Brigade in their losing battle in and around Arnhem. Lt. General Lewis Brereton, commander of the 1st Allied Airborne Army stated that the 101st and 82nd American Airborne Divisions had fought their hearts out and whipped hell out of the Germans and got very little credit for their efforts.
The corridor leading from Eindhoven to Arnhem needed to be kept open so the British 2nd Army, and particularly 30th Corps, could move quickly northward to relieve the beleaguered British sky troopers. This was a continuing assignment of both the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions.
Hell's Highway concentrates on the efforts of the 101st Airborne Division during the first two weeks of the operation in the area between Eindhoven and Uden, and then again when the 101st is involved in a defensive struggle on the Island (Betuwe) between Arnhem and Nijmegen for a period of almost two months. Their responsibility during that time was to keep the enemy from attacking the Nigmegen bridge from the west and away from the one highway open to the British leading to the south bank of the Neder Rijn near Arnhem.
I have made considerable use of small unit after-action reports for the Holland campaign. These reports covered actions of the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment, the 502nd and 506th Parachute Infantry Regiments, the 81st Anti-Tank and Anti-Aircraft Battalion and the 326th Engineer Battalion. An unpublished narrative by General S.L.A. Marshall and his assistant, Lt. Westover, concerning the first day moves of LTC Harry W.O. Kinnard's 1st Battalion of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment was also used. Extensive use was made of an after action report for the first ten days in Holland. It was prepared by Brigadier General Gerald J. Higgins and his staff. This report helped place the actions into the proper time sequence.
Diaries of individual soldiers play a key role in this book as it kept stories fresh in the minds of those who kept records of their days in combat in Holland. Where others may have forgotten the names of participants in specific actions, the diary notations brought the long forgotten soldiers back into memory.
Because of my knowledge of the make-up of the entire 101st Airborne Division, unit by unit (company and battery), I was able to assist the men with their recall by providing company or battery rosters along with news about surviving members. Many of the men had been out of touch since the end of the war 45 years ago. Many who had been wounded and never returned after the Holland campaign, said they cried when they saw the names of close buddies as having been killed later in the Holland campaign, which extended over a period of 72 days, or later at or near Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.
Many happy reunions of long-lost buddies have resulted from the five years of extensive research done in writing to, and interviewing 1,382 former members of the 101st Airborne Division, troop carrier pilots and crew members, glider pilots, Dutch underground, some of whom now live in Canada and the United States. Dutch citizen participation in this project has been great. Many have sent descriptions of the airborne landings when the troops of the 101st descended from the sky by parachute and glider near their homes, or who came to their small Dutch towns and cities, pushing the enemy out ahead of them. They greeted us with a lot of pent-up emotion. We felt like heroes.
The Dutch in the corridor towns are an unusual people. They have not allowed their children to forget the sacrifices made on their behalf by soldiers who came thousands of miles from across the wide expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. As Mrs. C. Cornuijt-Gosen of Eindhoven wrote in Static Line, an airborne newspaper published by Don Lassen in College Park, Georgia, "This gives me an opportunity to pronounce my gratitude to America, to the American people, especially to all those men who were willing to fight in another part of the world for countries and people they did not know. I thank all those men who were prepared to fight and, if necessary, to die, to sacrifice their lives for letting us live in peace. Thanks to these men for letting me live my life in freedom. God bless you all."
The ceremonies each year at the U.S. Military Cemetery at Margraten are most impressive. Dutch children by the thousands file into the cemetery to place flowers on each of the 8,301 graves of out military dead. The gravestones are set in long graceful curves. On each side of the Court of Honor are two walls on which are recorded the names of 1,722 men who gave their lives in the service of their country but who sleep in unknown graves. Many Dutch people have written to me to relate how they have tended specific graves over four decades since the end of World Was II. While the temporary cemetery was near Son, the family of Mrs. C. Boonman-Lammers tended the grave of 1Lt. Fred Gibbs on a weekly basis. She and her husband continue to visit his grave at Margraten each year. Rita van Loon of Eindhoven wrote: "My sister Oddy, now 64 years old, still tends the grave of S/Sgt. George S. Hunter of the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment. He was from Minneapolis. We will never forget the boys who fought for our freedom!" Her family adopted the graves of four 101st soldiers who were buried in the temporary cemetery near Son. The remains of some of those soldiers were sent back home to the states after the war.
In September of 1988, I stopped in the cemetery in the village of Sint Oedenrode to pay homage to some of the local members of the underground who were executed by the enemy for their efforts in freeing their fellow countrymen from the yoke of an oppressive conqueror. I have learned from former resistance fighters that thousands of their fellows and women died for their efforts and beliefs. I choke up now as I write these lines about a Dutch girl whose story was related by George K. Mullins: "One evening a Dutch girl came riding her bicycle through our outposts along a country road and headed through the German lines. It was related to us a few days later when that enemy territory was occupied that she was found dead in a barn hung by the neck." Undoubtedly the young lady was suspected of being a courier for the Allied cause. Many women risked their lives during the war and particularly during the Market-Garden campaign, and many died in the hands of the enemy.
As related in the story, the youngsters took to the friendly airborne soldiers. Some of them were caught up in the fierce battles and died with their newfound friends. Former medic Paul R. Miller still thinks of 14 year old Jac Wynen who led Miller to avoid Germans and "Quislings" to tend to wounded, both military and civilian. The boy died during a heavy shelling.
Perhaps Wynen was the same lad described by Leonard T. Schmidt of the same regiment who wrote: "We had a little Dutch boy of 14, an orphan, who followed us all around in combat and he finally got killed."
This, then, is the story of airmen, soldiers, underground, Dutch men and women, told collectively in remembering those days of the war in Holland. A total of 609 participants sent me their recollections and I have pieced them together like a giant jigsaw puzzle.
As written in the introduction of our first book, D-Day With The Screaming Eagles, former mortar sergeant John Urbank said, "I feel I'm holding faith with some of the boys who didn't make it. I remember more than once hearing Buford Perry and David Mythaler say, 'If anyone asks what war is like—we're going to tell them in the best way we know how—none of this crap that War is Hell and we can't talk about it!' So be it. So keep their faith."
The feats of the airborne soldiers as we knew them have faded into legend as the helicopter has been replacing the parachute and glider. Now the extensive use of the helicopter as an airborne weapon may be questioned with the development of the heat-seeking missile, fired from a simple launcher from the shoulder of an individual soldier. It may alter the use of the modern means of moving the present-day airborne soldier to a quickly developing battle situation.CHAPTER 2
The shipping lanes were filled with traffic headed for the invasion beaches of Normandy when the 101st Airborne Division set off for their return to England on the 12th of July on board LST's. The Screaming Eagles were the first division-sized unit to be removed from the combat zone after their successful June 6 drop and subsequent five weeks in combat.
The Division band was on hand to serenade the troops as they marched off the landing ships in Southampton Harbor on the afternoon of July 13th. There was 'ole Moe' to greet his troopers. Colonel George Van Horn Moseley had suffered a broken leg in landing in France and was destined to lose his beloved 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment to his successor, Lt. Colonel John Michaelis.
After picking up coffee and doughnuts passed out by the American Red Cross "doughnut dollies," the troops filed onto the waiting trains to be whisked off to their former training areas to once more begin the preparation for a future combat mission.
But first there was time for rest and relaxation. Most headed for their favorite pubs that evening to relate hair-raising tales to their British friends. The next day, after receiving their pay which had accumulated for two months, the men headed for London, nearby weekend haunts, or parts unknown in Scotland for a much needed seven day furlough.
One who delayed his departure was 1Lt. Sumpter Blackmon, executive officer of "A" Company of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. He decided to complete a letter-writing mission to the many families of men from his unit who had lost their sons in the Company "A" combat actions in Normandy. They were many. Some had drowned in the flooded swamps and fields as they floundered in chin-deep water, loaded down with heavy equipment. Others had dropped far to the south of designated drop zones. Some survived to spend the rest of the war in POW camps. Others died in short, fierce battles which were fought by small groups against better equipped enemy forces. Those not accounted for had to be counted as possible KIA's. Blackmon wrote: "I felt everyone of the families needed to be notified by someone who knew about their sons. (PFC Charles Emerson of Derby, CT was one. Sgt. Leonard A. Davis of Louisiana was another.)"
After the furloughs were over, additional replacements arrived on the scene. Others had arrived in the English training camps while the men fought in Normandy.
How had the 101st Airborne Division fared in Normandy? They had suffered a total of 3,836 casualties during the month of June with 868 being listed as killed in action.
The drop of the parachute segment of the division had been badly scattered over much of the Cherbourg Peninsula. The drop pattern covered an area of 25 × 15 miles. Seventy percent of the men had landed within an eight mile square area. Of the 1,500 dropped outside this area, most were killed or captured.
A total of 46 planes of the 1,656 night and day sorties were shot down. Glider losses were less because of pre-dawn flights. It had been an amazing accomplishment that the pilots of the 52 pre-dawn gliders had brought their crafts into the small gridiron-sized fields in the pre-dawn hours. The fields had been rimmed with forty to fifty foot tall trees and interspersed throughout the fields were "Rommel's Asparagus," anti-glider poles which had been installed to discourage airborne operations. During the evening of D-Day the larger plywood Horsa gliders had arrived in the same small areas but they had light by which to steer away from obstacles.
The division had sent 14,000 men into combat in France of which 6,600 had gone via parachute. A total of 84 gliders had carried 101st troops into France. The rest of the men had come in over the beaches because of the limited number of gliders. One would wonder how the glider infantry regiment and the artillery battalions would have fared if ample aircraft had been available to them.
Because of the scattered drops, assembly had been a terrible problem. On D-Day, only 1,100 men of the 6,600 dropped were with their units by H-Hour when the invasion forces began landing on beaches along the Normandy coast. By 1800 hours, 2,500 men had assembled with their units which meant only 38 percent of the men in on the initial airborne assault got together with their units the first day. Future airborne operations would have to be much improved or this mode of combat would be dropped as too costly.1
Many of the soldiers who had shown their mettle in Normandy would now be in positions of leadership as platoon sergeants and several had received battlefield commissions.
Leaders who were lost as the result of the first combat mission included a regimental commander who was evacuated with a severe leg fracture. Another was shipped out in the early stages for being too cautious. Three battalion commanders had died in actions. Ten company commanders were gone. Four had been killed. Battalion staffs had been decimated and needed reorganization.
A large number of replacements had arrived on the training camp scene on D-Day in anticipation of expected heavy losses to the regiments and battalions in combat. These men had to be worked into the squads, platoons and battery formations so they would become integral parts of fighting units. The last week of July and in the early part of August, training at the platoon and company level went on in earnest.
During August the 1st Allied Airborne Army came into being with Lt. General Lewis H. Brereton being selected as its commander. Major General Matthew Ridgway, former head of the 82nd Airborne Division was chosen to head the U.S. XVIII Airborne Corps, one segment of that new Army. The British had their 1st Airborne Corps as their part of 1st Allied Airborne Army.
Long before the decision to drop an airborne carpet over which the British 2nd Army and particularly the XXX Corps would move north through Holland was made, military planners decided there would be no further large-scale night operations for paratroops and glidermen. The Allies now had almost total superiority in the skies. Large flights of troop carrier planes could be protected adequately by the many squadrons of fighter planes. Bombers, and particularly fighter-bombers, could take out known flak batteries. The Airborne Army was ready for a large-scale, daylight operation.
After Normandy, a total of sixteen Allied airborne operations got to the paper planning stage and several came close enough to send troops to the marshaling areas.
The code name for the first aborted operation was Transfigure. It was scheduled for August 17 and was to destroy a large part of the German 7th Army by trapping it south of Paris. As Patton approached Orleans, airborne troops would spring the trap by blocking the roads over which the enemy intended to retreat. In its final form the plan called for parachute and glider troops of the 101st Airborne Division to land near St. Arnolult-en-Yvelines and by the British 1st Airborne Division and the Polish Parachute Brigade to drop in the vicinity of Rambouillet. By the 16th almost every useable troop carrier plane was marshaled and ready.
The personal diary of T/4 George E. Koskimaki of the 101st Signal Company illustrates the fast-moving events that were suddenly thrust upon the airborne divisions.
Excerpted from Hell's Highway by George E. Koskimaki. Copyright © 1989 George E. Koskimaki. Excerpted by permission of Casemate Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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