WHEN THE OXF & BUCKS WENT "A BRIDGE TOO FAR" The Regiments involvment in the Battle of Arnhem.
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ARNHEM (Operation MARKET GARDEN)
The Battle of Arnhem and the subsequent defence of the Oosterbeek Perimeter have passed into legend and the subject of numerous books and films, meaning that the story of the Operation is quite well known by most who have an interest in military history, what is probably less known is the contribution of the regiment in Operation Market Garden.
The“Bridge Too Far” The John Frost Bridge at Arnhem
The objectives of the 1st Airborne Division were to capture and hold the bridges over the river Rhine at Arnhem, however in the end only a force slightly over battalion strength managed to reach and hold the northern approaches to the Road Bridge. Only the Second Parachute Battalion (less C company who were separated in the town), reinforced by part of 1st Para Brigade HQ, members of 1 and 3 Parachute Battalions and some attached arms personnel actually reached the objective.
Among the Officers of the 2nd Parachute Battalion were some ex Oxf & Bucks officers, the Battalion Second in Command, Major David Wallis had served with 4OXF & BUCKS, while A Company was commanded by Major Digby Tatham Warter (ex 52nd) who took over Command of the battalion when Major Wallis was killed. (Lt Col Frost having taken over command of all 1st Parachute Brigade elements that had reached the Bridge).
When training his Company in the UK and remembering his Light Infantry roots, Major Tatham Warter concerned about the effectiveness of radios had set up a system of using Bugles to send signals within his company that were used to good effect on the march to the bridge and in its defence. After the withdrawal of the remnants of the Division across the Rhine at the end of the battle Tatham Warter was involved in organising many of the evading Airborne troops left behind to get back to Allied lines in “Operation Pegasus”. The umbrella wielding officer in the film “A Bridge Too Far” is based on Major Tatham Warter who carried his umbrella because he could not remember the password.
The following details are given in the London Gazette of 23rd January, 1945:- Lt. Grayburn was a platoon commander of the Parachute Battalion which was dropped on September 17th, 1944, with orders to seize and hold the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem. He, with his platoon, was to capture the southern end. Lt. Grayburn was wounded in the shoulder almost immediately, but he directed and pressed the assault until casualties became so heavy that he was ordered to withdraw. Later, he successfully organized the occupation of a house vital to the defence of the bridge. Although heavily attacked throughout the next day and night, thanks to Lt. Grayburn's courage, leadership, and skill in disposing his men, the house was held until it was set on fire on September 19th, and had to be evacuated. Lt. Grayburn then formed a fighting force of elements of all arms, including the remainder of his company. Although wounded again, this time in the back, he refused to be evacuated. When tank attacks, against which he had no defence, finally forced his retreat on September 20th, he stood up in full view of the enemy, and directed the withdrawal of his men to the main defensive perimeter. He was killed that night. For nearly four days, despite pain and weakness from his wounds, shortage of food and lack of sleep, Lt. Grayburn displayed supreme and unflagging gallantry and determination. Without his inspiring leadership the Arnhem bridge could not have been held for so long.
The regiment was also represented at Headquarters, 1st Parachute Brigade, by its Commander Brigadier Gerald Lathbury, formerly of the 43rd.
In the Headquarters 1st Airlanding Brigade the Brigade Staff Captain, Captain Edward Moy-Thomas and the GSO3 (Deputy Assistant Adjutant & Quartermaster) Captain Donald Hotham Robson were both from the 52nd.
Originally the 52nd had formed part of 1st Airlanding Brigade of the 1st British Airborne Division and at that time were tasked with providing the Divisional Defence Platoon. This they continued to do when the 52nd were transferred to the 6th Airlanding Brigade on the formation of the 6th British Airborne Division in 1943.
By the time of the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944 the Divisional Defence Platoon although by now slightly watered down by the inclusion of men of other units and commanded by a Parachute Regiment officer was still in the main made up of men of the 52nd.
During the defence of the Oosterbeek perimeter to where 1st Airborne Division withdrew after it had been cut to pieces trying to get to the famous “Bridge Too far” the Divisional Defence Platoon was engaged in the defence of the Hartenstein Hotel which had become the Divisional Headquarters. Eventually after fighting solidly for nine days the remnants of the Division were withdrawn across the Rhine.
1S AIRBORNE DIVISION EMPLOYMENT AND DEFENCE PLATOON