“Bash on Recce!” – Ambush in Wolfheze

 “Bash on Recce!” – Ambush in Wolfheze is a great account of the clash between elements of  Freddie Gough’s Recce Squadron and Sturmbannführer Sepp Krafft who commanded the SS Panzer Grenadier Depot and Reserve Battalion 16 in the vicinity of Wolfheze shortly after the landing of the 1st Airborne Division on 17 September 1944. Jonathan, who authors the blog “Nine Days in September: Despatches from the Market Garden Battlefields” is also a battlefield tour guide and presents an account of the ambush that includes his own photographs from visits to the site of the action. Check out his blog and other posts for some interesting insights into this famous battle.

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1st Airborne Recce Squadron jeep as used during Market Garden in September 1944.

 

Operation Market Garden: The Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’

For visitors exploring the battlefields related to Operation Market Garden, the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ in Oosterbeek serves as a rallying point and provides a focus for much of the activity surrounding the annual anniversary commemorations of the battle for Arnhem. The museum is housed in what was formally the Hotel Hartenstein, which served as the Headquarters for Major General Roy Urquhart, commander of the 1st Airborne Division during this famous battle in September 1944.

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Airborne dispatch rider re-enactor and his BSA M20 motorcycle at the commemoration event held on the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ grounds each September.  Photo: Julian Tennant

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German sign restricting access to Arnhem after the battle. It translates as “It is forbidden to enter Arnhem on pain of death” Photo: Julian Tennant

Operation Market Garden was launched in an attempt to capture a number of bridgeheads that would allow the Allies to bypass the Siegfried line and cross the Rhine, entering the German industrial base of the Ruhr pocket. Allied Airborne troops were dropped in the Netherlands to secure key towns and bridges along the axis of advance. The British 1st Airborne Division was tasked with seizing the most distant bridges at Arnhem and hold them for two to three days whilst awaiting the arrival of the British XXX Corps who were advancing up the corridor created by the Airborne operation.

Although Initially taken surprise by the landing of the 1st Airborne Division at Wolfheze and north of Heelsum the German forces quickly moved to regain the initiative. Allied intelligence had not accounted for the presence of the 9th SS Panzer Division in the area around Arnhem. This combined with poor communications and the distance of the landing zones from their objectives undermined British attempts to seize the bridges. Only the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment under the command of Lt-Col John Frost managed to reach the northern side of Arnhem bridge, which they held for four days.

The bulk of the British forces became trapped in Oosterbeek, fighting a brutal defensive action until the 25th of September when their situation became untenable and a retreat, code-named Operation Berlin began in an attempt to evacuate the remaining airborne troops to the South side of the Rhine. British engineers assisted in evacuating 2200 men across the river but on the morning of the 26th September, the operation was halted leaving 300 troops behind. In the nine days of Market Garden, combined Allied losses amounted to more than 17.000. The British 1st Airborne Division was almost completely destroyed and of the 10,000 men committed to the operation, casualties numbered 7,578 dead, wounded or missing.

Hartenstein, which was built as a villa in 1865 before becoming a hotel in 1942 was commandeered as the 1st Airborne Division’s headquarters during Operation Market Garden and badly damaged during the fighting. It was subsequently restored and once again used as a hotel before being purchased as the site for the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ which was officially opened by Major General Roy Urquhart in 1978.

In 2008 it was temporarily closed for an extensive renovation and expansion program which included a basement displaying the ‘Airborne Experience’, a series of dioramas which takes the visitor through the battle from the perspective of a British soldier. After being briefed on the mission you enter an Airspeed AS.51 Horsa Glider replica being battered by flak before exiting into the dimly lit streets of Arnhem as the battle rages around you. You then wander through a juxtaposition of life-size dioramas combined with period visual footage and an audio soundscape, approaching Arnhem bridge before retreating back to the perimeter around the Hotel Hartenstein and finally the Rhine River.

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British 6 pounder anti-tank gun on display as part of the ‘Airborne Experience’ at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant

In addition to the ‘Airborne Experience’, the museum also features dioramas representing how the Hotel Hartenstein was used during the operation. One shows the medical post that was situated in the basement and the other shows the headquarters of Roy Urquhart. It also features several other exhibits and displays reflecting the experience of the battle from Dutch and German perspectives as well as a large collection of medals that have been donated to the museum by deceased veterans. The current displays reflect the current trend in exhibition design and many of the items that I saw at the museum during my first visit in 1991 are unfortunately no longer on display. This includes some of the uniforms and insignia that I was particularly interested in examining once again. In this respect, the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ is quite different to the Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45, which maintains an old-style approach to exhibit presentation and should also definitely be on your itinerary. In addition to the permanent collection, the museum also exhibits temporary displays related to the conflict and the grounds surrounding the building feature artillery pieces, a Sherman tank and memorials commemorating the battle.

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An old photo that I took when visiting the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ in 1991. Uniforms and insignia of the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade. Unfortunately this display has been removed to make way for the current exhibits. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Airborne Museum Hartenstein

A piece of wallpaper from the house at 34 Pietersbergsweg in Oosterbeek which was used by Tony Crane and Fred Hocking from the  21st Independent Parachute Company to keep track of how many Germans they had taken out. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Airborne Museum also has an annex, Airborne at the Bridge, on the banks of the Rhine, opposite the John Frost Bridge. This annex tells the story of the battle fought by John Frost’s 2nd Parachute Battalion at the bridge from three perspectives, British Lieutenant John Grayburn, German Hauptsturmführer Viktor Eberhard Gräbner and Dutch Captain Jacob Groenewoud. Unlike the Airborne Museum Hartenstein, entry to Airborne at the Bridge is free and if you don’t have a MuseumKaart (see below), you can buy a discounted ticket to the Airborne Museum Hartenstein when visiting.

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The Airborne Museum Hartenstein annex ‘Airborne at the Bridge’

Arnhem Airborne beer

Airborne Beer! This is a special brew first made for the 55th anniversary in 1999 and produced annually ever since. It is sold at the museum shop and other locations around Arnhem. Airborne Beer is brewed in Bolsward at De Friese Bierbrouwerij Us Heit, a small family-company, which produces eight different specialty beers. Proceeds from the beer sales go to “The Lest We Forget Foundation” which supports British and Polish Arnhem 1944 veterans and their relatives. Photo: Julian Tennant

Airborne Museum Hartenstein                                                                                                        Utrechtseweg 232
6862 AZ Oosterbeek
Telephone: 026 333 77 10
Email: info@airbornemuseum.nl

https://www.airbornemuseum.nl/

Opening hours
Open daily from 10:00 – 17:00
Closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

2019 Ticket Prices for up to 20 people                                                                                            Adults                                           € 11                                                                                                      Student Card                                € 9                                                                                                      Teenagers aged 13 – 17              € 6.50                                                                                                  Children                                        €5                                                                                                        Veteran Card                                €6.50                                                                                                   MuseumKaart (Museum Card)      Free

Airborne at the Bridge                                                                                                                  Rijnkade 150
6811 HD Arnhem
T: 026 333 77 10
E: info@airbornemuseum.nl

https://www.airbornemuseum.nl/en/airborne-at-the-bridge

Opening hours
Open daily from 10:00 – 17:00                                                                                                           Closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

About the MuseumKaart option

The MuseumKaart is a Dutch annual pass scheme which gives the holder unlimited free entry into over 400 museums in the Netherlands. It  costs €54.95 (excluding  €4.95 administration fee) for adults and €32.45 for teenagers up to 18 years of age.

Previously buying a MuseumKaart was a great deal as it included a number of military-interest museums around the Netherlands, including the Airborne Museum, National Military Museum at Soesterberg, Oorlogsmuseum Overloon, Verzetsmuseum (Dutch Resistance Museum), Rijksmuseum, Scheepvaartmuseum (Maritime Museum), National Holocaust Museum and Anne Frank House in Amsterdam to name a handful. If you were travelling around the Netherlands and dropping into the museums it was a ‘must have’ but unfortunately since 2018 the full unlimited year-long entry is now limited to Dutch residents and (for the same price) tourists receive a card that expires after only 5 museum visits or 31 days.  However it can still be a worthwhile savings option depending on your plans.

The MuseumKaart website is in Dutch language only and online purchase is only to Dutch residents. However, you can buy the temporary (tijdelijk) MuseumKaart over-the-counter at some of the museums, including at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein.

Recommended Text

If you are looking for a great guide to refer to when visiting Arnhem and the battlefields associated with Operation Market Garden, I recommend you get a copy of Major & Mrs Holt’s Battlefield Guide to Operation Market- Garden. Third Edition (published 2013)  which is available as a hard copy book or e-book (Kindle or ePub) and also their map, Major & Mrs. Holt’s Battle Map of Market-Garden. I found these to be extremely useful, providing pieces of information about aspects of the battle that I was unaware of, allowing me to plan and make the most of my time spent in the area. Highly recommended.

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A scene from the classic 1977 war movie about the battle, ‘A Bridge Too Far’. This image is often incorrectly described as an actual war photograph. The photo depicts a British officer (in real life, Major Allison Digby Tatham-Warter DSO, officer commanding A Company of 2 Para) waving his umbrella a Germans on the bridge. Whilst the picture is a still photograph from the movie and not actually of the battle, I think it sums up the character of the British troops at Arnhem. As an aside ‘Digby’ as he was know, also disabled a German armoured car during the operation by poking his umbrella through an observational slit, blinding the driver.

The Long Tan Memorial cross

11:00 hrs, 18 August 1966. Nui Dat, South Vietnam.

Delta Company from the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (D Coy, 6RAR), comprising 105 Australian infantrymen and 3 New Zealand Forward Artillery Observation party gunners from 161 Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery step off from the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) base at Nui Dat to commence Operation VENDETTA. Each soldier is carrying 3 x 20 round magazines and another 60 rounds in boxes in their packs. Each M60 machine gun team carries 5 x 100 round belts and another 5 x 100 round belts in their packs.

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Soldiers of the 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR), push through dense scrub country in search of retreating Viet Cong. This photograph was taken the day after the battle. CUN/66/0693/VN

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Aerial view of the Long Tan rubber plantation on 18 August 1966.

The company-sized patrol, under the command of Major Harry Smith, is part of a response to a mortar and recoilless rifle (RCL) attack on the 1 ATF base in the early hours of the previous morning. D Coy is tasked to relieve B Coy, 6RAR, who had just discovered a dug in position for about 20 men plus signs of a 75ml RCL that had fired at the base. For most of the company this was just another patrol, nothing special apart from missing out on a concert being held at the base by Little Patti and Col Joyce that evening.

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Long Tan Action, Vietnam, 18 August 1966. Bruce Fletcher, 1970. [Oil on canvas 152 x 175cm. AWM ART40758]

Just before 16:00hrs in the rubber plantation at Long Tan they made contact with the enemy. For the next three and a half hours, in an area no larger than two football fields and in a blinding monsoon thunderstorm, the men of D Coy fought off an enemy force that outnumbered them 26 to 1. By the end of the battle, 16 members of D Coy lay dead and 23 were wounded. Two more (one from D Coy and one Armoured Corps soldier from the relieving force carried aboard 3tp 1 APC Squadron) would die from their wounds. Four other Aussies from the relieving force, three from A Coy, and one from B Coy were wounded.

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The Fallen: 19 August 1966. The body of 11 Platoon Commander Second Lieutenant Gordon Sharp on the battlefield of Long Tan. In the background is the body of another unidentified Australian soldier from 11 Platoon, 6RAR.

Of the 2650+ NVA regulars and Viet Cong guerrillas who were on the battlefield 245 bodies were counted on the battlefield and 3 were captured. However during Operation MARSDEN in late 1969, Australian forces captured a Viet Cong dispensary that had a casualty list attributed to the battle at Long Tan. That list identified 878 as KIA/Missing/Died of Wounds and approximately 1500 wounded in action. It was a significant defeat for the NVA and VC forces whose stated aim was to lure an Australian battalion out of the task force base to destroy them, then attack the base at Nui Dat itself. Instead, the battle severely weakened the enemy in Phuoc Tuy province and they never again posed a serious threat to the Nui Dat base.

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The Presidential Unit Citation awarded by US President Lyndon B Johnson to D Company 6 RAR for heroism at the battle of Long Tan.

In May 1968, US President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded D Coy, 6RAR the Presidential Unit Citation (Army) “For Extraordinary Heroism”. This prompted plans by 6RAR BHQ to build a memorial in Vietnam during their second tour of Vietnam, which commenced in May 1969. The cross was built in the battalion lines at Nui Dat out of concrete by pioneers from 6RAR-NZ Anzac Battalion’s Assault Pioneer Platoon and was overseen by Sgt Allan McLean. It was suspended under a RAAF UH1H helicopter and flown to the site of the battle in the Long Tan rubber plantation, where it was erected and dedicated in memory of the fallen by 6 RAR-NZ Anzac Battalion on the 18th of August 1969, the third anniversary of the battle. In 1987, Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke also announced that the 18th of August, Long Tan day, would also be known as Vietnam Veterans Day.  The site at Long Tan remains one of only two foreign war memorials permitted in Vietnam, the other being French at Dien Bien Phu.

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Pipers from the 6 RAR-NZ Anzac Battalion band surround the Memorial Cross and play a lament for the dead of Long Tan during it’s dedication on the 18th of August 1969. Picture: Christopher Bellis

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Close up of the plaque on the cross, which reads “In Memory of those members of D Coy 6 RAR and 3 Tp 1 APC Sqn who gave their lives near this spot during the Battle of Long Tan on 18th August 1966. Erected by 6 RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Bn 18 Aug 69”. Photograph by Jay Cronan/The Canberra Times.

Sometime after the war the cross was removed, reportedly by a Catholic farmer for his father’s grave and a replica was constructed by the local population at Xa Long Tan and placed on the site. The original cross was subsequently found by an Australian researcher and placed on display at the Dong Nai museum (Nguyen Ai Quoc Street [Dong Nai Province Square] Tan Phong Ward , Bien Hoa City, Dong Nai Province, Vietnam). The replica cross remains on the battlefield site and special permission must be sought to visit the memorial.

Battlefield memorial at Long Tan, 1998.

The battlefield and memorial, featuring the replica cross, when I visited Long Tan in 1998. Photo: Julian Tennant

In July 2012, the cross was sent to Australia, on loan to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. It was put on public display on the 17th of August and will remain in Australia until April 2013 before being returned to Vietnam. For many veterans of the battle it will be the first time they have seen the original cross as they never returned to Vietnam after their tour ended in June 1967.

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Vietnam vets examine the cross at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, prior to it going on public display in August 2012. Photograph by Jay Cronan/The Canberra Times.

 

Accounts of the Battle of Long Tan

There are numerous excellent on-line accounts of the battle of Long Tan. If you would like to do further reading, I recommend checking out the OC of D Coy, 6 RAR,  Harry Smith’s page, Bob Buick, who was the platoon sergeant of 11 Platoon at the battle, Terry Burstall’s (who was a private in D Coy during the battle) research into the enemy’s perspective, with further information being found at the Australian Government’s official  Vietnam War page and the 6 RAR Association website. An ABC regional radio interview with Albany farmer and Long Tan veteran, Harley Webb is also worth listening to for a personal account of the battle.

In August 2006, on the 40th anniversary of the battle, Martin Walsh of Red Dune Films, in conjunction with FOXTEL premiered this excellent documentary of the battle. Narrated by Sam Worthington and running for an hour and forty one minutes it provides an excellent account of the battle through the experiences of the participants. It is definitely worth taking the time to check it out.