North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany and Holland
Part 2: TOLKAMER to ARNHEM.
From Tolkamer we continued our ride to Arnhem following the Rhine. Along the waterfront were a number of flagpoles displaying flags of Holland, Belgium, France and Germany. Hopefully there will never be a repeat of WW1 or WW2 while these flags fly together.
It was easy riding along the bike path. Because it was heavily overcast and cold I decided I would have to buy a heavier jumper and a pair of shoes when we arrived in Arnhem. Sandals and a light sweater don’t cut it when riding in cold temperatures! At Looveer we crossed the Rhine by ferry. There is something nostalgic about ferry crossings, they take me back to my younger days when travelling with my parents along the north coast of NSW. There were fewer bridges in those days and the big rivers were crossed by ferry.
On the west bank of the Rhine we discovered a memorial plaque that detailed the victims of a World War 2 German bombing. Looking at the ages it was certainly tragic for some local families.
THE CITY OF ARNHEM and the story of OPERATION MARKET GARDEN.
Because the D-day invasion at Normandy in June 1944 was a success, the commanders of forces from Britain and the United States were intent on securing Berlin before the Russians took occupation of the city. In their haste it was decided to go around the northern end of the Siegfried Line. This action was understandable as the only other alternative would have meant a full frontal against the Siegfried Line.
The Siegfried Line was a continuous line of pillboxes, bunkers and concrete tank traps built by the Germans between 1938 and 1940 and it ran from near the border of Holland and south to Switzerland. Large parts of it ran parallel to the French Maginot Line of defences, a fortified defence line built by the French in 1940.
Tank traps or ‘dragon’s teeth’ were reinforced truncated pyramids set into foundations and were very difficult for tanks to push through. The following drawing from the Reddit web site shows how tank traps and other tank deterrent devices work.
It is amazing how ingenious man can be when it comes to designing methods of waging war. Imagine the resources and manpower required to create some of these devices. Over 500 000 men (including slave labour) worked on the Siegfried Line and over eight million tonnes of concrete and one million tonnes of steel were used in building this barrier. The following photograph shows an example of a tank trap illustrated in the above drawing.
Going around the end of the Siegfried Line necessitated the Allies advancing through Belgium and Holland and crossing the Rhine into Germany. It was hoped this action would bring to end the war in Europe by Christmas 1944. The operation was called Market Garden and was divided into two sub-operations. ‘Market’ was an airborne assault to seize key bridges and ‘Garden’ involved ground troops crossing the bridges and creating a bulge in the German defences. The airborne attack was the largest aerial operation up to that point in WW2.
Operation Market Garden commenced in September 1944. An armada of over 4000 aircraft, 2500 gliders carrying 30 000 paratroopers along with about 5000 tonnes of equipment were dropped approximately 65 kilometres south of Arnhem with the objective of capturing the bridges across Dutch waterways to as far north as Arnhem. The daring plan did not materialize, although one group under the command of Major-General John Frost managed to reach the southern abutments of the Arnhem bridge. My reading suggested that during the John Frost attempt a German munitions store located nearby was accidentally ignited and a portion of the bridge was damaged and fell into the Rhine.
There had been a floating bridge at Arnhem since the 17th century. A permanent link was built in the early 20th century but it was destroyed by the Dutch in 1940 to slow the German advance into Holland during the early stages of WW2. The bridge was repaired by the Germans and finished in August 1944 and although the bridge basically survived the John Frost event it was bombed and destroyed by US Army bombers in October 1944 to prevent the Germans from using it to send reinforcements south of the river.
Paratroopers were delivered to the jump site by DC3 transport aircraft but gliders were used extensively as well. Gliders with airborne troops and equipment had to be towed 500 kilometres from bases in England to landing zones 100 kilometres behind enemy lines from where their assault commenced.
Engineless aircraft such as the glider were made from wood, steel tubing and fabric and they were towed to their target by transport planes. Once released from the tow aircraft they landed on any convenient open field, hopefully with as little damage to the crew, troops and cargo as possible. An advantage of gliders, even though they could not soar, was troops and equipment could be concentrated in one place and additional thing in their favour was their silence once detached from the tow aircraft.
Landing by parachute meant troops were spread over a large drop-zone. In more modern times helicopters have replaced the glider and paratroopers, and the advantage of helicopters is they are able to retrieve troops from a battle zone.
The surprise of the airborne invasion worked on the German defenders but still the forward movement of the Allies did not proceed as planned and even though most bridges were captured some were not, including the Arnhem Bridge.
Why was the bridge considered too far? The phrase was coined by General Browning when assessing the reasons for the failure of Operation Market Garden. German tanks had blocked the access roads to Arnhem so no supplies and reinforcements could reach the British group defending the bridge. Also the failure was exacerbated by foggy weather conditions in England meaning support aircraft could not deliver backup supplies.
Overall, Operation Market Garden cost the Allies between 15 000 and 17 000 killed, captured or wounded. Although the operation was a costly failure, much of the Netherlands was liberated from Nazi hands and it established a foothold from which the Allies could make further offensives. The Allies comprised personnel from USA, Britain, Canada, Poland and Holland.
Major-General John Dutton Frost commanded the British forces that reached and defended the bridge during the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944.
For a full account of the battle for the Arnhem Bridge might I suggest you read Antony Beevor’s book, The Battle for the Bridges, 1944. ISBN 978-0-670-91867-6. The book by Beevor is comprehensive and was a Sunday Times bestseller.
Our accommodation arrangement while in Arnhem was with Couchsurfer Zischa. Of course she rode a bike to collect us from the station, even though we didn’t arrive by train. Whilst waiting we chatted with a couple of locals about our ride so far. I think what attracted them to us were our fully loaded bikes; we were obviously on a mission.
The image above is a drawing of the Arnhem railway station in 1872. Today the station is ultra-modern, nothing at all like the original version.
The station is referred to as a ‘twist and trumpet’ design and was purposefully designed without vertical columns.
The shop behind us is a café specialising in seafoods. It wasn’t open the day we visited and I was told the two owners had gone fishing to stock their shop.
The brothers specialise in Hollandse Nieuwe (soured herrings lightly brined and raw), herring sandwiches, smoked catfish fillets, oven-baked clams and shucked oysters.
A classic building in Arnhem is the beautiful neo-Gothic brick building once used as a post office.
There is a whole web page devoted to arches over porticos. The one above is not included but it should be. The portico is a classic example of the bricklayer’s art. Many of the bricks would have been specially made for the job.
Decorative brickwork was developed to a high degree in Holland, in fact the Dutch have an obsession with decorative brickwork buildings. The Postkantoor was erected around the turn of the 20th century. In 2009 the building was converted to a book shop and café. Post offices in the Netherlands are now located inside shops or supermarkets.
Following our meeting with Arnhem residents Jack and Christina a few days before at Emmerich, we took up their offer of showing us around Arnhem. On mentioning that I needed to find an op shop to buy a warm jumper Christina offered me one of Jack’s, which I gratefully accepted.
On our list for sightseeing in Arnhem were the Battle for Arnhem cemetery, the Airborne Museum and, of course, the ‘bridge too far’.
The Arnhem War Cemetery is the resting place of 1700 servicemen of the Commonwealth and Polish armies killed during the battle of Arnhem. Those killed were buried where they fell by their comrades, by local civilians or even by enemy soldiers. The Arnhem Cemetery was established after the liberation of Arnhem in 1945 and many of the soldiers killed and buried in remote and isolated graves were brought here.
Urquhart was awarded the Dutch Bronze Lion for his command of the 1st Airborne Division. During nine days of heavy fighting the division lost over three quarters of its strength and was shattered as a fighting force. As part of these writings I read Urquhart’s biography and after reading same I warmed to the man and I can’t help but stand in awe of men like him who participated in ridding Europe of a terrible scourge.
Many parkland displays are out of bounds for children but in the case of this Sherman tank children are encouraged to climb on it and explore.
The Sherman tank was the most commonly used American tank in WW2. Almost 50 000 were produced between 1942 and 1945. One feature of the tank was a gyrostabiliser which meant that when the tank stopped to fire, the cannon was pointing roughly in the right direction. The Sherman had superior armour and armament and outclassed the German light and medium tanks in the field in 1939-1942. Of the almost 50 000 tanks produced, four remain in storage, with another used as a gate guard and one still remains in service as part of Paraguay’s Presidential Escort Regiment.
Jack and Christina took us to morning tea and lunch and even though we insisted we pay for both they wouldn’t have it. The hospitality extended to us by these two washes away all the untimely things that happen to us travellers. It makes me think about the anonymous quote, ‘There are no strangers in this world, only friends we have not met’.
As mentioned previously, Holland is ‘bikeland’ and there are a variety of bikes on the streets, for example, the Dutch Cargo bike.
The Urban Arrow Family Bike with electric assist transports children with ease through the urban jungle quickly and safely. It has a lightweight aluminium frame, is manoeuvrable and, from what I have read, is a delight to ride. Hopefully it will be the way of the future.
The end of this post is here. Bev and I hope you have enjoyed sharing our travels. If you wish to make a comment please do so and I will reply. The next post takes us to the Dutch towns of Den Bosch and Maastricht.