maandag 17 september 2012

Bange Septemberdagen 1944 (9c) : Duitse getuigenissen

Weinig info in het Kriegstagebuch….

Veel over britse luchtaanvallen, maar weinig of niets over aanval van britse tanks vanuit Joe’s Bridge.

14.00 Uhr:
Anruf Oberstleutnant Schuster Ia/Kampfgruppe Chill, dass um 13.40 Uhr 40 Grossraumtransporter den Raum
überflogen hätten Richtung Eindhoven. 1 Maschine wurde abgeschossen.
19.25 Uhr:
Anruf Ordz. Off.- O.B.
1.) 1.)    101 amerk. Luftld. – Div. hat den Auftrag, die Übergänge bei Son – St. Oedenrode und Veghtel in Besitz zu
nehmen und für die vorstossenden engl. Heerestruppen (Garde – Pz. – Div., 50 I.D. und 43 I.D.) offen zu halten.
Die Letzteren Stossen auf Eindhoven  vor.
2.) 2.)    Maas – Schelde – Kanal ist unbedingt zu halten.
3.) 3.)     Kampfgruppe Walther hat hierzu den entscheidenden Auftrag, den Stoss des Gegners in den jetzigen Stellungen abzuwehren und damit eine Verbindung  der feindl. Luftlandetruppen mit den Erdtruppen zu verhindern.

De reden voor zo weinig info in het Kriegstagebuch is waarschijnlijk terug te brengen tot het in paniek terugtrekken van de Duitse troepen.

Dan maar op zoek naar een andere bron

Die vinden we in hoofdstuk 7 van het door Robert Kershaw in 2009 geschreven boek It Never Snows in September: The German View of Market-Garden and the Battle of Arnhem September 1944, 2009 (

CHAPTER VII   :  Smashing through the Crust

The regiment . . . sought in vain to re-establish contact with German units in the north towards Eindhoven and in the west - hut there was only a wide gap there.
Lieutenant-Colonel von der Heydte, 17 Sep 44

The KampfgruppeWalther is split in two . . .
In the Neerpelt bridgehead there was wide-ranging comment among the Germantroops about overflying bomber and transport aircraft. They were uneasy. The fightercoverage had been so extensive that planes would peel off just to engage singledespatch riders. Nothing was able to move.Lieutenant Heinz Volz, adjutant of the 1stFallschirmjäger Battalion of the Regiment von Hoffmann, described the maelstrom of fire that then unexpectedly descended:'The front, which had been relatively quiet from about midday, suddenly erupted into a hell, as at 1400 anunearthly crescendo of artillery firefell on the ring enclosing thebridgehead. For an hour the soilshook time and time again as thedefenders were ground down. CaptainBrockes was killed by a direct hit froma mortar round on his command post,in a house on the Valkenswaard road. A shell fragment from abovepenetrated his skull.'

At the same time the Kampfgruppe Waltherobserved the arrival of strong twin-enginedbomber formations which laid a bombing carpet down the Valkenswaard road. Aragged stream of bomb bursts, punctuatedby larger calibre explosions, darted rapidly across the positions of the 1st and 3rdBattalions of the Regiment von Hoffmann,and over the village of Borkel where theanti-tank destroyers were hidden. Every single anti-tank gun commanded by themortally wounded Brockes was knockedout in the initial barrage without firing ashot. Lack of gun tractors had meant thateach gun, because it had to be manhandled,had been sited in a vulnerable position. Theinfantry anti-tank ambush, established as areserve by the newly-relocated defence platoon, and Major Kerutt's other companies,escaped relatively lightly. Enemy batteriesconcentrated upon known positions. An SSlight battery located rearwards of the Fallschirmjaeger positions was straddled timeafter time and heavily damaged.One hour later, Volz recalls, at 1500, thearmoured attack began. Attempting to link with the Allied paratroopers who had flownover earlier, armoured vehicles advanceddown the road in closely echeloned columns. Lead tanks, tracks squealing, enginesracing through rapid gear changes, nosedthrough the devastation wrought by thesupporting fire, spewing clouds of blue-grey exhaust in the air. Shell holes stillseeped acrid cordite smoke, as they passedthe mutilated remains of Brocke's crewsstrewn around wrecked guns.

Lack of gun tractors had meant that each gun, because it had to be manhandled, had been sited in a vulnerable position.
(Imperial War Museum)

The tanks drove on, steadily gaining momentum,unopposed, down the Valkenswaard roadtoward Eindhoven. Ahead lay the surviving elements of the Regiment von Hoffmann.Major Kerutt, the 1st Battalion Commander, had by chance been visiting FirstFallschirmjäger Army headquarters andhad been prevented by the air and artillery activity from rejoining his unit. He was notto reach his command post until the middleof the afternoon, just as the first tank attack started. The Fallschirmjäger, crouching in foxholes by the roadside, falsely believed they were up against Canadians. However, itmade little difference as the leading tanksblundered into the first infantry tank ambushes. According to Lieutenant Volz:'A large number were knocked out by panzerfausts [bazookas], firing fromfive to ten metres away. For the firsttime we were able to impose a decisiveblock, because the terrain left andright of the road was not suitable fortanks, being sandy and boggy, andprobably also thought to be mined. Itis certain that a large number of German soldiers were killed here, butunfortunately I do not know theirnames. Many of our comrades laterdeclared missing also probably disappeared here. The fighting wasextremely bitter, and a fox holesheltering a wounded man can easily be collapsed by a waltzing tank.'80

There was wide-ranging comment among the German troops about overflying bomber and transport aircraft. It made them feel uneasy. Allied reinforcements as seen from the German front line.

The Fallschirmjäger had struck the rear of the leading squadron of the Irish Guardsgroup and the head of the second one. There was an instantaneous and devastating response. Tank machine guns sprayed theedges of woods and ditches with fire. Typhoon fighter-bomber aircraft weredirected on to identified targets.Even so, German survivors from the tank ambush turned up later at Kerutt's headquarters escorting the British tank crews which had baled out. Lieutenant Schulz'scompany, relocated when the air activity started, ambushed more British tanksfurther down the road. Eight tanks and twoarmoured cars were now fiercely-burning wrecks. Enemy progress was monitored, with columns reported reaching the areajust south of Valkenswaard. Although abreakthrough had been achieved, Volzrecalls 'the situation was gloomy but not yethopeless'. Skirmishing continued throughout the night, with forays mounted by smallgroups of Fallschirmjäger harassing columns lined up on the road to Valkenswaard.Flashes followed by detonations, shouts andheavy automatic fire punctuated the night, with an eerie glow here and there indicating success. A few kilometres away, Lieutenant-Colonel von der Heydte, commanding Fallschirmjäger Regiment 6, was seething.His unit was holding the western wing of the curve in the Neerpelt salient.

Boven: Major Kerutt was prevented by the air and artillery activity from rejoining his unit. An air sentry perched on the bonnet of a staff car anxiously scans the skies. (Bundesarchiv)
Onder: The leading tanks blundered into the first infantry tank ambushes.Here Fallschirmjäger disable a British armoured car.

Boven: Lieutenant Volz: 'For the first time we were able to impose a decisive block . . . ' The damaged vehicles are checked for booty.
Onder: '. . . the terrain left and right of the road was not suitable for tanks,being sandy and boggy, and probably also thought to be mined.'

 Onder:Disabled tanks were pushed to the side of the road. The dead tank commander of'53' is hastily covered with a greatcoat.
(Imperial War Museum)

 BovenSkirmishing continued throughout the night. A British Cromwell tankdisabled, with the dead commander sprawled limply across the turret.(Imperial War Museum)

 He had anticipated an armoured breakthrough atthis point all along. Bemoaning the Kampfgruppe Walther's lack of adequate signalsequipment, and a non-existent logisticssupport organisation, he had complained toMajor Schacht, the battle group's Chief of Staff, the day before:'Instead of selecting the majorhighway to Valkenswaard as the maindefence effort, it was designated as aboundary between units.Consequently nobody really wantedto feel responsible for this road.' Which was precisely the main avenue of approach to Nijmegen and eventually Arnhem. Instead of co-ordinating responsibility through one agency, 'there were fourindependent commanders there who belonged to three different services of thearmed forces'.

Von der Heydte's damning condemnation was that if the situation didnot change, 'the British armoured break-through simply had to succeed'. Nevertheless, some depth and cohesion to thedefence of the road had been achieved by juggling the relocation of Kerutt's 1st Battalion on 16 September. Adding to von der Heydte's frustration was the total failure of communications with the Kampfgruppe Walther once theaction started. Messengers reported that thecommand post had moved and wasnowhere to be found. FallschirmjägerRegiment 6 was obliged to swing its left wing back to a forest 100 metres from theroad after the British armour had brokenthrough. It held its positions in the face of light probing attacks 'and sought in vain tore-establish contact with German units inthe north towards Eindhoven and in the west - but there was only a wide gap there'. The crisis was deepening.

On the other side of the salient, the SSKampfgruppe 'Richter' witnessed 'theover-rolling' of the defence force on theroad with dismay. The Fallschirmjägerforces attached to them belonging to von Erdmann were also overwhelmed. Thispresented SS-Captain Richter with adilemma. Should he attack the flank of thearmoured vanguard that had brokenthrough with his scant anti-tank resources,or retire eastwards to avoid being cut off by armoured spearheads already spotted bearing down on Hamont? Orders werereceived in any case to pull back a furtherbound eastwards to Budel. The mouth of the breakthrough point was enlarging.Streaming back through the woods, the SS-troopers were further depressed by thesight of even more heavy aircraft formations flying over towards Eindhoven.Richter's Kampfgruppe reached Budel inthe late afternoon. 1st and 2nd Companiessecured the village entry points, and 3rdCompany, little more than a platoon strong,established itself as a reserve jointly located with the command post in the centre of the village. Having been denied rest for 38hours, observing the steady build-up of Allied strength in the bridgehead, andexhausted and dismayed by their suddenretreat, all ranks snatched what rest they could. This lasted well beyond midnight,until suddenly, at 0430, four English tanksaccompanied by infantry roared into thecentre of the village, having slipped past thedozing security outposts. Fifteen othertanks bypassed the perimeter and took uppositions on either side of the village. Tanksstood between the outlying companies andthe command post and reserve. They weretrapped. Machine guns and main tank armaments covered all the exit routes. There appeared to be no route out. SS-Lieutenant Heinz Damaske, Richter'sadjutant, described the ensuing rout:'Enemy night raids in such strengthhad until now been the exceptionrather than the rule. After the initialpanic caused by the tank-shock "Willy's" desire to survive quickly surfaced. The commander and hisadjutant as well as the signallersdemonstrated by example how todestroy four Sherman tanks in closecombat. The battalion was then able,albeit with heavy losses, to fleebetween and through houses, over walls and through hedges and gardenseastwards clear of Budel. This withdrawal in contact, which had tobe conducted without anti-tank cover,lasted until 0930 the following day'. Three kilometres east of Budel the survivorscollected. Only 86 of the original 150 entering the village managed to get away. It was a disaster. Chastened by their experience,the remnants of the Kampfgruppe formedup and retired in good order to Weert.

Onder: Self-propelled guns supported by infantry would suddenly emerge and snipe at the Allied spearheads on the

road. (Bundesarchiv)
Boven: By 1700 the British tank column had penetrated just south of Valkenswaard, here passing one of their number knocked out at the roadside. (Imperial War Museum)

By 1700 the British tank column hadpenetrated just south of Valkenswaard. Theproximity of artillery fire indicated the extentof the advance to German observers. SS-Captain Roestel's assault guns, reduced to 8Panzerjäger IV, were still able occasionally,supported by infantry, suddenly to emergeand snipe at the armoured spearheadstrundling down the road. Dense vegetationon either side of the road made it difficultfor the British to take evasive action, as didditches, boggy ground and, in places, steepembankments. The height of the trees effectively screened accurate observation forartillery shoots by both sides. Glutinoussandy soil made the off-road going difficultfor all types of vehicle. 88-mm flak guns with no tractors fell easy prey to Britishtanks once they had compromised themselves firing from ambush. Unable to move,their crews were cut down by probing tank machine gun fire and the guns destroyed.

Losing control. . .
First Fallschirmjäger Army headquartersslowly became aware of the gravity of the situation. Contact with von der Heydte was lost. Kampfgruppe Walther, informedabout the magnitude of the airlandings totheir rear, were told they could not expectany substantial reinforcement the next day.In the meantime they were ordered toorganise a new line of resistance. Fortunately and 'incomprehensibly, the enemy remained relatively quiet south of Valkenswaard during the night of 17-18 September,restricting himself to patrolling'. Attempts were made to salvage something from thedebacle. 'Contact with the DivisionErdmann (on the left flank) was to bemaintained at all costs.' Von der Heydte re-emerged and established contact with theKampfgruppe Chill, attempting to adjustand push his positions westward on his sideof the breakthrough point. Chill took himunder command on 18 September.

Meanwhile, the initial focus of the enemy thrusthad been recognised. Colonel von Hoffmann had already been charged with thedefence of Eindhoven. This he proceedednow to organise using localin situ forces. The nature of the fighting in and aroundthe Neerpelt bridgehead alternated betweensavage and chivalrous. One Allied column was ambushed by Kerutt's Fallschirmjägerin the small village of Schaft east of the Valkenswaard road, as it tried to bypass oneof the other German companies defending Borkel nearby. In the ensuing skirmish a wounded English captain was takenprisoner. Later an English ambulance wasallowed to approach the Fallschirmjägerpositions. An exchange was offered, theEnglishman for a lightly wounded Lieutenant, who, it transpired, may have beenfrom von der Heydte's FallschirmjägerRegiment 6. It was accepted. This represented a bargain to the German battalion which had lost so many of its leaders, andnow received a welcome reinforcement.Such chivalrous behaviour was not,however, a feature in the area of the linecontested around Moll in the KampfgruppeChill's sector. Here Major Oswald Finzel's1st Battalion Fallschirmjäger Regiment 2 were being attacked by elements of XIICorps supporting GARDEN. A company messenger in Captain Ortmann's company,H. Sitter, vividly describes the scene as the15th Scottish Infantry Division attackedtheir positions. His disjointed notes sent asa letter to Finzel after the war read like aseries of film clips:'Railway embankment with asignalman's cabin which changedhands several times during the courseof the day. You Finzel, occupied the battalion command post in afarmhouse. Suddenly a strong enemy attack, you were cut off. CaptainOrtmann sent me to you as amessenger. Received machine gun fireen route, dashed for cover in ahedgerow, can't get any further.Range to the machine gun isapproximately 20 metres, am undercontinuous fire. Then a German tank rolls by. I hope that it has got you out. Afterwards I see eight to tenparatroopers walking towards themachine gun nest with their hands up,followed by Tommies or Canadians. A brief halt, the machine gun swingsaround and shoots up all theprisoners. I am powerless, having lostmy machine pistol when I dashed forcover to the hedgerow. It is lying afew metres away. I went to reach for itslowly, suddenly "Hands up!" [inEnglish]. I think that's it. Anothermortar barrage. My captors takecover. I get my machine pistol. Shortbursts of fire, a few enemy less,including the machine gun nest. Ableto report back to Ortmann and alsoreport on the killing of the prisoners.Ortmann informs me that you havemade it back.'

At 0415 on 18 September the Chiefs of Staff of both First Fallschirmjäger Army and Army Group B were engaged in an animatedtelephone conversation. As the operationallog of LXXXVIII Corps records, the comment was passed: 'There is no doubt aboutit, the enemy has broken through.'
Not only was the enemy breaking through, command was losing control. There was contact with the Kampfgruppe Walther and also Heinke, now withdrawing to the eastern side of a corridor gradually taking shape. There was a feeling of helplessness, an inability to cope in the face of suchan overwhelming blow. FallschirmjägerRegiment 6 withdrew on its own initiative,moving westwards until it made contact with 85 Infantry Division on that side of thecorridor. Although the regiment's right wing rested on the Maas-Scheldt canal, itsleft wing 'was still dangling in the air', as vonder Heydte described it, near the Turnhout-Eindhoven road. Remnants of the LuftwaffePenal Battalion and another battalion fromthe Regiment von Hoffmann, separatedfrom the Kampfgruppe Walther, wentaken under command. Von der Heydte was ruthless in dealing with some of theirhapless commanders. It was the final straw officers whom he considered incapable were despatched to the rear and replaced b)those from his own regiment. Von derHeydte later expressed his reaction to thehandling of the crisis, voicing the opinionof his own subordinate commanders.'The enemy airlandings on 17September and the breakthrough by the Guards Armoured Divisionseemed to spread panic among allhigher headquarters up to Army level.Neither Corps nor Army were able toprovide any information at all on thesituation during the first few days; theonly order which was repeated timeand time again by Army headquarters was not to give up one foot of ground. Airlandings were reported to haveoccurred almost everywhere;communications and logisticsappeared to be largely paralysed.'

LXXXVIII Corps Commander spoke toGeneral Chill at 0852 on 18 September andtold him to grip the errant commander of Fallschirmjäger Regiment 6, as the log reveals:'The Regiment von der Heydte is tobe taken firmly in hand. It wasexplicitly remarked that Colonel vonder Heydte was not to be allowed toexercise any initiative when it came to withdrawing.'

Lieutenant-Colonel von der Heydte, the Commander of Fallschirmjäger Regiment 6.

But it was already too late. As this message was being relayed, MajorKerutt managed to form yet another block-ing position along the southern edge of Aalst. All that was left were the survivors of the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the Regimenton Hoffmann, a 20mm anti-aircraft pla-toon, and eleven 75mm anti-tank guns withno tractors. This thin screen was all thatbarred the British from Eindhoven somekm away. SS-Captain Roestel's remaining Panzerjäger IVs were disposed along theflank of the approach from Leende to Valkenswaard south of Aalst. At 1020 theKampfgruppe Chill were informed thatarmoured columns were in front of the village. Around midday the enemy bumpedthe position. Distinctive crack-and-clunksrang out, as armour-piercing shells toreinto the leading armoured cars and Shermans. Clouds of black smoke belched sky ward, indicating the limit of the advance. Taking evasive action, following squadronsof tanks bypassed the blocking position.Kerutt's battalion withdrew, still fighting,but forced over on to the eastern side of thecorridor. Once again, because of the lack of tow vehicles, the anti-tank guns and many of their crews were left behind. The road to Eindhoven was now wideopen. It fell in any case in the late afternoonof 18 September to American airborneforces. By 1900 the first tanks from theGuards Armoured Division drove on to itscobbled streets amidst the cheers of waving civilians. In the northern suburbs of Eindhoven two 88mm guns attempted to block the passage of the 2nd Battalion 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment from 101 Division.Kampfgruppe Koeppel of 18 Flak Brigadetelephoned a running commentary of thelast moments of the city's defence:'Enemy has penetrated into the northof Eindhoven. Street fighting. Furthercontact with unit not now possible;the insertion of infantry reinforcements has been ruled out. Anti-tank group "Grunewald"requests further orders from Army . . . [the telephone message was cut off].'
First Fallschirmjäger Army had now been split in two.

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