Operation Market Garden

by TSgt. Winfield E. (Bing) Wood

This story is from a firsthand account. It is not copyrighted unless noted but we request anyone using this for other than personal use to credit the author and the museum.

Bing was the aerial engineer and crew chief of C-47A, S/N 42-9284, assigned to the 61st Troop Carrier Squadron. This aircraft, named “Turf & Sport Special,” is on display at the museum. One or two minor post-war comments were added by the author.

August 30-31, 44

Came back from my pass in time to get the plane ready for a mission. Will be a British drop this time, so we have our British parabuckets on and the jump mats safetied down inside the plane. We are carrying 18 troopers with their equipment, also five bundles slung onto the belly. My pilot is not happy. He thinks this is going to be a rough deal. I’ll wait for the briefing before I start to get nervous.

September 1, 44

Planes are in takeoff position awaiting loads.

September 2, 44

Planes were loaded this morning. The real sweating out period has started all ready. Pre-mission butterflies are working on all of us. The barracks is a madhouse as usual before a mission. The card game gets tougher and tougher as each crew chief thinks his string of luck is getting closer to running out. The quieter fellows are writing letters and instructing their buddies what to do with their stuff in case they have tough luck.

September 3-4, 44

We have been sacking and sticking to the barracks on the alert. Weather is bad so we can’t go.

September 5-6, 44

The British removed the loads from the planes. The field is still socked in.

September 7, 44

The British are reloading the planes. One of them told me we were going to take off at four o’clock in the morning and make our drop at seven. That means we are going to make a hell of a long trip.

September 8, 44

We flew for an hour to sort of remove some of the kinks.

September 9-10, 44

Standing by. Guess the mission is off as the limeys unloaded the plane.

September 15, 44

Worked all day preparing the plane for a British paradrop. That means installing the parabuckets, jump mats, and British static lines. This must be the tenth time we have gone through the same deal only to have the jump called off at the last minute.

September 16, 44

The British were on the field all night loading the plane. It looks as though we are really going to go this time.

September 17, 44

All of us thought we were going to get an extra hour’s sleep this fine Sunday morning, but we were fooled. We were called early to get ready for the mission. Our stuff had been trucked to the plane yesterday, so we dashed over to chow, then to a briefing. Our faces fell when we learned we were to drop at Arnhem in Holland. That meant a long run over enemy territory in broad daylight. This first run was to touch off a series of drops.

Crew chiefs dashed from the briefing to the planes and gave them a last-minute check. After the check, we gathered together and discussed the mission. None of us were very happy and we took a last look around as though maybe this was the last time we would see a lot of the old gang.

Pilots came out at 10:15 and we took our places in line on the perimeter track. The first squadron was airborne at 11:20 and ours at 11:32. Each element consisted of 36 planes carrying 16 paratroopers and three bundles. The takeoff was smooth and only took us twelve minutes.

We were all plenty nervous because we had been told during the briefing that it would take an hour to fly into the DZ and at least another hour to get out. But they had reassured us a little by telling us that every known anti-aircraft battery had taken a good going over and were still being hammered. They warned us that we must stick to the prearranged route to escape the flak.

It took us about a half-hour to get into formation. Then we lined out on our way. As usual, the countryside around our field was buried under a morning blanket of fog. Near the coast the fog broke so we could see the people going to church. We headed out over the channel and soon picked up our fighter cover. As we came in contact with them, we passed a British glider train.

Just before we reached the Dutch coast, I saw a stream of golden fire flash from the ground, up out of sight into the stratosphere. At the time I thought it was a new means of anti-aircraft, but later learned that we had seen the trail of fire left by a V-2 rocket bomb. That started the cold sweat running down my back, and from my position between the two pilots, could see by the backs of their necks that I wasn’t the only one feeling nervous.

For twenty minutes we flew over flooded countryside. The Germans, to forestall attacks on this part of the coastline, had cut the dikes and flooded the whole countryside. It was a pitiful sight to fly over farms, towns, and even cities and see nothing but a few roofs and upper floors of the buildings sticking out over the water. At a few places, cattle or other livestock could be seen marooned on higher ground. At other high places we could see the remains of anti-aircraft batteries, and I do mean remains. They had been blasted out of existence.

I saw one good example of how thorough our air cover operated. While we were still flying over the inundated countryside, I saw a flak boat put out from a small harbor to maneuver into position so it could take pot shots at the line of troop carrier planes. It no sooner got away from the concealment of the shoreline than things started to happen. A rocket-firing Typhoon swept in at wave-top level and loosened two rockets. The boat blew up with a blinding flash of flame and smoke. I don’t think they even saw the plane that hit it. A pillar of black smoke plumed straight up into the sky, and we were out of sight before it sunk.

About the time we reached dry ground, people were just coming from church. The people in the streets were dressed in their Sunday best. As they saw us serenely sailing along overhead, they went wild. For a short time they were sort of dazed by the sight of hundreds of planes, then they started waving flags, bed sheets, and anything else they could get their hands on. We were flying low enough so we could see the expressions on their faces. Their mouths were open as they screamed and hollered and danced around.

I stood in the open door and watched for evidence of resistance, once in a while leaning out to look ahead. Suddenly a troop carrier plane went winging back to England. It was just skimming the ground. It was soon followed by two more. Both of these were making the tops of the trees shake, they were so low. My heart dropped a foot and my mouth turned so dry I could have spit feathers because this meant the first troop carriers into the DZ had run into plenty trouble. Just when I felt the worst, I happened to look up level with our formation and saw a returning formation coming in perfectly formed echelons. Then I knew that the first planes skimming the ground were the radar planes, and that the perfect formation showed that we were running into no trouble at all. That relieved some of the nervous tension that was building up.

Ten minutes out I had the paratroopers latch up and checked their equipment to be sure everything was okay. Three minutes out, the pilot called back and at the same time gave them the red light. Then he pulled the throttles back till we were almost to stalling speed and leveled the plane off at four hundred feet, speed about ninety-five miles an hour. The DZ was already dotted with multi-colored parachutes and small figures could be seen gathering supplies. The pilot called for me to get ready for the drop. I watched the warning light and tapped the jumpmaster on the back when the light flashed green. He smiled, said “Cheerio,” and went out the door. Each trooper shuffled to the door, stood there for an instant as he hitched his leg bundle into position, cheerio’d, then jumped out of the plane. The troopers all unloaded beautifully. We made a turn and headed out. The radio operator and radar man helped me pull in the static cords. It is a hell of a job to pull them in, even with three men doing the hauling. As we left the DZ, we could see the people from a nearby town rushing out to help the troopers gather their equipment.

Our squadron was fired on by flak, but we never even knew it till we got back to base. The squadron behind us said the flak was going right up through the formation to burst high above. Our squadron escaped without a hit, but other outfits weren’t as lucky.

September 18, 44

The old crew chiefs are not going on this next drop. We loaded the planes for our assistants while they were at the briefing. During takeoff I sat at the end of the runway and watched each plane lift into the air. It is a funny feeling, don’t know whether I felt worse letting my assistant go, or going myself. After working together so long, I’d hate to see anything happen to him. As he taxied away from the area, I told him to bring my plane back in one piece.

We sweated for them all the time they were out. Most of the time we sat in our engineering shack trying to act unconcerned. As time passed, remarks kept coming like: Well, they ought to be out over the channel by now. About now they should be over the Dutch coastline. Now is the Drop Time. Now they are on their way back. At least an hour before they were due back, we were out on the piles of equipment scanning the skies for our first glimpse of the returning planes.

Near the time limit we spotted specks in the sky. They soon became a squadron of troop carrier planes. Other squadrons could be seen flying behind. The first squadron came in okay. We counted the planes and they were all there. As the second group peeled off and went into the landing circle, a couple of planes swooped out of line, fired a couple of red flares, and landed immediately. They had wounded on board. They taxied to the front of the operations building where ambulances immediately unloaded the wounded personnel.

The third squadron approached the field. As they circled the field, we anxiously counted the planes. Two planes missing, no not two, but three. Each crew chief is on his feet with anxiety. Is it his plane that is missing, his closest friends on board, his assistant and his pilots? He’d been working with them for almost two years. I heaved a big sigh of relief as my plane was the second to touch the runway. At least mine was back. Now we were busy trying to find out which ones were missing.

As soon as my plane rolled to a stop in its revetment, I jumped to the door to welcome my assistant. His first word explained the drop. “Rough.” My plane didn’t get a scratch, but the rest of the squadron got pretty well peppered. The colonel’s plane had an eighty-eight hole in the left wing so large a small man could crawl through.

One missing plane had limped back to England, but the other two were seen to crash. One went down in flames, the other was hit by a direct burst of flak and only two parachutes were seen to open before the plane hit the ground.

September 19, 44

A Polish drop was all set up, but at the last minute it was called because of bad weather. Last night I didn’t get into the sack till twelve o’clock because I was out on the line helping the Poles load the plane.

The jumpmaster speaks a little English. He told me they have been training in Scotland and are really anxious to go. Most of them have a burning desire to avenge atrocities committed by both Germans and Russians against their families and friends. It makes no difference to them which one they fight against.

September 20, 44

Socked in all day. We were at the planes all day waiting for the word to take off.

September 21, 44

I don’t like this deal at all.

We finally took off and had to climb to 8,000 feet to break through the fog and clouds. Only nine planes broke through behind us, but we continued on our way to the Continent. Our small group continued on till we received some unintelligible radio messages. Our radio operator had been given the wrong codes for the day. We had reached the enemy-held territory and the weather was still bad, so the pilot wisely turned back. It was a hard decision to make, but I think he did rightly. Those that did go through with their drop had a tough time and got the hell shot out of them.

September 22, 44

Still sweating out the weather. All day long we gathered around the plane waiting for the word to take off. Every bit of activity at the operations building causes a nervous thrill of anticipation to chill us.

September 23-24, 44

The mission is definitely off and passes are open again.

On Sunday, Glenn Miller and his band were at North Witham. It was a wonderful treat. They played for at least an hour.

September 25, 44

Loaded with British equipment due to be carried to Graves, Holland. Can’t go until they send for us.

September 26, 44

We had usual chow today, then preflighted our planes. Soon after we finished preflighting, we were called to a briefing. There we received our instructions on such things as the route to follow, signals to observe, height to fly, and necessity of getting through no matter what happened.

We had to be sure our load was tied down as tightly as possible and fixed so we could get it out of the plane as rapidly as possible. The time element after we got on the ground was going to be very important. We were allowed twenty-five minutes to get the load out of the plane and be ready to take off. Our destination was going to be Graves, Holland. This spot was past the end of the corridor and in German-held territory. The corridor was supposed to be a half-mile wide and ran from Eindhoven through Nijmegen to Arnhem, but the British hadn’t been able to force it all the way to Arnhem, so Graves was situated at the end of the corridor. Our route would take us up this corridor. The group was going to be led by my plane, so we had a navigator and a radar man on board. A colonel from Group was going to fly in place of my regular pilot.

We led the group off at 11:15. This flight was to be different because we were going to fly at tree-top level all the way, even across the channel, so the German radar couldn’t pick us up. When we reached the corridor, we were going to follow the road because we had been told that the only protection we would receive from the ground would be thrown up from tanks that were parked at few-yard intervals all along the road. In the air we could expect the maximum protection as there were going to be plenty of planes all along the route to protect us in case the Luftwaffe tried to get in to knock down our ships.

The first part of the trip was strictly routine flying, but when we started up the corridor, the routine stuff was out the window. We flew over the usual scenes of bombed railroad yards and blown-up bridges which we looked at with interest. Then as we got up into the corridor, we could see patches of smoke and flames where men were fighting. Papers reported that the corridor was up to four miles wide, but we saw men fighting on both sides of the road. In some places, they were close enough so I could see them firing rifles at our passing planes. Consequently, our wise pilot dropped the plane down so that we were almost flying between the trees that lined the road.

As we droned along, we passed a couple of places where paratroopers had dropped a couple of days ago. We could tell because their parachutes were still spread over the ground and still hung in the trees. At another place, we passed over the DZ where a glider train had come in to land. Wrecked gliders and wrecked planes were strewn all over the place. In fact, some of the planes were still smoldering.

Passing the Escau Canal, I watched a rocket-firing Typhoon unloose a salvo of rockets on a barge. I saw the explosion and looking back could see the pillar of black smoke, but don’t know what kind of a boat it was or how much damage was done.

Our escorting planes were all over the sky, and I had a chance to see how they operated. For a couple of minutes I saw flashes that I thought were coming from the windshields of a convoy of trucks. I pointed them out to the copilot, and he told me they were flashes from heavy caliber guns. Almost at the same instant, I saw a flight of P-51s circle in that general area. Suddenly, one nosed over and dived straight down for about fifty feet, then leveled off. An explosion rocked the ground and I could see pieces of debris and what I thought were parts of guns flying through the air. No more flashes came from that place.

Another few miles and the scene changed again. We flew over another glider DZ. The field was covered with gliders. Some had landed perfectly because they were wing tip to wing tip in perfect alignment. There were signal flares on this field, so at first we thought this was our landing place. We soon learned different when we saw groups of men fighting for the equipment that was scattered around the field. Our radar was not operating correctly because the Germans were distorting it so badly we couldn’t get a reading.

With the radar jammed and the navigator upset by numerous sharp turns, we tried a new way of orienting ourselves. The navigator took his map and stood between the pilot and copilot. I was standing on the stool just behind him looking out the observation dome so could hear all the directions he gave the pilot. We flew back to the tank-protected road so the navigator could get a visual bearing. When we reached a corner, the navigator would tell the pilot to turn to the right or left instead of the usual call of three or four degrees of turn.

We flew over a small town identified as Graves and suddenly spotted our destination. The field was a very rough cow pasture bounded on four sides by dikes. The ends of the so-called landing strip were marked with red cloth. In a couple of places newly mowed hay was still spread out for drying.

The colonel made a very sharp turn which ended at the runway, slipped the plane down, and landed with practically no approach run at all. As we turned, I could see the dikes were lined with British riflemen and machine gunners. Trucks and other types of vehicles were parked in the camouflaging shadow of the dikes and in the shade of trees. At each corner of the field an anti-aircraft gun crew was on the alert and waved at us as we landed.

By the time the plane had stopped rolling, we had all the equipment untied. I jumped out of the door and stuck the landing pins in their slots but didn’t bother to use the control locks. The crew had the landing ramps outside the plane, so we had them in place in an instant. In thirteen minutes we had unloaded the motorcycle, jeep, and trailer and were ready to leave. The rest of the squadron were ready almost as soon as our plane.

The expressions on the faces of the limeys showed us it was no place to dally. They told us in no uncertain terms that their position on the field was very precarious. They also told us they hadn’t cleared the field of Germans until 11:30 that morning. We had taken off from England at 11:15, or fifteen minutes before they had taken the landing strip. That’s kind of cutting things real fine. While coming in for a landing, I could see that my plane was the first cargo plane to land. The only plane to land before mine was the radar plane.

Germans were all over the place. Rifle shots could be heard in all directions, and pillars of smoke showed places where fighting was going on. The sky was filled with P-47s, P-51s, Typhoons, and Spits. We had complete control of the air in that area.

More planes were due in in a few moments, so we rushed to take off. Our plane took on two passengers, survivors of the Arnhem Pocket. It had fallen the night before. We had landed at 2:07 and took off at 2:30. We unloaded a lot of stuff in that short time. The pilot turned the plane onto the end of the runway and looked kind of funny at the shortness of the takeoff strip. He set the brakes, jammed the throttles forward, then as soon as the tail of the plane lifted, let the brakes go. In a few bounces, the plane was in the air. No sooner were we in the air than we made a sharp chandelle and back down over the field to pick up flying speed. The motors were still pulling for all they were worth. He didn’t bother to reach for altitude, but took right off down the road. The squadron lined out behind us. If we had made a regular approach or takeoff, we would have been shot to pieces.

A town to the southeast of the field was ablaze, so heavy fighting was going on there. As we left the field, I could count a dozen places where fires were blazing. We kept to the deck, following this twisty road, lifting a wing whenever a tree stuck up a little high. As we passed a small town, I watched two tanks lumbering down the main street. On the back of the tank were perched a couple of infantrymen. They waved at us as we passed, so I thought this must be one of the towns they had captured. As I was thinking this, the turret of the tank blasted flame and lead, and I saw the front of one of the buildings collapse. Guess it wasn’t our town after all.

The next squadron of troop carrier planes came sailing in at fifteen hundred feet, and I figured they were going to get hell shot out of them. Weeks later I learned they had taken an awful beating.

When we left the corridor, I made tea for the two passengers and fed them the extra sandwiches. One was a major of the Airborne and the other a war correspondent. Their clothes were crummy dirty, plastered with mud and grass stains, and worn and torn to pieces. The major was covered with blood. While I was brewing the tea, the major told me about the Arnhem Pocket and related the story of his escape.

This is the major’s story: After the drop, they set up defenses around both sides of the bridge and tried to hold both sides of the Rhine. The Germans had attacked in great strength and forced them into an area about a half-mile square. While they had plenty of ammunition and medical supplies, they had held out, even though the Germans were pouring in a constant stream of mortar fire. Man after man got wounded and their position became critical, so they made plans to escape. The major found a map in a farmhouse and tore out the part showing their position. He showed me the piece of map and explained how he traced an escape route from the pocket to the banks of the Rhine. On the night of the 25th, he and the correspondent gathered fifteen men and started out while the wounded created a diversion by firing in the opposite direction. It was pitch dark, so they unbuttoned the tails of their jump jackets, each man in line holding on to the flap of the man in front of him. The major led the way down various gullies and paths through the woods till they came to the marshy land along the banks of the Rhine. In the course of the escape more and more men attached themselves to the end of the chain, so by the time they reached the water, there were seventy-five men in the line.

They dug into the mud and made signals to Dempsey’s forces on the opposite side of the river. The river was about one hundred yards wide at this point. After a time, four small boats using outboard motors as power came across and started to evacuate the men. The wounded went first. The major was in one of the last boats, and about halfway across, the motor stopped. They hauled the motor into the boat and paddled the rest of the way with their rifle butts. By this time, the Germans knew something was up, so they fired flares to light up the scene. While the flare was in the sky, the men lay prone on the bank. As soon as it flickered out, they scrambled over the small bank and stayed down while the next flare lit up the river. As soon as that one went out, they started up the next bank only to be caught halfway by another flare. The major was using his rifle as a cane and it was shot out of his hands. The bullet glanced upwards through the base of his thumb. At that, he was lucky because two fellows were killed before they could reach the other side.

By this time he had finished his tea and sandwich, so made himself comfortable on a parachute and fell asleep. The correspondent had his notebook out and was rapidly scribbling a story of the Arnhem Pocket. I read it a couple of days later in the Daily Sketch.

We landed at our field and hit our sacks for a much-needed rest.

September 27, 44

Sacked all day. My nerves are a little upset from yesterday’s excitement.