The airborne assault took place on September 17, 1944, when 10,000 allied paratroopers filled the skies above Holland, unaware of the troubled times ahead of them and the fact that fewer than 3,000 would return. Allied intelligence reports indicated that German morale was low and enemy forces in the area were weak, nothing could have been further from the truth. German spirits were, in fact, high, and an SS Panzer unit was in Arnhem, overhauling its tanks.
Despite losing aircraft, the drop had gone according to plan and the British airborne units were quickly away to their allotted tasks with the lst Air Landing Reconnaissance Squadron, heading towards the bridges. But of the 320 gliders involved in the operation, 38 failed to arrive. Included in those casualties were the jeeps of the reconnaissance squadron.
The Germans had initially been taken by surprise and after landing at Renkum Common, eight miles west of Arnhem, the lst Parachute Brigade set off in the direction of Arnhem, their objective - to seize the road and rail bridges across the Rhine.
Led by Lt Col Frost, 2 Para took the lower Oosterbeek road heading for Arnhem bridge, while I and 3 Para took separate routes in the same direction, only to be ambushed by German armoured units. His 700 Paras marched to Arnhem and captured the northern end of the vital road bridge, only to meet a fierce attack from SS Panzer grenadiers as they tried to assault the southern side of the structure. To repulse the Paras' advance, they poured more SS troops into Arnhem, including three crack Panzer units, supported by heavy armour and well-trained troops.
Frost, like the other battalion cornmanders, had been told that they only had to defend the bridge for 48 hours until 30 Corps arrived. But they couldn't get through and the Paras faced a bitter fight against Panzer tanks on their own. At dawn on September 18, the Paras were rushed by a force of five armoured and seven tracked troop carriers, in an attempted assault by the Germans to take the bridge. All the vehicles were knocked out with anti-tank weapons. They burned all day under the eyes of the Paras and their enemy, blocking the bridge until the end of the battle.
Lt John Grayburn led his men across the bridge, to mount numerous counter attacks, despite being heavily outgunned by Panzer tanks and the ever increasing number of SS Panzer grenadiers. Grayburn was injured twice, but refused to be evacuated and remained in the fore- front of the fighting at Arnhem bridge until he was killed in action on the night of September 20, 1944. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions.
The Germans rained firepower down on the northern side of the bridge, destroying every house and were amazed by the Paras refusal to surrender - instead the Red Berets responded by attacking at every opportunity. On the third day, a short truce allowed the wounded to be taken into German captivity. Then the fighting resumed, until one by one the Paras ran out of ammunition and their position was overrun; just 100 men remained.
The remains of the initial airborne force had been forced to consolidate at Oosterbeek and they, with Frost and his men at Arnhem bridge, were taken prisoner - but only after having fired every round in their possession.
In total 7,167 men were listed as killed, missing or wounded at Arnhem, in an operation described by some as, 'a total disaster'. The Paras won five Victoria Crosses.