Battlefields of Operation Market Garden
We rented a van and drove all the way from Amsterdam to Oosterbeek. In Dutch terms this is an enormous distance, being the full length of the country, but it couldn't have been more than 80 miles.
The terrain was radically different from what one thinks of when picturing Dutch landscape. Instead of the ubiquitous canals and perfectly flat land near Amsterdam, there were rolling hills and large, dense forests. It looked very much like typical German scenery, and was in fact very close to the German border.
As we drove, looking for the war museum, I couldn't help but think to myself that THIS was the battlefield. These roads running through the town were in fact where most of the fighting took place. I wondered how much the landscape had changed, and imagined soldiers marching along the roads and sneaking through the surrounding woods.
After battling Dutch road signs and a few wrong turns, we finally arrived at the museum. It was a tall, cubic dimensioned building that used to be the "Hotel Hartenstein". During Operation Market Garden it was used by the British as their operational headquarters.
Outside of the building were several 17 pounder anti-tank guns, as well as a Sherman tank. All of these weapons were used in the fighting around Oosterbeek and Arnhem, and many showed it. One of the guns had an interesting story found on a plaque stuck behind the armored shield.
This particular 17 pounder anti-tank gun shot and destroyed a German Mark IV tank. Immediately afterwards, the gun was hit and half of the crew was killed. There is a large shell hole through the right side (as you face the business end) of the gun's armored shield. After other forces drove back the tanks, the crew returned and got the gun operational again.
Once again the gun was hit. This hit somehow managed to jam the 17 pounder's shell in the breach. The crew couldn't remove the shell, so they abandoned the gun. This shell remains in the breach to this day (it has been cored out to remove the explosives).
Several other gun crews apparently didn't fare as well. One gun, without any plaque to describe its story, had its shield ripped to shreds on one side. It was as if it was made of wet cardboard and ripped apart. I cannot imagine anyone surviving the barrage without massive and permanent wounds.
Inside of the museum we were greeted by an interesting movie/map combination. A large television played a movie describing Operation Market Garden and the significance of the Hotel Hartenstein. Beneath the screen was a three dimensional map with colored lights that showed troop positions, movements, etc. With this combination of map and movie it was easy to picture the overall picture of what turned out to be an overly complicated operation.
Many weapons used during the fighting were in the museum. All calibers of weapons and shells were there, from the massive artillery rocket of a Nebelwerfer to Vickers machine guns. There were parachutes from the paratroopers and canisters that contained dropped supplies, and even a dress made during the war by a woman from the silk of a 'chute.
Accross a very, very busy road from the museum there was a large obelisk dedicated to the Allies who fought during Operation Market Garden. On each face there was a different scene of the battle. It went from the grim faces of the occupying Germans to the parachuting troops, to wounded troops being cared for by the civilians.
Later in the day we drove to the cemetary for the troops killed in Operation Market Garden. Most of the troops buried there were British, though some Poles were buried there as well. Though we were fairly near town, no noise from the town penetrated through the gates of the cemetary. The only sound was the singing of the birds.
The gravestones were laid out in an orderly fashion, with the British in the center and the Poles at the extreme rear. At the head of all was a massive cross with a bronze sword inset. This symbol struck me powerfully; the combination of the Mercy of God as found in Jesus' death on the Cross and the sword of war.