First attack on the Waal Bridge, 17 September 1944



The capture of the various bridges across the rivers and canals in Mid-Holland was one of the most important assignments given to the three airborne divisions who were deployed during Market garden. Regarding the 82nd Airborne Division around Nijmegen, the railroad bridge across the Meuse at Grave, the bridges across the Meuse-Waal canal at Mook-Molenhoek/Katwijk and the railroad-traffic bridge across the Waal at Nijmegen.

On September 17th, 1944, around 22:00 hours, the 1st Batallion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment (508th PIR) ventured a first attempt to capture the Nijmegen traffic bridge, the 'Waal' bridge, as described in the After Action Report 508th PIR Holland.

Even before the 82nd Airborne Division took off from England, General James Gavin had instructed Colonel Roy Lindquist, Commanding Officer, 508th PIR, to send a Battalion to the traffic bridge immediately after landing, and capture it. At least, that is what Gavin remembers of it. According to Lindquist, his orders were different, namely the capture of a strategic location in the city centre. Unfortunately, no documents were preserved that could confirm any of the various views.

According to the 508th Regimental Liaison Officer, Captain Chester E. Graham, Gavin instructed Colonel Lindquist during the briefing in England to proceed to the Waal bridge as soon as he deemed that to be possible after the jump off. Here Gavin would have insisted on speed and advised Lindquist to approach the bridge from the rural area and to avoid the city as much as possible. After the jump off Chester Graham would have proceeded to Lindquists headquarters and asked him when he was going to send 3rd Battalion to the bridge. Lindquists reaction was supposed to have been: 'As soon as the DZ (drop zone) is cleared and secured.' When Graham reached Gavin with this message, he immediately took him in his Jeep to Lindquist and ordered him to assault the bridge immediately.

From statements after the war can be defined that even before the landings took place the capture of the bridges were of secondary importance and that for General Frederick Browning as well as Brigadier General Gavin, retention of the Groesbeek heights, the defence of the dropping zones were considered to be of paramount importance. The operational orders of the 82nd Airborne Division and the 508th PIR, state that 508rh PIR was to make an attempt to capture the Waal bridges, once the situation at the front would permit that, or once the division commander would order this. In the Field Order No. 11, 82nd Airborne Division, September 13th, 1944 is, among others, stated as a command to the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment: 'Seize, organize and hold key terrain features in areas of responsibility, and be prepared to seize WAAL-River crossing at NIJMEGEN (714633) on order of Div. Comdr.'

The 'Headquarters British Airborne Corps, Operations Instructions No. 1, Allied Airborne Operations in Holland' clearly indicated that the retention of the high ground with the landing areas was of vital importance to the success and the further progress of the operation. It stated: “The capture and retention of the high ground between Nijmegen and Groesbeek is imperative in order to accomplish the Division's task.” According to General James M. Gavin, stated in his Airborne Warfare (Washington: Infantry Journal Press, 1947, page 75), published in 1947. Brownings instructions were 'clear and emphatic' and such that the division 'was not to attempt the seizure of the Nijmegen Bridge until all other missions had been successfully accomplished and the Groesbeek-Berg en Dal high ground was firmly in our hands."

This view is being enhanced by the statement issued by Gavin in 1945 (Letter, Gavin to Capt. John G. Westover, Historical Office, July 25, in response to questions from Westover to Commanding Officers, 82nd Airborne Division) in which he stated that the physical possession of the bridges would be of no value in case the Germans had taken possession of the high ground around Groesbeek, since this area dominated the bridges and all the flat terrain around it.

Even on September 18th, General Browning informed Gavin that the retention of the high ground had absolute priority. This is evident from the fact that at that moment, Browning rejected a plan of attack on the Waal Bridges on the grounds of retention of the heights (82d Airborne Division CofS Jnl, indicating 07.00 hrs, September 19, 1944, reflecting an agreement between Gavin and Browning, on September 18, 1944 at 15:30 am).

It is clear that the capture of the Waal Bridges, was one of the objectives of the 82nd Airborne Division and in particular of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. It was also clear that the retention of the high ground at Groesbeek was of paramount importance in view of tactical and practical considerations. The high ground dominated the area of operations, included the landing zones and it was there that the headquarters of both Gavin and Browning were situated.

Whatever the precise command, around 22:00 hrs. so, around eight hours after the landings, a first attempt was made to seize the road bridge. This attempt was undertaken only after General Gavin was informed at 18:00 hrs. on September 17, 1944, of the fact that the 1st Battalion, 508th PIR had not undertaken an attack on the bridge, upon which he instructed Colonel Lindquist forthwith to attack immediately. The moment the Americans landed at Groesbeek, there would have been about 18 German soldiers to defend the bridge, according to reports from the Nijmegen resistance. By the time the first attack was launched, this strength had grown to 400 men, a 8.8 cm Flak gun on the Keizer Lodewijkplein (Emperor Louis Square) and five 47 mm guns around the Hunnerpark.


Part of a regiment composed of several companies. In theory a batallion consists of 500-1,000 men.
American weaponís designer. Famous guns are the .30íí and .50íí machine guns and the famous ďHigh PowerĒ 9 mm pistol.
Military unit, usually consisting of one upto four regiments and usually making up a corps. In theory a division consists of 10,000 to 20,000 men.
Flieger-/Flugabwehrkanone. German anti-aircraft guns.
Largest Soviet ground formation. It was attached to a certain area which gave its name to the units involved. For instance the Voronezh front.
Foot soldiers of a given army.
Military intelligence service.
Part of a division. A division divided into a number of regiments. In the army traditionally the name of the major organised unit of one type of weapon.
Resistance against the enemy. Often also with armed resources.

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The traffic bridge across the Waal river at Nijmegen after the capture on September 21st 1944.
(Source: Wilco Vermeer)

Colonel Roy E. Lindquist
(Source: Wikipedia)


Translated by:
Cor Korpel
Article by:
Wilco Vermeer
Published on:
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