On 18 September 1944, the second day, XXX corps began to make the progress expected of them. Their tanks covered 20 miles in a few hours, hooking up with the Americans at one of the intact bridges near Grave. On the third day they reached Nijmegen, where the Americans were still fighting in the streets in their efforts to reach the bridge across the might River Waal.
Once they had taken Nijmegen bridge, only Arnhem would be left, and the north end at least was still in British hands. It seemed that Operation Market Garden might succeed.
But they could not get across the bridge. General Horrocks, XXX corps commander, ordered American troops to attack across the River Waal, so that they could capture the German end. The attack was enormously costly.
'The bullets hitting the water looked like a hailstorm, kicking up little spouts of water. When we reached about the halfway point, then the mortar and artillery fire started falling. And when a boat was hit with an artillery shell or a mortar shell, it just disintegrated, and everybody was lost.' (Moffat Burriss)
Half of Burriss's company was killed or wounded on the crossing. The survivors reached the far bank, and from there successfully stormed the Nijmegen bridge. At last the route to Arnhem was in Allied hands. However, it was too late for the British parachute battalion at the north end of the bridge. The Germans had moved their tanks into the town, and one by one they were demolishing the houses in which the British were fighting.
By now the paratroops had few anti-tank weapons, they had no food, and, crucially, they had little ammunition left. Major Tony Hibbert remembers the German tanks were now devastatingly effective.
'We really had nothing we could do to them, and they drove up and down the street, firing high explosive into the side of the building, to create the gap, and then firing smoke shells through that. The phosphorus from the smoke shells burned us out. By about 8 o'clock, on Wednesday evening, the fires got out of control and of course we had by this time about 300 wounded in the cellars.' The Allied troops were forced to abandon their positions near the bridge, and to try and fight their way out. Three miles from Arnhem British paratroops were holding a pocket of land at the village of Oosterberck. By now XXX corps, commanded by General Horrocks, was on the other side of the river from the airborne troops. They could not, however, cross.
German artillery controlled the river. Horrocks decided to evacuate the British survivors; only some 2,500 eventually made the crossing. The Parachute division had left behind nearly 1,500 dead, and more than 6,500 prisoners, many badly wounded.
Operation Market Garden had failed. It would be another four months before the Allies crossed the Rhine again and captured the German industrial heartland. The war dragged on, costing the lives of many thousands of civilians and servicemen.