Hell’s Highway – 101st Airborne Battles South of Veghel In WW2 Operation Market Garden (Part 1)

The date is September 24th, 1944, Operation Market Garden has dragged on into its 6th day and the Germans are about to begin their last attempt to cut the corridor at Veghel. The 101st Airborne Division is positioned in Force around the nearby towns of Veghel, Eerde, and Sint Oedenrode but still the Germans manage to slip through in between the regiments and block the corridor.

We will follow this battle in as the Germans launch their first attempt to break through Eerde to ty and reach the bridges at Veghel.

Starting points

The situation on the morning of September 24th 1944.

  • The Dutch town of Veghel is located at the right top above the Zuid Willemsvaart canal
  • The orange line is Hells Highway
  • The railway bridge across the canal is at 1
  • The road bridge across the canal is at 2

The Objective of the Germans was to cut the road and destroy the bridges across the canal. With the wider objective being to cut off and then destroy all Allied forces north of Veghel (Nijmegen and Arnhem).

The Germans attack Eerde

The attack on Eerde, being astride Hells Highway and thus the gateway to the bridges, started early in the morning of the 24th. First covered by fog the Germans approached the American outposts when the fog suddenly lifted. The outposts immediately returned to Eerde reporting that over German 200 infantrymen and 4 German Tanks were moving towards the village. At that time mortar and artillery shells were beginning to fall in streets.

The Windmill at Eerde

By this time the 1st Battalion commander Lt. Colonel Kinnard had alerted the 501st commander, Colonel Howard who immediately dispatched A Squadron of the British 44th Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) in support of the hard-pressed men of the 1st Battalion. The Germans of the 6th Fallshirm (paratrooper) regiment under Von Der Heydte had pushed into the Sand Dunes and were looking down onto the streets of Eerde. This is the same Regiment the 101st fought in Carentan, Normandy.

The tanks arrived at 10:05 and opened up on the sand dunes. Colonel Johnson visited Lt Colonel Kinnard Command Post (CP) and when they all left the CP a mortar round fell among the officers wounding both Johnsons and a British Liasion officer. Kinnard stood in between the two but escaped with only an earache and he thus took over.

The Germans could go no further but still occupied the high ground and had to be pushed out of the Sand Dunes.

The Fight for the Sand Dunes

At 11:00h the first allied attack on the sand dunes was launched at the location of the Windmill (1). However, two Sherman tanks were knocked out in quick succession near the windmill by a hidden Jagdpanther. When a third Sherman was destroyed further north the Shermans moved into a support role and the attack was to be infantry only.

At 12:15 one platoon from A Company, 1st Battalion of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment launched their attack up the Sand Dunes (2). They managed to push the Germans out of the right side of the dunes in a mad rush taking machine gun positions head on and charging across a clearing under heavy German fire. They killed 7 Germans, captured 15 and saw 50 Germans fled north, and captured 5 machine guns and one mortar but taking heavy casualties themselves.

After a short re-organisation two other platoons of Able company started their attack into the dunes (3). They attacked in a similar way, rushing machine guns and then beating back a fierce counterattack after which the Germans were pushed out of the dunes for good.

The attacks, although successful, came at a high price, one officer, and seven enlisted men were killed. Thirteen soldiers and 10 officers were heavily wounded and 8 men were lightly wounded.

However just as the Americans prepare to launch another attack and clear the Germans east of Eerde they receive disturbing news. The Germans side slipped Eerde and reached the corridor to their south…..

This story continues in Part 2

By Joris Nieuwint for War History Online

Joris Nieuwint

Joris Nieuwint is a battlefield guide for the Operation Market Garden area. His primary focus is on the Allied operations from September 17th, 1944 onwards. Having lived in the Market Garden area for 25 years, he has been studying the events for nearly as long. He has a deep understanding of the history and a passion for sharing the stories of the men who are no longer with us.

@joris1944 facebook.com/joris.nieuwint