PWG "Big Game" 2012

Arnhem. Pic courtesy of Greg Pullin


Arnhem liberated by XXX Corps after two days of Market Garden (the re-fight)

 A Rapid Fire battle report by David Davidson

On the Reconciliation Day long weekend, Peninsula Wargames Group refought the battle of Arnhem with a team of 13 players – and changed history. 

Initiated with simultaneous landings of three parachute divisions (the US 101st, 82nd and British 1st Airborne divisions), at around 13h00 on 17th September,  the original XXX Corps timetable called for them to relieve Arnhem by 15h00 on 19th September, and  in our epic refight, fought with almost 5000 20mm figurines on an approximately 1:15 figure scale, XXX Corps managed to accomplish this almost to the hour, with the first Shermans rolling over the road and rail bridges at 17h00 on 19th Sept, changing history by probably shortening WWII  and possibly advancing eastwards the eventual position of the East/West German border for the subsequent  Cold War. The map shows the Allied plan. 

The Allied plan

Historically, tenacious German resistance, continual counter-attacks, the destruction of the bridge at Son, and the German defence of Nijmegen (forcing an epic river assault by 504th PIR, immortalized by Robert Redford in “A Bridge too Far”), imposed   severe delays on XXX Corps. Despite the heroic defence of the road bridge by Col Frost’s 2nd Paras, the bridge was firmly in German hands by 21st September, and the operation finished on 25th September with the night-time evacuation over the Rhine of the remainder of 1st Airborne from Oosterbeek. 
The campaign has always been one of the most controversial of WWII, and did not do Monty’s reputation much good (aided by his unwise comments about it being largely successful). In recent years, some historians (such  as Steven Ambrose) have increasingly questioned whether the plan was ever viable at all; PWG’s epic refight provides an interesting counter to this. Had things gone slightly differently in reality, it could indeed have prised open a passageway into Germany for the Western Allies, who historically had to wait until Spring 1945 to cross the Rhine. 

The game was fought using Colin Rumford’s Rapid Fire Campaign Guide, “Operation Market Garden September 1944” (published in 1999)  over six linked tables, most 8’ by 6’, using the maps provided in that source; see below. The first covered the initial break-out of XXX Corps, from Joe’s Bridge over the Meuse-Escaut canal to Eindhoeven and the Son bridge over the Wilhelmina canal. The second, mainly the 101st’s area of operation, ran from the Son bridge to Veghel and the Suid-Willems Canal. The third, on the junction between the 101st and 82nd, covered the Veghel to Grave area and the river Maas. The fourth ran from the Maas at Nederasselt  to Nijmegen and the bridges over the Waal, and was the 82nd’s main area of operation. The fifth was “the Island”, the area between the large rivers Waal and Lower Rhine. The 6th table was a massive 24’ by 8’, representing the area from the initial British landing zones to Arnhem. 

The wargames table plan (Pic courtesy of Colin Rumford)

The Road to Arnhem. Pic courtesy of Greg Pullin

Several key points distinguished our refight from the actual historical course of events. Firstly, the Germans were only permitted to blow the Son bridge -  provided they held both ends at a certain time (as they did historically) -  but no others. (In reality, the Nijmegen bridge was wired, but the charges failed to detonate, and the Arnhem rail bridge was blown up.) In the refight, very aggressive attacks by the 101st got to the Son canal bridge in time to prevent its destruction, permitting XXX Corps to roll over it (historically, a bridge had to be build overnight). Secondly, the 82nd Airborne commanders, accepting high casualties in the initial assault, stormed Nijmegen on 17th September, quickly occupying both ends of the road bridge; again, this avoided the necessity of the historical riverine assault, permitting XXX Corps to keep rolling with essentially no interruptions. Thirdly, XXX Corps stayed focused on moving north as rapidly as possible; even a very large German counter-attack on 19th September aimed at the Son bridge did not substantially distract its progress. (XXX Corps mounted an effective defence with sufficient but not overwhelming force, using its massed artillery to eventually break up the German attack, which for a while appeared menacing). In Arnhem, a small British force was destroyed by the Germans, as historically,  but in the re-fight the British commanders had protected their drop zones (the maps were captured by the Germans as in real life) so that the 2nd lift came in with few losses, and the 1st Airborne was well into Arnhem when the Germans conceded as XXX Corps arrived in Arnhem. 

The game ran in real life from Saturday 15th December to Monday 17th December; each game bound represented an hour of the actual campaign, and indeed we played around three days of gaming in three real-time days. 

The cast was the following:

XXX Corps: Anthony van Dijk and Dean Hinzelmann (with the assistance of the American players as the game progressed and XXX Corps found itself stretched over 4 or 5 tables).
101st Airborne: Tim Cruise and Mike Schubert.
82nd Airborne: David Davidson and Andrew Glen
1st Airborne: Quinton Brickhill and Michael Karsten.

David Hamp-Adams (Joe’s Bridge to Eindhoeven & Son bridge to Veghel tables)
Graham Arbuckle (Nijmegen garrison)
Lindsay Hall (Arnhem garrison and reinforcements)
Michael Karsten (Assisted David H-A around Eindhoeven and the Son briege before seeing the writing on the wall and playing 1st Airborne!)
Greg Pullin (Germans reinforcements in Nijmegen area)
Bobby Stathoussis (Germans in Arnhem area; 9th SS recce)

The game was planned by our Chairman, Michael Karsten, who as noted above managed to play on both sides!
A typical drop zone (LZ 0 of 82nd in this case)
A bridge not quite far enough this time round, despite the best efforts of the Luftwaffe...
Anyone for tennis? Or a jog? The Hotel Hartenstein under new management
XXX Corps and 82nd Airborne link up
Traffic is bad this morning....allow some extra time for your commute (near Nijmegen)
... as XXX Corps arrive across the rail bridge. Captain America provided moral support throughout the game.
Arnhem. Pic courtesy of Greg Pullin

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