On 17 September the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment jumped over drop zone B in Son, the Netherlands, as a part of Operation Market Garden. The 502nd PIR is one of four rifle regiments of the 101st Airborne Division. Their assignment was: Secure the drop- and landing zones for the glider landings, attack Sint-Oedenrode to seize and hold the bridges over the Dommel river and seize and hold the bridge at Best over the Wilhelmina canal. Maxwell Taylor, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division thought it would be smart to seize another bridge over the Wilhelmina canal, in case the main objective, the bridge at Son, would be destroyed.
17 September, at exactly 13.24 hours the first elements of the 502nd PIR jumped into combat over drop zone B. Company H of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment had the assignment to seize the bridge at Best. They were accompanied by 3rd platoon 326th Airborne Engineers Battalion Company C and an LMG section. Just 14 minutes after the 502nd drops on drop zone B, Company H jumped into combat. Company H’s commander: Captain Robert E. Jones gathered the men of his company as quick as possible at the edge of the drop zone to make their way to the bridge at Best. (Point 1 on the map) The mission ahead, was thought to be an easy one. Take and hold the bridge at Best and place roadblocks on the Boxtel-Eindhoven highway (dark red line). In good spirit, the men of the Company and the engineers started moving through the fields towards Best. Using the church steeple as a reference point. On the Hunksteegsche weg (point 2) Company H received its first enemy fire coming from Best. The Germans set up a road block (point 3) on the intersection of the main street and the Boxtel-Eindhoven highway. Incoming fire from this position was so intense that Company H lost orientation towards the highway. The initial route was the orange dotted line but the Company now followed the orange line, which led the company straight to the intersection at the highway. The enemy didn’t place just one roadblock, in fact, Best was heavily defended by the enemy. Enemy troops were dug in along the highway and had 88 mm and 20 mm guns in support.
Because of enemy fire the platoons of Company H got separated and lost their strength. German fire was superior to the light armed American paratroopers. Two of the platoons crossed the highway and reached the Nieuwstraat (point 3) where they got into heavy fighting. The group had to retreat quickly to prevent high casualties. During the concerted attack on the intersection the company already lost a big part of the initial 250 men.
The 502 PIR would never had guessed that German resistance at Best would be so intense. The reason for the German strength in Best, was caused by the retreat of German forces coming in from the west of the Netherlands. The 15th German army was retreating from the Scheldt estuary, accompanied by many small groups of battered divisions coming from Normandy. When operation Market Garden started, a lot of these troops were located in between Boxtel and ‘s Hertogenbosch. Although most German divisions were decimated in Normandy, the German brass organized the defense of the corridor quickly. They formed small fighting groups (Kampfgruppe) and sent them into action immediately. At the time Company H made its way for Best on the 17th, a fighting force of about 1000 German soldiers were already in Best. Later during that day, more enemy reinforcements were sent to Best, including the 59th and 245th Division and two SS police battalions.
Enemy troops made it extremely difficult for Company H to fulfil its mission of taking the bridge. The paratroopers of Company H retreated (white line) from the crossroads and organized a defensive line on the edge of the woods (point 4). An incident at the crossroads just before they moved to this position made the situation for Company H even more precarious. Twelve trucks with about 200 enemy soldiers were coming from the direction of Boxtel, also bringing two 20 mm guns into the fight. The paratroopers had set up a perfect ambush situation to annihilate the convoy. A motorcyclist, who was driving a few hundred yards in front, led the convoy towards the bridge at Best. One of the paratroopers opened fire on the motorcyclist and hit him. The motorcyclist fell of his bike. The convoy halted immediately and formed a shooting line towards the paratroopers who were now faced with even more enemy troops. Reports from Captain Jones reached the commander of third battalion, Robert G Cole. Although the reports were quite ‘positive’, Cole didn’t trust the situation and sent the entire battalion to reinforce Company H. In the meantime Captain Jones had ordered Lieutenant Ed Wierzbowski’s platoon to push through towards the bridge at Best. Wierzbowski’s platoon moved south through the forest, receiving enemy fire every time they crossed a fire lane. Eventually they got to the bridge, leaving only 100 yards in between them and their objective. (point 5).
At about 18.00 hours remains of third battalion (G, I and HQ-company) was sent to reinforce Company H at Best. The battalion moved east of the drop zone towards Best, but just a kilometer away from Best the battalion received heavy German artillery and mortar fire. Robert G Cole decided that his battalion had to dig in for the night. Patrols were sent looking for Company H all night long, until they were found at dawn on September 18th (at point 4, previous map). Company H rejoined the lines of 3rd battalion alongside the Schietbaanlaan (see map next page), but 2nd platoon was still missing. Captain Jones told Lt-Col Cole that 2nd platoon was sent towards the bridge, but he didn’t hear of them ever since.
Lt. Wierzbowski got an impossible task. With 18 men in his platoon and 26 engineers of Company C 326 Airborne Engineers Battalion, he had to seize the bridge at Best. Lt. Wierzbowski moved further south through the forest (point 4 towards 5). The forest is separated by fire lanes. When 2nd platoon crossed the first fire lane they were surprised by machine gun fire. Saving men and ammunition, Lt. Wierzbowski went further into the forest to see if they could cross the fire lanes without the enemy fire. Crossing the fire lanes one by one cost the platoon a lot of time. Finally at dusk, they reached the edge of the forest (just north of point H on the map below), close to the canal. The scouts of the group, Pfc Joe E. Mann and Sgt. James C. Hoyle, reached the dyke. They crept back to the platoon to show them the way to the dyke. In the meantime, 1st Lieutenant Andrew P. Duffy and some men of Lt. Robert Lair had joined 2nd platoon. They were captured by the Germans earlier that day, but managed to escape. These men were a welcome addition to the small fighting force that had to capture the bridge. On the map you see a widening in the canal. This was an unloading dock for the Philips factories. At that point there was no protection for the group, it was an open space. At about 21.00 hours the group arrived at this spot and moved cautiously towards the West. Although the bridge was located about 150 yards away, they still couldn’t spot it. Lt. Wierzbowski moved his group a bit further West of the unloading dock, where they were protected by trees and undergrowth. He halted his men and crawled further to contact the scout Pfc Joe E. Mann. Suddenly a few shots were fired by the German soldiers at the Westside of the highway. Lt. Wierzbowski made sure his men didn’t return fire, he believed the Germans didn’t really spot the group... He was right. The scout and the lieutenant crawled towards the dyke of the canal and finally spotted the target they were after, the bridge over the Wilhelmina canal.
Firefights would continue throughout the night. Because the radio was hit by grenade shrapnel, the radioman of the group couldn’t contact Captain Jones. Jones ordered some patrols and eventually a platoon to look for Wierzbowski’s platoon, but with no result. They concluded that the platoon was wiped out. The group was left on its own. Finally at 03.00 hours the enemy stopped firing. Still motivated to accomplish their mission, 2nd platoon had to wait till dawn, before they could make another effort at taking the bridge. But with only 20 men, 500 rounds of machine gun ammo, a mortar with 6 shells and a bazooka with 5 rounds, it was going to be a hard job.
Wierzbowski and Mann wanted to get a better understanding of the situation, so after a few minutes they crept even further towards the bridge. By doing this, the men brought themselves into a dangerous situation. There had been a guard change at the north side of the bridge. The men didn’t spot the guard walking away from the bridge. A new guard arrived and positioned himself almost next to the men. Afraid to warn nearby enemy troops by overpowering the guard, they waited. The men of 2nd platoon felt a little uneasy and started whispering with each other, so hard even Wierzbowski and Mann could hear it. Wierzbowski sent Mann back to the group to tell them to keep quiet. At that time, the German troops noticed the whispering and the guard at the bridge fired some shots in the direction of the voices. Suddenly grenades were thrown from the other side of the canal, causing a lot of casualties within the platoon. During the mayhem of the explosions Wierzbowski and Mann were able to knock out a guard and ran back towards the group. The platoon had to find a safer place, so Wierzbowski decided to withdraw the group 50 yards back. During this short attack by the Germans, the platoon lost more than half its fighting strength, leaving only 15 men and 5 officers.
First battalion of 502 PIR already captured the bridges over the Dommel on the 17th. The 506 PIR had to deal with a bridge over the Wilhelmina canal at Son that was destroyed by the Germans, but were already moving into Eindhoven, which they would later liberate. While the people of Sint-Oedenrode, Son and Eindhoven were celebrating, the situation at Best became worse. Putting the entire third battalion into effect at Best didn’t change the situation. They achieved no breakthrough. The men of Robert G Cole’s third battalion received a lot of enemy fire and had to retreat further into the woods. Colonel John Michaelis, commander of the 502 PIR, decided that also second battalion had to join the fight at Best. Meaning that about 500 extra troops were swung into action. Company D, E and F were put in a line on the Klaverhoekseweg and Hunksteegsche weg (see map).
The American paratroopers weren’t the only one who brought in new replacements, the Germans did so too. The Germans already had a few 88mm guns in Best, mainly positioned at the intersection of the Boxtel-Eindhoven highway and the Nieuwstraat (point 3 on the first map), but they also had 20 mm guns, light and heavy machine guns and mortars. On the 18th, this German stronghold was built up even more. The 428th Flak Abteiling (Flak section) had joined the fight in Best, bringing six more 88 mm guns into the fight. These guns were placed in between the Nieuwstraat and the bridge over the Wilhelmina canal, following the line of the highway. Also joining the battle was an extra SS police battalion (the previous battalion entered Best from the ambushed trucks on the 17th), the 347th Reserve battalion and 1st battalion of the 327th Grenadiers regiment. Reinforcements with a total strength of over 900 men. With artillery holding the paratroopers firmly in place, the odds seemed to be in favor of the Germans.
AMERICAN REINFORCEMENTS ARRIVE
Company D would advance on the left flank towards the Sonse dijk (Zonsche dijk on the map) of the battalion, they had to make contact with 3rd battalion. Company F would advance on the right flank of the battalion, following the direction of the Sint-Oedenrodenseweg (red dotted line) towards the intersection of the highway and the Nieuwstraat. With Company E advancing in the middle, linking the three companies to each other. The battalion had to push all the way south to south west towards the highway. When they reached the end of 3rd battalion’s lines, the were supposed to sweep south-east towards the canal using 3rd battalion’s lines as a pivoting point. By this clearing the entire area of German opposition in one coordinated attack. The attack started of very good. Soldiers of the company remember it like a big military training in war time. The company’s were moving one by one, moving from field to field, haystack to haystack. With the goal of reaching the intersection. The companies received heavy fire from the Germans. Machine gun fire, artillery and mortars, causing the haystacks to catch fire. During the attack 2nd battalion suffered enormous casualties. Officers and enlisted men lay dead spread across the field. Just over 20 percent of the battalion’s strength was lost in the attack. Because of the casualties the commander of the 2nd Battalion, Lt-Col Steve Chappuis ordered his battalion to pull back and regroup. Group by group they pulled back. It didn’t happen in one fluent motion, because each company was stuck in its own firefights with the Germans. No exact points for each company can be placed on a map, but we know that the companies were stuck in fierce fighting with hand-to-hand combat. The regroup of 2nd battalion took place at about 11.00 hours. Although 2nd battalion was struck with enormous casualty rates, they were also a bit ‘lucky’. At 11.00 hours on the 18th soldiers of the German 59th Division also arrived in Best. The 1034th Regiment had to attack from Boxtel and Liempde (north of the drop zone) towards Son and the 1036th Regiment had the assignment attacking the bridge. These two regiments of the 59th Division brought 1000 more enemy troops into the fight. These men were luckily put into action just after the regroup of 2nd battalion. With all these reinforcements, the 502 PIR was on the verge of destruction. A few thousand German troops versus just under one thousand American paratroopers. Both sides sustained high casualty rates. But the difference between a paratrooper and a German soldier is probably his motivation. German troops with low morale who had been retreating since D-day, got stuck into heavy fighting again at Best. Fighting against one of the toughest elite troops of the American army, the 101st Airborne Division. Later on the 18th, the mass of the German forces pulled back just behind the railroad tracks in the west and to the Broekdijk in the North. This relieved some pressure of the lines of 2nd and 3rd battalion. During the rest of the day, small groups of the battalions made a lot of prisoners within German ranks. Some of the Germans just didn’t want to fight anymore.
The early morning attack started left 2nd and 3rd battalion in a precarious position. Estimated of enemy strength were still not right. Lt-Col Robert G Cole still estimated the enemy strength of about one third its actual size and strength. Because 2nd battalion’s attack south-west following the lines of 3rd battalion, pivoting towards the canal, a giant gap formed itself in between the drop zone and the German lines. This gave the opportunity for small German fighting groups to get closer to the lines of the 502 PIR. Although the Germans didn’t fully exploit the situation, During the rest of the morning and afternoon the enemy was entering the lines in twos and threes. Another reason why the enemy could penetrate the lines of 3rd battalion was caused by a decision by Robert G Cole. The enemy fire coming in from the intersection and the highway was still so intense that Cole decided to spread his battalion over a longer line. Thereby causing small gaps where small groups of enemy troops could slip through. Major John P Stopka was sent towards the left flank of 3rd battalion. He managed to capture a strip of about 250 yards of highway from the Germans. But with all the gaps in the lines of the paratroopers, it was a dangerous situation to maintain. Eventually, early in the afternoon, Lt-Col Cole decided to ask for air support, to push back the German forces to a safer distance. Cole left his foxhole to tell Major Stopka about his request for an air strike. If bad luck didn’t strike Cole enough this day, in his absence a mortar round landed close to his foxhole killing his radio man and best buddy T-5 Robert E Doran.
The air strike would be the only one during operation Market Garden. It was pure luck that these fighter planes (P-47 Thunderbolts) were in the area. They were escorting the glider serials towards landing zone-W. At about 13.30 hours the planes reached the lines of Lt-Col Cole. Five airplanes popped up from the clouds but accidentally strafed the American lines causing some casualties. Major Stopka was running up and down the lines of the battalion. When the air strike started he was close to the spot and started to place orange panels in the field so the planes would know they were shooting at their own lines. Stopka was called away from this task by Cole, so Cole could finish placing the panels. Finally the airplanes were able to find and strike at the enemy lines. One of the planes was circling over the field. For a moment, Lt-Col Cole raised his head, shielding his eyes to see the plane. Suddenly a shot was fired from a farmhouse only 300 yards away, which hit Cole in his temple causing him to die instantly. A young fanatic and motivated leader, who earned a Congressional Medal of Honor in the now famous bayonet charge on the Carentan causeway in Normandy, was no more. Interesting to add is the fact that the German commander leading the defense of Best, Oberst-Leutnant Rink, got killed in action the same day as Cole. This was a great blow to the battalion. Just over 24 hours into the operation and 3rd battalion had a lot of casualties, got stuck in the woods against heavy opposition and now lost its beloved commander. A soldier who saw Lt-Col Cole die, Lt. Ralph H Watson, couldn’t say the words ‘Cole is dead’. He just couldn’t say the words. Major Stopka, who had just been with Cole, received the message from Watson ‘You are in control of the battalion.’ Major Stopka worked on for an hour before he got the news that Lt-Col Cole was dead and he was now the commander of 3rd battalion. Lt-Col Chappuis of 2nd battalion received orders from Col Michaelis to move through the lines of 3rd battalion, after they reorganized. Chappuis sent his men of to the bridge at 17.00 hours.
While the battalions put great effort into the attack on Best and the bridge, 2nd platoon from Company H was still stuck at the bridge. The fight for the bridge was entering its second day. Early in the morning, Wierzbowski saw how difficult his mission really was. The bridge lay at about 100 yards from their position, they could reach the bridge with the group with a 20 second sprint. But, on the other side of the canal, just south of the bridge, German barracks popped into sight with prepared positions around it. Everywhere Wierzbowski looked, he saw German troops. Wierzbowski realized his position was surrounded. He couldn’t do much more then wait until there was an opportunity to capture the bridge. At dawn on the 18th, German soldiers were moving in from the woods towards the American positions. The enemy had taken up position in between the men at the bridge and the rest of the regiment. The Germans approached the American positions up to 50 yards. Wierzbowski made a brave decision not to get into a long range firefight, but now the Germans were so close he ordered his platoon to fire. When the first shots were being fired, 35 enemy troops dropped to the ground. The German line was thinned out so much, the rest fled back to the woods. The pressure was of the line once more.
Early in the morning they saw a civilian walk up to the bridge. The civilian talked with the German guard for a while, turned around and left. Just minutes Later, at 11.00 hours, an enormous explosion caused the bridge to collapse. The 100 yard long bridge fell into the water. This must have been a great disappointment for the remaining American paratroopers at the bridge. The explosion was so big, that the paratroopers had to lay low in their foxholes because concrete and metal flew sky high and returned to earth on top of the American positions. Not knowing who the civilian is, we will never know if he was involved in the detonation of the bridge. Wierzbowski still wasn’t able to make contact with battalion HQ to tell them about the situation at the bridge. He heard fighting in the north-east, thinking it was 3rd battalion trying to reach for his platoon. He had to find a way to make contact with Lt-Col Cole to tell him the bridge was gone.
The two lead scouts of 2nd platoon, Mann and Hoyle, had been in a stunning battle with the Germans. Pfc. Mann and Sgt. Hoyle knew of an enemy artillery dump position just west of their position. At noon they crawled closer to the highway and got into a position which was easy to defend. From this position Mann fired two bazooka rounds into the artillery dump, causing it to blow. Mann and Hoyle decided to stay in this position for a while, killing six Germans coming from the north in the next hour. Finally Pfc Joe E Mann got hit in both shoulders by rifle fire. Mann got back into the foxhole while Hoyle looked for new targets. He spotted an 88 mm gun at 150 yards further west alongside the canal. Mann motivated him to try his luck so Hoyle fired at the gun and destroyed it with his first shot. A few minutes later the two scouts saw the P-47’s which were initially requested by Lt-Col Cole. The airplanes also attacked targets at and around the bridge. The scouts tried to make contact with the airplanes by waving, but the airplanes thought they were Germans and fired at the position. Luckily no one got hurt.
Wierzbowski was able to destroy more targets at the bridge. He sent his light machine gun crew forward, covering the canal dyke and the highway. An ammunition truck trying to resupply the 88 mm guns was hit by the LMG causing it to blow. The Germans must have been fed up by the attacks of the American paratroopers and launched a couple of attacks. The attacks were repulsed, but many paratroopers were now dead or wounded. A few men were ordered by Wierzbowski to get to the lines of 3rd battalion, trying to get reinforcements, ammunition and much needed medical supplies. None of the patrols got to friendly lines. They were ambushed by the German groups hidden in the woods. Just when the situation seemed to be hopeless for 2nd platoon, two British armored cars appeared on the other side of the canal. XXX-corps had reached the destroyed bridge at Son and now came looking for the bridge at Best. Wierzbowski got out of his foxhole and shouted towards the armored cars. He asked them to tell headquarters that the bridge at Best was gone. The radio operator in the armored car didn’t get through to HQ. The armored cars drew enemy fire but answered back with machine gun fire. One of the soldiers of 2nd platoon, Corporal Daniel Corman, found a small wooden boat and rowed to the other side of the canal. He walked up to the armored car and asked for the vehicle’s first aid box. Also, a plan was being made to get the wounded men across the canal in the wooden boat, so the armored cars could take them back to friendly lines. Sadly, the Germans recommenced fire at the armored cars. While the armored cars back up behind the German barracks and continued their way back to Son, Corman rowed back to the American lines.
Later that evening a patrol of Company E reached the lines of 2nd platoon. They promised to get back to their lines and report their position. Another contact was made with the platoon of Lieutenant Motella Company D, which was cut of from 2nd battalion. Wierzbowski immediately used these men to give his lines more structure. The new group with men of 2nd platoon, C-326th Engineers, the LMG section and Company D dug in for the night together. During the night the Germans launched another attack on the American position at the bridge. Lt. Motella’s men formed the far left flank of the group. The ferocious German attack caused panic in the lines of Lt. Motella. Men running in all directions, some trying to swim to the other side of the canal. Company H’s 2nd platoon was alone, again! The next day, 19 September 1944, the paratroopers were faced with a new attack of Kampfgruppe Lenz and the 1036th Regiment. Most men fell asleep during the night, thinking Lt. Motella covered their position. The sun set and Lt. Wierzbowski looked around him to see what was going on. He saw a German officer with a squad of soldiers within 20 yards of his position. Wierzbowski men threw grenades at the Germans, but the enemy had beaten them to this tactic. Grenades were rolling into foxholes everywhere. Sgt Tom Betrus threw out one of the grenades from his foxhole, other soldiers cleared some of the other grenades. Explosions followed left and right of the foxholes, causing mayhem in the lines of 2nd platoon.
Finally one of the grenades rolled into the foxhole of Pfc. Joe E Mann. The previous day he had desperately asked Wierzbowski to stay on the line. Mann, wounded two times in the shoulder and two times in the arm, was put in a sling with both arms by the medic. When the grenade rolled into the foxhole, Mann couldn’t do much more than to throw his body on top of the grenade. He yelled out ‘Grenade!’ and put his back on the grenade. Thereby saving six other men in his foxhole. 2nd platoon lost another brave trooper, of which some men would say was the bravest they ever met. Eventually, only 3 men of the 15 American paratroopers at the bridge wasn’t wounded. Lt. Wierzbowski, wounded himself, knew that continuing the fight was no option, ordered Private Anthony Waldt to attach a white cloth to the barrel of his gun and wave it. The brave troopers were going to surrender. Two German medics who were captured the previous day by the paratroopers, prevented the German soldiers from killing the remainder of the group. These 15 men were taken towards the German aid station, located on what is now the Speelheideweg. The German medics came along and made sure the group wouldn’t be harmed. When they entered the aid station, Wierzbowski saw 2 other paratroopers who were captured earlier, one of them being Lieutenant Robert Lair. Later in the afternoon, another attack was made on Best by 2nd and 3rd battalion of the 502 PIR. The situation at the aid station got a bit tense. With most German manpower repulsing the attacks only a few guards were left at the aid station. Wierzbowski’s men managed to overpower the guards, capture them and were able to return to the American lines. Finally Wierzbowski and his men could put an end to this heroic battle.
THE FINAL PUSH
In the morning of the 19th, the British engineers of XXX-corps finally finished a 35 yard long Bailey bridge in Son, which replaced the blown up road bridge. The column of tanks started moving towards Arnhem again, finally regaining speed in the offensive. General Maxwell Taylor of the 101st Airborne Division knew that he had to send extra troops to Best, to relieve the two battalions of the 502nd PIR which were still fighting ferociously in the forest just east of Best. Taylor asked for British tank support and received tanks from the 15th/19th Hussars. The Hussars arrived in Eindhoven in the morning of the 19th and a squadron of tanks was sent to Best via Son at once. Second and third battalion of the 327th/401st Glider Infantry Regiment (GIR), who landed on landing zone-W on the 18th, were added to his fighting force. Together with second and third battalion of the 502nd PIR, this fighting force had the assignment of clearing the Eindhoven-Boxtel highway, the bridge area at Best and the road to Sint-Oedenrode north-west of the drop zone of enemy forces. In command of this force was General Gerald Higgins of the 101st Airborne Division. The plan of attack was almost similar to the attack plan which was executed by 2nd battalion 502nd PIR on the 18th, but now the paratroopers were supported by British armor. The attack was scheduled for 14.00 hours. The two battalions of the 502 PIR were ordered to destroy the main body of German forces at Best. The tanks of the 15th/19th Hussars came from the direction of Son and met up with forces of the 502nd PIR on the ‘Schietbaanlaan’ in Best. From this point the tanks followed the Schietbaanlaan towards the south-west with the 502nd PIR in support. Every battalion received 6 tanks of British armor. Company H would maintain its stopping position while Company G and I took three tanks each to clear the area at the bridge. The tanks would try to overrun the German positions with a company of paratroopers in support. While the two battalions of the 502nd PIR were pushing south-west, the 327th GIR was ordered to form a stopping position just south of the Old lake (Oud Meer) in the Son forest, making it impossible for German troops to escape to the east. Therefore the only option for the Germans stuck in the forest was to fight and die or to surrender. If the attack was successful, troops of the 502nd PIR would hold the bridge area and the Eindhoven-Boxtel highway and the 327th/401st GIR would sweep north to north-west, clearing the the Best to Sint-Oedenrode road, pushing the Germans of the drop-and landing zone.
The tanks of the 15th/19th Hussars reached the positions of 3-502 PIR, Company G started the attack at 14.20 hours. Major John P. Stopka tried to hold back the attack, because other units weren’t ready yet. But once the tanks started firing into the woods, large groups of Germans were already surrendering to the might of the British/American force. Stopka saw the immense effect of the attack and called upon 502nd PIR Headquarters to send Military Police (MP) towards Best to take care of the German prisoners. While company G and I were clearing the enemy positions close to the bridge, Company H maintained a blocking position. While company G and I advanced towards the canal, Lt-Col Steve Chappuis ordered 2nd battalion to push south towards the canal, advancing alongside the companies of 3rd battalion. Hundreds of Germans, who fought fanatically against the paratroopers the day before, were know disillusioned by the overwhelming power of the attack and surrendered to the American paratroopers. Sometimes Germans that tried to surrender were seen as traitors and were shot by their own comrades. The Americans didn’t know what to do with the amount of German prisoners. Cpt. Frank Lillyman of 3rd battalion rounded up every available man from the rear to the frontline, to guard the POW’s. The attack towards the bridge was successfully. Now paratroopers of second battalion were able to attack towards the highway and even crossed it. Third battalion moved up north towards their starting positions. They widened the perimeter a little bit and on the right flank, troops of the 502nd PIR, linked up with men of the 327th/401st GIR. Lt. Wierzbowski’s group, who were held at the German aid-station on the Speelheideweg in Best, were able to escape during the massive push of second and third battalion. The attack supported by tanks must have scared the medical personnel and soldiers. Finally the men of the 502nd PIR dug in for the night.
Second battalion of the 327th GIR had the assignment to form a blocking position in between the old lake (Oud Meer) and the Chemical factory alongside the canal. The battalion suffered minor casualties and Company G of Cpt Hugh Evans suffered none. Sgt Manuel Hidalgo and Carl Hanlon of Company G took a lot of risk during the attack, by running over the fire trails of the forest, screaming at the Germans to surrender. This was surprisingly successful and at the end of the attack Company G captured 159 POW’s.
Third battalion of the 327th GIR (1-401 GIR) was less successful that day. Lt-Col Ray Allen and the men of third battalion had to attack the Germans just North-East of Best, also supported by tanks of the 15th/19th Hussars. The Germans had set up new positions in ‘Molenkampen’, an area just north-west of the Son forest. The day before, Molenkampen was still in American hands, but know the Germans had taken over. Third battalion supported by Company E of second battalion started the attack at the old lake and moved North to North-East, pushing the Germans over the road from Best to Sint-Oedenrode. Sadly, third battalion wasn’t able to push the Germans any further. Therefore the Germans were still able to shoot at the glider serials containing 385 gliders that were scheduled to land on landing zone-W in the afternoon of the 19th.
GLIDER RIDERS IN SUPPORT
September 20th was an uneventful day. While fending off the attack of the American paratroopers, the Germans suffered a lot of casualties, therefore they choose to hold their ground by pulling back further into Best. The Germans decided to pull back behind the railroad tracks in Best to the West and behind the crossroads at the Steenweg in the East. The American paratroopers held their lines on the edge of the forest and just West of the highway. The wounded were already evacuated to the hospital in Son the day before. Second and third battalion were ordered to move out in the morning of the 20th. They were supposed to join forces with first battalion 502nd PIR in Sint-Oedenrode. But the Germans decided they wouldn’t give the paratroopers an easy retreat and started an artillery barrage. The American paratroopers called for support, which they received. Batteries of guns from the 377th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion opened fire on Best, causing the German artillery fire to diminish. Second and third battalion left the scene and marched over the drop zone towards Sint-Oedenrode, to be reunited with first battalion again. The Scottish 15th Division took over from the Americans. They tried to liberate the village of Best for over a month, until the town was liberated on October 24.
THE LAST DAY OF THE BATTLE
Map 1: Top-right the dropzone in orange.
Map 2: Point 1, the dropzone. Point 2, at this point the Americans drew fire from the German troops located at the intersection/crossroads at Best.
Map 3: Point 3, the planned route for the American troops. The troops were supposed to erect a roadblock on the Eindhoven-Boxtel highway and create a defensive line at the bridge.
Map 4: The Americans changed their route because of the intense enemy fire and launched an attack towards the Best crossroads. German opposition was heavier than expected.
Map 5: German fire was so intense and more Germans were pushed into the fight that the Americans were losing the battle for the crossroads. Col. Robert Jones decided to pull back to the forest.
Map 6: While Col. Robert Jones organised defenses at point 4, he sent H company’s 2nd platoon under Lt. Wierzbowski towards the bridge.
Photo: Some of the key figures for the battle at Best. left to right: Lt-Col. Robert G. Cole CO of 3rd battalion 502 PIR, Col. Robert Jones CO of Company H and 1Lt. Edmund Wierzbowski CO of 2nd platoon Company H.
Map 1: 2nd battalion was ready for the attack planned for the morning of September 18.
Map 2: The planned attack route for 2nd battalion.
Map 3: The attack stalled and 2nd battalion received heavy enemy machine gun fire and a lot of artillery. 2nd battalion pulled back through the lines of 3rd battalion.
Map 4: The positions for 2nd and 3rd battalion at the end of the afternoon of September 18.
Map 1: The 15/19 Hussars and the 2nd and 3rd battalion of the 327 GIR (red) were ready to attack and support the attack on the Best bridge.
Map 2: The final positions for the Americans and the 15/19 Hussars.