Since December 1940 I was adjutant of the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade Group. In March 1944 I became a parachute instructor in the south of England. In July 1944 I was recalled to the Brigade Headquarters and was appointed to be the Brigade Air Liason Officer. Voluteering for action I became the stick commander of the 1st Brigade staff group with whom General Sosabowski parachuted. After landing I became officer for special duties to the General.
FLIGHT TO ARNHEM:
It was 14.15 pm. Finally we are flying. And for Arnhem, 127 km behind the front line of the Allied ground forces. During the aircraft drill which I had to carry out with the stick I commanded, I still didn't believe we shall fly. Already so many times we were hanging up our containers with the heavy weapons and addional ammunition into the loading chambers of our Dakota and so many times we were entering our Dakota. But always came the order: come out of the aircraft. The operations were delayed and cancelled. The ground forces could get along without our help.I still remmeber all the detailed and lenghty preparations, the orders for every parachute action with a minute by minute accuracy for all previous operations with code names. As a thick fog covered the Midlands and also the Dutch droppingzoness, already since three days we were waiting on our airfields in the Grantham area, expecting to recieve at any minute the order to take off. We all were already over-exerted. From beginning of August, for seven long weeks we were preparing operations. Before, the whole July, we were carrying out parachute exercises. Now in particular, the continued delaying of the take off's, hour by hour or from one day to the next day, and finally the calling off of the operations, all this got on our nerves. Because of the necessity to keep secret the planned operations, the paratroppers were not allowed to leave their quarters. This was more then a kind of confinement.This seven weeks waiting was nearly mental torture, it was in fact nerve-racking. In the last days the tention was growing. Some soldiers couldn't stand it any longer. There were unexplicable accidents, there was refusal and one suicide.This time, by order of the 1st British Airborne Division the parachute serials of our Brigade Group had to fly on the the third day of the operation. There was planned only one lift per day. On the last operationbefore - in the Normandy invasion - there were two lifts in one day. The concentration of forces during an airborne operation is an indispensable factor of a successfull airborne landing. The jump on the third day of the operation was for us a very nasty disappointment. Only the first landing, on the first day, assures the greatest trump, the surprise to the airborne forces. For the second day, especially for the third lift the enemy is allready prepared. Immediatly he gathers all disposable reinforcements and assembles the whole anti-aircraft artillery from the neighbouring areas, forming a tight artillery cordon around the object of the airborme forces. The Germans know all about war and, in particular, about airborne operations. They will wait for us on the dropping ground. We shall have to land on top of their guns. This supposition was strengthened by the rumors that our second glider serial has been destroyed during landing on the third day of the operation. That happend already two days ago.
In spring 1944 I was a parachute instructor, before I was the Brigade Adjudant for three years. In june 1944 I was recalled to Brigade Headquarters and was appointed to be the Brigade Air Liaison Officer. As Air officer I should have stayed at the air field. But I transmitted my duties to my assistant officer and like on the previous operations I asked to go with the Brigade into action. General Sosabowski ordered me again to be commander of thefirst staff stick with which he too was to jump. I was standing near the door of the aircraft and looked at my stick. From the pre-aircraft drill beginning until the jump I was their commander. I was responsable for them. Nobody talked. The faces looked pale and tense. We all were impressed by the operation and, in particular, by its delay. During the preliminery parachute training a British instructor maintained that for the average soldier a parachute jump may be compared with eight hours of hard work. I thought it to be exaggerated as I passed jumping rather without greater sensation. But that was my subjective opinion. After jumping in the morning some soldiers returned to their barracks and didn't want to eat. They directly went to sleep and slept the whole day and night. After my parachuting as an instructor and learning about the frequent accidents, I had to change my opinion. But at the time there were only training jumps. Now we are flying into action. We knew our Dakotas were not bulletproof. During the time the parachutists were jumping out, they had to reduce their speed to 150 km/hr. and had to go down to 150-120 meters. And first of all they had not self-sealing petrol tanks. One incendiary bullet or one spark would cause an explosion or setting the aircraft on fire. Such a death would be rather more unpleasnat then by a bullet. Moreover, previous operations showed that even when an airborne operation achieved its purpose every forth of the parachutists did not return. And this operation can not succeed.
All the time still more and more thoughts penetrated through my mind. We knew American paratroopers were jumping with a reserve parachute. We consoled ourselfes that jumping from such a low height of four or five hundred feet, makes it impossible to open a reserve parachute in time. Before every jump the persistent thought, ' will the chute open? ' was always worrying us. It should be. However, we knew well it might not. I took part in many funerals of soldiers and friends who got killed in training jumps. Of course, many more were killed during training.But now, in anticipation of incomparably greater danger I did not ponder over the parachute.In the first days of August the whole Brigade wanted to fly to Warsaw, to help our fightung capital. Warsaw had sent us our Brigade Group banner. It was secretly made there under German occupation. That banner had to remind us that our Brigade is destined to support an uprising in Poland. That was General Sikorski's wish when our Parachute Brigade was formed. But now in August, we did not get planes to fly to Warsaw. In token of protest a spontaneous hunger-strike broke out among our soldiers. During the recruitment action to our Brigade we promised the volunteers that if they joined our Brigade, they will return to Poland by the shortest way, by air. That was the greatest attraction forejudging the access of many volunteers to our Brigade. And now, Warsaw was fighting alone and demanded the coming of our Brigade. But we could not get planes even for one symbolic parachute company to assist our capital in its fight against the Germans. That were bitter recollection, particularly now when we were flying to liberate another foreign Country.I looked at General Sosabowski who was sitting on the metal bench among the other soldiers. His eyes were closed and he looked very grave. He was aware that our situation was exeptionally serious. There was no information about the offensive of the Second Army and what brought it to a standstill.
Field Marshall Montgommery promised that the leading XXX Corps will get to Arnhem in the evening of the second day of the operation. But when up to-day it did not come to Arnhem, it was possible it won't come at all. And what will happen with us. Certainly, the Germans will remember that Arnhem with the Lower Rhine is the last obstacle on the way of a farther Allied offensive which will open the way to Germany, passing around the Siegfried Line. And that may bring about the complete collapse of the whole German front in the West.Scarce information from Arnhem reported that the Germans recaptured the Arnhem highway bridge and that they ousted British units from the city. The British Airborne Division with our glider lifts together were surrounded in the suburb Oosterbeek. Yesterday General Sosabowski received an order that our dropping zone was changed - 6 kilometers to the east from our first D.Z. This indicated a complete change of the situation. The conditions must be entirely different from the expected ones. At that time General Sosabowski didn't know that the change of our dropping ground was for us a fortunate coincedence. What he did know was if the whole British Airborne Division could not hold back the Germans and was forced to withdraw, the arrival of our parachute lifts would not change much in the general situation. Perhaps we were only flying to save the remainder of the British Division and our glider lifts, or to share their fate. In addition we had to land on the other side of the river. There we shall be alone, without our heavy weapons, our artillery which had gone with the British lifts on the north side of the river. If we don't join quickly the Airborne Division, we'll have to fight nearly like in September 1939 in Poland, with rifles against tanks. Many of us asked themselves the same question: ' Do we not fly into disaster? 'The General knew all about it. The same morning he was determined to disobey orders and not take off. He doubted if the orders held good. He wanted reliable confirmation of the orders from the British Airborne Corps or from Headquarters of the First Allied Airborne Army. At 8 0'clock this morning our British Brigade Liaison Officer, Lt. Col. Stevens, brought him the requested confirmation and General Brereton's Chief of Staff assured him by telephone that the ferry is held by the Airborne Division which also secures our dropping zone and wished him good luck. These informations did not conform with the facts in Holland and General Sosabowski apprehended it.
We were flying high above the clouds, undoubtedly over 2000 meters, as it got colder and colder. I lokked through the little window. It was a ground vuew. More then hundred C-47's in close order over white clouds. We were flying over the Walcheren islandwhere a strong flak concentration fired at our planes. One plane was hit and smoking went steeply down. We knew that the German radiolocation at Walcheren will immediatly report to the German Headquarters that a new great formation of planes with parachutists is flying in the direction of the airborne landings. So German units on all potential landing grounds will be prepared to recieve us. They knew that the easiest way to destroy parachute units is to attack them just before or during their landing. Again came the atrocious, paralysing thought that our last hour of life was approaching. Down on the dropping ground the Germans are waiting. They will shoot at us as huntsmen at ducks. But Ducks are smaller and are able to change their flight. The waether was improving. Larger and larger openings in the cloud layers were appearing. Five minutes beofre we were due to arrive at Arnhem, the pilot gave the warning 'Prepare for action, five minutes to go'. We were approaching our dropping ground. The planes were descending. We opened the door of our aircraft. Then came the red light signal. I gave the order: 'Action station'. Everybody got up from the benches. all were standing, one behind the other, with their kitbags and were preparing for the exit. They hooked up the static line to the aircraft strop. I ordered to check up if the snap clasps with the safety pins are duly hooked up. The soldiers, one after the other, called out their numbers, confirming that they are ready.
As artillery shells were exploding all around, the aircraft was thrown right and left. Having a fast hold of the door-frame, in order not to fall out, I recognized the Meuze and then the Waal with Nijmegen, and finally the Lower Rhine and Arnhem. On the highway bridge there was much traffic, lorries and tanks. However they are German and the flak was getting stronger. Our Dakota was hurled violently at all sides. But I was unable to divert my eyes from the terrible view. Two planes flying close to our own were hit, smoking and in flames, they went down. Before us appeared a hige wall of fire and steel. And we were flying straight into it.
I recognized our D.Z., framed on the right side by gardens and farms. All along them were standing soldiers, but not British, who had to secure our dropping zone. They were Germans who were shooting at our planes and at our almost defenceless paratroopers floating slowly down on their parachutes. At that time the General also knew that the ferry will not be in the hands of the Airborne Division. General Sosabowski was aware that the Brigade will have to fight alone, without our anti-tank guns. The General was no more concerned that the Chief of Staff of the first Allied Airborne Army was hardly well informed about the actuel situation around Arnhem.
In spite of all we were very lucky. As we learned after the fight on the dropping zone from German P.O.W.'s, for three days German tanks were waiting there for our landing. Only an hour before we arrived, they got orders to move south, to stop the Allied offensive in the Nijmegen area. German tanks on the dropping ground would have entirely changed the situation and probably would have ment the annihilation of our Brigade Group.In our Dakota the green light was showing. That was the end of all meditation and speculation. In a split second I threw out 30-kilgrams bags with equipment and ammunition. I did't feel the weight of he bags. Then I jumped out of the aircraft and after me successively all paratroopers jumped too. It was 17.15 hours. The flight lasted two hours and forty-five-minutes, somewhat less then three hours which I shall never forget, all my life. And that was only the beginning of our part in the Market Garden operation.
The last conference of the Market Garden operation and comments.
That morning, Sunday, September 24th, 1544 - the eighth day since the beginning of the operation Market Garden - I was on the dyke observing the opposite river bank of the Lower Rhine to find out any differences in our and the German positions which might have occurred there after our last night crossing. A headquarters runner came to me and said,"Lieutenant, you are to report immediately to the General." When I asked what had happened, the soldier replied that some British generals had arrived at Driel and had had an animated conversation with General Sosabowski, our Brigade Group commander. The Arriving' at the cottage which was our Brigade headquarters, the GeneraI told me to take a Sten gun and some grenades as we are going directly to Valburg for a conference with General Horrocks, the XXX Corps's commander. Just then a British jeep pulled up. The driver went quickly out of the car and returned to his unit.
Looking at the jeep, I remembered that yesterday Lt.-Colonel Mackenzie and Lt.-Colonel Myers. from the 1st Airborne Division returned from Valburg and the Corps Headquarters. Before going they were told that this would be too dangerous without escort and therefore they got two dingo scout cars and two armoured cars. On the way back they lost one armoured car in an encounter with the Germans. So I felt a little uneasy, but I consoled myself that a jeep is quicker than an armoured car. Sosabowaki's old driver, Sgt. Juhas of our Engineer company, was driving. Judas was always considered to be a crazy driver. I did not, like to drive with him. But this time I was glad he was the driver. The' General climbed next to him, and Lt.-Colonel Stevens, the British Liaison Officer to our Brigade, and I got into the back. Now with the nature and danger of the terrain Judas went wild. The jeep careened down the narrow roads at a steady 50 miles an hour. At one point bullets whizzed past us from a German patrol, but we could not release our grip on the grab handles to reply and shoot back for fear of falling out of the jeep. I was surprised that the General had to go to the conference. General Horrocks could have given his orders to Sosabowaki here at Driel. After all the Germans could attack again. So why take away its commander. Since December 1940 I was the Brigade adjutant. In March 1944 I became a parachute instructor in the South of England. In July I was recalled too Brigade HQ and was appointed to be the Brigade Air Liaison Officer. volunteering for action I became the stick commander of the 1st Brigade staff group with whom General Sosabowaki parachuted. After landing I became officer for special duties to the General.Thence I concocted that this night large-scale-crossings are planned to bring at last relieve to the 1st Airborne Division, and at the conference Sosabowski had to inform the other commanders about the conditions prevailing alone, the river. After a while, consequently, I asked the General if at least the great offensive over the Rhine, we and first and foremost the Airborne Division were awaiting, starts and will bring relieve to the Airborne Division. But the General muttered only something unintelligible under his moustache, so I knew I was wrong with my guess. But I also knew I had to take head of the events to come. If the General had gone to the trouble of ordering a search for me that morning and took me for this conference, and not his A.D.C. , Lt. Sieczkowski who completed his studies at an English college - he must have known the conference will not be an easy one. Probably the morning talk with General Horrocks had not taken a good turn.
Before long we reached Valburg. The British military police directed us to a large tent at a meadow. There already a group of some ten British generals and brigadiers stood outside, as if waiting for us. Sosabowaki reported to general Horrocks. Immediately I noticed that the greeting was rather very formal. Horrocks told Sosabowski to enter the tent as the conference will begin at once. But Sosabowaki asked if he may take his adjutant and interpreter to the conference. Instantly Horrocks replied, "oh no, this is not necessary. You know English quite 'Well. Just this morning I talked with you, didn't I? Sosabowski again insisted that the conference will decide important problems and he, might not understand everything. But Horrocks was unyielding and quickly walked off in the direction of the tent. During many conferences and personal talks I was always Sosabowski's interpreter, and never my presence was called into question. Then I remembered the rather cool greeting by Horrocks. I was puzzled as here was a commander coming straight frome the Lower Rhine where he had parachuted and was given such an indifferent reception.Now I had to ask myself why Horrocks didn't want that another Polish officer to be a witness of the conference. I did not find a reassureing answer. So I immediately went to General Browning whom I knew from all his talks with Sosabowski which I always translated and asked him, "Sir, you know my General. Don't you think it would be better that I translate during the conference?" General Browning didn`t say anything. He dust nodded his head and went to Horrocks. Horrocks could not refuse to Browning.When we were entering into the tent, much to my surprise all British generals and brigadiers ostentatiously took their seats only at one side of the long table. Yet General Sosabowski was directed alone to the other side of the table. Even Lt.-Colonel Stevens, the British Liaison officer to our Brigade, sat with the British officers. Undoubtedly, that was a planned demonstration against Sosabowski. General Sosabowski sat down and told me to sit next to him. Seeing that Horrocks, seated opposite and flanked by Browning and Thomas, the commanding officer of the 43rd Division, said, "No, the lieutenant might stand behind your chair." I understood this was Horrocks reaction that he had to give way to Browning's request.
The whole conference looked odd to me. It did not look like an officers conference of allied armies. On the contrary, it had clearly the appearance of a court martial session where on one side sat the judges, and opposite them the accused alone.General Horrocks convened the conference stating that, as before, General Demsey's order to form a strong bridgehead on the other side of the Lower Rhine is in force. In light of this, there will be two river crossings tonight. The overall commander of the two crossings will be General Thomas to whom he turned the agenda. General Thomas stood up. The contrast between him and, General Sosabowski could not have been greater. Like the other British generals, Thomas was resplended. The scarlet collar tabs and cap showed brightly over the smartly tailored and crisply pressed uniform anchored by brilliantly polished boots. General Sosabowski who four days before parachuted into Driel, though freshly shaved looked shabby in his used battle-dress. The entire time since leaving England, Sosabowski had not removed his boots and had slept a maximum of two hours a day, and was naturally very tired. General Thomas stated that tonight at ten o'clock there will be two crossings. The main crossing will be carried out by his 4th Dorsets Battalion at the ferry site Driel Heveadorp.(Some hours later it turned. out that not a whole British battalion had to be sacrificed that night together with the Polish Brigade, but only half of the Dorsets had to cross the river, of course, with the remaining units of our Brigade. Actually less then half of the 4th Dorsets crossed the river and naturally did not achieve anything).The Dorsets will take all supplies, ammunition and food for the first Airborne Division to the other side of the river. After the Dorsets, at the same site, the 1st Polish Parachute Battalion will follow them. The remaining units of the Polish Parachute Brigade will cross the river also at 10 p.m. at the same crossing place they had crossed the Rhine the nights before. The overall commander for both crossings will be Brigadier Walton, the commanding office of his 13th Infantry Brigade. So General Thomas finished his speech not give any information needed for organizing the crossings. There was no explanation how many boats will be delivered, of which type, how many soldiers will get into one boat, who would row them, engineers or the soldier themselves, and first of all when will arrive the boats at the crossing sites. What about smoke-screens, and will be artillery support, direct or indirect, will tanks cover the crossings, one or both? And in particular, what will happen later? When will start the great offensive to relieve the troops on the other side of the river? Nothing was said about these important questions. Surely Horrocks could have told Sosabowski these scanty informations when he was at Driel, and Sosabowski' s coming to Valburg would have been unnecessary.
Now I understood. this strange meeting was not meant at all to be an operational conference. It was only a mere formality, It had no military purpose. It was convened for another purpose. It was intended to provoke Sosabowski to protest against a received order and to put him out of patience, so that the conference would be broken up. Now I had no doubts about the purpose of the conference. I was also shocked by the rude and unceremonious taking away of our 1st Parachute Battalion from under Sosabowski's command. Thomas had the same rank as Sosabowski and he disposed of our Batalion without any excuse or explanation. In such cases English courtesy demanded some polite, reasonable phrases appeasing that direct violation of military routine and also good manners. He should have said at least: 'It is only for the crossing or the actual situation demanded it. Immediately after the crossing the battalion will return under your command. But first of all he should have made his apologies that without previous consulting he made that decision. I was asking myself why he had not done so. Every average Englishman would have done that.(A similar incident of taking away a battalion from another brigade happened six days earlier between the brigadiers Hicks and Hackett from the 1st Airborne Division. Hackett strongly objected to being told how to dispose his troops. The whole literature about Market Garden depicted in detail the altercation between the two Brigadiers. Brigadier Hackett was appeased only when Hicks transferred one of his battalions to Hackett's brigade.)
More and more I was convinced this was a planned action against General Sosabowski. Furthermore there was still another grave question. With the Brigade's glider lift, with one battalion ferried across the Rhine in the last two nights, and with the present taking away by Thomas another battalion from under Sosabowski 's command, a new predicament arose. Sosabowski so proud of commanding his Brigade Group which he had formed and trained was now, in effect, commanding only a battalion. Moreover, if even all units of our Brigade were on the other side of the river, then our Brigades units, being in direct fire contact with the Germans, were so scattered among the 1st Airborne Division's units, that Sosabowski never would be able to assemble and to command his Brigade Group until the whole situation would change there. All this looked to me as the XXX Corps Generals were exactly driving at that. Now I was certain that the XXX Corps Generals aimed to provoke Sosabowski to object to Thomas's orders and so to cause a breaking up of the conference.
General Sosabowski wanted at any price to persuade the XXX Corps's generals into believing that Arnhem can be captured. He never gave up easily his plans. As the generals Horrocks and Thomas adhered rigidly to their previously agreed scheme and autocratacally refused even to discusss Sosabowski's proposal, he decided to shock them. He got up again and said, 'the crossing at the ferrysite can not meet with success. You won't gain anything by this way. You will only sacrifice your soldiers. Moreover, only one battalion will not change the situation!' And as Thomas tried to interupt him, loosing control over himself, he added angrily: 'but remember that since eight days and nights not only Polish soldiers but also the best sons of England are dying there in vain, for no effect.'
Here came Horrocks to Thomas's help. Interrupting both Sosabowski and Thomas, he exclaimed:'The conference is over. The orders given by General Thomas will be carried out.' Turning to Sosabowski he added, 'and if you, General, do not want to carry out the orders given to you, we shall find another commander for the Polish Para Brigade who will carry them out.' I was stunned by Horrocks's unexpected reaction. His getting up and his manner of speaking appeared to be a nervous outbreak. His last threat was completely unfounded as Sosabowski not even once mentioned he won't obey any order given to him. In this regard Sosabowski was a very orderly soldier. Yet he considered his duty to warn his superiors when their orders were faulty or when he knew a better chance. But he never refused to obey an order given to him. However Horrocks was incensed that their plan was foiled and moreover Sosabowski had criticized their crossing plan and even had proposed a bolder plan.At the first momentI regretted that Sosabowski had not allowed me to translate. But I understood him. He knew that my more gentle way of translating would have had no effect at all and here were involved the lives of soldiers. This was the most important fact for Sosabowski. He had a great sense of responsibility for the lives of soldiers. However I knew also that this conference will have consequences for our brigade, and first of all for the General himself.
When Sosabowski was going out of the tent, he saw General Thomas with Lt. Colonel Stevens, giving him instructions for our brigade. Sosabowski approached them, but Thomas ignored him entirely. Then after having given his orders to Stevens, he walked off without offering to shake hands with Sosabowski, nor making any sign in Sosabowski's direction. General Browning, who didn't say a word throughout the whole conference, approached Sosabowski and invited him to lunch to Nijmegen. Sosabowski, particularly after the incident with General Thomas, was pleased to be invited by General Browning, the more that he still hoped to convince Browning to his plan of a large scale crossing. At Nijmegen Browning went with Sosabowski to their mess. Before they dropped me at the junior officers mess, and General Sosabowski told me he will come for me to take me back to Driel after Lunch. After more then an hour Sosabowski came back in a newly obtained staff car. I noticed he was quite excited and shortly after he told me that a greater crossing is not possible as there are not available any boats. Then with a certain satisfaction he related that he had told Browning what he thought of this carelessness. He had told him, a Polish company commander, when he had to cross only one river, and not six large water obstacles, would not have forgotten to take boats with his company. And what did General Horrocks do, and all his generals and their whole staff? Here at Nijmegen there were hundreds of lorries, also ambulances, but no lorries with boats were seen. Did all the generals forget the boats? Sosabowski was embittered as he now understood that the great casualties suffered by our brigade during our crossings were caused by the small number of boats delivered to us. He could not understand the forgetfulness and carelessness of Horrocks and his generals. Their thoughtlessness permitted the Germans to concentrate their fire on the small number of boats we had recieved from the 43rd Division.
I was alarmed at this turn of events. Gen. Horrocks was a close friend of General Browning. Besides, I realized that the XXX Corps generals won't forget that at the conference Sosabowski exposed their reluctance to make a greater effort to bring help the 1st Airborne Division at so late a time. I knew also that General Sosabowski had lost his last friend among the British generals, and now had had there only enemies. So knowing the British mentality, I thought it necessary to warn the General against the consequences to come. Maybe I did it in too direct words. The last days were very exausting for all of us. General Sosabowski, knowing that he was in the right and that he did not commit mistakes, believed that I had exceeded my competences. He was very displeased with my frank warning. In consequence, since that day he did not summon me any more.
However in his last book 'The Road Led Over Fallows', published shortly before his death, he cited more or less precisely my warning as follows: 'Not in vain, my intelligent and experienced former adjutant, Captain Dyrda, told me: 'Sir, if in connection with the operation the smallest starting point will be found to accuse you that you are guilty for the failure of the operation, it seems to me you will be courtmartialed. 'In December 1944, on request of the British, General Sosabowski was dismissed from the command of the Polish 1st Parachute Brigade Group, which he alone had formed, not without Polish and British bureaucratic hindrance, trained and commanded so expertly.
The Valburg conference was not an ordinary routine conference for the following resons:
1) At the conference presided Lt. General Horrocks, the commander of the XXX Corps.
2) In the conference participated Lt. General Browning, the deputy commander of the 1st Allied Airborne Army.
3) The conference determined the first - so much behind time - crossing of the lower Rhine by a unit of the XXX Corps which had to bring help at last to the airborne forces fighting since eight days in isolation on the northern bank of the river.
4) At the conference General Sosabowski was ordered also to cross the Lower Rhine with his remaining units.
5) The plans made by the XXX Corps generals at that conference - or rather before the conference - resulted finally in informing Fieldmarshall Montgomery about an alledged lack of keenness of the Polish Parachute Brigade Group to fight and afterwards in in Montgemorey's signal of the 17th of October, 1944 which slandered the Polish Parachute Brigade. The signal, found out later to be untrue, was not repeated in any books concerning the Market Garden Operation.
6) In consequence of that conference the whole Market Garden Operation was called off.
7) Also in consequence of that conference General Sosabowski was dismissed from the command of the Polish Parachute Brigade Group.Regarding the above mentioned arguments, it is more then strange (if one does not know the above described facts which occured at the Valburg conference) that the whole literature about the Market Garden Operation methodically does not mention the Valburg conference even once. In none of the numerous books about the operation the name 'Valburg conference' does not appear even once. The conference seems to be under taboo. I think it is the best proof of the authenticity of my relation about that strange conference. Neither General Horrocks, nor General Urquhart, Nor General Frost, Nor Cornelius Ryan, Nor G. Hibbert, nor G. Powell do mention the Valburg conference. ALso Montgomery in his memoires, Alan Brooke in his personal diaries and biographical notes nor the official account of the British Airborne Divisions ' By Air To Battle' nor many other authors make any mention of the Valburg conference. An exeption are, of course, General Sosabowski's books. In his two Polish books, published in England and also in his English book 'Freely I served' he always describes the Valburg conference but delineates only his dispute with General Thomas concerning the taking away of his 1st Parachute Battalion from under his command. For many reasons General Sosabowski did not discribe the other humiliations which met him at that conference.
However, there are two British
authors who verify that at the Headquarters of the 43rd Division was held a conference and
do not mention the Valburg place where it was held. Here are their quotations:
G.Powell, 'The Devil's Birthday' - The Bridges to Arnhem, page 213: 'The final decision to carry out the evacuation of the 1st Airborne Division was reached at a conference at Headquarters 43rd Division on the morning of the 24th.' G. Hibbert, ' The Battle of Arnhem, page 216: ' The apprehensions General Sosabowski had always felt about the British attitude towards the operation were now beeing proved well founded. Consequently his own attitude at a conference with Thomas and Horrocks held earlier that day, September 24th, was not immediatly cooperative.' Hibbert also confirms in his book that at that conference it came to a clash between Gen. Horrocks and Gen. Sosabowski when Gen. Horrocks ' had to assert his authority with General Sosabowski'.
It should be mentioned that Gen. Horrocks
although he describes extensively the 24th September in his books and although he had
presided at that conference, did not drop even a hint at the Valburg conference. However
in spite of the great silence around the Valburg conference, some of the facts which
occurred there, could not kept in concealment and were described by British authors in
their books. Thomas's first provocation, the taking away of the 1st Polish Parachute
Battalion, is depicted by Geoffrey Powell in his book, who compared it with the mistake
committed by Brigadier Hicks six days earlier when he disposed of one of Brigadier
Hackett's battalions. General Thomas's second provocation is narrated by General Urquhart
who outright condemned the plan of the subordination of General Sosabowski under the
command 'of a comparatively junior brigadier'. This is General Urquhart's relation of that
event from his book 'Arnhem', published in 1958:
On Saturday, September 23rd, Lt. Colonel MacKenzie reported to General Urquhart that he had convinced nobody at XXX corps about the seriousness of 1st Division's plight. His sceptism mounted when General Thomas ordered the commander of the leading brigade of his 43rd Division to take the Polish Brigade under command.' Compared with the other snags, the renowned independence of Sosabowski was only a minor obstacle. This plan was not going to produce a crossing of sufficient strenght to be of any real use. The new command arrangement was thoroughly unsatisfactory and showed little regard for the fact that the Poles were a brigade group of great fighting potential under an experienced commander holding the rank of Major General. To have put him under a comparatively junior brigadier was just inviting friction'.It has to be emhasized that this provocation was made exclusivly to humiliate General Sosabowski and to put him out of patience during the conference. Because during that night there occurred circumstances where decisions had to be taken by the overall commander of the two crossings. But at that night of the 24/25th September Brigadier Walton did not intervene at all. That an altercation occurred between Sosabowski and both Horrocks and Thomas during the Valburg conference, is related by Christopher Hibbert (The Battle Of Arnhem page 216) and by Geoffrey Powell (The Devils Birthday, page 214), although in both books in a very naive, untrue and distorted way.
It is worthy to emphasize that in none of the cited books the place were the described conversations took place is never mentioned. So the Valburg conference is nowhere named. G. Powell confirms too the discussion between Sosabowski and Browning at Nijmegen after the Valburg Conference, writing: ' This little affray between Thomas and Sosabowski at Valburg did not discourage Sosabowski from complaining forcefully to Browning, when he visited him later that day at Nijmegen, that if ambulances could reach Driel to evacuate the wounded, so could adequate rivercrossing equipment.' In addition, attention deserves the fact that Lt. Colonel Mackenzie, the 1st operational officer of the 1st airborne Division, got allready knowledge of the provocation planned on Saturday, September 23rd, that was the day before the Valburg conference. That is a proof of the fact that the provocations were planned and prepared in detail already one day before the conference. There is also another fact worth noticing. After the war in his book ' A Full Life' General Horrocks maintained, ' that on September 24th he ordered General Thomas to carry out a recconnaissance farther to the west....because he hoped to side slip the 33rd Division across the Lower Rhine farther to the west and carry out a left hook against the German forces attacking the Airborne perimeter.'
General Horrocks writes in his 'Escape To Action' (page 231): 'I should have ordered General Thomas to carry out a left hook across the Lower Rhine much farther to the west, and so attack the Germans who were engaged with the 1st Airborne Division, from behind. General Horrocks admits he should have ordered the left hook, but he did not. Reading this I was suprised as this idea was just Sosabowski's plan at the Valburg conference of which at that time Horrocks did not want to hear anything. However, after the war and after thinking over his conduct, General Horrocks visibly changed his opinion as he must have understood the importance of Sosabowski's plan represented without success at the Valburg conference. Also G.Powell sustains that General Horrocks's above statement in those days of September 1944 was inaccurate. In his 'The Devils Birthday' (page 214) he rectifies this statement gently, explaining that 'after the lapse of time Horrocks's memory of events may have been faulty'. General Essame, the commander of the 214 Infantry Brigade at the time, equally remembers differently those events. Therefore also Horrocks in his book 'A Full Life' sums up his new ideas about Sosabowski's large Rhine crossing with the words, 'it is always easy to be wise after the event..'. But Sosabowski was already wise at Valburg and tried in vain to convince Horrocks that his plan was the only way out of the situation of those days. Most instructive regarding General Horrocks's way of thinking at that time are also the after mentioned recollections of General Essame, the 43rd Division historian and commander of the 214 Brigade at that time, who remembers the facts of those days as follows: 'Lt.General Horrocks faced the facts 24th Septmeber. The position held by the Airborne Division had no military value. It was merely a nebulous area....Horrocks therefore instructed 43rd Division to carry out the evacuation.' The above quotation shows best General Horrocks's kind of thinking at that time completely incompatible with Montgomery's Operational Directive 525 for the British Second Army in the Market Garden Operation. The development of the situation of those days surpassed Horrocks's possibilities of action. The quick transition from great optimism to utter pessmism, together with the consciousness of the commited mistakes, exerted its fateful influence on Horrocks's mind.
Horrocks's initial optimism appeared at its most unaccountable when before and during the first stages of the operation, in which his Corps had to cross six large water obstacles, he thought it unnecessary to order his forward divisions to take boats with the leading units, and to check the execution of that order. This carelessness retarded the Waal crossing for critical eight hours and made impossible the greater crossing ot he Lower Rhine demanded by Sosabowski on September 24th at the Valburg conference.
The inexcusable plan to make Sosabowski
the scape goat for his and his corps's errors and the omission did not improve his state
of nerves and moral sense. In his book ' A Full Life ' published in 1960, General Horrocks
wrote that ' looking back I an certain that this was about the blackest moment of my life.
I began to find it difficult to sleep. In fact I had to be very firm with myself in order
to banish from my mind, during those midnight hours when everything seems at it worst, the
picture of the airborne troops fighting their desperate battle on the other side of the
river in front. I had sufficent experience to know that any commander who finds it
difficult to sleep will soon be unfit to be responsible for other men's lives. And here I
was gping that way myself, an unpleasant thought.' But regardless of all sentiments
prompted by various considerations, the plans taken at Valburg to make Sosabowski and his
Brigade the scapegoat for XXX Corps's slowness and tardiness were consequently realized.
Proper informations about Sosabowski's spurious obstructions and the lack of keeness of
the Polish Parachute Brigade were represented to Field-Marshal Montgomery who consequantly
sent following signals to the Chief of the Imperial Staff, Viscount Alan Brooke, dated
October 17, 1944:
' Polish Para Brigade fought very badly here and the men showed no keeness to fight if it meant risking their own lives. I do not want this Brigade here and possible you may like to send them to join other Poles in Italy...'Of course, Montgomery preferred that the main fault for not succeeding in Arnhem was found in a Polish brigade and not in his favourite English commander. Also on December 1st General Sosabowski was shown a letter written by Genera Browning to General Weeks, Deputy Chief of the imperial General Staff with the following uncomprehensible charges: ' That officer (General Sosabowski) showed himself completely unable to understand the urgency of the operation and showed always the inclination of naggling, and his aversion to do his full part in the operation, if everything was not done for him and his Brigade.'General Sosabowski denominated those charges as 'groundless and impudent lies' in his last book published in England 'The Road Led Over Fallows.'
Those charges, so I think, could be adressed solely to General Horrocks and General Thomas. Finally on December 9, 1944, on British request General Sosabowski was definitely dismissed from the command of his Parachute Brigade Group, inspite of his asking to delay the dismissal after a committee of generals had examined his conduct during the operation. Such a committee was never convened.So at lenght the infamous Valburg plans succeeded in reaching their final aim. Montgomery seemed to be convinced, for the time beeing, that General Sosabowski and the Polish Parachute Brigade were chiefly responsible for not capturing Arnhem. But in course of time Field Marshal Alan Brooke learned the real causes of the Market Garden failure and knew that Montgomery's signal was only an attempt to excuse his own and the mistakes of the generals of his XXX Corps. Therefore , although he analyzed with full particulars the failure of the operation in his was diaries and autobiographical notes, he did not mention neither Montgomery's signal nor a single mistake which had to be committed by the Polish Parachute Brigade. Also Field Marshal Montgomery understood later the baselessness of his accusation and the impossibilty of maintaining it. Therefore in all his books there is no criticism at all of the Polish Brigade nor of General Sosabowski and also notice of his unfortunate signal. However the Valburg conference was still kept in secret. Even after the war when the Polish Parachute Brigade Group was in the British occupation army in Germany, General Sosabowski did not return to his brigade. But as some facts from the Valburg conference permeated through in shape of intentionally disorted and untrue stories, so in some books about Market Garden General Sosabwski was represented as a narrow minded, conceited foreigner who allegedly was arguing with general Horroks and General Thomas for instance, in words like, ' I am General Sosabowski. I command the Polish Parachute Brigade and I do as I like.
'It is difficult to understand that the same authors who describe General Sosabwoski like an Afghan rebel leader and not as a Polish General, emphasized that General Sosabowski is 'a gallant and extremely gifted commander or that he is a man with potential to be a great leader', military or political (writers Hibbert and Powell), had no inhibtions from portraying him in the same books as a conceited and feeble minded psychopath. They did not ponder that other generals, for instance General Urquhart described him in a very positive and favourable way. That also Cornelius Ryan in his 'A Bridge Too Far' represented Sosabowski as a general knowing often more than other generals and who foresaw and evaluated the development of the actual situation again more accurately than the other generals. Moreover did these authors not know that already before the war through a succession of years Sosabowski was a professor in the Polish War Academy. Still remains the question who informed the writers of such nonsense and why did these writers believe their probably competent informer without checking up his absurdities. There is no doubt that this was also a planned action to cover up the Valburg conference event.
Of course, general Sosabowski was a difficult man. He himself recognized already in his first book that he was a difficult person. But that originated mainly from the fact that he knew more and foresaw more accurately new possibilities than other officers and defended his point of view and arguments intransigently. Then he did not like to compromise, in particular when it concerned the life of soldiers. In addition, as a Polish patriot he had also to consider Polish interests, and wanted also to maintain his Parachute Brigade Group for the liberation of his country. For this purpose the Brigade had been primarily formed. Not all the English wanted to understand those problems. But there were English officers who comprehended those questions. One of them was group Captain Newnham, the commander of the Ringway Parachute Training School.
In his war memoirs he discusses some of our problems as follows: 'Neither have I ever sensed a more fervent desire among men to fight for, and return to, their native land. Sosabowski himself was a soldier in the old tradition and stead fastly refused to discuss political matters. He was a soldier, he said, with a duty to obey and carry out the orders given to him by the competent authority. A considerable measure of friendliness and esteem developed between PTS and their Polish Pupils. The behaviour of the Polish troops throughout the long period during which they were coming to Ringway was exemplary. But memories are short and friendships and gratitude soon forgotten in this impious and rapacious post war era in which there is far too much talk about 'rights' and little enough about 'duty'.Now the end of the Market Garden Operation came very quickly. At the Valburg conference General Browning convinced himself that XXX Corps could not and did not want to risk a larger crossing than of one battalion. His last conversation with Sosabowski at Nijmegen made him aware that there was no other way out of the present situation than to evacuate the airborne forces from the northern bank of the Lower Rhine. So immediatly he drove to General Dempsey, the commander of the British Second Army, who after a talk at St. Oedenrode with general Browning and General Horrocks whom he ordered to come to St. Oedenrode, half way between their commanding posts, decided Sunday late afternoon to withdraw the airborne forces from the Lower Rhine. That decision was finally approved by Montgomery on Monday morning, September 25th.
However it was rather strange if not ironic that just as the XXX Corps's generals finally admitted defeat and also general Dempsey and Montgomery consented to the withdrawal, Field Marshal Model reported to Field Marshal von Rundstedt that the situation along the Lower Rhine was continually deterioating and for the past week he had been able to do no more than delay the British actions. He needs, at the very least, a minimum reinforcement of an infantry and one panzer division, one panzer brigade, two assault gun battalion, together with ammunition and infantry replacement.Some authors emphasize that the definite decision had to be taken only when it was not possible to send greater units across the Rhine during the Sunday-MMonday night. But Horrocks and Thomas did not make any preparations for a crossing in strenght. They intended to ferry only half of the Dorset Battalion over the river. That night too, Thomas sent with Lt. Col. Meyers, the chief engineer of the airborne division, a letter to General Urquhart informing him that the 2nd army was not now to form a bridgehead across the Rhine, and by arrangement between Urquhart and himself the Airborne Division was to be withdrawn on a date to be agreed between themselves. Monday early morning Urquhart signalled to Thomas the withdrawal 'must be tonight'. Summing up the story of the Valburg conference was to complete the history of the Market Garden Operation.
To show the real causes for keeping that conference in secret and to prove that the dismissal of General Sosabowski was to throw the main part of the XXX Corps's blame on General Sosabowski and the Polish Parachute Brigade.The comments were written for the following reason. Already before the war I met many English people. Duting the war I stayed in Britain for over four years. I had many English friends I always admired their andother English people's correct and excellent behaviour and their high moral conduct.
Before the Valburg conference I would never have believed that such transgressions could be committed by intelligent British people. I am still convinced that the Valburg incidents were an exception from the general conduct.
Jerzy H. Dyrda
Editor: This document is of historic importance.