More than 65 years ago, a young German soldier stepped onto the wide, flat bridge deck of the bridge over the Lower Rhine at Arnhem in Holland. It was still littered with the smoking debris of battle, and he had a white flag of truce in his hands. He spoke good English, and his orders were to deliver an honourable invitation to surrender to the shattered remnants of the beleaguered British First Parachute Brigade under the command of Lt. Col. John Frost, who had failed to take the bridge and were now up against overwhelmingly superior German forces.
The battle for the bridge at Arnhem in September 1944, immortalized in the film ‘A bridge too far’, was a bold attempt by Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery to make a quick dash into the heartland of Germany through Holland, and finish the Second World War early. The attack on this last bridge failed when the remaining 740 men out of a 10,000 strong force had to withdraw after holding out for more than four days, instead of the planned two. The German invitation to surrender was refused by the British Paras. Their last radio message was: ‘Out of ammo. God save the King!’
Only months earlier, on 6th June 1944, young American men 19, 20 and 21 years old had slugged onwards up Omaha beach in Normandy, finally achieving their objective, but suffering heavy casualties under withering enfilade fire as they disembarked from the landing craft right into the jaws of the German machine guns. (Enfilade fire is where ...