B2 High-Intermediate 29 Folder Collection
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Clank-clank-clank-clank!
It's the sound an infantryman dreads most, the sound of heavy steel tank treads coming
your way.
For the British paratroopers caught far behind enemy lines, it's the sound of death- and
it's coming from all around.
Operation Market Garden, meant to hasten the end of the war against Nazi Germany by as
much as six months, is a complete disaster.
The airborne assault was meant to secure vitally important bridges behind enemy lines, opening
up an invasion route into northern Germany which would allow Allied troops to pour into
the heart of the Nazi regime itself, and rip it out while still beating.
For the Nazis, this would've been a strategic disaster, and likely signaled the end of the
war.
With over 41,000 airborne troops, it is the largest airborne assault in history, and yet
the Allies would severely underestimate the Germans, leading to a defeat five days later.
For now though, Major Robert Henry Cain, commander of Bravo company, 2nd South Staffordshire
regiment of the 1st Airborne Division, has greater concerns than the imminent defeat
of the ambitious Allied airborne thrust into Germany.
He has two Panzers bearing down on them, and only a PIAT- Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank-
to defend himself with.
Allied armor never got a chance to make its crossing, and these tanks aren't going to
blow themselves up.
Bleeding from several bullet wounds, the good Major lifts up his PIAT and takes aim at the
lead tank....
Five days earlier and Major Cain is loaded up into a glider along with the rest of his
men.
The Allies have made extensive uses of gliders to ferry airborne troops to battle, cheap
and unpowered alternatives to the lumbering transport planes that tow them to their destinations.
As the plane towing them lifts into the air, the glider soon follows suit, and is quickly
several thousand feet in the air.
Then, the first of many disasters strikes.
The tow rope keeping the glider attached to its plane snaps, leaving the glider flying
through the air completely unpowered.
The pilot at the front desperately works the controls, trying to find a safe place to set
the glider down.
Despite being paratroopers, the men aren't wearing parachutes as they are meant to ride
their glider all the way to their final destination, a battlefield in Belgium.
While this places the men at more risk, the use of gliders also means that the men won't
be as widely dispersed as they would be if they simply parachuted in, and allows them
to retain unit cohesion and to stay close to their supplies and heavy equipment.
Incredibly though, the pilot manages to bring the glider down to a rough, but safe stop
on a nearby field, smashing into a tall hedge.
The pilot is in disbelief, this exact same thing had happened to him on D-Day.
Perhaps he's just lucky, for the Major though, he and his men had a battle to get to.
Early the next day, Major Cain and his men make a rough landing near Arnhem.
The Major's company's currently involved in heavy fighting as they attempt to reach their
target, the strategically important bridge at the town of Arnhem, which will allow Allied
ground forces to cross the river and join the fight.
If the bridge isn't taken, the ground assault element won't be able to cross, and this could
spell doom for the entire operation.
The Germans however are no fools, and they've set up a blocking force to stop the British
soldiers from reaching their objective.
For over a day the fighting is intense, only barely letting up at night before resuming
once more early the next morning.
The British are in effect boxed in by German units, and are receiving terrible casualties.
Supported by artillery and self-propelled guns, the Germans completely outgun the relatively
lightly armed British paratroopers, and are decimating British forces.
To make matters worse, the Germans now have tanks rumbling down on the Major and his men.
With the Allied ground assault unable to cross the river, German panzers have been freed
up from engaging allied armor and now join in a push to eradicate the British and American
paratroopers.
Fighting that was desperate has just now been kicked up a notch as the tanks lend their
cannons and machine guns to the fight.
The only thing the paratroopers have to fight off the tanks is the British PIAT, a shoulder-fired
anti-tank weapon that fires a 2.5 pound (1.1 kg) explosive warhead.
The weapon has an advantage over the American bazooka and the German Panzerschreck, and
that's the fact that it is spring-fired, meaning there is no distinctive puff of smoke that
can give away a soldier's position as he fires it.
However, this is where the PIAT's strengths stop, as the weapon is largely inferior to
either its American or German counterpart.
For starters, the weapon sported less penetration power than a bazooka or a panzerschreck, and
it was extremely awkward to operate.
The firing mechanism required two fingers to pull back, and as the weapon was spring
loaded, you had to put considerable effort into preparing it to fire.
Once fired though, the recoil from the weapon was so severe that men's shoulders were often
dislocated, and at times their collarbones broken.
After just a few firings, any soldier's shoulder would be bruised purple, and yet today they
are the British paratrooper's only hope of fending off the German tanks.
The PIATs manage to hold off the advancing tanks, but the men are completely boxed in.
The area has become a killing field, and a fighting withdrawal is ordered.
By the time Major Cain manages to retreat, most of Alpha and Bravo company has been destroyed,
leaving only a handful of survivors.
The losses are staggering.
With no clear chain of command left surviving, Major Cain assumes command of all the remaining
survivors of the 2nd South Staffords.
This leaves him with barely more than a reinforced company, and he orders the men to move to
a more defensible position on high ground atop a hill a few hundred meters from the
German blocking force.
Their movement is spotted by German forward observers though, and soon heavy mortar fire
begins to rain down on the British.
The men desperately try to dig in as the mortars explode around them, but the ground is hard
and covered in thick roots, making it all but impossible to dig fox holes.
Major Cain is wounded by shrapnel, adding to several other wounds already suffered.
As more enemy tanks begin to roll towards them and the mortar fire eases off, the Major
is starting to realize something- someone in intelligence messed up bad.
There weren't supposed to be so many German armored forces here, and yet somehow allied
intelligence missed the fact that the Ninth and Tenth SS Panzer Divisions had both been
recently redeployed to the area.
Thousands of allied paratroopers, armed with only the weapons they could carry on their
backs, had been sent to fight hundreds of heavy German tanks, supported by thousands
of infantry equipped with self-propelled guns, artillery, and mortars.
The operation had just begun two days prior, and it was already a blood bath.
Major Cain orders the survivors to fall back, and as the sun rises the next morning he's
been forced out of Arnhem, and of the 1,000 strong 2nd South Staffords, he now commands
only a band of 100 soldiers- most of them wounded.
Nonetheless, he orders the men to dig in, there's no escape for them, but if they can
hold their ground then possibly other Allied assaults might have been successful, and rescue
could come from other bridgeheads.
The Major has no way of knowing that Operation Market Garden is officially a failure, and
one of the worst defeats of World War II.
The Germans advance under cover of fighters, and supported by self-propelled guns and tanks.
The British are subjected to a blistering barrage of fire, and yet the men fight heroically,
refusing to yield.
The Germans hope to cut the British off from the river, which would make rescue impossible
and doom the entire 1st Airborne to surrender or death.
Despite being wounded and bleeding, Major Cain is moving from house to house, backpack
full of rounds for his PIAT.
He pops up behind windows, attacking the tanks from their vulnerable sides and tops, and
the only angle at which a PIAT has a decent chance of defeating tank armor.
His shoulder is turning black from the extreme pounding the spring-loaded weapon delivers
on each firing, it feels like a horse kicking him square in the shoulder each time he pulls
the trigger, and yet he knows that it's either this or death- the Germans are relentless.
Falling back, Major Cain slips into a trench and calls out for an artillery officer to
direct his fire with the PIAT.
The artillery officer, located on the second floor of an abandoned house, spots targets
for the Major, and Major Cain lobs over four dozen rounds with the aid of the artillery
officer.
The Germans however have caught on, and a self-propelled gun turns to the direction
of the house and fires, obliterating the upstairs floor and the officer there.
The chimney comes crashing down, nearly crushing Major Cain to death.
Major Cain however quickly gathers himself together and crawls forward through the trench.
He spots another German StuG (pronounced STOOG) and fires, destroying the tank's treads.
The tank fires back, missing the Major but throwing up great clouds of smoke and dust,
which helps obscure the Major as he moves to a different position.
The Major fires a second round, but the round fails to penetrate the thick armor, and the
German tank fires back, throwing more debris into the air.
A Panzer now joins the fight, and the Major pops up to fire off another PIAT round at
this new threat- only to be met by the ominous sound of a dull 'click'.
His weapon has misfired, and a split second later the timed explosive round blows up in
his face.
Major Cain is hurled backwards, completely blinded and with ruptured eardrums, and yet
he is screaming- not in pain, but for his men to engage this new threat.
Behind him, several soldiers manhandle a heavy 75mm American howitzer to face in the direction
of the German tank, drop the barrel, and use the artillery piece as an anti-tank cannon,
decimating the Panzer.
The Major is severely wounded and dragged back to a casualty collection point.
Luckily for him, the explosive round has mostly exploded outwards, and the blindness is temporary.
His eardrums are shattered though, and his vision hazy.
Plus he's been wounded at least a half dozen times already, and has lost a fair amount
of blood.
Nonetheless, the Major shoves the medics aside and thirty minutes later is back on the front
line.
By now though the company has run out of PIAT ammunition, so the Major improvises.
German flamethrower tanks are approaching, and threatening to roast the British defenders
to death, so the Major grabs a two inch mortar and levels it off at the approaching tanks,
destroying the lead tank.
He fires off several more shots from the improvised anti-tank weapon, and incredibly the Germans
begin to pull back.
The British defenders, no doubt emboldened by the absolute insanity of Major Cain's exploits,
have managed to hold their ground.
As night falls, boats manage to cross the river and reach the stranded British paratroops.
The Major refuses to leave the battlefield until every single survivor is aboard a boat,
and before boarding himself he finds a razor and a piece of mirror, taking the time to
shave five days of stubble so that he could present himself to his superiors on the other
side of the river, “as a proper British officer.”.
Credited with destroying or disabling six enemy tanks and an unknown number of self-propelled
guns, the Major would go on to win the Victoria Cross, and was the only recipient to survive
the most disastrous operation in the entire war.
Want more incredible world war stories?
Check out Soldier continued fighting WWII because he didn't know it ended.
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The One Man WW2 Tank Killer

29 Folder Collection
Summer published on August 11, 2020
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