RAF Broadwell Chapter 1

Between 17th and 24th September 1944

In the following pages I have made an effort to tell you in simple everyday language the story of our trials and tribulations during the nine days we spent at Arnhem.

I wanted to pay a little tribute to Lieutenant Pickwoad. I am convinced that but for his cool courage in action, his devotion to duty the section of front held by us would have collapsed on the 23rd of September and probably resulted in the loss of Divisional H. Q. That would likely have been the end of the Arnhem campaign.




By the month of September, the Second Army had advanced well into Belgium. We in the Glider Pilot Regiment had been kicking our heels since "D" Day waiting for an opportunity to get into action. A few of the members of our flight, No. 14 of "O" Squadron, had taken part in the "D" Day operations, but I was still waiting. We had had little bursts of excitement getting ready for operations that were always cancelled at the very last minute. Now it almost seemed as though the war would be over before we got a chance.


On the 15th September I was standing in the doorway of my Nissen Hut. Lt. Pickwoad was walking towards me carrying a large roll of maps. When he saw me he called out, "Here's your chance at last. Holcroft ", and waved the roll of maps in the air. I laughed, thinking he was joking, but later that day he called a Squadron parade in the Squadron Office.


When we all arrived Lt. Pickwoad unrolled the maps and gave us two each. On the wall were pinned numerous photographs. We crushed round them eagerly to learn the venue of the prospective "Operation". It was a town called ARNHEM in Holland, the principal objective being a great bridge spanning the River Rhine.


Lt. Pickwoad gave us the details. We were to take in a large force of airborne troops to join the Paratroops of the First Airborne Division. Practically every available glider in the country would be used. Supporting the operation would be an American Airborne Division, but their operation would be carried out eleven miles further south at the Nimegen Bridge on the main road to Arnhem.


As we knew that the Second Army were still some sixty miles away from Arnhem, it was plain to see that it would be no easy task. After Lt. Pickwoad had given us all the information he could, together with a warning about security, we dispersed to discuss the matter among ourselves. I didn't like the look of the operation, nor did my friend, Mick Hall. George Hogg, however, Mick's second pilot, and a regular soldier, was all for it and hoped that it would not suffer the fate of previously planned "Ops" and be cancelled.


The "Operation" should have begun on the following day, but it was cancelled at the last moment. We were told to parade in the R.A.F. briefing room at 0830 hours on Sunday morning, the 17th September. When we arrived we found everything in readiness, tables were laid out to accommodate each Glider crew and his respective Tug crew. The first words of the briefing Officer were "The 'Ops' are on". I looked at Norman Hartford, my Co-pilot. He grinned. We were scheduled to take off at 10 a.m. After receiving the latest weather reports and other relevant information, Hartford and I decided to walk down to our Glider and give it a final check over. Before we left the briefing room we had another look at the maps and pictures of the landing zone. I got it firmly fixed in my mind.

Hartford and I were lucky, we were taking in our Glider 28 men of the "Border Regiment". Some of the fellows were taking guns and jeeps. That would mean they would have to spend time on arrival getting the tail off the Glider, to unload the stuff. Taking the tail off a big Horsa Glider is bad enough when you have time to do it. Working under fire would certainly not help matters. Mick, too, had passengers, and I found he was next in the train to me. As we were taking troops of the same Regiment it looked as though we could stick together after landing. That was what we wanted.     We made a little pact to keep with each other throughout the operation.

When we reached the Glider I found the troops all ready to emplane. The Officer in charge of them introduced himself to me and Ito him. I asked him how the men were feeling. He said they were all keen as mustard. I had a chat with one or two of them and told them that 1 would certainly get them to Holland O.K. and in return I was expecting them to take good care of me on the ground They said it would be "a piece of cake", once they got to Holland. It was good to see them in such excellent spirits.


The whole of one end of the runway was crammed with Gliders and tug aircraft. There was to be another "lift" the following morning by another flight who had joined us from another station because their place was not large enough to deal with them all. It looked very impressive that September morning all lined up and ready for heaven only knew what


I walked round from one Glider to another chatting with the various Pilots. I had a parting word with Mick. We wished each other the best of luck on the journey. At ten minutes to ten I climbed aboard my Glider; the troops were already seated inside. I quickly checked their straps and gave them one or two final instructions as to positions they should take up in case of a forced landing on the sea.


Making myself comfortable in my seat, I checked over the controls with Hartford. Hartford had been my co-Pilot for six months, and we had got organised together perfectly. He was a splendid chap and very easy to get along with. I asked him what he thought about everything. He said he was quite confident we should make the trip O.K.


Promptly at ten o'clock the Tow Master waved the first Glider away. I was about twelfth down the line. In less than six minutes from the first Glider taking off, I saw my tug taxiing slowly on to the runway in front of me. I gave the O.K. for take off to him over the intercom. and the rope stretching between us began to tighten.   Then we began to move. Slowly at first, then with ever increasing speed. It is always a tense moment or two during take off with a full load of passengers, as everything depends on the aircraft being correctly trimmed. I watched the airspeed indicator creeping round to eighty miles an hour and at that speed pulled back gently on the control column and the glider lifted off the ground.

A second later the Dakota in front of me became airborne too. Our first worries were over.

We flew west for twenty minutes in order to give the rest of the gliders time to get into line, then we turned east and commenced the journey to Holland. The weather forecast had told us that there would be low cloud at 500 feet but it should have cleared by ten o'clock. Unfortunately it did not clear by ten o'clock. We could not fly very far at 500 feet on account of high ground. I could hear the Pilot of the Dakota talking of the difficulty to his second Pilot and discussing the possibility of flying through it. Flying through a cloud is no problem at all for an aircraft flying alone but with a glider attached to it is somewhat tricky. The "Dak" Pilot called me up and asked me what I thought. He told me that in another four minutes we should reach some ground rising to 800 feet and something would have to be done quickly. I agreed to fly through and endeavour to keep in position by watching the attitude of the tow rope.

Into the cloud he went and disappeared from my view; a second later I was in the cloud too. It was an anxious few moments but we got through it all right, emerging on top of the cloud into brilliant sunlight and a cloudless sky. The "Dak" Pilot came over the intercom with a few pleasing words on our accomplishment.

By now there seemed to be gliders and tugs all over the sky. The squadrons' from other 'dromes had joined up, making a stream six machines wide and miles deep. We were heading for the coast north of London. I handed over control to Hartford and had a good look round the countryside. I saw two gliders pull off

We had difficulty with the slipstreams from other aircraft. Occasionally the glider would lurch violently to one side and get a wing down in a most alarming fashion. It was a hell of a job to get it righted again, and seemed at times as though the whole thing would turn over. I found later that this was the reason one or two had to cast off and force land. I reassured the Officer of the troops that it was not quite so bad as it appeared. He didn't seem to worry, though, but I knew the constant rolling of the aircraft was not good for the troops in the back of the glider. It tends to make them sick. However, we were lucky, I think we had only one man in the whole glider who became sick.

It was very pleasant flying over the sea. I could not help but think as I saw England fading into the distance if I should be lucky enough to return to it. The sea was perfectly calm. Here and there we could see small ships standing by in case anyone force landed. Some did but I did not see any. Fighter planes began to circle the great armada. I had been expecting these and was glad to see them.

About this time I noticed a great white streak which seemed to stand vertically in the sky. I puzzled my mind but could not think what it was. In a photograph I was later to see this streak appear. The caption of the photograph said it was a trail from a German rocket on its way to England


Slowly the Dutch coast came looming out of the haze. We were now flying at 2,500 feet, the height at which we intended to cast off. I had no difficulty in recognising the landmarks I had seen in the photographs. Indeed, it seemed like a vast photograph laid out there below us. I turned to the Officer and told him his men could take off their life belts.


Just as we had been warned, we found the land all flooded and we could see the houses all surrounded by water. I began to think about flack now. If there was one thing that worried me it was the thought of being shot down. We had no parachutes. All these men in the back were relying on me getting them to Arnhem. I felt my heart begin to quicken a little. Before we left England we had each been given some special energy tablets; they were alleged to instil a little Dutch courage into a chap. I decided to take one ()I' these to tide me over the flight over enemy held territory. I sneaked one into my mouth, scared stiff in case Hartford or the Officer saw me.


We flew straight inland for a little while and then turned northeast towards our objective. We had to cross three rivers, the WAAL, the MAAS and the I .ek, each was a tributary to the Rhine.


I could see Typhoons and Spitfires now strafing the ground; here and there fires were burning. I saw no flak. As we passed over the second river I took over from Hartford, having first pinpointed myself on my map The "Dak" Pilot called up to say "Ten minutes more". I acknowledged his message and began to look out for our landing ground. I saw it several minutes before we arrived over it and warned the troops that I would be casting off' any minute. I felt very tense now and slightly excited. I saw a signal flare in the appropriate colour shoot up from the ground. The "Dak" Pilot called out "any time now; best of luck; see you back in England". I pulled the release.


Two gliders had already cast off in front of me and I began to follow their course. I put on full flap almost immediately and the aircraft went into a steep dive. Carefully watching the height indicator and the ground I steered the aircraft swiftly towards the field.


There were only three on the ground as I swept over the boundary of the field. Another was just touching down and kicking up a hell of a dust. Levelling out, I eased back on the control column and the glider touched down perfectly, and rolled forward on all three wheels at an ever-diminishing speed.

We stopped. My hands were wet and dithering. Hartford went into hysterics almost, he was so pleased at our good landing. Some of the chaps in the back professed they never felt the machine touch the ground. Naturally, I felt quite flattered at these words of praise.

We did not waste any time on landing. The troops were all ready to leave the glider. I had landed in close to a grove of small trees and as the lads left the glider they took up positions in this grove. Hartford and I quickly followed them; I gave my head a nasty crack in my hurry to get out

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