Airborne Museum Hartenstein

Airborne operations in WWII had their successes and glorious failures. Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands was a complex combined Army and Airborne operation that depended on everything going right, which doomed it to failure.

American and British Airborne soldiers were to attack and hold a series of bridges along a 60-mile road from Eindhoven to Arnhem to enable the following infantry and tanks to cross and pierce Germany in a lightning strike that would catch the Germans unprepared. The stately, white painted Museum Hartenstein tells the story of these battles.

The museum is located in the former Hartenstein Hotel, headquarters of the British Divisional commander, Major-General Urquhart during the fighting. The events in this battle unfold, starting with the air landings, the march to the bridge, the fighting at Arnhem and Oosterbeek, and the eventual retreat across the river to the allied lines.

Battle of Arnhem

Meeting with early success, the American paratroopers managed to hold their objectives. However, the 1st British Airborne troopers, dropped in to secure the Rhine Bridge at Arnhem, the furthermost point, became victims of “a bridge too far.” After their drop on 17 Sep 44, 600 British paratroopers held out for four days at the north entrance to the bridge at Arnhem. Meanwhile, at nearby Oosterbeek, other British paratroopers held out for another four days against overwhelming odds. They were never relieved and of 10,000 British and Polish Airborne troops, only 2,293 made it across the Rhine River in a daring night withdrawal on 25 Sep.

Exhibits and photos
Exhibits include British and German arms, helmets, ammunition and equipment, some of which were dug up from the battlefield. Authentic films, slide shows, photographs, maps, unit armbands and models in uniform illustrate this dramatic battle. You won’t see any of the striking, unique photographs in books about the battle. Reader board captions in English and Dutch explain the scenes. Historic photos show allied paratroopers loading into their C-47s in England, and the battle from the German perspective, their troops looking as battle shocked from the hard fighting as the British.

Local inhabitants are shown marching in long lines to safety, often caught in the crossfire of these highly fluid battles. Scenes of house-to-house street fighting show German tanks hunting British soldiers. Some photographs show jubilant allied soldiers being liberated from POW camps at the end of the war.

Amongst the memorabilia is Polish paratroop commanding officer Stanislaw Sosabowski’s Army ID book. An excellent scale model of Arnhem and the Rhine River Bridge is displayed, along with radio equipment, pistols, unit banners and flags.

Dioramas
Lifelike dioramas depict scenes from the battle — one showing a street scene in Oosterbeek as British soldiers liberate it on 17 April 1945. The first aid post diorama was reconstructed with the help of medical officers who were at the Hartenstein Hotel — all items displayed are authentic. Another diorama shows the radio signals post in the cellar.

The Dutch resistance
A little known fact about this battle is that Dutch resistance fighters helped many British paratroopers escape across the river while Dutch civilians sheltered another 500 allied paratroopers around Arnhem and Oosterbeek, at the risk of being shot if they were caught. A gallery is dedicated to this aspect of the battle.

Outside the museum stands a Sherman tank and an artillery piece. In a small park across the road, a tall stone memorial to the fallen soldiers in this battle has been erected by the townspeople. Every year the Dutch hold a memorial march (Airborne Wandeltoch) in which tens of thousands of people march to commemorate this battle. A 10-minute walk from the museum is the Airborne Cemetery where a number of the paratroopers lie. You can get a map showing the cemetery’s location in the museum giftshop, along with books and souvenirs.

AIRBORNE MUSEUM HARTENSTEIN (www.airbornemuseum.org) is open from April through October, Monday-Saturday from 10-5, Sunday and holidays, 12-5; from November through March, Monday-Saturday from 11-5, Sunday and holidays, 12-5. Closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission for adults, €8; OAPs, students, €7; youths, aged 13-18, €5, and children aged 6-12, €3.50.