Troops mark historic parachute jump

HUNDREDS of troops from Essex and Suffolk have parachuted through the blue skies over the Netherlands to mark the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem and the “bridge too far”.

James Hore

HUNDREDS of troops from Essex and Suffolk have parachuted through the blue skies over the Netherlands to mark the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem and the “bridge too far”.

The mass jumps to the west of Arnhem honoured the thousands of Allied troops who took part in air drops as part of Operation Market Garden in September 1944.

The operation was British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery's plan to drop paratroopers deep behind enemy lines in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands to capture and secure key roads and bridges so that Allied forces massed in Belgium could pour into Germany's industrial heartland and bring war to an early end.

But once on the ground, the Allied troops met with stubborn German resistance in and around the city of Arnhem and their advance stalled on a bridge there spanning the River Rhine in a battle immortalised in the star-studded 1977 Hollywood film A Bridge Too Far.

Thousands of Allied troops were killed, captured or wounded in the battles.

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Saturday's jumps were the highlight of four days of commemorative events spread across the former battlefields.

More than 500 men from 16 Air Assault Brigade took part including 150 from The Second Battalion, The Parachute Regiment (2 PARA) and 80 from The Third Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, (3 PARA) both based in Colchester.

About a dozen men from the Woodbridge-based 23 Engineer Regiment (Air Assault) also jumped.

Once on the ground the soldiers took part in wreath laying ceremonies as more than 40,000 took part in memorial services.

Then at 7am yesterday 2 PARA held a memorial service on the “bridge too far”, believed to be the first time the authorities had closed the historic landmark for such an occasion.

Adjutant Will Hunt, from 2 PARA, said: “For the soldiers in the battalion it really was the operation that validated the fact that you could drop a division of men from the sky to an area where vehicles could not reach.

“And in many ways the spirit and ethos of the regiment was forged in that operation at Arnhem.

“For the civilians there it is also of great significance because of the fact of what the men were trying to do for them and I think they appreciate that we come back every year to remember what happened.”

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