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Operation Market Garden
The bridge over the river Meuse was one of the objectives of Operation Market Garden in September 1944. The 82nd Airborne Division was selected for the area south of the Waal bridge in Nijmegen up to Groesbeek and Grave on the other far side of the triangle. They selected the 504th PIR, or Parachute Infantry Regiment, the 505th PIR and the 508th PIR for this task under command of Brigade General James M Gavin. Beside the bridges one of their objectives was to secure the area near to the Reichswald which, was a wooded area on the border of Holland and Germany. The 504th PIR would jump on the south side of the Grave bridge and had to secure it.
Casemates Type B-270
Construction of the original nameless bridge was finished in 1929. It had a length of 515 to 520 metres. With the threat of an attack from Germany increasing, in 1936 the Dutch decided to give the bridge more protection and build two casemates on the south side of the bridge. The most northern of the Casemates protects the north side of the bridge, while the southern casemate, which is the bigger of the two, obviously protects the south side. The south casemate is capable to shoot over the entire length of the bridge.
Both casemates are type B-270 and they are unique, there are only 14 of these Dutch casemates to be found in Holland. They have a thick frontal protection of 150 centimetres and were fitted with a 5 centimetres anti tank gun and a heavy machinegun of the “Schwarzlose” type, a M08/15 – Calibre 7,9mm.
The south casemate was three stories deep and until today still has its original camouflage painting on its walls. The North was two stories deep. Both had a generator on the lowest floor to pump out gun powder gasses and fumes while in combat.
During Fall Gelb in 1940 the Germans invaded the Netherlands and the bridge was blown on the 10th of may 1940. In the years that followed it was rebuild again. The bridge lay on the route to Arnhem and therefore it was important for the success of the Allied mission to get to Arnhem and pass the Siegfried Line.
82nd Airborne take the bridge at Grave
On September the 17th in 1944 the American 82nd Airborne Division landed on or near their designated landing zones with 7500 paratroopers. First Lieutenant John Samuel Thompson led his men into combat towards the Grave bridge. While the C47 Skytrain was still above houses of the city the jump light came to live. John ordered his men to wait for the approaching fields up ahead, while the other companies jumped.
His decision to wait made them land close to both casemates, but just his squad landed here. He gathered up his men and attacked the bunkers. The Germans had 20 mm Flak guns placed near the bridge for air support. The platoon opened fire killing some Germans and they took out one flak gun with a bazooka. They stopped two trucks with reinforcements, killing and wounding several German soldiers. They secured the south side of the bridge, mined the road to it, dug in and waited for the others to arrive. Later that day the 504th took the north side of the bridge as well and secured the entire bridge.
With only 15 men at his side John S. Thompson took the bridge near grave. After heavy fighting they informed Colonel Tucker on this day; Bridge number 11 is ours. On 19th September the first tanks of the British XXX Corps cross the bridge on their way towards Arnhem.
Princess Irene Brigade
On September the 21st in 1944 the 504th was relieved by the Dutch Princess Irene Brigade. They took over the defence on the southern side of the bridge by putting nets into the water to prevent German divers to get to the pillars and demolish them. A flashing light lit up the bridge and its surroundings every few seconds and patrols walked the perimeter.
On the 24th of September British engineers build a second bridge near Grave which also came under the control of the Princess Irene Brigade. The Germans did try a counter attack to take the bridge. The brigade lost some vehicles in the assault but managed to keep control of the bridges.
After Operation Marked Garden First Lieutenant John S. Thompson was wounded twice during World War Two. He received two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star with cluster, the Silver Star and other French, Belgian and Dutch awards for his actions. After the war he returned to baseball. Even before the war he was a professional baseball player nicknamed Jocko and played in the Major league. He died on the 3rd of February in 1988 at the age of 71.
In 2004, 16 years after his death, the Dutch gave the Grave bridge its first name, from now on it was called the; ” John S. Thompson Bridge”, or John S. Thompsonbrug in Dutch. Beside John’s wife many veterans attended the official ceremony.
Visit the John S. Thompson Bridge at Grave
The bridge at Grave is free to visit. The north casemates holds a museum which is opened as the flag is waving on top. On our visit the museum was closed, unfortunately we cannot provide any information on it. Check out the website if you like to visit the bridge and museum.