One of the main objectives of Operation Market Garden was to capture the two bridges across the Waal river in Nijmegen. This task proved to be difficult. In a desperate effort to maintain the momentum, U.S. paratroopers crossed the Waal in canvas boats. Attacking from both sides, they managed to capture the bridges intact.
One of the main objectives of Operation Market Garden was to capture the two bridges across the Waal river in Nijmegen. Under the command of General James Gavin, paratroopers of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division landed in the area around the village of Groesbeek on Sunday 17 September 1944. The Allied units secured the drop zone end quickly reached the outskirts of the city, but then met fierce resistance. Units of the 10th SS Panzer Division halted their advance and made it impossible for them to approach the bridges from the south. To maintain what was left of the momentum, a plan was drafted to cross the Waal river in little canvas boats and attack the bridges from the south and north simultaneously.
On 20 September American paratroopers crossed the Waal in 26 tiny boats. Lacking proper oars, some soldiers had to use their rifle butts to row. Half of the 260 U.S. soldiers involved were killed or wounded. Only thirteen of the dinghies could be used for a second crossing.
After four hours of fierce fighting and heavy losses on both sides, the paratroopers with the help of the 30th Corps, succeeded in capturing the bridges intact. The city of Nijmegen was liberated.
Forty years later the ‘Waal Memorial’ was erected to honour the soldiers who fell during the Waal crossing.
In 2013 a third bridge over the Waal was inaugurated by the last surviving veterans of the assault, and Mrs. Barbara Gavin, the eldest daughter of General James Gavin, the ‘liberator’ of Nijmegen. The new bridge is named ‘the Crossing’ to commemorate the heroic crossing that liberated Nijmegen in 1944.