Battle of Arnhem: Mass parachute drop marks WW2 assault

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Some 1,500 people, including a 97-year-old veteran, took part in the commemorative parachute jump

A mass parachute drop has taken place in the Netherlands to mark the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden in World War Two.

The Prince of Wales joined veterans at the commemorations to the allied assault in the Battle of Arnhem.

Veteran Sandy Cortmann, 97, parachuted again over the Dutch city.

British, US and Polish forces dropped behind enemy lines in 1944 but failed in their bid to secure eight bridges and open up a route into Germany.

About 35,000 troops landed by parachute and gliders in what was then the largest airborne operation in history.

Image copyrightPA MediaImage caption The Prince of Wales and Princess Beatrix of The Netherlands mark the 75th anniversary Image copyrightPA MediaImage caption Veterans also attended the commemorative service and wreath-laying at Ginkel Heath Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption The Prince of Wales spoke to the former soldiers Image copyrightPA MediaImage caption Veteran Sandy Cortmann, now 97, jumped with a member of the Red Devils parachute team

Prince Charles and Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands and veterans attended a service and wreath-laying at the former landing zone of Ginkel Heath.

Soldiers from the Parachute Regiment, of which the prince is colonel-in-chief, were among the 1,500 people who took part in the commemorative parachute drop.

The prince later travelled to Driel for a service in honour of Polish forces, who had landed in the town during Operation Market Garden.

'Thoroughly terrifying'

Mr Cortmann, from Aberdeen, made a tandem jump with a parachutist from the Army's Red Devils display team over the Ginkel Heath nature reserve as part of the commemorations.

He was just 22 when he parachuted into the same drop zone in September 1944, where he was taken prisoner by the Germans.

Thousands of people watching from the ground applauded as Arnhem veteran Mr Cortmann landed.

Image copyrightCpl Robert Weideman/MODImage caption Mr Cortmann, 97, hugs his carer after the parachute jump Image copyrightPA MediaImage caption Prince Charles later laid a wreath at a service for Polish airborne forces in Driel

He described the jump as "thoroughly terrifying", and added: "When the door opened I thought, Christ, what a way down."

But he said it was "absolutely wonderful to see the ground so far below, my God".

Asked if the jump was similar to the one 75 years ago, he said: "I can't remember much about the jump in 1944, we were just a bunch of young lads out for a good time if you like, but it turned out rather terrifying in the end with the guns and mortars and things opened up. They were all aimed at us."

Image copyrightReutersImage caption About 1,500 people took part in the commemorative parachute drop - watched by hundreds of people Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption About 35,000 allied troops took part in Operation Market Garden in September 1944 Image copyrightPA MediaImage caption Battle of Arnhem veterans veterans Geoff Roberts and Ray Whitwell returned for the events

Another of the soldiers returning to the former battlefields for the anniversary is 100-year-old Raymond Whitwell, from Malton, North Yorkshire.

Speaking from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's cemetery at Oosterbeek near Arnhem he recalled the moment he landed by glider in 1944.

"I said to myself on the way out, what on Earth am I doing here? But when you're there your training takes over," he said.

Mr Whitwell added: "The Dutch people are really very, very nice, it's wonderful to be back."

Honorary citizenship

The events at the Battle of Arnhem were portrayed in Richard Attenborough's 1977 Hollywood war epic A Bridge Too Far starring Sean Connery, Robert Redford, Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.

The allies seized bridges and canal crossings at Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem, but were forced to retreat after German counter-attacks.

More than 1,500 allied soldiers were killed and nearly 6,500 captured. Total German casualties were put at 3,300, although some estimates have them as high as 8,000.

Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption The allies captured three bridges in September 1944 before being forced back

On Friday, the ashes of two veterans of the Battle of Arnhem were laid to rest alongside their fallen comrades buried in Oosterbeek.

Relatives of Pte Dennis Collier, 95, from Harrogate, and Pte Steve Morgan, 93, from Chipping Norton, travelled to the Netherlands to see their remains interred.

Tributes were paid before wreaths were laid and the last post was sounded by a lone bugler.

Meanwhile, the southern Dutch town of Brunssum has bestowed honorary citizenship on 328 British soldiers buried in its war cemetery in recognition of their sacrifice to help liberate the Netherlands.

Image copyrightPA MediaImage caption The ashes of Arnhem veteran Dennis Collier were interred at the Oosterbeek War Cemetery