Karl-Heinz Kracht was a 19 year old German corporal, who first saw action during the Battle of Arnhem. He was the loader of a Panzer III tank, which took part in the attacks on the British positions at the north end of the Rhine bridge at Arnhem.
Karl-Heinz Kracht joined the Wehrmacht on 3 September 1943, after he had served one year in the Reichsarbeitsdienst (Reich Labour Service). In March 1944, after a failed attempt to become an officer, he was transferred to a tank training program at Bielefeld.
On 17 September 1944 Allied paratroopers landed in the Netherlands during Operation Market Garden. Kracht and his unit with 15 tanks were loaded onto a train and set off to the front. They arrived in Zevenaar on 18 September and became part of the Kampfgruppe Knaust, an improvised unit that was quickly set up to help with the fighting. The tanks reached Arnhem from the east, ready to fight.
Karl-Heinz’s unit suffered heavy losses while it supported the German infantry attacking British positions on the north end of the Rhine bridge. He fought as a loader in a Panzer III tank, the exact same one he had trained on in Bielefeld. He was shocked by the destruction in the city and the many dead bodies lying around and feared the British anti-tank guns.
After the Battle of Arnhem and more intense fighting at Elst, Karl-Heinz was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class for his actions. At Easter 1945, he was captured by American troops in the Ruhr pocket and became a prisoner of war. Released in 1946, he became a dentist and moved to Sweden. In 1973 he returned to Germany where he died in Flensburg in 1999.
To ensure the success of Operation Market Garden, the Allied forces had to capture the bridge in Arnhem. But the light-armed airborne forces stood no chance against two SS Panzer Divisions that happened to be in the area. After desperate fighting and many casualties the Arnhem bridge proved to be ‘a bridge too far’.
The Battle of Arnhem, the biggest airborne landing operation of the Second World War, took place in and around Arnhem in September 1944. It formed part of Operation Market Garden. The goal of the Operation was for Polish, British and American airborne forces to capture the important bridges across the Dutch rivers so that ground troops could advance via these bridges. But the Operation failed…
The Bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem was the last bridge that needed to be captured during Operation Market Garden. If the Allies could capture this bridge the road to Germany would lay open. The task of capturing the Rhine Bridge fell to the British 1st Airborne Division.
Operation Market Garden managed to liberate a large part of the Netherlands, but failed in its main objective: outmaneuvering the Germans with a surprise crossing of the Rhine. The Nijmegen-Groesbeek area, conquered during Market Garden, remained in Allied hands and served as a springboard for the successful Rhineland Offensive in February 1945.
The Museum shows the course of events during the Battle of Arnhem. This took place in September 1944 in the area between Ede and Arnhem and formed part of the Operation Market Garden. British, American and Polish airborne troops were to take control of the river bridges from the Belgian border to Arnhem.
The Airborne monument in Arnhem is a damaged pillar from the former Palace of Justice placed on a pedestal. The pillar stands as a memorial to the memories of death but also of victory and life. The text on the pillar reads: ’17 SEPTEMBER 1944′. There are two reliefs next to the monument, one of the Pegasus Airborne Symbol and the other with the text: “Battle of Arnhem 44, Bridge to the future 94”.