This Day in History: 1944-09-16

Operation Garden – the land element of  Operation Market Garden, the attempt by Airborne and ground forces to capture the Rhine bridges, which culminated in the Battle of Arnhem – begins. To clear the left flank of the 30 Corps attack, 1st East Lancashires carry out a difficult night-time opposed assault crossing of the Meuse-Escaut Canal at Lommel, Belgium. The assault crossing of a defended water obstacle by night is an operation of extreme complexity, risk and danger. For the East Lancashires, these difficulties were compounded. Not only did they have to get across a sheer-sided, wide and deep canal, but they had to fight in the utter pitch blackness of a dense forest. Daylight revealed the battalion miraculously on their objectives, but with their bypassed enemy – German paratroops – largely behind them. Confused fighting continued all day as the East Lancashires cleared back and along the canal bank. At one point the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Burden, and his orderly leapt into a fox-hole, overcoming its surprised occupant, a German paratrooper. Burden took the machine pistol the soldier carried and used it as his personal weapon for the rest of the war. Allied troops at the time called all German machine guns Schmeissers, and the gun is known to this day as The Burden Schmeisser, although it is actually an MP.40. It is on display in the Museum. (The MP.38 and MP.40 Maschinenpistolen were submachine guns developed in Nazi Germany and used extensively by Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers), platoon and squad leaders, and other troops throughout the war – and in just about every World War 2 war film ever made since.)