John S Thompson Bridge at Grave, Netherlands

The bridge over the river Maas at Grave was originally built in 1929.  During the 1930s the Dutch government added casemates which were staffed by paramilitary police as protection and which can still be seen today.  The bridge is quite close to the German border and on the first day of the Nazi invasion on 10 May 1940 it was blown up.  It was rebuilt during the occupation.

When the Allies were planning Operation Market Garden, the bridge became of particular importance of being a major target for capture.  It lies directly on the road towards Arnhem.  Its capture was a task given to the American 82nd Airborne Division which parachuted into the Netherlands on the Grossbeek Heights and in zones to the north and west of Grave with 7500 paratroopers. 

First Lieutenant John Samuel Thompson saw that the C47 Skytrain that was tranporting his platoon was still above houses of the city the jump light came on. He ordered his men to wait for the approaching fields up ahead and found himself in an attack position with only 15 men as the other parachutists were too far away.  He made the decision to attack.

Moving towards the bridge, at times neck deep in water, he neutralised the two bunkers as well as a flak position near the bridge.   They also managed to stop two German trucks coming up with troops.  Within a short time they took the southern side of the bridge, placed mines and took up defensive positions.  Later in the day, paratroopers from the north took the northern side of the bridge.

They managed to hold on for two days.  On 19 September, several hours behind schedule, tanks of the British XXX Corps crossed the bridge.  On 21 September 1944, the Dutch Princess Irene Brigade relieved them.  Three days later, a second bridge near Grave was in action, built by British engineers. 

On the sixtieth anniversary of the capture of the bridge, it was named after the man whose quick thinking and initiative allowed it to be captured.  John S Thompson was not there, as he had died on 3 February 1988, aged 71, however his widow was there on his behalf.

 

Comments