The bridge to war: Dan Harvey's new book looks at the Irish who went a bridge too far

The bridge to war: Dan Harvey's new book looks at the Irish who went a bridge too far
Soldiers attempt to capture a bridge in the movie "A Bridge Too Far" which was released on June 15, 1977. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Coming in over Arnhem, Holland, in his Dakota, Cork-born David ‘Lummy’ Lord was wondering how long more his stricken aircraft would keep flying. Down to about 500ft, the starboard wing was already well on fire. For now, he was managing to maintain lift, keeping the nose of the Dakota above the horizontal horizon on his instrument panel and sustaining level flight.

He and his crew were all too aware this could cease to be the case at any second, the wing (might) crumple completely under pressure and suddenly collapse and with its disintegration, flight would instantaneously unfold and they would immediately fall to earth.

His Dakota was one of a number among a fleet of Douglas C-47 aircraft of 271 Squadron, 46 Group RAF which had been hit by German ground fire. His misadventure had begun a number of hours earlier.

Taking off from Down Ampney Airfield, west of London, the objective of the resupply mission was to reach Supply Dropping Zone ‘Victory’ just north of Oosterbeek, a western suburb of Arnhem in Holland. During the battle for Arnhem Bridge, the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force played a major role in both ‘dropping’ the British 1st Airborne Division into the Arnhem area, but also in flying in, on the following days, reinforcements and resupply to the now already beleaguered troops once the battle had got under way. The struggle for control of the Dutch town was in its third day, the fighting fierce, the German opposition underestimated.

Operation Market Garden (September 17-26, 1944) was one of the most audacious and controversial operations of the Second World War.

A simultaneous two-part synchronised airborne drop (the ‘Market’ part of the operation) with a coincident armoured column ground advance (the ‘Garden’ part of the operation) was to secure and hold a number of vital bridges along a 64-mile ‘corridor’ into German-occupied Holland. Together they would punch a hole in the German defences and spectacularly seize a ‘start line’ location for the next phase of operations, the advance into the industrial heart of Germany, the Ruhr, with the overall intended end state of achieving an end to the war in Europe before the end of 1944. The stakes were high, the mood optimistic. German resistance, however, had been greater than expected, the fighting had become protracted and resupply was now vital.

Flight Lieutenant David Samuel Anthony ‘Lummy’ Lord had, on September 17, two days prior, already been part of the initial airlift for Arnhem, returning the following day again towing a Horsa glider for the second airlift when he experienced anti-aircraft fire and his aircraft was damaged by flak. Notwithstanding he delivered the Horsa glider he was towing safely over its landing zone, returning safely back to England. An experienced pilot, he had three months earlier, as part of Operation Overlord on the night of June 5/6, dropped British airborne soldiers to secure the flanks of the seaborne invaders on D-Day, the ‘day of days’ the beginning of the great crusade, the opening of the ‘Second Front’ to liberate Europe, restore freedom from Nazi fascism, and make the world safe for democracy again. Flying then as now through intense anti-aircraft fire, his Dakota was left with a hole in the rudder and damage to its elevator and hydraulics system.

Over the next few weeks, he flew a series of missions to drop supplies to the Allied troops in the expanding Normandy beachhead.

‘Lummy’ was born in Cork in 1913. His father, a warrant officer in a Welsh Regiment, had married Mary Ellen, a local Cork girl.

A pre-war member of the RAF, he had joined in August 1936 as an airman, rising quickly through the ranks, and on becoming a Sergeant Pilot, was sent to India. Commissioned as pilot officer in May 1942, he flew over Burma in support of Orde Wingate’s first Chindit Operation. During his time there, he was awarded an Air Officer Commanding’s Commendation and a Mention in Dispatches receiving a Distinguished Flying Cross in July 1943.

The bridge to war: Dan Harvey's new book looks at the Irish who went a bridge too far

Now involved with Operation Market Garden, on his third run over Arnhem on this, a desperately needed ammunition-resupply air mission, his Dakota’s starboard wing was hit by anti-aircraft ground fire and despite being fully justified to break off his mission and return to base, he instead continued. His aircraft was twice hit in the starboard wing and had caught fire. He nonetheless determinedly reduced height to 900ft to ensure accuracy of the drop.

Climbing out again and with thoughts of attempting the flight back to England beginning to form in his mind, he was informed by his crew that there were still two panniers of ammunition left. His reaction was not to head for safety, but rather go back down for a second approach and ensure the ground troops got the ammunition he knew they needed. To the admiration of those on the ground who witnessed the unfolding episode, despite his obvious difficulties, he successfully dropped the remaining supply of ammunition to where it was designated to go. That achieved, he was now struggling to gain height and otherwise maintain level flight in order that the crew could bail out in a safe and organised manner. Damage and gravity won out over courage and will when the starboard wing collapsed completely, suddenly giving way and folding back on itself. The aircraft sharply foundered, went into a decisive and destructive swirling nosedive and plummeted into a ploughed field below.

Thrown clear, as the only survivor, was the navigator, Flight Lieutenant Harry King. The remainder of the crew all died. The misfortune was made manifestly more moving because those supplies that David Lord

and his crew died to deliver fell directly into German hands; they had overrun the supply drop zones but malfunctioning British signal corps radio communications had been unable to inform the RAF.

Flight Lieutenant David ‘Lummy’ Lord was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

Post D-Day, with the collapse of German resistance in France and Belgium in late August 1944, the end of the war was within sight. Operation Market Garden was designed to bring it within reach. The plan was imaginative, daring, and simple. Nothing like it had ever been attempted before.

It was the first time airborne troops were to be used strategically by the Allies on such a scale. Some 35,000 of them were to be flown from England, a distance of 300 miles, and dropped behind enemy lines to seize and hold a series of bridges in Holland to allow an Allied armoured column of Corps strength advance 64 miles into enemy territory in order to consolidate a bridgehead from which the Allies could further their offensive.

The brainchild of Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, with deep family roots in Co Donegal and Co Derry, it was an uncharacteristically imaginative, audacious, and ambitious plan, and may well have spectacularly secured a ‘start line’ for a ‘backdoor’ Allied advance into Germany’s industrial Ruhr and so likely have ended the Second World War before Christmas 1944, and consequently saved thousands of lives. Surprise and speed were crucial to the success of Operation Market Garden . It was opportune to try, the prize a secure start line to strike into Germany itself.

The bridge to war: Dan Harvey's new book looks at the Irish who went a bridge too far

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