NAME: Donald Love
DATE ENTERED SERVICE: January 6, 1936
CAMPAIGNS: Operation Market-Garden
DECORATIONS: 1939-45 Star, Aircrew Europe Star with France & Germany clasp, Defense Medal, War Medal
The ground phase of Operation Market-Garden began when Lieutenant Keith Heathcote spoke two words into his microphone, “Driver, advance,” and 20,000 vehicles of the British XXX Corps proceeded confidently on their way to Arnhem and its bridge over the Rhine, more than 60 miles away. Within minutes, however, the column was being pummeled by German antitank guns, which blasted gaping holes up and down the armored column.
In the midst of the barrage, sheltering beneath the canvas roof of a White M3A1 scout car (thoughtfully christened “Winecup” by its previous occupant), Royal Air Force Flight Lt. Donald Love desperately tried to reach the attack’s commander, Lt. Col. Joseph Vandeleur, on the radio. Air cover for the advance was to be provided by RAF Typhoons, and Love needed to get Vandeleur’s approval to call them in. Unfortunately, radio contact between Winecup and the command tank failed. Undaunted and with the situation growing increasingly desperate, Love put on his tin hat, picked up his .38 pistol and jumped from the protection of his armored car to race down the column, dodging between vehicles before reaching Vandeleur, who quickly gave his approval for the air attack. The Typhoons appeared overhead and were soon pouring a blistering hail of rockets at the enemy positions. Largely with their support, the column was able to battle its way forward and by nightfall had reached Valkenswaard, just miles away from its first objective, the Dutch city of Eindhoven.
Love’s place was right behind the command tank of Irish Guards Armored Group commander Vandeleur. It was from here that Love left Valkenswaard, headed toward Eindhoven on September 18, 1944. Along the way, Vandeleur called back to Love and pointed out 12 potential targets. The RAF lieutenant called in strikes on five of the targets but, an hour later, only one of those was deemed suitable by higher command. With his column quickly falling behind schedule, Vandeleur was understandably furious. His mood only worsened when the airstrike was cancelled due to fog-bound airfields farther behind the lines. Looking up at a clear sky, the incredulous colonel asked Love if the RAF was frightened of sunshine.
Unable to provide the assistance that the tankers so desperately needed, Love had to watch in frustration as the difficult job of destroying the German gun positions was left to the infantry that supported the column. Fortunately the footsloggers got the job done, and by the afternoon of the 18th the column had reached Eindhoven.
Early in the morning on the 19th, XXX Corps was once more on the move and Love was in contact with P-51 Mustangs that were flying ahead of the column. The circling P-51s reported tanks north of Nijmegen—the column’s next objective. The Dutch underground had previously reported the presence of a panzer division in the area, but the skeptical British had firmly, though politely, ignored their warnings.
The tankers would now pay the price. September 20 saw a two-pronged attack by American paratroopers and British tanks on the Nijmegen Bridge. Love, safe toward the rear of the column, was not able to send fighters to assist this attack because of poor visibility. The bridge was won, but the Germans were not beaten. The following morning, as the column crossed the bridge, Love and his comrades were greeted by mortar and artillery fire.
As he had been instructed, Love called for support from RAF Typhoons. Nothing happened. His radio had failed. “It was the most hopeless, frustrating thing I have ever been through,” Love later recalled, “watching them [the Typhoons] up there and not being able to do a damn thing about it.”
When all attempts to get his radio working had failed, and only six miles from the bridge at Arnhem, Love was recalled to XXX Corps headquarters with his radio operator, who was sent on his way to the rear, suffering from exhaustion.
On September 23, Love was sent back into the fray. The German Twelfth Army had managed to cut the road farther south between Uden and Veghel. The U.S. 101st Airborne and British 43rd (Wessex) divisions had paid a heavy price in casualties to keep the road open, but now it was cut. Failure to reopen this vital artery endangered an Allied advance that was now strung out along more than 60 miles of exposed road. In a sorry repeat of past performance, however, Love’s radios failed and the Mustangs were unable to attack. As before, the task was left to the infantry to open what the airborne troopers had begun to call “Hell’s Highway.”
The next day, following more frustrating failures in communication, Love was ordered to report to the 1st Scottish Brigade’s headquarters at Elst. Fighting in this sector was fierce as the 130th Brigade and 43rd Division attempted to link up with the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade. In order to reach the embattled Poles, the British had to break through a cordon of German tanks. Although air cover would have assisted in this endeavor, it seemed as if commanders on the ground had given up hope for such support. When Love reported in as ordered, he was told that he was not expected, nor was his help required. Again, Love stood by in frustration as “the Typhoons flew off home; the tanks were withdrawn; the artillery and infantry took over for a long slow slog; the survivors of the 1st Airborne were pulled out of Arnhem,” he said. “History was changed by a dead radio valve.”
“For my part,” Love remarked following the failure of Market-Garden, “I sent off a signal to the 2nd TAF [Tactical Air Force] asking to be transferred back to operational flying.”
Originally published in the February 2006 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.