Hell's Highway

Hell's Highway is the nickname for a section of the road between the Meuse-Scheldt canal (Belgium) to the town of Arnhem (the Netherlands) that was the scene of XXX Corps advance towards Arnhem during Operation Market Garden (WWII). Formally, Hell's Highway stops just short of Arnhem as that was the furthest point the Allied ground forces managed to get before the operation was called off. The highway was strategically important because it was the main route of advance for the Allied ground forces during the operation. The fighting along Hell's Highway was intense, with heavy casualties on both sides.

In preparation of Operation Market Garden, the route was also dubbed Highway 69, The Corridor, Thunder Road, and even a more leisurely sounding Club Route after the shamrock XXX Corps used to demarcate the route.

Allied forces in a typocal Dutch setting - September 1944.
XXX Corps Sherman tanks in Valkenswaard - September 17, 1944.

The ground operation -headed by XXX Corps of the British Second Army- had to travel along ‘Highway 69’ and quickly relieve the Paras that by then would have seized control of the bridges. 

Highway 69 was by no means a highway. Not even by 1944 standards, let alone by modern standards. However, for the pre-war era, this road was quite an infrastructural project. The so--called Highway 69 was in fact the N69 (now A15) that ran from Rotterdam to Nijmegen. This also means that the southern part was formally not even the N69, but an accumulation of local roads that lead through the streets of small villages and towns.

XXX Corps on the starting line was the small bridgehead on the Meuse-Scheldt canal. At 14.00 hours, 408 artillery pieces started shelling the German positions around Joe’s Bridge and beyond to ensure the ground troops would not directly enter enemy ambushes. At 14:35, the first tank commanded by Lieutenant Hethcote, set off into occupied Holland. 

Picture taken during Market Garden. Clearly visible are the destroyed military vehicles blocking the road and thus the advancement of the XXX Corps. Ironically, a Dutchman easily passes by with his bicycle.

The narrow route north went along a two-lane road and was at times very exposed. This made the advance of the ground forces slow as they were under constant and murderous fire by the defending forces that were well camouflaged and snuggly dug in.

The route taken by the liberators quickly became known as ‘Hell’s Highway’.

The six main water obstacles were: the Wilhelmina Canal at Son en Breugel that measured 30 meters (100 feet) wide; the Zuid-Willems Canal at Veghel measuring 20 meters (80 feet); the Maas River at Grave with a full 240 meters (800 feet) and now known as the J.S. Thompson Bridge; the Maas-Waal Canal with 60 meters (200 feet) of length; the Waal River at Nijmegen with a stunning 260 meters (850 feet); and the Nederrijn at Arnhem with 90 meters (300 feet) and now known as the John Frost Bridge.

The fearless opposition on the road to Valkenswaard, the blown up bridge in Son, and the counterattacks near Sint Oedenrode and Eerde (Black Friday) ensured XXX Corps suffered the needed delays. Also, the population in larger towns like Eindhoven were so ecstatic with the arrival of the allied forces making it difficult for the motorcade to advance at pace. As a result, vital reinforcements could not reach the Arnhem bridge and British forces had to retreat. Making Arnhem -and ultimately Apeldoorn- too far to reach.

Allied tank in the town of Alast (between Valkenswaard and Eindhoven) - September 1944.
XXX Corps motorcade in Waalre - September 1944.