September 1944: around the sheep pen during the air landings
It was half past two in the afternoon on 18 September 1944. Major Helle, commander of the Amersfoort SS Wachtbataljon, was in the bar of the Zuid Ginkel, dozing at a table. His troops had captured Ginkel Heath during the night. He had moved his command post from Hotel de Langenberg to café Zuid-Ginkel. Heavy weapons were set up there to control the main road. This was how Monday morning passed while the German troops awaited new orders.
Meanwhile, the British troops were waiting at the edge of the forest for the fourth parachute brigade, expected to land at ten o’clock in the morning. However, ground fog at the English airports had delayed take-off.
Suddenly, a German officer in the bar heard the drone of aircraft in the sky. His first thought was that it was allied bombers headed for Germany. He went to the window and watched as one wave of planes after the next appeared from the southwest. For a moment, he was mesmerised by the impressive spectacle, but then quickly grasped what was happening.
There was not a moment to waste. Thousands of armed paratroopers landed amidst the bewildered men of Helle's Wachtbataljon. There was no way to give orders; every man had to figure out a way to survive for himself. He smacked the sleeping Helle on the arm. Helle awoke with a start, quickly understood the situation and, together with his men, escaped through the back door and ran towards Hindekamp.
The only one who managed to keep calm was an old Reichswehrveteran. He quickly turned his guns and opened fire on the paratroopers. The casualties that the English suffered during the landing were largely because of this veteran. The brigade's commander, Brigadier Hackett, also landed near the sheep pen. He had not even managed to remove his parachute before Helle's men rushed him from all sides and captured him.