German corporal Karl-Heinz Kracht was a bomb loader in a Mark III tank that was deployed against John Frost’s paratroopers at the Rhine Bridge. Few pictures have been taken of the battle around the bridge. Besides British aerial photos, we actually only have the photos that Karl-Heinz Kracht took as a hobby photographer during the fighting.
Kracht had started the tank crew training program in March 1944. During that training, Kracht was told that he could be deployed ad hoc if it was needed.
That moment arrived in September 1944 when the entire unit of Karl-Heinz Kracht was hastily sent by train to Arnhem to fight the British.
In the photo above, Karl-Heinz Kracht photographed the arrival of his tank unit at Arnhem. The tank unit, the Mielke company, consisted of a total of fifteen tanks. These were mainly (somewhat outdated) Mark III tanks.
Immediately upon arrival, the tank of Kracht was directed towards the Rhine Bridge. Karl-Heinz Kracht was 19 years old and had no war experience. Kracht later said that he was stunned by the damage he encountered all over Arnhem.
“Personally I felt quite tense when we entered Arnhem,” he said after the war. “I still had to deal with the shock of all the destruction and bodies we encountered on the way. Who knows, maybe we were the next victim of the British anti-tank guns. That feeling was reinforced when our company lost its first tanks.”
This photo was taken on the east side of the bridge. The tanks of Krachts company drove through the Westervoortsedijk and met with a group of SS armored grenadiers.
Kracht: “We ran into many Tommies hiding in basements. They were chased there by our grenadiers. Many Englishmen were well equipped with food and cigarettes.”
This photo was probably taken on Tuesday, September 19, 1944 on the east side of the bridge on Rijnkade. The Rhine Bridge in the background is barely visible due to the smoke from various buildings that were on fire at the time.
Karl-Heinz Kracht: “On Rijnkade, we set up behind a factory. We were ordered to provide fire support to the armored grenadiers who advanced to the bridge. We also had to attack houses occupied by the British.”
The tank of Kracht is driven in reverse in the vicinity of the bridge. The man in the foreground with his hands in his pockets is radio operator Mauel, along with other crew members of the tank.
The British proved to be able to cope well with the German tanks, much to the fright of the Germans. Five British anti-tank guns were active around the bridge. On the east side of the bridge, these guns destroyed several German tanks, including a Mark III and a Mark IV tank from Krachts company.
Kracht: “Shooting back and forth led to casualties on both sides. On our side it was the SS Armored Grenadiers who had to do the dirty work. After two days, British resistance had ceased to exist and all the homes occupied by the British had been destroyed.”
The most famous photo of Karl-Heinz Kracht can be seen above. Seated on his tank, Kracht photographs how he drives across the regained Rhine Bridge on Thursday, September 21, 1944.
To the left and right of the road are the wreckage of the column of SS-Hauptsturmführer Viktor Gräbner, who attempted to break through the British lines on Monday, September 18. Almost the entire column was destroyed by the British.
Remarkable detail: on the bridge evacuées walk from Arnhem South to the north. Arnhem South was evacuated by the Germans on Thursday, September 21.
Bonus photo. This photo was taken by a British reconnaissance aircraft on Tuesday, September 19, 1944. The circles show the two tanks from the company of Karl-Heinz Kracht that had been destroyed by the British defenders at the bridge at the time.
On the ramp of the bridge, the wreckage from the column of SS-Hauptsturmführer Viktor Gräbner can be clearly seen.
After the Battle of Arnhem
After the battle for Arnhem and the fierce fighting at Elst, Karl-Heinz Strength received the Iron Cross 2nd class for his actions. During Easter 1945 he was captured and taken prisoner of war in the Ruhr area by American troops. After being released in 1946, he retrained as a dentist and moved to Sweden. In 1973 he returned to Germany, where he died in Flensburg in 1999.