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Nijmegen had suffered destruction since first day of the invasion of the Netherlands, May 10 1940. Dutch combat engineers tried to slow German advances by blowing up the bridge over the river Waal.
Nijmegen was once again in the midst of the fighting during the last phase of occupation. On a sunny afternoon on February 22, 1944, the city and its inhabitants were bombarded by the Americans. The bombers’ mission had been aborted and on their way back from Germany to England they dropped their bombs on Nijmegen when searching for a target of opportunity. The bombing caused the destruction of a wide strip of Nijmegen, from the Valkhof in the east to the station in the west. This bombing cost almost 800 lives. As if this destruction of the city centre and the loss of life was not enough, the occupying forces and the NSB (National Socialist Movement of the Netherlands) tried to use the Americans’ mistake to gain support by constantly reminding people that not they, but the allies had bombed the city.
Seven months later, in September, the allies launched Operation Market Garden. For days there was fierce fighting in and around Nijmegen. The 82nd Airborne Division led by General James Gavin tried to capture the strategically important bridge over the Waal (which had been repaired). Before the allies could succeed, the Hitler Youth and groups of German soldiers set fire to buildings that had survived the bombing. On September 20 the allies secured the city. However, this did not mean the end of the war for Nijmegen. For months to come Nijmegen was to be at the front line. The Germans continued firing artillery shells from the Betuwe and the Rijkswald onto Nijmegen until February 1945. These months in the line of fire cost 800 lives, approximately the same number of people killed by the 1944 bombing. Time and time again the people had to take cover in bomb shelters. The large Catholic school and many monasteries rendered good service as shelters. These communal, often anxious hours spent in shelters were memorable experiences – sometimes even enjoyable.More than 2200 Nijmegen citizens died during the war, another 10,000 were injured of whom 5500 were permanently disabled. Almost a quarter (5000) of all houses was destroyed and 13,000 were severely damaged. The housing shortage was immense – there were 12,000 people homeless and another 3000 evacuees had come from the surrounding areas.