Operation Market Garden was a combination of two plans. Operation Market was an airborne assault against the Dutch towns of Eindhoven, Nijmegen, and Arnhem. The Market forces — the U.S. 101st and 82d Airborne Divisions and the 1st British Airborne Division, reinforced by the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade — were to seize the bridges over the canals and rivers between Eindhoven and Arnhem. The Garden part of the operation was primarily focused on the advance of the XXX Corps through the corridor. It was at first led by the Guards Armored Division, and the 43rd Wessex division in reserve alongside the 50th Northumbrian Infantry Division. They were projected, on the first day, to arrive at the south end of the 101st Airborne Division’s area, the 82nd’ s by the second day and by the fourth day latest to be at the 1st’s. The airborne divisions were scheduled to the link with XXX Corps in the Arnhem bridgehead breakout
Success of Market Garden would open a corridor for exploitation by the Operation Garden forces on the ground. Second British Army’s XXX Corps, would advance from a bridgehead across the Meuse-Escaut Canal south of Eindhoven to the Ijssel River, moving north more than ninety miles in two to four days, supported by flanking attacks from other Second Army units. If all went according to plan, the Allies would have a bridgehead over the Rhine at Arnhem before the surprised Germans could establish a coherent defense.
Montgomery wanted to force his way into Germany over the Rhine and to do that he had to circumvent the Siegfried Line and get control over bridges across the Maas and get control of some smaller canals. If the Allies could cross the Rhine, they could surround the industrial heart of Germany and in doing so, severely weaken the German war machine. Wars are won by technology, this has been proven by every war since WWI, who wields the superior technology can win a battle or even an entire war despite being outnumbered.
Launched In mid-September 1944, the Allied high command decided to attempt to outflank the Germans in Holland to clear the way for a fresh drive by the British Second Army across the lower Rhine and into the Ruhr Valley, the industrial heart of Germany.
The 1st Allied Airborne Army, under the command of General Browning, consisted of the British 1st Airborne Division, the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade, and the U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. The 101st Division was assigned the capture of two canal bridges and one small river bridge north of Eindhoven. The 82nd came next with the more difficult task of, first, securing the Groesbeek Heights which threatened both their right flank and that of the subsequent ground advance, and then capturing the major bridges over the Maas and Waal Rivers at Grave and Nijmegen.
For the airborne component, Operation Market, Major General Maxwell Taylor’s 101st Airborne was to be dropped near Eindhoven with orders to take the bridges at Son and Veghel.
To the northeast, Brigadier General James Gavin’s 82nd Airborne would drop near Nijmegen to take the bridges there and at Grave.
Farthest north the British 1st Airborne, under Major General Roy Urquhart, and Brigadier General Stanislaw Sosabowski’s Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade were to land at Oosterbeek and capture the bridge at Arnhem.
Due to a lack of aircraft, the delivery of the airborne forces was divided over two days, with 60% arriving on the first day and remainder, including most of the gliders and heavy equipment, landing the second. The ground commanders requested multiple drops on Day One to increase combat power in the area but were overruled by Brereton. Attacking up Highway 69, the ground element, Garden, was to relieve the 101st on the first day, the 82nd on the second day, and the 1st by the fourth day. In case any of the bridges along the route were blown by the Germans, XXX Corps was accompanied by engineering units and bridging equipment to force a crossing.
Q: Why wasn’t the plan thoroughly vetted out by Eisenhower and his staff?
Politics, ego, and rivalry.
A: In 1948, Eisenhower wrote that “The attack began well and unquestionably would have been successful except for the intervention of bad weather.” He was isolated in the SHAEF HQ at Granville which did not even have radio or telephone links, so his staff were largely ignorant of the details of the operation. Bedell Smith’s objections were brushed aside by Montgomery, as were those of Montgomery’s chief of staff Freddie de Guingand who went to England on sick leave. Responsibility for the failure “began with Eisenhower and extended to Montgomery, Brereton, Browning, and, on the ground side, Dempsey and Horrocks, neither of whom motivated their tank units while there was still time to have seized and held Arnhem bridge”. In the end Browning and Montgomery made Sosabowski (who had been ignored) and the Poles the scapegoat. D’Este notes that Montgomery’s admission of a mistake was unique: “the only admission of failure by a senior Allied commander”.
Montgomery claimed that Market Garden was “90% successful” and said: It was a bad mistake on my part – I underestimated the difficulties of opening up the approaches to Antwerp … I reckoned the Canadian Army could do it while we were going for the Ruhr. I was wrong …………. In my — prejudiced view, if the operation had been properly backed from its inception, and given the aircraft, ground forces, and administrative resources necessary for the job, it would have succeeded in spite of my mistakes, or the adverse weather, or the presence of the 2nd SS Panzer Corps in the Arnhem area.
Eisenhower did not favor Montgomery’s idea of a single thrust and preferred a broad front attack which was used with great success during D-Day. Bear in mind the supply lines established during D-Day were still in use and had not improved. Eisenhower would have preferred that the Forces under Montgomery focus on clearing the Scheldt Estuary and pockets of resistance. Ike wanted the ports of Antwerp and Le Havre cleared of all remaining German forces. This would provide the Allies deep water ports and reduce delivery time of critical ware reserves material to the front-line armies. Due to the resource and resupply constraints Montgomery and Eisenhower did not agree on how those supplies were prioritized. Montgomery wanted British forces to have priority over US Forces. Eisenhower contemplated relieving Montgomery, but this would have caused an uproar with British leadership. Eisenhower took a cautious approach. Montgomery got priority and his plan was tacitly approved. Eisenhower sent Bedell Smith to visit Montgomery and his staff to discuss the plan. He was waved off and dismissed by Montgomery. Montgomery’s staff did not fully approve of the plan. Chief of Operations, Chief of Plans, British 2nd Army commander all had issues with the plan. Ultra-intelligence revealed reinforcement troops entering the area and armor formations. Montgomery knew of these intelligences reports and discounted them. The Polish Paratrooper leader Sosabowski confronted Montgomery saying: “The plan for his troops near Arnhem was disastrous… Guilty of reckless overconfidence”. Montgomery insisted on priority of supplies and fuel and that opening up the Rhine was the key to success for the Allies. All of these issues would prove to be fatal. This is one instance where egos got in the way and we lost good men, paratroopers, because of it. The Scheldt Estuary would not be fully cleared until November 1944. During the ground operation by British forces at Arnhem, Dempsey’s progress was halted numerous times as he diverted troops trying to flank him along the route.
Q: Why not drop the 82nd directly on top of the Objective bridges?
A: The decision to drop the 82nd Airborne Division on the Groesbeek Heights has been questioned because it resulted in a long delay in its capture. Browning and Gavin considered holding a defensive blocking position on the ridge a prerequisite for holding the highway corridor. Gavin generally favored accepting the higher initial casualties involved in dropping as close to objectives as possible in the belief that distant drop zones would result in lower chances of success. With the 82nd responsible for holding the center of the salient, he and Browning decided the ridge must take priority. Combined with the 1st Airborne Division’s delays within Arnhem, which left the Arnhem bridge open to traffic until 20:00, the Germans were given vital hours to reinforce their hold on the bridge.
Q: Why Did Gavin miss his objective times?
A: the 82nd secured the bridges at Grave and Heumen before taking a position on the commanding Groesbeek Heights. Occupying this position was intended to block any German advance out of the nearby Reichswald forest and prevent the Germans from using the high ground for artillery spotting. Gavin dispatched 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment to take the main highway bridge in Nijmegen. Due to a communication error, the 508th did not move out until later in the day and missed an opportunity to capture the bridge when it was largely undefended. When they finally attacked, they met heavy resistance from an SS Reconnaissance Battalion and were unable to take the span.
Gavin and Browning, who established his HQ at Nijmegen, felt this must be the Division’s priority instead of taking Nijmegen bridge. They faced the same disadvantage as the British at Arnhem in dropping many miles from their objective. Had they been dropped nearer their objective or attacked earlier they would have faced only a dozen Germans. The attack failed, leaving the Nijmegen bridge in German hands.
Extended answer/information: First Assaults on the Bridges. Upon assembling in their drop zones, 82nd troopers moved quickly to capitalize on the element of surprise and capture their primary objectives: the Maas River Bridge at Grave, the four bridges spanning the Maas-Waal Canal, and the Waal River Bridge at Nijmegen.
The Maas Bridge at Grave was captured by E Company, 504th PIR, about two hours after landing. Responsibility for taking the canal bridges belonged to the 504th PIR’s 1st Battalion, which swiftly advanced on the objectives from Drop Zone O.
The southernmost bridge at Molenhoek (known to the paratroopers as Bridge #7) was captured intact by troopers from B Company, 504th, as well as by elements of the 505th PIR advancing from the direction of Groesbeek. As troopers from the 504th, 505th, and 508th approached the two bridges in the center—Bridge #8 near Malden and Bridge #9 near Hatert—they were just in time to see them both blown sky high by retreating German soldiers.
Bridge #10 near Honinghutje, the largest of the canal bridges, was the only one between Grave and Nijmegen capable of bearing the weight of tanks. Accordingly, capturing it intact was of the utmost importance. However, a network of pillboxes, trenches, and barbed wire defended its approaches. That night, troopers from Colonel Roy Lindquist’s 508th PIR moved into positions and commenced an attack at first light on Monday, September 18.
At 10:30 that morning, the Germans set off demolition charges on the railroad bridge running next to Bridge #10, destroying it and weakening Bridge #10 to the point that it could not be used after its capture. Suddenly, Bridge #7 at Molenhoek was priceless real estate.
Paratroopers from the 508th made early attempts to seize the 1,960-foot-long highway bridge at Nijmegen on September 17 but were thwarted by a superior German force. They did, however, manage to locate and deactivate demolition equipment that otherwise could have been used to blow the bridge.
Troopers of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division parachuted near the towns of Nijmegen and Grave, Holland, during Market Garden and proceeded rapidly toward their objectives.
The paratroopers were soon locked in a furious firefight with the German soldiers defending the south end of the bridge. That defense was resolutely fought, and a stalemate followed that would not be broken for three more days.
Stunned, the Germans failed to immediately mount their customary counterattacks in the wake of the largest airborne-glider operation of the war. After nightfall on the 17th, a train filled with German troops attempting to escape rolled out of Nijmegen but was stopped by the 505th’s reserve battalion, which ended its journey with a bazooka, rifles, and machine guns. The surviving Germans fled into the woods but were soon rounded up by the paratroopers.
Q: Why not drop the Polish Forces the same day as the British?
While German forces were actively trying to cut the highway in the rear of XXX Corps’ advance, the focus shifted north to Arnhem. On Thursday September 21, the position at Oosterbeek was under heavy pressure as the British paratroopers battled to retain control the riverbank and access to the ferry leading across to Driel. In an effort to rescue the situation, the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade, delayed in England due to weather, was dropped at a new landing zone on the south bank near Driel. Landing under fire, they were planning on using the ferry to cross in support of the 3,584 survivors of the British 1st Airborne. Arriving in Driel, Sosabowski’s men found the ferry missing and the enemy dominating the opposite shore.
Horrock’s delay at Nijmegen allowed the Germans to form a defensive line across Highway 69 south of Arnhem. Recommencing their advance, XXX Corps was halted by heavy German fire. As the lead unit, the Guards Armored Division, was constrained to the road due to marshy soil and lacked the strength to flank the Germans, Horrocks ordered the 43rd Division to take over the lead with the goal of shifting west and linking up with the Poles at Driel. Stuck in the traffic congestion on the two-lane highway, it was not ready to attack until the next day. As Friday dawned, the German began an intense shelling of Oosterbeek and began shifting troops to prevent the Poles from taking the bridge and cutting off the troops opposing XXX Corps.
Driving on the Germans, the 43rd Division linked up with the Poles on Friday evening. After an unsuccessful attempt to cross with small boats during the night, British and Polish engineers tried various means to force a crossing, but to no avail. Understanding the Allied intentions, the Germans increased pressure on the Polish and British lines south of the river. This was coupled with increased attacks along the length of Highway 69 which necessitated Horrocks sending the Guards Armored south to keep the route open.
Q: Why drop the Polish Forces so far from the bridge objective?
A: At Arnhem, the RAF planners selected the drop zones, refusing to drop near the town on the north side of the target bridge because of flak at Deelen. Another suitable drop zone just to the south of the bridge was rejected because it was thought to be too marshy for landing gliders containing the force’s heavier equipment, however that same drop zone was selected for the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade in the third lift, which suggests they were well aware of its suitability. Urquhart made his objections to the RAF planners who were unmoved, even when he informed them that the troops and glider pilots were willing to take whatever risks landing closer to the objectives entailed. Urquhart made the best of the RAF planners’ decision and thus the three main landing and drop zones were 8–10 km (5.0–6.2 mi) from the bridge, with the fourth being 13 km (8.1 mi) away.
Q: Why didn’t the British forces at Arnhem pull back sooner if they knew the Tanks were not going to come?
A: British paratroopers managed to take the town of Arnhem, but ground forces could not reach them in time to hold the position. Although the Allies beat German forces back across the bridge, German artillery on the ground in Arnhem made it impossible to go further.
The paratroopers were stranded, divided from their allies and unable to escape. German tanks were moving through Arnhem and torching the houses where paratroopers hid.
The land route between the eight bridges covered 100 miles, a huge swath of territory. Airborne troops had to hold out long enough for ground forces to catch up to them — just one more reason ground forces would have to be fast on their feet. It would also be difficult for supply lines coming up behind the advancing forces. The waited for reinforcements that were not coming. They were sacrificed in place.
Q: Why wasn’t Montgomery onsite doing a leader’s recon during the fighting?
A: Conducting a leader’s recon was not Monty’s style. Monty was known to be a detailed planner however Market Garden was the exception and cost him dearly in reputation. He was known to stay out of the way of the commander on the ground. He had taken a gamble with the Airborne forces at his disposal and history’s estimation is that he lost. The cost was many paratrooper lives. Certainly a black stain on his record that would stay with him for the remainder of his life.
Q: Why did the British tank forces stop at Nijmegen and not advance to the Arnhem bridge?
A: Had XXX Corps pushed north, they might have arrived at the south end of Arnhem and secured it (had the Guards Armored sent more than five Shermans across the bridge and had they not been later stopped by the German position at Ressen), leaving the way open for another crossing to the north at some other point. There was the smaller possibility of arriving with Frost’s force intact. This perceived “lack of guts” caused some bitterness at the time among members of both the British 1st Airborne and the US 82nd Airborne. As it was, XXX Corps did not resume the drive to Arnhem that night, the waited and didn’t advance until eighteen hours later.
Q: Why extend the range of the operation from the southernmost bridge to the northernmost bridge without a contraction plan?
A: Arnhem bridge was not the only Rhine crossing. In fact, had the Market Garden planners realized that a ferry was available at Driel, Frost’s paratroops could have secured that instead of the Arnhem bridge, making a profound difference in the campaign because at a shorter distance away from their western drop and landing zones — the whole of the 1st Brigade could have concentrated to hold the Oosterbeek heights instead of just one battalion farther away at the road bridge. In this case, Arnhem was “one bridge too far”. A contrasting view is that the attack into Arnhem was intended to capture the rail bridge, the pontoon bridge and the road bridge; that the rail bridge was blown in the face of Frost’s 2nd parachute battalion, the pontoon bridge had been disabled by the removal of several sections and this left only the road bridge intact. Clearly the Heveadorp ferry was no substitute for a bridge.
Q: If Gavin had known the British were NOT going to continue the advance to Arnhem after crossing the Nijmegen Bridge, would he still have sacrificed the 3/504 and C Co 307th Engineers, in the crossing of the Waal?
A: Short Answer: More than likely, yes. The Nijmegen bridges were part of the Division’s objective and they were late securing the bridge. Gavin was known for throwing his men into the meat grinder. He established this at St Mere, especially at Le Fiere Causeway with the 505 and 325. He would continue this same approach throughout the war, during Market Garden, and clearing the Rhineland areas pushing all the way to the Elbe.
A: Long Answer: Gavin regretted giving his division’s most important tasks (Groesbeek ridge and Nijmegen) to the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment rather than his best regiment, Tucker’s 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. People who have read extensively about Gavin would say that the 505 was Gavin’s favorite regiment. The 504th, under Tucker was just as good if not a better combat team. IMHO, at the Waal, he was willing to sacrifice a Battalion of the 504th to save face for not securing the Nijmegen Bridge. He was desperate! The 505 had been mauled in house to house, street to street fighting taking and defending the Nijmegen and Groesbeck Heights. A Battalion of the 504th, was his best option at this point. The C Company 307th Engineers, by virtue of always being side by side with the lead elements of the Division, were truly sacrificed alongside the 3rd of the 504th. History was made that day but at a high cost of saving Gavin’s reputation. If Gavin had not taken the bridge it would have been easy for Browning, Frost, Horrocks, Montgomery, and Ultimately Ridgway and Brereton to lay the blame at his feet. Some British versions of this part of history have Browning “Ordering” Gavin to assault the crossing. Browning was the ranking officer on the spot, but I doubt that he would have been heavy handed in ordering this suicide assault. In other words, If Browning had “ordered” the assault, in turn he would have had to order the same aggressiveness from Horrocks after his unit crossed the bridge.
Q: Big Picture, what was really going on with Gavin and Browning at Nijmegen?
A: The failure of the 82nd Airborne Division to attach maximum importance to the early capture of Nijmegen Bridge was a fatal mistake. XXX Corps was also criticized for its “inability” to keep to the operation’s timetable. The most notable example of this was on Wednesday 20 September, when Nijmegen Bridge had finally been captured and the Guards Armored Division, after crossing, promptly came to a halt for the night to rest, refuel and rearm. XXX Corps was delayed at Son by a bridge demolition and the delay at Nijmegen (having arrived by D+3, within the maximum time estimate, having compensated for the delay while a Bailey Bridge was built at Son) was caused by having to help the 82nd’ s paratroopers capture the town and bridges. The lead unit of XXX Corps, the Guards Armored Division, was led by a commander (Allan Adair) whom Montgomery had sought to remove prior to D-Day. This action was blocked due to Adair’s popularity. In retrospect, it may have been a good move to have someone in position that was accustomed to adhering to the mission.
Actions near Arnhem: British paratroopers managed to take the town of Arnhem, but ground forces could not reach them in time to hold the position. Although the Allies beat German forces back across the bridge, German artillery on the ground in Arnhem made it impossible to go further.
The paratroopers were stranded, divided from their allies and unable to escape. German tanks were moving through Arnhem and torching the houses where paratroopers hid.
The land route between the eight bridges covered 100 miles, a huge swath of territory. Airborne troops had to hold out long enough for ground forces to catch up to them — just one more reason ground force would have to be fast on their feet. It would also be difficult for supply lines coming up behind the advancing forces.
On Sept. 17, 1944, a total of 1,500 planes and 500 gliders parachuted troops about seven miles away from Arnhem. (The Allies thought the German anti-aircraft defenses at Arnhem were too stout to land troops at the site.) British ground forces would meet up with the paratroopers after fighting through two other towns.
Timing was critical. Airborne troops could only carry so many supplies and limited amounts of ammunition with them, so it was imperative that the better-supplied ground troops join them swiftly. Allied artillery would speed the process by pounding German units, giving cover to the incoming planes and allowing tanks on the ground to advance.
Unfortunately, Operation Market Garden got off to a rocky start. The Allies had not considered the narrowness of the roads on the approach to Arnhem. Small German divisions disabled nine British vehicles and it took 40 minutes to get the advance moving again.
Analysis of Operation Market Garden
In its first phase Operation Market Garden seemed like a success, the Allies gained control of several bridges that were located between Eindhoven and Nijmegen, but the advance soon came to a halt because of the overstretching of the supply line as well as the demolition of the Wilhelmina Canal bridge. The British 1st Airborne Division also encountered resistance which was far stronger than anticipated. From that battle only a few units succeeded in holding one part of the Arnhem bridge and with no support reaching them in time they were overrun by 21 September. The rest of the troops, by then trapped on the west side of the bridge were evacuated on 25 September. The Allies at this point failed to cross the Rhine in significant numbers and the river stayed a barrier until March 1945.
Another similar perspective…
It was a vast operation that involved flying 10,000 paratroopers behind enemy lines to take eight strategic bridges that crossed the Rhine River along the German border with the Netherlands. Three towns along the German-Dutch border would be involved: Eindhoven, Nijmegen, and Arnhem.
Once troops reached Arnhem, it would be a short way to the Rhineland, Germany’s industrial region. After that, they could march onward to Berlin. Victory could come by Christmas, and World War II would be over before the new year.
The British paratroopers started advancing towards Arnhem but found themselves soon under attack and to make things worse their radios weren’t working and because of that it was impossible to properly coordinate this attack. Surprisingly one of the battalions found a way to Arnhem through the German perimeter and sure enough on the first day they captured the northern part of a bridge that lead across the Rhine. At this point the Americans also made their way to their objectives but before they had a chance to capture them the bridges were destroyed.
A full day into Operation Market Garden, the XXX corps only advanced 7 miles from their starting line and they hadn’t made it to the first sequence of bridges in their objectives. At the same time the Germans prepared at Arnhem to take the battle to the British paratroopers.
On the second day the XXX corps started to make real progress. Their tanks moved 20 miles in just a few hours, and they met the Americans close to Grave and there was a bridge, still standing waiting for them. On the third day of Operation Market Garden they reached Nijmegen where the Americans fought their way through the city in hopes of reaching the bridges at the river Waal.
After they arrived at the bridge and realized that they can’t take it from their end the commander of the XXX corps ordered the American troops to take the bridge from the German end. This decision would end up being extremely costly for them. One of the soldier’s recalled that the Germans fired at them in such numbers that the bullets hitting the water resembled a hailstorm and it just got worse once they made it halfway into the river, then the artillery and mortar fire began.
The survivors of the crossing made it onto the far banks and from there stormed Nijmegen bridge. Finally, the route to Arnhem was controlled by the Allies. By this point it was too late for the British troops at the north side of the bridge. The Germans moved their tanks into the town and destroyed the houses where the British were hiding.
The Allies had to abandon their positions at the bridge and fight their way out. By now the Germans had control of the river and it was decided that the British survivors should be evacuated but only 2, 500 survived the crossing. Operation Market Garden was a complete failure and it would take another four months until the Allies would cross the Rhine and capture the heartland of the German industry.
The ramifications of Operation Market Garden’s failure were enormous.
After the successes of D-Day in Normandy the Allied soldiers were hopeful the war would end by Christmas. The war did not wrap up by Christmas. Instead, the Germans hung on for four more months. The advance to Berlin cost thousands of civilian lives that could have been saved if Operation Market Garden had succeeded, not to mention the lives lost in the operation itself.
If the Americans had reached Berlin in late 1944, they would have beaten the Soviets to Germany by several weeks. This might have prevented the construction of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent decades of tension during the Cold War. Who knows how different international relations might look today if Operation Market Garden had been thoroughly planned and executed at the opportune time, leveraging intelligence AFTER the Scheldt Estuary had been properly cleared of German resistance.
READ MORE ABOUT OPERATION MARKET GARDEN:
- Stunning Colorized Images of Operation Market Garden
- Operation Market Garden in 37 Photographs
- Book Review of Images of War – Battle for Arnhem
- Review: Arnhem 1944 – The Human Tragedy of the Bridge Too Far