HERITAGE - 35: MARKET GARDEN MIRED, How well planned was this thrust to bypass the Siegfried Line?

Planning begins for a 'sucker punch' across the Rhine

Standard paratroop drop transport by this time was the Canadian Douglas Dakota twin- engined aircraft
Standard paratroop drop transport by this time was the Canadian Douglas Dakota twin- engined aircraft
Ike and Monty were deep in conversation when this picture was taken to show the two leaders did discuss their moves, even if Monty at times grew hot under the collar
Ike and Monty were deep in conversation when this picture was taken to show the two leaders did discuss their moves, even if Monty at times grew hot under the collar | Source
This was Eisenhower's 'Wide' Front plan. He managed to keep Monty and 'Blood & Guts' Patton apart for much of the time.
This was Eisenhower's 'Wide' Front plan. He managed to keep Monty and 'Blood & Guts' Patton apart for much of the time. | Source
The Front Line, 14th September, 1944 saw the Germans holding on to much of the Netherlands. The port of Antwerp was the prize the Allies sought. The Germans stubbornly held on to the region, flooding large areas to stop the Allies achieving their aim
The Front Line, 14th September, 1944 saw the Germans holding on to much of the Netherlands. The port of Antwerp was the prize the Allies sought. The Germans stubbornly held on to the region, flooding large areas to stop the Allies achieving their aim | Source

Operation 'Market Garden', September 17-25, 1944

In its aim to secure bridges over the Rhine on the Dutch-German border the operation proved resoundingly unsuccessful. However that was not for want of trying or effort by the participants. As an exercise in strategy it proved futile, though ambitious, and came at a time when German forces had rallied after resting and refitting.

The operation was divided into two tactical elements that reflected the overall name:

'Market' - the airborne element, First Allied Airborne Army FAAA) would seize key bridges;

'Garden' - the ground units, British XXX Corps to cross the Netherlands in a south-north movement and relieve FAAA with help from the US 82nd and 101st Airborne (the 'Screaming Eagles') in the Nijmegen area.

The operation was to be the largest airborne undertaking in the war to date.

Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery's strategic aim was to cut off the hub of German heavy manufacturing industry in the Ruhr with a pincer movement. The northern end of this pincer would bypass the northern end of the German fortifications known as the Siegfried Line. This would make entering Germany easier and less costly in lives.

The task of 'Market' was to secure the northern end of the pincer, ready for 'Garden' to move across the Rhine into the Fatherland. Allied forces would push north out of Belgium 60 miles (97 kms) through the Netherlands, over the Rhine and gather north of Arnhem to snap shut the pincer.

The operation massed airborne infantry and mobile units to secure the bridges and hold their ground for armoured units to mass north of Arnhem and bridges crossing the Maas, two arms of the Rhine - the Waal and Neder Rijn (Lower Rhine) - with crossings over smaller waterways and tributaries.

Finally on their way after many false starts ...

1st  Airborne at  Arnhem. It didn't help that German General Kurt Student acquired campaign plans courtesy of a British officer. It wasn't so much a gift as 'inheritance'. The officer in question died when his glider crash-landed
1st Airborne at Arnhem. It didn't help that German General Kurt Student acquired campaign plans courtesy of a British officer. It wasn't so much a gift as 'inheritance'. The officer in question died when his glider crash-landed | Source
3. Platoon, 21st Ind. Parachute Coy. emplane at Fairford, Gloucester. Behind them are Short Stirling Bombers taken from bombing duties, assigned to tow gliders - vertical stripes were added to fuselages and wings for recognition as Allied aircraft
3. Platoon, 21st Ind. Parachute Coy. emplane at Fairford, Gloucester. Behind them are Short Stirling Bombers taken from bombing duties, assigned to tow gliders - vertical stripes were added to fuselages and wings for recognition as Allied aircraft | Source
2nd Welsh Guards' XXX Corps' Sherman tanks approach the Nijmegen bridge, 21st September
2nd Welsh Guards' XXX Corps' Sherman tanks approach the Nijmegen bridge, 21st September | Source

A number of crossings between Eindhoven and Nijmegen were taken easily enough early on.

However, Lt. General Brian Horrocks' XXX Corps' progress was held up by failure in securing bridges at Son and Nijmegen. German engineers blew the bridge on the Wilhelmina Canal at Son before 101st Airborne Division could secure it. 82nd Airborne likewise were unable to take the main road bridge across the River Waal at Nijmegen before 20th September, delaying XXX Corps' progress.

At Arnhem the British 1st Airborne Division met with strong resistance to begin with, the delays allowing the Germans to regroup and move into Arnhem with their armour. In the battle that followed a small British force took the northern end of the Arnhem road bridge. When the ground units were unable to relieve them the paratroopers were overpowered on 21st September. The rest of the 1st Airborne Division were trapped in a diminishing pocket west of the bridge and had to be pulled out with heavy losses on 25th September. Thus the Allies were unable to cross the Rhine and the river proved a major barrier until offences at Remagen, Oppenheim, Rees and Wesel in March, 1945. Market Garden's failure saw the war continue for another seven months.

Christmas 1944 would witness another shock for the Allies...

Background History

Montgomery had initially put forward 'Operation Comet' for 2nd September, an airborne operation using the 1st Airborne Division with the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade. These would take several Rhine bridges to ease an Allied advance to the North German plain. Divisional HQ for the 1st Airborne Division would land at Nijmegen. 1st Parachute Brigade were to land at Arnhem and 4th Parachute Brigade would touch down at Graves. Several days of dismal flying weather intervened and Montgomery's fears about mounting German resistance saw him postpone Comet, and finally to cancel on 10th September.

Comet was superseded by a grander plan to bypass the Siegfried Line northward, allowing the Allies to cross the Rhine with overwhelming force to trap the German 15th Army between Arnhem and the Ijsselmeer, a large inland sea. This would be Market Garden. One of the pressing issues Montgomery gave was that a signal from London urged the neutralising of V2 (flying bomb) sites, London being one of the main targets with Paris and Antwerp.

A thorough-going study of the ambition to free the northern Netherlands and bypass German fortifications on the Siegfried Line to isolate the Axis from their weapons suppliers. Also important was to locate firing sites for the V2 Flying Bomb, Hitler's vengeance weapon aimed at London and Paris. Things turned out less simple. XXX Corps' progress was hindered despite drops by the 82nd/101st US Paratroops to secure bridges en route. The British 1st Army was beset by problems after dropping near Arnhem and the outcome for MARKET GARDEN was mired .by more than one failure

What about the availability of close air support in September, 1944?

I've raised the issue elsewhere on this page, air support. Close Air Support was as important in WWII, as it was in the closing stages of WWI. So what was available at the time that could have suited the task of protecting the paratroopers (British, Canadian and American) during Market Garden?

Several manufacturers had designed aircraft for this purpose:

Supermarine built the Spitfire Mk IV during 1944, Hawker also had a Hurricane Mk IV. 'Hurri-bomber'. During 1942 they built the Typhoon that was tried out successfully in the North African campaign that saw Rommel's Afrika Korps ushered hastily out of Libya. De Havilland's Mosquito would have been amply suitable, tried and tested before D-Day at Amiens during bad weather at the prison breakout (that has drawn a lot of flak). Two highly useful planes emerged from the USA, in 1943 North American came out with the P51-D Mustang, 'tank-busters' and the following year Republic supplied the P47-M Thunderbolt - two highly suitable close-support attack aircraft that would not have come amiss, and the weather was certainly not unsuitable for flying over the eight days of the operation. So where were they?

*Several other US-built aircraft came out after their entry into WWII, mainly carrier-borne and used in the Pacific to support the Marines.

XXX Corps had Hell's Highway to negotiate, across open countryside on an elevated road under fire

XXX Corps' route north from Belgium would first pass 82nd then 101st US Airborne drop zones before heading to relieve British 1st Airborne at Arnhem
XXX Corps' route north from Belgium would first pass 82nd then 101st US Airborne drop zones before heading to relieve British 1st Airborne at Arnhem | Source

XXX Corps were obliged to cover the distance from Allied lines along an exposed, elevated road.

At Nijmegen they were aided by US paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division when engineers were able to effect a pontoon bridge to replace one dynamited by the retreating Germans.

That one day of German resistance cost the Allies dear and heralded disasters to come, when at Christmas 1944 the Allies suspected nothing of a German push through the Ardennes towards Antwerp. This was Hitler's bid to cut through between the US and British forces and deny them the use of the port for re-supply. There had been suspicion by Bletchley Park that something was going on, but the Germans forsook Enigma use of telephones and radio.

Luckily at Christmas, 1944 the weather cleared as German armour was running out of fuel, strung out across eastern Belgium around Bastogne. Unable to ford swollen rivers when American engineers blew the bridges, they were picked off by the aircraft that were missing at Arnhem. Thereby hangs another tail.

Stiffening resistance around Arnhem

British paratroopers assemble by the gliders. Some jeeps were provided, the force was largely infantry and would find reaching the Rhine bridges an uphill task against regrouping German combat units. The element of surprise was lost.
British paratroopers assemble by the gliders. Some jeeps were provided, the force was largely infantry and would find reaching the Rhine bridges an uphill task against regrouping German combat units. The element of surprise was lost. | Source
The 1st Airborne at Arnhem saw an increasing German build-up, notably SS units and particularly SS Panzers - intelligence ignored their reported presence.
The 1st Airborne at Arnhem saw an increasing German build-up, notably SS units and particularly SS Panzers - intelligence ignored their reported presence. | Source

Disaster dogged 'Market Garden' in several ways:

Firstly the Dutch Resistance warning to Military Intelligence of an SS Panzer Division regrouping in the area was ignored. Had the task been allocated to the RAF or USAF of neutralising the tanks with the use of 'Tank Busters' or similar, this might not have proved such a threat. After all, they had been used during 'Operation Overlord' (D-Day) to great effect, so why was Montgomery denied this 'umbrella';

Secondly two-way radios supplied to the British paratroopers were fitted with the wrong batteries and it was not until late during the operation that they became operational;

Thirdly one of the officers had taken it upon himself to take a full set of operational plans of Market Garden. His glider crashed, killing him and the plans fell into the hands of General Kurt Student, the officer tasked with the German parachute landings on Crete in May, 1941;

Fourthly, because Major-General Roy Urquhart was unable to communicate with his combat units.he set out to find them at various locations and was nearly captured in the suburbs of Arnhem. Thus when the radios crackled into life he could not be found to give orders;

Fifthly Lt Colonel John Frost's men initially took the SS Panzers coming from the south to be Horrocks' XXX Corps', allowing them to get closer before wrecking several. They were nevertheless severely hammered when the SS brought artillery to bear, destroying much of the bridge area and trapping Frost by the bridge when German infantry closed on them. Also, pushed back from the supply drop zones, the British paratroopers had to watch their supplies of food, ammunition and weaponry land behind the encircling German lines.

The only saving grace was that on the night of Sunday 24th-Monday 25th September Urquhart was given artillery support for the evacuation of little over two-and-a-quarter thousand of his men with the help of the Polish paratroopers. This small miracle was known as 'Operation Berlin'. 'Market Garden' would prove to be his last major command, although its failure was not entirely his.

Why not follow the campaign to cross the Rhine into Germany? Facts and figures, film clips of the planners, the intelligence, the drops and the ground advance north from Belgium by the armoured XXX Corps and the difficulties they faced - all that effort, only to be thwarted at the last hurdle.

Operation Market Garden

Taking the road north

US Paratroops embark for Nijmegen, 101st 'Screaming Eagles' for the bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal, 82nd to take the main road bridge intact for XXX Corps to cross on their way north to Arnhem
US Paratroops embark for Nijmegen, 101st 'Screaming Eagles' for the bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal, 82nd to take the main road bridge intact for XXX Corps to cross on their way north to Arnhem | Source
American paratroopers hitch a lift from XXX Corps  - on US Sherman tanks
American paratroopers hitch a lift from XXX Corps - on US Sherman tanks | Source
US Paratroopers pose for a snapshot by the road to Arnhem with Dutch civilians
US Paratroopers pose for a snapshot by the road to Arnhem with Dutch civilians | Source
101st commanders meet to discuss first moves
101st commanders meet to discuss first moves | Source
82nd Airborne found their target hard to achieve, the main road bridge over the Waal was taken on the 20th September. Time was running out to relieve the paratroopers at Arnhem. Intelligence on German strengths was out of date even as they dropped
82nd Airborne found their target hard to achieve, the main road bridge over the Waal was taken on the 20th September. Time was running out to relieve the paratroopers at Arnhem. Intelligence on German strengths was out of date even as they dropped | Source

Failure can knock hard on the doors of opportunity

German paratroopers man a machine gun position near the drop zone. Their commander was Kurt Student, who planned the German drop on Crete in 1941
German paratroopers man a machine gun position near the drop zone. Their commander was Kurt Student, who planned the German drop on Crete in 1941 | Source
British troops man a light 6-pounder field gun at Arnhem
British troops man a light 6-pounder field gun at Arnhem | Source
British paratroopers led away as POWs were subjected to physical abuse on their way to camps in the east,. long hours spent entrained without food or water - two and a quarter thousand reached safety back across the Rhine
British paratroopers led away as POWs were subjected to physical abuse on their way to camps in the east,. long hours spent entrained without food or water - two and a quarter thousand reached safety back across the Rhine | Source

More by this Author


7 comments

lions44 profile image

lions44 4 months ago from Auburn, WA

Great article, as always.

To me, the biggest issues were:

1. The failure of British intelligence to trust the Dutch underground when they were informed about the presence of the 10th SS. They wouldn't even believe their recon photos.

2. The failure of the British ground commanders to take advice from their Dutch Army liaisons when it was suggested to take alternate routes. The tanks ended up on many narrow embankments early on and this led to massive delays.

3. The lack of a coup de main at Arnhem. Monty did not have a commando unit charge the bridge at Arnhem (ala John Howard's group on DDay). Landing miles from the bridge was a bad decision, and as you point out, Urquhart opposed vehemently.

To be fair, the Americans are not without blame. Robin Neilands, the great British military historian, was very critical of General Gavin's action at Nijmegen. I disagree with him on that. But everyone could have made better decisions.

Sharing everywhere.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 months ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Wrong batteries-- for want of a nail, eh? A tragic tale well-told, Alan.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 4 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Some moot points, lions44. If you've ever seen the film 'A Bridge Too Far' you'd come away thinking British High Command wasn't interested in what the Dutch Underground had to say. They just wanted to get those paratroopers in the air, come what may. The whole thing smacked of being thrown together, and as I've said 'where were the 'tank-busters' or other air cover? The Germans held back what was left of their Luftwaffe, so the only aircraft involved were the gliders, towing planes and paratroop planes. By rights 1. XXX Corps should have set off before 1st Airborne even 'emplaned', and been at Nijmegen by the time the drops took place, and 2. the SS Panzers should have been shown the way home, as in the Falaise Gap, from close up.

David, that's the bottom line: Wrong kit. Many think the only reason the Allies won was because Hitler was on the other side. It's been said 'He was our best general'. End of.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 months ago from Olympia, WA

Great history lesson, my friend. I've read about this often, and you summarized it all in a nice, neat package. I'm reminded of the old saying "I'd rather be lucky than good" when I think of this incident.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 4 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Hellooo... Bill, you're too generous.

Luck has always been an issue in wartime. Was it Sir Arthur Wellesley (Duke of Wellington) who after appraising the performance of one of his commanders asked, '...Is he lucky?'

Harold wasn't lucky the second time around in 1066, but then in the end nor was William.

I've got another little bit to add to this about the availability of close air support that was missing. Stick with it another ten minutes...


lawrence01 profile image

lawrence01 3 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

Alan

Great hub here. I really enjoyed the hub, just sorry that I'm so late getting here.

Regarding the "Close air support" one factor that has to be taken into account is the weather. Even in combat situations, or probably especially in combat situations you need really good visibility for it to avoid firing on your own side! One thing that had to be avoided was the Typhoons taking off to 'support the convoy' only to accidentally destroy it!

The weather is also responsible for the fact that the first re-supply for the 1st Airborne Division was delayed for four days, and as you point out by that time the 'DZ' was overrun by the Germans.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 3 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Lawrence, there's no time limit on commenting or answering on these pages. I wasn't aware there were any problems with the weather over the Netherlands. The problems were at this end, which was why the Poles were so late in getting there, only to be in at the night-time evacuation of Brig. Urquhart's men across the Rhine. The next chance the Paras had was the following spring with the mass drop over Germany.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working