Operation Market Garden was the name given to the Allied military operation in the Netherlands that occurred between 17 and 25 September 1944. The plan was centred around Allied airborne units seizing the main bridges across the lower Rhine and its neighbouring rivers/tributaries, and holding them long enough for Allied armoured divisions to reach them. From there, the Allies could strike into the heartlands of the Third Reich, ending the war by Christmas.
However, a combination of bad luck and poor planning quickly doomed the operation. Some even argue that the campaign never had a chance of success.
Here are 20 facts about Operation Market Garden.
1. By September 1944 the Allies believed the Germans were crumbling
By September 1944 the Allies were in a state of euphoria. The speed of the allied advance since the Normandy landings, alongside news of Stauffenberg’s failed plot to kill Hitler, convinced British and US Intelligence that the Wehrmacht had reached a state of war weariness and would soon disintegrate.
In fact, this wasn’t the case. The failure of Operation Valkyrie had resulted in the German army coming under the full control of the SS. German soldiers were now going to be forced to fight on to the very end.
2. The plan was the brainchild of Bernard Montgomery
Cracks among the Allied high command had started to emerge by September 1944, particularly between Generals Montgomery, Patton and Bradley. Montgomery believed he was the only man who could win the war, much to the anger of Patton and Bradley.
He planned to bypass the German Siegfried Line by marching the Allies through the Netherlands and then down into Germany, ending the war by Christmas. Patton and Bradley strongly disagreed, arguing the northern route into Germany was, in fact, the most difficult due to the numerous, wide rivers they had to cross.
3. The operation was made up of two parts
Operation Garden involved the advance of a British tank and mobile infantry force across the bridges of the lower Rhine and then down into Germany.
Operation Market was the landing of 40,000 paratroopers behind enemy lines to take control of the bridges and hold them long enough for the tanks to cross. The plan depended on the Allies maintaining hold of the bridges.
The airborne divisions involved were the 101st US Airborne Division (they would land near Eindhoven), the 82nd US Airborne Division (at Nijmegen), the British 1st Airborne Division and the 1st Polish Independent Airborne Brigade (both would land near Arnhem).
The 101st Airborne had to capture 5 bridges near Eindhoven on the first day of the operation
The British at Arnhem had two bridges to take, the most important of the two being the road bridge. The 82nd US Airborne at Nijmegen had one: the Waal Bridge.
It was the combination of these two operations that made up Operation Market Garden.
4. Montgomery pretended Eisenhower had approved the whole project
Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, had given Montgomery control of the 1st Allied Airborne army, but he had not been told any details regarding Operation Market Garden.
5. The bridges were not the final target
Part of the army would press north past Arnhem, initially to capture the Luftwaffe airfield at Deelen before going further north to Zuiderzee.
6. The commander of the 1st Allied Airborne was General ‘Boy’ Browning
Browning was the one who would take the airborne corps to war. He had yet to see action in the Second World War and so was desperate for the operation to go ahead.
His American counterpart, Major-General Ridgway, had more experience, but Browning was still made the overall general of the operation.
7. Montgomery did not communicate his plan with the RAF
When Browning finally revealed the plan to RAF staff on 10 September, RAF transport officers raised several logistical problems regarding the airborne operation: not only was there not enough daylight for the RAF to do two lifts every 24 hours, but each tug aircraft could only tow one glider.
They advised Browning to reassess the plan to ensure it had a greater chance at success. Browning refused to consider it.
8. Dutch resistance groups cautioned the Allies against the plan
They revealed that the German army was not as spent as the Allies believed. Meanwhile Dutch officers warned them that marching an entire division along one road up to Arnhem and the German border was extremely dangerous.
Nevertheless, despite hearing these warnings, Browning was fixed on the plan.
9. The British plan was to land 8 miles outside Arnhem
The RAF refused to drop the British closer than 8 miles from the city because they feared suffering heavy losses from anti-aircraft fire.
10. British 1st Airborne commander Roy Urquhart realised the campaign would be a disaster before it began
Just prior to the Operation’s commencement, Urquhart met Browning to inform him he believed the operation would be ‘a suicide mission’.
Additionally, General Gale of the British 6th Airborne voiced strong opposition to the plan, mainly due to how far away from Arnhem the 1st Airborne was to be dropped.
Polish Brigade General Stanoslaw Sosabowski also raised concerns with the plan.
Browning pushed aside this opposition however, claiming such attitudes were bad for morale.
11. The 1st British Airborne landed 1/3 of their troops on 17 September
1/2 of these had to remain at the drop site, however, to guard the landing zones for the next lot landing in the following days. Therefore, only one brigade could march on Arnhem on the first day.
12. An SS training battalion happened to be training in the woods near the British drop zone
The SS division reacted quickly and managed to hold up most of the British airborne. But Colonel John Frost and the second battalion managed to bypass the defence and enter Arnhem.
13. British command and control quickly fell apart
Trying to move things along, Urquhart became separated from headquarters when he headed to the front lines. The fact that the radios also did not work only added to the confusion.
John Hackett, a British officer who landed on 18 September, said:
‘Everything that could go wrong did go wrong’.
14. Frost’s division captured the north end of Arnhem bridge and held it heroically
Although much of the British Airborne division never reached the town, Frost and his men captured Arnhem Bridge and defiantly resisted German attacks. Following the battle, the Germans asked if Frost’s men were specially trained in urban warfare, due to the ferocity of their resistance.
15.The Germans destroyed 2 of the 5 bridges before the 101st Airborne were able to capture them
When the armoured divisions heard that two bridges had been destroyed, they decided to advance up the road to Eindhoven at a more leisurely pace. This provided the Germans more time to dig in.
16 The 6th US Airborne Division had great difficulty taking Nijmegen Bridge
James Gavin, the 6th Airborne commander, could only send one battalion to take the bridge, which had been heavily reinforced in the meantime. The rest were focused on occupying the Groesbeek Heights to the southeast of the city, as ordered by Browning.
17. One of the most heroic moments of World War Two happened at Nijmegen
On 20 September, U.S. paratroopers crossed the River Waal in 26 small, canvas boats under heavy fire. When they reached the far side, they seized the north side of the bridge.
The daring feat is regarded as among the most heroic in the Second World War, though it is blackened by the fact that the survivors killed all they faced when taking the bridge, including prisoners.
18. The armoured brigade stopped after crossing the Nijmegen Bridge
The trouble was that the Grenadier Guards, who had just cleared Nijmegen after ruthless urban fighting, were exhausted and had run low on ammunition.
By that point anyhow, Frost’s battalion at Arnhem had almost run out of ammunition and were on the verge of surrender. What remained of Frost’s division was captured on 21 September.
19. The Polish Brigade landed on 21 September
They landed east of Driel (under some German fire, but not as much as the film A Bridge Too Far suggests) and went on to cover the withdrawal of the British 1st Airborne Division.
20. What remained of the British 1st Airborne Division and the Polish Parachute Brigade were evacuated back across the Rhine on 25 September
It signalled the end, and failure, of Operation Market Garden. Arnhem would not be liberated until April 1945.