Operation Market Garden
In the summer of 1944 General Bernard Law Montgomery came up with an ambitious scheme to cross the River Rhine and advance deep into northern Germany and shorten the war.
Codenamed ‘Market Garden’, his plan involved the seizure of key bridges in the Netherlands by the 101st and 82nd US Airborne Divisions, and 1st British Airborne Division who would land by parachute and glider.
Then the British 30 Corps could advance over the bridges and cross the Rhine and its tributaries. The bridges were at Eindhoven, Nijmegen, and Arnhem, as well as two smaller bridges at Veghel and Grave that lay between Eindhoven and Nijmegen.
If successful, the plan would liberate the Netherlands, outflank Germany’s formidable frontier defences, the Siegfried Line, and make possible an armoured drive into the Ruhr, Germany’s industrial heartland.
On 17 September the airborne divisions landed. Eventually all the bridges were captured in what was one of the largest airborne operations in history.
The plan failed largely because of 30 Corps’ inability to reach the furthest bridge at Arnhem before German forces overwhelmed the British defenders. Allied intelligence had failed to detect the presence of German tanks, including elements of two SS Panzer divisions.
Around 10,000 men from Major-General Roy Urquhart’s 1st British Airborne Division and the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade landed at Arnhem. But their landing zones were 11 kilometres (seven miles) from the bridge at Arnhem. Only one battalion reached the objective while the remaining soldiers were squeezed into a pocket at Oosterbeek to the west.
Apart from a few anti-tank guns and howitzers, modified to fit inside gliders, the lightly armed airborne troops had few heavy weapons with which to resist tanks.
Although units of 30 Corps captured Nijmegen Bridge in conjunction with the US 82nd Airborne Division, they could not reach the furthest bridge at Arnhem. Much of its advance was along a single narrow causeway, which was vulnerable to traffic jams and German counter-attacks.
In some places the advance was hindered by marshes that prevented off-road movement. Throughout the battle the Germans also showed a remarkable ability to put together scratch battle groups that fought to delay the armoured columns.
Operations were also hampered by a shortage of transport aircraft. The airborne troops were flown into the Netherlands in three lifts rather than all together. Arnhem’s wooded landscape severely restricted the range of wireless sets, so communication failures also reduced the chance of success. Thick fog in England and low clouds over the battle zone hampered both resupply and the air-lifting of reinforcements.
On 24-25 September about 2,100 troops from 1st Airborne Division were ferried back across the Rhine. Another 7,500 were either dead or made prisoners of war.
The crossing of the Rhine and the capture of Germany’s industrial heartland were delayed for six months. Now, the Allies would have to fight their way into the Reich on a broad front. There would be no quick victory.
A costly failure, Operation Market Garden remains a remarkable feat of arms. This is not because of its strategic ambition, but because of the determination and courage shown by Allied airborne troops and the units that tried to reach them.
It also led to the liberation of a large part of the Netherlands at a time when many Dutch people were close to starvation.
I couldn’t write these posts without mentioning the trips that I’m raising money for. This year Project 71 has run trips to Normandy, Bastogne and Arnhem (well, they’re on their way as I type!) which are provided at no cost for any veteran who wants to go.
I volunteered to go on the Normandy trip this year and when my Grandad, who was in the Navy and landed in Normandy on D-Day, found out I was going he said “I’m up for it if you are”. Project 71 gave him the chance to go back to his beach, Juno, for the first time in 74 years.
I’m so pleased he had the chance to go back, but it was also the adventure of going away, being led astray by Henry, talking to Joe about working on power stations post Navy and eating moules frites like a local which made the trip.
The group love having trips away and days out to look forward to, and doing this ride to help pay for them to go is the least I can do.
Day 10. Today I reached the first of the bridges taken as part of Operation Market Garden, ‘Joe’s Bridge’.
The day started off well, as on Day 9 I’d had a conversation* with a man in Lidl who looked at my map and pointed out an off road cycle path for the first 20 miles of the day, which was built along an old railway line. So I changed my route and it was brilliant, welcome to riding in Holland! I then stayed on cycle paths all day, although paths completely underplay them. They’re a whole road network of their own, you have right of way at roundabouts, junctions, your own traffic lights. It made for a good day, and after 50 miles I rode right past a campsite and stopped for the night.
The forecast for the next day was awful with rain and high winds so once I’d set up my tent I got back on my bike and rode a couple of miles to the closest town to stock up on food so that I didn’t have to venture out the next day. I was ahead of schedule and there was no need to ride in rough weather. So I sat it out on Day 11, the campsite had a communal room so I could sit in the dry, I read my kindle, which had been my usual evening entertainment, and even treated myself to an afternoon nap! By late afternoon the weather had mostly cleared so I cycled to town in search of anything that wasn’t pasta in soup for dinner.
Total so far: 600ish miles
*a conversation consisting mostly of charades.