Operation Market Garden
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
After the paratroopers and glider troopers achieving their objectives up and down Normandy coast in France, senior Allied commanders were itching to use the airborne once again. However, every time a plan was formulated, troops on the ground reach the planned drop zone before the airborne operations took place. American troops of Courtney Hodges' First Army, George Patton's Third Army, and Omar Bradley's 12th Army were advancing much faster than expected in the first months in France.
The airborne troops were finally decisively chosen to be deployed by Dwight Eisenhower, as advised by Bernard Montgomery. Operation Market Garden was Montgomery's plan to get the British Second Army and the British Guards Armored Division into the lower Rhine River region in Holland. Once this region is under control, the northern German plains would be vulnerable for Allied mobile units to drive right through into the heart of Germany. To lay the ground work for the British advance, British First Airborne Division, Polish First Parachute Brigade, American 82nd Airborne Division, and the American 101st Airborne Division would be dropped into designated areas along a line marked by Eindhoven in the south and Arnhem in the north, both cities in the Netherlands. The airborne troops would be tasked to make a daylight jump, surprise the enemy, and take control of key bridges for the British tanks to cross. To make this operation possible, Eisenhower halted Patton's advance so that fuel could be made available for ground offensive consisted of British forces. Troops and supplies were also reassigned from a potential assault on the important port city of Antwerp to Operation Market Garden. Antwerp was a key Belgian port that the Allies could potentially make use of (despite continued German control of the Scheldt Estuary), possibly bringing greater amount of supplies closer to the front lines. Thus, the opportunity cost of a failed Operation Market Garden was fairly high. Political pressure from the United States to use the elite paratroopers and Montgomery's insistent preaching to change strategy from broad-front to narrow-front, were both major external reasons for Eisenhower to go forth with this plan.
The Market portion of the operation was made up of the airborne attacks. The Allies were able to achieve high degrees of surprise. No Luftwaffe fighters were alarmed as the C-47 transport aircraft made delivery of their cargoes; some anti-aircraft fire shook the planes, but it was generally not effective. The 101st Airborne Division's official history recorded that this was the most successful jump in their history to date, even if training missions were considered. After the airborne troops landed, additional equipment was dropped by parachute or glider to the ground. American paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division captured the bridge at Veghel with little resistance, though an artillery attack by the Germans delayed the Allied advance long enough that the bridge at Son was blown up. Engineers attached to the paratroopers improvised by placing barn doors across the remains of the bridge to allow light foot traffic of the 101st Airborne Division through. In the north, the 82nd Airborne Division took the bridge at Grave quickly, but they met heavy resistance near Nijmegen; that objective bridge would eventually be abandoned. The British First Airborne Division, tasked with capturing the bridge at Arnhem, met heavy resistance from units of a German training battalion. Nijmegen and Arnhem's bridges were crossing wide portions of water, so both bridges must be captured for British tanks to drive through.
The Garden portion of the operation consisted of the column of British tanks roaring north along highway 69 (dubbed "Hell's Highway" by American paratroopers), under the command of General Brian Horrocks. The road, like many roads in the region, was about a meter above the ground. That means anything moving along it were prime targets for everything from snipers to full fledged counterattacks.
On the German side, while their troops were caught by surprise to start, armored divisions quickly gathered to strike back at the Allied paratroopers who were known not to be equipped with anti-tank weapons. The Germans also had some luck going with them -- in the last days of Field Marshal Walther Model in command of the region, he had ordered 9,000 elite heavy troops of the 2nd SS Panzer Corps to rest and regroup at Arnhem, which will play a major role later as Operation Market Garden carried on.
By the third day the operation, Tuesday, 19 Sep 1944, the situation at the destroyed Son bridge had been resolved by calling in a temporary Bailey bridge to be set up. However, none of the two major bridges at Nijmegen or Arnhem were secured yet. The 9th SS Panzer Division saw that they were not needed at Nijmegen, so they arrived back in Arnhem. In the south, the American 101st Airborne Division took control of the bridge near Best to widen the corridor for the British tanks, while the generous hospitality by local Dutch civilians maintained Allied morale.
On the fourth day, the British XXX Corps were stuck in front of the Nijmegen bridge while Germans still had complete control of the bridge at Arnhem. Realizing that Nijmegen must be secured, the Allied forces there made a daring attack in daylight across the river, using rowboats, and was able to push Germans back. Nijmegen bridge was secured by the end of the day, and British tanks crossed this bridge on next morning, 21 Sep. However, before noon on 21 Sep, bad news came from the north: Allied forces were out of ammunition and were denied of defendable positions, and had surrendered. On 22 Sep, German tanks succeeded in attacking the road and cut off the line between Veghel and Grave. This successful attack prevented an organized assault by the Allied at the bridge near Arnhem.
With the front lines swing back and fourth for the next several days, the Allied initiative was essentially gone. German counterattacks made any attempt to advance in an organized manner impossible. To make matters worse for the Allied forces, the Polish paratroopers arrived late due to weather, with their drop zone moved to a position far south of where they originally planned to be due to changing situations, and without proper equipment to cross the river, the Polish were sitting uselessly in their positions.
With precious resources unable to advance on highway 69, Allied command decided to withdraw the forces and abandon the northern route. In the end, over 18,000 Allied personnel died or captured (compared to 13,000 German casualties) without be able to achieve securing the gateway into Germany's northern plains.
During the 1960s, Eisenhower conducted interviews with historians, in which he showed no regret in deciding to embark on this operation. He believed it was risk worth taken at that moment, and would have attempted again if same situations were given. "I am certain that Field Marshal Montgomery, in the light of later events, would agree that this [operation] was a mistaken one", Eisenhower wrote in his memoirs.
According to historian Stephen E. Ambrose, the major faults that contributed to the operation's failure are as follows:
- German opposition outmanned and outgunned Allied paratroopers.
- Paratroopers lacked weaponry necessary to take out German tanks.
- German troops stationed near operation area were elite troops, and Allied intelligence failed to uncover this information.
- Lack of coordination between American infantry and British armor.
- The pencil-like thrust front was too narrow, and left a long 80-mile supply line exposed to flanking attacks.
Sources: Band of Brothers, History Learning Site, Wikipedia
Operation Market Garden Timeline
|17 Sep 1944||The Allies launched Operation Market Garden, an airborne-ground combined attack to penetrate into northern Germany via the Netherlands, capturing Sint-Oedenrode and Veghel.|
|18 Sep 1944||In the Netherlands, German troops launched a heavy counter attack near Arnhem while Allied troops captured Eindhoven.|
|19 Sep 1944||In the Netherlands, British airborne troopers defended against heavy German attacks in Arnhem while other troops captured Veldhoven.|
|20 Sep 1944||British XXX Corps linked up with US airborne troops at Nijmegen, the Netherlands; nearby, Geldrop, Someren, and Terneuzen were captured by Allied troops.|
|21 Sep 1944||Polish airborne division landed between Arnhem and Nijmegen in the Netherlands, but British airborne troopers in Arnhem were becoming overwhelmed. Nearby, Schijndel was captured by Allied troops.|
|24 Sep 1944||British troops set foot on German soil south of Nijmegen, the Netherlands, capturing Deurne.|
|25 Sep 1944||The remaining 2,163 British airborne troops were evacuated from Arnhem, the Netherlands; the original strength was about 10,000.|
|26 Sep 1944||Allied troops captured Mook, the Netherlands.|
Visitor Submitted Comments
All visitor submitted comments are opinions of those making the submissions and do not reflect views of WW2DB.
» Browning, Frederick
» Heydte, Friedrich von der
» Model, Walter
» Montgomery, Bernard
» Student, Kurt
» A Bridge Too Far
» Band of Brothers
» Beyond Band of Brothers
» Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends
» Hell's Highway
» Patton, Montgomery, Rommel: Masters of War
» Vanguard of the Crusade
Advertise on ww2db.com
- » 729 biographies
- » 304 events
- » 27116 timeline entries
- » 668 ships
- » 301 aircraft models
- » 163 vehicle models
- » 254 weapon models
- » 65 historical documents
- » 285 book reviews
- » 209 maps
- » 16244 photos, 1473 in color
General Douglas MacArthur at Leyte, 17 Oct 1944