Operation Market Garden
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseHaving seen paratroopers and glider troops achieving their objectives during the Normandie (English: Normandy) invasion in France in Jun 1944, senior Allied commanders planned to deploy airborne forces again immediately. However, whenever a new plan was formulated, troops on the ground reached the planned drop zones before the airborne operations could take place. American troops of Courtney Hodges' 1st Army, George Patton's 3rd Army, and Omar Bradley's 12th Army were advancing in France in the first months much faster than expected.
ww2dbaseOperation Market Garden would become the next operation where the airborne troops would be put to use. It was British General Bernard Montgomery's plan to get the British Second Army and the British Guards Armoured Division into the lower Rhine River region in the Netherlands. Once this region was under control, the northern German plains would become vulnerable for Allied armored units, which could move deep into the heart of Germany. To establish the ground work for the British advance, British First Airborne Division, Polish First Parachute Brigade, US 82nd Airborne Division, and the US 101st Airborne Division would be dropped into designated areas along a line marked by Eindhoven in the south and Arnhem in the north, both of which were cities in the Netherlands. The airborne troops would be tasked to make a daylight jump, to surprise the enemy, and to take control of key bridges for the British tanks to cross. To make this operation possible, Dwight 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), and to possibly bring a greater amount of supplies closer to the front lines. Thus, the cost of a failed Operation Market Garden would be fairly high. Eisenhower's decision to adopt Montgomery's strategy was influenced by two external factors. First, it was pressure from his superior in the United States to make use of the highly trained paratroopers. Then, Montgomery had long been advising Eisenhower on the folly of a broad-front strategy, for that many military leaders in history had lost their hard-earned initiative by failing to concentrate their forces.
ww2dbaseThe Market portion of the operation was made up of the airborne attacks. The Allies were able to achieve a high degree of surprise. No German Air Force (Luftwaffe) fighters were alarmed as the C-47 transport aircraft made delivery of their human cargoes; some anti-aircraft fire shook the planes, but it was generally ineffective. US 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. US 101st Airborne Division paratroopers captured the bridge at Veghel with little resistance, although an artillery attack by the Germans delayed the Allied advance long enough that the bridge at Son was blown up before it could be captured by the Allies. Engineers attached to the paratroopers improvised by placing barn doors across the remains of the bridge to allow light foot traffic to cross. In the north, US 82nd Airborne Division took the bridge at Grave quickly, but the Americans met heavy resistance near Nijmegen; that bridge objective 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. The Nijmegen and Arnhem's bridges crossed wide portions of water, so they were considered critical to the operation; failure to capture them would prevent the effective movement of British tanks.
ww2dbaseThe British tanks made up the main force of the Garden portion of the operation. The vehicular column, under General Brian Horrocks, drove along Highway 69, which was later nicknamed "Hell's Highway" by the surviving US paratroopers. The road, like many roads in the region, was about a meter above surrounding ground, meaning that the traffic along it necessary presented itself as easy target for everything from snipers to full-fledged counterattacks.
ww2dbaseWhile the Germans were caught by surprise at the onset, German armored divisions quickly gathered to counterattack; these attacks were effective, especially considering that the Allies had few anti-tank weapons. The Germans also enjoyed an advantage derived purely from luck, resulting from Field Marshal Walther Model's decision, made without intelligence of this Allied operation, to move the 9,000-strong German 2nd SS Panzer Corps for rest and recuperation at Arnhem.
ww2dbaseBy the third day of 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, neither of the two major bridges at Nijmegen nor Arnhem were secured. German 9th SS Panzer Division saw that it was not needed at Nijmegen, so it was ordered move back toward Arnhem. In the south, US 101st Airborne Division took control of the bridge near Best to widen the corridor for the British tanks, while the generous hospitality from local Dutch civilians maintained Allied morale.
ww2dbaseOn the fourth day, the British XXX Corps was 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 Allies made a daring attack in daylight to cross the river with rowboats, successfully pushing the Germans back and securing the bridge by the end of the day. On 21 Sep, the following day, British tanks began moving across the bridge at Nijmegen. Before noon on 21 Sep, bad news came from the north: Allied forces, low on ammunition and driven out of defensible positions, surrendered. On 22 Sep, German tanks successfully cut off the line between Veghel and Grave, preventing the Allies from organizing an assault at Arnhem.
ww2dbaseMeanwhile, drop zones for Polish paratroopers were established too far to the south for them to play a meaningful role in the operation.
ww2dbaseWith the front lines swinging back and fourth over the next several days, the Allies lost all initiative they had briefly enjoyed in the early days of the operation. Eisenhower's headquarters ordered the operation to be abandoned. Over 18,000 Allied personnel died or became captured, while the Germans suffered 13,000 casualties.
ww2dbaseDuring the 1960s, Eisenhower noted to historians that he did not regret the decision to embark on Operation Market Garden. He believed it was a risk worth taking at that moment, and he would attempt again if same situations existed. "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.
ww2dbaseHistorian Stephen E. Ambrose believed that the major reasons for the failure of Operation Market Garden were:
- German opposition out-manned and out-gunned Allied paratroopers.
- Allied paratroopers lacked weaponry necessary to take out German tanks.
- Allied intelligence failed to detect the presence of the experienced German 2nd SS Panzer Corps.
- American infantry and British armor failed to coordinate.
- The Allies failed to adequately protect its long 80-mile supply line.
Stephen Ambrose, Band of Brothers
Dwight Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe
Operation Market Garden Interactive Map
Operation Market Garden Timeline
|3 Sep 1944||At a meeting with Omar Bradley, Bernard Montgomery hinted at trying an operation to seize the bridges over the Lower Rhine at Arnhem, the Netherlands for an armoured thrust to follow up.|
|17 Sep 1944||Dennis Smith landed in the Netherlands via glider.|
|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. US 56th Fighter Group lost sixteen out of thirty-nine P-47D Thunderbolt aircraft on flak suppression duties in support of the operation.|
|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||Men of Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade landed between Arnhem and Nijmegen in the Netherlands as British airborne troops in Arnhem were becoming overwhelmed. Nearby, Schijndel was captured by the Allies.|
|24 Sep 1944||British troops captured Deurne, the Netherlands.|
|24 Sep 1944||Dennis Smith was wounded while taking photographs on the front lines.|
|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.|
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939