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World War II: Operation Market-Garden

A Bridge Too Far

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World War II: Operation Market-Garden

Airborne forces drop during Operation Market-Garden, September 1944

Photograph Courtesy of the US Army

Conflict & Date

Operation Market-Garden took place between September 17 and 25, 1944, during World War II (1939-1945).

Armies & Commanders

Allies

  • Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery
  • Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks
  • Major General Roy Urquhart
  • Brigadier General James Gavin
  • Major General Maxwell Taylor
  • Brigadier General Stanislaw Sosabowski
  • XXX Corps, 3 airborne divisions, 1 airborne brigade

Germany

Operation Market-Garden: Background

In the wake of their breakout from Normandy, Allied forces conducted a rapid advance across France and into Belgium. Attacking on a broad front, they shattered German resistance and soon were nearing Germany. The speed of the Allied advance began to place significant strains on their increasingly long supply lines. To combat this issue, the "Red Ball Express" was formed to rush supplies to the front. Using nearly 6,000 trucks, the Red Ball Express operated until the opening of the port of Antwerp in November 1944.

Forced by the supply situation to slow the general advance and focus on a more narrow front, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, began to contemplate the Allies' next move. General Omar Bradley, commander of the 12th Army Group in the Allied center, advocated in favor of a drive into the Saar to pierce the German Westwall (Siegfried Line) defenses and open Germany to invasion. This was countered by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, commanding the 21st Army Group in the north, who wished to attack over the Lower Rhine into the industrial Ruhr Valley. As the German's were using bases in Belgium and Holland to launch V-1 buzz bombs and V-2 rockets at Britain, Eisenhower sided with Montgomery. If successful, Montgomery would also be in a position to clear the Scheldt islands which would open the port of Antwerp to Allied vessels.

The Plan

To accomplish this Montgomery developed Operation Market-Garden. A two stage operation, the plan called for troops from Lieutenant General Lewis Brereton's First Allied Airborne Army to land and capture key bridges in the Netherlands. While these troops held the bridges, Lieutenant General Brian Horrock's XXX Corps would advance up Highway 69 to relieve Brereton's men. If successful, Allied forces would be over the Rhine in a position to attack the Ruhr, while avoiding the Westwall by working around its northern end.

For the airborne component, Market, Major General Maxwell Taylor's 101st Airborne was to be dropped near Eindhoven with orders to take the bridges at Son and Veghel. To the northeast, Brigadier General James Gavin's 82nd Airborne would land at Nijmegen to take the bridges there and at Grave. Farthest north the British 1st Airborne, under Major General Roy Urquhart, and Brigadier General Stanislaw Sosabowski's Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade were to land at Oosterbeek and capture the bridge at Arnham. Due to a lack of aircraft, the delivery of the airborne forces was divided over two days, with 60% arriving on the first day and remainder, including most of the gliders and heavy equipment, landing the second. Attacking up Highway 69, the ground element, Garden, was to relieve the 101st on the first day, the 82nd on the second, and the 1st by the fourth day. In case any of the bridges along the route were blown by the Germans, XXX Corps was accompanied by engineering units and bridging equipment.

German Activity & Intelligence Prior to Market-Garden

In allowing Operation Market-Garden to move forward, Allied planners were operating under the assumption that German forces in the area were still in full retreat and that the airborne and XXX Corps would meet minimal resistance. Concerned about the collapse on the western front, Adolf Hitler recalled Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt from retirement on September 4 to oversee German forces in the area. Working with Field Marshal Walter Model, Rundstedt began to bring a degree of coherence back to the German army in the west. On September 5, Model received the II SS Panzer Corps. Badly depleted, he assigned them to rest areas near Eindhoven and Arnhem. Anticipating an Allied attack due to various intelligence reports, the two German commanders worked with a degree of urgency.

On the Allied side, intelligence reports and ULTRA radio intercepts indicated the German troop movements as well as mentioned the arrival of armored forces in the area. These caused concerns and Eisenhower dispatched his Chief of Staff, General Walter Bedell Smith, to speak with Montgomery. Despite these reports, Montgomery refused to alter the plan. At lower levels, Royal Air Force reconnaissance photos showed German armor around Arnhem. Major Brian Urquhart, the intelligence officer for the British 1st Airborne Division, showed these to Lieutenant General Frederick Browning, Brereton's deputy, but was dismissed and instead placed on medical leave for "nervous strain and exhaustion."

Operation Market-Garden Moves Forward

Taking off on Sunday September 17, Allied airborne forces began a daylight drop into the Netherlands. Hitting their landing zones with high accuracy, they began moving to achieve their objectives. the 101st quickly secured four of the five bridges in their area, but were unable to secure the key bridge at Son before the Germans demolished it. To the north, the 82nd secured the bridges at Grave and Heumen before taking a position on the commanding Groesbeek Heights. Gavin dispatched 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment to take the main highway bridge in Nijmegen. Due to a communication error, the 508th did not move out until later in the day and missed an opportunity to capture the bridge when it was largely undefended. When they finally attacked, they met heavy resistance and were unable to take the span

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