Operation Market Garden
17 - 25 September 1944

Operation Market Garden has remained known for the massive use of airborne troops, in pursuit of a bold goal that proved to be "a bridge too far."

Montgomery's Plan

What was left of the German army after the categorical defeat suffered in the campaign following the Battle of Normandy, was retreating towards Germany and the Netherlands. The British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, hoping for a quick defeat of Germany, conceived a plan of an offensive through Holland into the Ruhr industrial area, thus avoiding a frontal attack on the Siegfried Line.

Operation Market provided that the U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions, the British 1st Airborne Division, and the Polish 1st Airborne Brigade to seize a series of bridges on the road between Eindhoven and Arnhem.

The second component was Operation Garden, which began simultaneously,  where the British XXX Corps, supported by other two British Corps on the flanks, had to advance along the road and make junction with the airborne troops.

The Germans had in the Netherlands the 2nd SS Panzer Corps, the 15th Army, and the 1st Paratrooper Army. Although some of these were elite forces, many German units were undermanned.

Critical Delays in Operation Market Garden

The U.S. airborne troops fulfilled their goals with a delay relative to the initial planning, the toughest task proving to be the capturing of Nijmegen bridge. It eventually fell into the Allied hands on the fourth day, when the British XXX Corps, which had advanced much slower than expected, supported the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division.

However, the biggest problems arose in the sector of the British airborne troops. Due to overestimating the German Flak in the area, the airdropping was made far away from objectives, thus the Germans having more time to react.

The transport of British airborne troops was broken down in several days because there were not sufficient planes, and the subsequent airdrops had to be postponed for a while due to bad weather. As if all these were not enough, the Germans had found the whole operation plan after inspecting the body of an American officer from a glider crashed on the first day.

Battle of Arnhem

Despite these shortcomings, the Battle of Arnhem fought by the 2nd Battalion of the British 1st Parachute Brigade, commanded by Colonel John Frost, was to become legendary. On the first day, the battalion managed to occupy positions on the northern side of the bridge at Arnhem. In the following days, the situation would become increasingly desperate for the British paratroopers, the Germans sending tanks and using artillery, which resulted in the transformation of Arnhem in ruins.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J27759 / [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

With a growing number of killed and wounded, ammunition running low and understanding that the help of the XXX Corps would not come in time, the survivors of the 2nd Para Battalion surrendered after four days of resistance.

Other units of the British 1st Airborne Division continued to withstand encircled in Oeesterbeek area until 25 September when some of them crossed on the other bank of the Lower Rhine with the aid of the XXX Corps, but most of the British paratroopers were taken prisoner or killed in the fighting.

The battle's result was an operational failure for the Allies, which tempered their optimism in a quick victory after the Wehrmacht had gone defeated from France.

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