After the successes encountered in the Normandy Breakout from July through August, it was believed that the German Army was a beaten foe and in retreat. As such, British General Montgomery lay forth a brazen plan to capture key bridges that would be required conquests for the final push into Germany, perhaps ending the war in Europe by Christmas of 1944. Montgomery relayed his plan and, following acceptance by Supreme Allied Commander in Europe -US General Dwight Eisenhower -put the plan into action. On September 17th - just seven days after the official approval, Operation Market Garden was set in motion.
The operation was to be made up of two distinct forces - the airborne elements (falling under the "Market" designation) and the ground forces (falling under the "Garden" designation). The airborne groups would be charged with seizing key bridges and choke points while the ground forces would be called to move Northwards and solidify any gains. When enacted, Operation Market Garden would become the single most largest airborne operation in the history of war, encompassing some 34,600 men, 1,700 vehicles and about 260 artillery pieces dropped from the skies by glider or parachute. The plan would secure key routes and bypass the fabled Sigfried defensive line, allowing for unfettered access in a final push against German territory.
The initial embarkment consisted of over 1,500 Allied aircraft arising from no fewer than 22 airbases across southern England. The US 101st Division was earmarked for a drop over Eindhoven. They were followed by the US 82nd Airborne Division marked for stops over Grave and Nijmegen. American forces were joined by the British 1st Airborne Division who were charged with taken the span at Arnhem from Oosterbeek. A total of five bridges were targeted. In the south, the British 2nd Army was staged to advance along the Eindhoven-Arnhem corridor.
Unknown to Allied warplanners was the presence of German armor in the Arnhem area. The 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions were located to the north and south of Arnhem respectively, near the German frontlines. As such, Allied paratroopers - naturally lightly armed and armored - would be going up against crack German troops with tanks and machine gun support.
As with other large airborne landings, Pathfinder units were sent ahead of the main invasion force to setup the predetermined drop zones. From there, the main landing parties began appearing - much to the surprise of the Germans below. The 1st Airborne Division was dropped far from its objective and would have to make due on foot, using up priceless time from the element of surprise. Bad weather also meant that the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions would have to make due without artillery support for several days. The British XXX Corps, delayed overall by unexpected German resistance along the Eindhoven road, united with the 101st Airborne at Eindhoven and Veghel to the south on September 18th. The next morning, XXX Corps met up with the US 82nd Airborne Division at Grave. The British 2nd Parachute Battalion was slow to regroup and radios were delivered with the wrong operating crystals but nonetheless headed towards the bridge at Arnhem once teams were settled. The now-alert Germans had begun moving their Panzer elements into action and threatened to sever 3rd Battalion from Arnhem.
With XXX Corps providing the necessary backing, the 82nd Airborne Division took the bridge over the Waal River at Nijmegen. However, XXX Corps was further delayed once it had started northwards towards Arnhem. North of Nijmegen, XXX Corps once again came under fire and progress was halted.
Ammunition and general supplies soon worked against the pinned British troops at Arnhem, despite reinforcement from the lightly-equipped paratrooper elements from the 4th Parachute Brigade. By September 20th, the bridge at Arnhem could no longer be defended and the remaining British forces sought refuge within the town itself - the structures now the target of a relentless German artillery barrage. Once the German Panzers moved across the bridge and into the town, whatever British forces remained were taken prisoner or killed during furious house-to-house fighting.
On September 22nd, General Sosabowski's Polish 1st Airborne Brigade leaped into action in an attempt to rescue the remaining British forces at Arnhem. Their drop zone was just southwest of Arnhem proper but their arrival did little to defuse the deteriorating situation - being held in check by a smart German defense that was attempting to keep the confined British from reaching the arriving Poles and alternatively keep the Poles buried along the river banks. Some British forces were able to evacuate when XXX Corps was brought up for fire support to cover the escape route. Assault boats governed by British and Canadian troops were used to ferry the battered troops out of the area. On September 27th, the remaining Poles surrendered to the Germans - marking the end of Operation Market Garden.
In all, Montgomery's master plan was a moderate success. Key bridges were in Allied control with the exception of Arnhem. The action at Arnhem alone accounted for 1,000 Allied deaths and up to 6,000 personnel became prisoners of war. XXX Corps lost 1,500 additional personnel in their march northwards. In the months ahead, there would be thousands more casualties south of Arnhem as the Germans would attempt to regain their captured territory. Montgomery himself proclaimed that Operation Market Garden was "...90% successful", admitting to have underestimated the German response and but laid blame on the operation having lacked the requisite air an land power needed to be 100% successful. In true Monty fashion, he never gave ground as to any argument against Operation Market Garden's overall success to the Allied war effort.
The bridge at Arnhem is what was referenced in the phrase "A bridge too far."
The war, it seemed, would last long past Christmas of 1944. Arnhem bridge was eventually destroyed by American bombers in a raid on October 7th, 1944, in an effort to deny German use of the route. In 1948, it was rebuilt and named the "John Frost Bridge" in honor of the British commander who unsuccessfully held it.
Arnhem was finally and officially liberated on April 14th, 1945 by Canadian troops. ©www.SecondWorldWarHistory.com
There are a total of (16) entries in the Timeline of Operation Market Garden (September 17th - 25th, 1944). Entries are listed below by earliest date to latest date.