||Operation Market Garden
by Ken Camel
The largest airborne operation in history began on a sunny autumn Sunday in September 1944. An entire airborne army was committed in a bold attempt to seize the key bridges over the numerous rivers and canals leading into the heartland of the Reich. Over 4,000 Allied aircraft took off from airfields in the United Kingdom, France and Belgium to launch a surprise assault on German-occupied Holland.
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|Three British corps each led by an armoured division were poised at the
Belgian border to follow up this airborne attack. The ultimate goal was
to gain a bridgehead over the Rhine River, a formidable natural
boundary, in an attempt to end the war by Christmas.
|The Race For Berlin
With the coming of summer 1944, the beginning of the end of the war in Europe was unfolding. The landings in Normandy followed immediately by Operation Bagration, the Soviet offensive in the East, had the Allied armies on both fronts only 800 miles (1300km) from the German capital of Berlin. The race was on.
Throughout June and July, the western Allies ground forces slogged their way through the Bocage country of northern
France while their Soviet Allies raced across Byelorussia, having crushed the German armies of Heeresgruppe Mitte
(Army Group Centre). Then on 25 July 1944 with Operation Cobra, the newly formed US 12th Army Group (the US First and Third Armies) led by General Omar Bradley, broke out of Normandy.
Germany was witnessing both its Western and Eastern Fronts crumbling before the armoured advances of the Allied armies. By the end of August, the Soviets had burst into Poland and secured three bridgeheads over the Vistula River. In the west, British and American armoured formations were also recreating the Soviet successes. By the first of September the Allies had advanced 240 miles (400km) towards Berlin.
The western Allies crossed the Loire River (11 August), invaded southern France (15 August), liberated Falaise, Chartres and Orleans (17 August), crossed the Seine River (20 August), closed the Falaise Gap (21 August), liberated Paris and captured Troyes and Vernon (25 August), and liberated Amiens (31 August). August had proved to be just as bad in the West as July had been in the East for Hitler and Germany.
With the arrival of September, the British Second Army rolled into Belgium. Crossing the Somme River (1 September)
British forces liberated Douai (2 September), Brussels (3 September), Lille (4 September) and Ghent (5 September).
By 8 September the British XXX Corps had reached the Albert Canal on the Belgium-Dutch border.
|A Matter of Supply
The rapid Allied advance now created an enormous logistics nightmare.
The growing multi-national force, together
with the widening expanse of the front, dictated a new strategy. The
lack of sufficient port facilities, the growing length of supply lines,
and the now greater need for more supplies became the driving factor in
any future offensive plans.
General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, was faced with a dilemma. There was simply not sufficient supply capacity available to keep two full army groups, the British 21st Army Group (containing the British Second Army and the Canadian First Army) and the American 12th Army Group (containing the US First, Third, and Ninth Armies), on the offensive. Logistics would identify the next front and the next offensive.
Eisenhower’s original plan called for a wide-front strategy keeping continuous pressure on the Germans across the
entire front. Whereas, Field Marshal Montgomery, commander of the British 21st Army Group, had proposed a narrower thrust to the north through Holland and into Germany.
In the first weeks of September, while both armies halted to catch their breath, General Eisenhower consulted with his field commanders. Logistics prohibited him from continuing his wide plan. A new strategy was needed to keep up the pressure on the Germans until the logistics problem could be solved.
|For now, only one army would be able to keep up the offensive. Montgomery’s plan was selected with the twist of using the newly formed First Airborne Army. The plan, as all plans, was a compromise to everyone. Releasing the use of the airborne army to Montgomery would give the airborne troops a chance to shine, while also giving Montgomery the chance to prove his single thrust attack. Aiming the thrust towards the Ruhr, Germany’s industrial heartland, could shorten the war but removing the air assets to support the airdrops could slow supplies to the other Allied armies.
This would not prove too crucial as Bradley had no immediate use for the airborne troops and the US Third and Seventh Armies were both marching into Lorraine and consolidating their gains.
Marseille, on the Mediterranean, would soon be open as a supply port, allowing a more direct route to the southern armies.
Additionally, cutting off the German army in Holland could speed the
liberation of the channel ports to alleviate the supply situation.
||Though a risky plan, it could springboard the Allies into Germany ahead of the Red Army. Market Garden, the operational name given to Montgomery’s plan, could be the knockout punch to the now reeling German Army.
Market Garden became the primary offensive plan while operations in the Lorraine region of France became a secondary offensive. Both operations constituted Allied thrusts to break through the remaining German defence
and enter into the German homeland. Both counted on a continued German retreat, trusting the enemy was incapable of building a defensive line before Allied forces could overrun them. Both underestimated the resilience of the German Army.
|Army Group B
As the exhausted British and American armies replenished their supplies and debated the merits of the single thrust
or broad front strategy to finish off the Germans, Generaloberst Jodl, the chief of the OKW (Armed Forces Operations Staff), began to organise the semblance of a defence in Holland. On 4 September there was just 719. Infanteriedivision (719th Infantry Division), supplemented by a Dutch SS battalion and a few Luftwaffe (Air Force) detachments holding the line against the advancing British.
By 13 September, through outstanding staff and improvised field work, the newly created 1. Fallschirmarmee (First
Parachute Army) under Generaloberst Kurt Student had four divisions holding the line of the Meuse-Escaut Canal. This included the 719. Infanteriedivision, Kampfgruppe Chill, a division-sized battlegroup containing elements of the 84th, 85th, and 89th Infantry Divisions. Division Erdman, (a scratched together Parachute Division), and 176.
Infanteriedivision recently removed from the Siegfried Line near the German city of Aachen.
|In addition, two more infantry divisions, 59. and 245. Infanteriedivision, (both from the retreating 15. Armee (Fifteenth Army), would be available by 16 and 17 September, respectively.
Also, on 13 September, a battlegroup, Kampfgruppe Walther, was formed with four parachute battalions from Oberleutnant Von der Heydte’s 6. Fallschirmjägerregiment (6th Parachute Regiment), a Luftwaffe penal battalion, Sperrverband Heinke, a blocking force consisting of two SS battalions, an SS tank-hunter battalion and a motorised
artillery battery from II SS-Panzerkorps (2nd SS Panzer Corps), and some anti-aircraft batteries.
|In the nine days the Allies took to launch Market Garden, the defence of Holland had gone from one division of old men and boys to an army of six infantry divisions supported by a battlegroup of crack parachute and SS troops.
Behind them Generalfeldmarschall Model began to rebuild the rest of Heeresgruppe B (Army Group B). Obergruppenführer Bittrich’s II SS-Panzerkorps, consisting of the survivors of 9. ‘Hohenstaufen’ SS-Panzerdivision and 10. ‘Frundsberg’ SS-Panzerdivision (9th and 10th SS-Panzer Divisions) after their retreat from Normandy, was refitting near Arnhem. Although well under strength, they still could field a very dangerous battlegroup.
|Another battle group, Kampfgruppe Tettau, formed
near Arnhem consisting of a variety of battalions including three SS
battalions from local reserve depots and training schools. Although
lightly armed, it was well led by veteran officers.
Once the battle began additional replacement and reserve formations where released from Germany to help defend
Holland against the Allied assault. 107. Panzerbrigade (107th Panzer Brigade), 208. StuG Brigade (208th Assault Gun
Battalion), and 506. Schwere Panzerabteilung (506th Heavy Tank Battalion), together with a number of naval, air
force, and security battalions all eventually reinforced the German defenders.
In three weeks the Germans managed to scrape together over 100,000 troops and nearly 200 panzers to counter the Allied advance up the single highway towards Arnhem.
||Operation Market Garden
Market Garden consisted of two parts: Market, the airborne portion and Garden, the ground portion. Its prize was the bridge at Arnhem, a full 60 miles/100km behind enemy lines. The airborne army would be dropped to provide a carpet for the ground
forces to race ahead and
|secure the bridges over the numerous rivers and
canals in Holland. Accomplishing this would allow the armoured forces
of the British XXX
Corps to continue into Germany and attack the industrial heartland of
With but a week’s planning, the operation was executed. The largest
airborne operation in history began on a Sunday with a three-day
timetable to push through the German lines and secure the bridges to
Arnhem. Resistance was expected to be light as Allied intelligence had
identified few combat-ready German units along the planned route.
Surprise and speed were thought the only necessary advantage needed to
overcome the remnants of Hitler’s army.
The airborne plan was designed to lay a carpet of airborne troops across three Dutch towns. Each airborne division was assigned to perform an airborne assault and secure one town and all its bridges to link the roads leading north from the Dutch-Belgian border to the town of Arnhem across the Lower Rhine.
The US 101st ‘Screaming Eagles‘ Airborne Division under Major General Maxwell D Taylor was assigned to take the first town, Eindhoven. This included the bridges over the Wilhelmina Canal at Son as well as Hell’s Highway, the road through Veghel between Eindhoven and the Grave bridge.
The US 82nd ‘All American’ Airborne Division led by Brigadier General James M Gavin was assigned to take the second
town, Nijmegen. Their objectives included the Groesbeek Heights, the Grave Bridge and the Nijmegen Bridge.
Major General R E Urquhart, commander of the ‘Red Devils’ of the 1st British Airborne Division, was given the ultimate prize, the bridge over the Rhine River at Arnhem.
101st 'Screaming Eagles' Airborne Division
The US 101st ‘Screaming Eagles’ Airborne Division jumped into Holland in a daylight aerial assault on 17 September 1944, north of Eindhoven. Unlike the other two drops at Arnhem and Nijmegen, where the key bridges to be captured were located within the town’s centre, the bridges assigned to the 101st Airborne at Best and Son were a full 8 miles (13km) north of Eindhoven.
The 101st Airborne would secure seven bridges. The first over the Wilhelmina Canal at the town of Son was the responsibility of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR). Two spanning the Dommel River at St. Oedenrude were to be taken by the 502nd PIR supported by a company of the 326th Airborne Engineering Battalion. Finally, four more over the Aa River fell to the 501st PIR near the town of Veghel. After that, Eindhoven was also to be captured by the 506th PIR while the rest of the 101st held open 15 miles (23km) of the road toward Arnhem for the advancing British XXX Corps.
By the end of Market Garden, the 101st would refer to this stretch of road as ‘Hell’s Highway’. Securing the Son and Best bridges and holding Hell’s Highway from repeated German counterattacks ultimately cost the division 2100
casualties over the nine days of Market Garden.
|82nd 'All American' Airborne Division
The US 82nd ‘All American’ Airborne Division learned of their fourth and final combat drop of the war two days before the 17 September air drop. Their objective was to capture and hold the key bridges at Grave and Nijmegen as well as some subsidiary bridges over a canal to the east of Grave.
The 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) was given the objective of seizing the Grave Bridge over the Maas River and several smaller bridges over the Maas- Waal Canal. One company was dropped on the south side of the bridge while the rest of the regiment was dropped to the north. The Grave Bridge, the longest in Europe at the time, was secured on the first night.
The 508th PIR was assigned two major objectives. Their first was to secure the Groesbeek Heights to prevent German
counterattacks from Kleve in overrunning their drop zones. Their second objective was to take and hold the bridge at Nijmegen. Both General Browning and General Gavin thought taking the heights was a priority over securing the bridge. Events were to prove them wrong.
The regiment took and held the heights on the
first day, but their initial efforts to secure the Nijmegen Bridge were
repulsed. German attacks from an ad hoc German force, Korps Feldt (a
divisionsized battlegroup), at Groesbeek caused 139 killed, 479 wounded,
and 178 missing, but the 508th PIR held taking 483 prisoners.
|For the next two days, the 82nd held their ground
aggressive combat and reconnaissance patrols
until the Irish Guards from the British Armoured Guards Division
spearheading the advance of the XXX Corps, made the ground link-up.
However, the Nijmegen road and rail bridges, which were the last
remaining link to the British airborne forces in Arnhem, remained in
|On 20 September, the 3rd Battalion, 504th PIR,
together with the Guards
Armoured Division, took the Nijmegen Bridge with a daylight river
crossing and an assault on the SS positions south of the bridge. That
same day, the 505th PIR, with help from the Coldstream Guards, also
stopped a counterattack at Mook keeping the Germans from severing the
|British 1st 'Red Devils' Airborne Division
Dropped the furthest behind enemy lines, the British 1st Airborne Division was to capture the road and rail bridges across the Lower Rhine River at Arnhem. General Browning planned for 1st Airborne to hold out for four days until relieved by XXX Corps.
For their part, the 1st Airborne Division was delighted to be going into action. The fact that they had only one week to plan and mount the operation did not unduly alarm them as they had planned nearly two dozen aborted operations since June.
Their commander, General Urquhart, saw the first problem as logistics.
There were not enough aircraft to get his whole division to Arnhem in
one air drop. He decided to take 1st Parachute Brigade and 1st
Airlanding Brigade with the Divisional HQ on the operation’s D-Day. The
1st Parachute Brigade was to seize the bridges while the Airlanding
brigade guarded the drop zones.
|The 4th Parachute Brigade followed in the second air drop on the next day while the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade was scheduled for a third drop. This plan had the 1st Parachute Brigade holding the bridges, the 4th Parachute Brigade securing the high ground north of Arnhem, and the 1st Airlanding maintaining the perimeter at Oosterbeek. The Poles would land south of the river, crossover, and create a perimeter to the east.
Because of unsuitable ground and heavy flak expected over Arnhem, the RAF insisting the drop zone be seven miles
(11km) from the bridge at Arnhem, the primary objective. General Urquhart reluctantly agreed, mainly because
enemy strength in Arnhem was believed to be very low. Bureaucracy and secrecy prevented any additional intelligence suggesting greater German strength in the area from reaching the airborne troops.
|The initial drops went well. The 2nd Parachute Battalion (2nd Para), led by Colonel Frost, made for the bridge on foot, taking a route that followed the river bypassing the town of Oosterbeek. Further north 3rd Para moved through Oosterbeek towards the bridge, leaving 1st Para in reserve.
2nd Para was the only unit to reach the bridge. 3rd Para ran headlong into two depleted SS-Panzer Divisions, the 9th and 10th, together with an assortment of reserve forces that were training and refitting in the Arnhem area. Their rapid response to the air drop stopped 3rd Para cold and resulted in surrounding 2nd Para at the bridge.
With the additional German reinforcements of Kampfgruppe Tettau, 280. StuG Brigade, and 506. Schwere Panzerabteilung arriving in the following days, the remainder of the 1st Airborne Division was contained at Oosterbeek, and forced to retreat across the Rhine suffering very heavy casualties.
Operation Garden required the British XXX Corps led by Lieutenant General Brian ‘Jorrocks’ Horrocks, spearheaded
by the Guards Armoured Division, to take Eindhoven in two to three hours and then cover the 64 miles (106km) from the Dutch-Belgian border to Arnhem in two to three days. The final 35 miles (58km) to the Ijsselmeer (Zuider Zee) was to be taken after linking up with all three airborne divisions of Operation Market.
Both surprise and speed would be the keys to a successful advance. Rapidly moving the three divisions of XXX Corps
up one road through enemy territory while meeting the timetable would be critical, as the use of airborne troops that far behind enemy lines had never been done before.
Two additional British corps from the Second British Army were assigned to the ground forces of Garden. To the east
covering XXX Corps’ left flank was XII Corps. Their job was to advance up the Turnout Road and take the town of
S’Hertogenbosch. XII Corps consisted of the British 7th Armoured Division, and the infantry of 15th (Scottish) and 53rd (Welsh) Divisions.
||To the west, on the right flank, was VIII Corps. They were tasked with capturing the town of Venlo and watching the great German Reichswald Forest. VIII Corps contained the 11th Armoured Division and 3rd Division.
A lack of transport, a lack of urgency in their advance, and the rapid influx of German defenders all contributed to both corps lagging behind the main advance of XXX Corps. Both flanking corps suffered very heavy casualties and were stopped short of their objectives by tenacious German defenders.
|Market Garden’s final objective was to get Allied forces across the
Rhine River and create a bridgehead for subsequent operations into the
Ruhr Valley in western Germany. This would cut off the remaining German
divisions in Holland, outflank the Siegfried Line (the defences holding
the German western border), and provide a route into the northern German
plain directly towards Berlin.
XXX Corps failed to reach Arnhem, forcing a night evacuation of the
Airborne Division. By first light on 26 September, all were across
were going across. Just 2,163 men, out of the original 10,005 who
airdropping nine days earlier made it across the Rhine to safety.
Approximately 1,500 1st Airborne soldiers were killed during the
and the remainder captured.
The 1st British Airborne Division was effectively destroyed and the
ultimate objective of Operation Market Garden
was never realized. Bitter fighting continued for the next month with
both American airborne divisions suffering additional casualties holding the line gainst German counterattacks. Though a wedge into Holland had been achieved,
the next strategic
objective for the Allies was now shifted to securing all the
west of the Rhine River.
||A Bridge Too Far
To identify the politics, what-ifs, and myriad of mistakes on both
sides only does an injustice to those who fought in Operation Market Garden. Though historians, authors, and generals
have argued for years trying to identify the root causes of the battle, no one has ever suggested that the chance
to end the war by Christmas was not worth the gamble.
|Although all participants in Market Garden
casualties, especially the British 1st Airborne Division, the figures
are minuscule compared to the casualties sustained by the Allies in
finally crossing the Rhine into Germany. If Operation Market Garden
worked over 85,000 casualties may have been avoided in the clearing
the Reichswald, avoiding the Battle of the Bulge, and the fighting in
crossing the Rhine river in Operations Veritable and Grenade.
Last Updated On Friday, June 11, 2010 by Blake at Battlefront