This was an Allied airborne undertaking comprising landings in the south of the German-occupied Netherlands to take the main crossings over the Zuit Willemsvaart Canal and the Maas, Waal and Nederrijn (Lower Rhine) rivers (17/25 September 1944).
The object of the operation was to open the way for the formations of Lieutenant General B. G. Horrocks’s British XXX Corps of Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s British 2nd Army to break through the German defences of General Gustav-Adolf von Zangen’s 15th Army and to a lesser extent Generaloberst Kurt Student’s 1st Fallschirmarmee, both of these being formations of Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model’s Heeresgruppe ‘B’, in the parallel ‘Garden’ land offensive and so reach the IJsselmeer (Zuiderzee) and free the estuaries of the three major rivers for use by the Allies’ large supply vessels.The ‘Market’ airborne component of the undertaking, whose land advance component was ‘Garden’, was the descent by British and US airborne forces on Arnhem and the corridor stretching up to it from the Allied front line. This was the largest Allied airborne effort of World War II, and the only attempt at a semi-strategic airborne operation, but failed to secure a bridge across the Rhine river as a result of poor planning and intelligence.
‘Garden’ was based primarily on the XXX Corps, the core of the 2nd Army. The men and tanks of this formation were expected to arrive at the southern end of the 101st Airborne Division’s area on the launch day, that of the 82nd Airborne Division by the second day, and that of the 1st Airborne Division by the third day, or the fourth day at the latest. The land advance would also deliver several additional infantry formations to take over the defensive operations from the airborne divisions, freeing these highly mobile tactical assets for other operations as soon as possible.
Four days was a long time for any airborne force, of necessity only lightly equipped, to fight without the delivery of supplies, and among the many items with which these formations were notably scantily provided were adequate numbers and quality of anti-tank weapons. This reflected, in part at least, the belief of the Allied high command that German resistance was, at this point, effectively broken.
Most of the 15th Army in the area appeared to be in scarcely controlled retreat from the Canadian 1st Army, and it was known that the 15th Army lacked any armoured strength. Thus the XXX Corps was thought likely to face very limited resistance, without significant armoured strength, in the course of its advance up Highway 69 from its bridgehead over the Meuse-Escaut Canal at Borkel. Furthermore, the German defenders would be spread out over 60 miles (100 km) trying to contain the pockets of airborne forces. What the Allied high command did not appreciate was the fact that the rout of the 15th Army had been effectively ended by the return of Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt as the Oberbefehlshaber ‘West’ on 3 September. Replacing Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model, who had himself replaced Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge on 16 August after von Kluge had held the position only since 2 July, von Rundstedt was heartily disliked by Adolf Hitler, who though him all too representative of the ‘old school’ of German aristocratic officer, but was an excellent commander and well liked by his troops, whom he had back in fighting condition within the week.
The German rout ended with most of the men escaping from the pocket between the Canadian 1st Army and the Westerschelde river, adding 80,000 men in the area just to the north-west of the attack route for ‘Market’ and ‘Garden’. von Rundstedt immediately began to plan a defence against what German military intelligence estimated as 60 Allied divisions at full strength though at the time the Allies had only 49 divisions. Moreover, Student, the Germans’ own airborne warfare pioneer, was ordered to take up positions with what was optimistically termed the 1st Fallschirmarmee along the Albert Canal. Student’s 3,000 paratroopers, scattered across the Reich, were probably the only combat-ready reserve forces in Germany at the time. Another bonus for the Germans was the fact that Generalleutnant Kurt Chill, commander of the shattered 85th Division, had established ‘reception stations’ at key bridge crossings in the Netherlands, and these gathered an increasing number of service troops into a semblance of military units, allowing Student to organise a defensive line.
In overall terms, the combined ‘Market’ and ‘Garden’ operations were initially successful with the capture of the bridges over the Wilhelmina Canal at Son, the Zuit Willemsvaart Canal at Veghel, the Maas river at Grave and the Waal river at Nijmegen, so opening the land corridor for the XXX Corps’ advance straight to the north from its bridgehead across the Meuse-Escaut Canal, but was ultimately a failure as the final bridge over the Nederrijn river at Arnhem could not be wholly taken or held by the lightly equipped airborne forces until the belated land advance of the XXX Corps could prevent their destruction by powerful German counterattacks In World War II the strategic capability of airborne forces was not fully developed or exploited for a number of apparently logical reasons: such forces are very expensive in men and matériel; large numbers of picked men have to be given special training and reserved from conventional operations for lengthy periods; a great many parachutes, gliders and other specialist equipment have to be provided and the men trained to operate and maintain them; hundreds of heavy bombers to tow the gliders and transport aircraft to drop the paratroopers had to be diverted from other tasks, and their crews had to be given special training; and a large base organisation was required to launch and maintain the force.
Senior Allied commanders had divided opinions about the proper use of airborne forces. Some, such as Lieutenant General George S. Patton, the commander of the US 3rd Army, believed that airborne forces should be confined to the tactical role with airborne brigade groups assigned as corps troops for quick-reaction tasks in support of conventional land forces. Others believed that the great cost of such specialist forces could be justified only by their commitment to to deep and strategically significant penetrations of hostile territory, though even the threat posed by airborne forces held in reserve was also of service.
To promote planning for the strategic use of airborne forces, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the US Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces, in August 1944 established the headquarters of the Allied 1st Airborne Army under the command of another US officer, Lieutenant General Lewis H. Brereton, of the USAAF. The formations which would be available to the new formation was the three airborne divisions which had been used in ‘Overlord’ (Major General Matthew B. Ridgway’s US 82nd Airborne Division, Major General Maxwell B. Taylor’s US 101st Airborne Division, and Major General R. L. Gale’s British 6th Airborne Division), which after their service in Normandy had been withdrawn to England for rehabilitation in England. Other formations added to these combat-experienced formations were Major General William E. Miley’s US 17th Airborne Division, Major General R. E. Urquhart’s British 1st Airborne Division, Generał brygady Stanisław Sosabowski’s Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade Group and, to provide a major follow-up and consolidation capability, Major General E. Hakewill-Smith’s British 52nd Division trained for the air-portable role. These formations were divided between the army’s two airborne corps, namely Lieutenant General F. A. M. Browning’s British I Airborne Corps and Major General Matthew B. Ridgway’s US XVIII Airborne Corps. For air transport the two corps could call on Brigadier General Paul L. Williams’s US IX Troop Carrier Command of Major General Hoyt S. Vandenberg’s 9th AAF, and Air Vice Marshal L. N. Hollinghurst No. 38 Group and Air Commodore L. Darvall’s No. 46 Group of Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill’s RAF Transport Command.
However, the establishment of the new headquarters did not immediately alter the essentially tactical nature of the tasks assigned to airborne forces. Of these, the most successful, so far as British forces were concerned, were the set-piece operations of the 6th Airborne Division in the Normandy invasion and at the Rhine crossing. As Urquhart’s 1st Airborne Division in general and Brigadier G. W. Lathbury’s 1st Parachute Brigade in particular had greater operational experience before ‘Overlord’, they were held in reserve for possible use against targets of opportunity, and by the time of ‘Market’ the 1st Airborne Division had been involved in the abortive plans for no fewer than 16 airborne operations. This had caused great frustration, best summed up in the largely unprintable comments of the men who had the arduous task of loading the heavy equipment, Jeeps and guns into Airspeed Horsa gliders by small side doors.
The cancellation of these various planned operations was almost always the result of Allied land advances at a pace greater than had been planned or expected, which meant they had reached the intended dropping zones and landing zones before the airborne undertaking could be launched, or of the discovery that the Germans were present in greater strength than had been anticipated. One of the main limitations on the rapid launching of airborne operations was the time required to collect and disseminate briefing material and orders down to the level of the individual soldier, especially as up-to-the-minute aerial reconnaissance photographs were not always available as a result of the presence of cloud cover or a shortage of the relevant aircraft.
After the break-out of the Allied forces from their Normandy lodgement in August 1944 following the successful US implementation of ‘Cobra’, Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley’s US 12th Army Group and General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s Allied 21st Army Group, under Eisenhower’s overall command, had pushed the disorganised formations of Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge’s (from 17 August Model’s) Heeresgruppe ‘B’ back hundreds of miles in just a few weeks. By the end of August the growing strength of the Allied forces in North-West Europe was disposed in several armies. On the right, in an essentially north/south line near the German frontier, was Bradley’s 12th Army Group comprising Lieutenant General Courtney H. Hodges’s 1st Army on the left and Patton’s 3rd Army on the right; and on the left, in the north-eastern corner of the Allies’ gains in a line extending from a point just to the west of Antwerp to a junction with the US front, was Montgomery’s 21st Army Group comprising Lieutenant General H. D. G. Crerar’s Canadian 1st Army on the left and Dempsey’s 2nd Army in the right.
The 2nd Army had crossed the Seine river on 30 August and had reached Antwerp and Brussels on 4 and 5 September respectively after an advance of some 250 miles (400 km). On 1 September Eisenhower assumed operational command of all the forces in the field in North-Western Europe.
The extremely rapid pace of the advance had put a tremendous strain on the Allied logistical system. While the initial delay in enlarging the Normandy lodgement had aided the administrative planners, once the break-out started the rates of advance on which they had been told to plan proved wildly pessimistic. The Seine river was reached 11 days ahead of schedule, and Allied forces were approaching the German frontier by D+96, while the core logistical plan had been based on this point being reached on or about D+300. So the pace of the Allied debouchment to the east was now inevitably being checked by intractable logistical difficulties: the rate at which the Allies’ front-line formations had advanced had completely outstripped the capacity of their supply organisations to keep them provisioned with all the necessities of modern war. The only way in which POL (petrol, oil and lubricants), ammunition, equipment, food, clothing and a myriad other requirements could enter North-West Europe was via the shallow docks built on the original ‘Overlord’ invasion beaches in Normandy and the nearby deep-water port of Cherbourg at the northern tip of the Cotentin peninsula. Both of these were of only limited use, however, as the bombardment ‘softening-up’ campaign of the Allies’ pre-invasion air attacks had effectively destroyed all rail and water transport capability in this region, and also severely disrupted road communications by the destruction of bridges and tunnels.
By this time the great port city of Antwerp did in fact lie in British hands, but the Scheldt river estuary leading inland to this port, ahead of the Canadian 1st Army, was still in German hands and therefore Allied shipping could not use the port. The first concern for the Allies should have been a Canadian 1st Army offensive to clear the remaining German forces from the area and open Antwerp’s port facilities for large-scale use, but several factors prevented this: first, the Allied high command thought that the German rout would continue; second, the Allied high command apparently overlooked the fact that Antwerp could not be opened until the Scheldt river estuary had been cleared; third, the Canadians assigned to that sector of the theatre had little ‘pull’ by comparison with those of the theatre’s two most assertive commanders, Montgomery (more favourably disposed to the 2nd Army) and Patton. These two commanders steadily demanded that all available supplies to be allocated to him to facilitate a rapid advance on a single, narrow front, but Eisenhower, as Supreme Allied Commander, just as steadily refused their demands, preferring instead to maintain a strategy of relatively broad attack across the entire front.
As the eastward exploitation from the Normandy break-out faltered, however, Montgomery, Bradley and Patton argued once again for their own narrow-front offensive schemes, and Eisenhower eventually asked them for their plans. Bradley and Patton favoured an attack to the east from Patton’s current positions to take the city of Metz and thence into one of Germany’s most important industrial regions, the Saarland. This would require a breakthrough of the ‘Siegfried-Linie’ fixed defences along the German border, however, and still leave the US forces in front of the equally heavily defended line of the Rhine river. As a defensive manoeuvre it was an excellent plan, as it would leave the Allies in control of the easily defended western bank of the Rhine. But as an offensive plan it would do little except the seizure of more German territory, and leave the Allies in an only slightly better position to assault Germany.
Montgomery initially suggested a limited operation as ‘Comet’, consisting of an airborne assault in front of the XXX Corps. ‘Comet’ was then superseded by a more ambitious plan, consisting of a northward attack to Arnhem, deeper inside the Netherlands, bypassing the northern end of the ‘Siegfried-Linie’ defences, which ended some 12.5 miles (20 km) to the south of this Dutch city, crossing the Nederrijn river and trapping Generaloberst Hans von Salmuth’s entire 15th Army between this Allied advance and the shore of the IJsselmeer. This concept would also have, according to Montgomery, the twin advantages of taking the areas currently used by the Germans for their V-2 ballistic missile bombardment of southern England, and of taking more land to the east of Antwerp, placing this vital asset deeper in Allied territory and so facilitating the exploitation of its port once the offensive had been completed.
Eisenhower believed firmly that Antwerp should be opened to Allied supply movements as rapidly as possible, but appeared to be incapable of deciding between the demands of his demanding subordinates. Bradley and Montgomery continued to pester Eisenhower, and the position in the Allied high command became more intense as the two army group commanders each insisted that he had the better opportunity for a march straight to Berlin.
Given the fact that until the lower reaches of the Scheldt river had been cleared and Antwerp opened as a port, the Allied armies were still being supplied through Cherbourg and over the Normandy beaches. This was the strategically vital logistical consideration which entered the disagreement between Eisenhower, who favoured an advance on a broad front to close to the Rhine river along the whole front before crossing this major water barrier to break into the heart of Germany, and Montgomery, who advocated an advance on a narrow front by his 21st Army Group area and designed to carry the Allies deep into the North German plain with the chance of ending the war in 1944. Montgomery tried to persuade Eisenhower to give the 21st Army Group absolute priority in additional formations and in logistics to support this single-front thrust. Eisenhower was not initially to be persuaded.
The situation seems to have been resolved in Montgomery’s favour by the US high command in Washington, for both the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff were under intense US pressure to make use of the new army as soon as possible, so in somewhat unlikely fashion this favoured Montgomery’s plan and Eisenhower was sufficiently impressed by the potential of the northern advance to give Montgomery what was in effect the whole of the strategic reserve, the forces available to the 1st Allied Airborne Army.
The combination of ‘Market’ and ‘Garden’ was the result of this concept and also of Montgomery’s single-mindedness, and the plan finally agreed had two components which were to be co-ordinated very carefully: the ‘Market’ airborne capture and retention of the required river crossings, and the ‘Garden’ land advance of the 2nd Army to the north along Highway 69 spearheaded by Horrocks’s XXX Corps. ‘Market’ would employ three of the five available formations of the Allied 1st Airborne Army: the 101st Airborne Division would be dropped in two locations just to the north of the XXX Corps to take the bridges to the north-west of Eindhoven over the Wilhelmina Canal at Zon and over the Zuit Willemsvaart Canal at Veghel; the 82nd Airborne Division would be dropped farther to the north-east to take the bridges over the Maas river at Grave and the Waal river at Nijmegen; and finally and farthest to the north of all, the 1st Airborne Division and 1st Independent Parachute Brigade Group would be dropped to take the road and rail bridges over the Nederrijn river at Arnhem and Oosterbeek respectively. An airhead was also to be secured at the airfield of Deelen, just to north of Arnhem, so that the 52nd Division and supplies could be flown in to facilitate the XXX Corps’ ‘bounce’ over the Rhine river and its advance to the IJsselmeer.
As such, therefore, the plan was a logical successor to ‘Comet’, which was to have been implemented on 8 September but was then postponed for 24 hours before being cancelled on 9/10 September, which had placed the primary emphasis on the ground offensive with support from the 1st Airborne Division and 1st Independent Parachute Brigade Group to secure the river crossings by coup-de-main tactics as the ground forces approached them. It had been appreciated from the start that this plan was characterised by severe tactical and operational limitations, especially as there were some five major and several smaller water crossings to be seized consecutively, and that the Germans would be able to blow at least one of the bridges, negating the whole object of the offensive.
The plan for ‘Comet’ had the same objectives as ‘Market’ but was to be executed by just one airborne division and one Polish brigade. Brigadier J. W. Hackett’s 4th Parachute Brigade was to drop to the south of the Maas river and capture the bridge at Grave, Lathbury’s 1st Parachute Brigade was to drop to the north of the Nederrijn river and capture the bridges at Arnhem, and the rest of the 1st Airborne Division and the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade Group were to drop and land between the Maas and Waal rivers and capture the bridge at Nijmegen. As commander of the 1st Airborne Division, Urquhart has been criticised for showing poor imagination in his ‘Market’ plan inasmuch as he opted not to take the Arnhem bridges by a gliderborne coup-de-main effort, as had been done by the 6th Airborne Division in Normandy with ‘Deadstick’, so it is interesting to note that Urquhart’s ‘Comet’ plan included provision for a reinforced company of each of the 1/Borders, 7/King’s Own Scottish Borderers and 2/South Staffords air-landing battalions, each in six Horsa gliders,to land and take the bridges at Grave, Nijmegen and Arnhem in coup-de-main assaults.
The alternative now adopted in ‘Market’ was therefore the seizure of all the required bridges at the same time in ‘Market’ and to hold them until the ground forces of the XXX Corps arrived in ‘Garden’ in order to ‘bounce’ over the Nederrijn river and push on to the IJsselmeer. A unified command was essential for ‘Market’, and to the chagrin of the US commanders it was decided that this should be vested in Browning, the commander of the I Airborne Corps, as he was Brereton’s deputy.
The tactical prizes could be gained by the successful implementation of the operation were great: the lines of communication required by the 15th Army for its forces in the Netherlands would be severed, the V-2 missile launch sites would also be cut off, and the ‘Siegfried-Linie’ defences would outflanked to the north. The strategic prize, still more attractive, was the possibility of ending the war with Germany before the end of 1944: this would have effected an enormous saving in lives and money, and would also have changed the whole pattern of post-war Europe as the Allied occupation zones in Germany had yet to be agreed, the Soviet forces were advancing in the Balkans but were halted to the east of Warsaw, refusing even to aid the Allies in aiding the citizens of Warsaw, who had risen against the Germans in ‘Burza’ and were not finally overcome until 2 October. If ‘Market’ and ‘Garden’ had worked fully, the Western Allies would have entered Berlin and Prague and the ‘Argonaut’ inter-Allied conference at Yalta would have been very different in its outcome.
Strategic concepts can only be sealed through tactical success, however, and this was denied to the Allies.
There had been considerable optimism for ‘Comet’, and this then transferred itself to ‘Market’ inasmuch as what had been entertained for a single airborne division, supported by a single parachute brigade, was now to be attempted by three airborne divisions supported by one parachute brigade and possibly one air-landing division.
However, insufficient consideration was given to the fact that so swift had been the advance of the Allied armies from the line of the Seine river that the 2nd Army was finding it increasingly problematical to obtain reliable intelligence about the German forces ahead of it: successive postponements of ‘Comet’ had been the result, in part at least, of the realisation that German resistance was again stiffening and that not only might the 1st Airborne Division find the Germans too strong for the division to carry through what was in fact a highly dispersed tasking, but also that it would need a deliberate attack, with strong artillery support, for the XXX Corps to break-out to the north from its small bridgehead across the Meuse-Escaut Canal.
The ‘Market’ plan was very similar to that of ‘Comet’ with the major difference that where brigades were to have been used in ‘Comet’ divisions were to be employed in ‘Market’ to seize five major bridges (three over the Maas river, one over the Waal river, and one over the Nederrijn river) and thus lay an ‘airborne carpet’ (perhaps most accurately series of ‘airborne mats’) to open the way for the XXX Corps to ‘bounce’ the Rhine river.
In ‘Market’, the British I Airborne Corps was to be commanded by Browning until it had landed, whereupon it would come under the command of Dempsey’s 2nd Army. For its operation, the corps had the British 1st Airborne Division, the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, and the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade Group, the last under the tactical command of the 1st Airborne Division. As noted above, the aircraft and gliders required for ‘Market’ were provided by the US IX Troop Carrier Command and RAF Transport Command’s Nos 38 and 46 Groups. The US IX Troop Carrier Command also provided the pilots for gliders towed by US aircraft, while those towed by British aircraft were men of the Glider Pilot Regiment.
Air support and air escort by bombers and fighters was provided by Air Vice Marshal H. Broadhurst’s No. 83 Group of Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham’s British 2nd Tactical Air Force, Air Vice Marshal B. E. Embry’s No. 2 Group and Air Vice Marshal H. W. L. Saunders’s No. 11 Group of Air Marshal Sir Roderic Hill’s RAF Air Defence of Great Britain command, and Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle’s US 8th AAF and Vandenberg’s 9th AAF, all under the control of the headquarters of Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory’s Allied Expeditionary Air Force. It was the 1st Allied Airborne Army which organised all arrangements for air escort and for air/sea rescue and dummy parachute drops.
The ‘Garden’ component of the twin operations was the responsibility of Horrocks’s XXX Corps using Major General A. H. S. Adair’s Guards Armoured Division, Major General G. I. Thomas’s 43rd Division and Major General D. A. H. Graham’s 50th Divisions, flanked on its right by Lieutenant General Sir Richard O’Connor’s VIII Corps and on its left by Lieutenant General N. M. Ritchie’s XII Corps. The two latter corps were to exert whatever pressure they could with the limited ammunition available to them. The Guards Armoured Division was to lead on what was virtually for much of the way a one-tank front along the main road linking Eindhoven with the shore of the IJsselmeer via Uden, Grave, Nijmegen and Arnhem. The distances from the start line were 13 miles (21 km) to Eindhoven, 32 miles (51.5 km) to Uden, 43 miles (69 km) to Grave, 53 miles (85 km) to Nijmegen, 64 miles (103 km) to Arnhem and 94 miles (151 km) to the IJsselmeer.
The 52nd Division was to be ready to be flown in north of Arnhem, and on the assumption that ‘Market’ was successful, it was estimated that the XXX Corps might reach the IJsselmeer between two to five days after crossing the Belgian/Dutch border after reaching and relieving the 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem between D+l and D+3.
In drawing up its plan, however, the XXX Corps gave too little credence to Dutch warnings on how easy it would be for the German forces, even operating in small groups, to delay the advance or interrupt the corps’ rearward lines of communication along the single road, much of it along an embankment from which, over considerable distances, tanks could not deploy as a result of the presence of very soft soil flanking the road. Added to this, the warnings provided by the Dutch resistance of the increase in German strength in the area were not given the weight they deserved. On the other hand, while it planned its part in ‘Market’, the 1st Airborne Division gave too great a degree of credence to Dutch advice that much of the low-lying parts of the area were too marshy and intersected by ditches and canals to be used for parachute drops or glider landings.
Immediately after the cancellation of ‘Comet’ on 10 September, the commanders of the three airborne divisions to be used in ‘Market’ were summoned to Montgomery’s headquarters and were briefed by Browning who, as noted above, was both deputy commander of the Allied 1st Airborne Army and commander of the I Airborne Corps, and in the latter capacity headed the planning for ‘Market’. When given his orders by Montgomery, Browning was told that the 2nd Army would reach Arnhem in two days, and told Montgomery that ‘We can hold the bridge for four days but I think we may be going a bridge too far.’
This should not be taken as meaning that Browning favoured an airborne operation which stopped short after crossing the Waal river at Nijmegen, for that would have been to sacrifice the possibility of ending the war in 1944, which was the objective of the entire undertaking, and turned a potentially decisive strategic stroke into yet another tactical airborne operation. If only a tactical objective was desired for ‘Market’, it would in all probability followed the pattern set by its predecessors and been cancelled, leaving the 2nd Army free to clear the Scheldt river estuary and thereby open the port of Antwerp.
The concept of ‘a bridge too far’ meant that the Allies were now paying the penalty for not having a strong advocate of the strategic use of airborne forces at a command level sufficiently elevated to ensure that when the strategic opportunity offered, the forces committed were adequate in size and capability to seize it. In these circumstances the recent formation of the Allied 1st Airborne Army as what was in essence a planning organisation outside the normal chain of command and planning, was no answer.
A factor which should not be ignored, but all too often is not taken into account, in later assessments of ‘Market’, was not so much that there were too many bridges to be taken, but too little in the way of airlift capability to ensure the maximum concentration of airborne strength in the shortest possible time. This meant that the 1st Airborne Division’s plan had therefore to forget the two primary principles of airborne warfare: the achievement of tactical surprise and the maximum possible concentration of force.
If it had been possible to deliver the entire 1st Airborne Division in one lift, success would almost certainly have followed, and if it had been possible to use a fourth airborne division, success could almost certainly have been guaranteed, for in the planning it had been appreciated that it was unlikely that the 82nd Airborne Division would be able to take the Nijmegen bridge as well as the bridge at Grave and the vital high ground to the south of the Waal river and to the east of Nijmegen. This is what in fact materialised, and when the Guards Armoured Division reached Nijmegen the ‘airborne carpet’ had yet to be extended beyond the Waal river.
The shortage of airlift capacity presented the I Airborne Corps’ planners with a significant problem. While the 1st Airborne Division had to be delivered into the most exposed position and would have to maintain its hold on the Arnhem bridge for a time longer than either of the US airborne divisions would have to hold their bridges, to deprive the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions of the necessary forces to capture the bridges which would ensure their timely relief by the XXX Corps would be self-defeating.
In the end the allocation of aircraft to the divisions was as follows: 481 to the 1st Airborne Division, 530 to the 82nd Airborne Division and 494 to the 101st Airborne Division; another 38 were allocated to the I Airborne Corps’ headquarters. All the aircraft allocated to the US divisions were Douglas C-47 Skytrain twin-engine transports flown by US crews. The British lift comprised 149 US and 130 British C-47 transports, and 494 converted bombers, most of these last being four-engined machines. The 1st Airborne Division had fewer aircraft, but this was offset by the fact that the greater payloads of their Horsa and Airspeed Hamilcar gliders provided them with a larger lift in terms of men and/or tons of equipment.
The allocations meant that each of the divisions could deliver only about two-thirds of its strength in the first lift, and the British division, which had the Polish parachute brigade under command, only about half of its strength. In an effort to reduce this handicap as much as possible, the soldiers pressed for two lifts on the first day, but this request was denied mainly because there would be no moon on the scheduled day and the US pilots were believed the lack the capability to undertake airborne operations at night under these conditions.
In overall terms, the Allied plan was based on the landing nearest the bridgehead over the Meuse-Escaut Canal secured by the XXX Corps, just to the south of Borkel, of the 101st Airborne Division (Colonel Howard R. Johnson’s 501st Parachute Infantry, Colonel John H. Michaelis’s 502nd Parachute Infantry, Colonel Robert F. Sink’s 506th Parachute Infantry and Colonel Harper’s 327th Glider Infantry) in the area to the north of Eindhoven with the task of taking and holding the bridges over the Wilhelmina Canal at Zon, the Zuit Willemsvaart Canal at Veghel, and the Aa river just to the north, together with two subsidiary bridges.
Slightly farther to the north, the 82nd Airborne Division (Colonel Reuben H. Tucker’s 504th Parachute Infantry, Colonel William Ekman’s 505th Parachute Infantry, Colonel Roy E. Lindquist’s 508th Parachute Infantry and Colonel Billingslea’s 325th Glider Infantry) would land in the area around Grave with the task of taking and holding the only high ground in the region, the Groesbeek, and the bridges over the Maas river at Grave, the Maas-Waal Canal to the west of Grave, and the Waal river on the northern side of Nijmegen.
And farthest to the north, to be relieved by the XXX Corps no more than three days after its drop, the 1st Airborne Division was to land in the area between Ede and Oosterbeek to the west of Arnhem with the task of taking and holding the bridge over the Nederrijn river at Arnhem and the rail bridge over the same river between Oosterbeek and Arnhem.
As commander of I Airborne Corps, Browning added his own headquarters to the first lift so that he could lead from the front.
‘Market’ would be the largest airborne operation in history, delivering more than 34,876 men in three lifts. The plan finally agreed was that should deliver the airborne forces in some 1,300 Douglas C-47 Dakota transport/glider tug aircraft, 240 bombers converted into glider tugs, and 2,525 gliders. Of the men committed, 20,190 were delivered by parachute, 13,781 were transported by glider, and 905 were landed by aeroplane on a prepared landing strip. Gliders also brought in 1,689 vehicles, 290 howitzers and 1,259 tons of ammunition and other supplies.
As soon as it received its orders for ‘Market’, the 1st Airborne Division began its detailed planning process at the headquarters of the I Airborne Corps, which was also the tactical headquarters and briefing centre for the 1st Airborne Division. Units of the 1st Airborne Division and the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade Group remained at their airfield assembly camps after the termination of ‘Comet’, and the division’s administrative ‘tail’ with personal kit among other things, had already crossed to the continent.
Urquhart divided his division’s objective into three tasks. The first and most important of these was the capture of the Arnhem bridges or a bridge; the second was the establishment of a bridgehead large enough to enable the follow-on formations of the XXX Corps to deploy to the north of the Nederrijn river; and the third, for implementation during operations immediately following the landing of the first lift, was to ensure that all was done to ensure the safe passage of subsequent lifts by the capture of destruction of the German anti-aircraft positions in the vicinity of the dropping and landing zones and of Arnhem. To accomplish these tasks Lathbury’s experienced 1st Parachute Brigade was to seize the railway and road bridges at Arnhem. Hackett’s 4th Parachute Brigade was to occupy the high ground on the northern outskirts of Arnhem, with Sosabowski’s Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade Group holding the eastern side of the perimeter and Brigadier P. W. W. Hicks’s 1st Airlanding Brigade the western side of the perimeter.
Ever since the abortive ‘Transfigure’ plan to drop the 1st Airborne Division, 82nd Airborne Division and Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade, with the 52nd Division arriving by air, in the Orléans gap in the path of German armour escaping from the Falaise pocket, Sosabowski had been more concerned about German strengths and dispositions than the British. Sosabowski’s realism had its origins in a strong desire not to get the Polish brigade pinned down in western Europe so that it could be ready for the liberation of Warsaw, while the British commanders were willing to play down the German strength in their desire to get their formation into battle. The expectation at the time of ‘Market’ and ‘Garden’ was that although the German resistance along the Meuse-Escaut Canal was strengthening, this was likely to be little more than a sturdy crust which, once broken, could do little to check the XXX Corps’ advance. The airborne divisional commanders were led to believe, therefore, that the German opposition would be provided, at most, by one infantry brigade and a small number of tanks. Reports of German armour re-forming in the Arnhem area began to arrive from 10 September, but though these reports were taken seriously by the intelligence staff they were largely discounted by commanders.
Intelligence suggesting that the Germans were steadily recovering from the mauling they had received in Normandy, and therefore that stronger resistance might be expected, was not allowed to influence the operational plans of the ground forces, although after the number of aircraft allocated to the division’s first lift had been cut, Lieutenant Colonel C. B. Mackenzie, Urquhart’s principal operations staff officer, urged that the number of anti-tank guns should on no account be reduced. On the other hand, the RAF took very seriously reports that there had been an increase, in the order of one-third, in the German anti-aircraft defences around Arnhem and Deelen airfield, to the north of Arnhem. This ruled out all thoughts of a gliderborne coup-de-main assault on the bridges, and led to a disagreement between Hollinghurst, commander of No. 38 Group and the officer responsible for the 1st Airborne Division’s air movement plan, and Urquhart about the siting of the the dropping and landing zones. Urquhart was prepared to accept dry heathland about 7 miles (11.25 km) to the west of Arnhem for the mass glider landing, but strongly urged Hollinghurst to drop the 1st Parachute Brigade on both sides of the river and as near to the Arnhem bridges as possible. The RAF believed that this would result in unacceptably great losses, and the result was a decision that the drop should take place in the same area as the glider landing but on different zones.
This seriously prejudiced the tactical success of the division, and the men of the division came to begrudge the 38 gliders allotted to the headquarters of the I Airborne Corps as this meant that only half of the division would be available to exploit the initial surprise. On top of that the decision to drop and land the British troops 7 miles (11.25 km) from their objective led to another division of the remaining forces as one brigade would be needed to hold the DZs and LZs until the arrival of the second lift, leaving only one brigade to advance to Arnhem and seize the bridges.
It was decided that, after reaching the ground, the 1st Parachute Brigade would seize bridges, leaving the 1st Airlanding Brigade to guard the landing area until the delivery of the 4th Parachute Brigade on D+1. The Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade was to be held in reserve and be dropped into the area immediately to the south of the Arnhem road bridge on D+2, provided that the anti-aircraft fire covering the area around the bridge had been eliminated. A landing zone to the east of the main divisional landing zone had been selected for the gliderborne portion of the Polish brigade due to land on D+2. Forced on Urquhart’s by circumstance, the definitive plan therefore resulted in the loss of surprise and a concentration of force. These two factors required that the force be landed on or as near as possible to their objective, taking into account the opposition’s disposition and strength, but the definitive plan was in effect a perfect preparation for defeat in detail.
Within the 1st Airborne Division there were units which had been involved in hard fighting in North Africa and Sicily, but most of the division’s elements had seen only limited action in Italy or, indeed, no action at all. Early in September the last were close to believing that the war would be over before they had ever heard a shot fired in anger. So it is significant that when the RAF predicted up to 40% casualties on the fly-in, none of the aggressively minded airborne troops seemed concerned, and in such circumstances another cancelled airborne operation could possibly have destroyed the division’s morale.
There was another more serious weakness from which the 1st Airborne Division suffered and which, like others, derived largely from the failure at the highest levels of command to appreciate the strategic potential of airborne forces and the organisation and equipment they needed to exploit it. This weakness lay in the division’s artillery, which was both was the lightness and numerical paucity of the guns. The nature of the division’s organic artillery was, of course, strictly limited by the airlift required for carrying the guns and their ammunition, most especially the latter. The 1st Airborne Division’s field artillery comprised a mere 24 75-mm (2.95-in) pack howitzers firing 15-lb (6.8-kg) shells. The howitzers were allocated to three batteries, of which one allocated to each of the three brigades. For its ‘Fustian’ operation in Sicily, the 1st Parachute Brigade benefited from an extemporised arrangement allowing an airborne gunner officer to control the fire of the artillery of the link-up forces as they came within range, so no field artillery accompanied the brigade.
Between Sicily and the the ‘Overlord’ landings in Normandy, the Royal Artillery paid great attention to this problem, and the two British airborne divisions were each supplied with a FOURA (Forward Observation Unit, Royal Artillery) comprising officers with signallers and wireless sets for the control of the fire of the link-up artillery and to supplement the limited number of OP (Observation Post) parties the divisional artillery regiment could provide.
When airborne forces were used tactically in close support of the ground forces, these arrangements were adequate as the airborne forces either landed within range of the longer-ranged link-up artillery or would become so very soon after landing. In a strategic role, such as that of the 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem, it had to be expected that considerable time would pass before the fire of the divisional artillery regiment could be supplemented by that of artillery from outside the division, so during this time the division would be heavily dependent for close fire-support on the air forces.
One of the unanswered questions about the Arnhem operations is why the arrangements for close air support were so inadequate. The need had long been recognised and shortly after the Normandy landings a staff officer from divisional headquarters was sent over to study the problem at first hand but no ASSU (Air Support Signal Unit) was developed. In consequence the arrangements for ground/air communications for the support of the 1st Airborne Division had to be improvised. The standard British wireless set used by an ASSU for ground/air communications was not air-portable. The Americans had a set that could be carried in the British Hamilcar or US Waco CG-4A glider, but one of the two sets allotted to the 1st Airborne Division was damaged on landing and no more than one contact was made with the other. Moreover, the US signallers who accompanied the sets were unfamiliar with them and not trained in ground/communication.
No. 83 Group was responsible for providing the 1st Airborne Division with close air support. In this this the group suffered from the failure of ground/air communications, and was also hampered by the morning prevalence of fog over its airfields and by the fact that its warplanes were kept out of the area whenever aircraft of the US 8th Air Force were providing fighter cover for the air transport force bringing in troops or supplies. As a result, the airborne forces were often deprived of close air support, and also of the morale boost which would have come from their knowledge of the fact that the continual presence of Allied aircraft severely hindered the Germans and also sapped their morale. It was also a major error that all aircraft flying in the battle area had not been placed under the control of the local air commander, Broadhurst, with liaison officers in direct communications with the USAAF headquarters.
RAF Transport Command reported that it lacked adequate aircraft and would be barely able to support the operation. Any losses or bad weather would upset even this limited capability. The problem was so acute that the command flatly refused to drop the British immediately to the north of their target bridge because this would put the aircraft within range of Flak guns in a concentration just to the north at Deelen. Another suitable drop zone just to the south of the bridge was also rejected because it was thought to be marshy, and thus unsuitable as a landing zone for the gliders carrying the force’s heavier equipment.
As RAF Transport Command had insisted on a drop zone 9.25 miles (15 km) away from the target bridge, which would have to be taken and held overnight until arrival of the men and equipment delivered in the third lift, the British force would therefore be divided for more than one day. Realising the serious nature of the problem, the planners then hastily changed their scheme so that the small force of Jeep vehicles, equipped with machine guns, of the reconnaissance squadron delivered in the first lift was now tasked to seize the bridge in a coup-de-main operation, and then hold it until the infantry arrived. These battalions would follow on foot, with the fourth and all the glider pilots holding the drop zones required for the next two lifts.
It had been decided that ‘Market’ and ‘Garden’ would begin on 17 September, and that the airborne parachute and glider landings would take place at about the same time for all three airborne divisions: the 1st Airborne Division at 12.50, with the Independent Parachute Company responsible for marking the dropping and landing zones dropped 20 minutes ahead of the main body; and the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions at 12.30.
A second lift was to take place on the following day. The first arrivals were scheduled for 10.00, but bad weather intervened and the lift arrived four hours late. For the 1st Airborne Division and 82nd Airborne Division there was to be an important third lift on D+2 to deliver the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade and 325th Glider Infantry Regimental Combat Team for the British and Americans respectively. As noted above, some 34,000 troops were delivered, 20,190 being dropped by parachute (16,500 of them on 17 September) and 13,781 landed by glider.
The RAF believed that the increase of the number of German anti-aircraft weapons, on barges as well as on land, presented a serious threat to the trains of vulnerable transport aircraft, which had to fly straight and level. In an effort to reduce this threat, 821 Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers of the US 8th AAF dropped 3,139 tons of bombs on 117 sites, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris’s RAF Bomber Command attacked German fighter airfields during the night of 16/17 September, and in daylight raids against coastal batteries in the Walcheren area, over with the transports would have to fly, 85 Avro Lancaster heavy bombers and 15 de Havilland Mosquito light bombers dropped 535 tons of bombs. The air trains were provided with escort and anti-Flak patrols by 550 Lockheed P-38 Lightning, Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and North American P-51 Mustang fighter of the US 8th AAF, and by 371 Hawker Tempest, Supermarine Spitfire and Mosquito fighters of the Air Defence of Great Britain command, while 166 fighters of Major General Elwood R. Quesada’s IX Fighter Command of the US 9th AAF gave umbrella cover over the dropping and landing zones.
Early on 17 September, 84 Mosquito, Douglas Boston and North American Mitchell light and medium bombers of the 2nd TAF attacked barracks in Nijmegen, Cleve, Arnhem and Ede. That evening dummy parachute drops were made in area to the west of Utrecht and to the east of Nijmegen and Emmerich.
The division of the airborne forces’ delivery into two or more lifts was contrary to the basic principle of concentration of force, and also rendered the entire operation vulnerable to changing weather conditions, though these had been forecast as good for the whole period of the operation. The weather over the Netherlands on 17 September was excellent, though low cloud over England caused some gliders of the 1st Airborne Division to run into towing problems, and mainly for this reason 24 of those in the first lift parted company with their tug aircraft over England.
The argosy of transport and tug aircraft departed from two groups of airfields. The southern group, mainly in Wiltshire and Oxfordshire, comprised eight British and six US airfields, and the eastern group in Lincolnshire comprised eight US airfields. The airlift argosy crossed the English Channel in two streams, each divided into three sub-streams 1.25 miles (2 km) apart. The northern stream crossed the British coast at Aldeburgh in Suffolk, made landfall at the western end of Schouwen island in the Netherlands and continued to a point near ‘s-Hertogenbosch, where it divided to deliver the men and equipment of the 1st Airborne Division and 82nd Airborne Division to their landing areas. The southern stream, carrying the 101st Airborne Division, crossed the British coast at the North Foreland in Kent and flew almost due east to Gheel in the Netherlands before turning to the north-east to the divisional dropping and landing zones to the north of Eindhoven. The C-47 aircraft s transporting the the paratroopers flew in close formations of nine aircraft; the Handley Page Halifax, Short Stirling and Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle glider tugs flew in loose pairs. It took 65 minutes for the northern stream to pass any single point.
In all, between 10.25 and 11.55, 1,534 transport aircraft (including the pathfinder machines tasked to mark the dropping and landing zones), 491 of them towing gliders, took off for the Netherlands, and by the time they crossed the English coast the weather was perfect, and the pilots could see the ships patrolling at regular intervals to rescue the occupants of any aeroplane or glider which had to ditch. The leading aircraft were engaged by Flak from from a barge as they crossed the Dutch coast, but this fire was immediately suppressed by the anti-Flak escort. Some aircraft encountered a little heavy anti-aircraft fire, but for most all that could be detected was a burst or two from light weapons. There were no Allied losses.
The fly-in and landing were completely successful, and had the ‘Market’ scheme anticipated how completely successful the air forces’ anti-Flak plan was to prove, subsequent events could very well have favoured the Allies.
The 1st Airborne Division started to land at 12.40, some 10 minutes ahead of schedule; the 82nd Airborne Division at 12.30 as planned; and the 101st Airborne Division at 13.00, some 30 minutes late. By 14.00 the first lift had been delivered.
At 14.35 the XXX Corps started its ‘Garden’ overland advance, but almost immediately ran into strong opposition and by the evening it had moved forward only 7 or 8 miles (11.25 or 13 km) and had not broken through the Germans’ main defences. Its leading troops spent the night at Valkenswaard, some 6 miles (9.5 km) to the south of Eindhoven.
In the aftermath of the German rout to the west of the Seine river, Adolf Hitler had ordered Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt to resume overall command of the Western Front as the Oberbefehlshaber ‘West’ in succession to Model, who nonetheless retained the command of Heeresgruppe ‘B’ on the northern part of the front. Model ordered a new defence line to be created behind the line of the Meuse-Escaut Canal, and for this requested reinforcements from Germany and ordered von Zangen’s 15th Army to hold the southern bank of the Scheldt river while disengaging and ferrying back units from his 80,000-strong army, many locked in the defences of the English Channel ports, to the northern side of the Scheldt river via Walcheren island. In order to facilitate the provision of reinforcements, Student was ordered from a staff and training appointment, on 4 September, to take command of a force of some 10,000 troops, from units scattered all over Germany, only a few of them well trained and battle experienced, and to deploy them behind the Meuse-Escaut Canal as the 1st Fallschirmarmee, whose headquarters was established at Veghel, to the north-east of Eindhoven. The 1st Fallschirmarmee was a small army with very little in the way of armour, artillery and transport.
Something which should have alarmed the Allied planners was an unrelated event taking place nearby. When discussing the possible plans of attack open to the Allies, von Rundstedt and his senior subordinates had agreed that Eisenhower would favour Patton. In one of his final orders as the Oberbefehlshaber ‘West’, Model had ordered the formations of SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Wilhelm Bittrich’s II SS Panzerkorps, comprising SS-Standartenführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Walter Harzer’s 9th SS Panzerdivision ‘Hohenstaufen’ and SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Heinz Harmel’s 10th SS Panzerdivision ‘Frundsberg’, to rest and refit in the rear. The quiet spot selected for this undertaking was Arnhem, and this meant that there were another 9,000 troops in the area, all of them high-grade personnel of elite armoured formations with heavy weapons. Several reports emanating from the Netherlands indicated the German movements, but by this time the planning was in its late stages, and the reports were basically ignored.
Even so, a reconnaissance mission on behalf of the 1st Airborne Army produced photographic images clearly showing armoured fighting vehicles deployed just to the north-east of Arnhem, perhaps only 9.25 miles (15 km) from the point selected for the British drop. These were dismissed out of hand, with the claim that the vehicles were probably ‘non-runners’.
Amid the chaos of retreat, only now starting to coalesce into the beginning of an effective defence one again, one of the comparatively few German generals who had planned and organised in a capable manner was Generalleutnant Kurt Chill commander of the 85th Division. Concentrating the remnants of his own and two other divisions, Chill established ‘reception stations’ along the Meuse-Escaut Canal to halt and take command of the many groups of demoralised Germans heading back toward northern Germany. These became a part of the 1st Fallschirmarmee which, by 17 September, had thus been able to create defences in some depth behind the Meuse-Escaut Canal.
Model had ordered the establishment of similar reception stations by military police and local training units along other waterway. More importantly for the 1st Airborne Division, as noted above, on 6 September Model had ordered Bittrich’s II SS Panzerkorps, to move to the north from the Mosel river to Doetinchem, due east of Arnhem, to re-form the two major formations of his corps, namely SS-Standartenführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Walter Harzer’s 9th SS Panzerdivision ‘Hohenstaufen’ and SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Heinz Harmel’s 10th SS Panzerdivision ‘Frundsberg’. The reports from the Dutch resistance forces of German armour assembling in the Arnhem area were therefore only too true, but were unconfirmed.
On 17 September, therefore there were some 6,000 German troops in the area. Besides the Panzer divisions there were three moderately good battalions manning the reception centres along the Nederrijn river, while the rest were of poorer quality. At the time of Bittrich’s move, Model established his own headquarters in Oosterbeek, just to the west of Arnhem, displacing companies of the local reception battalion comprising men of the Waffen-SS depot and NCO school at Arnhem, under the command of SS-Sturmbannführer Josef Krafft, which located itself between Oosterbeek and Arnhem.
The start of the airborne assault on 17 September took the Germans by total surprise. Model and his headquarters had to flee to Bittrich’s headquarters to avoid capture, and Model came firmly to believe that the object of the British landing was to capture him. Immediately he discovered where the landings were taking place, Bittrich ordered the replacement of the tracks which had been removed from the tanks of the 9th SS Panzerdivision as part of the maintenance programme. Bittrich immediately appreciated that the Allied objective had to be the bridges at Nijmegen and Arnhem, and he therefore ordered the 9th SS Panzerdivision to move as swiftly as possible to secure the Arnhem bridge by intercepting and destroying the British airborne troops to the west of Arnhem. The 9th SS Panzeraufklärungsabteilung was to despatch reconnaissance patrols in the direction of Oosterbeek and one of its squadron over the Arnhem bridge toward Nijmegen.
Model approved these plans, refused Bittrich’s recommendation that the bridges at Nijmegen and Arnhem be blown, and ordered the movement of the 10th SS Panzerdivision to Nijmegen as soon as it was ready.
Apart from the minor distraction of some sniper fire, the 1st Airborne Division’s first lift was able to form without difficulty after landing. The 1/Borders, 7/KOSB and 2/South Staffords (less two companies) assumed responsibility for the securing of the landing and dropping zones. It had been intended that Major F. H. Gough’s 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron should rush the Arnhem road bridge and seize it in a coup-de-main assault, but some of the gliders carrying part of this small unit’s equipment had not arrived and the reconnaissance cars which went forward were ambushed near Wolfhezen. The plan therefore failed, and Gough with some of his squadron later joined Lieutenant Colonel J. D. Frost’s 2/Parachute at the bridge.
Lathbury’s 1st Parachute Brigade, less the guns of the 3rd Airlanding Light Battery, Royal Artillery, which deployed near the landing zone, set off for Arnhem by three routes which converged in the city centre. Frost’s 2/Parachute, which was to secure the rail and road bridges at Arnhem, took a secondary road close to the river; Lieutenant Colonel J. A. C. Fitch’s 3/Parachute moved along the central route with the Lieutenant Colonel D. T. Dobie’s 1/Parachute to the north of its heading toward the higher ground on the city’s outskirts. Lathbury, with brigade headquarters, followed Frost. All three battalions ran into opposition but the 2/Parachute, though checked on a number of occasions, was able to establish itself on the approaches to the Arnhem road bridge by dark; the railway bridge was blown, however, just as Frost’s men reached it.
The brigade’s other two battalions met steadily increasing resistance, and Krafft later claimed the credit for imposing these delays: it was apparently his men who ambushed the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, but in fact the main opposition came from the 9th SS Panzeraufklärungsabteilung, one of whose squadrons crossed the Arnhem bridge heading to the south just before the 2/Parachute secured control of the bridge’s northern end.
Finding its route largely undefended, Frost’s 2/Parachute and arrived at the bridge in the afternoon and set up defensive positions. Continued attempts by the other two battalions met increasing resistance, so the decision was eventually made to wait for the second lift and try again on the following day. This was of vital importance. Unlike some of the bridges farther to the south, which crossed smaller rivers and canals and could therefore be bridged by Allied engineering units if destroyed, the Nijmegen and Arnhem bridges crossed two arms of the Rhine river, which were too wide to allow easy bridging. To make matters worse, the British airborne forces were on the far side of their bridge. If either the Nijmegen bridge or the Arnhem bridge was not captured and held, there was absolutely no way for the XXX Corps to reach and relieve the British airborne force. Yet at the end of the first day, only a small force held the Arnhem bridge, and the Nijmegen bridge was still in German hands.
Considerably more serious than these early delays was the steady loss of radio communication, probably as a result of large deposits of iron in the soil, between the 1st Parachute Brigade and divisional headquarters as the brigade entered the tree-clad suburbs of Arnhem. Lacking any information about the brigade’s progress, therefore, Urquhart had to depart in his Jeep to establish personal contact. On reaching the 2/Parachute, Urquhart learned that Lathbury had gone to visit the 3/Parachute on the central route, and here Urquhart found Lathbury and after confused and sporadic fighting in the outskirts of the town both Urquhart and Lathbury became trapped in a house and out of touch with the outside world.
On the German side the situation was still confused, largely because it was not clear at the start what was going on. In direct command of the forces in the area, Model was completely confused by the British dropping in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere, and concluded they were commandos attempting to kidnap him. Meanwhile, Bittrich had a clearer head and, as noted above, had immediately sent a reconnaissance squadron of the 9th SS Panzerdivision to Nijmegen to reinforce the bridge defence there. Early in the morning on 18 September, the commander of this Waffen-SS force concluded that his unit was not needed in Nijmegen and attempted to return to Arnhem. The commander was aware of the British troops at the bridge, but nonetheless attempted to cross by force and his unit was beaten back with major losses.
Meanwhile, in heavy fighting, newly arrived units of the 10th SS Panzerdivision halted the attempt to move the other two British battalions to the bridge. The second British lift arrived late as a result of fog in England, but landed its men and equipment successfully during the afternoon.
Farther to the south, the 101st Airborne Division landed, met little resistance and easily captured the small bridge at Veghel. However, the similar bridge at Son was blown up as the US airborne troops approached it, after being delayed by a short engagement with German anti-tank guns. Later in the same day several small attacks by units of the 15th Army were beaten off, while small units of the 101st Airborne Division had moved to the south of Son. To their north, the 82nd Airborne Division arrived and the small group dropped near Grave took the bridge intact in a rush. However, the main force of the 82nd Airborne Division found its task of securing the Groesbeek Heights to the east of Nijmegen much harder than expected, and continued its efforts to take this objective for the rest of the day. One force tasked with taking the bridge made its attempt, but as a result of poor communications did not start until late in the day and never made it. This left the Nijmegen bridge in German hands. By the fall of darkness, therefore, the 101st Airborne Division had occupied Zon on the Wilhelmina Canal, St Oedenrode and Veghel on the Zuit Willemsvaart Canal, and was fighting for Best. The bridges the US airborne soldiers held had been captured intact, except that over the Wilhelmina Canal to the south of Zon, though one regiment had crossed the canal from the north on an improvised bridge and had reached Bokt.
The 82nd Airborne Division and the headquarters of the I Airborne Corps had also landed successfully. By the fall of darkness part of the division had seized intact, and was now holding, the bridges over the Maas river at Grave and over the Maas-Waal Canal at Heuven. The remainder of the division was moving to the north and north-west to dominate the higher, wooded area to the south-east of Nijmegen, whose possession was vital to cover the division’s flank against German counterattacks from the forested Reichswald.
The XXX Corps did not start its advance until 14.00: Horrocks had previously been involved in several airborne-related operations which had been aborted at the last minute, and had refused to risk his troops until he received confirmation that the airborne forces had landed. Soon after beginning their advance the ground forces ran into a force of infantry and anti-tank units dug in on the road, and it took several hours for them to be cleared, along with the loss of a number of the leading tanks of Adair’s Guards Armoured Division, which was spearheading the advance. This slowed the advance along the road, which was narrow and flanked by earth so soft that it was impossible for the tanks to move off it. By the time the light started to fade at 17.00, therefore, the XXX Corps was still 9.25 miles (15 km) to the south of Eindhoven and halted at Valkenswaard. Thus the 'Market' operation was already behind schedule.
For the 1st Airborne Division, 18 September was to be a crucial day. With the arrival of the second lift, carrying Brigadier J. W. Hackett’s 4th Parachute Brigade, the division would no longer have to hold the area of the dropping and landing zones. Urquhart would therefore have immediately available to him two-thirds of his division with which to influence the situation as he believed best. At this crucial time, however, Urquhart was still trapped in Arnhem, and there was no one at divisional headquarters who knew whether he was dead or alive. Shortly before the arrival of the 4th Parachute Brigade, whose lift had suffered a four-hour delay as a result of adverse weather, Hicks had assumed command of the division in accordance with the wishes of Urquhart conveyed to Mackenzie. This decision was unknown to Hackett, who though younger than Hicks was the senior. The only news of the 1st Parachute Brigade reaching the divisional headquarters was of 2/Parachute via the regimental net of the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment.
The 2/Parachute had ambushed several truckloads of German infantry heading toward Arnhem bridge, and almost totally destroyed the 9th SS Panzeraufklärungsabteilung, which tried to rush the bridge as it returned from the south, and now lost 16 of its light armoured vehicles. But the pressure on Frost’s battalion was increasing from the east as the German committed larger numbers of tanks and self-propelled guns. The battalion’s losses were mounting and its supplies of ammunition dwindling.
In the course of the morning, Dobie switched his 1/Parachute from the northern route to that along the river bank in another attempt to reach the bridge. On learning of the delay imposed on the Second lift, Hicks ordered the 2/South Staffords, less the two of its companies which had not yet arrived, to reinforce the effort to get through to Frost.
The second lift for the I Airborne Corps comprised 1,360 troop-carrying aircraft and 1,203 gliders. That part of it directed toward the 1st Airborne Division began to arrive at 15.00 and was met by Flak fire and German fighter opposition. Hicks had decided that as soon as they could be assembled, the remainder of the 2/South Staffords and the 11/Parachute would be despatched in a further attempt to get through to the bridge. At Hackett’s request, the 7/KOSB replaced the 11/Parachute under command of the 4th Parachute Brigade, which made preparations for an attempt to take the high ground at Koepel, 1 mile (1.6 km) to the north-west of the outskirts of Arnhem, early on the following day.
Rumours that some 60 German tanks were moving toward Arnhem from the north were confirmed by the Dutch underground.
During 18 September, the XXX Corps advanced slowly in the face of considerable opposition, with the fighting for most of the day centred around Aalst. Faced with the loss of the bridge at Zon, the 101st Airborne Division attempted to take the similar bridge a short distance away at Best, but found its approach heavily blocked and eventually abandoned the effort. Other units continued moving south and eventually reached the northern end of Eindhoven. The rest of Eindhoven was taken by an outflanking movement, its bridges still intact, and by the fall of night the Americans had established control throughout the town. At about 12.00 the Americans were met by reconnaissance units of the XXX Corps. At 16.00 they made radio contact with the main force to the south and told them about the Zon bridge, requesting that a Bailey bridge be brought forward. The 101st Airborne Division’s capture of Eindhoven helped to improve the situation, and at about 21.00 the Guards Armoured Division reached the southern bank of the Wilhelmina Canal below Zon, and here the Bailey bridge was constructed during the night. The 101st Airborne Division was able to hold its ground, but was not able to capture Best, where the Germans had reinforced their defence. The XXX Corps soon arrived in Eindhoven, and by that night was halted to the south of Zon awaiting the Royal Engineers’ completion of the new bridge. Thus ended the second day, with the operation already 36 hours behind schedule and both primary bridges still in German hands.
The 82nd Airborne Division continued to control the vital high ground in the area to the south-east of Nijmegen by means of determined offensive action, which kept the Germans distinctly off balance. The division attacked along the Maas-Waal Canal, capturing the bridge on the main road linking Grave and Nijmegen road: while damaged, the bridge was basically intact. The Germans counterattacked vigorously from the Kranenburg and Reichswald forest areas. Even so, the 82nd Airborne Division was faced by the fact Grave was strongly held, and the German forces continued to press the division’s units deployed on the heights to the east of Nijmegen.
During the morning the Germans took one of the dropping zones outside Arnhem, which was to be used for the second lift scheduled to arrived at 13.00. Troops from the entire area, even as far as the town itself, rushed to the drop zone and by 15.00 it was back in British hands and luckily, as a result of the delay in England, the second lift did not arrive until 15.30.
When the second lift arrived, it was subjected to Flak fire, and despite the fact that there was fighting for the landing zones, the landings were successful. Time was running out, however, and in retrospect 19 September can be seen as the last chance for the Allies to snatching a decisive victory. At the Arnhem bridge, the 2/Parachute was still fighting with determination and success, but the pressure on the battalion and the casualties it was taking both continued to increase as German tanks and self-propelled guns began a systematic assault to destroy and set fire to the buildings from which the 2/Parachute was fighting. The battalion’s stubborn defence prevented the 10th SS Panzerdivision from using the bridge to reinforce the Germans holding the Nijmegen bridge, and so forced the German division to adopt the laborious process of ferrying its armoured vehicles across the river at a point upstream of Arnhem.
The lack of any ground/air communication now served not only to deprive the 1st Airborne Division of effective close air support, but also combined with lack of effective communication with the headquarters of the I Airborne Corps to make it impossible to alter the prearranged dropping zones for supply deliveries to conform with the shrinking divisional perimeter, and this was to have tragic results. While adverse weather and operational restrictions combined with communication failure deprived the 1st Airborne Division of close air support, good weather over the German airfields enabled ever increasing numbers of German fighters to attack the divisional area with cannon fire, machine gun fire and dropped weapons.
At about 07.30 Urquhart managed to extricate himself from Arnhem and return to divisional headquarters. From here he immediately sent the deputy commander of the 1st Airlanding Brigade, Colonel H. N. Barlow, to co-ordinate the action of the 2/South Staffords, 11/Parachute and any other available troops in another attempt to break through to the bridge. Barlow was never seen again. The 4th Parachute Brigade’s attack to take and hold Koepel failed. Pressure on the western side of the division’s perimeter was still increasing, and now threatened to isolate the 4th Parachute Brigade in the area to the north of the railway.
Urquhart therefore came to the conclusion that he had to pull back this brigade and use it to stabilise the eastern perimeter, approximately along the line of the branch of the railway which crossed the Nederrijn river, and then use this as the start line for yet another attempt to relieve Frost. The disengagement of the brigade in daylight resulted in many casualties and considerable confusion. At this time the gliderborne part of the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade landed in the face of heavy Flak fire, and was then caught in the cross-fire of the land battle.
The weather was again bad over England and the drop of the rest of the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade in a new area to the south of the river had to be postponed, as was the landing of the 82nd Airborne Division’s gliderborne regimental combat team in the area round Grave. The Flak fire was intense, and with the benefit of weather considerably better than that affecting the British airfields the Luftwaffe was able to despatch more than 425 sorties by Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters against the air escort alone.
Some 13 of the 163 aircraft taking part in the re-supply were lost, and 97 were damaged. Tragically for the men of the 1st Airborne Division, nearly all the 380 tons of ammunition and supplies dropped into German hands as it had been impossible to warn that the designated dropping zones were now in German hands.
At 08.30 the Guards Armoured Division started to cross the bridge at Grave, and at 17.00 a battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division and a battalion of the Grenadier Guards made an unsuccessful attack on the bridge at Nijmegen, while a battalion of the Coldstream Guards was sent to support the 82nd Airborne Division on the Reichswald forest front.
The adverse weather had deprived Urquhart of a fresh reserve, and deprived Gavin of his gliderborne regimental combat team, which would have enabled him to take the Nijmegen bridge without diverting the Guards Armoured Division from its primary task of linking with the 1st Airborne Division. In the 101st Airborne Division’s area a sharp German attack on Zon checked movement on the main axis for several hours.
On 20 September there were two notable events, in the form of the end of the 2/Parachute’s stand at Arnhem bridge, and the crossing of the Waal river at Nijmegen by the 504th Parachute Regimental Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division supported by the Guards Armoured Division: by holding back the 10th SS Panzer Division, the 2/Parachute made possible the feat of the 504th Parachute Regimental Combat Team possible.
At Arnhem bridge Frost was wounded and command devolved to Gough. The fighting was savage as ever larger numbers of houses were set on fire or reduced to rubble. The number of wounded men in the cellars multiplied, and they were in constant danger of being burned to death. The last attempt to break through with three Bren Gun Carriers filled with ammunition was defeated, and by 21 September all resistance had ceased. The rest of the 1st Airborne Division now consolidated on a reduced perimeter. By the evening the eastern side of the perimeter, nearest the river, was held by a mixed force of the 2/South Staffords and 11/Parachute, together with a number of the 1st Parachute Brigade’s men, under Major R. T. H. Lonsdale, second in command of the 11/Parachute, with positions in line with and between the forward guns of the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment. To the west the perimeter still included the ferry at Heveadorp. On the northern side the perimeter extended only 1,000 yards (915 m) beyond divisional headquarters. In the defensive battle which now followed, the men of the Glider Pilot Regiment played a notable part, for which they had been trained. It was standard practice for the glider pilots of each air-landing light battery to form a platoon for local protection. The 180 glider pilots who had flown in the air-landing light regiment formed four platoons commanded by Major R. Crout, who was killed, and remained under command of that regiment throughout.
Matters were going somewhat better for the 82nd Airborne Division, which found advanced units of the XXX Corps arriving during that morning. With the support of British tanks, the US airborne troopers were able to beat off the Germans in the area. Though his 82nd Airborne Division was under severe German pressure from the Reichswald forest area, Gavin believed that the Nijmegen bridge must be captured on this day regardless of cost and that this could be done only by capturing both ends of the road and rail bridges simultaneously. He therefore ordered Tucker’s 504th Parachute Regimental Combat Team to cross the wide Waal river in British assault boats covered by fire of artillery and tanks of the Irish Guards, and seize the northern end of the bridge. Tanks of the Grenadier Guards and a battalion of the 505th Parachute Regimental Combat Team stood ready to rush the bridge from the south. Major Julian Cook’s 3/504th Parachute Regimental Combat Team was allocated the task of leading the amphibious assault. This was undertaken in British assault boats with which the US paratroopers were totally unfamiliar and which, as a result of traffic congestion and a German bombing raid on Eindhoven, only arrived at the last moment. There were boats sufficient for only a two-company lift, and that without heavy weapons.
At 14.30 the German position on the northern bank was pounded by an air attack and at 14.40 by artillery and tank gun fire, and at 15.00 the first wave of boats, paddled by sappers and infantry using their rifle butts, started to cross the wide river about 1 mile (1.6 km) below the bridge and in the face of intense German fire. Beyond the farther bank lay 200 to 800 yards (185 to 730 m) of flat and open country terminating in a sloping dyke some 15 to 20 ft (4.6 to 6.1 m) high, which carried a road exposed to the view of a fortified building some 800 yards (730 m) beyond it.
Landing on the northern bank, the first wave of US paratroopers rushed the embankment, routing the Germans after fierce fight. The rest of the 3/504th Parachute Regimental Combat Team was then ferried across the river, cleared the ground beyond the embankment and, swinging right, rushed and secured first the north end of the railway and then of the road bridge. In the course of this action the 3/504th Parachute Regimental Combat Team suffered something in the order of 50% casualties. The Guards battalion then rushed the bridge from the south while Lieutenant A. Jones of the Royal Engineers braved intense fire to undertake the methodical cutting of the wires connecting the bridge demolition charges.
The last bridge before Arnhem had been taken intact just as that at Arnhem was about to fall into German hands. Even so, the higher command continued to act as if success was still possible, and plans were made to fly in supplies and possibly the 52nd Division, an air-portable formation, to an landing zone near Grave rather than at Deelen, to the north of Arnhem, as had been planned, and on the following day the 2nd Army limited the XXX Corps’ advance to Apeldoorn, about mid-way between Arnhem and the IJsselmeer. It is therefore abundantly clear that no realistic appreciation had been reached about the wholly precarious position of the 1st Airborne Division and the quite remarkable recovery made by the Germans. German pressure against both sides of the XX Corps’ corridor and against the 1st Airborne Division meanwhile continued to grow, with serious interference in the former’s traffic flow as increasing numbers of men and quantities of equipment belonging to von Zangen’s 15th Army were ferried across the Scheldt river.
Early on 21 September, Captain C. J. S. MacMillan established wireless communication from the headquarters of the 1st Airlanding Light Battery, near Oosterbeek church, with the 64th Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, and from this time on the 1st Airborne Division at last had a reliable line of communication the XXX Corps for both fire support and operational messages.
The weather at last allowed the aircraft carrying Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade Group to take off, which they did at 14.00 and headed for a dropping zone changed from a point to the south of Arnhem bridge to another to the south of the Heveadorp ferry. The 110 aircraft carrying the Polish brigade group encountered bad weather during their flight and were also attacked by German fighters with the loss of some aircraft. In all, 41 of the aircraft returned without dropping, 13 were missing, three landed at Brussels, and only 53 reached the dropping zone, discharging some 750 men from whom Sosabowski formed two weak battalions. It had been intended that the Poles should join the 1st Airborne Division via the ferry, but unfortunately the 7/KOSB was driven from the high ground commanding the ferry.
The 1st Airborne Division was coming under increasing pressure from small parties of Germans supported by self-propelled guns, while heavy mortar and gun fire took their toll within the shrinking perimeter. The British troops were running very short of all types of ammunition, and no supplies were being received. Yet the possibility that these factors might adversely affect morale was offset by very evident ability of the 64th Medium Regiment, with a battery of heavy guns under command, to bring down accurate and effective fire on infiltrators within the divisional perimeter. On occasion the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment deliberately called this fire down onto its own gun positions.
It was soon realised that the capture of the Nijmegen bridge had not opened the way for a swift dash to Arnhem by the Guards Armoured Division. The road ahead, through Elst, extended along the top of a causeway with steep banks, and on both sides, off the causeway, the country was not favourable to the use of armour. Horrocks therefore decided that the 43rd Division should take over the lead, but unfortunately it was not until the fall of night on 21 September that this division had arrived in strength in the Nijmegen area.
At first light on 22 September an armoured car squadron of the Household Cavalry crossed the Waal river and, moving to the north-west on secondary roads, got through to the Poles about Driel, and subsequently damaged a German steamer and sank three German barges on the Nederrijn river. At 08.30 Brigadier H. Essame’s 214th Brigade of the 43rd Division attacked along the main axis toward Elst, which was strongly held by units of the 10th SS Panzerdivision. Held up mid-way to Elst, the brigade attempted to pass a tank-mounted battalion to the west through Oosterhaut with DUKW amphibious trucks to ferry supplies and the Poles across the Rhine river. The force were held in Oosterhaut for six hours and reached Driel only in the evening.
Urquhart was convinced that the XXX Corps did not appreciate the precarious situation of his 1st Airborne Division, and therefore decided to send Mackenzie and Lieutenant Colonel E. C. M. Myers, commanding the Royal Engineers, across the river to report directly to the XXX Corps. These two officers were with the Poles at Driel when the 5/Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and one squadron of Dragoon Guards arrived. The DUKW trucks could not be launched and the only Poles to cross were some 50 who managed to get across the river that night on rafts.
Friday 22 September was a black day for the 1st Airborne Division. The weather once again prevented effective air support of the formation, which also received no supplies, and a strong German attack in the Veghel area cut the Allied line of communications. Brigadier G. F. Johnson’s 32nd Guards Brigade was sent to the south to support the 101st Airborne Division in restoring the situation, but the road remained closed for 24 hours.
On 23 September there was a break in the bad weather. Gliders carrying the remainder of the 101st Airborne Division’s 327th Glider Regimental Combat Team, and the 82nd Airborne Division’s much delayed 325th Glider Regimental Combat Team arrived as very welcome reinforcements. By the end of the day the 43rd Infantry Division had Brigadier B. B. Walton’s 130th Brigade established about Driel and the 214th Brigade fighting in Elst, but a plan for the 1st Airborne Division to regain control of the ferry had to be abandoned and the 5/DCLI was unable to cross the river and enlarge the bridgehead. By 24 September all intention of getting through to the bridge at Arnhem had been abandoned, but the 214th Brigade continued to clear Elst against strong opposition. The 130th Brigade ordered its 4/Dorsets to cross the river that night, and between 300 and 400 men managed to get across with great difficulty though they were carried downstream and landed well outside the 1st Airborne Division’s shrunken perimeter. Early on 25 September an observation post party of the he 43rd Division’s divisional artillery arrived in the area of the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment. The German pounding of the 1st Airborne Division continued, and the division was now completely out of food and very short of ammunition.
Horrocks remained determined and optimistic, but he was overridden by Dempsey, the 2nd Army’s commander, who with Browning’s support finally secured Montgomery’s permission to withdraw the 1st Airborne Division in ‘Berlin’ during the night of 25/26 September, which was D+8. The division’s withdrawal was covered by intensive artillery fire from the XXX Corps, and what was left of the division withdrew through the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment’s position near the Oosterbeek church: last to depart were the gunners after they had rendered their guns useless. Only 2,163 men of the 10,095 who had been committed to the battle got across, though some more managed to cross later.
For total casualties of some 13,000, including between 4,000 and 8,00 killed, the Germans had inflicted heavy losses on the Allies. The British lost 6,484 men killed (1,130 and 5,354 in ‘Market’ and ‘Garden’ respectively), 851 missing in action and 6,450 taken prisoner for an overall total of 13,785. The Americans lost 3,542 men killed and some 460 taken prisoner for an overall total of about 4,000 (including 1,670 dead, wounded and missing in the 82nd Airborne Division, and 2,075 dead, wounded and missing in the 101st Airborne Division). The Poles lost some 378 men killed and 33 taken prisoner for an overall total of 411. A number of Dutch persons were also killed, this including several officers and men in British service as well as resistance fighters and civilians.
The twin ‘Market’ and ‘Garden’ operations remain two of the most hotly debated undertakings of World War II. British historians tend to overlook the US Army’s contribution, while US historians tend to lambaste Montgomery’s generalship. Right to his death, Eisenhower believed that ‘Market’ and ‘Garden’ represented a campaign which was worth waging. One problem with the plan was certainly that the entire operation required the bridges over the Waal and Nederrijn to be captured and held. Had the Nijmegen bridge been destroyed or remained in German hands, the British would have been cut off with no hope at all of relief. Even with Nijmegen successfully taken, things would be little better if Arnhem bridge fell, as it would demand an assault crossing of the Nederrijn rover to relieve the airborne force, and there was no planning to allow for this very possible eventuality.
Moreover, little thought seems to have gone into the terrain along which the armoured relief column of ‘Market’ was intended to advance: for much of its length the road was a single-track raised trackway, liable to ambush and ensuing congestion. Given this, it is surprising in retrospect that the plans placed so little emphasis on capturing the important bridges immediately with forces dropped right on them. In the case of Veghel and Grave, where this was done, the bridges were taken with only a few shots fired. There seems little reason to suspect the same would not have been true of Arnhem and Nijmegen, but with the troops over an hour’s march away, or told to do other things, there was little hope of their success.
Just as baffling are the actions of the XXX Corps toward the end of the operation. Although Frost’s force was in all probability doomed by this time, the bridge at Arnhem was not the only available crossing. In fact, had the planners of ‘Market’ and ‘Garden’ realised that there was a ferry at Driel, Frost’s paratroops might well have been used to secure that instead of the Arnhem bridge, making a profound difference in the campaign. At a minimum, had it pushed to the north, the XXX Corps would have arrived at the southern end of the bridge and secured it if the Guards Armoured Division had sent more than five Sherman tanks across the bridge and had they not been later stopped by the German position at Ressen, leaving the way open for another crossing to the north at another point. There was the smaller possibility of arriving with Frost’s force intact. This was seen as a lack of determination and at the time led to a measure of bitterness among men f both the British 1st Airborne Division and US 82nd Airborne Division. As it was, the XXX Corps did not resume its drive to Arnhem during that night, but only 18 hours later.
Horrocks in fact requested another course of action. About 15.5 miles (25 km) to the west of the action at Rhenen was another bridge, similar to that at Arnhem, which he predicted was undefended as a result of the direction of all local German efforts against the British airborne forces holding Oosterbeek. This was in fact the case, but the XXX Corps was not authorised to take the bridge: if it had, it is almost certain it would have crossed unopposed into the rear of the German positions. By this time, though, it seems that Montgomery was more concerned with the ongoing German assaults on the lengthy ‘tail’ of ‘Market’ stretching way to the south.
The Allied forces involved in ‘Garden’ and ‘Market’ in fact faced some formidable German commanders in the persons of Model, Bittrich and Student.
Deeds of great courage were performed on each side, but ultimately the sacrifices were for nought: the Allies were further delayed in their race to Berlin; Germany’s reserves in north-western European were essentially wiped out; and the Dutch civilians along the briefly liberated corridor found themselves under German rule once more.
Moreover, despite the heroism, bad choices were made throughout and opportunities were ignored. The commander of the Glider Pilot Regiment had asked for a small gliderborne force to make an assault landing on the southern side of the bridge at Arnhem and quickly seize the bridge, but had been denied. Major General E. Hakewill-Smith, commanding the British 52nd Division, a formation whose men were slated to fly into a captured airfield, pleaded with his superiors to allow a force to deliver a brigade in gliders to assist the trapped 1st Airborne Division, but was denied: this was probably the right decision as gliderborne landings on undefended landing zones under the eyes of an alert foe could have resulted in catastrophe. There was another airfield near Grave on which the division could have been landed, and indeed the 1st Light Anti-Tank Battery was on 26 September. Sosabowski, the Polish commander, was prepared to be dropped dangerously in the fog which delayed the drop of his brigade, but was also refused.
Perhaps most importantly, the Dutch resistance was ignored by the forces at Arnhem. There was a very good reason for this, in that the UK’s agent network in the Netherlands had been thoroughly compromised in 'Nordpol' (otherwise the 'Englandspiel'), as discovered only in April 1944. Perhaps assuming that the Dutch resistance would be similarly penetrated, British intelligence took pains to minimise all civilian contact. As things turned out, the simple knowledge of the Driel ferry or of the resistance’s secret telephone network could have changed the outcome of the operation, much the more as the Allied radio equipment was malfunctioning and the British therefore had to rely on messengers.
The latter was very important: it would have given the XXX Corps and 1st Airborne Army knowledge about the dire situation that had enveloped Frost and Urquhart at Arnhem. In overall terms, though, Browning was probably right were he opined before the operation that ‘we might be going a bridge too far’.
So ended ‘Market’, and with it the dream of ending the war in 1944. The inter-related ‘Market’ and ‘Garden’ plans were rife with organisational weaknesses, many of them resulting from the haste with which this complicated inter-Allied and inter-service operation had to be created and implemented. Thus the operations were adversely impacted by the inadequacy of the signals equipment for the tasks required of it; the unexpectedly bad weather; the rapidity with which German commanders at all levels were able to reorganise and instil renewed fighting spirit into what had seemed to be defeated and demoralised men; and the effects of this recovery on a plan which depended for success on a rapid advance of more than 60 miles (100 km) along a narrow corridor and across major water obstacles.
That which matters most in fighting capability, especially with regard to infantry, is the ability of a unit to maintain cohesion under seemingly intolerable pressure. Cohesion is the result of many factors including pride in unit, previous success in battle, capable leadership, good training and discipline. The units of the 1st Parachute Brigade had enjoyed great success in North Africa and Sicily, but by the time of ‘Market’ had also received many casualty replacements, but even so, their reputation and the realistic training which sprang from their combat experience stood them in good stead. On the other hand, the 7/KOSB had no previous battle experience, but nonetheless fought remarkably well under most difficult circumstances.
One of the strangest aspects of the 1st Airborne Division’s battle was that only the 525 men who comprised the 2/Parachute, out of more than 10,000 men of the 1st Airborne Division, reached their objective. In judging the performance of other units the difficulty of the task and the fact that they included many young and inexperienced soldiers must be taken into account: no aspect of combat exerts a greater strain on unit cohesion than offensive action in an urban environment against a determined opponent. Urban fighting requires special training, and none of the units trying to fight their way through to the Arnhem bridge had had any such training, and the 2/Parachute managed to get through to its objective with skill and before the German resistance had hardened. Moreover, the Dutch habit of putting high and strong steel-mesh fences around their gardens provided an additional difficulty, and the prevalence of cellars was a ubiquitous temptation in situations of danger.