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Operation Market Garden Reconsidered

By Lloyd Clark
8/17/2007 • World War II

I first read about Operation Market Garden as a nine-year-old school-boy in England and was immedi-ately entranced by the remarkable airborne effort to liberate the Netherlands in September 1944 and hasten the end of the war. I gulped down books on the subject, demanded that my parents take me to see Richard Attenborough’s film A Bridge Too Far, and asked for the soundtrack for my birthday. It wasn’t just the images of vast air armadas droning through the morning sky, or the scenes of tenacious airborne forces deep behind enemy lines awaiting relief by advancing ground forces; I was in awe of the operation’s ambition and its massive scale.

And because everything I had been told was summed up by the words of the author who described the operation as “an unmitigated disaster both absolute and terrible,” I also wanted to understand why Market Garden had failed. I lapped up the conclusion of British military historian Ronald Lewin: “Naked courage lacked the bodyguard of competent planning, competent intelligence, competent technology,” and then went on to offer this searing indictment: “War’s objective is victory, not only the Victoria Cross, and it was shameful that by the autumn of 1944 we could still be so amateur.” This was the conventional wisdom and, I, too, became a fervent detractor of Market Garden.

But as I went on to become a serious student of military history and learned to be more critical, to understand strategy and its relation to the operational level, to work ever more closely with the military and to explore the old battlefield itself, I found myself questioning some of the more glib criticisms made of the operation. Although I am criticisms made of the operation. Although I am well aware of the numerous errors made in all of the operation’s phases, I have become a defender of Market Garden. It was a bold but justifiable gamble made in a heady atmosphere in which a quick end to the war with Germany seemed tantalizingly possible. And even in its undeniable failure it reaped tangible but largely unrecognized successes, weakening the German forces in Holland at a time when they could ill afford major combat losses and paving the way for the ultimately successful invasion of western Germany.

It is ludicrous—and disrespectful—to believe that Allied commanders in the autumn of 1944 needed to be reminded that “war’s objective is victory, not only the Victoria Cross.” Operation Market Garden did not take place in the strategic vacuum such words imply, for Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s scheme had to fit into the grand design dictated by his boss, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force. Indeed, Ike approved Market Garden because he believed it held great strategic merit and had the potential to solve several problems the Allies had created for themselves owing to the speed of their advance after the Battle of Normandy.

During the last week in August, German forces in the west were disintegrating, and the Allied armored spearheads streamed eastward. “We raced along,” Capt. Robert Boscawen of the Coldstream Guards tank troop noted in his diary on August 31. “We charged down all the hills at a tremendous speed.…In front the Grenadiers had practically no opposition except shooting up an occasional convoy.…A wonderful day. We had advanced nearly sixty miles.”

After the grind of Normandy, this bracing progress engendered a rush of optimism. The Combined Allied Intelligence Committee in London believed that “organized resistance under the control of the German High Command is unlikely to continue beyond 1 December 1944.” But with supply lines for the advancing Allied troops now stretching 350 miles back to Normandy, neither the rate of advance nor the unbounded ­confidence could last. A great military opportunity remained for the Allies to exploit, but there was sharp disagreement over just how to do it.

The strategic debate centered on the views proffered by the ever-patient and politically astute Eisenhower against those of the arrogant and battle-experienced Montgomery, commander of the British 21st Army Group. Ike was committed to his “broad front” strategy: a slow but sure way of advancing his ground forces in a coordinated manner to put the enemy under constant pressure over a wide area. Monty, however, did not rate this strategy—or Eisenhower—very highly: “His ignorance as to how to run the war is absolute and complete.” Monty argued fiercely for a concentrated “narrow front”; one that, needless to say, would be under his own command. The massing of divisions together, he argued, would create a force “which would be so strong that it need fear nothing” and would successfully “secure bridgeheads over the Rhine before winter began and seize the Ruhr quickly.” Beyond the Ruhr—Germany’s industrial heartland—Montgomery’s eyes were firmly set on Berlin.

Montgomery frequently articulated these aims to Eisenhower during the late summer, and his vehemence only increased as the Allied offensive ground to a halt in the days after the liberation of Brussels on September 3. The British general believed fervently that Allied strategy was becoming “unstitched” and had no doubt that a narrow front would stitch it back together. After Eisenhower rejected his suggestion for a reorientation in strategy several times, Montgomery decided to subtly change his tack. As a prelude to something grander, he offered the supreme commander a plan likely to be looked on with favor. Knowing that his boss wanted to test his “sky soldiers” and was eyeing the last great obstacle protecting the heart of Germany, he proposed an airborne operation behind German lines in Holland to capture a crossing over the Rhine.

Ike gave this operation, codenamed Market Garden, his approval on September 10 but was careful to point out that he was not agreeing to a narrow front, merely a temporary boost to the left wing of his broad front. If it worked, he thought, the Allies would have gained an extremely valuable crossing over the Rhine. But if it failed, then at least Montgomery would have been able to put his preferred strategy to the test. The First Allied Airborne Army, the new and only Allied strategic reserve, would have been tested as well, and the Germans further weakened. Indeed, Eisenhower later said, “I not only approved Market Garden, I insisted upon it.”

Montgomery confirmed that the operation would take place on September 17. The short lead time was necessary in order to take advantage of the German disorganization the rapid Allied advance had created. Reports from the front were acknowledging increasing enemy resistance, however, so there was precious little time for planning such a complex undertaking.

Market Garden’s main aim was to seize a Rhine crossing at the Dutch city of Arnhem and open a gateway to the Ruhr by outflanking the German Siegfried Line. The spearhead of the British Second Army, Lt. Gen. Brian Horrocks’s XXX Corps, would accomplish this by pushing up a narrow road to Arnhem, supported by a corps on either flank. The First Allied Airborne Army—under the command of the tenacious American lieutenant general Lewis H. Brereton, a pilot in World War I—was to provide three and a half divisions. It was to be the largest airborne operation ever mounted.

These 35,000 men from three nations would be commanded by Brereton’s British deputy, Lt. Gen. Frederick “Boy” Browning. Maj. Gen. Maxwell Taylor’s 101st Airborne Division would be dropped north of Eindhoven; Maj. Gen. Jim Gavin’s 82nd Airborne Division would be inserted south of Nijmegen; and Maj. Gen. Roy Urquhart’s British 1st Airborne Division, along with Maj. Gen. Stanislaw Sosabowski’s 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade, were to land around Arnhem.

“I told my staff that General Eisenhower wants the airborne army used in mass,” Brereton later said. “He believes that if it is used that way the effect on morale of the Germans would be devastating.” But that vision proved impossible to fulfill. Although fifteen hundred transports and five hundred tug-glider combinations were available, that was less than half the number required to move all the troops in one operation. Maj. Gen. Paul Williams, head of the American IX Troop Carrier Command, quickly determined that the airborne divisions would have to be inserted in three lifts spread over three days.

This decision had massive ramifications for Browning’s lightly armed troops because it meant it would dilute the attacking forces, a situation exacerbated by the need for some of the first arriving troops to defend the drop zones and landing zones for subsequent lifts. To make matters worse, with so much air traffic rumbling over the battlefield on both resupply missions and ongoing airlifts, no ground-attack missions could be flown during these times for fear of aerial collision. Williams also vetoed any drop zones or landing zones that he believed would put his aircraft in “unnecessary” danger of being engaged by enemy antiaircraft fire. This led, in the worst case, to the British 1st Airborne Division’s being forced to land between six and eight miles from its main objective.

The unintended net result of the air plan, therefore, was the destruction of the primary advantage of speed and surprise an airborne operation offered, while giving the Germans and the weather greater opportunity to undermine it. (Indeed, the situation would worsen two days into the operation, when inclement weather spread the airlifts from three days to five.)

“They used to make a beautiful airborne plan,” Brigadier John “Shan” Hackett, commander of the British 4th Parachute Brigade, sardonically observed after the war, “and then add the fighting-the-Germans bit afterwards.”

Browning’s divisional commanders had concerns about the plan from the outset. But they recognized that airborne warfare was inherently risky and felt confident their superiors would not let them down. Even so, they could not help ruminating on the potential for a strong German reaction to the landings. The bridge at Arnhem spanned what was to Germany a psychological as well as a physical barrier—the Rhine. Sosabowski in particular feared a flexible, speedy, and strong response, saying, “The British are not only grossly underestimating German strength in the Arnhem area, but they seem ignorant of the significance Arnhem has for the Fatherland.”

The mission planners consistently put the best possible interpretation on disturbing intelligence coming from both the Dutch underground and Ultra decrypts of German communications. When Maj. Brian Urquhart, chief intelligence officer at Browning’s headquarters, presented photographic evidence of enemy armor in the Arnhem area, Browning reassured Urquhart that he “should not worry unduly, that the reports were probably wrong, and that in any case the Germans troops were refitting and not up to much fighting.”

Even so, divisional commanders were aware of the quantity of German troops and armored vehicles they were likely to face on landing, contrary to conventional historical views. But they were not told vital details about the quality of those troops, nor were they told to expect their rapid reinforcement. Maj. Gen. Roy Urquhart, for example, was accurately told that in his sector it was unlikely that “any [enemy] mobile force larger than a brigade group with very few tanks and guns could be concentrated against the airborne troops before relief by the ground forces.” But because he was not entitled to receive detailed Ultra intelligence, he was not told what his superiors did know: that a significant part of this force was from Lt. Gen. Willi Bittrich’s professional and experienced II SS Panzer Corps.

Obviously the planners did not pay sufficient respect to the enemy; this was what made men like Sosabowski and Urquhart question the wisdom of the operation. Yet, with heavy hitters such as Churchill, Gen. George C. Marshall (the U.S. Army chief of staff), Eisenhower, Montgomery, Brereton, and Browning all behind Market Garden, it attained unstoppable momentum.

In fact, the Germans were increasingly capable of undermining the Allied plan. One reason for this was the presence of so many extremely able senior commanders in and around the Market Garden area. These included Field Marshal Walther Model, commander of Army Group B, who had recently sited his headquarters in Oosterbeek alongside one of the British 1st Airborne Division’s intended routes to Arnhem. Model had helped to create growing order out of the chaos of early September and was in the process of reinforcing his front. One of his new formations was the First Parachute Army, commanded by the skillful Gen. Kurt Student, which had its headquarters just off the main Eindhoven–Nijmegen highway. Bittrich’s panzer corps was located just twenty-five miles from Arnhem. All three men had developed contingency plans for an Allied attack and ensured that they could counter quickly.

The Allied operation began the morning of September 17, with spectacularly successful daylight insertions of the airborne troops accurately hitting their drop zones and landing zones that afternoon.

Yet their very success actually assisted the German response from the start. Because the troops weren’t scattered, the Germans could easily pinpoint where they had hit the ground and make a quick deduction of the likely objectives of the Allied operation. Troops from some SS units that were about to board a train back to Germany for reorganization were summarily stopped and turned around.

“Now we immediately received weapons,” SS Cpl. Paul Müller remembers. “Everyone got a rifle and ninety rounds of ammunition which was stuffed into our pockets or haversacks, because we no longer had our ammunition pouches, steel helmets, or entrenching tools.”

Meanwhile, local field commanders did what they could to stall the Allied airborne forces. SS Maj. Sepp Krafft sent his under-strength SS Panzer Grenadier Training and Reserve Battalion, which had been exercising in the woods near the British drop and landing zones, to immediately block routes into Arnhem. One of the British units they stopped was the reconnaissance squadron, which had sped off by jeep to capture the bridge at Arnhem ahead of the rest of the 1st Parachute Brigade, approaching on foot.

Trooper Arthur Barlow recalled what happened when his vehicle came under German machine gun fire: “[We] ran to the road verge on the right hand side of the jeep.…The heavy machine gun fire continued. Minns, being more exposed, had his hip shattered and other wounds, and lay in the road bleeding profusely, calling for help. Thomas was hit in the foot, whilst Hasler was hit in both legs and unable to move.…[McGregor] raised himself up on his hands to have a look around and died immediately, falling flat on his face without making a sound, killed by a burst of machine-gun fire in the face and chest.”

The success of Krafft’s defensive enterprise meant that only a small force of 720 airborne soldiers managed to get through to Arnhem bridge (see related story,“They Stood to Their Guns,” p. 62). Urquhart’s prospects never recovered from this early blow, and the majority of his division eventually became isolated and surrounded miles from the bridge.

One of the most obvious weaknesses in the Market Garden plan was XXX Corps’s reliance on a single road—“Hell’s Highway,” as the American 101st Airborne Division called it. Indeed, Maj. Freddie Hennessy, the operations officer of the Guards Armoured Division, which was in the vanguard of the push up the road, compared advancing sixty-four miles on a narrow highway over several major water crossings to “threading seven needles with one piece of cotton, and we only have to miss one to be in trouble.”

Numerous ad hoc German battle groups immediately saw the advantage in severing this crucial artery and converged on it in attempts to destroy its bridges. “German machine gun and rifle fire cut through us,” recalled Donald R. Burgett of the American Company A, 1st Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, which took part in the storming of the Wilhelmina Canal crossing at Son soon after landing. “Several men were hit but we continued on. We covered the ground quickly. Just a few yards to go and the bridge would be ours.…I was staring at the bridge when it suddenly erupted in a flash of flame and black smoke. The air was shattered by one hell of an explosion and the shock scattered those of us who were close to it like rag dolls.”

XXX Corps had found it difficult to gain any momentum from the outset, and the destruction of the bridge at Son slowed them even further. German pressure on the highway increased as the days passed, undeterred by the British flanking corps, which was struggling to make progress. As one American rifleman from the 101st Airborne who had been wounded trying to keep the corridor open wrote to his parents: “Our combat experience started out very easy, but got worse and worse as it went along, until finally on the day I was hit, the Germans counterattacked with vicious artillery support and raised six kinds of hell with us. I was wounded just in time to escape the worst of it.”

These attacks stretched the airborne forces dangerously thin at times but they failed to permanently cut the highway. “Apparently the enemy had insufficient troops to force a decisive action,” Capt. Robert H. Evans, a company commander in the 327th Glider Infantry, later wrote. “With many small forces, he hit the corridor at several points almost simultaneously. If an action was not almost immediately successful, the units were withdrawn to strike again at another point.” This gave the airborne troops some respite, and XXX Corps staggered on toward Arnhem. British armor eventually crossed the Wilhelmina Canal on the morning of September 19 after a Bailey bridge had been constructed, only to find that the American 82nd Airborne Division had been unable at the same time as intended to seize the road and railroad bridges at the town of Nijmegen from men of the 10th SS Panzer Division.

The 82nd Airborne had been asked to achieve too much with too little. Its commander, General Gavin, had wanted to storm across the wide Waal River in strength on the opening day, but with other objectives pressing, his one “spare” battalion instead conducted the abortive attack. “I was deeply troubled by the possibility of failing to accomplish some of my objectives,” Gavin later admitted. “The perimeter of our endeavors would extend beyond twenty-five miles with the likelihood of major battles being fought at several different points simultaneously.”

On the afternoon of the next day, September 20, the 3rd Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment finally stormed across the Waal and seized the Nijmegen bridges. It was a perilous endeavor. As the Guards Armoured Division aimed a barrage of artillery and mortar fire against the Waal’s opposite shore, twenty-six heavily laden small boats took to the river. “German small-arms fire began to intercept the fragile flotilla,” Gavin recalled. “Never having rowed together, the troopers sometimes worked against each other, and the boats were spinning in the river. The German firing steadily increased, heavy artillery fire joining the machine-gun and mortar-fire.…There were many individual acts of courage, many casualties.”

The Anglo-American forces’ success that afternoon concluded with the tanks of the Grenadier Guards rolling across the road bridge. However, with night falling, unreconnoitered ground ahead, and a serious lack of fuel and ammunition, the armor was forced to halt—just eight miles from the Lower Rhine. The attack was resumed at dawn, but for the dwindling band of British airborne troops at Arnhem bridge who had gallantly been holding on since September 17, it was too late: within a few hours, German forces overran them.

The remainder of the British 1st Airborne Division continued to fight from slit trenches and burning buildings outside Arnhem. Here the battle was not only ferocious but often at close quarters. “We heard a great deal of shouting and prepared ourselves for yet another attempt by the enemy to dislodge us from our house,” Staff Sgt. Les Frater said of one German attack. “Over they came, screaming and yelling, and this time they made it to the house. I could see them through the iron grille on the front door and fired up the hallway at point-blank range, working the bolt of my rifle as fast as I could, dodging back behind the wall to reload hastily, and then firing again.”

Although there were attempts to reinforce the division with units from the Polish Brigade and XXX Corps, they largely failed. Thus, high on casualties and low on everything required to sustain themselves, some four thousand British and Polish troops were evacuated across the Lower Rhine the night of September 25–26. Market Garden had come to an end.

There is no doubt that Operation Market Garden failed. No matter how close XXX Corps got to Arnhem, the British Second Army did not cross its bridge over the Rhine, and the war in Europe continued into 1945. There were some remarkably courageous acts by units and individuals: indeed, five Victoria Crosses and two Medals of Honor were later awarded. But many argued then and since that all that courage was in vain. When one equates the ground taken (a vulnerable finger pointing toward the Lower Rhine) to the cost (nearly eleven thousand airborne casualties and more than five thousand ground casualties), the outcome of Market Garden looks abject.

“Through inappropriate risk-taking, underestimation of the enemy, the neglect of unpalatable information and a failure of technology,” British author Norman Dixon wrote, “military decisions by able brains, at high levels of command, brought down misery and chaos.”

Such words raise the question of whether the operation should ever have been mounted. But the majority of the military hierarchy, as well as the airborne troops themselves, were willing and ready to take bold operational risks. With the Germans in retreat, September 1944 was just the time for a daring operation to bring down the final curtain. Gavin, for one, later reflected, “We knew that the risks were great, but we believed that the battle we were about to fight would lead to the battle that would bring the war to an end.” The British prime minister went further in the immediate aftermath of the operation: “The battle was a decided victory.…I have not been afflicted by any feelings of disappointment over this and am glad our commanders are capable of running this kind of risk.”

Churchill’s thoughts would be less cogent if the potential gains that a successful Market Garden offered had not been so great and the operation had not come so close to succeeding. Delays notwithstanding, XXX Corps was within just a few hours of linking up with the small airborne force holding out at Arnhem bridge. With a little more luck—better weather for example—the operation could have worked despite its planning weaknesses. In other words, the risk became “inappropriate” only in hindsight because Market Garden failed. However, neither Montgomery—who suggested that the operation was “90 per cent successful”—nor the British Official History viewed the operation as a disaster. The latter argued, “Operation Market Garden accomplished much of what it had been designed to accomplish. Nevertheless, by the merciless logic of war, Market Garden was a failure.”

Although these two sources are not without obvious bias, the venture did yield some tangible gains: the Germans, already severely weakened by the Soviets pushing in from the east, were in no position to absorb the eight thousand casualties and equipment losses they suffered as a result of the operation. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, the German commander in chief West, was prevented from using his forces to strengthen the defenses of their homeland against the Allies. Furthermore, the Germans never reclaimed the proportion of the Netherlands liberated up to the Waal, and that area subsequently became the springboard from which the final western offensive into Germany was launched.

Unfortunately, while Market Garden was a sensibly conceived scheme, the plan was ultimately flawed in too many ways. Warfare is an unforgiving business where mistakes can be cruelly punished; airborne warfare is particularly vulnerable to failure. Nevertheless, it is worth remembering the words of one veteran, Len Wright, who fought at Arnhem bridge: “We wanted and needed Market Garden in 1944. We knew that there were risks and were willing to take them. Now I know that there were more risks than we were told about back then—but we would have taken them nonetheless.”

This article was written by Lloyd Clark and originally published in the October 2007 issue of World War II Magazine. For more great articles, subscribe to World War II magazine today!

35 Responses to Operation Market Garden Reconsidered

  1. Cliff Spicer says:

    Sir, To say that Market Garden had positive results would be like blaming gravity for all the plane crashes in history. Or to say that Stalins cannon fodder POW’s were effective against the Wermacht. NOT Useless use of combat infantrymen.

  2. Tracy Wichmann says:

    The requirment for a harbor to support the massive flow of supplies needed for a march into Germany probably seduced Eisenhower into accepting Montgomery’s plan. When first formulated the plan was probably good but anybody with good judgement would not permit a massive air drop without a rehersal where glitches like incompatable radios could be discovered. As time passed the reconnaisance showed larger German forces than anticipated, including armor. Only a fool general does not believe his own intelligence. Montgomery was so enchanted with the idea of command of such a large force he quickly dismissed this intelligence.

    I also think that Gavin should have been believed. It is better to take higher casualaties and drop nearer to the objective bridges. This is particualrly compelling considering that only one third of the parachute force could be deployed at a time.

    That it was a defeat is clear when one observes that it was indeed a German victory because they were able to delay the use of the Harbor for many valuable months.

  3. Wayne Gilliland says:

    ?There were so many blatant problems with this operation the allies faced before
    the first Airborne troupe jumped out of an airplane that someone in charge of the
    various sections should have raised a red flag. Everyone in command was
    convinced that the Germans were done, that they chose to ignore the fact that the
    Germany Army still had more than two million me in uniform, their armor was still
    superior, and their best Commands were in charge of the western front.
    They had several mid and junior ranked officers not just tell them, but at
    times yelling, “Hey Look at This!”, but they were ignored. Montgomery never
    would admit that he was wrong about anything. Most of his subordinates were
    too eager to agree with him.
    Of all the generals in Europe at that time only Patton objected, but he, as
    so often, was ignored and told that Montgomery had priority.
    From day one, there were not enough support aircraft. Although with
    enough time and coordination with other western operation, these assets could
    have been attained. The path chosen was without room to maneuver tanks and
    troupes the size of this operation. No one could communicate within their
    command nor with other commands, including their Headquarters! Since they
    could not communicate with air support, they’re resupply was not going to
    All of the troupes performed their duties without fault. The FAILURE of
    Market-Garden rest squarely on the shoulders of Command.

    • N. Kingsley Ormsby says:

      Placing perhaps too fine a point on Mr. Gilliland’s cogent commentary, above, the abject failure of Market-Garden rests on the shoulders of Eisenhower. It is one of the profound and tragic ironies of the War in Europe to understand it was Patton and many of his Third Army subordinates, having cut their teeth as old horse soldiers some two decades earlier, who best understood and exploited how tanks and an army-on-the-move could end the War in 1944, and with a minimum of casualities. Patton, denied the resources and command support enjoyed and squandered by Montgomery, had already created and exploited opportunities the planners of Market-Garden sought to create out of whole cloth. It was Patton, as a result of Third Army’s dash across Southern France, who was poised in August 1944 to achieve what an ill-conceived Market-Garden did not and indeed, by any objective pre-operational measure, could not– thrust into Germany and end the war in 1944.

      The likes of Lloyd Clark may chose to dismiss such analysis as “conventional thinking”, but one is only left to conclude, “conventional” or not, the idea of giving resources to the commander in the field best poised to exploit opportunity at least a product of “thinking”, as opposed to idle revisionism unsupported by a contemporary assessment of the facts on-the-ground then-existing. At its best, Market-Garden a gamble, whereas Third Army, by dent of performance alone, the prudent instrument to achieve the stated Allied global objective– unconditional German surrender, and sooner as opposed to even an hour later. Patton himself observed in August 1944 as Third Army began its final thrust before running out of fuel with the German army collapsing in front of it, “it is such a sure thing that I fear someone will stop it”. That “someone” would be Ike and the “something” helping to suck Third Army resource-dry would be Market-Garden.

      • Kevin Dahlen says:

        Your point is exactly correct. It was indeed Eisenhower whom agreed to Montgomery’s arrogant plan. Eisenhower made many mistakes regarding Patton; taking his command away for slapping a soldier and single handedly causing the nightmare at Monte-casino because of it. Patton would have taken-care at Monte-casino like what was expected, instead it was poorly commanded and the allies were left fumblng costing tens-of-thousands of lives. Eisenhower should have been a pitbull running the war, instead he was too busy reading his own headlines.

  4. Terry M says:

    Montgomery told Eisenhower he could do it in the allotted time. Since when did Montgomery EVER hurry. The British stopped for tea! Their infanty advanced in skirmish lines at walking speed! The tanks kept to the main road, ignoring the shoulders…there was enough for 3-vehicles across, but they were afraid the shoulders where mined….a jeep carrying some correspondents were driving on the shoulder overtaking the traffic…no mines anywhere. At the end of the day, they shut down…no patrols sent out to see up the road.
    Meanwhile, Montgomery was miles back, not issuing orders, but getting ready for the Rhine crossings.

  5. Jim C says:

    The overall responsibility for the failure of Market Garden falls on Montgomery. His lack of detailed planing and active leadership allowed others to make poor decisions to cause the failure of this operation.
    These included:
    Allowing the drop zones in Arnhem to be placed so far from the town. Ignoring the reorts of armor in the Arnhem area. Allowing Brereton to make the dicision to have only one drop on day one (he thought it would be too taxing on the fly boys to make two drops the first day) all contributed the the failure of the operation. Montgomery had a great idea, but failed to follow though as a leader.

  6. Charles Dishno says:

    Good for you, Terry & Jim!
    I never thought Montgomery was worth much except to brew tea. It is good for history to point out what a dud he reallly was.

  7. Jeff Williamson says:

    In my opinion Market Garden failed for a multitude of reasons, The operation seemed to be based upon the assumption that the Germans were incapable of fighting back. Critics in the book a Bridge Too Far pointed out several flaws with the plan, including Paratroops were dropped too far from the bridges to have the element of surprise. At Arnhem one British officer had volunteered to land a glider force on the south bank of the Rhine (similar to Pegusus Bridge in Normandy). At Arnhem the British failed to make use of the ferry that crossed the Rhine at Osterbrook and refused to accept the help of the Dutch underground.

    Before Market Garden the allies had allowed several thousand German troops trapped West of Antwerp to escape and reinforce the troops available to oppose initial British drive to Eindhoven. The Dutch also discussed how they had war gamed attacking along the highway between Nimagen and Arnhem with the British and how difficult this was. The British had made up their minds already, the Dutch underground also warned the British that the German Tank Units were in the Arnhem area, all of this crucial information was ignored and dismissed.

    The performance of the Allied Airborne Forces was beyond heroic, they were unable to overcome the fatal flaws and assumptions made by the military leaders who proposed Market Garden.

  8. Cole Stone says:

    I wonder what veterans of the operation have to say about the performance of their superior officers. I worked with a man from the 82nd and he refused to talk about it. He would only say that they used us as canon fodder for someone’s pipe dream.

  9. J Kenneday says:

    Market Garden , if succesful, could have been a serious blow to the Germans. But to be succesful it needed so much to go right that taken overall it was bound that something would go wrong and make a mess of it.

    Viewing things in retrospect is always easy, its much harder to be on the spot and make these live and death decisions.

  10. Gerald Upton says:

    Of course the British XXX Corps tankers stopped for tea. The attitude of any large organization is always set by the leaders at the top, and when did Monty every do anything in a hurry.

    Personally I think the resources squandered here would have been better used to secure the approaches to Antwerp. They were almost completely unguarded at the time, and Antwerp – the second largest port in Europe – had been captured almost intact at the time. It wasn’t until Monty decided to give his troops a 7-week rest after Market-Garden that the Wehrmacht managed to filter troops back into the approaches to the port, on Hitler’s orders. Obviously in a strategic sense, Hitler had more sense than Montgomery or Eisenhower.

  11. Zack Taylor says:

    The many colors are distracting, so hintedy hint hint…

  12. Geoff Brown says:

    This is the first time I have ever commented on a website like this one, so bear with me. I became interested in Market Garden after the release of the 1986 (or so) computer game on the subject, and had the opportunity of visiting Arnhem as a tourist in 2000. It is a sobering experience – especially having served as an infantryman myself – to stand where the British recce squadron jeeps were ambushed on the first day, to walk through the railway tunnel that 10Para got all their jeeps and anti tank guns through – all I did was hit my head on the roof and swear. It is also sobering to stand in the middle of the park where four British batallions were virtually annihlated on tuesday 19th September, 1944 and see just how close the last attempts to break through to the Bridge too far held by 2Para, or to stand at Oosterbeck
    and look over the Rhine to Driel, and see just how close XXX Corps came to breaking through.

    Having said that there were other reasons for the failure of the operation besides General Montgomery. These are summed up in three books i would regard as essential reading for anyone interested in Market garden.

    ‘The failure of Browning togive the 82nd U.S. Airborne division a greater priority in capturing the bridge at Nijmegen. This comes only just behing the weakness of the airplan in importance. (Martin Middlebrook, “Arnhem 1944 The Airborne battle, P444)

    .. The same voice that had so firmly said to Roy Urquhart ‘ Arnhem Bridge. And hold it’ said toJames gavin G.O.C. of the U.S. 82nd Airborne division,’ The Groesbeek Heights. Nijmegen Bridge later.”
    (‘A drop too many”,Major General John Frost, P242)

    The whole of Chapter 3 of “The battle for the Rhine”, by Robin Neillands (may he rest in peace). The difficulty I have always had is that the delay in taking the Nijmegen bridge was the last straw in the operation – remember that 2Para was tasked to hold the bridge at Arnhem for two days and actually held it for four. Even allowing for any so called delays “to drink tea” XXX Corps arrived in Nijmegen almost on schedule, and had they passed straight over the bridge, they would have been advancing up the Arnhem road which was only lightly held at the time.

    I would like to ask whether the German Army, which unleashed the ‘Battle of the Bulge” in December 1944 would have just stood by, while the British and Americans developed the salient.. I don’t think so.

  13. […] operation failed, but this article takes another look at it, and why it was a good risk to […]

  14. Rick Whitman says:

    Among details never mentioned: why was there no combined air support (e.g., B-17s and P-51s)?

    • Prof. B.t.H. says:

      Bombing with heavy bombers the Netherlands (an occupied ally) does not serve your cause. There was plenty of fighter-bomber ground support, but again, how to use these in Arnhem without causing tremendous civilian casualties?

  15. Professor Ziel says:

    It´s so said that Monty died without confessing that Market Garden did not make it. But at end, Berlin fell to the Russians and Patton was left alone and alone with his swearings. Any way the final victory but is was very cost. How many lives would be saved if they had given ears to Patton, a general far better than Monty and Ike?

  16. Prof. B.t.H. says:

    Late to the party, but I have to agree with most posters here (and apparently history’s decision) that this operation was a costly failure. Personally, why it was allowed to proceed once it became known that SS panzer divisions were in and around Arnhem, is unforgivable. The number of dead/wounded, and the poor POW’s left to rot in German camps, and the cost in money and material – with the objective not being achieved – rates this as a tragedy. Hindsight is 20-20 but they had intelligence reports and discounted them.

  17. John k says:

    What amazes me is that the media treated the death of 15 of my fellow Marines in AFG or Iraq during a fighting terrorists and IED’s with more scrutiny and blame than so many of the disastrous calls during WWII. Not to take away from the valor of the troops but even a casual observer has to see that during that war debacles were common.

    And I am amazed at how so much relies on good intelligence and to this day it is still often ignored, overlooked and disregarded.

  18. TNuge says:

    While I have no love for Patton and think that Bradley should’ve been relieved of his command for the fiasco in the Hurtgen Forest or his failure during first 24 hours of the Battle of the Bulge, Montgomery was the worst Allied general by far. He was a pompous, back-biting, glory-hound whose grandiose schemes, and repeated failures to take advantage of spontaneous battlefield opportunities made him better suited to WWI or – better yet – the Napoleonic Wars. He already had a task to deal with in mid September: turn to his left and deal with the German troops who were preventing the port of Antwerp from being utilized. Having use of Antwerp would’ve GREATLY eased the supply problems the Allies faced. Of course, Montgomery felt that there wasn’t much glory to be had in such a mundane move. No, not the Master of Set-Piece Battle! He had Churchill’s head spinning with tales of Monty-lead troops rolling victoriously into Berlin, and ending the war quickly. The only problem was the Russian’s would’ve had something to say about someone else spoiling their final orgy of revenge, however, so any such plans by Monty to take Berlin were pipedreams at best. Hell, as it was, he barely prevented the Russians from moving into Denmark!

    Market-Garden was bound to fail. What were they thinking? A pencil thin thrust down one, single road through enemy territory? Some praise it as being brilliantly “bold”. I think there is a reason so few generals in all of history ever tried such a thing….it’s a stupid and disastrous idea which is bound to fail.

    Eisenhower, having to deal with Churchill’s constant badgering to move more resources to Italy and make a push into Austria, Hungary or the Balkan States was beaten down by all the criticism he got over his handling of the “Broad Front”. Remember that, not long before Market-Garden, the British were steadfastly opposed to landings in southern France because it dashed all hopes of a stronger push in Italy. The landings removed even MORE troops and landing craft from the Italian theater. Eisenhower must have felt compelled to end all the bickering by giving Montgomery his chance to be a super star. It’s understandable. It was expedient. It was also a horrendously dumb thing to do.

    Once Montgomery formulated his plan, no one on earth could’ve made him change his mind. Not the radio traffic intercepted by Bletchley Park reporting German troops movements into the projected LZ or the aerial photos proving the presence of a heavy German mechanized formation in and around Arnhem.

    “90%-95% successful”….phooey!

  19. Jherek Phillips says:

    My Biggest problem with this Operation! was that I wasn’t alive to be in it! it would have been a success if I was there! I have studied every aspect of all the Operations of WW2! and have come to the conclusion that the Government Back then were Complete IDDIOTS!!!!!!!!!! \example= The Beach Invasion od D-DAY June 6th, 1944! If your going to storm a beach head, that is heavily guarded by mg42 bunkers and artillery!!!!! Do not go in guns blazing! Us stealth turn it in to a night operation!\ if they had the knowledge that we have to day WW2 would have only lasted 1 or 2 years!

  20. K Dugan says:

    All comments( accept a few) are helpful to understand Market Gardens obvious failure to complete all objectives. But the finality of WWII rests in the families who lost loved ones. My Uncle fought through Italy, was wounded, and was dropped with the 82nd 504 near
    Niijmegen to take the Grave Bridge. An objective that was easily completed. But lost his life on a patrol to eliminate a machine gun nest on Oct 6th having survived so much of WWII. Gen. Gavin remains, in my opinion, as one of few commanders with clear, unegosticial approaches to his command. His men admired him and fought hard under his command. But to single out one \human\ over another as fault here is to tell my Uncle that his blood was spilled for nothing. All War as all well made plans are flawed and carry grave potential for loss. But as history has shown, its the guts on the ground that really win the worst laid plans of those with pencil and paper and a cup of tea in their hand. Lets not forget the loss endured by \all\ and accept the lessons Market Garden has left us with.

  21. Jim Gordon says:

    Many comments here have cited correct elements leading to the failure of Operation Market Garden to achieve the total objective, namely the capture of the main road bridge, or a bridge over the Nederj Rijn at Arnhem. As is the case in most failures, no single element is responsible, but a series leads to a composite negative synergistic effect. Have looked at the planning in some detail which is conveyed in http://arnhemjim.blogspot.com/p/operation-market-garden.html.

  22. Marky2112 says:

    I read that dropping the Allies so far away wasn’t such a bad idea since the trees covered their landing area from the Germans so they didn’t know how big the force was and were not even clear what their objective was at that point since they were so far away.

  23. Dave M says:

    Montgomery should have been hanged, or at least court martialed for this insane, murderous operation, so poorly planned. He was a grasping, jealous, egomaniac who badgered Ike into approving this plan. Monty and his lackey staff members ignored clear intelligence of the presence of strong German units, failed to provide anything like adequate air cover by fighters, except for the first day only, issued insane orders such as forbidding the attacking of ground targets by aircraft except by ground radio direction, which of course didn’t work. Radios were not checked and failed wholesale, his plan depended on absurdly optimistic projections without provision for problems. Monty was a world class ass who caused the deaths and woundings of thousands of brave Allied troops. Too bad the British worshipped him.

    • Roy B says:

      I agree David M.
      Montgomery should have been executed for incompetence.

      After a meeting with Eisenhower on 31st March 1943, Montgomery had this to say about the Americans, “The American Army will never be any good until we can teach the generals their stuff” (source: Snow & Steel The Battle Of The Bulge 1944 – 1945 by Peter Caddick Adams). This from the idiot who over a year later told Eisenhower that the British would take Caen on D-Day. Six weeks later Monty was still still stopping to brew up tea on the beaches of Normandy and getting his men killed in the process.

      Bowing in and giving the go ahead for Montgomery’s harebrained debacle in Market Garden was Eisenhower’s biggest mistakThe British refused to believe intelligence from Dutch Resistance that elite SS Units were refitting at Arnhem and not lightly defended by reservists and lesser German outfits as the Brits believed.
      The much ballyhooed English intelligence circus AKA Bletchley Park – which apparently knew what Hitler had for breakfast every morning – didn’t pick up on this crucial evidence either.

      Montgomery should have been hung as a Traitor to the Allied Cause.

  24. DDearborn says:


    I believe a very strong argument can be made that at the very highest levels (Ike and above) Operation Market Garden was intentionally designed to fail. The objective of the operation: Delay the allied advance until spring in order to allow time for Russia to advance into Germany. It was in my opinion a demonstration of treason at the highest levels of the allied command. By this late stage of the war the traitors in Washington and London were busy planning the division of Europe with Russia.

    Bear in mind that Ike had cut off Patton’s supply lines in order to stop his advance into Germany. Had he been allowed to continue the war would have in all likelyhood ended in late 1944. And the cold war would not have occurred because Russia would never have taken half of Germany. Now to suggest this is 20/20 hindsight is pure nonsense. In light of the fact that Patton and numerous other senior officers strongly believed that is was insanity to stop his advance; further the only thing that stopped him was intentional denial of logistical support and not the Germany Army; In short the odds of Patton’s advance and subsequent victory were so overwhelming and the odds for a totally untried airborne operation of such size, scope and complexity so low one must conclude that winning the war in 1944 was not part of the high command’s agenda. Either that or the high command’s number one priority was catering to Monty and his monstrous ego which is of course ridiculous. The only other likely alternative is that Ike and his staff really were that incompetent and stupid. Clearly that was not the case. So it had to have been intentional.

  25. ArmchairGeneral says:

    Market Garden was a worth gamble, and almost pulled off. Metz, however, was a complete disaster, and no one seems to talk much about that when they bash Monty over Market Garden.

    I’d say Market Garden was a 1-in-3 chance roll of the dice. Win it, and win the war. Lost it, and costs about 10,000 casualties while gaining most of Holland and being poised to put Antwerp into operation and use the ground gains as a springboard into Germany the following year.

    It was worth a roll of the dice. And Montgomery was a great general. This, coming from a Yank who has seen through the movies \Patton\ and \A Bridge Too Far\.

  26. M.G.Trott says:

    Ok, so I’m in a minority, but if the question is ‘was Market Garden a success or failure’, the answer has to be ‘a success’. And here’s why:

    After the liberation of Brussels, the next obvious objective in the west had to be a rapid advance up the coast, thereby a) liberating Holland (which had to be done at some stage anyway, the Germans were not going to leave volutarily), b) pushing the Germans back into Germany itself, impeding their ability to attack allied positions on land sea and air, c) enabling the opening up of supply-line sea ports, and d) repositioning allied forces better to take the Ruhr.

    These objectives were never in real dispute, and fully agreed by Eisenhower, as he himself records in Crusade. Where Montgomery
    comes in is in putting the plan together to accomplish the aim. Actually, anybody else’s plan would have been essentially similar in
    overall conception, because it was the only way to achieve the agreed objectives given the necessity of using rapid, blitzkrieg-style,

    The difference between Eisenhower and Montgomery lies not in a yea or nay to the general idea, but to the longer term purpose.
    Montgomery conceived of a bridgehead across the Rhine from which to advance towards Berlin, whereas Eisenhower stopped short of that, seeing Arnhem only as a border marker on a newly drawn broad front, encompassing a swathe of liberated ground behind it. Montgomery’s bridgehead for the purpose he wanted was not an agreed objective of the plan. In so far as the operation did achieve the objectives set out in the Market Garden plan (or at any rate the decidedly greater share of them), I would conclude that Market Garden was in fact ‘a success’.

    It’s well documented that the campaign was not a text book exercise, and many things went wrong that shouldn’t have. And in view of the lacklustre zeal of Eisenhower, Bradley et al for putting resources into it, both materiel and moral, it is astonishing that the outcome turned out as it did. A lot is always said about Montgomery’s failure to take Antwerp’s port and the Scheldt sooner, but then again it must the more so be his superior’s failure, since Eisenhower too did not imbue it with greater importance, and was happy to defer this operation until after Arnhem.

    The predominant American position is that Market Garden was a hopeless and ill-conceived conceit of Montgomery’s, but it’s salutary to compare it to the strategy of the US’s frontal assault on the Western wall/Siegfried Line, and the considerable casualties of the
    Hurtgen Forest. Market Garden with fewer casualties achieved far more. And interesting to speculate too how, if Market Garden had
    been followed up as Montgomery envisaged, the balance of allied strength in the west would have rendered the Ardennes offensive less likely.

    Back to the question, did Market Garden substantially achieve the objectives it set out? Did it leave the allied forces better positioned to take the Ruhr and its 325,000 POW’s? Yes to both.

  27. Ken Hudson says:

    Just a couple quick points.

    The speed of the Allied advance in September 1944 put their supply lines under a huge strain. The Allies were going nowhere and the Germans were always going to recover and prolong the war until well into 1945. The Germans had exactly the same problem before Moscow in 1941. People are quick to criticise Hitler for his mistakes in 1941 but no one ever mentions the lack of winter clothing and supplies for the Allied troops in the winter of 1944 for which there is far less excuse. The Allies priority should have been to open up the approach to Antwerp.

    For reasons I have never been able to fathom, the Allies had created a huge and ultimately redundant airborne force by 1944 tying up an enormous amount of material and tens of thousands of badly needed front line troops. It is also a ridiculous way to send men into battle – ask David Stirling. If the Allies had not created this huge airborne army there would not have been an operation Market Garden. Basically, they had all these elite troops kicking their heels in the UK and so had to do something with them. If it had not been Market Garden it would have been some other risky venture. They could even have been used to open up the approach to Antwerp?

  28. dharmatrek says:

    You didn’t consider the effect on the Dutch…and, You didn’t reference Prince Bernard’s conclusions, either….

  29. H8mmer says:

    The same Prince Bernhard who was originally a member of the Nazi party and as the Dutch Liaison officer privy to the top secret plans of OMG that managed to get directly into the hands of the Germans by the double agent he sent to meet up with the Dutch resistance?

  30. Grub says:

    Montgomery was an ass and it’s said that Eisenhower felt he had to let different allied commanders have control over this or that campaign “to hold the coalition together” which is ridiculous since the resources (petrol, planes, tanks, men) of the U.S. had given literally life’s blood in the European Theatre. To rely on one road and all the complex plans of taking this bridge, that bridge while facing superior German numbers once the 80,000 trapped troops were allowed to escape was a huge waste of resources and life. There WAS no “coalition” until the U.S. entered the European war. Eisenhower never should have followed Montgomery’s plan which even Monty gave up on. Ike should never have worried about the bluster of insulted egos. The reprisals on the Dutch alone were too awful to comprehend. This was a Clusterf***. The Supreme Commander should have been relieved after D Day but I suppose once an entire European Thestre operation has commenced, there was no turning back into the English Channel. When you EXPECT 80% casualties of the Airborne Divisions, that’s a good clue you’ve got a bad plan.

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