SEVERAL YEARS AGO during my first visit to Holland to see the battlefields of Operation Market-Garden, I found myself watching a most unusual parade. It was September, and I was there to study the attempt by the Allies to put Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery’s “ single thrust” strategy to the test and seize a Rhine River crossing. The plan called for a carpet of airborne troops to land in Holland and take a series of bridges that could be used by an armored column coming from the Belgian-Dutch border to advance quickly over the Rhine and into northern Germany. If it succeeded , the Allies would outflank the Siegfried Line and trap more than 80,000 German troops on the wrong side of the Rhine. Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley— no friend of Montgomery’s— called the plan “ one of the most imaginative of the war.”
On September 17, 1944, thousands of troopers from the American 101st and 82nd Airborne and British 1st Airborne divisions landed on drop zones near Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem in Holland and were greeted with profound joy by Dutch civilians who mobbed their “ angels from the sky.” What had begun with such high hopes, however, quickly became a nightmare for the lightly armed airborne troopers. The unanticipated presence of SS armored formations along the corridor, malfunctioning radio equipment, drop zones too far from the objectives, and the unexpectedly fierce resistance of a foe who was determined to defend a direct route into its homeland quickly caused the operation to falter. What had been anticipated as a war-winning lightning strike quickly turned into a fight for survival.
Ultimately, the operation failed. While the Allies were able to hold on to the bridges around Eindhoven and Nijmegen, the British 1st Airborne Division was destroyed in its attempt to seize the vital bridge over the Lower Rhine at Arnhem— the “ bridge too far.” Fighting would continue in Holland until May 1945.
Every year, the Dutch remember May 4 as the official date of their liberation. As I discovered, however, when I found myself in Eindhoven on September 18, the citizens of that city have their own day of liberation. Aware that my visit would coincide with the anniversary of Operation Market-Garden, I thought that any ceremonies marking what was, after all , a defeat would be somber and small. I was shocked then when I drove toward my hotel at the end of the day to see a city awash in the glow from hundreds of lighted displays and thousands of people on the streets finding spots to watch a parade.
It was a unique parade. There were no floats and few marching bands. Instead, dozens of Boy and Girl Scout troops, dance clubs, sports teams and other youth groups passed by. Sandwiched between the youth groups were Allied veterans. Every year, my neighbor on the curb told me, the citizens of Eindhoven gather to celebrate their liberation and to thank the men who secured it for them. The lights symbolize freedom’s victory over the darkness of oppression. The parade has many youthful participants because during the years of occupation Eindhoven’s children were not allowed to join such groups.
I have been hack many times since and have had the good fortune to make many friends in Eindhoven. When I ask them how long the Liberation Day parade will continue, they say forever. It is important, they tell me, that future generations be reminded that freedom is never guaranteed and must be protected and preserved.
In honor of the 60th anniversary, this year promises to be one of the largest celebrations of Operation Market-Garden. The Dutch are pulling out all the stops to host a variety of ceremonies and events, and veterans are making a special effort to join with their Dutch friends to “ Remember September.” Among the highlights will be one of the largest— but certainly not the last— Liberation Day parades.
As part of our continuing effort to improve our coverage of World War II, I am pleased to introduce Robert Citino, who will take up his duties as World War II Magazine’s book review editor with this issue. In addition to his own reviews, Citino— a history professor at Eastern Michigan University— -will draw on contributions from some of the leading scholars in the field today. Citino’s published works include Quest for Decisive Victory: From, Stalemate to Blitzkrieg in Europe, 1899–1940; The Path of Blitzkrieg: Doctrine and Training in the German Amy, 1920– 1939; and Blitzkrieg to Desen Storm: The Evolution of Operational Warfare. CJ.A
Originally published in the September 2004 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.