Operation Market Garden – The Success of a Failure

Credit: Doug Banks

In 1944 the Allies of World War II needed to secure several bridges in the Netherlands to keep the Nazis from advancing further.  It would also allow the British army to cross the River Rhine without resistance and make their way into Germany.

Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, who had been in charge of the Allied military forces in Normandy, presented his plan to General Dwight Eisenhower of the American military.

According to wearethemighty.com, there were two operations.  Market involved an airborne assault to capture the bridges, and Garden was the operation where ground troops would cross over the bridges with tanks and armament to relieve the paratroopers.

Parachutes open overhead as waves of paratroops land in Holland during operations by the 1st Allied Airborne Army. September 1944
Parachutes open overhead as waves of paratroops land in Holland during operations by the 1st Allied Airborne Army. September 1944

Paratroopers of the British 1st Airborne Division and Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade were sent to Oosterbeck to commandeer the bridges at Arnharm and Grave while the U.S. 101st Airborne dropped into Eindhoven.

Montgomery believed the Germans wouldn’t pay attention to the operation as they were so involved with losing France to the Allies but he was wrong.  Hitler was very aware of what was going on at the Western Front and recalled retired Field Marshall Gerd von Rundstedt to reorganize and protect vulnerable bridges and towns.

Even the Dutch fighters warned the Allies but Montgomery would not listen.

Aerial view of the bridge over the Neder Rijn, Arnhem; British troops and armoured vehicles are visible at the north end of the bridge. Back-up forces were unable to come up quickly enough to enable the advanced airborne troops to hold the strategically vital bridge at Arnhem. 19 September 1944
Aerial view of the bridge over the Neder Rijn, Arnhem; British troops and armoured vehicles are visible at the north end of the bridge. Back-up forces were unable to come up quickly enough to enable the advanced airborne troops to hold the strategically vital bridge at Arnhem. 19 September 1944

History.com tells us there were several reasons why Operation Market Garden failed.  There were not enough aircraft to release all of the paratroopers at one time putting a damper on the “surprise” attack, meaning it took three days to drop the Brits over Arnhem, the Polish Parachute Brigade was delayed for several days and the 4th Parachute Brigade was not launched until the day after the British Army began their attack.

Another reason was the thick fog that blanketed England on the second day delayed the planes that were bringing troops and supplies to the Netherlands.  The British forces that were dropped at Arnharm were too far from the bridge causing less than eight hundred men to actually reach the bridge while the rest of the forces were trapped in Oosterbeek.

Major General Roy Urquhart, the commander of the 1st Airborne Division was forced to send out a message to Lieutenant General Frederick Browning of the 1st British Airborne Corps urgently requesting assistance.

The message was worded that “unless physical contact…is made with us early 25 Sept (1944) consider it unlikely we can hold out long enough.  All ranks are now exhausted.  Lack of rations, water, ammo and weapons with high officer casualty rate…had effect.”

The General also questioned if the troops should advance toward the bridge ahead of the army rather than surrender and stated that movement of his troops in the face of the enemy was not possible and that they would do their best for as long as possible.

British paratroopers wander in long columns to German captivity. Bundesarchiv CC BY-SA 3.0
British paratroopers wander in long columns to German captivity. Bundesarchiv CC BY-SA 3.0

Additionally, the 2nd Battalion of the 1st British Airborne were waiting at the north end of the Arnhem bridge for ground troops to relieve them but the XXX Corps were having trouble advancing tanks on a narrow road that made them sitting ducks for the German infantry.

On the next day they made it to Eindhoven which had been liberated by the 101st Airborne but were still over eight miles from Arnhem and had to fight their way through the Germans and swamp filled terrain to relieve the waiting British troops.

Dutch civilians offer drinks to the crew of a Cromwell tank of 2nd Welsh Guards during the liberation of Eindhoven, 19 September 1944.
Dutch civilians offer drinks to the crew of a Cromwell tank of 2nd Welsh Guards during the liberation of Eindhoven, 19 September 1944.

According to nam.ac.uk, the forests around Arnhem made communications spotty at best.  Without verbal communication, no one was able to coordinate troop movements properly.

From September 24th to the 25th the evacuation began by removing over two thousand troops from the 1st Airborne Division across the Rhine.  Over seven thousand five hundred were either dead or captured.

Another Article From Us: Real Time Kamikaze Footage from US Navy Propaganda

While Market Garden was a failure it also showcased the bravery of the paratroopers and the ground forces trying to relieve them.  Some of the Netherlands was liberated in the marches to the bridges relieving their desperation for food and aid.

War correspondent Alan Wood remarked in 1944, “If in the years to come, you meet a man who says, “I was at Arnhem”, raise your hat and buy him a drink.”