World War II: Operation Market Garden (September 1944)


Figure 1.--Dutch children in Eindhoven wearing orange ribbons and waving their country's flags for the first time since 1940 celebrate the long-awaitef arrival of the Allies. Eindhoven was the the first major town in the Netherlands to be liberated (September 20, 1944). General Eisenhoweer was still hopeful that the NAZIs could be defeated before the end of the year. That meant a Rhine crossing anf the Montgomery's plan was chosen to cross the Rhine in the Netherlands at Arnhem. Supply limitations mean that Eisehower had to chose only one of the allied armies to press the attack to the Rhine. The Dutch route was chosen in part because the rapid liberation of the Netherlands would deny the NAZIs the final V-2 launching points that could reach London. The jubelation ended here when German artillery anair strikes began hammering the city. Photographer: Malindine. Source: Imperial War Museum Identification Code: 4905-03 TR 2371

Montgomery had been pressuring Eisenhower to order one big push into Germany which of course he thought he should direct rather than Patton. Eisenhower kept insisting on a broad front advance. At this stage of the campaign. Most of the Allied supplies were still coming in over the Normandy beaches. Ports like Brest, Boulogne and Calais were still in German hands. The German V-2 attacks while not a real military threat, were terrifying civilians and it was Montgomery who was best placed to seize the launching sites in the Netherlands which could still be used to hit London. Eisenhower as a result, acceeded to Montgomery's plan to seize the Rhine River bridge at Arnhem and cross the Rhine through the Netherlands. Available supplies were diverted toward this effort, Operation Market Garden (September 17-26). While more attention is given to airborn opertions on D-Day, Market Garden was the largest airborn operation of World War II. Over 30.000 allied paratroopers were employed in the operation. Eisenhower was a proponent of a broad-front offensive against Germany. He felt this was the best way of keeping the pressure on the Wehrmacht and not expose advancing Allied armies to counter attacks. His field commnanders, especially Montgomery and Patton, wanted to focus the offensive on specific sectors (their own) to pierce the enemy defenses. Allied supply lines in September 1944 were inadequate for a general broad-front offensive against the Germans. The Germans had held on to ports to restrict Allied logistics. If there was to be an Allied war-winning offensive in Septmber against the Germans, Eisenhower had to chose a specific sector which he could adequately supply. He chose Montgomery in the Netherlands. Eisenhower has never fully explained this decission. His relations with Montgomery were far from cordial. Several factors were certainly involved. The route through the Netherlands was the most direct and shortest over the Rhine and into the industrial heart of Germany. The Germans were launching V-2 missles from the Netherlands which were causing civilian casualties in London and other British cities. Montgomery's plan offered a key objective, the seizure of the Rhine River bridge at Arnhem. In addition, the liberation of Belgium had brought with it the port of Antwerp which meant that if Montgomery was successful, supplies to exploit the crossing of the Rhine could be brought in through Antwerp, instead of the long truck routes through France. The effort achieved some success, liberating large areas of the Netherlands. Tragically it failed at Arnhem despite a valiant fight by lightly armed British paratroopers. This allowed the Germans to stabilized their Western front as Winter approached and prepare their last offensive of the War.

Allied Strategy

The Allies after liberating France were hoping to end the War by Christmas. With the Germans seemingly in disaray, many thought that victory ws within the Allies's grasp. Montgomery had been pressuring Eisenhower to order one big war-winning push into the Reich which of course he thought he should direct rather than Patton. Eisenhower kept insisting on a broad front advance. Eisenhower was a proponent of a broad-front offensive against Germany. He felt this was the best way of keeping the pressure on the Wehrmacht and not expose advancing Allied armies to counter attacks. His vision was not imagunative, but it assured a final victory even thouh it would take some time. Eisenhower' field commnanders, especially Montgomery and Patton, had a different vision. They wanted to focus the offensive on specific sectors (their own) to pierce the enemy defenses and more rapidly defeat the Germans and end the War. Allied supply lines in September 1944 were, however, inadequate for a general broad-front offensive against the Germans. The Germans destroyed port facilitie and held on to key ports ling ebough to restrict Allied logistics as the armies moved north through France toward the Reich.

Supply Problem

At this stage of the campaign. Most of the Allied supplies were still coming in over the Normandy beaches and trucked to the Front because the French rail sytem ws so badly danged. Ports like Brest, Boulogne and Calais were still in German hands. Thus severly limited the lanbdingvof supplies. And it meant that not all of the massuive amy landed coulkd be supplied for offensive operations. The seizure of the importnt Belgian port of Antwerp offered to signifantly improve the supply situation. The Germans had failed to estroy the port so as to render it unusable so abrupt was their departure. They had, however, left forces in the Scheldt Estuary, eading to the port. While cut off, these forces were well armed and prepared to fight. And Montgomery failed to immediately attack these positions in force when he reched Antwerp. This wa a critical failure becaue without the cheldt Estuary open, Antwerp was useless.

German V Weapons

The V weapons were some of the secret weapons that Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbesl had been claiming would win the war for Germany. The V stood for Vergeltungswaffe--vegence. The vegence was retaliation for the Aliied strategic bombing campaign. The Germans were the firt to build and deploy these weapons. They were highly innoivative advances, but they were not effective military weapons because they could not be effectively aimed at actual military targets. They were, however, terror weapons that be used against civilians. Allied inteligence managed to learn about the weapons and the actions taken significantly limited thenumber of weapns that the Germans could fire at Britain. The Allies overan the coastal instaltions which the Germans could use to fire V-1s at Britain. TheV-2s, however, could still rech Britain from the Netherlands. The German V-2 attacks while not a real military threat, were terrifying civilians and it was Montgomery who was best placed to seize the launching sites in the Netherlands which could still be used to hit London.

Eisenhower's Decision

If there was to be an Allied war-winning offensive in Septmber against the Germans, Eisenhower had to chose a specific sector which he could adequately supply. He chose Montgomery in the Netherlands. Eisenhower has never fully explained this decission. His relations with Montgomery were far from cordial. Several factors were certainly involved. The route through the Netherlands was the most direct and shortest over the Rhine and into the industrial heart of Germany. The Germans were launching V-2 missles from the Netherlands which were causing civilian casualties in London and other British cities. Montgomery's plan offered a key objective, the seizure of the Rhine River bridge at Arnhem. In addition, the liberation of Belgium had brought with it the port of Antwerp which meant that if Montgomery was successful, supplies to exploit the crossing of the Rhine could be brought in through Antwerp, instead of the long truck routes through France. Eisenhower as a result, acceeded to Montgomery's plan to seize the Rhine River bridge at Arnhem and cross the Rhine through the Netherlands. Available supplies were diverted toward this effort, Operation Market Garden (September 17-26).

Montgomery's Plan

Montgomery devised a daring plan to criss the Rhine and begin the drive on Berlin to end the War. Believing the Germans to be in total disaray as were the forces encontered in the drive through Belgiunm, Montgon=mery believed the same would be the case in the Netherlands. As was typical for Montgomery, he decided to use the Americans forces, in a supporting role. The plan was to use the aurborn to secure key bridges (Son, Eudhoven, Grave, and Nijmegen, The key war wining and thus headline grabbing part of the offensive was given to the British. British airbon unit would secure the vital Arnhem bridge over the Rhine. British armor would then rush forward, relieve the airborn at Arnhem and then cross the Rhine and advance toward Berlin on the flat north German plain where it faced few obstacles. Critical to success would be seizing the bridges across rivers and adjacent canals by the airborne troops and swift movement of the armor up a single Dutch highway some 60 miles from the Allied lines in Belgium to Arnhem on the Rhine. The paratroopers would hold the bridges until the armor forces unit of the British XXX Corps moving up the single road, crossing the bridges successively and arriving at Arnhem as the vanguard of a larger force pushing southeast into Germany.

Air Drops (September 17)

While more attention is given to critical airborn opertions on D-Day, Market Garden was the largest airborn action of World War II. Over 30.000 allied paratroopers were employed in the operation. Thev battered American paratroopers who were withdrawn from Normandy (July 1944). Rplacements were trained and the divisions regrouped. They again were launched from airfields in England and dropped from their Douglas C-47s (September 17). Both the Americn 82nd and 101st Airbirn Divisions were committed. This time the Americns jumped in broad daylight and unlike Normandy, hir their drop zones in German occupied Holland with amazing accuracy. The 506th Parchure Infntry Regiment was ordered to secure the single paved highway that passed through Eindhoven that British armor would pass over to reach Arnhem. The Germans who had retreated from France and Belgium, decided to standcand fight jn the Netherlnds. Even after Market Garden had ended, figting continued for 'Hell's Highway'. One of the paratroopers describes the bitter fighting. "Galbraith took cover in a ditchclose to Kiley, then looked on as the lanky officer walked across the street, and stood onstinately in full view, studying the church and road ahead. Even though thge captain's bars on Kiley's helmet has been painted out, he could ill-afford to be reckles. 'Sir,' shouted Galbraith, 'Sir--if you don't get back into cover right now you are going to get your arse shot off by a sniper!' The boss looked back ahd replied, 'If I get down, Bill, so will everyone else.' Moments later John Kiley was struck in the neck by a single and collaosed, his wound pumping out blood." [Gardner] The Allied planners thought the Germans were retreating. The German resistance, however, proved much stiffer than expected. The battle for Hell's Highway descended into a exhausting 72-day struggle against intense German resistance. The 504th Parachite Regiment fought throughto the critically important Dutch bridgesso the Armor could move forward. The fighting to control the WaalRiver Bridge was the most intense. The Germans stood and fought. Funlly their commander, James Gavin, led his men in an almost suisidal daylight amphibious assault--a rare operation for paratroopers. They finally overcame the German bridge defenses. The armor now had a path to the Rhine. [Van Lunteren]

Air Campaign

Not all the casualties were on the ground. A critical part of Market Garden was utilizing the massive advantage the Allies had in the air. The RAF played a major role in both the air drops and supplying the men on the ground. It was one of the RAF's most heroic efforts. The RAF towed the gliders used by the U.S. 1st Air born Division and then led the resupply effort. This mean low-alditude operations in areas close to well armed German troops. The RAF suffered substantial casualtiws, 309 air crews killed and 79 Air Duspatchers. In all 107 aircraft were lost. [Cooper]

Drive to the Rhine

British paratroopers dropped on Arnhem, primarily north of the Rhine and then movedctowaed t=Arnhem and the all important Rhine Fiver B=bridge. The massive American paratroop drop took place further south. They seized the single narrow paved road Arnhem. They had, however, to fight hard to hold the road againsr heavuky armed German forces still in the Nehelands. British armor which had the war-winning assignmen drove north on the highway, but apprently did not rush down that road as forseen in Montgomery's plan to relieve the British airborn troops that had seized Arnhem and the bridge. Unknown to the Allies, Germman SS armor units has recently moved into the area north of the Rhine. The British airborn seized the bridge in tact, but the forces nort of the Rhine were cut to pieces by the heavily armed Germans.

German Response

The Germans oproved much stronger than anticipated by the Allies. Behind the Rhine and the Siegfried Line they begn to regroup. The dwindling output of Germab arms factories were divered west to these reforming divisions. And the German forces in the Netherlands did not retreat as they had in Belgium. Instead they stood anf fought. A major factor here was that mobility whih the Germans had generally lost was not important. And if that was not bad enough, an SS Panzer division was regrouping in the Aenhem area. The offensive depended on seizing nd keeping open one narrow road over which the advancing British armor had to travel. The Germans thus knew just where the Allies were attacking and did not have to fear envelopment.The result wa that the Germans mauled the lightly armed airborn, slowed the Brirish tanks, ahd sucessfully prevented a Rhine crossing.

British Armor

The British armored advance to Arnhem has been hevily criticiaed because it proceeded so timidly. even though the American aurbirn, at great cost, seized the bridge and open the road to aemor. The fmous film about the battle, 'A bridge too far' pictures the British tankers as stopping for tea. It is unclear to what extent this actually occurred or is just Holltwood story tlling, but it illustrates a widely held conviction on the American side. One historian recount this exchange between American paratroopers and Britih tankers. "The American captain lost his temper. 'You meanto tell me you're going to sit here on your ass while your own British paratoopers are being cut to shreds, and all because of one gun?' 'I can't go without orders.' Carington replied evenly. 'You yellow-bellied son of a bitch,"Burriss said angrily. 'I've just sacrified half of my company in the face of dozens of guns, and you won't move because of one gun.' Burriss cocked his tommy gun and hekd it to Carringtin's head. 'You get this tank movingor I'll blow your damn head ioff!' Carrubgtin ducked into his turret, closung the hatch, and locked it." [McManus] German strength at Arnhem probbly ws such that the Briitish could not have forced a major Rhoie River crossing even had the advancing armored had reached the bridge in a timely manner. It does appear that the British armored advance toward the Rhine did nor proceed with the vigor that was needed if success was to be achieved. Montgomery's planning often took into account the ca[bilities and performance ogf his fprces. In this case, such was his desire to be the war-winning commander, it did not.

Results

Market Garden achieved some success, liberating large areas of the Netherlands. This was done, howver, at considerabke cost. The Allies surrendered their greatest assett--mobility. Tragically Market Garden failed at Arnhem despite a valiant fight by lightly armed American and British paratroopers. While the Allies secured many important bridge crossings, they failed at the critial Arnhem Bridge over the Rhine. This allowed the Germans to stabilized their Western front as Winter approached and prepare their last offensive of the War. Montgomery's plan allowed the Germans who had lost most of their mobility to effectively engage the Allies and stop the Allied advance which would allow the Hitler anhd the NAZIs to prolong the War into nother year. The failure of Operation Market Garden was a disaster for the Dutch people. This was the Allied effort to cross the Rhine and end the War in 1944. The Netherlands south of the Rhine was liberated, but the Germans still held the north bank of the Rhine and Waal Rivers. This left about half of the Dutch people in German hands.

Liberation of the Netherlands (September 1944-May 1945)

The failure of Operation Marget Garden (September 1944) was a disaster for the Dutch people. This was the Allied effort to cross the Rhine and end the War in 1944. The Netherlands south of the Rhine was liberated, but the Germans still held the north bank. This left most of the Dutch people in German hands. Few countries of comparable size took so long to liberate. A Dutch reader writes, "the part of Holland that could not be liberated at that time became a German fortress. It sadly was the most populous part of the Netherlandswith the cities Utrecht, Amsterdam, Haarlem, Rotterdam and The Hague, where the majority of the Dutch population. The River Rhine flows through the Netherlands east to west. Nobody could leave or get in anymore. That meant that the people were starving and had to eat the food that was locally available. That was very little. We had to line up every day (only once a day!) to receive a bowl of soup at the Central Kitchens that were opened everywhere. It always was thin cabbage soup without meat. We received a food package from Sweden (February 1945). Also clothes were scarce. We got textile coupons, but the stores were empty. My father made me a pair of 'sandals' from an old rubber tire. We wore the same clothes for months. Fortunately I still had a pair of indestructable brown corduroy Scout shorts and a woollen pullover my grandma had knitted for me, although it was tight, since I kept growing in spite of the bad nourishment. We were near starvation when finally liberated by the Canadians."

Dutch Civilians

The Netherlands surrendered so quickly after the German invasion (May 1940) that little damage was done during this ininital phase of the War--even considering the terror raiod on Rotterdam. Subsequently as the strategic bombing campaign ramped up, large numbers of Allied bombers passed over the Netherlands on the way to targets in the Reich. Very few attacked a limited number of targets in the Nerherlands itself. This changed with Market Garrden. A great deal of damage was done to towns and villages south and north/east of the Rhine where extensive fighting gook place. And the Gemans were not hesitant to shell Dutch towns in part becuse of the civilian sympathy with the Allies. Even worse ws the fate of the Dutch civilans in the area beyond the Rhine where the Germans remained in control. The Germans decided to punish the Dutch by restricting commerce between the countryside and urban areas. German road blocks ensured that food did not get into the cities. The result was the terrible Hunger Winter in which Dutch civikluans starved.

Sources

Cooper, Alan W. Air Battle for Arnhem (2012), 208p.

Gardner, Ian. Deliver Us from Darkness: Thge Untild Story of Third Battalion 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment during Market Garden (2012), 336p.

McManus, John C. September Hope: The American Side of a Bridge Too Far (2012), 512p.

Van Lunteren, Frank. The Battle of the Bridges: The 504th Parchute Infantry Regiment in Operation Market Garden (2014), 336p.







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Created: 6:26 AM 3/14/2011
Last updated: 2:51 PM 8/17/2014