7 ways WWII’s Operation Market Garden went wrong

In the weeks following D-Day, German troops began to retreat en masse, as Allied forces advanced through France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. In September 1944, however, the overwhelmed Allies approached formidable German defenses along the Siegfried Line, which had held firm since the start of World War II.

British Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery hatched a daring plan to bypass the Siegfried Line by crossing the lower Rhine, freeing and leading into the industrial heart of northern Germany.

Codenamed Market Garden, the offensive called on three Allied airborne divisions (the “Market” part of the operation) to drop by parachute and glider into the Netherlands, seizing key territory and bridges in order that the land forces (the “Garden”) can cross the Rhine.

But controversial decisions and adverse circumstances began to pile up from the start of Operation Market Garden. Despite their heroic efforts, the Allied forces ultimately failed to achieve their objectives and suffered devastating losses in the process.

Watch a special about Operation Market Garden on HISTORY Vault.

1) The British landing zones were too far from Arnhem

Paratroopers drop on the outskirts of Arnhem on September 17, 1944.

On the morning of September 17, 1944, three divisions of the First Allied Airborne Army – the US 101st and 82nd Airborne and the British 1st Airborne – began flying from bases in England across the North Sea to the Netherlands. The 101st Airborne was tasked with capturing Eindhoven, as well as several bridges over the canals and rivers north of that city, while the 82nd Airborne was ordered to capture the territory around Nijmegen, including a key bridge over the Waal river.

Some 10,000 British and Polish soldiers of the 1st British Airborne (nicknamed the “Red Devils”) had the most difficult task: to capture and hold the northernmost bridge over the Bas-Rhin at Arnhem. German air defenses around Arnhem itself were considered too strong, and troops were dropped as far as eight miles away, despite warnings from some Allied planners that a small ‘helping hand’ group should land on the bridge. himself.

Only a single battalion of the 1st Airborne (less than 800 men) managed to reach the Arnhem Bridge, while the Germans forced the rest into a pocket near the village of Oosterbeek, several kilometers away.

2) The Allies had too few transport planes

British WWII paratroopers in Operation Market Garden

British paratroopers of the 1st British Airborne Division in their plane during the flight to Arnhem.

Due to the limited number of transport planes, British forces in Arnhem had to be dropped in the Netherlands in three days, rather than all at once, thus reducing the possibility of surprise as well as the impact of the attack.

While large numbers of 1st British Airborne troops were parachuted and hovered on the afternoon of the first day (September 17), the 4th Parachute Brigade and the rest of the glider troops did not arrive until the next day, and the brigade Polish was even later.

3) Bad weather hampered landings

Operation WWII Market Garden

An Allied paratrooper landing almost headfirst during a daytime airdrop in the Netherlands, as part of Operation Market Garden.

Dense fog in England on the second day of the operation, as well as thick, low clouds over the battlefield in the Netherlands, hampered the transport of troops, as well as supplies. The supplies would have been crucial to the survival of the British forces fighting to hold the Arnhem Bridge.

4) Failed radio communications

Operation WWII Market Garden

British airborne forces in the Netherlands go into action after landing during Operation Market Garden.

To make matters worse, the wooded landscape and the separation between the various British battalions caused many of their radios to stop working. These failures interrupted communication and made it difficult for the 1st Airborne Division and its commander, Major-General Robert “Roy” Urquhart, to coordinate the attack on Arnhem.

According to historian Antony Beevor, Urquhart’s signal officers anticipated problems with their radios before the operation, and Urquhart himself had expressed serious doubts about Operation Market Garden, calling it a “suicide operation.” »Just two days before the Allied planes left for the Netherlands.

5) Allied ground troops advance slowly

Operation WWII Market Garden

The 1st Airlanding Reconnaissance Squadron in position behind a tree covering a road near Wolfheze on September 18, 1944 during Operation Market Garden.

By the end of the first day of Operation Market Garden, the 2nd Battalion of the 1st British Airborne, commanded by Lt. Col. John Frost, had reached the northern end of the Arnhem Bridge and had fortified itself in the houses neighbors, preparing to hold the bridge. on their own until the arrival of relief troops on the ground.

But the ground relief column, led by the XXX Corps, had encountered its own problems: the road to Arnhem was narrow, just wide enough for two vehicles, and the German infantrymen were brandishing. Panzerfaust anti-tank weapons removed the leading nine British tanks at the start of their advance. Allied ground troops managed to advance only seven miles by the end of the first day.

On the second day (September 18), they traveled 20 miles and caught up with American troops near Eindhoven, which the 101st Airborne had managed to free from German control. Although they made their way through the Waal on September 20, they were still eight miles away from helping their desperate British comrades in Arnhem.

6) Role of SS armored divisions

Operation WWII Market Garden

Allied Sherman tanks crossing the newly captured bridge at Nijmegen in the Netherlands during their advance in support of Operation Market Garden.

Even before Operation Market Garden began, Allied intelligence received reports that two well-equipped German SS Panzer (tank) divisions were in the Arnhem area. But the commanders of the operation, including Lt. Gen. Frederick “Boy” Browning, decided the operation had to continue anyway – a risk that turned into a disaster for Allied troops in Arnhem.

The slow advance of the XXX Corps gave Germany time to strengthen its defenses, confront the advancing ground troops in Nijmegen, and subject the only British battalion in Arnhem to a crippling assault, which they fiercely resisted before. to submit on the fifth day of the battle. The main objective of the operation having been lost, more than 3,000 British soldiers entrenched themselves in Oosterbeek until September 25, when they were forced to start evacuating across the Rhine.

7) World War II was prolonged and the Soviets, not the Western allies, claimed Berlin

Operation WWII Market Garden

Canadians of the British Second Army at the Battle of Arnhem.

Although Operation Market Garden liberated much of the Netherlands from Nazi occupation, established a base from which the Allies could launch subsequent offensives in Germany, and showed the courage and determination of Allied forces in Arnhem , it remained a costly failure, with lasting consequences.

Of the approximately 10,600 Allied forces which arrived north of the Rhine in September 1944, some 7,900 were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Allied losses during the operation totaled more than 17,000, compared with around 8,000 on the German side.

Had Operation Market Garden been successful, World War II could very well have ended in Europe before Christmas 1944, with the triumphal entry of the Western Allies into Berlin. Instead, the conflict would last another five months after that date. Not only that, but it will be the Soviet troops who will claim Berlin in May 1945, a difference which will prove to be decisive for the future of post-war Europe.

Buy a T-shirt commemorating the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden.

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Terri S. Tomasini