Operation Market Garden: the battle begins

In September 1944, Allied forces in Europe launched a large-scale operation in the German-occupied Netherlands. Dubbed “Market Garden”, the purpose of the operation was to create an opening in German defenses in the occupied nation and secure a route for Allied advances through the Netherlands, across the Rhine and into Germany itself. It was hoped that if successful, the operation would bring about a quicker end to the war in Europe. The operation called for the use of massive airborne infantry to secure key points behind enemy lines, including bridges and roads, before the advance of Allied ground forces in a manner similar to airborne operations before the D-Day landings.

However, the scale of this airborne operation was much larger than D-Day and involved twice as many airborne units. This included the use of large numbers of C-47 “Skytrain” transport aircraft, as well as the use of towed gliders which would land with more equipment. The operation was suggested and pushed by Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery, despite the hesitation of Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower. Yet Eisenhower wished to keep German forces on the defensive, and the operation promised to do just that. It received limited priority for logistical support from US commanders, with food and other supplies of British origin being used by US airborne.

Like pre-landing air operations on D-Day, the American parachute element was made up of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. With them they brought a variety of weapons to combat any German forces they would encounter, from the M1 Garand and M1 Thompson submachine gun, to the M1A1 “Bazooka” rocket launcher to combat enemy armour. Operation Market Garden began on September 17, 1944, with most US airborne forces reaching their designated landing zones and managing to land without much resistance, at first. The 101st and 82nd Airborne Troops were able to quickly secure the beachheads and designated towns indicated by the plan and held their position awaiting the planned Allied ground advance which was supposed to follow shortly.

At first, the Allied operation took the Germans by surprise, who had not expected such an influx of airborne Allies. However, the German forces quickly regrouped and launched coordinated counterattacks against the bridges captured by the Allies. With this, the battle of Operation Market Garden began and would last for over a week.

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Terri S. Tomasini