Operation Market-Garden was a World War II airborne attack in the Netherlands to be launched in mid-September 1944 in conjunction with a ground attack. The airborne attack was designed to lay a carpet of airborne troops along a narrow corridor extending approximately 120km into the occupied Dutch territory from Eindhoven northward to Arnhem. The principal objective of the operation was to get Allied troops across the Rhine.
After the victories in Normandy, the Allied troops lead by American general Dwight Eisenhower liberated Paris on August 25, 1944. The day after, Eisenhower delivered a plan in which he ordered his forces to set free the entire west bank of the river Rhine, running from the Alps to the Dutch coast. In a fast manoeuvre, the British forces managed to get as far as the German defensive lines in the south of the Netherlands, about 25km south of Eindhoven, in the meantime liberating Belgian capital Brussels on September 3.
The key problems there were the fact that the German troops that were chased away from France and Belgium had gathered in this area, alongside with the supply lines for the Allied getting longer and longer. Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery asked Eisenhower for more support to keep up his tempo: additional supplies and airborne forces to clear the area from Eindhoven to Arnhem. At the latter city, the British would then be able to cross the Rhine.
In this period, various armies were heading for the Rhine. Montgomery actually opposed this idea of Eisenhower. He preferred a precise, narrow front with strengthened forces to impose a fast breakthrough, as he had practised successfully in the north of Africa. Montgomery thought he could force his way through the German lines at Arnhem, after which the route to Berlin (marching behind the German defensive lines) would be exposed.
This operation received the name Market-Garden. Market foresaw in dropping forces near Eindhoven, Grave, Nijmegen, and Arnhem. Main target of all of these troops was to take control of the bridges in the area, so that Montgomery's forces in the operation part called Garden could march northwards without too many troubles. The whole operation consisted of two American airborne divisions, one British airborne division, one British tank division, three British infantry divisions and a Dutch infantry division.
Operation Market-Garden area:
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The first day of the operation
Even before dawn on September 17, 1944, the large operation started with over 1,400 bombers attacking the German troops between Eindhoven and Arnhem. Later that morning, over 2,500 convey planes transported the landing forces from England to the area in 15km long formations. The airborne forces consisted of over 20,000 soldiers, 500 vehicles, 300 pieces of artillery and 590 tons of other battle equipment. The enormous flow of planes made the Dutch population believe the liberation was nearby. They climbed their roofs and celebrated.
The Germans were surprised by the attack. But characteristic for their efficiency was that the Nazi forces regrouped quickly when the Market-Garden plans were found in one of the Allied planes that was taken down by German air-defence. A German tank division was sent to the west of Arnhem to take action on the landed forces, another was sent to Nijmegen to defend the bridge over the river Waal. In the meantime the Rhine-bridge at Arnhem was reinforced.
Although the Allied landings went as planned, the German reorganization caused the first battalion - who came from the west - to a standstill 3km before Arnhem. The Allied soldiers were also slowed down by the enthusiast Dutch people, who cheered at them, wanted to shake hands or embrace, and invited them to their houses for a celebration meal. The second battalion had reached Arnhem from the south but the German tanks stopped them and even worse, separated them from the rest of the troops.
Near Eindhoven all but one of the bridges were conquered without any damage. The American troops near Grave and Nijmegen managed to take two main bridges after heavy battles, which meant that just the important crossover in Nijmegen had to be captured. But also at that location, the Germans had assembled assisted by the 10th SS tank division. The Americans had to wait for reinforcements.
The real battle of Arnhem started around 14.00 hours, when artillery and bombers provided the way for tanks to roll towards the city. But within two minutes the excellently positioned German artillery destroyed nine tanks, completely blocking the road. The Allied progressions were put to a standstill, but with a different approach (small tank operations with precision bomber support) they managed to make the desired corridor available.
The tiny corridor was soon baptized Hell's Highway. The Rhine Bridge was taken by a small British group of parachutists led by Commander John Frost, but the tanks were still on their way when the night fell. The Germans still held the southern entrance to the bridge, exploiting the nighttime to regroup.
The second day of the operation
The enforced Axis forces caused September 18 to be one of heavy fights and little progression from either side. In Nijmegen the Allied troops managed to ruin the destroying mechanism of the bridge with the help of a Dutch citizen, thus making sure the Germans could not blow up the bridge easily as they had done before in other areas of Operation Market-Garden. New reinforcements and supplies were transported by air, but the planes were late because of the weather and the fully prepared German air-defense.
The third day of the operation
Genie soldiers used the night to build new bridges, but most of the time tanks could not cross these relatively fragile constructions, causing them to take longer routes than planned. The main tank and artillery divisions were now at Grave.
At the Nijmegen bridge, the Germans had assembled with some infamous 88mm FlaK 18 pieces. Although attacking from north, east and south, the Allied forces could not get further than 500m from the bridge. At several other positions the Nazi army attacked the British and American troops, causing them to defend the corridor at high cost.
The fourth day of the operation
On September 20, the German commanders were already convinced the road to the Nijmegen bridge could not be conquered by their opponents. This made them decide not to destroy the bridge. Still, the Allied troops managed to gain some territory. Despite heavy losses, the Americans at the north side of the bridge established a bridgehead. This was the sign for the southern troops to attack. With four tanks the Germans were chased away from the Waal. The battle at Nijmegen was won.
In the meantime, the small group led by Frost on the north side of the Rhine Bridge at Arnhem had to deal with attack after attack. The Germans managed to cut off all supply lines, while all other British battalions in the city were also forced to retreat.
The fifth day of the operation
The main forces were now past Nijmegen, but 15km south of Arnhem (in Elst) they were stopped again when German artillery destroyed a tank. The heavily wounded Frost and his men had no food and water left, while also running out of ammunition. Around 9am, the British at the Rhine Bridge had to surrender to the Germans. In the evening, German tanks crossed the Rhine to take defensive positions near Elst. Meanwhile Polish parachutists landed south of the Rhine.
The sixth to eleventh day of the operation
West of Elst, the British managed to contact the Polish paratroopers. The Allied forces gained territory slowly on the south side of the Rhine, but the Nazis managed to attack the British leftovers (led by Brian Urquhart) on the north bank successfully. This last issue in fact meant the failure of the whole operation. There were two ways to assist the Urquhart soldiers: a large attack with sufficient boats and bridges for tanks, or an evacuation of the perimeters. The Allied Commanders decided to opt for the latter. Under the name Operation Berlin the Allied artillery attacked the German forces to enable a safe passage over the river for the scraps of Urquhart's paratrooper division. Operation Market-Garden was stopped.
The Allied forces have lost more men in Operation Market-Garden than during the invasion of Normandy: around 17,000 victims versus 10,000 to 12,000 on D-Day. Historians have pointed out several reasons for the failure of Operation Market-Garden. The weather was very bad, causing the supplies and reinforcements to arrive late or not at all, and important bomber planes to stay on solid ground. The British intelligence had failed to notice that the strong 9th and 10th German SS tank divisions were stationed north of Arnhem. Technically, many radio connections broke down, which made coordinated attacks nearly unfeasible on the first day. According to the Nazis, the Allied operation also failed because they spread the landing attacks over several days. The Germans believed that all troops had to land on the first day to accomplish something.
Yet the operation wasn't a complete failure. Although the Rhine crossing was not established, the passages over the rivers Waal and Maas were taken over, while a significant part of the Netherlands was liberated before the winter of 1944/1945, which ultimately proved to be a harsh one for the people north of the Rhine. In 1977, the reconstructed Arnhem Road Bridge was christened the John Frost Bridge in honour of those who battled furiously to defend it in September 1944.