Operation Market Garden

At a time when most of France and Belgium had been liberated, Operation Market Garden (September 17-25, 1944) was to create a 103 km (64 miles) push from the Belgian/Dutch border into enemy occupied territory over 'Highway 69'. After reaching Arnhem, the next step would be to create an Allied corridor into the industrial Ruhr area of Germany, avoiding the strongly fortified Siegfried defensive line.

The operation consisted of an airborne component (called 'Market'), undertaken by the First Allied Airborne Army (US, English, and Polish parachute regiments, more popularly known as Paras), and a land operation (called 'Garden') headed by XXX Corps of the British Second Army.

Market's goal was to drop airborne forces over multiple drop zones in occupied territory to quickly secure the bridges over key water crossings. In an orchestrated plan, the Garden troops would advance forward from liberated Belgium into the Netherlands at Lommel, help secure the bridges, and thus 'easily' push on towards Arnhem with heavier military equipment. This combined air and ground offensive was to create a 103 km (64 miles) long corridor for the Allied forces.

Operation Market - Airborne

The airborne component of the operation was the largest ever military air offensive. It involved of a whopping 34.600 soldiers (American, British, and Polish - 14.589 troops were landed by glider and 20.011 by parachute), 1.438 Douglas C-47 Skytrain (also known as Dakota, an acronym for Douglas Aircraft Company Transport Aircraft) and 321 converted RAF Lancaster bombers. Additionally there were 3.990 glider planes: 2.160 American Waco CG-4A and the 916 Airspeed Horsas (812 RAF and 104 U.S. Army). The gliders also brought in 1.700 military vehicles and 263 artillery. The transfer of all troops was planned to take three days.

Besides the above, RAF and USAF executed heavy bombings the evening before the attack near the drop zones, landing zones, and on key defensive sites. This also involved north of 1.600 aircraft.

There were three main drop zones. The most southern drop zones were near Son and Veghel and the responsibility of the American 101st Airborne Division (nicknamed the "Screaming Eagles”).

The drop zones further north were the responsibility of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division (nicknamed the "All American Division") and the American 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment (nicknamed "Red Devils" or "Fury from the Sky"). These were located near the towns of Grave and Mook in order to take the bridges at (mainly) Grave, Heumen, and Mook.

Finally, the British 1st Airborne Division (nicknamed the “Red Devils”) and the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade landed in the Arnhem area. However, due to foggy weather conditions in England, the Polish brigade landed with a considerable delay.

The glider landing zones were mainly around the Groesbeek area (south of the Waal river) and north of Arnhem.

Operation Garden - Ground

The ground operation -headed by XXX Corps of the British Second Army- had to travel along ‘Highway 69’ and quickly relieve the Paras that by then would have seized control of key bridges along the way.

The British Second Army in charge of the overland advance consisted of the XXX Corps being the tip of the spear heading up 'Thunder Road' (another nickname for Highway 69). The west flank of the advance would be supported by XII Corps. The east flank would be protected by VIII Corps.

overland forces also accounted for enormous numbers. XXX Corps with 50.000 men and 22.000 vehicles. Of those, 9.000 men were engineers with 5.000 vehicles loaded with bridging equipment. XII Corps counted another 23.000 men and 12.000 vehicles. And finally VIII Corps yet another 27.000 men and 16.000 vehicles.

Both XII Corps and VIII Corps struggled to match the pace of XXX Corps' advance. This left XXX Corps' flanks exposed to German counter-attacks on its lines of communication. This made the two-lane road even more challenging to navigate northwards.

A bridge too far

Operation Market Garden was a failure and cost the lives of many soldiers and civilians. It also ended up being quite the controversy. Historians are aware of the politics and egos at play in the design and approval of the operation on the side of the allied forces. Whilst Operation Overlord (Normandy landings) took over six months to plan, Market Garden was the result of other rejected plans, an ego clash between Patton and Montgomery, and the race between the British, Americans, and Russians to reach Berlin first. It is said the operation was planned in less than 7 days and therefore had too many loose ends and interdependencies that success was very much also based on being partly lucky.

Ultimately, historians agree and debate the operation had slim chances of success as it was very much based on all circumstances going the right way for the Allied forces. It is an understatement that a myriad of problems -from weather conditions, to communication failures, strong German opposition in Nijmegen and Arnhem, the slow advance of XXX Corps on the Nijmegen 'island', and dropzones being too far from targets- all contributed to the operation failing . but despite the failure of Market Garden, the operation did have a significant impact on the war and its aftermath.

For a more in depth -but to the point- article on Operation Market Garden, please read this article on TracesOfWar.