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Operation Market Garden

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Operation Market Garden

02 September 2004

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the largest airborne assault in history, the Allied plan to shorten the war by six months: Operation Market Garden.

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In early autumn of 1944, following the Allied success of D-Day and the Battle of France, Field Marshal Montgomery believed that the Germans were so devastated by their defeat that a concerted joint land-airborne attack into Holland would give the Allies the opportunity to establish a foothold over the River Rhine. Once across, the Allies would be able to swing into the industrial heartland of the Ruhr, and destroy the Nazi war machine.

But like the plans of 1914, where the war was going to be won by Christmas, it was not to be.

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Operation Market Garden consisted of laying an airborne 'carpet' of some 30,000 paratroopers from the American 101st and 82nd Airborne, the British 1st Airborne and the Polish Brigade in a series of three huge 'lifts' deep into enemy territory. The success of the plan was dependent on the airborne troops capturing eight bridges with 'thunderclap surprise'. Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem were the 'drop zones' targeted by the Allies for their key bridges, but the supreme prize was the Rhine crossing at Arnhem. It was intended that the paratroopers would link up with ground forces from the British Armoured XXX Corps, as they punched their way 64 miles along a narrow road leading to the bridges at Arnhem - the key that would unlock the door to Nazi Germany.

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The plan was bold and launched in haste - the Allies were convinced that German defences in the area were relatively poor, consisting of 'old men and boys on bicycles', despite warnings to the contrary from Dutch resistance. In fact, two divisions of 1st SS Panzer Corps were in the area and had been practising how to tackle an airborne attack.

 

 

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The American landings were largely a success, yet the 82nd Airborne did not capture the bridge at Nijmegen until 21 September due to greater enemy resistance than anticipated. The Nijmegen bridges were subject to constant enemy air attacks and the Germans had made a bold attempt to destroy them by sending down specially trained swimmers towing prepared charges; these were placed against the buttresses of the bridges.

 

 

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However the British, around Arnhem experienced the most difficulty. The British paratroopers and gliders landed too far from their bridges, and lost the element of surprise. Yet the British succeeded in capturing the north end of one bridge at Arnhem, and managed to hold it for six days. The 1st British Airborne fought bravely, demonstrating outstanding feats of courage to repel the relentless German raids.

 

 

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Bad weather, problems with supply drops and attacks on the narrow road leading to Arnhem delayed the arrival of vital reinforcements. After a number of set backs, Montgomery ordered the British paratroops on the northern side of Arnhem to pull back. On the night of 25 September, about a quarter of the 10,000 British airborne troops who had landed around Arnhem managed to withdraw across the Rhine. In total 1,130 British paratroopers were killed and 6,450 were captured.

 

 

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Despite the apparent failure, Montgomery hailed the operation as being 90 per cent successful - although it was another four months before the Allies crossed the Rhine again, and a further four months before Germany surrendered.

The courageous efforts of the Allies during Operation Market Garden were immortalised in Cornelius Ryan's book 'A Bridge Too Far' and the Hollywood film of the same name.

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