Arnhem 75 - The British Army's Commemoration Of Operation Market Garden 1944
By the end of August 1944, Allied forces had successfully broken out of Normandy and were in headlong pursuit of a shattered German Army across northern France and into Belgium.
As they advanced, the Allies captured many of the Channel ports, but most were damaged and incapable of providing the substantial logistic support the Allied forces would need for an invasion of Germany.
As a consequence, the vast majority of supplies were still coming through the temporary British Mulberry harbour at Arromanches and being delivered along lines of communication stretching back hundreds of miles from the front, severely limiting Allied fighting power.
The Strategic Plan
The Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), General Dwight D. Eisenhower, favoured a steady advance on a broad front; but it was becoming apparent that, given the supply problems, such an advance would be almost impossibly slow.
The British Commander, Field Marshal Montgomery, proposed a bold plan to strike north into the Netherlands, bypassing German defences on the German border and opening a route into Germany’s industrial heartland, the Ruhr basin.
Initially, the attack, codenamed Operation Comet, was to be a limited affair, but as the Allied advance slowed due to supply problems, German resistance regained some of its former strength, necessitating an expansion of the plan to involve most of the First Allied Airborne Army (Operation Market) supported by an armoured ground advance by XXX (30) Corps (Operation Garden).
The Battle Plan
The attraction of Montgomery's plan was that the limited number of supplies could be prioritised to a single thrust, maintaining momentum on a narrow front with a strategic target which, it was hoped, would shorten the war in Europe.
The plan involved dropping the US 101st Airborne Division to capture key bridges around Eindhoven, the US 82nd Airborne Division to secure crossings around Nijmegen, and the British 1st Airborne Division, with the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade, to capture three bridges at Arnhem. The airborne operation was to be commanded by Lt Gen Frederick ‘Boy’ Browning.
The British Second Army led by XXX Corps under the command of Lt Gen Brian Horrocks would advance up the resultant ‘corridor’ of airborne divisions and cross the Rhine at Arnhem, covering the 64 miles in two days.
The Battle - Part One
The plan for Operation Market Garden was approved by Gen Eisenhower and commenced on 17 September 1944.
Initially, the airborne units captured several bridges between Eindhoven and Nijmegen, although XXX Corps was delayed by the initial failure to secure bridges at Son and Nijmegen. German forces demolished the bridge at Son before it could be captured by the 101st Airborne Division, requiring the building of a Bailey bridge by the Royal Engineers. This action delayed XXX Corps' advance by 12 hours, however they rapidly made up the time, reaching Nijmegen on schedule.
Unfortunately, the 82nd Airborne Division's failure to capture the main bridge at Nijmegen before 20 September 1944 delayed the advance by a critical, and ultimately fatal, 36 hours.
The Battle - Part Two
At the northern end of the airborne operation, the lightly-equipped British 1st Airborne Division encountered heavy resistance. Delays in capturing the bridges further south gave time and opportunity for the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions, based around Arnhem, to organise their counterattack.
A small British force managed to capture the north end of the Arnhem road bridge, denying use of the intact bridge to German forces. At the same time that XXX Corps' tanks moved over the Nijmegen bridge - 36 hours late - the British paratroopers at the Arnhem bridge were, despite a heroic defence, forced to capitulate.
The remainder of the British 1st Airborne Division was trapped in a small pocket west of the Arnhem bridge, which was evacuated on 25 September after sustaining heavy casualties.
The Allies had failed to cross the Rhine. The river remained a barrier to their advance into Germany until offensives in March 1945. The failure of Operation Market Garden to form a foothold over the Rhine ended Allied hopes of finishing the war by Christmas 1944.
This week we commemorate the heroism of all who served with the Allied forces at Market Garden and remember in particular those for whom the Netherlands became an eternal resting place. We Will Remember Them.
Operation Market Garden - 17-26 September 1944
Sunday 17 September 1944
Operation Market Garden launches, with airborne landings by the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions and the British 1st Airborne Division. British XXX Corps advances into Holland, but is held up by the demolition of the Son Bridge.
After nightfall, 2nd Bn The Parachute Regiment arrives at the Arnhem road bridge, but 1st and 3rd Bns The Parachute Regiment, the rest of the 1st Airborne Brigade, are stopped by German resistance.
Monday 18 September 1944
The arrival of British reinforcements at Arnhem is delayed by fog in England. 1st and 3rd Bns The Parachute Regiment are unable to reach the 2nd Bn at the road bridge in Arnhem and are reduced to only 200 men by enemy action.
The Royal Engineers construct a Bailey bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal at Son allowing XXX Corps to continue to advance. XXX Corps rapidly make up the time lost at Son and advance on Nijmegen back on schedule.
Tuesday 19 September 1944
The remnants of 1st and 3rd Bns The Parachute Regiment, reinforced by the 11th Bn The Parachute Regiment and 2nd Bn The South Staffordshire Regiment, strike for the Arnhem road bridge but are repulsed by two German SS Panzer divisions and forced back into Oosterbeek. The 4th Parachute Brigade attempts to break out from Oosterbeek but is thrown back with heavy losses.
The Grenadier Guards link up with US 82nd Airborne, liberating much of the town of Nijmegen, but find the Nijmegen road bridge still in German hands and rigged for demolition.
Wednesday 20 September 1944
The 2nd Bn The Parachute Regiment continue to hold out at the Arnhem road bridge despite catastrophic losses. The rest of the British division consolidate their defences in Oosterbeek awaiting the arrival of the delayed 21st Polish Independent Airborne Brigade.
At Nijmegen, XXX Corps and 82nd Airborne capture the road bridge, but their advance is held up by German counter-attacks after dark. Further south, US 101st Airborne and XXX Corps are counter-attacked on ‘Hells Highway’ reducing re-supply attempts.
Thursday 21 September 1944
Early in the morning, the battered remnants of 2nd Bn The Parachute Regiment send a message to HQ 1st Airborne Division at Oosterbeek, ‘Out of Ammo: God Save the King’ and after a brief hand-to-hand fight are captured by the Germans.
At Oosterbeek, the survivors of British 1st Airborne Division are dug in to defensive positions and the remainder of the Polish brigade arrives at Driel on the opposite side of the Rhine to the British. The Poles attempt to cross the Rhine to support the British but are badly mauled by the Germans.
Friday 22 September 1944
The Germans, wary of the fighting spirit of the British and Polish airborne troops, begin to use artillery rather than infantry and armour to reduce the forces at Oosterbeek.
At the same time, some German troops are reallocated to the Arnhem road bridge to defend against an anticipated Polish attack and the imminent arrival of XXX Corps.
The advance of XXX Corps is divided with 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division directed to support the Poles at Driel while Guards Armoured Division advances on Arnhem.
Saturday 23 September 1944
German counter-attacks are launched all along the corridor from Belgium to Arnhem, units from the Guards Armoured Division are detached to neutralise the German attacks to their rear and the US airborne divisions are reinforced.
The Germans continued to bombard the British at Oosterbeek and launched an attack on the Poles near Driel, however, tanks from XXX Corps arrived to support the Poles and the Germans withdrew.
Sunday 24 September 1944
With the arrival of 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division at Driel, an attempt was made to reinforce the beleaguered airborne troops at Oosterbeek by ferrying the 4th Bn The Dorsetshire Regiment across the Rhine.
Although successful, a German counterattack at Veghel, at the south of the armoured corridor, imperilled the whole operation and the decision was taken to withdraw the remains of British 1st Airborne Division and the Dorsets across the Rhine.
Monday 25 September 1944
At dawn, the British 1st Airborne Division received orders to withdraw across the Rhine. Known as Operation Berlin, the plan used the same concepts developed at Gallipoli in the First World War to withdraw at night under cover of Royal Artillery bombardment and using deception techniques.
Ultimately, the plan allowed for the evacuation of 2,398 survivors with 300 being left behind to maintain deception in support of the plan and surrender to the Germans.
Tuesday 26 September 1944
The evacuation was complete. Of approximately 10,600 men of British 1st Airborne Division who fought at Arnhem, 7,899 were killed, wounded, or captured.
The ambitious plan to end the War by the end of 1944, although a close run thing, had ended in failure. Many lessons had been learned at Arnhem which would form the foundations of Operation Varsity Plunder, the British crossing of the Rhine in March 1945, and six weeks later bring an end to the War.