"Where is the Prince who can afford so to cover his country with troops for its defense, as that 10,000 men descending from the clouds, might not, in many places, do an infinite deal of mischief before a force could be brought together to repel them?" Benjamin Franklin, 1784.
Operation Market Garden, which includes the Battle for Arnhem, in September 1944, was the largest airborne battle in history, being bigger than Operation Mercury, the German airborne invasion of Crete in 1941, which was the only successful strategic airborne operation of World War Two. It was also the only real attempt by the Allies to use airborne forces in a strategic role in Europe. It was a massive engagement, with its principal combatants being 21 Army Group under Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery for the Allies and Army Group B under Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model for the Germans. It involved thousands of aircraft and armoured vehicles, and hundreds of thousands of troops and was the only major Allied defeat of the Northwest European campaign.
The origins of the operation lay in the unexpected success of Operation Overlord (the D-Day landings) on 6 June 1944 and the Battle for Normandy in the immediate aftermath. The Allies had assumed that they would make a slow but steady advance inland once the invasion had taken place and that General Dwight D Eisenhower who commanded the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) would take over the overall conduct of the land campaign from Montgomery after a few weeks. Eisenhower would then control all three Army Groups, the 21st Army Group under Montgomery, 12th Army Group under Lieutenant General Omar Bradley and 6th Army Group under Lieutenant General Jacob Devers advancing from southern France against strong German resistance. What actually happened was that the Allies were bogged down for many weeks in a virtual stalemate in Normandy and that the German defence had virtually collapsed overnight leading to the Falaise pocket, which was a complete disaster for the Germans, of the same magnitude as Stalingrad had been on the Eastern Front. The very size of this victory was to be Montgomery's undoing as success in Normandy had depended upon close cooperation between the Allied commanders and forces. Now that many believed the end of the war was only a matter of time (possibly ending before Christmas), many commanders looked to the future development of their careers.
Photos courtesy of MarketGarden.Com and The Battle of Arnhem Archive
In mid-August, Montgomery first raised the idea of changing Allied strategy to encompass a single thrust by his 21st Army Group, supported by the US First Army under Major General Courtney Hodges, through northern France, the Low Countries and into Germany. Montgomery's point was that there was not enough transport available at the moment to supply all three Army Groups going at full speed across a broad front. Even the fleet of Allied transport aircraft, which was supposed to be in reserve to conduct airborne operations, was being pressed into service. As German resistance had more or less collapsed against the 21st Army Group, it would make sense to give priority to them, as they could also eliminate the V1 sites that had been attacking southern England and liberate the ports along the north coast of France which would help the Allied supply situation immensely. Montgomery even offered to serve under Bradley, just so long as they would have first call on supplies.
The plan was firmly opposed by Bradley who believed that the Allies had won the Battle of Normandy in spite of Montgomery, as opposed to because of him. Now that final victory was in site, it was time for the Americans to take the lead. Also, such a plan would mean halting the American forces that had advanced the farthest from the Normandy beachhead - the US Third Army under Lieutenant General George S Patton Jr., Montgomery's old rival. Montgomery however, eventually persuaded Eisenhower that the 21st Army Group's thrust should have priority in supplies and that Bradley's US First Army, which would advance north of Aachen, should support it. In a letter to General George C Marshall, Eisenhower admitted to changing his "basic plan of attacking both north and east in order to help Montgomery seize tremendously important objectives in the northeast." Bradley however, quietly cooperated with Patton to keep his Army moving east towards Germany. The Allied heavy bomber forces had gone back to their strategic bombing campaign against German cities and so the tactical air forces (RAF 2nd Tactical Air Force and USAAF 9th Air Force) split along national lines, although there was little Luftwaffe resistance in the West. With Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory closing down the headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Air Forces, Eisenhower decided to form the Combined Airborne Forces Headquarters on 2nd August under Lieutenant General Lewis Brereton, the controversial former commander of the 9th Air Force. On 16th August it became First Allied Airborne Army as part of the Allied deception plan based around the fictitious US 1st Army Group. It consisted of the US XVIII Airborne Corps (82nd, 101st, 17th Airborne Divisions under the command of Major General Matthew B Ridgeway) and British I Airborne Corps (1st and 6th Airborne Divisions as well as the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade, all of which were under the command of Lieutenant General F A M Browning).
Eisenhower was increasingly under pressure form Washington (Army Chief of Staff General George C Marshall and Commander, Army Air Forces General Henry 'Hap' Arnold) to mount a major airborne operation before the end of the war in Europe, and so placed the First Allied Airborne Army under the control of the 21st Army Group. As the Allied supply situation worsened and the rivalries and conflicting interests deepened, an airborne solution, Operation Market Garden started to emerge. As the Allied advance continued into northern France and Belgium, these factors and stiffening resistance from the German forces under Army Group B forced the advance to a halt. German resistance was helped by the escape of the Fifteenth Army under Von Zangen across the Scheldt Estuary. Army Group B had come under the command of Generalfeldmarschall Model and who had accomplished an amazing feat of reorganisation in the time available to him.
The overall Market Garden plan called for the First Allied Airborne Army to assist the rapid advance of the British Second Army from the Meuse - Escaut Canal to Nunspeet on the Zuider Zee (Ijsselmeer), a distance of around 100 miles (160km) and who would then turn east into Germany towards the industrial heartland of the Ruhr. A "carpet of airborne troops" would capture the road bridges over the major rivers and canals that lay along the route in three places: Eindhoven (around 13 miles / 20km from the start line), Nijmegen (53 miles / 85km) and Arnhem (64 miles / 100km), as well as a couple of smaller bridges at Veghel and Grave that lay between Eindhoven and Nijmegen. The route that XXX Corps (under Lt General B G Horrocks) would take (the formation that would head the British Second Army advance - the Garden part of the operation) was a tree-lined double-track road that ran across country that was almost entirely flat, consisted of sandy soil and polder (drained bogland) and broken by orchards, small woods, streams and ditches. All of this would make cross-country movement difficult and time-consuming. For the airborne (Market) operation, as far as possible USAAF aircraft would fly the paratroopers while RAF aircraft would tow the gliders, for simplicity. Brereton was keen to prove that a major assault could be attempted but sided with Major General Paul Williams (Comander, IX Troop Carrier Command) who argued that "owing to the reduced hours of daylight and distances involved, it would not be possible to consider more than one lift per day . . . casualties would result from pilot and crew fatigue". This meant that the airlift would take three days to complete, the fourth day would be devoted to resupply operations and the next two days would herald the 52nd (Lowland) Division being flown into airfields north of Arnhem. Meteorologists predicted at least two days of clear weather starting on Sunday 17 September, which became the start date for the operation.
Lieutenant General F A M Browning's British I Airborne Corps would command the Market part of the operation. The first wave of each division would land as a formed body around six miles (ten kilometres) from their objectives and then advance to capture them. The three divisions would have finished landing by the end of day three and each holding an all-round perimeter of over 25 miles (forty kilometres) allowing the ground forces to advance over them. Such timescales and distances only really made sense if there were an indication the Germans would put up little, if any, resistance. As Major Brian Urquhart, Chief of Intelligence British I Airborne Corps commented, "I simply did not believe that the Germans were going to roll over and surrender." There was poor coordination between SHAEF, 21st Army Group and the First Allied Airborne Army, which meant that although the overall estimated strength of the German forces was reasonably accurate, Allied intelligence lost the II SS Panzer Corps as it approached the Arnhem area. Most assumed that they had moved east, rather than stay in the general vicinity of Arnhem. Reports by the Dutch resistance and last minute aerial reconnaissance photographs indicated the presence of an armoured formation, as Major Brian Urquhart commented - "There, in the photos, I could clearly see tanks - if not on the very Arnhem landing and drop zones, then certainly close to them." These reports were however, dismissed all along the chain of command with the result being "the evaluation of intelligence on the Panzers in the Arnhem area was magnificently bungled." Major Urquhart was then visited by the Corps Medical Officer who suggested he take some sick leave.
The initial phase of the Allied plan (as conceived by Browning) had the US 101st Airborne Division under Major General Maxwell Taylor landing north of Eindhoven to capture the bridges over the River Aa, Willems Canal, River Dommel (St Oedenrode) and Wilhelmina Canal (Son) and then going on to capture Eindhoven. Securing the road from Eindhoven to Grave would have given the 101st a perimeter of some 40 miles (65km) to cover and Dempsey overruled Browning allowing the 101st to halt at Veghel, with a gap of some 13 miles (20km) between the 101st and 82nd. The US 82nd Airborne Division under Brigadier General James Gavin (Ridgeway's successor) also had a large area to defend. As the expected threat was from the Kleve region, Browning assigned Gavin the first priority of the capturing the Groesbeek Heights, an area of wooded hills about 8 miles (12km) long to the east of Nijmegen. He was also to capture the bridges over the River Maas (Grave), Maas-Waal Canal and finally the road bridge in the centre of Nijmegen. The British 1st Airborne Division's landing zones were on the heathland west of Arnhem, and their targets were the road bridge in the town centre, the railway bridge out to the west on the lower Rhine and a pontoon bridge (which was discovered to have been dismantled on the eve of the operation).
The ground forces that would link up with the paratroopers would be headed by XXX Corps (2nd Household Cavalry Regiment, Guards Armoured Division, 43rd (Wessex) Division, 8th Armoured Brigade, 50th (Northumbrian) Division and Royal Netherlands Brigade 'Prinses Irene') advancing northward up the 'Club Route', with XII Corps (7th Armoured Division, 15th (Scottish) Division and 53rd (Welsh) Division) supporting on the left and VIII Corps (11th Armoured Division, 3rd Division, 4th Armoured Brigade and 1st Belgian Brigade) supporting on the right. The Guards Armoured Division would head XXX Corps' advance and as it linked up with each airborne division, it would take control of them and hand off forces further south to VIII Corps. If any of the main bridges were destroyed, the Guards would secure the river bank and 43rd (Wessex) Division would mount an assault crossing. To their immediate front was Kampfgruppe 'Walther' with ten weak battalions with ten assault guns. Once this crust was broken, the race would be on.
As such, there was no German 'plan' for Market Garden. The Germans expected there to be an advance from the Meuse - Escaut Canal but had little real intelligence as to when exactly that would happen and the forces that would be involved. Defensive plans considered two possibilities. The first was an amphibious landing by the (fictitious) Fourth British Army on the Dutch coast to cut off the remaining forces of the Fifteenth Army; the second was a drive northwest by the 21st Army Group towards Wesel with an eye to conducting a pincer movement around the Ruhr. The Germans expected there to be landings fro the First Allied Airborne Army to support either of these eventualities and Model deployed the meagre reserve of Student's First Parachute Army in central Holland to cover them. As Student conceded, this was "grotesque improvisation on a grand scale". Unfortunately, the deployment area was right in the path of Market Garden. Model took up residence in the Hartenstein Hotel, which was just east of the British drop zone. The II SS Panzer Corps was not officially part of Model's forces, coming under Armed Forces Command Netherlands as it rested and refitted. Obergruppenführer Bittrich was headquartered in Doetinchem (15 miles / 25km east of Arnhem) with his forces spread out between Arnhem and Deventer. SS-Kampfgruppe 'Hohenstauffen' (in reality the remnants of the 9th 'Hohenstauffen' SS Panzer Division) was due to move to Siegen (near Koblenz) to be refitted on the 12th September (the last elements would move on the 17th). SS-Kampfgruppe 'Frundsberg' (the remnants of the 10th 'Frundsberg' SS Panzer Division) would move to Aachen after that. Such was the perceived situation that on the 16th September, Bittrich sent Brigadeführer Harmel to SS Headquarters in Berlin to personally plead for reinforcements. Such a shortage of troops had already been noted by Rundstedt in a letter to OKW stating that "the danger of new reverses . . . can be removed only by speeding up the dispatch of the reinforcements that have repeatedly been requested." Meanwhile, Obersturmbahführer Harzer continued organising the troops for the move east. The landings the next day would take them completely by surprise.
Operation Market Garden started just before midnight on Saturday 16 September 1944 when 200 Lancasters and twenty-three Mosquitos from RAF Bomber Command pounded four German fighter airfields in northern Holland. This was followed by 822 B-17 Flying Fortresses from the 8th Air Force the next day bombing the 117 identified anti-aircraft positions along the route the transports would take, as well as airfields at Eindhoven, Deelen and Ede. These were backed up by another fifty-four Lancasters and five Mosquitos, while another eighty-five Lancasters and fifteen Mosquitos attacked Walcheren Island. Losses were light (two B-17s, two Lancasters and three Mosquitos) and the attacks barely registered as unusual with the Germans as the Allies had massive air superiority in the west - to quote one German soldier "If you see a white plane, it's American, if you see a black plane it's RAF. If you see no planes at all it's the Luftwaffe". The Dutch Government who were in exile in London, called for a strike of all transport workers to coincide with the operation.
Sunday 17 September dawned bright and sunny. The airborne troops boarded their aircraft with the gliders and tugs taking off first at 09.30 and the C-47 Dakotas taking off later. The 101st took the southern route into Holland, while the 82nd and British 1st Airborne taking the northern route. The two columns of aircraft stretched for 94 miles (150km) in length and 3 miles (5km) in width. There were a total of 1,051 troop carriers and 516 glider / tug combinations (2,083 aircraft in all). Escorts amounted to 371 Spitfires, Tempests and Mosquitos on the northern route, and 548 P-47 Thunderbolts, P-38 Lightnings and P-51Mustangs on the southern route. The 117 anti-aircraft positions along the Market garden route were once again bombed and strafed by 212 Thunderbolts, while fifty Mosquitos, forty-eight B-25 Mitchells and twenty-four Bostons bombed military facilities around Nijmegen, Deelen, Ede and Kleve. Resistance from German fighters and anti-aircraft fire was minimal overall, but stronger nearer Eindhoven. The Allies lost some sixty-eight aircraft and seventy-one gliders from all causes, as well as two RAF and eighteen USAAF fighters.
The first gliders of the British 1st Airborne Division touched down just after midday (1st Airlanding Brigade) followed by the divisional artillery and troops. Losses in gliders were light, the majority of which had landed in England and would arrive the following day. The only major loss was the failure of two gliders to arrive, each carrying a 17pdr anti-tank gun. The 101st jumped north of Eindhoven. The 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment landed correctly on its drop zone south of Veghel, apart from the 1st Battalion, which dropped by mistake at Heeswijk, 3 miles on the wrong side of the Willems Canal and the River Aa. The 502nd Parachute Infantry and 506th Parachute Infantry landed with the divisional headquarters just north of the Sonsche Forest. The 82nd Airborne dropped with the minimal loss of two Dakotas. The 504th Parachute Infantry dropped at Grave (with a company of the 2nd Battalion dropped west of the bridge) while the 505th Parachute Infantry and 508th Parachute Infantry dropped on the Groesbeek Heights with the 376th Parachute Artillery Battalion (the first ever parachute deployment of artillery into battle). The British 1st Airborne Corps headquarters landed near to Groesbeek village at around 13.30 while the 1st Parachute Brigade dropped at 13.53 west of Arnhem to complete the British landings. Some 20,000 troops, 511 vehicles, 330 artillery pieces and 590 tons of stores had arrived safely. As the transports departed, Brereton flew back to IX Troop Carrier Command Headquarters at Eastcote to oversee the second wave. Once that had taken off, the Market deployment would be fixed and his role would be over. There would be no-one in England to coordinate the land battle with the air plan and no contingency plans had been made.
At 14.00 on the 17 September, 408 guns of XXX Corps opened fire to support the initial attack at Joe's Bridge. The Irish Guards battlegroup (led by Lt Col J Vandeleur) advanced "on a front two tanks wide" with infantry from the 231st Brigade (50th (Northumbrian) Division) keeping pace. The initial breakthrough went well, with Kampfgruppe 'Walther' being unable withstand the superior Allied firepower. The Guards Armoured Division (under Major General A H Adair) halted at Valkenswaard at 19.30. The XII Corps (under Lt General N M Ritchie) attacked north with the 15th (Scottish) Division and 53rd (Welsh) Division against Kampfgruppe 'Chill' but made slow progress.
The 101st Airborne had seized most of its objectives by 16.00 with 501st Parachute Infantry securing the road and rail bridges at Heeswijk and Veghel, 502nd Parachute Infantry capturing the St Oedenrode bridge but at Son, the road bridge was blown in the faces of the 506th Parachute Infantry and a push by the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Parachute Infantry (2/502nd) towards another bridge south of Best was turned back.
At this point General Student, watching things develop from his headquarters in Vught, ordered the 59th Infantry Division (15th Army) to reinforce the LXXXVIII Corps at Best. General Otto Sponheimer (LXXXVII Corps) moved the 719th Coastal Division eastwards to Tournhout. Meanwhile, the 508th and 505th Parachute Infantry Regiments had set up defensive positions either side of Groesbeek village, while the 504th Parachute Infantry had seized Grave Bridge. Unfortunately, two of the three bridges over the Maas - Waal Canal were blown by the Germans before troops from the 504th and 505th Parachute Infantry Regiments arrived. This left the bridge nearest Heumen in American hands. A company of the 1/508th was sent into Nijmegen to reconnoitre the bridge across the River Waal but was stopped short by Kampfgruppe 'Henke'. Model, on first hearing of airborne landings had left the Hartenstein Hotel and relocated to Terborg, some 30 miles (50km) to the east. He assumed direct control of II SS Panzer Corps from Armed Forces Command Netherlands. Despite Bittrich arguing that both bridges should be blown up, Model refused claiming that they would be needed for the counterattack.
Hitler, upon hearing the news of the Allied airborne landings, decided to give the defeat of the operation top priority. Virtually the entire frontline strength of the Luftwaffe (around 300 fighters) was given to Model, as was the reserves and training detachments in Wehrkreiss VI, the military district of Germany adjacent to Holland, as well as those in transit or on leave near Wesel (some 3,000 men). Armed Forces Command Netherlands (under General Friedrich Christansen) also promised reinforcements under Generalleutnant Hans von Tettau. The reinforcements that had been promised to II SS Panzer Corps would also start to arrive in 48 hours. The sort of battle that was unfolding was just the sort of improvised engagement that Model excelled at, and soon after the initial Allied landings, his plan was ready. General Student was to handle the operations near Eindhoven, using Kampfgruppe 'Chill' against XII and XXX Corps, along with 59th Infantry Division and 107th Panzer Brigade (promised by OB West) against the 101st Airborne. The forces from Wehrkreiss VI (under General Kurt Feldt) were to recapture the Groesbeek Heights from 82nd Airborne with the help of II Parachute Corps moving from Cologne. SS-Kampfgruppe 'Frundsberg' was to move across Arnhem Bridge towards Nijmegen to prevent any crossing while SS-Kampfgruppe 'Hohenstauffen' held the British west of Arnhem.
By mid-afternoon, the 1st Airlanding Brigade (1/Border, 7/KOSB & 2/South Staffs under Brigadier P H W Hicks) had started to secure the dropping zones west of Arnhem, and were already in action against the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Depot Battalion (Hauptsturmführer Sepp Krafft) and scratch units from the SS NCO Training School 'Arnheim' at Wolfheze, Luftwaffe troops from Deelen in Kampfgruppe 'Weber' and Dutch SS-Wachbattalion III (loosely translated as the 3rd SS Guard Battalion), a 1,200 man concentration camp guard unit set up under "Höhere SS und Polizeiführer - HSSPF" Nordwest. The first 47 prisoners taken by the British were from 27 different parent units. The 1st Parachute Brigade (under Brigadier G W Lathbury) started to advance towards Arnhem using three routes, 'Lion' (3/Para with the brigade headquarters) which was the main Oosterbeek Highway, 'Leopard' (1/Para) to the north and 'Tiger' (2/Para) to the south. At this point, most of the division's radios were working, but communication problems had started to appear as the division's sub-units moved away from each other. A false rumour reached Urquhart that many of the special gliders containing Major C F H 'Freedie' Gough's reconnaissance squadron had failed to arrive and so he set off to check the situation out for himself. By the time the brigade had reached Oosterbeek, it was encountering increased German resistance from the blocking force SS-Kampfgruppe 'Spindler' (part of SS-Kampfgruppe 'Hohenstaufen' under Obersturmbahführer Harzer) which gradually absorbed Krafft's force and formed a solid line by the early hours of 18 September, blocking most of 1st Parachute Brigade from the high ground and the bridge in the town centre. The exception to this was 2/Para (Lt Col. John Frost) who having seen the railway bridge blown in their faces, carried on and reached the town centre where they secured the northern end of the bridge and were later joined by other elements of 1st Parachute Brigade. When elements of SS-Kampfgruppe 'Frundsberg' (Brigadeführer Harmel) tried to cross the bridge on their way to Nijmegen, they found their way blocked.
The predictions from the Allied Meteorologists proved optimistic and on Monday 18th September, the weather effectively disrupted much of the air operations and the take-off of the second wave in England was delayed. The air support planned for the operation was drastically curtailed thanks in part to the weather but also to Browning's failure to arrange RAF and USAAF liaison officers for British I Airborne Corps and Brereton's insistence that aircraft in Belgium remain grounded while his were flying. In Germany and northern Holland, the weather cleared just in time for the Luftwaffe's full effort to begin. Market Garden was the only battle in the campaign for Northwest Europe to be fought with Allied air inferiority, much of it self-inflicted.
The advance by the Guards Armoured Division (preceded by the 2nd Household Cavalry Regiment) resumed at first light, with 231st Brigade remaining at Valkenswaard. The Grenadier Guards Battlegroup took over the lead, with the Welsh Guards Battlegroup opening up the second route ('Heart') towards Helmond, although its advance bogged down in the face of resistance from Kampfgruppe 'Walther' and it subsequently rejoined the main effort. The 506th Parachute Infantry cleared Eindhoven of a small German presence and the Guards continued around the town and had reached the destroyed Son Bridge by the evening where work on a Bailey bridge started. On the German side, the LXXXVI Corps (under General Hans von Obstfelder with 176th Infantry Division and Division 'Erdmann') arrived between Weert and Helmond. An attempt by 2/502nd and 3/502nd Parachute Infantry to seize the bridge at Best was foiled with the bridge being blown by the 59th Infantry Division. All now depended on how quickly the Bailey bridge at Son was completed.
At Nijmegen, the 1/508th and 3/508th tried time and again to capture the road bridge, but time and again the German defence held. SS-Kampfgruppe 'Frundsberg' started to ferry men and equipment across the Pannerden Canal (the canalised stretch of the Lower Rhine east of Arnhem) in their efforts to get to Nijmegen. The first troops from Corps 'Feldt' appeared (elements of the 406th Landesschützen Division) and started to attack the Groesbeek Heights. Kampfgruppe 'von Tettau' attacked 1st Airlanding Brigade from the direction of Renkum, gradually absorbing all the other German forces along the route. 3/Para continued its advance against Kampfgruppe 'Spindler' (with Lathbury and Urquhart) and managed to get within 2,000m of the bridge where confused street fighting was the order of the day. Urquhart's party was cut off after Lathbury was wounded and Brigadier Hicks took command of the division, sending 2/South Staffs to reinforce 1st Parachute Brigade's advance on the bridge. In Arnhem, 2/Para was in a strong position vis-à-vis SS-Kampfgruppe 'Knaust' (part of 'Hohenstauffen') who the Germans found to be formidable opponents and would require artillery support to blast them out of their positions. Elements of the 9th SS Reconnaissance Battalion returned from Nijmegen mid-morning and tried to blast their way through Frost's position, only to suffer heavy casualties. Time it seemed was not on Frost's side, as the battalion only had rations for forty-eight hours and limited supplies of ammunition. The desperate attempts to reach 2/Para by the rest of the brigade failed as Kampfgruppe 'Splindler' eventually halted them. Reinforcements were now starting to arrive from all over Germany, including Flak Brigade 'Von Swoboda', and the German forces in the area could only get stronger as time went on.
None of this was known to Browning, who was discovering the difference between an administrative headquarters and commanding in the field. There were endless problems with the radio equipment, for which Browning blamed his signals section. But there were other means of communications available, such as the GHQ Liaison Regiment that was in contact with London through its special radios, as was a BBC news team with a VHS set. British 1st Airborne had direct contact with 2/Para and with the Corps rear headquarters at Moor Park that was also in intermittent contact with Browning. The Dutch resistance were sending coded messages to 82nd Airborne warning them that British 1st Airborne was in trouble on a telephone system that reached as far south as Son and 101st Airborne. The failure was not primarily one of communications (although there were undoubtedly problems) but one of staff work and experience. British I Airborne Corps asked Moor Park for copies of the signals and contact was established the next day, but for the first two vital days of the operation, Browning was never in complete control.
The delayed second wave took off from England late in the morning, and two battalions of the 327th Glider Regiment reached the 101st Airborne. 502nd Parachute Infantry supported by British tanks attacked the 59th Infantry Division's positions at Best, taking over a thousand prisoners. The 59th also probed towards Veghel, but were beaten back. Meanwhile, the morning attacks by Corps 'Feldt' had overrun part of 101st Airborne Division's landing zones, but they were cleared by an assault by the 505th Parachute Infantry just as the remainder of the divisional artillery landed. Both the American divisions also received resupply from B-25 Liberators of the US 8th Air Force. The British second wave arrived (the remainder of the South Staffordshires, divisional troops and the 4th Parachute Brigade under Brigadier J W Hackett with 10/Para, 11/Para and 156/Para) just as 1st Airlanding Brigade was skirmishing with the 3rd Dutch SS Police Battalion who beat a hasty retreat. Short Stirlings and Dakotas arrived on resupply, but the intended supply drop zone was still in German hands and most of it failed to get to the British. Hackett was told on his arrival that Hicks was commanding the division and wanted to send the remainder of the South Staffs and 11/Para to reinforce the 1st Parachute Brigade's attack towards Arnhem, and send the remainder of his brigade in support. Hackett protested that he needed a plan and that it would be better if his brigade attacked towards its original objective of the high ground. An argument ensued, but Hicks eventually agreed to a delay. What mattered at this point was a bridgehead over the Lower Rhine. If Hicks had given up the original objective of Arnhem, he could have secured the ground on either side of the Heveadorp ferry and waited for XXX Corps.
With XXX Corps having reached the intersection of 101st and 82nd Airborne, the 101st now came under XXX Corps control and 50th (Northumbrian) Division passed to VIII Corps (Lt General Sir Richard O'Conner) which started its delayed attack with an assault by the 3rd Division across the Meuse - Escaut Canal at Lille St Hubert. At this point the battle was starting to swing against the Allies. The airborne troops had lost any element of surprise, XXX Corps was delayed at Son and the supporting attacks on either flank had yet to make any real impact. There was little information available to make an assessment and no British reserve with which to influence the battle. Meanwhile, Model was ready to launch his response.
The weather for Tuesday 19th September was even worse with the only significant reinforcement involving the remaining battalion of the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment and divisional artillery being dropped to the 101st Airborne. The two battalions of the 325th Glider Infantry (82nd Airborne) and the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade that were due to drop (apart from a small number of gliders) failed to move. First Allied Airborne Army failed to inform the 2nd Tactical Air Force in Belgium of these changes who continued to fly support according to the original plan. The airborne troops in Holland failed to get any close support, compared to the support given by the Luftwaffe who flew 125 sorties.
1st Parachute Brigade started its attack eastwards along the line of the Lower Rhine (1/Para and 3/Para) and towards Arnhem Bridge (11/Para and 2/South Staffs) before dawn while 4th Parachute Brigade moved towards the high ground. The fog lifted soon after daybreak as 1 and 3/Para found themselves in a crossfire between anti-aircraft guns firing from the southern bank and SS-Kampfgruppe 'Spindler' to the north. They could advance no further and the attack had collapsed by mid-morning with heavy casualties. The advance by 11/Para and 2/South Staffs met with little success either, but they did advance far enough to free General Urquhart who moved quickly to the divisional headquarters by jeep and start to reorganise the remains of the division. Hackett's attack to the northeast was reinforced by 7/KOSB leaving just 1/Border in reserve. Warnings were also broadcast to the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade not to land on its original drop zone as the Germans controlled the area.
At Son, the Bailey bridge had been completed and the Guards Armoured Division resumed its advance at first light, and had reached Grave Bridge by mid-morning. With XXX Corps now starting its final advance to Nijmegen, 82nd Airborne now came under Horrocks who was increasingly unwell. A joint headquarters was set up near Heumen between Browning, Gavin, Adair and Horrocks. With the 325th delayed, Gavin organised 450 glider pilots into an ad hoc battalion and gratefully received the support of the Guards Armoured Division and 8th Armoured Brigade. Another attack towards Nijmegen Bridge by the 2/505th Parachute Infantry and Grenadiers failed whereupon Gavin suggested an amphibious assault across the Waal to take the bridge at both ends and so Horrocks ordered XXX Corps' assault boats forward from Hechtel. As it happens, 107th Panzer Brigade had arrived east of Son to support Student's planned attack with 59th Infantry Division from Best but was pre-empted by an attack by the 101st Airborne Division and 8th Armoured Brigade in the early afternoon which forced the 59th Infantry to retreat. 107th Panzer Brigade itself attacked and almost overran Taylor's headquarters before a successful defence could be mounted. More gliders arrived with some additional divisional troops and half the expected divisional artillery, while only 40 tons of stores arrived on target.
At Arnhem, the attack by the British 1st Airborne had finally come to a halt through high casualties, low supplies and sheer exhaustion. More German armour and artillery was arriving by the hour, including the 208th Assault Brigade from Denmark and Flak Brigade 'Von Swoboda'. The German forces on either side of the British seemed unable to coordinate their attacks but 4th Parachute Brigade also found its route firmly blocked. At this point, Hackett began to pull his brigade back south of the railway line. The few Polish gliders that had flown to Arnhem dropped on their intended landing zone (the warning having failed to get through in time) and quickly found it to be in German hands. Needless to say, the Poles quickly regrouped and hastily made their way to join the British forces over to the west. Once again, only a fraction of the intended resupply reached the British despite almost 400 tons being dropped by sixty-three Dakotas and 100 Stirlings. At Arnhem itself, 2/Para was slowly being ground down by artillery and air attacks and issues such as protecting the wounded, ammunition, food and water had all become pressing. The Germans however still found their way blocked by the British who continued to hold out.
The drive by XII Corps on the left flank had reached the Turnhout - Eindhoven Road but 53rd (Welsh) Division had exhausted itself doing so. 7th Armoured Division took over the Aart bridgehead while 15th (Scottish) Division passed through the 53rd next day. On the right flank, 3rd Division had almost reached Weert and 11th Armoured Division was moving towards Helmond. Pressure on 101st Airborne led Dempsey to assign another armoured battalion to Taylor from the 4th Armoured Brigade.
The bad weather continued into Wednesday (20th September), once again grounding the Poles and the 325th. Only resupply drops were possible, and 82nd Airborne received about eighty percent of its intended tonnage. British 1st Airborne meanwhile had pulled back to form a position around Oosterbeek with its a base on the river. Using the GHQ Liaison Regiment radios, Urquhart agreed with Corps headquarters that the Poles should land at Driel and establish a bridgehead. The supply drop zones were also changed but dropping supplies into the woods and streets of Oosterbeek was a difficult undertaking, especially with intense German anti-aircraft fire. British 1st Airborne received only thirteen percent of its intended supplies. Opposing forces were often intermingled in woods and houses, and neither side was strong enough to make a decisive assault (an attack just after daybreak by Kampfgruppe 'von Tettau' and SS-Kampfgruppe 'Kraft' was repulsed) so the fighting slowed down into an affair dominated by mortars, skirmishes and snipers. In at least one house the British and Germans held different floors and British 1st Airborne managed to produce a one-sheet newsletter. By this time, most of the battalions in the division had been reduced by up to 75 percent and the movement and care of the wounded inside the perimeter had become so hazardous that the British pulled back slightly at midday in a truce to allow the Germans to take possession of a number of the main dressing stations to tend the wounded properly. This was but one example of enemies cooperating in a battle that was intense and hard-fought. At Arnhem, 2/Para stubbornly hung onto a shrinking perimeter while the Germans tried to blast them out of the houses with artillery and flamethrowers. The British had water for only one day and were very short of supplies. A truce was negotiated and over 200 wounded (from both sides) were evacuated, including Frost who had become a casualty.
The German attacks on what the 101st Airborne had started to call 'Hell's Highway' began again at dawn. The 107th Panzer Brigade once again advanced against Son, but was beaten back by the 101st Airborne and 8th Armoured Brigade. XXX Corps continued to advance up the road as best it could, but the 43rd (Wessex) Division (under Major General G I Thomas) found it slow going (as did the boats coming from Hechtel). The Guards Armoured Division was broken up to provide support to the 82nd Airborne with the Grenadiers and Irish Guards preparing for the assault crossing, the Welsh Guards covered Grave bridge and the Coldstream Guards supported the Groesbeek position. The Irish Guards, in conjunction with the 504th Parachute Infantry started to clear Nijmegen's suburbs in preparation for the river assault, while the 505th and Grenadiers moved towards the bridge. By mid-afternoon the assault started after the boats had arrived and a Typhoon rocket attack and smoke / artillery barrage had taken place. Two companies of the 3/504th crossed the river under heavy artillery fire and six successive journeys brought the rest of the 1/504th and 3/504th across. The 3/504th Parachute Infantry attacked eastwards clearing the railway bridge and road bridge while the 505th Parachute Infantry and the Grenadiers attacked through the town towards the road bridge. Brigadeführer Harmel attempted to blow the bridge but the charges failed to go off, and so instructed a subordinate "Tell Bittrich. They're across the Waal". Meanwhile, Corps 'Feldt' had been reinforced with the II Parachute Corps and continued its attacks against the Groesbeek positions. The attacks met with considerable success and it was only the intervention of the 508th Parachute Infantry and the Coldstream Guards that restored the position.
The Germans were continuing to grow in strength (with the 180th and 190th Infantry Divisions expected within a week) and the flank attacks by XII and VIII Corps continued to make slow progress. Kampfgruppe 'von Tettau' was put under II SS Panzer Corps command to check an expected breakout by British 1st Airborne and Harmel was given orders by Bittrich to retake Nijmegen the next day. However, with only three battalions of 'Frundsberg' between Nijmegen and Arnhem, it seemed nothing could stop the Guards Armoured Division reaching Arnhem Bridge. But the Guards had been fought to a standstill and had to wait for resupply and their infantry before moving off. "Arnhem and those paratroopers were just up ahead, and almost within sight of that last bloody bridge, we were stopped. I never felt such morbid despair." (Lt John Gorman, Guards Armoured Division)
The bad weather failed to lift as the operation moved into Thursday (21st September) and the day was very cold as well. Corps 'Feldt' was instructed to hold its positions on the Groesbeek Heights (it was exhausted and there was little point trying to reach Nijmegen with XXX Corps moving up the highway) and all the troops in the north of the area (as far south as Elst) was to come under II SS Panzer Corps command who were to finish off the British at Arnhem and contain any drive northwards. The rest came under Student's First Parachute Army who was to organise a pincer attack between LXXXVIII and LXXXVI Corps.
At Arnhem, the last fight started at about 09.00 with Gough and the remainder of the battalion trying to break through SS-Kampfgruppe 'Knaust' and make their way back to the division. There was no formal surrender and small groups of British either disappeared, ran out of ammunition or were overwhelmed. By midday, the Germans finally crossed Arnhem Bridge. 2/Para had fought for some 88 hours without relief. "The hardest thing to bear was the feeling that we had just been written off." (James Sims, British 1st Airborne)
Back at Oosterbeek, Urquhart was reorganising the division, and placed Hicks in command on the west facing Kampfgruppe 'von Tettau' and Hackett in command in the east, facing SS-Kampfgruppe 'Hohenstauffen'. An attack by 'von Tettau' drove 1/Border of the vital Westerbouwing Hill (the crucial high ground overlooking the Heveadorp ferry) during the morning but because of exhaustion and confusion, neither side really appreciated the significance of the terrain. Hick's troops were pushed back some 800m during the day but the German attack petered out as the forces available were not strong enough.
At Nijmegen, the two bridges were now clear, and so the Irish guards led off with the Welsh guards while the Grenadiers reorganised themselves. The attack came up against SS-Kampfgruppe 'Knaust' which had just crossed Arnhem Bridge. The Guards Armoured pushed up as far as Elst and then halted. As Major General Adair commented, "You can't imagine anything more unsuitable for tanks; steep banks with ditches on each side that could easily be covered by German guns." Meanwhile, 43rd (Wessex) Division was clearing out the last pockets of German resistance while waiting for its last brigade to arrive. Upon its arrival, the division was ordered to take over the advance from the Guards Armoured and advance through Driel to make contact with British 1st Airborne at Heveadorp. Relieved of much of the responsibility for Nijmegen, the 82nd Airborne mounted an attack with the 504th and 508th Parachute Infantry Regiments on the Groesbeek Heights and pushed Corps 'Feldt' off for good. As XXX Corps advanced, Urquhart could call on the Corps' artillery and so reduce the German advantage north of the river. In response to this, Model called for additional reinforcements and was promised the 506th Heavy Tank Battalion (equipped with King Tiger tanks) as well as specialist street fighting troops and equipment.
The Poles finally took off from England but some forty-one out of 114 Dakotas had to turn back or land (almost the entire 1st Battalion) due to the weather and over a hundred Luftwaffe fighters were in the air to greet them as they approached the landing zone. A number broke through the fighter screen and claimed several more Dakotas, however Major General S Sosabowski landed with over 750 men, but with no heavy equipment (which had been lost in the gliders two days previous). Obersturmbahnführer Harzer rapidly organised some 2,500 men as a blocking force ('Sperrverband Harzer') between the Poles and Arnhem Bridge. Another resupply drop occurred and only some forty-one tons of supplies got through to the British. The Poles began to plan for a crossing of the Lower Rhine.
At the other end of the corridor, 101st Airborne continued to push the Germans back on either side of the highway in a series of limited attacks supported by British armour. The drives by VIII Corps and XII Corps had virtually come to a halt and Lt General Dempsey began to transfer the Second Army Headquarters to St Oedenrode, while Field Marshal Montgomery established 21st Army Group Tactical Headquarters just south of Eindhoven. Montgomery demanded that Eisenhower made good his commitment to the effort in the north by halting Patton's US Third Army and placing Hodges US First Army under British control. Patton demanded more troops for the attack across the Rhine and so Eisenhower called for a conference between his Army Group and Army commanders - the first since D-Day.
The next day was very misty (Friday 22nd September) but the weather at last started to lift. By mid-morning, General Student's attack on the highway was underway with Kampfgruppe 'Huber' (from 59th Infantry Division) attacking from the west and Kampfgruppe 'Walther' (mainly 107th Panzer Brigade) from the east. The attack cut a largely undefended part of the road between Uden and Grave, and cut the 69th Brigade (50th (Northumbrian) Division) in two as it was travelling along the highway. The 101st Airborne rapidly reorganised for a counterattack and managed to obtain a number of ground-attack sorties from RAF 83 Group. "Our situation reminded me of the early American west, where small garrisons had to contend with sudden Indian attacks at any point along great stretches of vital railroad" lamented Major General Maxwell Taylor. He had received some warning of the German attack from the Dutch resistance and managed to rush elements of the 506th Parachute Infantry to Uden and move the 502nd Parachute Infantry to Veghel. Horrocks was forced to turn the 32nd Guards Brigade around and drive south clearing the road of Germans as they had managed to effectively block the road at Veghel and put the bridge under fire. Critically, for most of that day, supplies and equipment could not travel beyond Veghel.
Further along the highway, XXX Corps renewed its attempts to reach British 1st Airborne with 43rd (Wessex) Division attacking north from Nijmegen with the aid of the Irish Guards Battlegroup. Finally, elements of the Household Cavalry managed to make their way to the Poles at Driel, as did the 5th Battalion, Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, while Lt Col Mackenzie managed to cross the Lower Rhine and sent a message to Horrocks and Browning. The Poles attempted a river crossing later that evening and a number of men managed to make it across, but a plan to transfer the 5/DCLI was scrapped. German attacks continued all around the Oosterbeek pocket and Urquhart signalled browning that relief was critical.
The conference called by Eisenhower at Versailles started to repair some of the mistakes in the original Market Garden plan and Eisenhower insisted that there be a coordinated broad front advance to the Rhine, stressing that First Canadian Army's attack to clear the Scheldt and open Antwerp was vitally important now that the war was likely to drag on for a while yet. Bradley was instructed to halt Patton while the US First Army swung northwards towards Aachen with the US XIX Corps (temporarily reduced to two divisions under Major General Charles H Corlett) cooperating with the British VIII Corps. British Second Army would change the direction of its advance with VIII Corps in the lead, moving northeast toward Venlo and Kleve instead of XXX Corps moving north past Arnhem. Montgomery visited a number of formations to explain the new plan where XXX Corps' operations at Arnhem were to become secondary with the rescue of British 1st Airborne the priority, not advancing past Arnhem. 101st Airborne would now come under VIII Corps, and together with a reinforced 50th (Northumbrian) Division (having received 131st Brigade from 7th Armoured Division, XII Corps) and the Royal Netherlands Brigade 'Prinses Irene', would guard against attacks form the west and northwest while 11th Armoured Division and 3rd Division would drive northeast to the Rhine, keeping pace with the US XIX Corps. XXX Corps was left with those formations that were north of Grave - 43rd (Wessex) Division, 82nd Airborne and the Guards Armoured Division. British I Airborne Corps would still command the survivors of the division and the Poles. Permission was finally given to withdraw the British 1st Airborne Division.
The first good weather since the start of the operation finally appeared on Saturday 23rd September and the Allied air force was once again heavily active in the area. With artillery and air support, British 1st Airborne held its perimeter against continued attacks from 'von Teettau' and 'Hohenstauffen'. Model was furious and gave Bittrich twenty-four hours to wipe out the British. He also changed the command structure putting all German forces west of Market Garden under Fifteenth Army and those east of it under First Parachute Army. The Germans renewed their attacks against Veghel with the 6th Parachute Regiment (part of Kampfgruppe 'Chill') and Kampfgruppe 'Walther' but both were repulsed and the 506th Parachute Infantry with British armoured support reopened the highway.
In the early afternoon, the delayed third wave took off from England, comprising 654 troops carriers and 490 gliders on the northern route. 82nd Airborne received its 325th Glider Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne received the 907th Glider Field Artillery Battalion and the remainder of the 327th Glider Infantry. The 1st Battalion of the Polish Brigade dropped at Oude Keent, a disused airfield that had been intended for resupply. It marched north to join the other two battalions, which had been placed under 130th Brigade, 43rd (Wessex) Division. Little progress was made against SS-Kampfgruppe 'Frundsberg', while the corridor further south continued to be cleared. Mackenzie finally made it through to Browning who gave him a greeting to send back to Urquhart, but apart from his disgust with the slowness of 43rd (Wessex) Division had nothing else to offer. 130th Brigade linked up with the Poles at Driel and after dark, Sosabowski sent 200 of his men across to join the British.
On Sunday 24th September, the weather remained reasonable and British 1st Airborne started to receive close support from 2nd Tactical Air Force. Through this, XXX Corps artillery support and its continued espirit d'corps, British 1st Airborne continued to hold its perimeter, although a truce was negotiated to transfer some 1,200 wounded to the Germans. The troops however, were starting to suffer from exhaustion and lack of supplies. Both sides had been fighting for a week without rest and one fresh formation might swing the battle. This arrived for the Germans in the form of the 506th Heavy Tank Battalion, two companies of which were sent to 'Frundsberg' near Elst and one company to the east side of the Oosterbeek pocket. Progress had continued to be slow for XXX Corps whose only success was in taking Bemmel.
Horrocks together with Thomas and Sosabowski, surveyed the far side of the Lower Rhine from the church spire at Driel. Thomas came away believing that Horrocks had issued orders for the withdrawal of British 1st Airborne and began to make plans. Horrocks went to British Second Army headquarters to consult Dempsey (he later denied he had ever given those orders). In any event, Montgomery informed London of the decision and of the forthcoming thrust by VIII Corps northeast, while First Allied Airborne Army tried to arrange for more supplies to be dropped to the British at Oosterbeek.
The Germans meanwhile began another assault on the corridor, and while most were replulsed, the 'Jungwirth' Parachute Battalion and a company of Jagdpanthers from 559th Assault Battalion cut the road again near Veghel. Horrocks found he had been cut off from XXX Corps headquarters and stranded with Dempsey. No attack however took place from Kampfgruppe 'Walther' which was finally forced to retreat by 11th Armoured Division's capture of Deurne, east of Helmond.
Very early on Monday 25th September, 43rd (Wessex) Division attempted an assault crossing of the Lower Rhine, but the assault was disrupted by strong winds and heavy rain and the troops that got across (from 4/Dorset) achieved little. Kampfgruppe 'von Allworden' attacked (with the newly arrived King Tigers) and drove deep into the British position. Artillery and close air support partially restored the position and helped the British to hold out for another day. Urquhart however, signalled that the evacuation (now codenamed Operation 'Berlin') must take place the following night. XXX Corps on the other hand, finally managed to secure Elst and Boxmeer and the Household Cavalry found that the part of the Lower Rhine west of Arnhem was virtually undefended but Horrocks decided that 43rd (Wessex) Division make a simulated crossing at Renkum, some four miles west of Oosterbeek to draw attention away from the operation. 506th and 502nd Parachute Infantry, with help from 50th (Northumbrian) Division and 7th Armoured Division, cleared Hoevering and reopened the road for good. VIII Corps advanced against the retreating Kampfgruppe 'Walther' and 180th Infantry Division with 11th Armoured Division linking up with the XXX Corps at Boxmeer on the Maas. With only two divisions advancing northeast, there was a danger O'Connor would become dangerously overextended, but was saved by the arrival of the US 7th Armoured Division returned to US XIX Corps, coming back into the line beside 3rd Division.
Operation 'Berlin' began that evening with a sustained bombardment from 43rd (Wessex) Division and XXX Corps artillery while British and Canadian Engineers crossed the Lower Rhine to start ferrying the survivors of British 1st Airborne back across the river. The wounded were left with a number of volunteers and the British retreated through a gap barely 700m wide. The evacuation proceeded until first light. The survivors of the division marched from Driel to Nijmegen where the seaborne tail of the division was waiting with clean uniforms and equipment. The Germans had occupied the pocket by 14.00 the next day and taken prisoner the troops who could not be moved. With the end of the evacuation, Operation Market Garden also ended. First Allied Airborne Army had undertaken 4,852 troop-carrying aircraft sorties of which 1,293 had delivered paratroopers, 2,277 had delivered gliders and 1,282 resupply. 164 aircraft and 132 gliders had been lost with USAAF IX Troop Carrier Command suffering 454 casualties, RAF 38 and 46 Groups another 294 casualties. 39,620 troops had been delivered by air (21,074 by parachute and 18,546 by glider) as had 4,595 tons of stores. Only 7.4 percent of stores intended for British 1st Airborne had reached it. Another 6,172 aircraft sorties were flown in support of Market Garden for the loss of 125 aircraft, against 160 enemy aircraft destroyed. 10,300 troops of the British 1st Airborne Division and Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade had landed at Arnhem, some 2,587 escaping (1,741 from British 1st Airborne, 422 from the Glider Pilot Regiment, 160 Poles and 75 from the Dorset Regiment) in Operation 'Berlin' and some 240 later with the help of the Dutch resistance. The Germans claimed to have taken 6,450 men prisoner. The Poles took 378 casualties, with 101st Airborne suffering 2,110 and 82nd Airborne suffering 1,432. The British ground forces suffered some 5,354 casualties, while the German casualties, like their unit strengths are almost impossible to calculate accurately, but are likely to range somewhere between four to eight thousand. Five Victoria Crosses were awarded, as were two posthumous Medals of Honour.
The new salient threatened to cut off the German forces left in western Holland, but with the Allies now concentrating on an advance to the Rhine, with the ultimate objective of crossing it in the spring, the main attacks were by the First Canadian Army to clear the Scheldt estuary and open Antwerp to cargo ships. It cost 21st Army Group over 30,000 casualties but was completed by 28 November. The additional frontage meant that Montgomery needed to retain the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions in the line until the 13th and 27th November respectively and both divisions suffered high casualties as a result. In response to the Dutch strike timed to coincide with Market garden, the Germans stopped all civilian transport in the country and over 18,000 Dutch civilians died during the winter. Montgomery estimated that the operation was ninety per cent successful but the failure to take the final objective, that of Arnhem Bridge, had nullified the whole thing. "My country can never again afford the luxury of another Montgomery success". (Bernhard, Prince of the Netherlands) "In return for so much courage and sacrifice, the Allies had won a 50-mile salient - leading nowhere." (Dr John C Warren)
There are many factors that can be cited for the failure of Operation Market Garden, all deserving of consideration: