This year we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the largest airborne operation conducted during World War II. “Market-Garden” was the name of the operation that took place between the 17th and 26th of September, 1944, and was conducted by the allies in Holland. The person behind the plan was British Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery. His idea was to use airborne forces to take bridges in Grave, Hutert, and Nijmegen in Holland, bridges and ferries in the lower Rhine using British and Polish airborne troops, and finally, holding a position in Arnhem until the arrival of ground forces.
The operation took 10 days. Montgomery wanted to open the way into Germany to isolate the German Army occupying Holland. Just after 10 a.m. on Sunday, 17.09.1944, the biggest airborne fleet to date took off simultaneously from many airports in southern England. The following units took part in the battle against the German Second SS Panzer Corps under the command of Wilhelm Bittrich: the 1st British Airborne Division, commanded by Major General Robert Urquhart, the American 82nd Airborne Division, commanded by Major General James Gavin, the American 101st Airborne Division commanded by Major General Maxwell Taylor, and the 1st (Polish) Independent Parachute Brigade commanded by General Stanislav Sosabowski. On land, it was the British XXX Corps under the command of Sir Brian Horrocks.
The initial part of the operation was truly spectacular. Almost 5000 aircraft—bombers, transporters, and more than 2500 gliders—were engaged. On Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m., the entire Allied airborne team, equipped with vehicles and weapons, began landing behind enemy lines.
On land, the tanks of the British Guards Armored Division and the troops of the XXX Corps—the “Garden” half of the operation—amassed. Fierce fighting took place from the 17th until the 21st of September near Arnhem, Eindhoven, Veghel, and Nijmegen. Initially, the Allied Army was ahead and captured bridges on rivers Moza and Waal, as well as canal Moza-Wall, but the German counterattack between 18th and 19th made winning Arnhem and holding the bridges impossible.
On the 21st and 23rd of September, near the towns of Driel and Grave, the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade, under command of General Sosabowski, was dropped into heavy German artillery fire (out of 114 planes, 53 managed to reach the target and drop 1067 soldiers). The goal of the Market-Garden operation was for the Allies to move the front line 80km north, creating a break of 25-40 km in the German defense system. Unfortunately, the aim of the operation wasn’t met. One of the reasons being the Germans got hold of the plans of the operation on the 17th September—the day the operation began.
Of the 35,000 soldiers fighting in the operation, many did not return home. There were big losses among the Dutch resistance and the local population, as well. It is no wonder, then, that each anniversary of the event held in the Netherlands is always very solemn.
The defeat of the Allies was also the last tactical victory of the Third Reich—one that extended the length of the Second World War by a year. The reasons behind the defeat were: disregarding the potential of the German defense—empowered at the last moment with armored units of the Waffen-SS—communications problems, and lack of sufficient fuel supplies for the military vehicles. What came as a surprise is that all those mistakes happened under the eye of one the most cautious leaders—B.L. Montgomery. The losses were huge. Out of 35,000 paratroopers, 12,000 lost their lives.
This year, the guests of honor during the anniversary events were King Willem-Alexander of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.
To commemorate those days, reenactment groups, alongside soldiers from the U.S., Poland, UK, and Germany participated in the events at the dropzone at Ginkel Heath – EDE. Parachutists jumped from American, German, Dutch, French, and Polish planes at the original landing spot of the 1st British Airborne Division.
For those who would like to find out more, I recommend watching A Bridge Too Far—a famous film directed in 1977 by Richard Attenborough, based on the novel written by Cornelius Ryan about Operation Market-Garden.