On September 17, 1944, the Allies launched Operation Market Garden, a bold and dangerous operation they had hoped would catapult their armies across the Rhine, into the heart of Germany, and end World War II in the European theater before Christmas. It would fail. 

Operation Market Garden was a flawed plan from the very beginning. Allied planners ignored crucial intelligence indicating that the Germans were much stronger than previously believed and that German SS armored units had been placed in key locations. They also were relying on a single two-lane highway, aptly nicknamed “Hell’s Highway” to advance to the Rhine while resupplying their troops. This would allow German forces to cut the road in numerous places. 


The Breakout From Normandy’s Beaches

Following the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, Allied progress was soon measured in yards as they had to crawl their way through the thick hedgerows of the bocage country. Each small field was a set-piece battle; the Germans would expertly defend one and then retreat to another. 

However, General Omar Bradley designed a plan to break out of the hedgerows and get into the open country of France. His “Operation Cobra” unleashed a massive bombing campaign of the German front line units. It was followed by an assault designed to pierce the German defenses and unleash the new Third Army under General Patton to drive the Germans out of the Brittany peninsula. 

Patton’s troops swept across Brittany and then joined the rest of the Allies as they raced to the Meuse River and eventually reached Paris by late August. The Allied invasion of Southern France had troops linking up with American armor under Patton and then racing to the German frontier.

In early August, the Germans counterattacked at Falaise and tried to drive a wedge between the American and British forces. Despite the Germans’ initial gains, the Allied lines held firm and the awesome specter of Allied airpower became apparent. With the German troops now wedged into a small pocket, American and British troops hit them from each side while Allied fighter bombers extracted a terrible toll on the German units who had no air support. 

German armor, troops, and horses are slaughtered in the Battle of the Falaise Gap. (U.S. Army)

Most of the troops trapped in the pocket were virtually annihilated. At the time of the Allied invasion on June 6, the Germans had 56 infantry divisions in Normandy. In just two and a half months of combat, they had barely 20 viable divisions left. Of the 12 armored divisions, 11 were mostly destroyed, with only one still able to be used as a cohesive unit. They lost 1,800 of their 2,200 tanks and assault guns during that time.