A Market and a Garden II

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Ready to go!

Many others invested in MARKET GARDEN also felt perturbations, though for reasons more tangible than superstitions about the Sabbath. Under relentless pressure on Eisenhower from George Marshall and others in Washington to get those airborne divisions into the fight, the plan had been slapped together in less than a week. The First Allied Airborne Army, also created at War Department insistence, and the corps headquarters that preceded it had drafted and discarded eighteen operational plans in the past forty days, including a scheme for seizing airfields in Berlin and other missions with names like WILD OATS, TRANSFIGURE, COMET, and the unfortunate HANDS UP. Even Montgomery seemed exasperated by the frantic cycle of concocting and scuttling plans to sprinkle paratroopers across the Continent. “Are you asking me to drop cowpats all over Europe?” the field marshal had reportedly asked his subordinates.

Some commanders worried about MARKET’s dispersal of paratroopers along a fifty-mile corridor. Others opposed GARDEN’s tangential line of advance through boggy terrain to the north, away from the U.S. First Army axis toward the Ruhr. In contravention of Montgomery’s earlier demand for one “full-blooded thrust” into Germany, the two main Allied legions would steadily diverge from each other. “It’s a foolhardy thing to do, and you’ll take a lot of casualties,” Bradley told Eisenhower. “In addition, it’s not in accordance with the plan Monty and I made together.” “Flabbergasted,” as he himself said, at not being consulted before Eisenhower approved MARKET GARDEN, Bradley also resented the diversion of transport planes needed to resupply his armies. The airborne army, he complained, showed “an astonishing faculty for devising missions that were never needed.”

Personalities added fat to the fire. Commanding that airborne army was a short, vain, querulous U.S. Army Air Forces lieutenant general named Lewis H. Brereton, a Naval Academy graduate said to be capable of swearing in four languages and whose philandering had drawn a personal rebuke from General Marshall. “Mystify, mislead, and surprise,” Brereton liked to tell subordinates, quoting Stonewall Jackson, but some wondered who was being duped. Blamed for ineffective close air support with the ground forces during the Normandy campaign’s early weeks, when he commanded the Ninth Air Force, Brereton was “not sincere nor energetic nor cooperative,” according to Bradley, who applauded his transfer to the airborne with two words: “Thank goodness.” Brereton was disappointed in his new role, but he now oversaw both the U.S. XVIII Airborne Corps and the British I Airborne Corps—four divisions and a Polish brigade in all, as well as a fleet of transport planes.

If Brereton’s interactions with his fellow Americans were prickly—the XVIII Airborne chief of staff called him “a stupid ass”—his relations with the British had grown venomous, particularly with his deputy, Lieutenant General Frederick A. M. “Boy” Browning, who would lead the MARKET assault. A handsome, mannered Grenadier Guardsman who had served valiantly in the last war but had yet to see action in this one, Browning was a high-strung mustache-twirler given to designing his own uniforms—false uhlan front, zip opening at the neck, polished Sam Browne belt, gray kid gloves, swagger stick—and occasionally kicking over the furniture. Some British subordinates privately called him “that popinjay,” and Americans were wary of what one officer called “too deliberate a smile.” Pilot, sailor, bobsledder, and national champion in the high hurdles, Browning nevertheless owed some of his cachet to his wife, the celebrated novelist Daphne du Maurier, whose Rebecca had, when translated to film by Alfred Hitchcock, won the Oscar for best picture in 1941. Browning so loathed Brereton that in early September he quit as deputy commander, only to withdraw his resignation a day later. Even now, with planes in the air by the thousands, the two men were seeking a modus vivendi to get them through the battle.

Finally, and most substantively, some officers sensed that the Germans were less supine than presumed. Brigadier E. T. Williams, Montgomery’s intelligence chief, cautioned the field marshal that the Allies’ “enemy appreciation was very weak” and that no proper study of the ground around Arnhem had been made. (The road bridge over the Neder Rijn had been penciled onto Allied map sheets, which were based largely on Dutch surveys made in the 1920s, before the span existed.) A radio decrypt also revealed that the enemy expected a XXX Corps thrust toward Nijmegen. The Polish commander, General Stanisław Sosabowski, after listening to an excessively chipper review of the battle plan on September 14, burst out, “But the Germans, how about the Germans, what about them?” Sosabowski later complained that someone “with a vivid imagination, optimism, and little knowledge was producing parachute battle orders with the same frequency and ease as a conjuror producing rabbits from a top hat.” A British brigadier acknowledged a tendency “to make a beautiful airborne plan and then add the fighting-the-Germans bit afterwards.”

Guessing which Germans would be fought proved vexing beyond all other vexations. Radio traffic showed that Model’s Army Group B headquarters had shifted to Oosterbeek, outside Arnhem. Other intelligence suggested enemy reinforcement of river and canal defenses, but with troops considered “low category”; some improvised Luftwaffe ground units were apparently so rudimentary that they lacked field kitchens. Ultra decrypt XL 9188 in early September revealed that various battered units from Normandy had been ordered to western Holland to refit, and subsequent intercepts indicated that this gaggle included the II SS Panzer Corps. Not until September 15 had the SHAEF high command taken note that the corps’ two divisions, the 9th and 10th SS Panzer, seemed to have laagered near Arnhem. Together they had suffered nine thousand casualties at Caen, at Falaise, and in the retreat across France; they had also lost much of their armor, including 120 tanks on August 19 alone. But whether the divisions were still eviscerated, where they were headed, or even precisely where they were now located remained opaque.

Montgomery’s senior staff officers almost to a man voiced skepticism about MARKET GARDEN. Beetle Smith grew anxious enough to alert Eisenhower, who hesitated to intervene in tactical dispositions but authorized his chief of staff to raise the issue with the field marshal. Smith flew to Brussels on Friday, forty-eight hours before the assault was to begin, and suggested strengthening the MARKET force to be dropped at Arnhem, perhaps by shifting one of the American airborne divisions farther north. “Montgomery ridiculed the idea and laughed me out of his tent,” Smith later reported. “He waved my objections airily aside.”

Montgomery’s insouciance was understandable, even if his alleged demeanor was not. Five Allied corps were about to descend on a narrow sliver of western Holland where the enemy was “weak, demoralized, and likely to collapse entirely if confronted with a large airborne attack,” according to a British Second Army assessment. The German defenses around Arnhem had recently been gauged as no larger than a brigade of three thousand men, with insignificant tank strength. The Dutch underground had noted panzers and SS soldiers near Arnhem, but German infiltration of the resistance had resulted in the capture and execution of several dozen agents and made the Allies distrust information sent from the Netherlands. No conclusive intelligence about the two SS panzer divisions could be teased out, and the partial reports were passed to neither Horrocks nor most airborne commanders. The presence of tanks at Arnhem “was the one awkward fact that would not fit the desired pattern,” the intelligence historian Ralph Bennett later wrote, “so the best thing was to sweep it under the carpet.

Boy Browning declared himself ready to sacrifice a third of his MARKET force in simply laying the airborne carpet, but such a gallant immolation would prove unnecessary. At two dozen English airfields on that lovely Sunday morning, the mighty flock had gathered: 1,545 transports and 478 gliders to be escorted by more than 1,000 fighters in two aerial trains across the North Sea for a flight almost three hours long. Hundreds of bombers also flew, bringing the entire winged fleet to 4,676. Tea wagons rattled along the runways with bacon sandwiches and great steaming mugs. “That means business,” one crewman said. “They never give you a cup of tea unless you’re really going.” At Grantham, a British sergeant strutted down the sun-washed flight line in an opera hat, doffing it and bowing to men right and left.

“Emplane!” The order echoed and reechoed. With much grunting and cursing, the thousands heaved themselves aboard—among them many Normandy veterans, who called themselves “the Old Men.” Fighters and pathfinders lifted off first, and by noon, just as Horrocks finished his briefing in the Bourg-Léopold theater, more than twenty thousand troops were off the ground, with 330 artillery tubes and 500 vehicles. Men played chess or read the Sunday papers; others dozed or gawked from the tiny windows at “an immense armada of aircraft, some towing gliders, which stretched as far as could be seen,” as one lieutenant wrote. “They floated up and down in unison like an outstretched blanket being gently shaken.”

The first British pathfinders jumped at 12:40 P.M., followed twenty minutes later by gliders landing every nine seconds—“plowing up dirt like a ship in a heavy sea,” in one GI’s image. Then, from an altitude of six hundred feet, the parachutists spilled out, so many that astonished witnesses below thought they were snowflakes or flak bursts, and within eighty minutes those twenty thousand Allied cutthroats were deep behind enemy lines. Aircraft losses were modest: sixty-eight planes, including fighters and bombers lost to flak. Gleeful children near Arnhem sang “Jingle Bells” in Dutch to parachutists wriggling from their silks.

That this welcoming chorus congregated several miles west of town underscored one of two tactical complications beclouding the sunny first hours of MARKET. Airborne doctrine held that drop and landing zones should be as close to the mission objective as possible, preferably within five miles; these instead lay seven to eight miles from the Arnhem road bridge. Accusatory fingers subsequently would be pointed either at Major General Roy Urquhart, commander of the 1st Airborne Division, a novice parachutist who was said to lack the requisite experience and credibility to insist on closer drops, or, more plausibly, at air commanders who refused to fly closer because of possible enemy flak and because of congestion in the airspace between Arnhem and Nijmegen.

The second complication was evident just by counting noses: barely half of the 3.5-division force designated for MARKET was on the ground, and no more troops would arrive until the following day or later. General Brereton’s troop carrier commanders had insisted that only a single mission fly on Sunday; a second sortie would ostensibly exhaust air and ground crews and leave insufficient time to service and reload the planes (although double missions over the same distance had been flown from Italy in DRAGOON the previous month). Pleas by airborne commanders and by an emissary from Montgomery to Brereton’s headquarters failed to reverse the decision, despite an analysis that showed transporting the entire combat force at a deliberate rate could take up to four days. Particularly for the British, the combination of too few men with too far to travel would soon prove fateful, even as paratroopers from the 1st Airborne Division collected their kit and hurried east in search of a bridge to seize.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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