Ardennes Shock

The three key players on Eisenhower’s staff who would have a pivotal role in planning SHAEF’s response to the Ardennes were its ubiquitous chief of staff, Walter Bedell Smith (known as ‘Beetle’ because of his nervous energy), and the British officers Kenneth Strong and Major-General J.F.M. ‘Jock’ Whiteley, its Deputy G-3. The latter had worked for Eisenhower since late 1942 at Allied Forces HQ in the Mediterranean and was one of the few British officers Ike positively insisted on taking with him to SHAEF in 1943. Although he was officially Deputy G-3, Whiteley’s ability, trustworthiness and general likeability was such that ‘the Beetle’ also employed him as an unofficial deputy chief of staff. Whiteley was particularly valuable because of his close personal bond with Monty’s chief of staff, the affable Major-General Francis ‘Freddie’ de Guingand, although the relationship between the two headquarters was tempestuous. Noel Annan, a British intelligence officer at SHAEF, noted how ‘it became the mark of a good British SHAEF officer to express dismay at the behaviour of Montgomery. Had he not challenged Eisenhower’s broad-front across France? Had he not then intrigued to be reinstated as Commander in Chief of land forces and usurp Eisenhower’s position? Did he not treat Eisenhower with contempt, refusing to visit him at his headquarters?’ To prevail against this new threat, the Allies would need to put aside such personal differences – if they could.

That first evening, with maps spread out on the floor, Bedell Smith, Strong and Jock Whiteley reasoned the road network of the Ardennes led the eyes of even a casual observer straight to the two transportation hubs of St Vith and Bastogne. Control of both these towns would regulate the speed and extent of any German advance. Apparently using an ancient German sword (of all portentous items), tracing routes and pointing to towns, they went on to deduce correctly that the German attack was aimed at splitting the British and US army groups. It was equally clear to them that, to manage the German penetration, its flanks needed to be contained, preferably at the northern and southern shoulders; the corridor in between could then be controlled and eventually choked, like slowly sealing a breach in a dam. After Bedell Smith was assured that reinforcements could reach Bastogne in time by road, they recommended this course of action to Ike.

Thus, Eisenhower alerted his only strategic reserve available – the 17th, 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions – for emergency deployment to the Ardennes. That was his function as the strategic commander. The 82nd and 101st were already in France and could move immediately; the 17th would have to fly from England when weather permitted. There are, however, certain rules in the management of a military command chain that make for smooth running; one of these is that the man at the top should never bypass several levels of command to issue direct orders to those at the bottom – principles that Montgomery and Patton often forgot, or ignored. In terms of operations, Eisenhower had no wish to bypass or overrule his friend Bradley in the latter’s command of Twelfth US Army Group. Ike would advise, but not order.

While Ike had alerted his strategic reserves, with the 82nd Airborne eventually destined for Werbomont, on the northern flank, and the 101st for Bastogne, it was up to Bradley to deploy his operational reserves. Eisenhower felt he needed a nudge: ‘I think you’d better send Middleton some help,’ he advised. Fortunately, there were two newly arrived US armoured divisions, William H. Morris’s Tenth, nicknamed ‘the Tigers’, with Patton’s Third Army, and Robert W. Hasbrouck’s 7th Armored in Simpson’s Ninth Army sector, north of the Ardennes. Bradley was openly reluctant to order the effervescent Patton to surrender his newest armoured division which would, he knew, trigger howls of profane outrage and protest. ‘Tell him that Ike is running this damn war,’ Eisenhower told his friend.

Thus Patton was summoned to a secure telephone link in his ‘Lucky Forward’ headquarters at Nancy and ordered by Bradley’s chief of staff, Major-General Leven C. Allen, to commit the 10th Armored straightaway, sending one of its Combat Commands immediately to join the 101st Airborne, also just directed to Bastogne. There was, as predicted, a heated debate. ‘As the loss of this division would seriously affect the chances of my breaking through at Saarlautern, I protested strongly,’ wrote Patton later, ‘saying that we had paid a high price for that sector so far, and that to move the Tenth Armored to the north would be playing into the hands of the Germans.’

Bradley then had to make a personal telephone call after Allen to nudge Patton into compliance. ‘General Bradley admitted my logic, but said that the situation was such that it could not be discussed over the telephone.’ The armoured division was to report to Troy Middleton at his VIII Corps headquarters in Bastogne, which both readily identified as a key intermediate objective for any force in transit through the Ardennes. Although from his command post at the Caserne Molifor Patton may have protested vigorously, he was also aware of the intelligence concerns of his own G-2, Colonel Oscar Koch, a man he trusted, and who had been part of his intimate command group since Tunisia, over eighteen months earlier. Koch had predicted a German attack, and there it was. Eventually, Patton fell into line because he saw the opportunities for an offensive, if different from the one he had planned.

The US Ninth Army commander, William Hood Simpson, was (in Bradley’s words) ‘big, bald and enthusiastic’. From his headquarters in Maastricht, code-named ‘Conquer’, he was altogether more gracious than Patton in surrendering his 7th Armored Division on 16 December and sending it to St Vith. This was the ‘Workshop’ formation that Middleton had told the beleaguered General Jones, of the Golden Lions, was on its way to help him. The professionalism of Simpson’s Ninth Army was demonstrated by the speed with which the 7th Armored Division reacted to the order to move to St Vith. They were first warned on 16 December at 5.45 p.m. to move south as soon as possible, with an advance party leaving 105 minutes later: an impressive achievement even by the standards of today. Simpson was a West Point classmate of Patton’s, and regarded as extremely capable; his headquarters ‘was in some respects superior to any in my command’ thought Bradley, while possessing none of the defects of First Army’s. Eisenhower observed of his dependable and professional Ninth Army commander, ‘If Simpson ever made a mistake as an Army commander, it never came to my attention. Alert, intelligent, and professionally capable, he was the type of leader that American soldiers deserve.’

Simpson had served in France in 1918, latterly as a divisional chief of staff, and progressed through Leavenworth and War College to reach three-star rank by 1943. Simpson’s own chief of staff was General James E. Moore and the two forged an unusually close relationship, where, in the words of Simpson’s biographer, ‘they understood, trusted and admired each other … Often while Simpson was in the field, Moore would issue orders in the Commander’s name, then tell Simpson later. So closely did the two work together that in many instances it is impossible to sort out actions taken or ideas conceived.’ This in so many ways reflected the synergy needed for a successful campaign headquarters.

After D-Day, when Simpson sent his staff officers to study how First and Third Armies worked, the differences between the two were analysed thus: ‘First Army, probably reflecting its Chief of Staff Kean’s suspicion and resentment of outsiders, would allow only Simpson and his chief of staff to visit his headquarters and staff sections. On the other hand, Simpson’s West Point classmate, Patton, allowed anyone from Simpson’s staff to visit his army – all were welcome at Third Army headquarters.’ The amenable Simpson and his Ninth Army had also already served under Montgomery for a while, a development which Bradley felt would not have worked so well with Hodges, and certainly not Patton. As the winter set in, there are records that Simpson, with more foresight than his fellow army commanders, ‘directed the initiation of a massive supply effort designed to issue winter clothing’ to his troops. Eisenhower found an echo in Simpson, who was one of the most diplomatic of American commanders, having charmed Montgomery and hosted the important 7 December conference at his Maastricht headquarters.

Late on 16 December, as soon as Simpson’s headquarters received the order to despatch the 7th Armored, its Combat Command ‘B’ under Brigadier-General Bruce C. Clarke went on ahead to liaise with Middleton in Bastogne, before moving on to St Vith, where Clarke arrived towards midday on 17 December. The rest of Clarke’s formation battled against the flow of retreating traffic to arrive soon afterwards and deployed from their line of march straight into combat. Clarke’s early arrival ensured that St Vith would be held until 23 December, and bought a valuable week for the Americans to stymie the Germans and reorganise themselves. In due course, Clarke would take over command of St Vith from the traumatised General Jones of the Golden Lions. While it may have been Clarke’s personal drive that brought him to St Vith in time, it was Simpson’s tutelage that prepared him for his starring role in the drama unfolding. From the beginning, it was Simpson, far more certainly than Bradley or Hodges, and less grudgingly than Patton, who identified the German attacks as a major offensive and offered what help he could, sending not only 7th Armored, but the 30th Infantry and 2nd Armored Divisions as well. Within ten days, Simpson’s Ninth Army had committed seven of its divisions to battle in the Ardennes.

The way these decisions came about challenges the view that the Ardennes was all ‘prearranged’, from the American perspective; that Middleton’s front was deliberately weak in order to lure the Germans out from the safety of their Westwall and attack with their remaining panzers; that two US armoured divisions had been stationed north and south for just such an eventuality; and that Eisenhower and Bradley were prepared to sacrifice the lives of tens of thousands of GIs to bring about an early end to the war. In The Last Assault, Charles Whiting had looked at the end result, then worked back to spin his speculative conspiracy. The circumstances of the two armoured divisions’ arrivals in theatre, the timing of the German attack and Patton’s protests serve to undermine his argument.

With the decisions to alert the airborne forces and move their armour finalised for the moment, there was little else the pair could do, so Eisenhower and Bradley returned to their five rubbers of bridge, accompanied by the Scotch whisky to celebrate Ike’s promotion, an honour Bradley would one day receive himself.

On the morning of 17 December, Eisenhower, in a demonstration of his true self-confidence, sent a letter to Marshall, his boss, shouldering the blame for the surprise, but concluding, ‘If things go well, we should not only stop the thrust, but be able to profit from it’. One might have thought Bradley sufficiently concerned to have raced back to his own headquarters in Luxembourg first thing on 17 December, as ‘Monk’ Dickson had done, but he lingered at the Trianon Palace, perhaps to get more of the picture. It was remarkably fortunate that Bradley was in Paris with Eisenhower when the news first broke. Had the two commanders been in their own separate headquarters, Ike may well have deferred to Bradley’s more sanguine views of the situation – being much closer to the Ardennes – and Hitler might have gained at least another day. Bradley, too, demonstrated that he needed a nudge from Ike to deploy the two armoured divisions, as well as some moral back-up from his boss to confront an angry George Patton, sore at having to surrender his 10th Armored Division.

Meanwhile, Eisenhower and his SHAEF staff, now energised by having a ‘real’ campaign to fight, rather than pursuing endless turf wars over logistics and civil affairs, developed a response to the Ardennes attack. In some ways, SHAEF could be its own worst enemy. Noel Annan, working on its intelligence staff, described the set-up:

Supreme headquarters was gigantic. The forward echelon [at Versailles] to which I belonged was equivalent in numbers to a division; how large the rear echelon was I never discovered. Strong’s [intelligence] staff alone numbered over a thousand men and women. It was not as if the vast staff helped Eisenhower to make strategic decisions: they had already been taken at meetings between Eisenhower, his army group commanders and General Patton … as a result the plans SHAEF produced were rarely clear or convincing, since they were a series of compromises; and the staff spent more of their time producing papers to justify these decisions to the Combined Chiefs of Staff than in producing the data on which plans could be made … intelligence at SHAEF had been governed by what one might call the ‘Happy Hypothesis’, that the German Army had now been so shattered in Normandy and battered in Russia that it was only a matter of two or three months before the war would end.

Big modern military operations, such as those seen in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan (in all of which I worked), are baffling assemblies of very senior staff officers of many nations writing reports and advancing national agendas; they can best be summed up by the term ‘warehouse generalship’, where colonels are more in abundance than corporals. Noel Annan’s diaries prove that today’s coalition headquarters are merely slimmed-down versions of SHAEF in 1944–5. The tens of thousands of personnel comprising SHAEF rear echelon had remained in London. SHAEF Forward (code-named ‘Shellburst’) moved twice in September 1944, first to Granville on the Cherbourg peninsula, thence to Paris. ‘No one can compute the cost of that move in lost truck tonnage to the front,’ Bradley lamented privately, at the height of the logistics squeeze.

This shatterproof, semi-transparent balloon, of the sort in which modern politicians tend to live, is what Eisenhower had overcome with his clear thinking, unattended by distracting minions, on that December night with Bradley when the crisis was first apparent. Everyone realised that their most powerful weapon – the Allied air forces – would remain grounded for the foreseeable future as the bad weather made any aerial response impossible; they were going to have to learn how to craft a land campaign for the first time without the assumption of lavish aerial support. Initially their stratagem would be to contain the German counter-offensive east of the River Meuse, allowing the First and Third Armies breathing space to devise a coordinated plan to destroy it.

Having ordered the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions to the Ardennes by truck in great haste, Ike also called over the 17th Airborne Division from England, and summoned Major-General Matthew B. Ridgway’s XVIII Airborne Corps headquarters to command the three divisions. Days earlier, Ridgway had accompanied senior commanders of the 101st (the ‘Screaming Eagles’, after their shoulder insignia) back to England to lecture on their experiences during Market Garden. He had already sent its commander, Major-General Maxwell D. Taylor, back to the US on 5 December for staff conferences in Washington, DC. Thus the commanding generals of both the XVIII Airborne Corps and 101st were out of country when the storm broke in the Ardennes. Major-General James M. Gavin and Brigadier-General Anthony C. McAuliffe, the latter normally in charge of 101st’s artillery, were in temporary command of the corps and division, respectively. With so many of the senior leaders out of theatre, their airborne troopers reasoned, they were unlikely to be deployed in combat operations in the near future.

A West Pointer, class of 1917, Ridgway had taken over the 82nd Infantry Division from Omar Bradley in 1942 and converted it into an airborne force. In mid-training the 82nd lost a cadre, taken away to form the nascent 101st Airborne, and thereafter a fierce rivalry developed between the two divisions. At that time, Ridgway commanded the former, with Max Taylor leading the division’s artillery and Gavin a regiment of its parachute infantry, and in due course they became arch-competitors. After Major-General Bill Lee, the 101st’s commander, was incapacitated by a heart attack in 1943, Taylor left to lead it, and the rising star, Gavin, moved up to become Ridgway’s number two and chief planner for airborne aspects of Normandy. Afterwards, when Ridgway rose to command the XVII Airborne Corps, Gavin replaced him as commander of the 82nd (known as the ‘All American’, as the original formation contained men from every state), mirroring Taylor’s position at the 101st. Ridgway earned his spurs commanding a corps in Market Garden, and – reasoned Ike – a spare, battle-tested, higher-formation headquarters led by a reliable commander was always a handy asset to have in a fluid campaign.

In December 1944, Jim Gavin was the US Army’s most experienced airborne soldier and its youngest divisional commander. Illegitimate and adopted, he had joined the army underage, was largely self-educated, and fought hard to win a place at West Point, graduating in 1929. He worked his way up through sheer ability to command a regiment of the 82nd in Sicily, where he won a Distinguished Service Cross and promotion to brigadier-general. After Normandy he was the natural successor to command the 82nd when Ridgway was promoted to command the Airborne Corps. The rivalry between Taylor of the 101st and Gavin grew more intense as each rose to higher responsibilities, both vying to be ‘Mister Airborne’ in the public mind, with the youthful Gavin normally capturing – and conquering – an admiring female fan club.

After the liberation of Paris, Gavin had joined a distinguished table at the Ritz for lunch, where the other guests were Ernest Hemingway, Collier’s war correspondent Martha Gellhorn (then Hemingway’s wife), Hemingway’s mistress Mary Welsh and Marlene Dietrich. Gavin’s drive and youth were irresistible to Gellhorn, and the two swiftly embarked on an affair. Gellhorn would be reporting in Italy when the Bulge broke, but managed to reach Belgium to cover the closing stages in January. In the meantime, Gavin had become ensnared by the charms of the other unattached lunchtime guest, Marlene Dietrich, who was ‘crazy about him’ during her pre-Ardennes tour of France and Belgium. In between, he indulged with his pretty English WAC driver.

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Operation Market-Garden I

The airborne part of Operation `Market‑Garden’, the descent by British and US forces on Arnhem and the corridor stretching up to it from the Allied front line, was the largest Allied airborne effort of the war, and the only attempt at a semi‑strategic airborne gyration, but failed in its efforts to secure a Rhine bridge because of poor planning and intelligence.

The strategic potential of airborne forces was neither fully developed nor exploited during World War II. Such forces are extremely expensive in men and material. Large numbers of picked men have to be given special training and kept out of battle for long periods; a great many parachutes, gliders and other specialist equipment have to be provided and men trained to operate and maintain them; hundreds of four‑engined bombers to tow the gliders and transport aircraft to drop the paratroopers had to be diverted from other tasks and their crews given special training; and a large base organization is necessary to launch and maintain the force

Among senior Allied commanders’ opinions were divided on the proper use of airborne forces. Some, such as Lieutenant General George Patton, believed that airborne forces should be confined to the tactical role with airborne brigade groups assigned as corps troops for quick reaction. Others believed that the great cost of such specialist forces could only lie justified by their being used to carry out deep and strategically significant penetrations of enemy territory, though the threat which airborne forces held in reserve posed to the enemy was also a valuable bonus.

High level disputes

To promote planning for the strategic use of airborne forces, General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces, established in August 1944 the 1st Allied Airborne Army Headquarters, under Lieutenant‑General Lewis H. Brereton, United States Army Air Force. The raw material for their planning was provided by three American and two British airborne divisions, the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade and the 52nd (Lowland) Division as an airtransportable follow‑up and consolidation formation. For air transport they had the United States IX Troop Carrier Command and Nos 38 and 46 Groups, RAF.

The establishment of this headquarters did not immediately alter the essentially tactical nature of the tasks assigned to airborne forces. Of these the most successful, so far as British forces were concerned, were the set-piece operations of 6th Airborne Division in Normandy invasion and at the Rhine crossing. Because the 1st Airborne Division, in general, and the lst Parachute Brigade, in particular, had had greater operational experience prior to the invasion, they were held in reserve for use against targets of opportunity. By the time of ‘Market‑Garden’ the 1st Airborne Division had been involved in the plans for 16 abortive operations. This had led to a great deal of frustration, best summed up by the men who had the arduous task of loading their heavy equipment, jeeps and guns, into Airspeed Horsa gliders by small side doors, an operation which became known as ‘into the ‑ ‑ ‑ ‑ gliders, out of the ‑ ‑ ‑ ‑ ‑ gliders!’.

Trying times

The cancellations were nearly all the result of the Allies advancing more rapidly than expected or from the strength of the enemy, for one reason or another, appearing too great for the risk involved to be acceptable. The main limitation on the rapid launching of airborne operations was the time required to collect and disseminate briefing material and orders down to the level of the individual soldier. The air photographs provided for one cancelled operation were largely of month old clouds, while for another there were only nineteenth‑century French hachured maps with only the dolphins missing!

The British 2nd Army crossed the Seine on 30 August and were in Antwerp and Brussels on 4 and 5 September respectively after an advance of some 250 miles (400km). On 1 September Eisenhower took over command of all the forces in the field in North‑West Europe. The very rapid advance had put a tremendous strain on the logistic system. While the initial delay in enlarging the Normandy bridgehead had assisted the administrative planners, once the breakout started the rates of advance on which they had been told to plan proved wildly pessimistic. The Seine was reached 11 days ahead of schedule, and Allied forces were approaching the German frontier by D , 96 days while the logistic plans were based on their doing so about D ~ 300 days. Moreover, until the lower Scheldt had been cleared and Antwerp opened as a port, the armies were still being supplied through Cherbourg and over the Normandy beaches.

Narrow or broad front?

These important logistical considerations entered into the disagreement between Eisenhower, who favoured an advance on a broad front, closing up to the Rhine along the whole front before crossing it to break into the heart of Germany, and General Sir Bernard Montgomery, who advocated an advance on a narrow front launched from the 21st Army Group area and designed to carry the Allies deep into the North German plain with the chance of ending the war in 1944.

Montgomery tried to persuade Eisenhower to give the 21st Army Group absolute priority in additional formations and in logistics to support this single‑front thrust. Eisenhower was not to be persuaded, but was sufficiently impressed with the advantages of a northern advance to give Montgomery what was in effect the whole of the strategic reserve, the forces available to the 1st Allied Airborne Army. ‘Market‑Garden’ was the child of this concept and of Montgomery’s singleness of purpose.

‘Market‑Garden’ and its immediate predecessor ‘Comet’ were brilliant in concept. After occupying Antwerp and Brussels, XXX Corps, under Lieutenant‑General Sir Brian Horrocks, had reached the Meuse‑Escaut Canal. Montgomery aimed to use airborne forces to seize the bridges over the Maas, Waal, and Neder Rijn, at Grave, Nijmegen, and Arnhem respectively, and establish an airhead at the Deelen airfield just north of Arnhem into which to fly an airportable division and supplies (Operation ‘Market’), thus enabling XXX Corps to ‘bounce ‘ the Rhine and advance to the Zuider Zee (‘Garden’).

The tactical prizes for the success of such an operation were great: the German 15th Army and its forces in Holland would have their lines of communication cut, as would the V‑2 missiles sites, the elimination of which was of high priority, and the Siegfried Line would have been turned to the north.

The strategic prize was yet more glittering: the ending of the war in 1944. Not only would this have saved enormously in lives and money, but it would have altered the whole pattern of postwar Europe. The occupation zones in Germany had yet to be agreed. The Russians were advancing in the Balkans but were halted east of Warsaw, refusing even to aid the Allies in aiding the citizens of Warsaw who had risen against the Germans. The outstanding courage of the citizen army of Warsaw was not finally overcome until 2 October. Had ‘Market‑Garden’ been successful, the Western Allies would have entered Berlin and Prague and the Yalta Conference would have been a very different affair from that which it turned out to be. But strategic concepts can only be sealed through tactical success. In ‘Market‑Garden’ this was denied the Allies and it is with the causes of this failure, in particular that of the British 1st Airborne Division, that we are here concerned.

Abortive plan

The prevalent optimism at the beginning of September is well illustrated by the plans for Operation ‘Comet’, which was to have been put into effect on 8 September. This operation had the‑same objectives as Operation ‘Market’ but was to be executed by the 1st Airborne Division and the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade alone. The 4th Parachute Brigade was to drop south of the Maas and capture the bridge at Grave, the 1st Parachute Brigade was to drop north of the Neder Rijn (or Rhine) and capture the bridges at Arnhem, and the remainder of the 1st Airborne Division and the Polish Parachute Brigade were to drop and land between the Maas and the Waal and capture the bridge at Nijmegen.

Major‑General Roy Urquhart, GOC 1st Airborne Division, has been accused by some of showing a lack of imagination in his `Market’ plan, in not planning to take the Arnhem bridges by glider coup‑de-main, as had been done by the 6th Airborne Division in Normandy. It is therefore of interest that his plan for `Comet’ included provision for a reinforced company from each of the airlanding battalions (1st Borders, 7th KOSB and 2nd South Staffords) each being allotted six Horsa gliders with the task of taking the bridges at Grave, Nijmegen and Arnhem by coup‑de‑main.

New optimism

The forces were all assembled at Harwell where were the author’s regimental tactical headquarters (1st Light Regiment, RA), and the author well remembers getting ready to take off on this adventure, only to have it postponed for 24 hours just before midnight on 7‑8 September and finally cancelled about the same time on the 9th. When for `Market’ three instead of one airborne divisions were assigned for the same task, it is not surprising that optimism prevailed.

Another effect of the very rapid advance of the 2nd Army from the Seine was the increasing difficulty of getting reliable intelligence of the enemy. Successive postponements of “Comet’ were partly due to the realization that the enemy resistance was again hardening and that not only might the 1st Airborne Division find the enemy too strong for it to carry out its very dispersed mission, but that it would need a deliberate attack, strongly supported by artillery, to enable XXX Corps to breakout across the Meuse‑Escaut Canal to the north.

The plans for Operation ‘Market’ were very similar to those for ‘Comet’, but used divisions where before there had been brigades to seize five major bridges three over the Maas, Waal, and Neder Rhine, laying what was called an airborne carpet, more accurately a series of mats that would enable XXX Corps to `bounce’ the Rhine.

Operation `Market’

I British Airborne Corps (Lieutenant General F. A. M. `Boy’ Browning) commanded the airborne force until it had landed and came under British 2nd Army (Lieutenant‑General Sir Miles Dempsey). The forces available were: the British 1st Airborne Division, the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions and the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade, the last under command of the 1st Airborne Division. Aircraft and gliders were provided by Nos 38 and 46 Groups, RAF, and the US IX Troop Carrier Command. The last also provided the pilots for gliders towed by American aircraft, those towed by British aircraft coming from the Glider Pilot Regiment.

Air support and air escort was provided by the 2nd Tactical Air Force, Nos 2 and 11 Groups RAF and the US 8th Air Force (fighters and bombers), all under the control of Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Air Force. The 1st Allied Airborne Army made all arrangements for air escort and for air/sea rescue and dummy parachute drops.

Operation `Garden’

`Garden’ was to be carried out by XXX Corps, under Lieutenant‑General Sir Brian Horrocks (Guards Armoured Division, 43rd and 50th Infantry Divisions) with VIII Corps on its right and XII on its left keeping up what pressure they could with limited ammunition supplies. The Guards Armoured Division was to lead on what was virtually for much of the way a one tank front along the main road EindhovenUden ‑ Grave ‑ Nijmegen ‑ Arnhem ‑the Zuider Zee. Distances in miles from the start line being: Eindhoven 13 (21km); Uden 32 (52km); Grave 43 (69km); Nijmegen 53 (85km); Arnhem 64 (103km); and Zuider Zee 94 (151km).

The 52nd (Lowland) Division was to be ready to be flown in north of Arnhem. On the assumption that Operation `Market’ was successful, it was estimated that XXX Corps might reach the Zuider Zee between two to five days after crossing the Belgian Dutch border. The corps was expected to join the 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem between D + 1 and D +3 days.

In drawing up its plans XXX Corps gave too little credence to Dutch warnings on how easy it would be for quite small parties of Germans to hold up the advance or interrupt the lines of communication along the single road, much of it on an embankment from which, along considerable stretches, tanks could not deploy. Nor do the warnings of the Dutch resistance of increasing German strength in the area seem to have been given the weight they deserved. On the other hand, the 1st Airborne Division in its planning paid too much attention to Dutch advice that much of the low‑lying parts of the area were too marshy and intersected by ditches and canals to be used for parachute drops or glider landings. Let us turn now from the general to the particular and consider the task of 1st Airborne Division and its plan to fulfil it.

Brigadier W.F.K Thompson   CO of the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment, Royal Artillery with 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem.

Operation Market-Garden II

Browning’s briefing

On 10 September, immediately after the cancellation of Operation ‘Comet’, the commanders of the three airborne divisions were summoned to Montgomery’s headquarters to be briefed by Lieutenant General Browning, who was both deputy commander of the 1st Allied Airborne Army and commander of the British Air­borne Corps, and in the latter capacity in charge of the planning for Operation `Market’.

When given his orders by Montgomery, Browning was told that the 2nd Army would be up to Arnhem in two days. Feeling some reservation about this optimism he made the reply made famous by Cornelius Ryan’s `best seller’: `We can hold the bridge for four days but I think we may be going a bridge too far’ (editor’s italics).

This reply should not be interpreted to mean that Browning favoured an air­borne operation which stopped short after crossing the Waal at Nijmegen. That would have been to forgo the prize of ending the war in 1944 at which the whole operation was aimed, and to have turned a potentially decisive strategic stroke into yet another airborne operation for limited tactical ends, a use to which at this juncture the author feels sure airborne forces would never have been put, for if the Rhine was not to be `bounced’ the 2nd Army would surely have been directed to clearing the estuary of the Scheldt, opening up the port of Antwerp.

The concept of ‘a bridge too far’ meant That the Allies were paying the penalty for not having a strong advocate of the strategic use of airborne forces at sufficiently high level of command to ensure that when the opportunity arose, those forces were adequate to seize it. The belated formation of the 1st Allied Airborne Army, a planning organization outside the normal chain of command and planning, was no answer.

Too little airlift

The problem of making a success of ‘Market‑Garden’ was not that there were too many bridges but rather too little airlift. This meant, as will become clear, that the 1st Airborne Division’s plan had of necessity to run counter to the two most important principles of airborne operations: the achievement of surprise and concentration of force. Had it been possible to put the 1st Airborne Division down in one lift success would almost certainly have been assured; had it been possible to use a fourth airborne division success could have been guaranteed, for in the planning it had been recognized that it was unlikely that the US 82nd Airborne Division would be able to take the Nijmegen bridge as well as the bridge at Grave and the vital high ground south of the Waal and east of Nijmegen. This proved correct and when the Guards Armoured Division reached Nijmegen the carpet had yet to be extended beyond the Waal.

American advantages

The shortage of airlift capacity presented the corps planners with a problem. While the 1st Airborne Division was clearly going to be in the most exposed position and would need to hold out the longest, to deprive the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions of the necessary forces to capture the bridges which alone would ensure their timely relief by XXX Corps would be doing them no service.

In the end the allocation of aircraft to divisions was as follows: 481 to the 1st Airborne; 530 to the 82nd Airborne; 494 to the 101st Airborne; and 38 to the Airborne Corps headquarters. All the aircraft allotted to the American divisions were American‑piloted Douglas C‑47s. The British lift was made up of 149 American and 130 RAF C‑47s, and 494 converted RAF bombers, mostly four‑engined. Although the 1st Airborne Division had fewer aircraft, the capacity of their Horsa and Hamilcar gliders gave them a larger lift in men or tons of equipment.

This allocation meant that each division could fly in only about two‑thirds of its strength with the first lift ‑ in the case of the 1st Airborne Division, which had the Polish Parachute Brigade under command, only half. To reduce this handicap as much as possible, the soldiers pressed for two lifts on the first day but this was turned down mainly because there was no moon and the American pilots were not considered to have the capability of carrying out airborne operations at night under these conditions.

As soon as Urquhart had received his orders, planning for ‘Market’ started in the stately club house at Moor Park which was the headquarters of the British Airborne Corps and the tactical headquarters and briefing centre for the 1st Airborne Division when operations were in course of preparation. Units of the 1st Airborne Division and the Polish Parachute Brigade remained at their airfield assembly camps after being stood down from Operation `Comet’. The division’s administrative tail with, among other things, personal kit had already crossed to the continent by sea.

Triple tasks

General Urquhart translated the divisional aim into three tasks. The primary task was to capture the Arnhem bridges or a bridge; the secondary task was to establish a sufficient bridgehead to enable the follow‑up formations of XXX Corps to deploy north of the Neder Rijn; lastly, during operations immediately following the landing of the first lift, everything was to be done to ensure the safe passage of subsequent lifts by destroying antiaircraft positions in the vicinity of the dropping and landing zones and of Arnhem.

To accomplish these tasks the battle experienced 1st Parachute Brigade, under Brigadier Gerald Lathbury, was given the job of seizing the rail and road bridges at Arnhem. The 4th Parachute Brigade, under Brigadier ‘Shan’ Hackett, was to occupy the high ground on the northern outskirts of Arnhem with the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade, under Major‑General Stanislaw Sosabowski, holding the eastern perimeter, and the 1st Airlanding Brigade, under Brigadier ‘Pip’ Hicks, the western.

But what of the enemy? Ever since a, fortunately abortive, plan to drop the 1st Airborne Division in the Orleans gap in the path of German armour escaping from the Falaise‑Argentan pocket, the redoubtable and experienced commander of the Polish Parachute Brigade, which first came under command of the 1st Airborne Division for that operation, showed a good deal more concern about enemy strengths and dispositions than did the British. His realism in this has rightly been praised, but it was also coloured by a strong desire not to get his brigade pinned down in western Europe, for he was dedicated to the liberation of Warsaw. The British 1st Airborne Division, on the other number of anti‑tank guns should on no hand, had a natural tendency to play down the enemy in its intense desire to get into battle.

The expectation at the time of ‘Market-Garden’ was that, though German resistance on the Meuse‑Escaut Canal was stiffening, it was expected that once that crust was broken, there would be little to hold up the advance of XXX Corps. The airborne divisional commanders were led to expect no more opposition, pat most, than a brigade of German infantry with a handful of tanks. Reports of German armour re‑forming in the vicinity of Arnhem began to come through from 10 September onwards, but though these were taken seriously by the intelligence staff they were largely discounted by commanders.

Poles in reserve

Intelligence suggesting that the Germans were beginning to recover from their crushing defeat in Normandy and that stronger resistance might be expected was not allowed to influence the operational account be reduced, when the quantity of aircraft allotted to the division’s first lift was cut.

On the other hand, reports that there had been a 30 per cent build‑up in the German anti‑aircraft defences around Arnhem and the Deelen airfield, north of the city, were taken very seriously by the RAF. It ruled out all thought of a coup‑de-main by gliders on the bridges and led to a disagreement between Air Vice‑Marshal Leslie Hollinghurst, air officer commanding No 38 Group RAF and responsible for the 1st Airborne Division’s air movement plan, and Urquhart as to the position of the dropping and landing zones.

Urquhart was prepared to accept the dry heathland some 7 miles (1125km) west of Arnhem for the mass glider landing, but he pressed Hollinghurst hard to drop the 1st Parachute Brigade on both sides of the river and as near to the Arnhem bridges as possible. The RAF, however, believed that to do so would invite unacceptable losses and it was decided that the drop should take place in the same area as the glider landing but with different zones.

This decision seriously prejudiced the tactical success of the division. Short of airlift, members of the division begrudged the 38 glider loads allotted to the Airborne Corps HQ, for this already meant that only half Urquhart’s command would be available to exploit the initial surprise. On top of that the decision to drop and land 7 miles (11~25km) from the objective again divided the remaining forces as one brigade would be needed to hold the DZs and LZs until the second lift came in, leaving only one brigade to go for the Arnhem bridges.

Intelligence ignored

It was decided that the 1st Parachute Brigade would on landing go for the final objective, the bridges, leaving the 1st Airlanding Brigade to guard the landing area until the fly-in of the 4th Polish Brigade on D+1. The Polish brigade would be held in reserve with the expected role of being dropped immediately south of the Arnhem road bridge on D+2, provided that the anti-aircraft fire covering the area around the bridge had been eliminated. A landing zone east of the main divisional landing zone had been selected for the gliderborne portion of the Polish brigade due to land on D+2.

This plan, forced on the 1st Airborne Division’s commander by circumstances, ran counter to the principles of war of greatest importance in airborne operations surprise and concentration of force. These required that the force be landed on or as near as possible to their objective, taking into account enemy strength and dispositions. The plan as it stood was a perfect receipt for defeat in detail.

The author has heard General Jim Gavin, the dynamic commander of the American 82nd Airborne Division, say that the British should have been prepared to accept a 10 per cent increase in casualties in order to land nearer their objectives. He was, however, unaware that the RAF had at the briefing at Moor Park, predicted up to 40 per cent casualties on the fly‑in according to the adopted plan. Urquhart can hardly be expected to have suggested making it 50 per; cent.

Divided command

In any case there was no way in which Urquhart could have influenced the RAF plan except by persuasion, the War Office and the Air Ministry having formally agreed that ‘Airborne operations are air operations and should he entirely controlled by the Air Commander‑in‑Chief.’ Why then, ask some critics, did Urquhart not refuse to go’.?

The author believes there were two fundamental reasons. Firstly, given the correctness of higher commands’ estimate of the strength and condition of the enemy, and given that all went according to plan, then despite the plan’s very serious weaknesses there was still a reasonable chance of success, and success held out the best hope of ending the war in 1944. In these circumstances it would not seem reasonable to expect the 1st Airborne Division’s commander to refuse to carry out his superiors’ orders.

There was, however, a second reason which those who were not directly involved may find difficult to comprehend. The morale of the 1st Airborne Division was high, but it had become increasingly brittle as a result of the frustration felt from planning and getting ready for 16 abortive operations. Officers and men had joined airborne forces to see action in novel and exciting circumstances, but instead they had been held back on the side lines, spectators while others fought.

Limited experience

There were units in the division that had seen hard fighting in North Africa and Sicily but a considerable part of the division had only seen limited action in Italy and some none at all. In September it looked as if the war would be over without their having heard a shot fired in anger, let alone demonstrated the élan which had come to be associated with the Red Beret. It is significant that when the RAF predicted up to 40 per cent casualties on the fly‑in, no one appeared to be listening. In these circumstances another cancellation would most probably have destroyed the division’s morale, it would certainly have destroyed the acceptance of Urquhart’s leadership.

As we now know, things did not go according to plan, nor was luck on the side of the 1st Airborne Division. Before turning to a broad consideration of the `Market Garden’ operation as events unfolded, attention should be drawn to one more serious weakness from which the 1st Airhorne Division suffered and which, like others, stemmed largely from the failure at the highest levels of command to appreciate the strategic potential of airborne forces and the organization and equipment required to exploit it.

Light artillery only

The organic artillery of an airborne division was strictly limited by the airlift required for carrying guns and ammunition, particularly the latter. The 1st Airborne Division’s field artillery consisted of only 24 75mm pack howitzers, firing 151b (6‑8kg) shells, and organized into three batteries, each affiliated to one of the brigades. For the 1st Parachute Brigade’s operation in Sicily, ad hoc arrangements were made to enable an airborne gunner officer to control the fire of the artillery of the link‑up forces as they came within range, so no field artillery accompanied the brigade.

Between Sicily and the Normandy invasion the Royal Artillery paid great attention to this problem, and the two British airborne divisions were each supplied with a FOURA (Forward Observation Unit, Royal Artillery) made up of officers with signallers and wireless sets designed to control the fire of the link‑up artillery and supplement the limited number of OP parties the divisional artillery ‑regiment could provide.

When airborne forces were used tactically in close support of the ground forces, these arrangements were adequate as the airborne forces either landed within range of the longer‑ranged link‑up artillery or would become so very soon after landing. In a strategic role, such as that of the 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem, it must be expected that a considerable time would elapse before the fire of the divisional artillery regiment could be supplemented by that of artillery from outside the division. Daring this time tit, division would be heavily dependent for close fire‑support on the air forces. One of the unanswered questions about the Arnhem operations is why the arrangements for close air support were so inadequate.

The need had long been recognized and shortly after the Normandy landings a staff officer from divisional headquarters was sent over to study the problem at first hand but no ASSU (Air Support Signal Unit) was developed. In consequence the arrangements for ground to air communications for the support of the 1st Airborne Division had to be improvised. The normal British wireless set used by an ASSU for ground‑to‑air communications was not airportable. The Americans had a set that could be carried in a British General Aircraft Hamilcar or American Waco CG‑4A glider. Unfortunately one of the two sets allotted to the 1st Airborne Division was damaged on landing and no more than one contact was made with the other. The American signallers who accompanied the sets were unfamiliar with them and untrained in operating ground-to‑air communications.

No air support

No 83 Group RAF was responsible for providing the 1st Airborne Division with close air support. In this, apart from the failure of the ground to air communications, the group was severely handicapped by fog over its airfields most mornings and by their aircraft being kept out of the area whenever aircraft of the US 8th Air Force were providing fighter cover for the air transport force bringing in troops or supplies. In consequence, not only were the airborne forces largely deprived of close air support, but also of the salutary effect which the continual presence of Allied aircraft overhead would have had on enemy morale. It was an admitted serious error that all aircraft flying in the battle area had not been placed under the control of the local air. commander, the air officer commanding No 83 Group, with a senior liaison officer having direct communications with the 8th USAAF at his headquarters.

Having cleared out of the way some of the structural weaknesses and inadequacies which militated against the effective use of airborne forces in a strategic role, let us turn our attention to the development of events.

It was decided that Operation ‘Market Garden’ would start on Sunday 17 September, and that the airborne drop and glider landings would take place at about the same time for all three airborne divisions: the 1st Airborne Division at 1250, with the Independent Parachute Company responsible for marking the dropping and landing zones dropped 20 minutes ahead of the main body; and the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions at 1230.

RAF fears

A second lift was to go in on 18 September, with the first arrivals at 1000. This lift was held up by bad weather, and finally came in four hours late. For the 1st and 82nd Airborne Divisions there was to be an important third lift on D + 2, bringing in the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade and 325th Glider Infantry Regimental Combat Team for the British and Americans respectively. In all, some 34,000 troops were flown in, 20,190 being dropped by parachute and 13,781 landed by glider: of the paratroopers 16,500 dropped on 1 7 September.

As noted already, the RAF believed that the build‑up of German anti‑aircraft defences on barges as well as on land presented a serious threat to the vulnerable air transport trains. To reduce this to a minimum 821 Boeing B‑17s of the 8th UBAAF dropped 3,139 tons of bombs on 117 sites, Bomber Command attacked German fighter airfields during the night of 16-17 September, and in daylight raids against coastal batteries in the Walcheren area 85 Avro Lancasters and 15  de Havilland Mosquitoes dropped 535 tons of bombs.

The air trains were provided with escort and anti‑flak patrols by 550 8th USAAF Lockheed P‑38 Lightnings, Republic P‑47 Thunderbolts and North American P‑51 Mustangs, and by 371 Hawker Tempests, Supermarine Spitfires and de Havilland Mosquitoes of the Air Defence of Great Britain command, while 166 fighters of the US 9th Air Force gave umbrella cover over the dropping and landing zones.

No concentration

Early on 17 September 84 Mosquitoes, Douglas Bostons and North American Mitchells of the 2nd TAF attacked barracks in Nijmegen, Cleve, Arnhem and Ede. That evening dummy parachute drops were made west of Utrecht, and east of Nijmegen and Emmerich.

Splitting the airborne forces into two or more lifts not only ran counter to the principle of concentration but made the whole operation hostage to the weather, forecast as good for the whole period of the operations. The weather over Holland on 17 September was excellent, though low cloud over England caused some gliders of the 1st Airborne Division to run into slip‑stream trouble and mainly for this reason 24 of those in the first lift parted company with their tug aircraft over England.

The aerial armada of transport and tug aircraft took off from two groups of airfields. The southern group, mainly in Wiltshire and Oxfordshire, comprised eight British and six American airfields; the eastern group, in Lincolnshire, eight American airfields. The armada crossed the channel in two streams, each stream being divided into three sub‑streams 1‑25 miles (2km) apart.

Brigadier W.F.K Thompson   CO of the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment, Royal Artillery with 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem.

Operation Market-Garden III

Unhindered drop

The northern stream crossed the coast at Aldeburgh, made landfall at the western end of Schouwen Island and flew on to a point near ‘sHertogenbosch, where it split to deliver the men and equipment of the British 1st and US 82nd Airborne Divisions to their landing areas. The southern stream, carrying the US 101st Airborne Division, crossed the coast at the North Foreland flew almost due east to Gheel before turning north‑east to the divisional DZs and LZs north of Eindhoven. The C‑47s carrying the paratroops flew in close formations of nine aircraft (Vics of Vics); the Handley Page Halifax, Short Stirling and Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle glider‑tugs flew in loose pairs. It took 65 minutes for the northern stream to pass overhead. Between 1025 and 1155, 1,534 transport aircraft (including the Pathfinders for marking the DZs and LZs), 491 of them towing gliders, took off for Holland.

By the time the English coast had been crossed the weather was perfect. The author’s Horsa was flying rather lower than the rest, its altimeter reading 1,200 feet (366m), and standing between the two pilots the author had a wonderful view of the ships set out at regular intervals for rescue purposes, and of the stream of aircraft ahead. One felt a little anxiety as the glider crossed the formidable‑looking German coast defences. The leading aircraft were fired on from a barge as they crossed the coast but this fire was immediately suppressed by the anti‑flak escort.

Some aircraft encountered a little heavy anti‑aircraft fire, but for most all that could be detected was a squirt or two from light weapons. From neither were there any losses. The fly‑in and landing was outstandingly successful, and the disembarkation into a field of wheat stubble seemed more like an exercise than an operation of war. Had the plans anticipated how completely successful the Allied air forces’ anti‑flak plan was to prove how different would subsequent events have been.

The 1st Airborne Division started landing at 1240, some 10 minutes early; the 82nd Airborne Division at 1230, as planned; and the 101st Airborne Division at 1300, some 30 minutes late. By 1400 the first lift had been delivered. At 1435 XXX Corps started its advance (Operation `Garden’), but encountered strong opposition. By Sunday evening it had moved forward only 7 or 8 miles (1125 or 13km) and had not broken the enemy’s main defences. Its leading troops spent the night at Valkenswaard, some 6 miles (9~5km) south of Eindhoven. Who were the Germans in front of them?

Model’s reaction

Following the debacle west of the Seine, Hitler had ordered Field‑Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt once again to take overall command of the Western Front, with Field‑Marshal Walter Model commanding Army Group `B’ in the north. Model ordered a new defence line to be established behind the Meuse‑Escaut Canal. For this he asked for reinforcements from Germany and ordered General Gustav von Zangen to hold the southern bank of the Scheldt while disengaging and ferrying back units from his 80,000‑strong 15th Army, many locked up defending the Channel ports, to the northern side of the Scheldt via Walcheren Island.

To provide reinforcements Colonel-General Kurt Student was ordered from a staff and training appointment, on 4 September, to take command of some 10,000 troops, made up of units from all over Germany, only a few well trained and battle experienced, and to deploy them behind the Meuse‑Escaut Canal with the title of the 1st Parachute Army, with headquarters at Veghel, north‑east of Eindhoven‑ It was an army with very little transport, artillery or armour.

Amid the chaos of retreat, one of the German generals to keep his head was the commander of the 85th Infantry Division, Lieutenant‑General Kurt Chill. Bringing together the remnants of his own and two other divisions he established `reception stations’ along the Meuse‑Escaut Canal. These stopped and took under control the numerous parties of demoralized German servicemen `going home’. All these became a part of Student’s army which by 17 September had created defences in some depth behind the canal.

German armour

Model had ordered similar reception stations to be established by military police and local training units along the other waterlines. More important for the 1st Airborne Division, he had ordered Lieutenant‑General Willi Bittrich, commander of II SS Panzer Corps, to move north from the Mosel to Doetinchem, due east of Arnhem, on 6 September and there to re‑form the excellent but much battered 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions in the area north and east of Arnhem. The unconfirmed reports from the Dutch underground of armour assembling in the Arnhem area were only too true.

On 17 September, there were some 6,000 German troops in the area. Besides the Panzer divisions there were three quite good battalions forming the reception stations along the Neder Rijn. The rest were of inferior calibre. At the time of Bittrich’s move, Model established his own headquarters in Oosterbeek, displacing companies of the local reception battalion, composed of men from the SS depot and NCO school at Arnhem, and commanded by Sturmbannfuhrer Krafft, which encamped between Oosterbeek and Arnhem.

Total surprise

The airborne assault on 17 September took the Germans completely by surprise. Model and his headquarters had to flee to Bittrich’s headquarters to avoid capture. Bittrich, as soon as he heard where the landings were taking place, ordered the tracks which had been removed from the 9th SS Panzer Division’s armour to be replaced. He appreciated that the Allies’ objective must be the bridges at Nijmegen and Arnhem and therefore ordered the 9th SS Panzer Division to move as soon as possible to secure the Arnhem bridge by intercepting and destroying the airborne troops west of Arnhem. The divisional reconnaissance regiment was to send patrols out toward Oosterbeek and one squadron over the Arnhem bridge toward Nijmegen. Model approved these plans, disapproved Bittrich’s suggestion that the bridges at Nijmegen and Arnhem be Arnhem entered blown, and ordered the 10th SS Panzer Division to be sent to Nijmegen as soon as it was ready.

Apart from a little sniper fire, the 1st Airborne Division’s first lift formed up without molestation. The 1st Border, 7th KOSB and 2nd South Staffords (less two companies) took up positions to secure the landing and dropping zones. It had been intended that Major Freddie Gough’s Reconnaissance Squadron should rush the Arnhem road bridge, taking it by coup‑de‑main. A number of the unit’s glider loads had not arrived, however, and the reconnaissance cars that went forward were ambushed near Wolfhezen. The plan miscarried but Gough with some of his squadron later joined Lieutenant Colonel John Frost’s 2nd Parachute Battalion at the bridge.

Arnhem entered

The 1st Parachute Brigade Group (Brigadier Gerald Lathbury), less the guns of the 3rd Airlanding Light Battery RA, which deployed near the landing zone, set off for Arnhem by three routes which converged in the city centre. The 2nd Parachute Battalion Group, led by Lieutenant‑Colonel John Frost, whose task was to secure the rail and road bridges at Arnhem, took a secondary road close to the river; the 3rd Parachute Battalion Group moved on the central route with the lst Parachute Battalion Group to the north of them heading for the high ground on the city’s outskirts. Lathbury, with brigade headquarters, followed Frost. All three battalions ran into opposition but the 2nd, though checked on a number of occasions, was able to establish itself on the approaches to the Arnhem road bridge by dark, though the railway bridge was blown up just as Frost’s men reached it.

The other two battalions came up against increasing resistance. Sturmbannfiihrer Krafft subsequently claimed credit for imposing these delays. It was, apparently, his men who ambushed the Reconnaissance Squadron, but the main opposition was coming from the Reconnaissance Battalion of the 9th SS Panzer Division, one squadron of which crossed the Arnhem bridge heading south just before the 2nd Parachute Battalion gained control of the northern end.

Radio failure

More serious than these delays was the fading of wireless communications between the 1st Parachute Brigade and divisional headquarters as the brigade entered the tree‑clad suburbs of Arnhem. Bereft of all information, Urquhart had no alternative to setting out in his jeep to make personal contact. On reaching the 2nd Parachute Battalion he learnt that Lathbury had gone to visit the 3rd Parachute Battalion on the centre route. Here Urquhart found him and after confused and sporadic fighting in the outskirts of the town both became besieged in a house and incommunicado with the outside world.

Away to the south, by last light, the 101st Airborne Division had occupied Zon, St Oedenrode and Veghel, and was fighting for Best. The bridges they held had been captured intact, except that over the Wilhelmina Canal south of Zon though a regiment had crossed the canal from the north on an improvised bridge and had reached Bokt.

The 82nd Airborne Division and Airborne Corps headquarters had also landed successfully. By last light the division had seized intact, and was holding, the bridges over the Maas at Grave and over the Maas‑Waal Canal at Heuven. The remainder of the division was moving north and north‑west to dominate the high and tree‑clad area south‑east of Nijmegen, vital to cover the flank from German counter attacks from the Reichswald forest.

For the 1st Airborne Division 18 September was to be a crucial day. With the arrival of the second lift, carrying the 4th Parachute Brigade, it would no longer be necessary to hold the DZ and LZ area. Urquhart would therefore have in hand two‑thirds of his division with which to influence the situation as he thought fit.

Unfortunately, at this vital time the divisional commander was still holed up in Arnhem and no one at divisional headquarters knew whether he was dead or alive. Shortly before the arrival of the 4th Parachute Brigade, which had been delayed for four hours by bad weather, Hicks had assumed command of the division in accordance with the wishes of Urquhart conveyed to his GSO I, Charles Mackenzie, a decision unknown to Hackett, commanding the 4th Parachute Brigade, who though much younger was the senior. The only news of the 1st Parachute Brigade coming into divisional headquarters was of the 2nd Parachute Battalion via the regimental net of the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment RA.

Second lift delayed

The 2nd Parachute Battalion had successfully ambushed several lorries loaded with infantry making for the Arnhem bridge, and almost annihilated the reconnaissance squadron of the 9th SS Panzer Division, which tried to rush the bridge as it returned from the south and lost 16 armoured vehicles. But pressure on Frost’s men was increasing from the east as more tanks and SP guns were brought into the battle. Casualties were mounting and ammunition dwindling.

During the morning David Dobie switched his 1st Parachute Battalion from the northern route to that along the river bank in a fresh attempt to reach the bridge. Hicks, on hearing of the delay imposed on the second lift, ordered the 2nd South Staffords, less two companies not yet arrived, to reinforce the efforts to get through to Frost.

The second lift for the Airborne Corps comprised 1,360 troop‑carrying aircraft and 1,203 gliders. The 1st Airborne Division’s lift started arriving at 1500 and was met by AA and German fighter opposition. Hicks had decided that as soon as they could be assembled, the remainder of the 2nd South Staffords and the 11th Parachute Battalion would be despatched in a further attempt to get through to the bridge. At Hackett’s request, the 7th KOSB replaced the 11th Parachute Battalion under command of the 4th Parachute Brigade, which made preparations for an attempt to take the high ground at Koepel, 1 mile (16km) north‑west of the outskirts of Arnhem, early next day. Rumours of some 60 German tanks moving toward Arnhem from the north were confirmed by the Dutch underground.

XXX Corps held up

During the 18th XXX Corps advanced slowly against considerable opposition, with the fighting for most of the day centred around Aalst. The 101st Airborne Division’s capture of Eindhoven helped matters and at about 2100 the Guards Armoured Division reached the southern bank of the Wilhelmina Canal below Zon where a bridge was constructed during the night.

The 101st Airborne Division held its ground but was unable to capture Best, which the Germans had reinforced. By an outflanking movement Eindhoven was captured with its bridges intact and by dark control had been established throughout the town.

The 82nd Airborne Division continued to control the vital high ground south‑east of Nijmegen through vigorous offensive action. It attacked along the Maas‑Waal Canal, capturing the bridge for the main Grave‑Nijmegen road, intact but damaged. The Germans counterattacked vigorously from the Kranenburg and Reichswald forest areas. When the second lift arrived it was subjected to anti‑aircraft fire. Despite the fact that the LZs were being fought over, the landings were successful.

Time, however, was running out and, in retrospect, Tuesday 19 September was the last chance of snatching victory from defeat. At the bridge at Arnhem the 2nd Parachute Battalion Group was still giving as good as it got, but the pressure and the casualties continued to rise as German tanks and SP guns began systematically to destroy and set fire to the buildings from which they fought. Their stubborn defence prevented the 10th SS Panzer Division from using the bridge to reinforce the Germans holding on to the Nijmegen bridge, and so forced them laboriously to ferry their armoured vehicles across farther up the river.

From now on the lack of any ground‑to-air communication not only deprived the 1st Airborne Division of effective close air support but combined with lack of effective communication with Airborne Corps to make it impossible to alter the preplanned dropping zones for resupply to conform with the shrinking divisional perimeter ‑. with tragic results. While bad weather and operational restrictions combined with communication failure deprived the 1st Airborne Division of close air support, good weather over the German airfields enabled German fighters in increasing numbers to strafe the divisional area.

British pull back

About 0730 Urquhart managed to get back to his divisional headquarters. He immediately sent the deputy commander of the 1st Airlanding Brigade, Colonel Hilary Barlow, to co‑ordinate the action of the 2nd South Staffords, 11th Parachute Battalion and any other available troops in a further attempt to break through to the bridge. Barlow was never seen again. The 4th Parachute Brigade’s attack to take and hold Koepel failed. Pressure on the western side of the division’s perimeter built up and threatened to isolate the 4th Parachute Brigade north of the railway.

Urquhart decided to pull back this brigade and use it to stabilize the eastern perimeter roughly on the line of the branch of the railway that crossed the Neder Rijn, and to use this as a start line for still another attempt to relieve Frost. The disengagement of the brigade in daylight entailed considerable casualties and a lot of confusion. The gliderborne part of the Polish Parachute Brigade landed in the face of heavy anti‑aircraft fire only to be caught in the cross fire of the land battle.

Matchless courage

The weather was again bad over England and the drop of the rest of the Polish Parachute Brigade south of the river had to be postponed, as had the landing of the 82nd Airborne Division gliderborne regimental combat team (RCT). Anti‑aircraft fire was intense and the Luftwaffe having, unlike the Allies, good weather over their airfields sent out more than 425 Messerschmitt 109s and Focke‑Wulf 190s against the air escort alone.

Many members of the 1st Airborne Division witnessed an unsurpassed example of bravery and devotion to duty under tragic circumstances. Failing wireless communications, every effort had been made to indicate to the re‑supply aircraft a change of dropping zone, but without avail. When the daily re‑supply aircraft came under intense anti‑aircraft fire, Flight‑Lieutenant David Lord had his Dakota hit and the starboard engine set on fire; he nevertheless held his course at 900 feet (275m) to drop his load with accuracy then turned for a second run to discharge the remainder of his cargo, being all the time under intense fire. Just before his wing collapsed he ordered his crew to bale out while he remained at the controls. He was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

Thirteen of the 163 aircraft taking part in the re‑supply were lost and 97 damaged. Tragically nearly all the 380 tons of ammunition and supplies dropped into German hands.

At 0830 the Guards Armoured Division started to cross the Grave bridge and at 1700 a battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division and one of the Grenadier Guards made an unsuccessful attack on the Nijmegen bridge, while a battalion of the Coldstream Guards was sent to support the 82nd Airborne Division on the Reichswald forest front.

Not only had bad weather deprived Urquhart of afresh reserve, but it deprived Gavin of his gliderborne RCT which would have enabled him to take the Nijmegen bridge without diverting the Guards Armoured Division from its primary task of linking up with the 1st Airborne Division. In the 101st Airborne Division’s area a sharp German attack on Zon stopped movement on the main axis of advance for several hours.

Wednesday 20 September saw the end of one great martial exploit, the 2nd Parachute Battalion Group’s stand at Arnhem bridge, and the performance of another, the crossing of the Waal at Nijmegen, by the 504th Parachute RCT of the 82nd Airborne Division supported by the Guards Armoured Division. The former by holding back the 10th SS Panzer Division made the latter possible.

Brigadier W.F.K Thompson   CO of the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment, Royal Artillery with 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem.

Operation Market-Garden IV

Battle on the bridge

At Arnhem bridge Frost was wounded and command devolved on to Gough. More and more houses were set on fire or were reduced to rubble. The number of wounded in the cellars multiplied and were in danger of being burnt to death. The last attempt to break through with three Bren carriers filled with ammunition was defeated. By 21 September all resistance had ceased.

The rest of the 1st Airborne Division consolidated on a reduced perimeter. By the evening the eastern side, nearest the river, was held by a mixed force of the 2nd South Staffords and the 11th Parachute Battalion, with some men of the 1st Parachute Brigade, under Major Dickie Lonsdale, with positions in line with and between the forward guns of the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment RA. To the west the perimeter still included the ferry at Heveadorp; on the north it extended only 1,000 yards (915m) beyond divisional headquarters. In the defensive battle of what the Germans called ‘the Cauldron’ the Glider Pilot Regiment played a notable part, for which they had been trained. For instance it was standard practice for the glider pilots with each Airlanding Light Battery to form a platoon for local protection. The 180 glider pilots who had flown in the Airlanding Light Regiment formed four platoons commanded by Major Bob Crout, who was killed, and remained under command of that regiment throughout.

Nijmegen bridge

The 82nd Airborne Division was under pressure from the Reichswald forest area. General Gavin believed that the Nijmegen bridge must be captured this day at all costs and that this could be done only by capturing both ends of the road and rail bridges simultaneously. He therefore ordered the 504th Parachute RCT, under Colonel Reuben H. Tucker, to cross the wide Waal in British assault boats covered by fire of artillery and tanks of the Irish Guards, and seize the northern end of the bridge. Tanks of the Grenadier Guards and a battalion of the 505th Parachute RCT stood ready to rush the bridge from the south.

Major Julian Cook’s 3rd Battalion was selected to lead the amphibious assault. This they did in British assault boats with which they were totally unfamiliar and which, because of traffic congestion and a German bombing raid on Eindhoven, only arrived at the last moment. There were enough boats for only a two‑company lift without heavy weapons.

American success

At 1430 air attacks were made on the German position on the farther bank, at 1440 artillery and tank gun fire opened on the enemy positions, and at 1500 the first wave of boats, rowed by sappers and infantry using their rifle butts, started to cross the wide river 1 mile (1‑6km) below the bridge and in the face of intense German fire. Beyond the farther bank lay 200 to 800 yards (180 to 730m) of flat and open country terminating in a sloping dyke some 15 to 20 feet (4‑5 to 6m) high which carried a roadway open to view from a fortified building some 800 yards (730m) beyond.

The first wave of Americans rushed the embankment, routing the Germans after strong resistance. The remainder of the 3rd Battalion was ferried across, cleared the ground beyond the embankment and swinging right rushed and secured first the north end of the railway and then of the road bridge. The 3rd Battalion had suffered about 50 per cent casualties. The Guards then rushed the bridge from the south while Lieutenant Tony Jones of the Royal Engineers methodically cut the wires connecting the bridge demolition charges, while under fire. Of this magnificent action by the 504th Parachute RCT the British official report reads: ‘Desperate resistance of a strong and determined enemy, with every advantage of position, had been insufficient to stop these men.’

The last bridge before Arnhem was taken intact just as that at Arnhem was about to fall into the hands of the enemy. The higher command continued to act as though success were still a possibility. On Thursday night, plans were made to fly in supplies and possibly the 52nd (Lowland) Division, an air portable formation, to an LZ near Grave, instead of at Deelen, north of Arnhem, and on Friday the 2nd Army limited XXX Corps advance to Apeldoorn, halfway between Arnhem and the Zuider Zee! It seems certain that neither the precarious position of the 1st Airborne Division nor the remarkable recovery made by the Germans had yet been fully appreciated. German pressure against both sides of the corridor and against the 1st Airborne Division continued to grow, with serious interference in the flow of traffic as more and more men and equipment belonging to Zangen’s 15th Army were ferried across the Scheldt.

Communications restored

Early on Thursday Captain McMillan established wireless communication from the headquarters of the 1st Airlanding Light Battery, near Oosterbeek church, with the 64th Medium Regiment RA. From now on the 1st Airborne Division enjoyed a reliable line of communications with XXX Corps both for fire support and for operational messages; it had been through to the 2nd Army on the `Phantom’ net for some time.

The weather at last allowed the Polish Parachute Brigade to take off, which it did at 1400, its dropping zone being changed from south of Arnhem bridge to south of the Heveadorp ferry. The 110 Dakotas carrying the Poles encountered bad weather en route and were attacked by German fighters with some loss of aircraft. In all, 41 Dakotas returned without dropping, 13 were missing, 3 landed at Brussels and only 53 reached the dropping zone, discharging some 750 men from whom Major‑General Sosabowski formed two weak battalions.

It was intended that the Poles should join the 1st Airborne Division via the ferry, but unfortunately the Borderers were driven from the high ground commanding the ferry. The 1st Airborne Division was coming under increasing pressure from small parties of Germans supported by SP guns, while heavy mortar and gun fire took their toll within the shrinking perimeter. Ammunition for the British was getting low and no supplies were being received. On the other hand, morale was boosted by the demonstrated ability of the 64th Medium Regiment RA, with a heavy battery under command, to bring down accurate and effective fire on infiltrators within the divisional perimeter. On occasion the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment deliberately brought this fire on to its own gun positions.

It was soon realized that the capture of the Nijmegen Bridge had not opened the way for a swift dash to Arnhem by the Guards Armoured Division. The road ahead, through Elst, lay along the top of a causeway with steep banks, and on both sides, off the causeway, the country was not favourable to the use of armour. Horrocks therefore decided that the 43rd Infantry Division should take over the lead. Unfortunately it was not until nightfall on the 21st that the division had arrived in strength in the Nijmegen area.

At first light on Friday 22 September an enterprising armoured car squadron of the Household Cavalry crossed the Waal and, moving north‑west on secondary roads, got through to the Poles about Driel, and subsequently damaged a German steamer and sank three German barges on the Neder Rijn. At 0830 the 214th Infantry Brigade of the 43rd Division attacked along the main axis towards Elst, which was strongly held by units of the l0th SS Panzer Division. Held up halfway to Elst, the brigade attempted to pass a battalion mounted on tanks to the west through Oosterhaut with DUKWs to ferry supplies and the Poles across the Rhine. They were held up in Oosterhaut for six hours and only reached Driel in the evening.

Black day

Urquhart was convinced that XXX Corps did not appreciate the precarious situation of the 1st Airborne Division. He therefore decided to send Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mackenzie and Lieutenant‑Colonel Eddie Myers, commanding the Royal Engineers, across the river to report directly to XXX Corps. They were with the Poles at Driel when the 5th DCLI and a squadron of Dragoon Guards arrived. The DUKWs could not be launched and the only Poles to cross were some 50 who got across that night on rafts.

Friday was a black day. The weather again prevented effective air support, no supplies reached the 1st Airborne Division, and a strong German attack in the Veghel area cut the Allied line of communications. The 32nd Guards Brigade was sent south to support the 101st Airborne Division in restoring the situation, but the road remained closed for 24 hours.

Defeat accepted

On Saturday came a break in the bad weather. Gliders carrying the remainder of the 101st Airborne Division’s 327th Glider Infantry RCT, and the 82nd Airborne Division’s long overdue 325th Glider Infantry RCT were flown in, a very welcome reinforcement. By the end of the day the 43rd Infantry Division had its 130th Infantry Brigade established about Driel and the 214th Infantry Brigade fighting in Elst, but a plan for the 1st Airborne Division to regain control of the ferry had to be abandoned and the 5th DCLI was unable to make the river crossing to enlarge the bridgehead.

By Sunday all intention of getting through to the bridge at Arnhem had been abandoned, but the 214th Infantry Brigade continued to clear Elst against strong opposition. The 130th Infantry Brigade ordered the 4th Dorsets to cross the river that night. With great difficulty 300 to 400 men got across, but drifting down river they landed well outside the 1st Airborne Division’s shrunken perimeter; early on Monday morning an OP party from the 43rd’s divisional artillery arrived in the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment’s gun area. The pounding of the 1st Airborne Division continued, and the division was now out of food and very short of ammunition.

Brian Horrocks remained determined and optimistic, but he was overridden by the 2nd Army commander, Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey, who with Browning’s support finally secured Montgomery’s permission to withdraw the 1st Airborne Division during Monday night, 25 September, D+8 days. The division’s withdrawal was covered by intensive artillery fire from XXX Corps, which the wounded optimistically believed to herald a river crossing by the Allies. The division withdrew through the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment’s gun position near the Oosterbeek church. The gunners were the last to go, having first rendered their guns useless. Only 2,163 out of the 10,095 who took part in the battle got across, though some more came out later.

No 1944 end

Thus ended, with dire historical results, the dream of ending the war in 1944.

At the start of this article we examined some of the organizational weaknesses in the `Market‑Garden’ plan, weaknesses which were accentuated by the speed with which this complex inter‑Allied operation had to be mounted. The effects on the operations of the inadequacy of the signals equipment for the tasks required of it; the unexpectedly bad weather; the rapidity with which the German generals were able to reorganize and instill renewed fighting spirit into their beaten and demoralized soldiery; and the effects of this recovery on a plan which depended for success on a rapid advance of over 60 miles (95km) along a narrow corridor and across major water obstacles are brought out in the narrative. The author also believes that it is not unfair to say that whatever the sense of urgency at the higher levels of command this did not in every case communicate itself to the individual soldier after the widespread euphoria which followed the rapid advance to the Dutch frontier.

The technical failures of the past are of little interest for the future but the spirit of man is eternal and it is in study of human reactions under conditions of great stress both individually and in units that the main interest in these operations lays.

Great gallantry

Individual’s actions speak for themselves. Four members of the 1st Airborne Division were awarded the Victoria Cross: Captain L. E. Queripel, The Royal Sussex Regiment, attached to the 10th Parachute Battalion; Lieutenant J. H. Grayburn, the 2nd Parachute Battalion; Lance Sergeant J. D. Baskeyfield, the 2nd South Staffords; and Major R. H. Cain, The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, attached to the’ 2nd South Staffords. All but Cain’s were posthumous, and all were awarded for acts of great gallantry and self sacrifice.

Fighting efficiency

There were, of course, many acts of gallantry that went unrecognized. Courage is an expendable commodity, and it is interesting to note at Arnhem examples of men fighting with great tenacity or having suffered some shattering experience early in the battle then finding themselves drained of courage but who nevertheless got, as it were, their second wind and so came back strongly in the last days, in one case to win a well-deserved Victoria Cross. This is something worth noting for it is the responsibility of leadership to aid such recovery.

Though individual bravery is a precious asset, what counts above all in fighting efficiency, particularly where infantry is concerned, is the ability of a unit to maintain cohesion under seemingly intolerable pressure. Cohesion is the result of many factors; pride of regiment, previous success in battle, good leadership, good training, and discipline.

It is difficult to generalize. Units of the 1st Parachute Brigade had enjoyed great success in North Africa and Sicily, but they had also received many casualty replacements. Their reputation and the realistic training which sprang from their combat experience stood them in good stead. On the other hand, the 7th KOSB with no previous battle experience fought remarkably under most difficult circumstances.

Combat cohesion

Some may wonder, despite the difficulties already pointed out, why only the 700 who comprised the 2nd Parachute Battalion Group, out of more than 10,000, reached their objective. In judging the performance of other units the difficulty of the task and the fact that they included many young and inexperienced soldiers must be taken into account. No form of fighting puts a greater strain on unit cohesion than offensive action in a heavily built‑up area against a determined enemy. Street fighting requires special training and, so far as the author knows, the units trying to fight their way through to the Arnhem bridge had had little or none.

The 2nd Parachute Battalion got through with skill, and before resistance had hardened.

Moreover, the Dutch habit of putting high and strong steel‑mesh fences around their gardens provided an additional difficulty, and the prevalence of cellars was a ubiquitous temptation in situations of danger. Not all soldiers wearing the Red Beret were courageous, few perhaps were courageous all the time, but the division as a whole would endorse Major‑General Roy Urquhart’s report, made in January 1945, in which he wrote: `The losses were heavy but all ranks appreciate that the risks were reasonable. There is no doubt that all would willingly undertake another operation under similar conditions in the future.’ The author, for one, would add: `providing the, lessons learned in “Market Garden” had been applied.’

 

Brigadier W.F.K Thompson   CO of the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment, Royal Artillery with 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem.

The II SS Panzer Corps at Arnhem

The formation that played the critical role in defeating the Allies in Market Garden was II SS Panzer Corps, consisting of the 9th Waffen-SS Division Hohenstaufen and the 10th Waffen-SS Division Frundsberg. These two elite divisions had played a leading part in freeing the First Panzer Army from encirclement by the Russians in April. They then took part in the Normandy battles from the beginning of July onward. By early September, the corps had been reduced to about 6,500–7,000, of whom a small majority were Frundsberg men. Both divisions were officially down to Kampfgruppe (Battle Group) strength, but their fighting quality was high and their leadership exemplary.

The corps commander was SS-Lt. General Wilhelm Bittrich, whom Roy Urquhart described as a leader of “tremendous professional ability.” The acting head of Hohenstaufen was SS-Colonel Walter Harzer, who was young, articulate, able and ambitious. Both Bittrich and Harzer were Anglophiles, which accounts in part for the healthy respect which both sides held for each other. The commander of Frundsberg was SS-Maj. General Heinz Harmel, whom the historian of the Waffen-SS, Col. General of the SS Paul Hausser, referred to as a leader of “proven ability.” He was known to the troops with warmth as Der alte Frundsberg (Old Frundsberg Himself).

During the retreat of II SS Panzer Corps from the Falaise pocket on 21 August, command and control of Army Group B broke down completely. Model rarely knew where his units were or what shape they were in, receiving information that was either out of date or otherwise unreliable. Hausser, the commander of II SS Panzer Corps before he was promoted to head Seventh Army, was carried out of the Falaise Pocket, badly wounded, on the hull of one of the last remaining tanks from 1st SS Panzer Division.

During this chaotic period, Bittrich, who had taken over from Hausser, still found time to demand 111 new tanks on 26 August. On 3 September, Model had ordered all SS armored divisions to refit north of Namur in Belgium; this order was apparently never received by Bittrich. By 4 September, Bittrich had been out of touch with Army Group B for three days. He made his way on foot to Model’s HQ near Liege and received verbal orders to disengage and move north into Holland for rest and refitting. Both the 9th and 10th SS divisions began withdrawing on 5–6 September, advanced units of the former reaching the Arnhem area by the evening of the 6th.

Bittrich then discovered to his chagrin that in refitting his two divisions they were to be split up; Frundsberg remaining in the Arnhem area and Hohenstaufen entraining for Siegen in the Reich, just east of the Ruhrindustriegebiet. Hohenstaufen was ordered to hand over its remaining armor and vehicles to Frundsberg, but these were still with the division on D-Day, when only technical and administrative units had left for Germany. Despite the corps order, both divisions were prepared for imminent action.

Hohenstaufen was divided into nineteen Alarmheiten, each of about company strength, comprising about 2,500 men in total. Most of these “alarm companies” were stationed 10–15 km northeast of Arnhem so that they could be brought to bear against any landing west of the city as well as north and east. Particularly crucial was the location of the 9th SS Reconnaissance Battalion at Beekbergen. In defiance of the order to hand over their vehicles to Frundsberg, the Hohenstaufen men disabled them in various, reversible ways such as having the tracks removed. While most of the vehicles were already loaded onto flatcars ready to move to Siegen, the battalion was otherwise poised to descend on Arnhem and points south.

Most of the corps had been thoroughly trained in anti-paratroop operations in France in 1943. Where the corps was deficient was in transport; the alarm units having to travel, for the most part, on foot or by bicycle. Communications with Harzer’s HQ at Beekbergen outside Apeldoorn and between the companies were also so poor that the resulting siege of Frost’s battalion at the Arnhem bridge was achieved as much by luck as by design.

Frundsberg’s Harmel, with more men and heavy weapons than Hohenstaufen’s Harzer, also reorganized his division so that by 17 September he could call upon three battalions of Panzergrenadiere motorized infantry, a tank group of Panzerkampfwagen (Panzer) IVs in Vorden, and a flak (anti-aircraft) regiment in Dieren. Panzergrenadier Regiment 21, with a complement of 12 anti-tank guns, was stationed at Deventer.

The dispositions of Frundsberg are essential to an understanding of the German reaction on D-Day. The division’s reconnaissance battalion under SS-Major Brinkmann was at Borculo and Eibergen, east of Harmel’s HQ at Ruurlo, and the furthest of all the Panzer Corps units from Arnhem. The units at Vorden, Dieren and Deventer were also further from Arnhem than those of Hohenstaufen. The only units close to Arnhem were Battalion Euling at Rheden and the battery of artillery at Dieren commanded by SS-Lt. Colonel Ludwig Spindler. The reason they were there was that they had been transferred to Frundsberg from Hohenstaufen; after the airborne landings, Spindler took charge of all Hohenstaufen units that were put into the fight against the First Parachute Brigade.

Frundsberg, most of it further away from Arnhem than Hohenstaufen, was directed on to Nijmegen, including Euling’s battalion. There, Frundsberg barred the way to Arnhem, which was even more important than the success of Hohenstaufen and SS Training Battalion Krafft in checking the British at Arnhem-Oosterbeek. The actions of Frundsberg were the death-knell of Market Garden.

On 17 September, Frundsberg was without its commander. During the Normandy battles, there had been rumblings of dissent among the Waffen-SS leadership. Discontent with the military direction of the war had reached such a pitch that Rommel, the commander of Army Group B, hatched a plan to end the war on the Western Front. He sounded out several of his commanders, including those of the Waffen-SS. Hausser, Bittrich, even Sepp Dietrich, an old Nazi and the longest-serving of the senior SS commanders, all expressed support.

The plan was that Hitler would be arrested but not killed and Rommel would direct an orderly withdrawal to the Siegfried Line and invite the Western Allies to occupy France. But then Rommel was wounded in an air attack on 17 July and Army Group B was without a commander until Model took over on 17 August. The attempt on Hitler’s life on 20 July caught these western conspirators by surprise and Rommel later killed himself, not because his plot had been discovered but because his name was on a list of senior figures designated by the 20 July conspirators to take over from Hitler.

Bittrich’s diatribes against the military leadership during the Battle of Normandy had reached the ears of the Reichsfuehrer SS, Heinrich Himmler. The last straw came when Bittrich heard that Col. General Erich Hoeppner, his former commander on the Eastern Front, had been condemned to death by hanging. Bittrich exploded in fury, saying that such a disgraceful fate meant the end of the German Army. Himmler dismissed Bittrich although his senior officer, General Hans Eberbach of the Fifth Panzer Army, refused to let him go. Himmler tried again during the Arnhem battle but Model again refused to release Bittrich, quite possibly saving his life.

Unfortunately, Bittrich still needed to plead the case for more heavy weapons and equipment from the SS-Fuehrungshauptampt (Operational Department). Since Frundsberg was in the most immediate need of heavy weapons, it was Harmel who was sent to Berlin, unbeknownst to Model. The fact that he left his division shows that Bittrich had no inkling at all of the massive attack that was to fall on the Germans from Eindhoven to Arnhem. Harmel left Ruurlo by car on the evening of 16 September and met with SS-Obergruppenfuehrer Hans Juettner, the head of one of the two vast military bureaucracies governing the Waffen-SS, and Himmler’s military Chief of Staff. Juettner promised 1,500 recruits but was noncommittal about heavy weapons. Negotiations were overtaken by events and Harmel was summoned by teletype back to Arnhem on the afternoon of the 17th.

ANTICIPATING ATTACK

The Germans certainly anticipated Allied paratroop landings in offensive actions to follow up their retreat. In general, they expected the landings to be larger than those in Market and much deeper behind the German lines. The only inkling that the Allies had of the Germans anticipating Market Garden were Ultra decrypts of 14 and 15 September, showing the Germans expected large-scale air landings in Holland and a thrust by ground forces on both sides of Eindhoven to Arnhem.

The decrypt of 15 September is particularly revealing. The message was decoded at a time when, apart from the military situation at Brest, most of the decrypted messages concerned the Aegean, the Adriatic and the Mediterranean. The Germans correctly identified XXX Corps and speculated that a further corps would be brought up to the front line. They also projected that 800 to 900 tanks would be available, which was an overestimate. However, the Germans were correct in their speculation that a ground offensive would take place, moving up on both sides of Eindhoven to Arnhem, with the aim of cutting off German forces in the western Netherlands. These projections were not passed on to the lower commands. A warning by a German agent in neutral Sweden that something quite close to this scenario was about to take place reached Berlin only on D-Day.

Lower down the chain of command, the greatest likelihood was thought to be a ground offensive from Neerpelt in support of the Americans to the south. Model’s staff speculated that the Allies would advance from the Neerpelt bridgehead, concentrate between the Maas and the Waal, then move east toward that part of the Ruhrindustriegebiet east of the Rhine. Any parachute landings would be in the Ruhr area.

When the blow fell, both Bittrich and the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) thought that the aim was to prevent reinforcement at the northern end of the West Wall by Fifteenth Army in an Allied attempt to open the way to Muenster. Hitler refused to allow reinforcements from Fifteenth Army toward Eindhoven that would weaken the approaches to the Scheldt. His grasp of military reality at this point was greater than that of subsequent military historians.

At the time of Market Garden, Hitler was already planning what became the Ardennes offensive in December. He received the news of the landings with great calm, possibly because of his confidence in Model and the preparations he had made. Hitler’s military situation conference, of which only parts of the record have survived, began at midday and continued until 0207 hours the next morning. The conference was typical in that it was rambling and unstructured, switching back and forth from one general topic to the other, without systematic reports from the Army Groups or theaters. The flow was interrupted by reports on the military situation in the Netherlands, which started at around 1700 and continued until the small hours.

Hitler linked the paratroop landings with a coastal invasion. He also expected further landings on the following day and mused that the capture of his headquarters was worth the risk of two parachute divisions. He later “used strong language” about the folly of allowing bridges to fall intact into the hands of the enemy.

One officer at the conference speculated with great prescience that the offensive was aimed at the Zuyder Zee, more accurately at the IJsselmeer to the south. The officer was Lieutenant Colonel Waizenegger, adjutant to General Jodl, chief of the operations staff of the OKW. Waizenegger connected the ground assault from the Neerpelt bridgehead with the airborne operation. Though the picture was incomplete, Hitler’s HQ got a fair indication of the forces that could be brought to bear, including the 107th Panzer Brigade to the east of the Corridor, Poppe’s 59th Division from Fifteenth Army, and the 406th Division from Wehrkreis VI, the German military district on the Dutch border. There was much uncertainty and discussion about the strength and deployment of the First Parachute Army. II SS Panzer Corps was not mentioned, except for the battalion already detached to counter any advance from Neerpelt.

Bittrich’s reaction was both rapid and pertinent. He ordered Hohenstaufen, the closest to Arnhem of his two divisions, to secure the Arnhem bridge and destroy the British formations that had landed at Oosterbeek to the west. A top priority was to keep the British away from the bridge.

Equally important was Nijmegen. He ordered Frundsberg to proceed immediately south to defend the Nijmegen bridge from the south bank of the Waal, seeing that Second Army would move through Nijmegen to Arnhem. At the same time, he ordered a reconnaissance in the direction of Emmerich and Wesel; the Allies learned from an Ultra decrypt early on D+2 that the Germans thought there had been paratroop landings in the vicinity of Emmerich as well as Nijmegen and Arnhem.

Bittrich also ordered a reconnaissance toward Nijmegen, to precede the move south by Frundsberg. Since the Hohenstaufen reconnaissance battalion at Beekbergen was far closer to Arnhem than that of Frundsberg, he transferred it to the command of Frundsberg and sent it south, over the Arnhem road bridge. The Frundsberg reconnaissance battalion was later ordered to secure the Arnhem bridge for the division’s move south.

Model’s reaction was different from that of Hitler. Early on, he ordered the bridges not to be blown, as they would be needed for a counterattack. This instinct for a counterattack while fighting a major defensive battle was typical of Model. His personal reaction was less typical: the sight of parachutists caused the hurried evacuation of his HQ and departure with unseemly haste to Bittrich’s HQ at Doetinchem, east of Arnhem. By the time of Model’s arrival, Bittrich had already issued orders to his corps; Model, known for meddling in the lower orders of command, could only confirm what Bittrich had already undertaken. He later received a description of the entire battle plan, taken from a downed American glider which had crashed near Student’s HQ at Vaught on the outskirts of ’s-Hertogenbosch.

Student sent the plans by radio to Model, who had received them before the end of D-Day. Model was sceptical about the plan but it indicated no action different from what was already under way. Even the next day, Model considered that the aim of the Allied operation was to capture him and his headquarters; he marveled repeatedly at his own escape. He was no doubt influenced by the warnings of landings near his headquarters that he had received previously from his SS and Luftwaffe colleagues.

Model’s handling of the battle was perhaps his best military moment. He took II SS Panzer Corps under direct command and confirmed the order that Bittrich sent to his troops at 1730 hours. Beyond that, Model divided the defense into three sectors. The First Parachute Army was to halt the British ground offensive and eliminate the 101st Airborne Division on the Son-Veghel road. Kampfgruppe Chill was already in place to oppose the ground offensive, the 59th Infantry Division in transit west of Tilburg was to engage the 101st, and the 107th Panzer Brigade was diverted from its move to the Aachen sector to oppose the 101st from the east. Second, Wehrkreis VI was ordered to nuetralize Allied paratroopers on the Groesbeek Heights, to defend or retake the road and rail bridges over the Waal, and to prepare for offensive operations toward the south. Lastly, the Netherlands Command was called on to undertake operations against the British in ArnhemOosterbeek, under Christiansen’s operations and training officer, Major General Baron Hans von Tettau. These orders were in place before midnight on D-Day.

A premise of Allied strategic thinking for Market Garden was that it would take many weeks for a limited number of German divisions, between six and twelve, to arrive by train from Denmark and the Reich. The SHAEF Intelligence Summary of 13 September said that the German “CiC West can expect no more than a dozen divisions within the next two months to come from outside sources to the rescue.” Instead, the Germans pulled together, with astonishing speed and efficiency, a large number of disparate units already in the vicinity, though the myth that the German cupboard was bare persisted long after the war’s end.

McClellan is Rebuffed I

When General Johnston was severely wounded at Fair Oaks, President Davis assigned command of the Confederate army in front of Richmond to Robert E. Lee. Lee had already surmised that McClellan intended to repeat his tactics before York- town and make the battle for Richmond one in which artillery and engineering would determine the outcome. “McClellan,” he anxiously predicted, “will make this a battle of posts. He will take position from position, under cover of heavy guns, & we cannot get at him without storming his works, which with our new troops is extremely hazardous. . . . It will require 100,000 men to resist the regular siege of Richmond, which perhaps would only prolong not save it.”

Lee brought to his new command several advantages that his predecessor had not enjoyed. Unlike Johnston, Lee possessed Davis’s full trust and respect. Consequently, Davis let Lee formulate and implement his plans free from the sort of constraints and interference that hampered McClellan. Lee also had authority over all Confederate troops in Virginia and North Carolina and was able to quickly concentrate or disperse forces as he saw ¤t to meet the particular situation. And as he saw it in June 1862, McClellan’s threat to Richmond demanded concentration of force there. Thus, he and Davis abandoned the policy of dispersing troops they had been following prior to June 1 (a policy that had been no small source of friction between them and Johnston, who had been advocating concentration of force for some time) and sent orders to commanders along the south Atlantic coast to send troops to Virginia.

In addition, unlike the Northern government, which closed recruiting offices at the outset of the Peninsula Campaign, the Davis administration was at that point maximizing the mobilization of Southern manpower. (McClellan would later rue that “Common sense and the experience of all wars prove that when an army takes the field every possible effort should be made . . . to collect recruits and establish depots, whence the inevitable daily losses may be made good. . . . Failure to do this proves either a desire for the failure of the campaign or entire incompetence. Between the horns of this dilemma the friends of Mr. Stanton must take their choice.”) On April 16, the Confederate Congress had passed the first national conscription law in American history. Conscription and concentration would enable Lee to command the largest army ever assembled by the Confederacy. When the Seven Days’ Battles commenced on June 25, Lee would enjoy numerical superiority with 112,220 men present for duty to McClellan’s 101,434.

If he hoped to save Richmond, Lee recognized he had to change the contest from a “battle of posts,” in which Northern superiority in artillery and engineering would be decisive, to a war of maneuver, where the odds would be more favorable to the Confederacy. The condition of the Union right, which Lee gained a full appreciation of as a consequence of a spectacular cavalry raid led by Jeb Stuart on June 12-14 that rode all the way around McClellan’s army, gave him the opportunity to do this. To exploit it, Lee constructed strong defensive works around Richmond that would allow him to shift the bulk of his army north of the Chickahominy. Then, on June 15 he ordered Jackson to bring his army from the Valley to get into position to “sweep down between the Chickahominy and Pamunkey, cutting up the enemy’s communications.” Lee believed this would compel McClellan “to come out of his intrenchments” and fight in the open field.

As McClellan was completing preparations for the advance to Old Tavern, which he informed Heintzelman would “be chiefly an Artillery and Engineering affair,” on June 24, “a very peculiar case of desertion” informed McClellan of Jackson’s planned attack. The next day, after personally supervising a successful advance to Old Tavern, McClellan advised Washington that “several contra- bands just in give information confirming the supposition that Jackson’s advance is at or near Hanover Court House.” He also confided to Stanton, and later to his wife, his expectation that Jackson would “soon attack . . . to take us in rear.”

On June 26, Lee attacked just as McClellan expected. Jackson, however, failed to make the planned move on Porter’s rear, and the Confederate offensive degenerated into a series of frontal assaults on Porter’s position behind Beaver Dam Creek near Mechanicsville that were easily repulsed. Nonetheless, McClellan, “satisfied that Jackson would have force enough next morning to turn Porter’s right,” decided to extricate himself from his soon to be untenable position on the Chickahominy by retiring to a new base on the James. He directed Porter to send his wagons and heavy guns to the other side of the Chickahominy and fall back to a position closer to the forces on the south side of the river. A concern that “the abandonment of [Porter’s] position at that time would have placed our right flank and rear at the mercy of the enemy” induced McClellan to keep Porter north of the Chickahominy on June 27. This would buy time “to perfect the arrangements for the change of base to the James.” Orders were then given to quartermasters to “throw all our supplies up the James as fast as possible” and prepare for the evacuation and destruction of the White House depot.

Lee renewed his attack the next day at Gaines’ Mill, and in the evening a brigade commanded by John Bell Hood achieved a breakthrough, but Union reinforcements managed to contain the damage. When Jackson’s participation in the fighting at Gaines’ Mill indicated he might be abandoning, or at least suspending, his move on the supply line to White House, McClellan briefly considered a counterattack. At the end of the day, however, he reported a “severe repulse today, having been attacked by greatly superior numbers, and I am obliged to fall back between the Chickahominy and the James River.” That night, he called together his corps commanders and informed them of his intention to re- treat to the James. Then, with his patience and moderation exhausted, he sent an insubordinate telegram to Stanton stating: “the Government has not sustained this army. . . . If I save this army now . . . I owe no thanks to you or to any other persons in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice this army.”

McClellan would later claim that he had actually given up hope of McDowell’s arrival and decided to abandon the base at White House and take up a new one on the James on June 25, the day before the exact nature of Lee’s attack had been established. This is contradicted by the fact that even after being informed the day before of Jackson’s coming attack he persisted in carrying out plans on June 25 for the advance to Old Tavern. Had McClellan already decided to change his base it is unlikely that he would have persisted in planning and carrying out this operation.

Clearly, however, a move to the James was on McClellan’s mind before Jackson’s attack. From the time he captured Yorktown, McClellan had pondered the possibility of changing his base to the James. These, however, appear to have been solely contingency plans due to his orders to cooperate with McDowell. On June 25, when McClellan was convinced of Jackson’s coming attack on his right and rear, it began to look like the army would probably, but not necessarily, have to make a move to the James. Not until late on June 26, when it was clear Jackson would be able to cut the line to White House, did McClellan make the actual decision to change his base. McClellan was, after all, still under orders from Washington to maintain White House as his base. To have disobeyed these orders and moved to the James before it was absolutely necessary would surely have exacerbated doubts in Washington regarding McClellan’s willingness to follow the directions of his civilian superiors and might well have cost him his command.

In assessing McClellan’s decision to change his base to the James it is useful to consider the other options that were open to the general when Lee attacked. The first, to stand and fight on the Chickahominy for his communications, if successful, would have kept the army in a position closer to Richmond than the one his move to the James put him in. Yet to maintain this position, McClellan would have had to keep White House as his base and the York River Railroad as his supply line. He could not have shifted his base to the James and maintained his position on the Chickahominy. From a base on the James he would not have had any means for transporting his heaviest siege artillery through White Oak Swamp. Thus, remaining on the Chickahominy would have necessitated keeping the army in the same vulnerable position it was in on June 26 in order to protect the railroad.

A second option would have been to follow the advice of John Pope, who on June 26 was placed in command of Union forces in the Valley and Northern Virginia, and retreat in the direction of the York River. This was what Lee hoped McClellan would do, and he kept his force north of the Chickahominy after Gaines’ Mill to counter such a move. In response to the threat to his communications, Lee anticipated McClellan “would be compelled to retreat” in the direction of the York and “give battle out of his intrenchments.” To pull back to the York would have forced McClellan to march his army east down the Peninsula in the open, and with Lee and Jackson on his left flank, which would have been just the sort of operational situation that played to Confederate superiority in open warfare. Moreover, even if McClellan was able to make such a move safely, once back at the York River his army would have been at a greater distance from Richmond than it was after the move to the James.

The limited options open for future operations had McClellan been able to reach a secure position on the York also support the decision not to pursue this course of action. One option would have been to rest and refit his army in preparation for another advance over the same ground he had already passed and retreated over once. Another would have been to wait until it was determined how he could cooperate with Pope from that position. This would have required time, for until June 26 planning for overland operations in support of the Army of the Potomac had been based on McClellan’s being on the Chickahominy. From a position on the York McClellan might also have transferred the army to the James. Had such a move been made, however, it is unlikely that the army could have placed itself in a more favorable position on the James than the one it had after the Seven Days’ Battles.

Another option available to McClellan on June 26 and 27 was to use the left wing of the Army of the Potomac to attack south of the Chickahominy, where Union forces enjoyed a two-to-one advantage. While this might have enabled McClellan to seize the Confederate capital, the problem of supplying the army, both during the assault and once it had reached Richmond, made the success of such a move less than certain. To attack Richmond would have meant not making an all-out defense of the line to White House and operating without a secure base of supplies. Then, in the best-case scenario, before what supplies the army had on hand ran out, McClellan could have assaulted and quickly carried the Confederate defenses, disposed of the other forces protecting the capital, seized Richmond, and then, upon clearing the James of defensive works and obstructions, reestablished communications with the navy and a new line of supplies on the river.

This plan could have worked. Yet a staff blunder carrying out orders for the assault on the lightly held but well-prepared rebel works, a breakdown in troop discipline upon occupying Richmond, difficulty reducing the river defenses, or anything else that may have prevented the rapid occupation of Richmond and reestablishment of a new base, could have left the Army of the Potomac destitute of rations and supplies with no base from which it could draw new ones. From the time he reached the Peninsula McClellan had seen his best-laid plans upset by factors outside his control; would it have been reasonable to take this action hoping that luck might finally swing back in his favor? After all, had McClellan taken this gamble and lost, in order to resupply his army he would have been forced to make operational decisions that might have provided Lee the opportunity to force a battle under circumstances disadvantageous to the Union army.