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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Market-Garden

17 to 25 September 1944

Theatre: North West Europe
Location: Arnhem, Netherlands
Players: Allies: General Miles Dempsey's 2nd Army, including 8th, 12th and 30th Corps; Lieutenant General Lewis Brereton's First Allied Airborne Army; Lieutenant General Frederick Browning's 1st Airborne Corps; General Stanislaw Sosabowski's 1st Polish Airborne Brigade. Axis: Field Marshal Walter Model's Army Group B; SS Lieutenant General Willi Bittrich's 2nd SS Panzer Corps.
Outcome: A failed attempt to prepare for an Allied advance into Germany.

'If in the years to come, you meet a man who says, "I was at Arnhem", raise your hat and buy him a drink.' - Alan Wood, British war correspondent

Military planes drop their paratroops
Military planes drop their paratroops©
While observing General Dwight Eisenhower's strategy of creating a 'broad front' to drive the German forces back into Germany, British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was determined to demonstrate the efficacy of a concentrated assault. As he later recalled, 'I was expounding the doctrine of the single punch against an enemy who was now weak on his pins.'

After the port of Antwerp had been liberated in early September 1944, Montgomery proposed a novel knockout blow. Operation Market-Garden would outflank German defences within the Reich by crossing the River Rhine at Arnhem in the Netherlands. As well as bottling up Zangen's German 15th Army - which had left France ahead of the Allied advance and taken up positions in Belgium - this would enable the British to attack the Ruhr from the north.

Market-Garden involved 30th Corps pushing forward from Antwerp, crossing the Meuse at Grave, crossing the Waal at Nijmegen and finally crossing the Rhine at Arnhem. This 100km (60 mile) advance would only be possible if the bridges over all three rivers were secured beforehand. The operation required concentrated effort, the co ordination of land and airborne forces and a fair degree of luck. Receiving his orders from Montgomery, Lieutenant General Frederick Browning of the 1st Airborne Corps famously remarked that 'we might be going a bridge too far'.

The operation was launched on 17 September under Lieutenant General Lewis Brereton's overall command. It was spearheaded by three separate aerial landings, the largest airborne offensive in military history. The US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions landed north and south of the Meuse, aiming to secure the crossings of the Meuse and Waal as well as the road south into Belgium. Meanwhile, the British 1st Parachute Division dropped 10km (six miles) west of Arnhem, aiming to secure the road bridge in Arnhem and the rail bridge to the west of the town. The operation called for the British paratroops to hold their positions for two days, after which time 30th Corps would relieve them.

The Allies believed that German defences in the area were relatively poor. In fact, two divisions of 1st SS Panzer Corps were in the area, while Field Marshal Walter Model had set up Army Group B's headquarters west of Arnhem. The Germans began to send the plan off course at Nijmegen; 82nd Airborne could not take the town and the river crossing until the advancing 30th Corps arrived. By now, however, it was 21 September; the Germans had had ample opportunity to regroup between Nijmegen and Arnhem.

In Arnhem itself the situation was worse still. The rail bridge had been blown; 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment held the north side of the road bridge, completely surrounded by enemy forces, until they were overwhelmed on 20 September. The bulk of the paratroops were bottled up west of the town. A landing by 1st Polish Airborne Brigade, planned for 19 September, was only achieved on 21 September - too late to affect the outcome of the operation. On the night of 25 September, perhaps a quarter of the 10,000 paratroops who had landed managed to withdraw across the river.

Market-Garden exhibited tactical audacity and outstanding feats of courage; the outcome, however, can only be called a failure.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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