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Posted on Sep 30, 2007 in Front Page Features, War College

Operation Market Garden – Part 1

By Wild Bill Wilder

A Strike from the Air

The Allied reserves in England were all airborne. They included the American 101st, 82nd, and the untried 17th (together known as the XVIII U.S. Corps, Airborne), the British 1st, and the Polish Brigade. In addition, there was an "airportable" division, the 52nd Lowland that could be flown into battle, once an airfield had been secured.

They, along with other special units, including the Troop Carrier commands were place under the command of General L.H. Brereton.  It was called the First Allied Air Army. General Browning led the British under his command. Browning was known for his loyalty to Montgomery, though many felt that his first loyalty was to his on rank and ascendancy in the ranks.

The nature of these reserves limited the choices that Eisenhower had as to the nature of a new offensive. His reserve was not conventional, but airborne. With this in mind, he encouraged Allied planners to use "imagination and daring" to develop an attack. In response, 18 feasible air attacks had been devised.

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Three of them had almost reached launching stage. One of the problems planners had to contend with was that the Allies were advancing so fast that by the time an airborne operation was completely set up, ground forces would have gained the objective, or be very close to doing so. This would have to be a plan that would strike very deep into enemy lines. It would require holding a substantial area for perhaps even days, until land reinforcements could reach them.

General Omar Bradley, Commander of the American First Army, recalled vividly one morning when British General Bernard Montgomery strode briskly into SHAEF Headquarters on September 10th, and proposed a bold two-part operation aimed at entering well into Germany before the end of the month.

Montgomery was well known for being overly cautious on any offensive endeavor. His personality was the exact opposite of General George Patton. Montgomery was careful and precise; Patton, bold and daring. No wonder everyone at Allied Headquarters was shocked at Montgomery’s proposition. Bradley stated, "Had the pious teetotaling Montgomery wobbled into SHAEF with a hangover, I could not have been more astonished than I was by the daring adventure he proposed." 

The first part of the plan was named "Market." It involved the insertion of three and one half-airborne divisions along a northern route well into Holland. It would extend some 55 miles. The primary purpose of the drops was to secure certain key bridges and to keep open the highway. There were dozens of bridges along the route chosen, but the ones at the cities of Eindhoven, Nijmegen, and Arnhem.

It was at these locations that the spans covered large expanses of water. They would be difficult if not impossible to replace. And replacing them would take time, which was not a commodity available to the Allied forces. The timetable for the joining of the airborne elements with the assaulting ground forces was the key to making the project work. Thus, the bridges were the key to the operation.

The second part, called "Garden," called for The British 2nd Army, with XXX Corps in the lead, to break through German defenses near the border with Holland and proceed to link up with each airborne unit. It would be led by the British Guards Division straight up the highway.

Thus a narrow, somewhat tenuous corridor would funnel large numbers of Allied troops and material toward the northern part of Germany. It would be a race against time, and the bridges would be a vital part of the carpet that the airborne troops would lay for the rapid movement of XXX Corps. If the operation were successful, it would be greatly advantageous for three reasons.

First of all, it would cut a key land exit for the German troops remaining in western Holland. Another large benefit would be the flanking of the West Wall, or Siegfried Line. This was a series of static defenses built along Germany’s border to protect her from invasion. To punch a hole in this line would take time and cost casualties. Market Garden would eliminate this problem. Finally, it would position British forces for a quick drive into northern Germany, in an area called the Ruhr.

It was this part of Germany that produced most of the war machinery for the country. To take this area would effectively cut off any further supply of vehicles, munitions and equipment for the German Army. Without this resource, Germany could not stand. If successful, it would end the war in that same year. The two plans would work together. Thus the Operation was named "Market Garden."

It was bold and imaginative. Many Allied leaders were opposed to it. Apparently Montgomery favored it, because of a number of reasons, the first of which was the glory that would be bestowed upon the British Army in its drive to the heart of the Third Reich. Eisenhower also liked the idea. For him, its greatest benefit would be the liberation of the Schelde Estuary.

This land that controlled the use of the port of Antwerp was in German hands, thus denying the use of it to the Allies. As mentioned earlier, supply was the biggest slowdown to Eisenhower’s forces in the fall of 1944. Once Antwerp could be used, the war effort could be greatly accelerated. Considering his present logistics, therefore, Eisenhower decided in favor of the operation.

The two biggest problems for the Allies in executing the project were weather and supply. Since there were not enough air transport for so many men, it would require almost four days to get all the airborne troops into the area. The piecemeal entry of forces into the battle would hamper the holding power of the airborne troops. And then reinforcements were at the mercy of the capricious fall weather in northern Europe. Good flying weather, over which the Allies had absolutely no control, would largely determine the success of the mission.

The date set for the beginning of the attack was September 17th. There were only seven days to get everything in place. It would be done in daylight. The night drops that had taken place in the Normandy invasion had been hampered greatly because they were done at night. The result had been a scattering of airborne forces, which in turn greatly diluted their strength.

The operational plan was simple. First of all, flak units would be suppressed by the Air Force prior to the drop. The airborne units would be divided into two groups that would go to the battle area in two columns. The first would carry troops to the areas around Nijmegen and Arnhem. The second (or southern column) would carry parts of the 101st Airborne Division to Eindhoven, which was the closest objective. It was imperative that a number of major bridges in each of these places be taken and held in order for XXX Corps to proceed expeditiously to Arnhem. The machinery was set in motion for the execution of Market Garden.

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