Operation Market Garden

Throughout the summer of 1944, Germany's once powerful armies were on the run, retreating across France and Belgium. Against this strategic backdrop, British Field Marshal Montgomery devised a plan code-named Operation Market Garden. With momentum on their side, the Allied strategy was to attack Germany from the north by crossing the Rhine and capturing the Ruhr, Germany's industrial heartland, outflank the powerful Siegfried Line on the north and then drive for Berlin.

Operation Market Garden was to be the first major daylight air assault attempted by a military power since Germany's attack on Crete.

Market Garden called for the First Allied Airborne Army, comprised of the 82nd and 101st U.S. Airborne Divisions and England's First Airborne Division to land behind enemy lines laying out an "airborne carpet". The Airborne Divisions were to jump along a sixty mile corridor leading from in front of the British lines to Arnhem, Holland where it was intended to make the Rhine River crossing and then push east into Germany. The airborne Allied troops were to seize roads and bridges that lead to the all important bridge which crossed the Rhine at Arnhem, cutting Holland in half and clearing a corridor for British armored and motorized columns all the way to the German border. The Allied troops were also to seize the key communications cities of Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem. The 101st Airborne Division had as its objective the first twenty miles of this corridor. The 82nd Airborne Division had the central part, and near Arnhem was the British Airborne Division. Simultaneously, as the airborne phase unfolded, British XXX Corps, would also strike north by racing armor up the road network and linking up with the airborne forces.

Operation Market Garden was to become the largest airborne assault in history.

On 17 September 1944, the 505th made its fourth combat jump at Groesbeck, Holland. During the fierce combat, two lightly armed platoons of the 505th, at most 80 men, were surrounded by an entire German Infantry Battalion supported by tanks. The paratroopers fought back three savage German assaults and held their ground until relieved. For this action the 505th received a second Presidential unit citation.

The 82nd Airborne also parachuted into Grave and controlled the strategic river crossing there, while the 101st Airborne seized the bridges at Eindhoven and Veghel. Although the American airborne divisions achieved their objectives the situation in Arnhem was more problematic.

The British lst Airborne Division, reinforced by a Polish airborne unit, was dropped too far from its target, the Arnhem bridge, and more fundamentally, German strength in Arnhem was substantially greater than anticipated in the intelligence estimates. Lightly armed Allied paratroopers found themselves up against two SS panzer divisions that had recently been refitting in the area. The British/Polish force, suffering from the loss in the airdrop of critical vehicles, artillery, and communications, failed to seize the Arnhem Bridge despite a heroic fight. The British armored column, which was to break through to relieve the airborne forces, fell behind schedule as the tanks crawled along the narrow, congested roadway. The operation ended less than 10 days later, with the British and Polish airborne troops surrounded in Arnhem and the armored column stalled 10 miles away.

 

Ultimately Operation Market Garden failed since the final bridge across the Rhine couldn't be secured. The British were able to pull back some of their forces, but not before the Germans killed or captured more than 7,000 paratroopers; the two American airborne divisions fighting along the corridor lost more than 3,500. With the debacle in Arnhem, the gateway to Germany would not open in September 1944, hopes of an early end to the war quickly faded and the 82nd was ordered back to France.

The Market Garden Operation would infamously be dubbed, in the words of the British airborne Commander General Boy Browning, "a bridge too far."

 Netherlands Citation

 

 

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