The Operation

Operation Market Garden, one of the most ambitious military plans of World War II, was designed to bring the war on the Western Front to an end by the end of 1944. However, the operation turned out to be a costly failure that resulted in the loss of almost one-third of the British 1st Airborne Division, an American unit, and thousands of other Allied troops. The faulty planning, poor leadership, and unpreparedness led to the loss of thousands of troops, equipment, and supplies. The operation was too ambitious, and the risks that were taken were not justified.

In detailing Allied losses at Market Garden, Rick Atkinson writes "... two thirds of those fighting for the 1st Airborne had been killed or captured, and the casualties included eight of nine battalion commanders and twenty-six of thirty rifle company commanders. Allied airborne losses in MARKET approached 12,000, more than half of them British; moreover, in 17,000 airsories, 261 planes and 658 crewmen were lost. Casulaties in Horrocks's XXX Corps totaled 1,500 plus 70 tanks. Cornelius Ryan, whose A Bridge Too Far remains the classic narrative of the battle, put total Allied losses at 17,000 in nine days. (Atkinson 2013, 286)

Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower's strategic goal was to encircle the heart of German industry, the Ruhr area, in a pincer movement. The northern end of the pincer would circumvent the northern end of the Siegfried Line, giving easier access into Germany across the north German plains, enabling mobile warfare.

The operation made massive use of airborne forces, whose tactical objectives were to secure the bridges and to allow a rapid advance by armored ground units to consolidate north of Arnhem. The operation required the seizure of the bridges by airborne troops across the Meuse River, two arms of the Rhine (the Waal River and the Lower Rhine), together with crossings over several smaller canals and tributaries.  


The Allied Units

The airborne units were responsible for securing the bridges over the major rivers, while XXX Corps was to advance rapidly northwards to join them via the captured bridges. Several bridges between Eindhoven and Nijmegen were captured at the beginning of the operation. However, Horrocks' XXX Corps ground force advance was delayed by the initial failure of the airborne units to secure bridges at Son en Breugel and Nijmegen.


The US 101st Airborne Division's failure to capture the main highway bridge over the Waal River at Nijmegen before 20 September delayed the advance by 36 hours. XXX Corps had to first seize the bridge themselves, instead of speeding over a captured bridge onwards to Arnhem, where British paratroopers were still holding the north end of the bridge.

Bad choices were made throughout the operation, and opportunities were ignored. The commander of the Glider Pilot Regiment had asked for a small force with gliders to land on the southern side of the bridge at Arnhem to quickly capture it, but he was denied. This was surprising in light of the fact that in Normandy, the British 6th Airborne Division had used such coup-de-main tactics to take the Pegasus Bridge.

In Britain, the commander of the British 52nd Infantry Division, whose troops were slated to fly into a captured airfield, pleaded with his superiors to allow a brigade to fly in with gliders to assist Major-General Urquhart's trapped forces. Unfortunately, Browning declined the offer, "as situation better than you think" and reaffirmed his intention to fly the 52nd Division into Deelen airfield as planned. 


After Action

Market Garden was a risky plan that required a willingness to gamble at the tactical and operational levels. Unfortunately, the detailed planning and leadership required at those levels were not always present. The operation required far more resources in terms of transport and support than were available, and many of the bridges were destroyed by the retreating Germans before Allied forces could capture them. 

The British 1st Airborne Division initially encountered strong resistance, and the delays in capturing the bridge at Nijmegen and constructing a Bailey bridge at Son gave time for German forces to organize their counterattack. A small British force managed to capture the north end of the Arnhem road bridge, denying use of the intact bridge to German forces. 


However, after ground forces failed to relieve the paratroopers on time, they were overrun on 21 September. At the same time that XXX Corps' tanks moved over the Nijmegen bridge 36 hours late, after seizing it from the Germans, the British paratroopers at the Arnhem bridge were capitulating, unable to hold on any longer. The Allies failed to establish a foothold over the Rhine, and the river remained a barrier to their advance into Germany until offensives at Remagen, Oppenheim, and Rees and Wesel in March 1945. The failure of Operation Market Garden to break through the German lines severely impacted the outcome of World War II. 

In considering Operation Market Garden in the wider context of the Allied advance in Europe, Andrew Roberts writes that "What became known jointly as Operation Market Garden used up scarce Allied resources, manpower and petrol at precisely the moment that Patton was nearing the Rhine without insuperable opposition. Once the Allied armies stalled for lack of supplies, however, they would be unable to corss borders of the Reich for another six months. The Germans meanwhile used the breathing space bought by their temporary victory in Holland to ruch defenders to the Siegfried line, which had previously been under-defended." (Roberts 2011. 502) - Scott Lyons


Atkinson, Rick. The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2013.

Bennett, David. A Magnificent Disaster: The Failure of Market Garden, The Arnhem Operation, September 1944. Havertown: Casemate, 2008

D'Este, Carlo. Eisenhower: A Soldier's Life. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003.

Roberts, Andrew. The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War. New York: HarperCollins, 2011.

Ryan, Cornelius. A Bridge Too Far: The Classic History of the Greatest Battle of World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

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