the Battle of Arnhem officially ended. Immortalised in the film ‘A Bridge Too Far’ and the subject of numerous war diaries and personal memoires, this was the plan for a daring thrust into the industrial heartland of Germany via three captured bridges. The last of these was the Rhine bridge at Arnhem. On paper, Operation Market Garden as it was known looked great. Drop three Allied airborne divisions (US 82nd Airborne, 101st Airborne and British 1st Airborne plus the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade) – each division captures a particular bridge and its surrounds. This secures a route straight into the Rhur for three British divisions and the war is over by Christmas 1944. No-one at the time seemed to remember that they’d said something similar about another Christmas thirty years ealier…
They also forgot that old Von Moltke maxim about no plan surviving contact with the enemy. So many things went pear-shaped from the start of the fighting that I can’t even begin to list them all here. Martin Middlebrook’s ‘Arnhem 1944’ (2009) is one of the best studies of what went wrong and is well worth a read. For me, the worst failings were found in the senior British commanders – notably Lieutenant-General Browning. Warned by his Int people that the Germans had moved tanks into the vicinity of Arnhem he refused to believe it.
Even when his chief intel man, Major Brian Urquhart showed him aerial photos of the said tanks he (Browning) refused to let the facts interfere with his preconceptions. ‘Oh’, he is said to have remarked ‘they can’t be servicable tanks’. When Urquhart persisted, Browning had him diagnosed with stress and sent on medical leave. Unbelievable… In fact, Browning’s view of how the universe in and around Arnhem was organised was allowed to dominate planning until first hand evidence proved that:
1. The plan depended on everything going right first time
2. The German ‘reservists’ around Arnhem were anxious to show that they were in fact the 9th (Hohenstaufen) and 10th (Frundsberg) SS Panzer divisions with Tiger tanks in depressingly good working order.
Out of the 10,000 men of the British 1st Airborne Division who went into action on 17 September only about 2,000 remained alive, uncaptured and unwounded at sunset on the 26th.