Operation Market-Garden

Operation Market-Garden was proposed by General Bernard Montgomery soon after the D-Day invasion. The combined ground and airborne attack was designed to gain crossings over the large Dutch rivers, the Mass, Waal and Neder Rijn, to aid the armoured advance of the British 2nd Army.

Allied paratroopers descending over the Netherlands, during Operation Market Garden
Allied paratroopers descending over the Netherlands, during Operation Market Garden

On 17th September 1944, three divisions of the 1st Allied Airbourne Corps landed in Holland. At the same time the British 30th Corps advanced from the Meuse-Escaut Canal. The bridges at Nijmegen and Eindhoven were taken but a German counter-attack created problems at Arnhem. Of the 9,000 Allied troops at Arnhem, only 2,400 were left when they were ordered to withdraw across the Rhine on 25th September.

Primary Sources

(1) Orders for the Second British Army for its part in Operation Market Garden was issued by General Bernard Montgomery on 14th September, 1944.

(1) The first task of the Army is to operate northwards and secure the crossings over the Rhine and Meuse in the general area Amhem-Nijmegen-Grave. An airborne corps of three divisions is placed under command Second Army for these operations

(2) The Army will then establish itself in strength on the general line Zwolle-Deventer-Arnhem, facing east, with deep bridgeheads to the east side of the Ijssel river. From this position it will be prepared to advance eastwards to the general area Rheine-Osnabruck-Hamm-Munster. In this movement its weight will be on its right and directed towards Hamm, from which place a strong thrust will be made southwards along the eastern face of the Ruhr.

(3) The thrust northwards to secure the river crossings will be rapid and violent, and without regard to what is happening on the flanks. Subsequently the Army will take measures to widen the area of the initial thrust, and to create a secure line of supply.

(2) Message sent by the commander of the 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem (24th September, 1944)

Must warn you unless physical contact is made with us early 25 September consider it unlikely we can hold out long enough. All ranks now exhausted. Lack of rations, water, ammunition, and weapons with high officer casualty rate. Even slight enemy offensive action may cause complete disintegration. If this happens all will be ordered to break towards bridgehead if anything rather than surrender. Any movement at present in face of enemy is not possible. Have attempted our best and will do so as long as possible.

(3) Major General R. E. Urquhart, message sent to all troops involved in the attempt to take Arnhem (28th September 1944)

(1) I want to express to you personally, and to every officer and man in your division, my appreciation of what you all did at Arnhem for the Allied cause. I also want to express to you my own admiration, and the admiration of us all in 21 Army Group, for the magnificent fighting spirit that your division displayed in battle against great odds on the north bank of the Lower Rhine in Holland

(2) There is no shadow of doubt that, had you failed, operations elsewhere would have been gravely compromised. You did not fail, and all is well elsewhere. I would like all Britain to know that in your final message from the Arnhem area you said: "All will be ordered to break out rather than surrender. We have attempted our best, and we will continue to do our best as long as possible." And all Britain will say to you: "You did your best; you all did your duty; and we are proud of you."

(3) In the annals of the British Army there are many glorious deeds. In our Army we have always drawn great strength and inspiration from past traditions, and endeavoured to live up to the high standards of those who have gone before. But there can be few episodes more glorious than the epic of Arnhem, and those that follow after will find it hard to live up to the standards that you have set.

(4) So long as we have in the armies of the British Empire officers and men who will do as you have done, then we can indeed look forward with complete confidence to the future. In years to come it will be a great thing for a man to be able to say: '"I fought at Arnhem"

(5) Please give my best wishes, and my grateful thanks, to every officer and man in your division.

(4) Private Ivor Rowbery of the South Staffordshire Regiment wrote a farewell letter to his mother before he took part in Operation Market Garden. He was killed at Arnhem on 17th September 1944. The letter was included in Last Letters Home, a book edited by Tamasin Day-Lewis.

Usually when I write a letter it is very much overdue, and I make every effort to get it away quickly. This letter, however, is different. It is a letter that I hoped you would never receive, as it is verification of that terse, black-edged card which you received some time ago, and which has caused you so much grief. It is because of this grief that wrote this letter, and by the time you have finished reading it hope that it has done some good, and that have not written it in vain. It is very difficult to write now of future things in the past tense, so I am returning to the present.

Tomorrow we go into action. As yet we do not know exactly what our job will be, but no doubt it will be a dangerous one in which many lives will be lost - mine may be one of those lives.

Well, Mom, I am not afraid to die. I like this life, yes - for the past two years have planned and dreamed and mapped out a perfect future for myself. I would have liked that future to materialise, but it is not what I will but what God wills, and if by sacrificing all this I leave the world slightly better than I found it I am perfectly willing to make that sacrifice. Don't get me wrong though, Mom, I am no flag-waving patriot, nor have I ever professed to be.

England's a great little country (the best there is) but cannot honestly and sincerely say that it is worth fighting for. Nor can fancy myself in the role of a gallant crusader fighting for the liberation of Europe. It would be a nice thought but I would only be kidding myself. No, Mom, my little world is centred around you and includes Dad, everyone at home, and my friends at Wolverhampton. That is worth fighting for and if by doing so it strengthens your security and improves your lot in any way, then it is worth dying for too.

Now this is where I come to the point of this letter. As I have already stated, I am not afraid to die and am perfectly willing to do so, if, by my doing so, you benefit in any way whatsoever. If you do not then my sacrifice is all in vain. Have you benefited, Mom, or have you cried and worried yourself sick? I fear it is the latter. Don't you see Mom, that it will do me no good, and that in addition you are undoing all the good work I have tried to do. Grief is hypocritical, useless and unfair, and does neither you nor me any good.

I want no flowers, no epitaph, no tears. All I want is for you to remember me and feel proud of me, then shall rest in peace knowing that I have done a good job. Death is nothing final or lasting, if it were there would be no point in living; it is just a stage in everyone's life. To some it comes early, to others late, but it must come to everyone sometime, and surely there is no better way of dying.

Besides I have probably crammed more enjoyment into my 21 years than some manage to do in 80. My only regret is that have not done as much for you as I would have liked to do. I loved you, Mom, you were the best Mother in the World, and what I failed to do in life I am trying to make up for in death, so please don't let me down, Mom, don't worry or fret, but smile, be proud and satisfied. I never had much money, but what little I have is all yours. Please don't be silly and sentimental about it, and don't try to spend it on me. Spend it on yourself or the kiddies, it will do some good that way. Remember that where am I am quite O.K., and providing I know that you are not grieving over me shall be perfectly happy.

Well Mom, that is all, and I hope I have not written it all in vain. Goodbye, and thanks for everything. Your unworthy son, Ivor.

(5) General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe (1948)

On the extreme left the attack against Arnhem went off as planned on the seventeenth. Three airborne divisions dropped, in column, from north to south. The northernmost one was the British 1st Airborne Division, while farther southward were the American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. The attack began well and unquestionably would have been successful except for the intervention of bad weather. This prevented the adequate reinforcement of the northern spearhead and resulted finally in the decimation of the British airborne division and only a partial success in the entire operation. We did not get our bridgehead but our lines had been carried well out to defend the Antwerp base.

When, in spite of heroic effort, the airborne forces and their supporting ground forces were stopped in their tracks, we had ample evidence that much bitter campaigning was still to come. The British 1st Airborne Division, in the van, fought one of the most gallant actions of the war, and its sturdiness materially assisted the two American divisions behind it, and the supporting ground forces of the Twenty-first Army Group, to take and hold important areas. But the division itself suffered badly; only some 2400 succeeded in withdrawing across the river to safety.

(6) Godfrey Freeman, Escape from Arnhem (2010)

The wounded were laid temporarily side by side on the grassy bank where, here and there, the corpses of German soldiers who had ventured to break cover now lay uncollected. By now the flames were roaring, turning the abandoned building into a furnace. A tiny piece of debris whined over the road and landed harmlessly on my boot. The soldier on the stretcher at my feet lay face upwards, his eyes heavily bandaged. I had no further use now for my steel helmet so I took it off and covered his face.

In small groups the wounded were carried up the embankment, across the road, and down another bank on the far side. We wended our way among more German corpses, steered by that strange instinct that forbids stepping on the dead. One of them must have been lying there for more than a day or two. I recall that his stomach was so bloated that it had burst nearly all the buttons off his tunic, and to this day the image is still vivid in my mind's eye. A British Medical Officer was directing operations with a vehemence and authority that struck even the SS with awe. The medics' valour in that operation must surely by now have become a legend in the RAMC.

(7) General Bernard Montgomery wrote about Operation Market Garden in his autobiography, The Memoirs of Field Marshal Montgomery (1958)

Operation Market Garden was duly launched on the 17th September 1944. It has been described by many writers. I will not go over it all again. We did not, as everyone knows, capture that final bridgehead north of Arnhem. As a result we could not position the Second Army north of the Neder Rijn at Arnem, and thus place it in a suitable position to be able to develop operations against the north face of the Ruhr. But the possession of the crossings over the Meuse at Grave, and over the Lower Rhine (or Waal as it is called in Holland) at Nijmegen, were to prove of immense value later on; we had liberated a large part of Holland; we had the stepping stone we needed for the successful battles of the Rhineland that were to follow. Without these successes we would not have been able to cross the Rhine in strength in March 1945 - but we did not get our final bridgehead, and that must be admitted.

There were many reasons why we did not gain complete success at Arnhem. The following in my view were the main ones.

First. The operation was not regarded at Supreme Headquarters as the spearhead of a major Allied movement on the northern flank designed to isolate, and finally to occupy, the Ruhr - the one objective in the West which the Germans could not afford to lose. There is no doubt in my mind that Elsenhower always wanted to give priority to the northern thrust and to scale down the southern one. He ordered this to be done, and he thought that it was being done. It was not being done.

Second. The airborne forces at Arnhem were dropped too far away from the vital objective - the bridge. It was some hours before they reached it. I take the blame for this mistake. I should have ordered Second Army and 1st Airborne Corps to arrange that at least one complete Parachute Brigade was dropped quite close to the bridge, so that it could have been captured in a matter of minutes and its defence soundly organised with time to spare. I did not do so.

Third. The weather. This turned against us after the first day and we could not carry out much of the later airborne programme. But weather is always an uncertain factor, in war and in peace. This uncertainty we all accepted. It could only have been offset, and the operation made a certainty, by allotting additional resources to the project, so that it became an Allied and not merely a British project.

Fourth. The and S.S. Panzer Corps was refitting in the Arnhem. area, having limped up there after its mauling in Normandy. We knew it was there. But we were wrong in supposing that it could not fight effectively; its battle state was far beyond our expectation. It was quickly brought into action against the 1st Airborne Division.