Operation Market-Garden

17 – 25 September 1944

Operation Market Garden (Market for the airborne operation, Garden for the Land based operation) was an unsuccessful Allied military operation, fought in the Netherlands and Germany in the Second World War. It was the largest airborne operation up to that time.

The genesis for Operation Market-Garden was a smaller operation planned by the staff of the 1st Airborne Division, code-named Operation Comet which was to be launched on 2 September 1944. Comet envisioned using the 1st Airborne Division, along with the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade, to secure several bridges over the River Rhine to aid the Allied advance into the North German Plain. The Divisional Headquarters for the 1st Airborne Division, along the 1st Airlanding Brigade and the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade were to land at Nijmegen, 1st Parachute Brigade was to land at Arnhem, and 4th Parachute Brigade was to land at Grave (Click here to see how allied airborne units were organized). The driving force behind the creation of Comet was Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, who disagreed with the ‘broad front’ strategy favoured by Eisenhower, in which all Allied armies in North-West Europe advanced simultaneously. Montgomery, however, believed that a single thrust should be launched against the German forces whilst they were still organizing their defences, and Comet was based on this principle; Allied forces under Montgomery’s overall command would be able to move through Holland over the river crossings captured by the airborne forces, outflank the Siegfried Line and enter the North German Plain, ultimately heading for Berlin.

Field Marshal Montgomery’s goal was to force an entry into Germany and over the Rhine. He wanted to circumvent the northern end of the Siegfried Line and this required the operation to seize the bridges across the Maas (Meuse River) and two arms of the Rhine (the Waal and the Lower Rhine) as well as several smaller canals and tributaries. Crossing the Lower Rhine would allow the Allies to encircle Germany’s industrial heartland in the Ruhr from the north. It made large-scale use of airborne forces, whose tactical objectives were to secure the bridges and allow a rapid advance by armored units into Northern Germany.

Market would employ four of the six divisions of the First Allied Airborne Army. The U.S. 101st Airborne Division, under Major General Maxwell D. Taylor, would drop in two locations just north of XXX Corps to take the bridges northwest of Eindhoven at Son and Veghel. The 82nd Airborne Division, under Brigadier General James M. Gavin, would drop northeast of them to take the bridges at Grave and Nijmegen and the British 1st Airborne Division, under Major-General Roy Urquhart, with the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade, under Brigadier General Stanisław Sosabowski, attached would drop at the extreme north end of the route, capturing the road bridge at Arnhem and the rail bridge at Oosterbeek. The 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division would be flown to the captured Deelen Airfield on D+5.

Initially, the operation was marginally successful and several bridges between Eindhoven and Nijmegen were captured. However, Gen. Horrocks’ XXX Corps ground force’s advance was delayed by the demolition of a bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal, as well as an extremely overstretched supply line, at Son, delaying the capture of the main road bridge over the Meuse until 20 September. At Arnhem, the British 1st Airborne Division encountered far stronger resistance than anticipated. In the ensuing battle, only a small force managed to hold one end of the Arnhem road bridge and after the ground forces failed to relieve them, they were overrun on 21 September. The rest of the division, trapped in a small pocket west of the bridge, had to be evacuated on 25 September. The Allies had failed to cross the Rhine in sufficient force and the river remained a barrier to their advance until the offensives at Remagen, Oppenheim, Rees and Wesel in March 1945. The failure of Market Garden ended Allied expectations of finishing the war by Christmas 1944.