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|Operation Market Garden|
|Conflict: World War II|
|Date: 17-25 September 1944|
|Place: Netherlands and Germany|
|Outcome: Operational failure|
Two divisions at Arnhem
Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery conceived an ambitious plan for maintaining the Allied momentum and ending the war in 1944, planning to have airborne troops seize bridges over the Lower Rhine and other rivers in the southern Netherlands to allow for ground forces to advance rapidly into Germany. The invasion plan was delayed sixteen times before General Dwight D. Eisenhower sanctioned the plan on 10 September 1944, and the invasion took place a week later. The US 101st Airborne Division was to be dropped around Eindhoven, the US 82nd Airborne Division around Grace, and the British 1st Airborne Division around Arnhem, while Stanislaw Sosabowski's Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade was to support Roy Urquhart's 1st Airborne. The British XXX Corps, commanded by Brian Horrocks, would then advance north from the Belgium-Netherlands border and push towards Arnhem, and the corps was supposed to reach the town in two days to relieve John Frost's men in the town.
Sosabowski doubted Montgomery's judgment, fearing that his men would be led into a massacre; G-2 intelligence officer Brian Urquhart was also skeptical about the invasion, as he had received reports from the Dutch Resistance showing that General Walter Model was in Arnhem, and that two SS panzer divisions were also in the area. The signals corps correctly predicted that radio communications would be hindered by the low elevation of the Netherlands, and the British decided to drop Urquhart's division 12 kilometers away from Arnhem due to the land closer to the town being unsuitable terrain. Frederick Browning, the commander of the British I Airborne Corps, refused to postpone the operation again, as he was apprehensive about upsetting Montgomery. Instead, he insisted that the British infantry could take out the German armor, claiming that the tanks were decommissioned. In reality, the German commander Gerd von Rundstedt had decided to withdraw Wilhelm Bittrich's II SS Panzer Corps (the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen and the 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg) to the "out-of-the-way" town of Arnhem to rest and resupply.
There were problems at the outset of the invasion, with the British paratroops being dropped 6 miles from the bridge in Arnhem, and they faced two SS panzer divisions reequipping in the area. The XXX Corps pushed north along a narrow and elevated road (which led to the vehicles being sitting ducks as they slowly advanced down the congested road), and they were held back by a German ambush at the Battle of Valkenswaard, and they were forced to halt at Valkenswaard after advancing 7 miles in one day; their goal was to advance 13 miles to Eindhoven in 2-3 hours. The Allies had expected that the only resistance in the area would come from "Hitler Youth or old men on bicycles", and they were not prepared for the heavy resistance. The American landings were successful, but the Germans blew up the Son bridge before the 101st Airborne could secure it. The British 1st Airborne Division's jeeps either did not arrive on their gliders or were shot up in an ambush, forcing the British troops to advance 6 miles to Arnhem on foot. They also had no communications with headquarters. John Frost's detachment of the 1st Airborne Division secured Arnhem and occupied several buildings near the bridge, which they captured with difficulty; they managed to take the bridge after a British flamethrower soldier accidentally hit an ammunition dump, killing the German defenders. The British troops in the city came under heavy attack from German panzers, however, and they began to run low on supplies, especially ammunition, as they held off more and more German attacks. The Germans made a few mistakes of their own, with Marshal Walther Model refusing to blow all of the bridges due to his desire to launch a counterattack against the Allies after Market Garden's failure, and Model also ignored the discovery of a copy of the Allied operational orders by a patrolling German soldier, claiming that the orders were meant to be found, and that the Allies would not drop six miles from Arnhem if they were interested in the bridge. Clearly, the Germans were not aware of how botched the Allied invasion had become.
The XXX Corps resumed its advance after setting up a Bailey bridge to replace the one destroyed at Son, and this took 12 hours; the XXX Corps and the 101st Airborne advanced across the new bridge. The British and American troops were enthusiastically greeted by local Dutch civilians, who waved orange and Dutch flags, and they were also greeted by escaped lunatic asylum patients, who had fled the asylum after it was bombed by Allied warplanes. The 101st Airborne left the XXX Corps as the XXX Corps moved towards Nijmegen, and the 101st and the XXX Corps were forced to secure Nijmegen before advancing. The 101st had to wait for the British to bring up flimsy, wooden boats, and the British smokescreen faded as the Americans crossed the river on the boats, leading to German machine gunners and tanks pouring heavy fire onto the Americans as they paddled down the river with oars and rifle butts. The Americans eventually secured the Nijmegen bridge, and German general Heinz Harmel was terrified, claiming that nothing could stop the Americans from relieving Frost at Arnhem. However, the XXX Corps' armor was ordered to wait for the infantry to secure Nijmegen, as the tanks would be sitting ducks by themsleves. The British armored troops therefore relaxed and sipped tea, much to General James M. Gavin's anger. Meanwhile, the German general Wilhelm Bittrich had given the orders to flatten Arnhem after the British refused a German offer to negotiate surrender terms, and the Germans indiscriminately razed the city, killing several civilians. Urquhart's supply drops were overrun by Germans and he was separated from Frost's men, rendering him unable to act. The Polish Brigade was also delayed due to heavy fog, and they arrived too late to help the Arnhem defenders; the Polish paratroopers were shot at by German troops as they parachuted into a field, with many of them being massacred before they even hit the ground.
The British defenders of Arnhem were eventually overrun, with Frost and most of his men being wounded. General Bittrich himself confronted Frost and greeted him warmly, saluting him and offering him captured British chocolate; a distraught Frost did not speak to him or salute him, and he later accepted the chocolate bar. The German forces took several prisoners in the town of Arnhem, which had been reduced to ruin. Meanwhile, the British medical officer Graeme Warrack and the Dutch medic Jan Spaander entered talks with General Bittrich to declare a ceasefire so that the British could evacuate their wounded. The British found that retreat was impossible, so they decided to enter German hospitals in captivity rather than die in the Netherlands. Warrack and Spaander arranged for the surrender of all of the wounded British troops at Kate ter Horst's home, which had been converted into a makeshift overflow hospital and had been crowded with several dying British troops. Urquhart also decided to withdraw from Arnhem, leaving behind the badly wounded to fight off the Germans as he escaped with 2,000 of the 10,000 men that had entered Arnhem. The Poles attempted to cross the river into Arnhem to relieve the defenders, but their boats came under heavy fire from the Germans and suffered grievous losses, making it impossible for them to enter Arnhem. The Poles suffered 40% losses in the battle, being massacred, just as Sosabowski had feared. Only a fifth of the British paratroops returned to Allied lines, and the operation ended in failure. The chance to end the war in 1944 had been lost.
The operation had mixed results, with Montgomery claiming that the operation was 90% successful; however, the Allies had suffered horrific losses and had failed in their main goal of taking Arnhem. Browning and Montgomery scapegoated Sosabowski for the defeat at the Battle of Arnhem, leading to Sosabowski's removal from command. The frontline returned to Nijmegen, and the Rhine River remained a barrier for entry into Germany. The Germans had secretly been planning a new offensive against the Allies the entire time, and they would be on the offensive during the ensuing Battle of the Bulge.