Could Operation Market-garden Have Succeeded?

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by TheRedBaron, Aug 29, 2005.

  1. TheRedBaron

    TheRedBaron Junior Member

    Having recently completed my MA on British and German airborne troops, I have unsurprisingly conducted a substantial amount on the battle for Arnhem. One thing I have been considering is the likelyhood of the operation succeeding. Not Monty's "90% successful', but the successful capture and relief of Arnhem.

    I would be interested to see what other views people hold on this, what changes would need to be made (ones that do not benefit from hindsight!) and what would have been the likely outcome of a successful operation?

    For me the fundamental changes would have to be made at the planning level to achieve the greatest chance of success and these are all options available to the planners at the time. Failing that the operation may indeed have had better chances of success had things been done differently on the ground once the 1st Airborne had landed.

    I will post my ideas later... want to see what other people think first before influencing peoples ideas.
  2. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Ok Mate here it comes......

    For all that is written, and all the conjecture, the constant reading of battle plans, the apportioning of blame. if there ever was any?

    What everyone has completely not taken into account, was the mood of the time.

    For here at Arnhem, was that one great magnificent chance to finish the war before Christmas..To run riot on the Northern plains of Germany, to spread out in one great overwhelming wave, to get to Berlin, and take the best part of Germany as ours!

    All that great prize lay before us...what glittering treasures....many thousands of young lives saved. All that we strived for since 1939, now lay just ahead. Victory, and Germany would be ours....A hell of a long shot. a hell of a small chance of it succeeding. But if it did? What then? Indeed, what then.

    Think now of the battles that were to come after Arnhem, the many thousands that were to be killed and maimed.
    Now let me ask you....You know the risk you know the prize, What would you do?

    Me? I would take that long risk, for if it had come off? what treaures what treasures!
    arnhem44 likes this.
  3. Dac

    Dac Senior Member

    I think the presence of the SS Panzer Corps in the Arnhem area precluded any chance of success in the Market-Garden operation. Although the two SS divisions present were under strength, they possessed more than enough combat power to make life very difficult for the lightly armed troopers of the British 1st. Airborne Division. More anti-tank batteries could have been included in the British drop, but the problem of resupply still remains, in what Allied commanders should have seen was going to be more than just a 3-4 day battle.

    The availability of close air support would have made up for much of the lack of fire power the Airborne forces suffered, but considering the British radio problems, FAC would have been difficult. Fighter-bombers also would have conflicted with the large number of transport aircraft in the area.

    I personally don't see that there was any hope of success in Market-Garden when the SS Panzer Corps was acting like the cork in a bottle. The Allies needed to deliver enough combat power to remove that cork, and it wasn't possible under the conditions present at that time and place.
  4. plant-pilot

    plant-pilot Senior Member

    It was never going to be an easy operation, no matter how big the potential prize at the end of it. There are two things that could possibly been done differently although none would have seemed too good an idea at the time.

    Firstly, the plans as they were broke what has become one of the golden rules of airborne operations. All the troops need for the operation need to be inserted on the same lift. Difficult as the RAF and the US Air Force said that they were short of aircraft. In hindsight, if they and put the whole division in on the one lift, they may have needed more aircraft, but they wouldn't have lost as many because they had lost the element of surprise on the second lift. With the whole division on the ground at the same time they wouldn't have had to leave so many troops to defend the DZs & LZs ready for the second lift and the chances are that they could have got more of a hold on the bridge.

    Secondly, they should have got at least a brigade down on the area to the south of the bridge. The area was classed as unstable for gliders and was rejected as a DZ because of the areas of flak that the aircraft would have had to fly over. If the general thought was that which Sapper describes then the risk should have been worth taking, possibly if this area was the first to be used the element of surprise could have possibly kept losses to a minimum, and if enough paratroopers could have been dropped a lot closer to the bridge they could possibly have at least got the bridge, and waited for their heavy equipment to arrive the Landing Zones.

    I know it's easy after the event, knowing that they were facing more than they expected, but the question was asked.
  5. TheRedBaron

    TheRedBaron Junior Member

    Sapper - Agree wholeheartedly!

    Dac - Not sure I can agree with you on the presence of the SS in the area as being the main reason for failure. On the whole the tanks that were available to them were obviously limited in urban combat while the paras remained supplied and required close support from their grenadiers to be used effectively. As for close air support, I think its usefulness would have been limited in an urban area where it would have been difficult to distinguish one side from anither.

    My feeling is that the plan, although risky, was well worth the attempt. With a few minor changes the chances of success can be dramatically increased...

    Some quick examples...

    Fly two drops on day one allowing the 1st Airborne to land complete and advance to Arnhem 'en-masse' without the need to retain security over the drop zones. This was suggested at the time, but rejected over fears of the strain it would place on transport pilots and crews.

    Release the infomation that the SS Pnz Korps was in the area to the battalion commanders. Frost states that had he know of the opposition he would have made adequate preparations to face them. He felt that if he had know he could have changed his equipment allocations and taken more A/T weaponary at the expense of mortars. He states that he feels confident that had more A/T weaponary been taken then the possibility for success would have increased. This is an interesting point, but somewhat at odds with other facts. There was a reasonable supply of PIAT ammo for most of the battle, what may have been the problem was the unsuitability of the PIAT launcher for airborne drops. It was noted during Normandy that the PIAT was easily damaged during parachute and glider drops.

    My first change would be to land all of 1st Airborne on Day One. This would have allowed the force much greater local superiority and would have allowed a far stronger position in Arnhem to be maintained. Re-supply still remains a problem, but not an insurmountable one.

    Further to this the decision to advance into Arnhem on a three battalion front was to prove unwise. What may have been a better option was to have chosen a single battalion advance, with the rest in support, to push a corridor through to the bridge. Had this method of advance been utilised, with a 'charger' like Frost at the head then it is a possibility several battalions would have reached the bridge with a line to the drop-zones. Whether this could have been held till the rest of 1st Airborne and the Poles arrived is difficult to ascertain. Of course had the whole of 1st Airborne arrived on Day One this would not be an issue, nor would the bad weather in England.
  6. plant-pilot

    plant-pilot Senior Member

    Having just read through that there are a lot of 'ifs' and 'possiblys', but I'm sure there were plenty in the original plan as well.
  7. TheRedBaron

    TheRedBaron Junior Member

    Plant-Pilot - The problem with the landing areas south of the bridge were not known to the British. While the flak at Deelen airfield was over estimated, most was dummy positions, and the ground was suitable for landings, the actual area suggested was occupied by several SS Alarm companies. Had the Paras landed there then the element of surprise would have been quickly lost!

    There may have been the possibility of a glider 'coup de main' onto the bridge, as at Pegasus Bridge, but this would have required months of preparation and training for the glider pilots. Without such time to prepare the 'coup de main' may have suffered severe loss on the way in.

    Ironically, the German commanders Student and Kesselring commented that landing a distance from the objective was not a mistake and that it was sometime before the German defence was clear as to the British objective. Von Der Heydte also commented that a properly equpped parachute force could have dropped over the town itself!

    On the whole, all things considered, it does seem strange that no risk was taken to land a force at the South end. Especially after the operations in Normandy, but the short time frame has to be considered as precluding any difficult landing operations without the chance of training options for the pilots.
  8. Dac

    Dac Senior Member

    There's no doubt that the rapidity with which Market-Garden was planned and carried out played a key role in the problems that its' forces later encountered.
    The situation in the field was very fluid in the weeks leading up to M-G. The German forces were in full retreat and I'm sure it looked to many Allied commanders in Sept. 1944 that organized German opposition had crumbled.

    The German forces on the other hand rallied quickly under Von Rundsted and I think the conditions under which M-G was originally conceived no longer existed when it was mounted.

    As for the SS Panzers at Arnhem their use in the city itself was limited but they were able to control the area around the city including drop zones and the southern approaches to the bridge. Their artillery and assault weapons were also used to bring heavy fire on the battalion holding the north end of the bridge.
  9. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    What is apparent to me, is that no one can understand the atmosphere of those times.......That one glorious chance? Worth a thousand Lives? No one would have a word to say in your favour if it went wrong. But there on the horizon stood the glittering prize. The prize for those brave enough to grasp it. I should have thought that the Americans with their traditional "Gung ho" would have applauded that. Just think, there would have been no Berlin air lift or a cold war, Germany would have been in Allied hands

    We tried! I went over Nijmegen Bridge just after it was taken, and went some way towards Arnhem.
  10. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    One thing I can tell you in all truth. Now old and frail, I sometimes wonder did we do all those things???? Too damned right we did.
  11. Dac

    Dac Senior Member

    Originally posted by sapper@Aug 29 2005, 01:00 PM
    One thing I can tell you in all truth. Now old and frail, I sometimes wonder did we do all those things???? Too damned right we did.
    [post=38358]Quoted post[/post]
    Thank you!
  12. spidge


    Originally posted by sapper@Aug 30 2005, 06:00 AM
    One thing I can tell you in all truth. Now old and frail, I sometimes wonder did we do all those things???? Too damned right we did.
    [post=38358]Quoted post[/post]

    Any action is a gamble, especially one of that magnitude. If it had come off, everybody would have been smelling of roses.

    Revenge for the fallen was not far away!
  13. ham and jam 1

    ham and jam 1 Member

    1st Airborne were asked to hold for 2 days, they said they would hold for 4, XXX corps arrived at Nijmegen on D+2 and had 6 hours in hand and had made up the time that they had lost on the way. But of course the bridge was still nowhere near in allied hands.

    Lord Carrington Grenadier Guards : " There was no significant opposistion until we got to Nijmegen. There may have been the odd skirmish on the way but nothing slowed us down until we got to Nijmegen and found ourselves in the middle of a battle. That brought the coloumn to a halt and i remember meeting Chester Wilmot, the war correspondent, who helped drink my last bottle of liberated champagne."

    Guards armoured came to halt as they approached Nijmegen, and 20,000 vehicles began to pile up behind them along the single narrow highway.

    Captain Thorne, Guards 1st motor battalion: " We were in scout cars and the first person I can recall seeing is general Boy Browning, striding across the field to meet us, looking immaculate as always. Then Gen Gavin appeared and detailed a couple of platoons of US paras to accompany us as we went for the post office where those demolition mechanisms for the bridges were suppoosed to be kept. There was a battle going on, alot of mortaring, plenty of opposisiton in the town and buildings on fire. We came to one street where all the buildings were on fire, intense heat, and I had a shot at some Germans outlined beyong the fire and hit a couple of them.

    Another incident was the arrival of Jorrocks (Horrocks) with a few bren gun carriers. He was speaking on his rear link to the divison behind us, the 43rd Wessex div, and ordering them to come up. Apparently they were complaining that the traffic congestion was terrible and they could not get forward but Horrocks would have none of it. I heard him say, 'Nonsense I have come up the center line with three carriers and if you dont get moving in 10 minutes I will come back and move you myself".

    Horrocks was not holding back, this shows that he knew that time was essential and things needed to get moving, but the bridge was'nt taken.

    When the Guards arrived at Nijmegen, the 82nd were not making any headway, the Guards had to deploy and help them take it, and their prime task of getting to Arnhem had to give way to the matter at hand.

    Guards tanks and artillery assisted the 505th in another attack on the South end of the bridge, all day on the 19th the Guards were intergrated with the Americans in the street fighting and had several tanks knocked out.

    Gavin met Horrocks and informed him that he was going to send the 2nd/505th against the South side of the bridge and " as quickly as possible" send another force in boats across the Waal to take the North side. The snag as we all know is that the 82nd had no boats and had to get them from the British.

    In his memoirs Gavin says that in a US army corp, boats would be included with Engineers and so on, he suggests that the British were not so organised. Horrocks said to Gavin that they did have boats and that they were well back down the coloumn. Guards armour history states that it was expected that the enemy might blow one or two bridges and for that reason atleast 9000 Sappers with 500 vehicles had been included with bridging equipment. Its highley unlikely that Horrocks new little of these units, Gavin perhaps being frugal with the truth again.

    Things were now starting to happen in the Reichswald with the arrival of some units of the German II Para corp, about 7 under strength battalions totalling about 2000 men, these were joining around 500 Germans already in the area but who were causing very little problem. They put in a strong attack in the Mook and Riehorst area, the attack made some progress against the 82nd but was driven back in the afternoon by units of the Coldstream Guards. What 2000 men could do against two allied divisions is really not alot, considering the terrain they were attacking through.

    We all know about the the crossing carried out by the 3rd batt 504th. As they crossed the river and got to the otherside, the British Sappers had to paddle back to the South side in the 11 surviving boats to carrying on the ferrying.

    Grenadier guards were also attacking the Southern end of the bridge with Vandervoorts 505th. British tanks and American infantry drove the Germans back to the bridge, when it did fall the Germans fell back across the bridge to reinforce those fighting the 504th troops on the Northern side.

    Now its been mentioned about the Guards crossing the bridge and then stopping, and that they were cowards. The tanks knew full well that as they crossed the bridge it may be blown at anytime, but they also knew that the 504th on the other side were desperatley needing tank support, these so called cowards, crossed the bridge under fire wondering if it would be blown.

    At 19.10 on D+3 the 82nd and Guards armoured took the bridge. One of the first tanks across was driven by Sgt Robinson and this is his account

    " The Nijmegen bridge wasnt taken, which was our objective. We reached the far end of the bridge and immediatley there was a road block. So the troop Sgt covered me through and then I got to the other side and covered the rest of the troop through. We were still being engaged, there was a gun infront of the church 3 or 4 hundred yards in front of us. We knocked him out. We got down the road to the railway bridge, we cruised around there very steady. We were being engaged all the time. Just as I got round the corner and turned right I saw these helmets duck in a ditch and run, and gave them a burst of machine gun fire. I suddenly realised they were Americans. They had already thrown a gammon grenade at me so dust was flying everywhere. They jumped out of the ditch, and kissed the tank, they kissed the guns because they had lost alot of men. They had had a bad crossing.

    My orders were to collect the American Colonel who was in a house a little way back, and the first thing he said to me was ' I have to surrender'. Well I said, im sorry, my orders are to hold this bridge. Ive only got two tanks but if you would like to give me ground support for a little while until we get some more orders then we can do it. The Colonel said he couldnt, so I said he had better come back to my wireless set and talk to Horrocks because before I started the job I had freedom of the air. Everybody was off the air except myself because they wanted a running commentary about what was going on. So he came over and had a pow wow with Horrocks. The Colonel said 'Oh very well' and I told him where I wanted the men, but of course it wasnt ten minutes before they were on their way again.

    Lord Carrington joined us about two or three hours after because he had been sitting on the North end of the road bridge protecting that."

    Carrinton says: " When I got across the bridge there was no sign of Robinson, there were still Germans in the superstructure of the bridge. I halted my tank on the North end and radioed back that the bridge was open. I sat there for a while until more tanks started to cross, I then set off to find Robinson who was about 1 mile up the road and talking to some American Paras who were very pleased to see us."

    Andrew Gibson of the Welsh Guards

    "My own complaint is the ACCEPTANCE of the thesis (by other historians) that the Guards armoured division should have gone on to Arnhem on the night they captured the Nijmegen bridge. The division 'off balance' and still heavily involved in fighting back on the South side in the town, could not have done so. There was nothing to go on with, the main job now was to defend the bridge against the 'expected' counter attack. Any element which had gone on would have found it very hard to get over Arnhem bridge, which was not and NEVER was held by Johnny Frosts gallant force, (to hold a bridge you have to of captured both ends)
    if it had of got over it would have been met my superior German numbers in that part of Arnhem.

    We have always been fed the story about fired up American paratroopers railing at the British tankers for not going straight on but Peter Robinson's memoir tells a very different tale.

    It is time for this accusation, which does not stand up to detailed examination, to be finally refuted."

    Why was this experienced hard trained airborne division with the job of taking Nijmegen bridge, reduced to making a 'frontal' assualt in borrowed boats 3 days later? Nobody is questioning the bravery and skill of those Paras invovled but it reflects on Gavin's leadership.

    Had Gavin arranged a force to land on the Northern side of the bridge on d-day or atleast moved to take it first thing from the South the costly river assualt and previous battle in the town would not have been needed. Guards armoured could have pushed onto Arnehm on D+2.

    The first 4 tanks to cross the bridge were soon joined by Carrington, who says that he met soon after an American officer who was very pleased to see us. Later on the officer went on to accuse the Guards of being 'yellow bellied cowards' and that he felt 'betrayed' when these 5 tanks did not immediately set out down the road to Arnhem to relieve their 'airborne brothers'. He says that he was told that there were German anti tank guns and armour up ahead to which he replied, again allegedly, that his men would mount tanks, come with the Guards and clear the guns out of the way.

    Lord Carrington " My recollection of this meeting is different. I certainly met an American officer but he was perfectly affable and agreeable. As I said, the airborne were all very glad to see us and to get some support, NO ONE suggested we should press on to Arnhem. This whole allegation is bizzare, just to begin with I was Captain and second in command, of my squadron so I was in no posistion either to take orders from another Captain or depart from my own orders which were to take my tanks across the bridge, join up with the US airborne and form a bridgehead. This story is simply lunacy and this alleged exchange DID NOT TAKE PLACE.

    Gavin in his memoirs says, " The tanks of the guards engaged 2 88's dug in on the Northern shore, destroyed them and continued across the bridge. The first people to greet them were the paratroopers of the 504th. So enthusiastic were they that one of them actually kissed the leading British tank" Sort of ties in with what Robinson says, and so in my view makes his story to be correct.

    A captain of his majesty's guards does not take it upon himself to rush off into enemy territory, especially when his orders are to help the Americans forma bridgehead and defend it against counter attacks.

    Gavins meeting with Tucker the next day is strange also, in his memoirs he says that Tucker was livid at the British for not going on, Tucker apparently asks Gavin
    "what are they doing, why in the hell dont they get to Arnhem?" Gavin says " I did not have answer for him"

    Whats strange is that Gavin the commander should have known that the Guards had been helping him for the last two days, only in those hours at the time of this meeting with Tucker, the Coldstream guards were helping to break up an attack at Groesbeek, the Irish guards had gone back down the road to Eindhoven to deal with another enemy attack , yet Gavin claims he 'did not know' what they were doing.

    Only 5 tanks were north of the bridge and helping Tuckers men, why he didnt know this? its a bit baffling.

    The Guards were not able to advance up the road in strength because they were scatterd all over Nijmegen and the South bank of the Waal an area of some 25 square miles helping the 82nd carry out tasks that Gavin did not carry out on D-day.

    Tucker complains about the '12hours' delay, but why doesnt Gavin give a GOOD explanation for why there was a 36 hour delay in the taking of the bridge? All the credit goes to him and all the blame goes to the British.

    The US offical history says, "The guards armoured Coldstream guards group were still needed as a reserve for the airborne division. This left just two armoured groups to go across the Waal. Even those did not make it until next day D plus 4, because of diehard German defenders who had to be ferreted out from the superstructure and bridge underpinnings. Once on the north bank much of the British armour and infantry had to be used to help hold and improve the bridgehead that the 504th had forged. North of Nijmegen the enemy had tanks and guns and infantry of two SS PZ divisions in countryside ideal for defense."

    But hey im sure Carrington and his 5 tanks could have saved the day for the airborne at arnhem bridge.

    The official US history also says "At the village of Ressen, less than 3 miles North of Nijmegen, the Germans had erected an effective screen composed of an SS battalion reinforced by 11 tanks, another infantry batt, two batteries of 88mm guns, 20 20mm AA guns and other survivors of the previos fighting at Nijmegen.

    THAT folks is from official US history, so please tell me how Carrington and his 5 tanks could have made that trip?

    If the Guards had been able to of driven across the bridge when they had arrived at Nijmegen on the morning of the 19th maybe all this would have been a different story.
  14. Mark Hone

    Mark Hone Senior Member

    I looked at the 'end of Nijmegen bridge affair' in some detail for my Arnhem Battlefields Tour in 2003. As usual there is complete confusion about what actually happened. Some British accounts talk about dissuading an American parachute officer from surrendering since he felt the position was hopeless! A far cry from the usual gung-ho, let's-push-on-to-Arnhem version. The 'railing at the British' story seems to emanate from the account of Captain T. Moffatt Burriss who claims to have pulled a gun on a British tankie officer's head (presumably Lord Carrington's) at one point. I must admit I think that his story got considerably embellished over the years but of course I wasn't there so who knows?
    Robert Kershaw 'It Never Snows in September' is a very important source as it looks at the German forces in immense detail. Kershaw's conclusion is essentially that of Dac. He feels that dropping men on the bridge would simply have meant them getting mopped up in detail by the 'drive into the teeth' tactics practised by the Germans.
  15. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    For me! That story of the American holding a gun to a British head? is as far out stupid as it can get. Now, if it was the other way round I would go along with it.

    Why? Oh Why? do these stupid stories get printed? My knowlege of the British army in action, and most of all British army discipline, something the American army know little about. These manufactured stories about the British need to be driven to war, is so outrageously stupid, that it is just plain laughable.

    If you had seen action with any of the Guards armoured, then you would take a very different view. The fighting qualities of the British army have no equal...Perhaps the Germans? But then they are pretty much the same people.

    You do not think so? Then let me remind you that the Americans were quick enough to enist the aid of the British in Iraq. Why? because of their renowned fighting qualities.
  16. spidge


  17. Mark Hone

    Mark Hone Senior Member

    There is a definite discrepancy between accounts which stress the good relations between the American paras and Guards Armoured and the ones where the Americans seem to have a very superior attitude. This does come through in some of the better known first-hand accounts, not only Burriss but also Donald Burgett of the 101st and some of the stories recounted in 'Band of Brothers'.
  18. morse1001

    morse1001 Very Senior Member

    Originally posted by Mark Hone@Sep 3 2005, 01:12 PM
    There is a definite discrepancy between accounts which stress the good relations between the American paras and Guards Armoured and the ones where the Americans seem to have a very superior attitude. This does come through in some of the better known first-hand accounts, not only Burriss but also Donald Burgett of the 101st and some of the stories recounted in 'Band of Brothers'.
    [post=38539]Quoted post[/post]

    I suppose that it could be put down to the Fog of war. :rolleyes: :rolleyes:
  19. jimbotosome

    jimbotosome Discharged

    To me, the problem with Market Garden was not the concept that great payoff was worth great risk, it was that the success depended on way too many factors that had to be correct and the true risks were well under-scoped. Taking a risk is one thing. Taking compound risks is quite another. Just using the laws of compound probability should have indicated that the invasion was too risky. If there are only 3 things absolutely crucial to the success of an operation, and each factor has an even probability of success of say 50/50, then there is only a 12.5% chance you will succeed.

    Even if the idea is novel. the intent noble, the success very desirable, if the probability of success is minimal, it is unwise bet. I would think that the real problem of Market Garden is that the poor intelligence or the refusal to accept recon reports of heavy armor in the area is the downfall even more than problems like radios, etc.

    Of course this is very easy to say in hindsight, but the Allies should have figured that if they saw Belgium as an appealing geographic path of least resistance to Berlin, the Germans would have to have seen it as well and assumed that it would be sufficiently defended. When you are defending, you are not allowed to overlook possible attack routes. It is almost as if the Allies thought the Germans didn’t have maps. If it looks "too good to be true" it probably is. Sometimes too much ambition blinds you to the true risks.
  20. plant-pilot

    plant-pilot Senior Member

    What I don't understand is why they only put a Coy(-) up on the Westerbouwing heights. It would have been the ideal Div HQ location once it was understood that they weren't going to get to the bridge. Even before that, the importance of the high ground was known by the Dutch military years before the war and by the Germans who knew that if anything was going to attack Arnhem from the south, then the Westerbouwing had to be held.

    There are a few reasons....

    If you've ever been up there you'll have noticed how well it could have been defended. Much better than the area around the Hartenstein Hotel.

    From the heights you get a panoramic view of the southern side of the river. Something you don't want your opponents to have when it's your forces advancing from the south.

    You can see the bridge, your objective in the distance 4 miles away. Line of sight that would have put them in range of the radios that they had which would have at least given communications with Frost's forces and have improved chances of communications with 30 Corps.

    You could have seen and covered the Driel Ferry which was still working and ferrying locals for several days after the initial landings. At the same time you would have prevented the Germans from being able to put supressing fire on to both the Polish Bde and the eventual evacuation.

    Needless to say, the Dutch knew of it's importance as did the Germans.... so why didn't we?

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