Book Review Arnhem 1944: Battle for the Bridges; Anthony Beevor

Discussion in 'Books, Films, TV, Radio' started by Simon_Fielding, May 27, 2018.

  1. Simon_Fielding

    Simon_Fielding Withnail67

    My two penn'orth.....

    Review of Anthony Beevor’s Arnhem 1944: The Battle for the Bridges London 2018

    This is an excellent book that is an advance across a broad front rather than an armoured spearhead: it takes its place in the crowded historiography of the September 1944 Market Garden operation. Beevor displays the book’s lineage in its bibliography and acknowledgements: a principal place goes to the Cornelius Ryan papers which are (held in Ohio University) and which contain interviews which were prepared for his A Bridge Too Far. These provide the rough grain of, combat reminiscences, which distilled by the passage of time give an uncompromising description of the fighting in the Dutch suburbs and countryside in the last autumn of the War.

    Warm acknowledgements also go to Max Hastings, and it is no surprise that the book very much aligns itself with the “rotten plan, poorly executed” conclusion in Hastings’ book Armageddon. Beevor has no truck with pointless counterfactuals of changes in landing site and combinations of troop deployments in the hope of casting a scenario which sees XXX Corps Shermans clattering over the Arnhem Bridge. As Andrew Uffindel has pointed out, a successful Market Garden would leave an awkward Ardennes-like salient with its nose on the Zuyder Zee vulnerable to the neglected German Fourteenth Army in the Scheldt. Even victory would have let nowhere.

    The pioneering study of the German improvised defence against Market Garden, Robert Kershaw’s essential It Never Snows in September strongly informs this book. It has a secure engagement with German and Dutch sources reveals the German admiration for their Airborne opponents, wonder at their commanders, the neglect by the Allies of Dutch resistance operatives, and the almost limitless generosity of Dutch civilians for the Allied soldiers fighting to liberate them.

    The text is only very occasionally elusive. For instance on the responsibility for the decision to prioritise the Groesbeek Heights rather than the Nijmegen road bridge in the 82nd Airborne Division sector. But it does an efficient job in burying myths perpetuated by the film A Bridge Too Far and other accounts such as Lord Carrington being harangued by the survivors of the 82nd Airborne’s river crossing (never happened) and the Market Garden spy (there was none). In the end, the battle becomes a tragedy in the full sense, the result of toxic hubris and fatally flawed figures of power hypnotised by the laurel wreath of posterity. The book leaves the reader in no doubt that the fault lies with generals such as Browning and Montgomery whose demeanour both during the war and subsequently makes empathy for them very hard. It’s interesting that in a side comment Beevor notes the German Wilhelm Bittrich had a keen regard for Montgomery, which did not survive this campaign.

    Shakespeare’s lesser-known tragedy Coriolanus has a lesson for anyone reading into the Western European campaign 1944-5 as it describes a figure troublesome and onerous to their state during peace, but vital in a time of war. Perhaps Beevor should perhaps take the character of Montgomery, and making him the subject of his next book, see if he can find a new reading or new understanding of ‘Monty’... a volume on North Africa after Alamein / Tunisian campaigns would be very welcome.

    Simon Fielding

    Hastings, Max Armageddon 2004

    Kershaw Robert, It Never Snows in September 1976

    Ryan, Cornelius A Bridge Too Far 1974

    Uffindel Andrew ‘Monty Bounces the Rhine’ in Tsouras, Peter (ed.) The Battle of the Bulge: Hitler’s Alternative Scenarios 2004
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  2. Swiper

    Swiper Resident Sospan

    Does this add much to current historiography on the campaign? As much of the narrative seems very, very derivative.

    It has become evident that Beevor uses numerous researchers for his publications, and D-Day was riddled with several carefully edited accounts taken out of context to push deeply questionable arguments.
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  3. smdarby

    smdarby Well-Known Member

    My kids went to see yet another Star Wars movie at the weekend. I didn't go because the whole Star Wars thing has been done to death and has nothing new to offer. I kind of feel the same regarding Beevor's book on Arnhem. Having said that, I saw it widely displayed in bookshops when I went to the UK last week, so if it gets more people reading about WWII then that's a good thing.
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  4. Simon_Fielding

    Simon_Fielding Withnail67

    It seems that he's tapped the Cornelius Ryan papers which like the 1970s World at War interviews, produced more material than CR could ever use in B too F. It's very readable and is much better at covering German and Dutch perspectives than many one-volume studies. Whether it's a better book when all's said and done than Ryan's is in the eye of the reader I suppose...

    CL1 likes this.
  5. Orwell1984

    Orwell1984 Senior Member

    Kampfgruppe Walther and Panzerbrigade-107 - The book - De Zwaardvisch Publishers

    I recently just finished reading the above title on Kampfgruppe Walther after being very impressed with their previous book Autumn Gale. These are very much micro accounts that dive deep into smaller actions while still giving an overview of the campaign. What is impressive is the amount of primary source research done. This most recent title also contains a discussion of the historiography of the battle. Kershaw's It Never Snows In September has been held up as an excellent ,unique study and, as noted, Beevor seems to rely on it . However the Walther book is heavily critical of Kershaw’s accuracy and use of sources , giving examples in which eyewitness accounts he uncriticallyaccepts as fact bear little resemblance to the primary source documents available. It certainly had me looking at Kershaw’s work through a more critical lens. Which also makes me more sceptical of Beevor’s work. Especially if he hasn’t looked at these two new studies.
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  6. Simon_Fielding

    Simon_Fielding Withnail67

    Sounds like a must read - thanks for the tip. I didn't realise how old INSIS is - 1st edition 1976...
  7. horsapassenger

    horsapassenger Senior Member

    Swiper - After reading your comment I have taken some time today to look up some of Beevor's quotations and sources. As you say they are indeed very selectively edited with just a bit of the source document quoted but then worded so as to appear to the reader that it encompasses (and validates) a whole section of the following text. I was surprised to find one quote from Hollinghurst, supposedly supplied by me, which was not only entirely misquoted but to confuse matters further he supplied the incorrect supporting TNA File Reference.
  8. Swiper

    Swiper Resident Sospan

    Could you pop up some more context?

    As a teenager I used to love Beevor (long-time members will be used to my following ramble, so feel free to zone out), but D-Day really stank. I mean really bad. This stemmed from the overzealous marketing and strong inferences of war crimes in regards to the bombing of Caen and steadily got worse and worse.

    It was a series of quotes relating to the Battle for the Odon Valley and 276/277th Infanterie Divisions that raised the greatest stink, especially over their allocation of arty rounds (and devastation caused) that really made me raise an eyebrow. Subsequent investigation revealed quite how terribly he'd manipulated the source material and frankly misrepresented it to present a picture of massive German bombardments killing huge numbers of British troops. The next line of the quote, which he removed, revealed they had a literal handful of rounds per gun per day to fire. A handful. This wasn't something one could casually scoot over in the original German.

    So it had to be deliberate.

    It has been presented to me on numerous occasions that his works are heavily influenced by researchers, and on Twitter several individuals have admitted extensively helping him in writing Arnhem. Before now this had just been scuttlebutt, although in places it was potentially more evident due to a shift in narrative tone and focus.

    He's recently stated that Arnhem will be his last WW2 publication, I sincerely hope this is the case and that he enjoys a long (and exceptionally quiet) retirement.
  9. wtid45

    wtid45 Very Senior Member

    I have been debating this past week if Beevors book was worth buying, and if he could really offer up a better general overview of Arnhem and also add anything to it better than Middlebrook, it would seem not!
  10. horsapassenger

    horsapassenger Senior Member

    Swiper - a simple but highly illustrative example is at the bottom of Page 37 where he states "On 11 September, the day after their meeting in the aircraft at Brussels aerodrome, he sent a signal to Eisenhower: 'Your decision that the northern thrust toward s the Ruhr is not to have priority over other operations will have certain repercussions which you should know....Revised Operation Comet can NOT repeat NOT take place before 23 September at the earliest.... The delay will give the enemy time to organise better defensive arrangements' . He claimed ....."

    He quotes the source of this message as TNA file WO 205/693. Looking through that file the only message that he could possibly be referring to is the one attached. You will see what I mean about using part of a document to add validity to his surrounding text. In his book the reader gets the impression that the whole of the quoted paragraph is contained in the cited message.

    Attached Files:

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  11. Swiper

    Swiper Resident Sospan

    Oh my.
  12. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Montgomery did send a message to Eisenhower on 11 Sep (Source: CAB44/252):

    telegram M 192 to General Eisenhower:-
    “TAC 21 ARMY GROUP 111910
    I have investigated my maintenance sit. v. carefully since our meeting yesterday. Your decision that the northern thrust towards the RUHR is NOT repeat NOT to have priority over other operations will have certain repercussions which you should know. The large scale operations by Second Army and the Airborne Army northwards towards the MEUSE and RHINE cannot now take place before 23 Sep at the earliest and possibly 26 Sep. This delay will give the enemy time to organise better defensive arrangements and we must expect heavier resistance and slower progress. As the winter draws on the weather may be expected to deteriorate and we then get less results from our great weight of air power. It is basically a matter of rail and road and air transport and unless this is concentrated to give some impetus to the selected thrust then no one is going to get very far since we are all such a long way from our supply bases. We will do all that is possible to get on with business but the above facts will show you that if enemy resistance continues to stiffen as at present then no great results can be expected until we have built up stocks of ammunition and other requirements.”
    [HS/SHAEF/297/2 28-281]

    Having said that, I will not be buying the book - not just because of the obviously sales-seeking artificial controversy he tried to whip up about Allied war crimes in Normandy but also because of Simon's remark that "Warm acknowledgements also go to Max Hastings" which fills me with dread...:screwy:
    Last edited: May 28, 2018
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  13. Gage

    Gage The Battle of Barking Creek

    It seems to me like trying to write about the Battle of Britain - there is nothing new to add.
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  14. horsapassenger

    horsapassenger Senior Member


    CAB 44/25 is the Battle of Loos 1915. I think you mean either CAB 44/253 or 254 - the Official History series
  15. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member


    Doh! :blush:

    That's the danger of my ever slowing down laptop!

    You are absolutely right - I didn't mean the Battle of Loos file.

    It was this one:

    Source: CAB44/252 – Liberation Campaign North West Europe Section D, Chapter V

    Phase 5. The advance from the Seine to the Siegfried Line and the battle for Arnhem – 29 August – 30 September 1944

    Book I

    Lt. Colonel G.W.Harris


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  16. horsapassenger

    horsapassenger Senior Member

    Thanks Tom - it had to be one of those two volumes but why Beevor chooses to cite an entirely different reference is beyond me (although he mixes two messages)

  17. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    It is a shame that the publishing marketing machine puts so much behind "star" historians such as Beevoir compared to really good histories written by not so well known -the new talent. The forensic dissection of the Norway campaign by John Kizeley was rewarded with the Duke of Wellington medal. It is original and very relevant given the interest in Churchill. Here is my review.

    The other works on the shortlist were also very good and original.
    Chris C likes this.
  18. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    I do not mind popular historians as a rule. Specialized and technical works and official histories can be informative and absorbing for the scholar or the real afficionado, but general syntheses accessible to the larger audience are also necessary. Stephen Ambrose, Max Hastings, and Rick Atkinson have all taken a lot of slagging on these boards, Atkinson especially, but such writers fulfill an important function by at least trying to synthesize recent scholarship and present a connected and dramatic narrative. I got interested in the deeper history of the war by reading such books 40 years ago, books by people like Cornelius Ryan, John Toland, and Alan Clark. If a popular historian works honestly and conscientiously and produces a book which the general public will buy, read, and draw interest and information from, then good luck to him. I did like Beevor's Stalingrad book, and I had previously read others on that subject. I am not an Eastern Front expert, so I don't know how well that book would stand up to expert criticism. I have the Normandy book but haven't read it yet. If Beevor's latest is not as accurate as it should be then I am sorry to hear it. I don't know what action specifically is being referred to in the earlier post about the Odon Valley (EPSOM or BLUECOAT?) but I studied 50th Div's operations vs the 276th and 277th ID for my own work and I don't recall reading of any such annihilating German barrages.
    Chris C likes this.
  19. Simon_Fielding

    Simon_Fielding Withnail67

    Great review - some friends saw him speak at Cheltenham and were very impressed.
  20. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

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