Following the breakout from Normandy in August 1944, the British and Commonwealth forces crossed the Seine between Rouen and Vernon, and what veterans called ‘The Great Swan’ began.
While the Canadians supported by British units fought some tough battles along the Channel Coast, or what became known as ‘The Long Left Flank’, the bulk of British forces advanced across Northern France towards Belgium, ‘swanning’ their way against little or no opposition.
It was a typical piece of British understatement, as occasional there were some brutal actions.
By September the front line was on the Dutch border and a plan to push on into the Netherlands and beyond to Germany was devised by General Bernard Montgomery - Operation Market Garden was born. Market was the Airborne component; drop thousands of Parachute and Glider forces behind enemy lines to seize a series of bridges on the road to Arnhem, with the furthest drop being west of that town.
Take Arnhem and Montgomery hoped to be in Germany before the end of the year. Garden was the ground element. Troops of General Horrock’s XXX Corps would begin on the start line at the Dutch-Belgian border and advance across the captured bridges linking up with the Airborne and finally achieving the meet-up in Arnhem.
The reality of Operation Market Garden proved somewhat different. Airborne troops at Arnhem were dropped far from their objective giving SS troops on rest time to react and form blocking forces. Arnhem Bridge was taken and held by 2/Parachute Battalion and supporting troops, and held until they could hang on no more.
Despite desperate attempts the rest of the 1st Airborne Division could not reach them, and they were pushed into a perimeter around the suburb of Oosterbeek until evacuation. Over 12,000 men had been dropped on Arnhem, just over 2,000 made it back across the Rhine.
The ground advance initially did well as XXX Corps battled through Eindhoeven, but stalled at the Son Bridge, and later Nijmegen Bridge, as American Airborne forces had failed to take these according to schedule.
While Nijmegen was later captured in a daring river assault by US Airborne troops supported by Guards Armoured Division, the ‘Driel Dash’ took XXX Corps to the Lower Rhine, Arnhem itself remained elusive and Market Garden ended in stalemate with 17,000 casualties.
Today the Battlefields of Operation Market Garden cover a wide area across the Netherlands.
The bridges between Eindhoeven and Nijmegen can all be visited, some of them originals still in place; such as at Grave and Nijmegen.
In Arnhem the cemetery contains the graves of the ‘Airborne Carpet’ who fought and died in the bloody battle for the town, and the museum at the former headquarters in the Hartenstein Hotel offers a fascinating insight into the battle. It is a place where history comes alive and true story of ‘A Bridge Too Far’ can be understood.
If you want to understand our nation’s and your family’s history, there is no better way than to actually visit the battlefield sites and the places where history was made.
Walk in the footsteps of heroes on a Leger Holidays Battlefield Tour with Specialist Guide. We would recommend our All Quiet on the Western front or Pals on the Somme tours or you can choose from more than 75 WWI and WWII, Anniversary tours, Napoleonic and American Civil War battlefield tours.
Leger’s Battlefield tours are truly inspirational journeys of remembrance and discovery.
For more information on Leger's Battlefield Tours please visit www.legerbattlefields.co.uk or call 01709 385 900.