WWII

Operation Market Garden: 75 Years Since One Of The Largest Airborne Operations In History

The objective was to secure a bridge over the Rhine as part of an Allied invasion of Germany.

Troops parachute from the sky in Operation Market Garden (Picture: PA).

On 17 September 1944, the British airborne invasion of Arnhem and Eindhoven in the Netherlands began as part of Operation Market Garden.

The objective was to secure a bridge over the Rhine as part of an Allied invasion of Germany, but after a battle lasting until September 27, the attempt failed...

Today marks the 75th anniversary of one of the largest airborne operation in history and one which could have changed the entire outlook of the Second World War.

The scheme was the brainchild of Field Marshal Bernard ‘Monty’ Montgomery, hatched shortly after his glittering success in the D-Day Landings.

The concept was one of a narrow thrust punching deep through the heart of the German lines.

British troops of the First Allied Airborne Army line up to board the plane before Operation Market Garden
British troops of the First Allied Airborne Army line up to board the plane en-route to Holland (Picture: PA).

It was to be a two-pronged approach, with the elements 'market' and 'garden' dealing with airborne and land advances respectively.

As part of 'market', 30,000 British and American troops (of the First Allied Airborne Army) were parachuted in behind enemy lines, transported by glider, to seize a number of strategic bridges in the Netherlands under Nazi occupation.

The main structures were at Eindhoven, Nijmegen, and Arnhem.

The aim was to allow land forces to then move over the bridges and create an invasion route into northern Germany, a pincer movement around the Ruhr industrial area - a critical centre of Nazi war production.

Watch: Battle of Arnhem veteran Frank Ashleigh on his experience of the time.

Amongst the land forces, troops of General Horrocks' 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.

In doing so, it was hoped the advance would help to bring about an end to the war by late 1944.

The reality of Operation Market Garden proved somewhat different.

It began well enough.

On 17 September, 1944, 1,500 British and American aircraft and 500 gliders flew over enemy lines.

By just after 1400 hours, some 20,000 combat troops, 511 vehicles, 330 artillery pieces and 590 tons of equipment had been safely landed.

But then, as the XXX Corps approached, the first nine tanks were quickly picked off, and the Germans were able to organise defences against the closer airborne troops.

American paratrooper under fire during Operation Market Garden in Arnhem
An American paratrooper under fire in 1944 (Picture: PA).

Some Dutch cities were liberated, including Eindhoven, however the operation was halted at the Rhine river and ultimately failed to meet any of its objectives.

Some of the problems included a shortage of transport aircraft, and poor weather which made re-supply much more difficult.

Airborne troops at Arnhem were dropped far from their target, losing them the element of surprise, and giving German troops time to react and form blockades. Arnhem Bridge was taken and held by 2nd Parachute Battalion and supporting troops, and held until they could hang on no more.

Airborne troops engaging the enemy with 3-inch mortars during Operation Market Garden in Arnhem
Arnhem 1944 Airborne troops engaging the enemy with three-inch mortars (Picture: PA).

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 Eindhoven, 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.