Operation Market Garden was a failed World War II military operation fought in the Netherlands from 17 to 25 September 1944.
It was the brainchild of Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery and strongly supported by Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt.
The airborne part of the operation was undertaken by the First Allied Airborne Army with the land operation by XXX Corps of the British Second Army. The objective was to create a 64 mi (103 km) salient into German territory with a bridgehead over the River Rhine, creating an Allied invasion route into northern Germany. This was to be achieved by seizing a series of nine bridges by Airborne forces with land forces swiftly following over the bridges. The operation succeeded in liberating the Dutch cities of Eindhoven and Nijmegen along with many towns, creating a 60 mi (97 km) salient into German-held territory limiting V-2 rocket launching sites. It failed, however, to secure a bridgehead over the Rhine, with the advance being halted at the river.
Market Garden consisted of two sub-operations:
- Market – an airborne assault to seize key bridges, and;
- Garden – a ground attack moving over the seized bridges creating the salient.
The attack was the largest airborne operation up to that point in World War II.
Supreme Commander General Eisenhower’s strategic goal was to encircle the heart of German industry, the Ruhr Area, in a pincer movement. The northern end of the pincer would circumvent the northern end of the Siegfried Line, giving easier access into Germany across the north German plains enabling mobile warfare. The prime aim of Operation Market Garden was to establish the northern end of a pincer ready to project deeper into Germany. Allied forces would project north from Belgium, 60 miles (97 km) through the Netherlands, across the Rhine and consolidate north of Arnhem on the Dutch/German border, ready to close the pincer.
The operation made massive use of airborne forces, whose tactical objectives were to secure the bridges and to allow a rapid advance by armored ground units to consolidate north of Arnhem. The operation required the seizure of the bridges by airborne troops across the Meuse River, two arms of the Rhine (the Waal River and the Lower Rhine), together with crossings over several smaller canals and tributaries. However, this large airborne force contrasted with the ground forces being light with only one corps moving north of Eindhoven, XXX Corps. XXX Corps took along 5,000 vehicles full of bridging equipment and 9,000 sappers.
The Allies captured several bridges between Eindhoven and Nijmegen at the beginning of the operation. Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks’ XXX Corps ground force advance was delayed by the initial failure of the airborne units to secure bridges at Son en Breugel and Nijmegen. German forces demolished the bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal at Son before it could be captured by the US 101st Airborne Division, although a Bailey bridge was then built over the canal by British sappers. This delayed XXX Corps’ advance by 12 hours; however, they made up the time, reaching Nijmegen on schedule. The US 82nd Airborne Division’s failure to capture the main highway bridge over the Waal River at Nijmegen before 20 September delayed the advance by 36 hours. XXX Corps had to seize the bridge themselves instead of speeding over a captured bridge onwards to Arnhem, where the British paratroopers were still holding the north end of the bridge.
At the northern point of the airborne operation, the British 1st Airborne Division initially encountered strong resistance. The delays in capturing the bridge at Nijmegen and constructing a Bailey bridge at Son gave time for German forces (the 9th SS Panzer Division “Hohenstaufen” and 10th SS Panzer Division “Frundsberg”, which were in the Arnhem area at the start of the jump) to organise their counterattack. A small British force managed to capture the north end of the Arnhem road bridge, denying use of the intact bridge to German forces. After the ground forces failed to relieve the paratroopers on time, they were overrun on 21 September. At the same time that XXX Corps’ tanks moved over the Nijmegen bridge, 36 hours late, after seizing it from the Germans, the British paratroopers at the Arnhem bridge were capitulating, unable to hold on any longer. The remainder of the British 1st Airborne Division was trapped in a small pocket west of the Arnhem bridge, which was evacuated on 25 September after sustaining heavy casualties.
The Allies had failed to cross the Rhine. The river remained a barrier to their advance into Germany until offensives at Remagen, Oppenheim, Rees and Wesel in March 1945. The failure of Operation Market Garden to form a foothold over the Rhine ended Allied hopes of finishing the war by Christmas 1944.