Who was to blame for the Market Garden failure?

Allied forces suffered more casualties in the Market Garden assault on Holland than in the entire Normandy invasion. Most historians agree that in the 24-hour period of D-Day allied losses reached about 10,000. In the total nine days of Market Garden combined losses, both airborne and ground forces, amounted to more than 17,000. British casualties were the highest, totaling at 13,226, and out of the total Arnhem attacking force of 10,005 men, an estimated 7,578 were killed, wounded or missing. In addition to this, RAF pilot and crew losses came to another 294, making the total of wounded, dead or missing men 7,872. The successful role of the 82nd and 101st American Airborne and also the stand of the 1st British Airborne at Arnhem remains one of the greatest feats of arms in WW2 military history. Yet it is impossible to dispute that fact that the Market Garden assault was a huge defeat. However, currently it is hard to distinguish where the fault for this mission lies.

Undoubtedly, the failure to secure Arnhem was not the fault of the Airborne force who, as stated before, held out for far longer than planned and produced one of the most astonishing feats of the second world war. It would appear that the fault lies mainly with the planning and conception of the entire Market Garden operation. From its very inception, allied administrative staff cut corners and disregarded reports of enemy activity in the Arnhem area, which would prove to be fatal. Indeed, right up until the operation had started, Montgomery believed that the “Germans in Holland…had little strength”. Reports streaming in from all over Holland, and in particular Arnhem, from the Dutch resistance regarding several Panzer divisions in the Arnhem area were disregarded, and any concerns raised by troops or generals were merely shrugged off.

It could also be argued that the entire operation was unnecessary. Patton’s drive into the Saar with the American 3rd Army was perhaps just as worthy of more resources and equipment, and considering his advance was ‘checked’ to allow for Market Garden to take place, it seems the idea of an all out Airborne attack had taken preference over everything else. It could be argued that the thought of an all out airborne attack was too enticing for Eisenhower. He had been encouraged to use the Airborne more and more ever since its success on D-Day and the haste at which the Market Garden operation was conceived could be a result of this. Yet it could also be argued that after several failed attempts at airborne invasions, Eisenhower feared that they would not be put to use before the apparently imminent end of the war. It would therefore appear that rather than lay the blame simply at the feet of Field Marshall Montgomery, it should be shared throughout the entire command.

Montgomery, however, maintains in his memoirs that, “if the operation had been properly backed from its inception, and given the aircraft, ground forces, and the administrative resources necessary for the job – it would have succeeded in spite of [his] mistakes, or the adverse weather….I remain Market Garden’s unrepentant advocate.” It is indeed hard to ignore that the operation was mostly successful, and that the Allies’ failure to secure a bridge over the lower Rhine was the only unsuccessful crossing, while all other objectives were achieved. Indeed it is clear that the Allies were attempting to capture ‘a bridge too far’.

Contributed by Tim Edgar

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