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Why Bridge Too Far attempt was doomed


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#1 Colin

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Posted 09 January 2006 - 1455 PM

Why Bridge Too Far attempt was doomed
MURDO MACLEOD [email protected]
IT WAS the Bridge Too Far which was the last British defeat of the Second World War. The audacious attempt to race through the Netherlands from Arnhem and sweep into Germany failed to shorten the war and cost 8,000 Allied lives.
But today Scotland on Sunday can reveal the secret which doomed some of Britain and Poland's finest soldiers and gave rise to a series of myths about the ill-fated battle.
High levels of iron in the soil around the Dutch town of Arnhem and its infamous bridge caused radio interference and prevented the beleaguered Allied soldiers from communicating with their headquarters. Previously it was though the problem was caused by faulty radios.
That meant vital supplies fell into German hands and Allied soldiers were killed or captured because they had run out of ammunition.
Operation Market Garden, the Battle of Arnhem, took place in September 1944, following the June invasion of Normandy, and involved parachuting thousands of British and Polish troops deep into occupied Holland.
The Allies by this time had advanced deep into Belgium almost to the Dutch border but the advance suddenly slowed due to their out-running supply lines. Supplies were still being transported from the Normandy beachheads, 500 miles away.
The plan involved dropping paratroopers at strategic bridges in the Netherlands such as The Son, The Grave, Nijmegen, and the main prize, Arnhem.
This was to be taken and held by elite British paratroops and once all the bridges were captured, the British 1st Army would be able to drive up the road linking them, providing a springboard to the Rhine and Germany.
Had the plan succeeded, the war might have been over by the end of 1944. But unexpectedly strong German resistance, including the presence of Nazi Panzer divisions, meant the Paras were surrounded and defeated before the Allied ground forces could reach them.
The heroic attempt was immortalised in a 1977 film directed by Richard Attenborough and starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine.
The geological secrets which doomed the British operation were discovered by chance by a local historical expert, Adrian Groeneweg, who helps run the Dutch museum related to the battle, the Airborne Museum Hartenstein.
Groeneweg said: "We have been involved in studying every aspect of the battle and why the Allied forces had such problems. A friend told me that from medieval times there was a large iron-ore industry in the area and there was a lot of iron in the soil and that got me thinking. Then someone else told me that even today our army's signal units cannot communicate by radio from one end of the area to the other when they are on exercise here.
"We decided to conduct some tests using the same type of radios as they had at the time and sure enough, the interference was so strong that they were unable to communicate."
In September 1944, the radio interference meant the scattered British units could not tell their commanders that the areas where their supplies were dropped were under Nazi control. All the supplies were falling into the hands of the Germans, meaning the Allies soon ran low on ammunition.
The Germans co-ordinated attacks on the Paras using tanks and artillery and called in extra soldiers.
In desperation, the stranded British sent messages by carrier pigeon or by runners who risked death or capture to get messages through enemy lines.
But the Allies could not hold out long enough for their main army to relieve them. The Battle of Arnhem was lost.
In the aftermath of the battle a host of myths emerged about the radios, including the suggestion that they had the wrong kinds of crystals or faulty batteries.
Groeneweg said: "One of the problems was that the British troops and their weapons were dropped in three initial phases, meaning they had to wait for all their equipment to arrive, which meant they lost that element of surprise.
"It doesn't take away anything from the heroism and bravery of the men. And in the Netherlands today we are very thankful for their sacrifice."
Laurie Milner, a senior researcher with the Imperial War Museum and an expert on Arnhem, said: "Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The plan was full of flaws. [Generals] Eisenhower and Montgomery failed to agree and failed to kick it off until it was almost too late. The two German SS Panzer divisions which had been moved into the area meant that the parachutists were pinned down. And to make matters worse they had been dropped into an area regularly user by the Germans for training and so the German commanders knew the place very well."
The doomed mission meant that the British lost some of their finest troops. Milner said: "In the run-up to Arnhem they scoured the army for the best soldiers they could find."
The film, A Bridge Too Far, was the only one to deal with the failed strategy to liberate the Low Countries. It had a galaxy of stars including Dirk Bogarde as General "Boy" Browning.
It was General Browning who is reputed to have uttered the immortal line about Arnhem, saying, "But sir, I think we may be going a bridge too far" when he met the Allied top brass to oversee the plan which he had to execute.
This article: http://news.scotsman...cfm?id=32722006
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#2 Paul G

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Posted 09 January 2006 - 1519 PM

Well while poor to nonexistant comms certainly didn't help, it was hardly THE reason operation Market Garden failed. The 2 SS Pz Divisions in the area certainly contributed.
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#3 LeoTanker

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Posted 09 January 2006 - 1918 PM

1)The paras radio equipement didnīt work, so they couldnt comunicate with HQ... no chanse of calling in backupps or reciveing supplies etc..

2)Dropped way to far from their targets. Nevert managed to breake through the german defence as moment of surprise was lost.

3)No CAS, for some odd reason...

4)The armored XXX corps did a really lousy job, and never managed to breake through to Arnhem to link upp with the paras. (Partely because lack of CAS).

5)A copy of the objectives for Operation Market Garden was found by the Germans in a crashed glider almost imediately, so the German staff could arange their scatered units to meat the treath of the attackers in the best possible way.

6)Underestimation of the German forces in the drop zone.
The 9th and 10th SS panzer divisions, however, hardely had anny tanks left (15-20) so most of the very impressive German defence was the work of regular infantetry units. These units largely constituted of second class occupation soldiers (not suitable for front line service), Luftwaffe personel and even old WWI vets, but under excelent command by experienced officers (A lot them had fought the Red Army on eastern front).

The american paras did somewhat better than the brits. but also falied to cappture their main objectives, so Operation Market Garden was more or less doomed from the start.

The one ultemately responsible for this fiasco must be Montgommery, who did all he could to push Eisenhower to launch the operation, and for completely ignoring noumerous reports from the Dutch resistance on the Germans strength in the area, cause he wanted to win a cuick victory so "his" army could be the first allied unit to enter German soil and, after finishing off the Ruhr pocket, charge right towards Berlin.

Edited by LeoTanker, 09 January 2006 - 1927 PM.

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#4 larrikin

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Posted 09 January 2006 - 1944 PM

The one ultemately responsible for this fiasco must be Montgommery, who did all he could to push Eisenhower to launch the operation, and for completely ignoring noumerous reports from the Dutch resistance on the Germans strength in the area, cause he wanted to win a cuick victory so "his" army could be the first allied unit to enter German soil and, after finishing off the Ruhr pocket, charge right towards Berlin.

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Crap!!! When you look at how close it went to succeeding, and the balls up that Browning and others made of the planning and execution of the operation by their 1st Airborne Army, there is no way it can be laid at Montgomery's door.
Lots of people want to have their cake and eat it over their criticism of Montgomery - either he was too slow and cautious or he was over reaching with Market Garden. They ignore that for a lot of the time Montgomery didn't, with very good reason, trust his armoured commanders, and when he did he turned them loose. With MG he believed that a risky operation was doable because he supposedly had competent people running 1stAA. If Matt Ridgway had had the command it would have come off.
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#5 BillB

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Posted 09 January 2006 - 1956 PM

Must have been a slow news day at the Scotsman, and it conforms to their usual (low) standard of accuracy. The idea that it was down to radios was disproved in 1984 by a signaller who was there, and the radios had little to do with the resupply problems. There were no "Nazi Panzer Divisions" and 1st Airborne Division blew it long before XXX Corps were due to relieve them, in the first twelve hours of the op. I've never heard of Laurie Milner, and his comments as quoted suggest he is far from an expert. They did no scouring for the best troops before the operation, and he is just repeating hoary old chestnuts that have been proven to be not the case. They had the guys messing about with the radios and the geological "evidence" on a TV docu I was given a preview tape of last year and they provided nothing new at all; the radio stuff merely reiterated Louis Golden's book from 1984, and the geological evidence was drawn from a very small area near one of the bridges and thus explains nothing. I assume this article is a trailer for that programme. The TV folk contacted me before they made it to run their "evidence" past me, and I don't think they were overly impressed as I never heard back. Having seen it I can see why, as it is the absolute worst documentary I have yet had the misfortune to see on Market Garden.

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#6 BillB

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Posted 09 January 2006 - 2056 PM

1)The paras radio equipement didnīt work, so they couldnt comunicate with HQ... no chanse of calling in backupps or reciveing supplies etc..


Not so. They were in contact with XXX Corps, and most comms worked fine. There was an arty link from the bridge to the arty units out near the DZs, for example. Calling up backup and resupply didn't come into it in the timeframe of the op, and neither did comms. Any failures after the initial 48 hour window are another matter.

2)Dropped way to far from their targets. Nevert managed to breake through the german defence as moment of surprise was lost.

Fair one, but doable even at that distance or they would not have got to the bridge as they did. Real problem was lack of haste in moving from the DZ/LZs and an overcomplicated plan that tried to do too much with too little.

3)No CAS, for some odd reason...


IIRC there was CAS in the corridor when the weather permitted. The weather interfered with the planned lifts, and did the same to the CAS. Besides, the situation was too fluid and the country too close for WW2 CAS

4)The armored XXX corps did a really lousy job, and never managed to breake through to Arnhem to link upp with the paras. (Partely because lack of CAS).

Fair one, but dunno about the lousy job bit. The SS at the Nijmegen bridge put up as good a fight as the British at the Arnhem bridge, and for virtually the same timespan. IMO XXX Corps could and should have moved faster than they did, but I don't think they could have moved faster than the Germans who caused them problems. Again, I'm talking about the initial 48 hour window, not how things went off for the following seven days.

5)A copy of the objectives for Operation Market Garden was found by the Germans in a crashed glider almost imediately, so the German staff could arange their scatered units to meat the treath of the attackers in the best possible way.


Got some evidence for this? IIRC one of the top SS commanders on the spot denied it, and in any case it made no difference. The SS sussed out the intent and objectives literally within minutes of the British lift at arnhem ended and issued the necessary orders. it wasn't really rocket science to work out what the Allies were up to. I think this is a bit of an urban myth, like Model fleeing from his HQ in disorder convinced that the op was aimed at capturing him.

6)Underestimation of the German forces in the drop zone.
The 9th and 10th SS panzer divisions, however, hardely had anny tanks left (15-20) so most of the very impressive German defence was the work of regular infantetry units. These units largely constituted of second class occupation soldiers (not suitable for front line service), Luftwaffe personel and even old WWI vets, but under excelent command by experienced officers (A lot them had fought the Red Army on eastern front).

They did underestimate, but more over German reaction times, which were incredibly fast and efficient. otherwise disagree. The folk that stopped 1st Para Brigade were all SS on the spot with no tanks. What tanks were available were despatched south to block the corridor. Heaviest armour facing the British in the crucial first 12 hours were recce half tracks. Luftwaffe troops were first on the spot near Wolfheze, but pulled back after ascertaining what was going on, and SS Training Battalion Krafft didn't play half the role their commander claimed they did.

The american paras did somewhat better than the brits. but also falied to cappture their main objectives, so Operation Market Garden was more or less doomed from the start.


Disagree. The Yanks did a good to excellent job, and the thing was still something like on schedule when they got to Nijmegen. They were undercut by Browning's insistence that they secure the Groesbeek Heights, which distracted them from going for the bridges. Nijmegan was the real chokepoint, and purely because SS troops from Arnhem got to the bridge there literally minutes before the 82nd Airborne. If 1st Airborne had done their end it was doable, and nearly was.

The one ultemately responsible for this fiasco must be Montgommery, who did all he could to push Eisenhower to launch the operation, and for completely ignoring noumerous reports from the Dutch resistance on the Germans strength in the area, cause he wanted to win a cuick victory so "his" army could be the first allied unit to enter German soil and, after finishing off the Ruhr pocket, charge right towards Berlin.

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What Larrikin said. The real villain was Browning, and it is highly likely that he talked Montgomery into MG for reasons of his own. The Dutch resistance report angle is much overdone, and the British were understandably wary of the Dutch resistance as the Gestapo had comprehensively penetrated SOE ops in Holland. Besides, there wasn't much in the immediate area of Arnhem to report, and the remnants of 9 & 10 SS there were in the process of moving back to Germany to refit and rebuild. Some of their armoured vehicles were actually aboard trains, one infantry unit had handed in its weapons and webbing, and another had to pedal 20 miles back to Arnhem on commandeered civvy bicycles.

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#7 Guest_Murph_*

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Posted 09 January 2006 - 2139 PM

Bill, saw the movie, read the book, but one thing has always bothered me: the possibly appocryphal tale of the Guards stopping to brew up tea. Did this really happen, or is just Urban myth?
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#8 baboon6

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Posted 09 January 2006 - 2301 PM

Were two lifts in one day possible, and would getting more troops on the ground on 17 September, especially 4th Para Brigade, have made a difference? Would it have made more sense to drop the Poles south of the bridge (their intended DZ) on the first day? Colonel George Chatterton, commanding the Glider Pilot Regiment, wanted to do a Pegasus bridge-style coup de main, but his idea was rejected (presumably by Browning). I don't know if this was feasible, given the terrain around the bridge. What else could 1st Airborne Div have done differently, given the DZs/LZs they had?
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#9 Rickshaw

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Posted 10 January 2006 - 0018 AM

Brownings insistence that he and his Corps HQ fly in, in the first lift has always struck me as ludricious. What did he believe he was going to achieve? He wasted over 30 gliderloads doing it, which could have been used to carry more fighting soldiers into the LZs. As it was, his presence merely complicated the chain of command and meant that troops which would have been better employed in Nijmegen were stuck guarding him and his subordinates.

My understanding is that the radios were a problem in Arnhem. Something like that the size of the AO exceeded the effective range of the radios, so that radios on one side of the AO couldn't talk directly to the radios on the other. I could be wrong on that but I'm at work at the moment and all my books are at home and I'll have to hunt them out.
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#10 R011

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Posted 10 January 2006 - 0104 AM

Bill, saw the movie, read the book, but one thing has always bothered me: the possibly appocryphal tale of the Guards stopping to brew up tea.  Did this really happen, or is just Urban myth?

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At some point during several days of fighting, someone is going to stop and eat - and it's quite likely that they had been stopped for some tactical or logistical reason and were taking advantage of a rare moment.

I've also heard a story that when one of the airborne force criticized a XXX Corps soldier for not moving fast enough, the response was to the effect that "You've been here since Thursday. We've been here since D-Day."
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#11 SCFalken

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Posted 10 January 2006 - 0255 AM

Question about the Glider units:

Did the gliders (troops onboard as well as aircraft) really take such disproportionate casualties? Enough to justify how fast Glider units got dropped, postwar?


Falken

Edited by SCFalken, 10 January 2006 - 0257 AM.

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#12 BillB

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Posted 10 January 2006 - 0439 AM

Bill, saw the movie, read the book, but one thing has always bothered me: the possibly appocryphal tale of the Guards stopping to brew up tea.  Did this really happen, or is just Urban myth?

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If you mean after thay got across the Nijmegen Bridge, I think it's apocryphal but with a germ of truth, if that makes sense. The tanks that got across the bridge after the 82 Airborne's river crossing were out of fuel and ammo IIRC, and therefore stopped. The comment about them comes from Tucker who thought they ought to be pushing on. He acually used the phrase about brewing tea I think. Anyway, as it was SOP for Brit tankies to brew up at every opportunity I don't doubt Tucker and his men saw Guards tankies brewing tea, but that was not why they had stopped... :D

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#13 UN-Interested Observer

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Posted 10 January 2006 - 0442 AM

I was under the impression that they had a record of fighting better, on average.
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#14 BillB

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Posted 10 January 2006 - 0454 AM

Were two lifts in one day possible, and would getting more troops on the ground on 17 September, especially 4th Para Brigade, have made a difference? Would it have made more sense to drop the Poles south of the bridge (their intended DZ) on the first day? Colonel George Chatterton, commanding the Glider Pilot Regiment, wanted to do a Pegasus bridge-style coup de main, but his idea was rejected (presumably by Browning). I don't know if this was feasible, given the terrain around the bridge. What else could 1st Airborne Div have done differently, given the DZs/LZs they had?

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IMO yes, but it would have meant a dark o'clock take off and forming up, which folk were not keen on after Normandy, and MG was launched in a no moon period IIRC which compounded the problem. More men on the ground might have made a difference, but only if they moved with more urgency. 4 Para Brigade might have done so as Lathbury (CO 1 Para Brigade) had form for overcomplicated plans and being pernickety that I don't think applies to Hackett. IMO they should have sent the glider soldiers from the South Staffs after the bridges, as they were the best trained and most professional troops in 1 Airborne Div.

Ref dropping at the bridge, yes I think it could and should have been done with 1 Para Brig, and the gliders should have been permitted a Pegasus Bridge style coup de main. The blame for this was partly Browning's because he didn't fight his men's corner for reasons of his own, but the real blame lies with the RAF planners whose word was law and who took no notice of the soldiers opinions. They were worried about non-existent flak the bridge and on the fly out corridor after dropping, and some thought they gravitated to Ginkel Heath etc because it looked like what a DZ should be...

Ref the last part, 1 Airborne Div could and should have got off the LZ/DZ much faster then they did, they should have kept 1 Ab Recce Squadron as a recce force, and they should have left 1 Para Brigade concentrated with the single objective of seizing the Arnhem road bridge. Instead they were tasked to seize and hold the pontoon bridge, the railway bridge, the road bridge, the town hall and some high ground north of the town. That was much too much for three battalions, and I suspect it was due to lazy rejigging an existing div plan for less troops.

all the best

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#15 baboon6

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Posted 10 January 2006 - 0537 AM

I'm sure the South Staffs were good but you can't complain about the job 2 Para did at the bridge. Frost was the most experienced battalion commander in the division, and many of the men in 2 Para (and the rest of 1 Para Bde) had served in Tunisia, Sicily and Italy.

Re the speed of moving out: How slowly actually were 1 Para Bde? I was under the impression they moved with all haste. I'm sure coordination became a problem after the " disappearance" of Urquhart and Lathbury.

Edited by baboon6, 10 January 2006 - 0542 AM.

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#16 Conall

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Posted 10 January 2006 - 0633 AM

Good thread.

Personally I think, as Bill has pointed out elegantly and lucidly as ever (git), the RAF must bear a large part of the blame. By ruling out the area south of Arnhem Bridge as a DZ and the possibility of a glider-borne DZ they effectively doomed 1st Airborne's operation. In addition the refusal to provide a second lift meant that troops were required to defend the Ginkel Heath DZ, troops which were desperately needed for the attempt to fight their way through to Arnhem bridge.

In addition two other factors are seldom considered:
1. The arguably disproportionate amount of 82nd Airborne's resources which Gavin devoted to securing the Groesbeck heights to the detriment of his principal objective of seizing Nijmegen Bridge.
2. The inability of 2nd Army to launch the supporting attacks by I & VIII Corps. These were delayed by at least a crucial 72 hours, allowing the Germans to launch counter-attacks along the corridor around Eindhoven, Schindel and Veghel. Had these Corps launched their attacks then these counter-attacks would not have been possible - see 107 Pz Brigade's withdrawal from the area to the east of Eindhoven due to the approach of 11th Armoured Division. Without this support XXX Corps was forced to divert significant assets from Guards Armoured Division to resecure the Highway behind them.

Finally re the speed of 1st Para Brigade's advance to the Arnhem Bridge, one problem was that each battalion was advancing on a separate axis, with none of the battalions supporting each other. Arguably you could criticise Frost for failing to inform Brigade HQ that he had found an unopposed route (the riverbank road) and allowing for at least one of the two other battalions to be diverted along that route. Not only did the British underestimate the speed and strength of the German response (led by Spindler IIRC) but also they refused to divert from the scheme of the plan, irrespective of the change in circumstances. In this respect they behaved in a similar manner to 6th German Panzer Army in the Ardennes.

Apologies for the lack of sources - posting from work.

Best regards and best wishes for the New Year to all,

Tom

Edited by Conall, 10 January 2006 - 0644 AM.

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#17 JohnB

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Posted 10 January 2006 - 0657 AM

Good thread.

Personally I think, as Bill has pointed out elegantly and lucidly as ever (git), the RAF must bear a large part of the blame.  By ruling out the area south of Arnhem Bridge as a DZ and the possibility of a glider-borne DZ they effectively doomed 1st Airborne's operation.  In addition the refusal to provide a second lift meant that troops were required to defend the Ginkel Heath DZ, troops which were desperately needed for the attempt to fight their way through to Arnhem bridge.

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Bit harsh on the RAF there, AIUI the decision not to make two drops the first day was made by Major-General Paul Williams of IX Troop Carrier Command and confirmed by Lieutenant-General Lewis Brereton of 1st Allied Airborne Army - much to Montys frustration.



I've also read that mobile phone reception in the Arnhem area can still be poor.
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#18 Guest_Murph_*

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Posted 10 January 2006 - 0739 AM

Yeah, Bereton was incompetent, why, oh why was he retained?


Bit harsh on the RAF there, AIUI the decision not to make two drops the first day was made by Major-General Paul Williams of IX Troop Carrier Command and confirmed by Lieutenant-General Lewis Brereton of 1st Allied Airborne Army - much to Montys frustration.
I've also read that  mobile phone reception in the Arnhem area can still be poor.

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#19 Conall

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Posted 10 January 2006 - 0822 AM

Bit harsh on the RAF there, AIUI the decision not to make two drops the first day was made by Major-General Paul Williams of IX Troop Carrier Command and confirmed by Lieutenant-General Lewis Brereton of 1st Allied Airborne Army - much to Montys frustration.
I've also read that  mobile phone reception in the Arnhem area can still be poor.

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John,

IIRC the decision was based on the advice and strong recommendation given by the RAF, not least on the basis of their overly cautious assessment of the flak defences around Arnhem and Nijmegen bridges. I'll check this when I get home tonight and see if I can back it up with a reference or two. Bill may be able to help in the meantime (assuming he gets out of bed today :lol: )

Best regards

Tom
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#20 artfull-bodger

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Posted 10 January 2006 - 0855 AM

having been to Arnhem from Neimagen I can gaurentee one thing, the fight from the canal to Neimagen was going to be rough but possible, the advance from Neimagen to Arnhem by XXX corps was practically impossible, the road was single carriageway raised approx six feet above the surrounding fields and had a ten foot wide water filled ditch on either side! anything on that road is a sitting duck that cant defend itself!

there is a killing ground on both sides and observation of the road is easy, one tank knocked out blocks that road entirely with no way to pass and no way round!

in the dutch military college before the war there was a field excersise to plan an advance to Arnhem from Neimagen, if you went up the road you failed the exam!!!

and gaurds armoured stopped after the capture of the Neimagen bridge for two simple reasons-
1, after fighting thier way through the city suppoerting the US paras especially around the approach to the bridge ammo and fuel was low!

2, the germans had cut the road behind them, the tankers wanted to try to press on but noone would have followed it up!

(I know this from chats with a guy who was gunner in one of the tanks that followed up the bridge siezure)

the attack was doomed at the start because they simply underestimated the speed with which the germans could shift forces against the single thrust and failed to heed resistance reports of german forces in tha areas!
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