September 1944 It was, in principle, a sweet month for the Allied army. On the one hand, the advance through France after Landing of Normandy (the June 6, 1944) had been done at a good pace after crushing the German resistance pockets. On the other, Berlin already appeared on the map as a plausible objective that had to be reached as soon as possible. It only remained to know who would be the general who would break the last defenses of the Third Reich and would step on the Nazi capital in the first place. In this particular war there were two contenders: the British marshal Bernard Montgomery and the general George patton.
It was the first who took the lead orchestrating a mission, «Market Garden», whose objective was to take Germany through the Netherlands using the English airborne units as spearhead.
Unfortunately, the result could not be worse. The operation, started on September 17, 1944 (75 years ago) ended up with more than 17,000 casualties and virtually annihilated the 1st British Airborne Division (part of the brave «Red Devils») on the "far bridge" of Arnhem. Nor did the armored armor of the debacle prevent XXX Army Corps, whose objective was to travel about one hundred kilometers to reinforce the advanced positions of paratroopers launched in the front line. The hundreds and hundreds of vehicles that were to reinforce the Red Devils were forced to move through a narrow two-lane road that was soon made impassable due to German artillery, the remains of destroyed tanks and – among others so many things – to the insistent Nazi counterattacks. On the 25th the mission ended in a resounding defeat. The last great victory of Hitler In the Second World War.
Market and Garden
Devised by the British Marshal Bernard Montgomery (defensive minded until then), the plan was risky. To be more specific, in the first part («Market») American, British and Polish paratroopers would launch a giant air assault on the Netherlands with the mission of conquering and maintaining the bridges located on the rivers Meuse, Waal Y Nederrijn. The second ("Garden») Would be carried out by the armored forces of XXX Army Corps, that they should hurry from the vicinity of Eindhoven and link and reinforce, after almost a hundred kilometers of race against time, to his teammates
The ultimate goal was the Arnhem bridge, the arrowhead of the mission. The responsibility to conquer and maintain it was, for the most part, the «Red Devils» (the "Red Devils", nickname that the British airborne received because of their characteristic berets of this color).
As explained by the historian Antony Beevor to ABC after publishing «The battle for bridges» (his great work on «Market Garden») the operation was, in practice, "a suicide" orchestrated by an euphoric Montgomery and convinced that, after the Falaise debacle of the German army, the Teutonic troops were on the verge of collapse. In the words of the British expert, the catastrophe was forged in these early stages because of the marshal. «Montgomery was obsessive and wanted to manage even the smallest detail of all operations. The disaster arose because he did not want to plan the mission with the commander of the First Allied Airborne Army. Eisenhower had ordered it to avoid the chaos that had occurred in other theaters of operations like Sicily, but he refused and insisted on imposing his plan, ”he added.
To make matters worse, Montgomery "wanted to be the commander of the operation that was going to cross the Rhine for the first time" and was obsessed that, in Europe, "he was seen as the leader of the invasion of Germany for the glory of the British army and for his own ».
The disease that, according to Beevor, suffered the marshal (Asperger's syndrome) would finish nailing the lid of the coffin of thousands of soldiers. The "tunnel vision" made him ignore the discordant opinions of those who saw that as madness and, with the unspoken approval of a Ike Eisenhower that he had delegated to him the organization of the operation, made and undid to his liking.
Now, seven and a half decades after the start of the operation, it might seem that the most arduous task was that of the mythical "Red Devils", charged with defending the Arnhem bridge. However, and always in the words of Beevor, that of mechanized reinforcements was not simpler. “The chances of reaching Arnhem were slim. To begin with, there was only one road to reach the bridge (the “highway to hell”), and that gave the Germans great ease to ambush. In addition, the XXX Army Corps had to rely on two others, but these were delayed and left the armored alone. It was crazy. I don't think they could have taken Arnhem. Any officer who had chosen this route would have failed because it was very easy to defend, ”he told ABC.
Head of the invasion
The assault began on September 17, the day when more than a thousand planes bombarded the German airfields and artillery positions in southern Holland to satiety. After thousands of explosives rained on the heads of the Nazis, it was the turn of the paratroopers.
The British Airborne was launched over the city of Arnhem (in Gelderland). Although his landing could not be more disastrous (as the Germans destroyed several of the Horsa wooden gliders in those who were thrown) in the middle of the afternoon they established a defensive perimeter west of the area and, subsequently, advanced to the Arnhem bridge (on the Rhine) that gave entrance to the town. Until him only the second battalion of the nicknames "Red Devils" arrived, while the first and the third were arrested by Nazi defenders.
The British would have little rest time, as the historian points out Max Hastings in his work "Armagedon", the chaos of the Nazis after the attack ended up turning into a highly organized counterattack that would end up passing over, and as a steamroller, the English. In spite of everything, as of the 18th, the few soldiers who were able to settle on the bridge managed to resist multiple attacks of the H.H based on grenade, rifle and machine gun. Always waiting for reinforcements that will help them expel the Germans from there.
While the British airborne took off towards the Arnhem bridge, the XXX Corps began its particular career at about half past two in the afternoon. The commanding officer, Brian Gwynne Horrocks, he knew what his men were attending. Therefore, he did not hesitate to make a joke to try to calm them down: «The next operation will provide you with enough material to bore your grandchildren for the rest of your life». On September 17, his men left with orders to travel the kilometers that separated them from the "Red Devils."
«The Armored Division of the Guard, backed by fourteen artillery regiments and several squadrons of Typhoon equipped with rocket launchers, it would break the German lines to the north. Then he would continue his advance along 103 kilometers on a single road, ”explains Beevor in his work.
It must be said that, despite the risk of the operation, the XXX Army Corps was prepared for any eventuality. To start, one of the units that reinforced it (the 43rd Division) carried a multitude of boats and pontoons; material needed to overcome any of the seven river obstacles that had to cross on their way to Arnhem. Although, on paper. American paratroopers had to secure the bridges located over these rivers and docks, they knew that the possibility of them being flown was high, so any precaution was small.
The first objective of the convoy was to reach Eindhoven, the starting point from which the "carpet of airborne troops" would extend, as defined by Horrocks himself, who was to pave his way to the British outpost.
Highway to Hell
Neither did they know where they were getting. The 101st Airborne Division She was the first to suffer Monty's decisions when, early in the 17th, she had to face the German troops defending Eindhoven. The mythical "Howler Eagles" were forced to load bayonet openwork against several Germanic cannons that could end the armored bodies of the XXX Corps without even sweating. As if that were not enough, they watched with despair as the defenders flew through the air son bridge, by which they had to cross the tanks that were about to arrive. The 82nd Airborne Division had much more luck and, this first day, was made with the passage of the people of Serious (about 50 kilometers north).
This day, in turn, the two bodies that were to protect the flanks of the main column did not advance at the same pace as the column, which caused even more delays. Nor did it help that the local population, full of joy for the arrival of the allies, stopped the convoy every few meters to hug the soldiers and thank them for their fight against the Third Reich. The delay began to bleed. Things started badly.
When the vanguard of the XXX Corps arrived until They are, the engineers were forced to lift a pontoon crossing to cross. In an attempt to solve this setback in a hurry, the column wanted to cross the river through a nearby bridge (that of Guillermina), but the German resistance made it impossible.
From then on a traffic jam was generated that would be reproduced all the way and that made the convoy a perfect target for enemy artillery. The narrowness of the road (just two lanes), the impossibility of airborne troops to establish a defensive perimeter around the tanks because of the shortage of heavy weapons and, finally, the continuous Teutonic attempts to attack the flanks of the row of Vehicles turned the journey into a true nightmare. Not surprisingly, the men of the 101st Division baptized that as "Highway to Hell".
A bridge far away
On September 19, the XXX Army Corps set course towards its next objective: Serious. For the umpteenth time, the advance was impossible due to the strong German resistance on the Vaal river pass. To take the bridge, the general Gavin (of the 82nd Airborne Division) ordered part of his men to cross that stream of water through boats and hunt the Nazis between two fires. "It was a suicide mission," said one of the "paracas" who staged that assault after the WWII. He was not right.
The defenders noticed the trap and soon opened fire on the makeshift chalupas of the Americans. It was a true massacre worthy of the "Highway to Hell". About 60% of those involved did leave. However, they charged through the bullets and – with the help of explosives that did not explode – kept the passage intact.
That was the good news of a mission doomed to failure. And, during the advance, the convoy was constantly slowed by the attacks of the armored vehicles and the German artillery. The difficulty was not only to end the Nazi tanks or avoid howitzers, but to avoid the remains of the calcined vehicles that were piled up on the two lanes of the road after being destroyed.
At dawn on September 20 it was assumed that it was impossible to reinforce the "Red Devils." Although the XXX Corps was 20 kilometers from its target (a distance that a car only takes twenty minutes to travel) the continuous German assaults to cut the road and the inability to be done quickly with the bridges condemned the convoy. Arnhem's 740 English paratroopers, meanwhile, undertook a task that should have carried out an entire division.
The paratroopers' resistance to the SS (in whose ranks the 2nd Panzer Division) ended on September 25, after the Germans swept the British and Poles until the exhaustion based on infantry and mortars. That same day, after it had become clear that it was almost impossible to reinforce the "Red Devils" overland due to the tenacious German resistance, the 1st Division the retreat. This could not be more disastrous, because the Nazi fire on the bridge prevented the entire unit from leaving (which forced about 300 English to surrender).
The assault ended with almost 7,000 members of this group taken prisoner and some 1,500 dead. "The casualty figures of the 1st Airborne Division doubled together those of the 82 and 101. However, it was the last defeat (in the area)," says historian Andrew Roberts in "The storm of war."
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