Operation Market Garden was an Allied military operation
in World War II, which took place in September of 1944.
It was an attempt to take bridges over the main rivers of
the German-occupied Netherlands, enabling the Allies to
advance into Germany without any remaining major
The operation was successful up to the capture of the
Rhine bridge at Nijmegen, but was overall a failure as
the final bridge at Arnhem was not held, resulting in the
destruction of the British 1st Airborne Division.
Table of contents
2 The Plan
2.3 German Forces
3 The Battle
3.5 Day 1, Sunday September 17, 1944
3.6 Day 2, Monday the 18th
3.7 Day 3, Tuesday the 19th
3.8 Day 4, Wednesday the 20th
3.9 Day 5, Thursday the 21th
3.10 Day 6, Friday the 22nd, Black Friday
3.11 Day 7, Saturday the 23rd
3.12 Day 8, Sunday the 24th
3.13 Day 9, Monday the 25th
After the breakout from the Normandy beachheads in
August, the Allied forces had pushed back the German army
hundreds of miles over a period of only a few weeks. By
the end of August enough Allied troops were on land to
form several armies. To the east, on the right, the US
had two complete armies, the 1st under Hodges and the 3rd
under Patton, in a line running north-south near the
German frontier. To their left the British 2nd Army under
Bernard Montgomery held the north-east corner in a line
running from Antwerp to the US lines roughly along the
northern border of Belgium. On their left, on the
Atlantic coast, was the Canadian 1st army who had
recently advanced to a line just south of the British.
At this point the offensive halted as supplies ran low.
The only source of supplies in Allied hands were the
shallow docks built on the original invasion beaches, and
the nearby deep-water port of Cherbourg at the tip of the
Cotentin. Both of these were of limited use, as the D-Day
pre-invasion "softening up" air strikes had
effectively destroyed all railroad transportation in the
area. The massive port of Antwerp lay in British hands,
but the river estuary leading inland to this port (the
Westerschelde) in front of the Canadians was still in
Clearly the primary concern for the Allies should have
been the advance of the Canadian army to remove the
remaining German forces from the area and open Antwerp.
However the Canadians had little "pull"
compared to the two prima-donna generals, Patton and
Montgomery. Both consistently asked for all available
supplies to be given to them for quick advances, but
Eisenhower refused, and maintained a strategy of broad
attack across the entire front. As the offensive faltered
both Montgomery and Patton argued anew for thrusting
attacks, and Eisenhower eventually asked both for their
Patton favoured an attack east from his current positions
to take the city of Metz, and then into the industrial
area of the Saar. However this required passing the
Siegfried Line of defenses at the German border, and left
them in front of the equally heavily defended Rhine. As a
defensive maneuver it was an excellent plan, as it would
leave the Allies in control of the easily defended west
bank of the Rhine. But as an offensive plan it did little
other than take more land, and left them in an only
slightly better position to assault Germany.
Montgomery instead suggested an attack north to Arnhem,
deep inside the Netherlands, which would bypass the
Siegfried Line (which stopped about 20km south of there),
cross the Rhine, and capture the entire German 15th army
behind their lines between Arnhem and the shores of the
IJsselmeer. This would also have the side effect of
cutting off the V-2 launch sites, which were bombarding
London at this time.
Eisenhower continued to dither, as he was most interested
in the opening of Antwerp to supplies. Both generals
continued to pester him, and political infighting was
common. Montgomery pointed out that his plan ringed the
entire Antwerp area well behind Allied lines, allowing it
to be easily opened once the attack was completed.
The final straw was the addition of the newly-formed 1st
Allied Airborne Army into the mix. This consisted of
three US and two British airborne divisions, and an
additional Polish brigade, which had formed up in England
after the removal of the airborne forces from France
after the Normandy breakout. Eisenhower had been under
intense pressure from the US to use these forces as soon
as possible, so Montgomery changed his plan to use the
1st to capture three important bridges, opening the
entire attack route to a very rapid advance by the 2nd
The plan of action consisted of two coordinated
operations, Market which was the use of the airborne
troops, and Garden consisting of the British 2nd Army
moving north along highway 69, spearheaded by 30 Corp.
Market would employ three of the five divisions of the
1st Airborne army. The US 101st Airborne Division would
drop in two locations just north of the 30 Corp to take
the bridges northwest of Eindhoven at Son (mun. Son en
Breugel) and Veghel. The 82nd Airborne Division would
drop quite a bit northeast of them to take the bridges at
Grave and Nijmegen, and finally the British 1st Airborne
Division would drop at the extreme north end of the
route, to take the road and rail bridges at Arnhem.
Market would be the largest airborne operation in
history, delivering 30,000 men of the 101st, 82nd, 1st
and the Polish Airborne brigade in a series of three huge
operations known as "lifts". Commander of the
1st Army, Browning, added his own HQ to the first lift so
that he could command from the front.
Garden consisted primarly of 30 Corp., the core of the
2nd Army. They were expected to arrive at the south end
of the 101st's area on the launch day, the 82nd by the
second day, and the 1st by the third or fourth day at the
latest. They would also deliver several additional
infantry divisions to take over the defensive operations
from the airborne, freeing them for other operations as
soon as possible.
Still, four days is a long time for an airborne force to
fight unsupplied, and they are lightly armed to start
with. But it seemed that the German resistance at this
point was even lighter. Most of the German 15th Army in
the area appeared to be fleeing the field from in front
of the Canadians, and they were known to have no
Panzer-gruppen. 30 Corp would therefore be facing very
limited resistance on their route up highway 69, and
little armor. Meanwhile the German defenders would be
spread out over 100km trying to contain the pockets of
airborne forces, from the British 2nd Army in the south,
to Arnhem in the north.
All was not what it seemed. In fact the rout of 15th army
had largely ended with the arrival of Gerd von Rundstedt
in early September. Rundstedt, generally detested by
Hitler, was well liked by his troops, who he had back in
fighting condition within the week. The rout ended with
most of the men escaping out from the pocket between the
Canadian 1st and the Westerschelde, adding 80,000 men to
the area just to the northwest of the attack route.
Much more alarming was an unrelated event taking place
nearby. When discussing the Allied plan of attack,
Rundstedt and his generals agreed that Eisenhower would
favour Patton. The troops of the 9SS and 10SS Panzer
divisions from the 17th Army in front of Patton were in
no condition to fight, so they were ordered to rest and
refit in the rear. A suitable quiet spot was selected,
which happened to be Arnhem. This meant another 9,000
troops in the area, all of them elite armored forces with
Several reports started leaking out from the Netherlands
reporting on the German movements, but by this time the
planning was in late stages and the reports were
basically ignored. When a recce flight was sent in on
behalf of the 1st Airborne Army, it returned with
pictures clearly showing tanks deployed just to the
northeast of Arnhem, perhaps only 15km from where the
British would be dropping. These were dismissed out of
hand, with the claim that they probably couldn't run and
were broken down.
Worse, RAF Transport Command reported that they were
desperately short of aircraft and would be barely able to
support the operation. Any losses or bad weather would
upset this ability. The problem was so acute that they
flatly refused to drop the British to the north of their
target bridge because it would put them in range of flak
guns just to the north at Deelen (mun. Ede). Another
suitable drop zone just to the south of the bridge was
also rejected because it was thought to be marshy, and
thus unsuitable for dropping the gliders containing the
force's heavier equipment. Instead they demanded a drop
zone 15km away from the bridge, which would have to be
taken and held overnight until the 3rd lift the
force would have to be split in half for over a day.
Realizing the seriousness of the problem, the plan was
then hastily changed to add a small force of machine-gun
equipped jeeps to the first lift. These would race
forward from the drop zone to the bridge as soon as
possible, holding it until the infantry could arrive.
Three brigades would follow on foot, with the fourth and
all the glider pilots holding the drop zones while they
waited for the next two lifts.
In a staggeringly short period of one week, everything
Day 1, Sunday September 17, 1944
Operation Market/Garden opened with successes all around.
The first lift was in daylight for accuracy, and almost
all of the troops arrived on top of their target drop
zones without incident. This contrasted strongly with
previous operations where night drops resulted in the
units being scattered by up to 20km in some cases.
In the south the 101st met little resistance and easily
captured the small bridge at Veghel. However the similar
bridge at Son was blown up as they approached it, after
being delayed by a short engagement with German anti-tank
guns. Later that day several small attacks by units of
the 15th Army were beat off, while small units of the
101st had moved south of Son.
To their north the 82nd arrived, and the small group
dropped near Grave took the bridge intact in a rush.
However the main force of the 82nd found their task of
securing the Groesbeek Heights to the east of Nijmegen
much harder than they expected, and they continued to try
for the rest of the day. One force tasked with taking the
bridge made their attempt, but due to miscommunication
they didn't start until late in the day and never made
it. This left the Nijmegen bridge in German hands.
Meanwhile the 1st Airborne landed almost without a hitch,
with the exception that the Land Rover force lost over
half its vehicles on landing, and the rest were ambushed
on their way into Arnhem. Thus the only hope of capturing
the bridge was on foot.
This too proved very difficult. Two of the three brigades
found themselves slowed down by small German units of a
training battalion rushing to hem them in. Luckily one of
the three, led by Col. Frost, found their route largely
undefended, and arrived at the bridge in the afternoon
and set up defensive positions. Continued attempts by the
other two brigades were meeting increased resistance, so
eventually the decision was made to wait for the second
lift and try again tomorrow.
This is of vital importance. Unlike any of the bridges to
the south, which were over smaller rivers and canals and
could be bridged by engineering units, the Nijmegen and
Arnhem bridges crossed two arms of the Rhine, and there
was no possibility of bridging either. To make matters
worse, the British airborne were on the far side of their
bridge. If either Nijmegen or Arnhem bridges were not
captured and held, there was absolutely no way for 30
Corp to reach them. Yet at the end of Day 1, only a small
force held Arnhem, and Nijmegen was German.
To makes matters worse, the British radios didn't work.
Their long-range VHF sets were delivered with the wrong
crystals, thus operating on a frequency no-one was
listening to. Meanwhile the shorter range sets for use
between the brigades didn't work for no obvious reason
(at the time) and the various brigades were completely
cut off from each other.
30 Corp didn't start their advance until 2pm, although
the reasons for this planned delay are unclear. Soon
after starting they ran into a force of anti-tank units
dug in on the road, and it took several hours for them to
be cleared, along with the loss of several of the elite
Guards Armored's tanks. By the time the light started
giving out at 5pm they were still 15km south of Eindhoven
and they camped in Valkenswaard. The operation was
already behind schedule.
On the German side things were not much better, largely
because it wasn't clear at the start what was going on.
Model, in direct command of the forces in the area, was
completely confused by the British dropping in what
appeared to be the middle of nowhere, and concluded they
were commandos attempting to kidnap him. Meanwhile
Bittrich, commander of the 9th and 10th (collectively the
2nd SS Panzer Corp), had a clearer head and immediately
sent a recce squadron of the 9th to Nijmegen to reinforce
the bridge defense there.
Day 2, Monday the 18th
Early in the day the force of the 9th Panzer sent south
the day before concluded they were not needed in
Nijmegen, and attempted to return to Arnhem. They were
aware of the British troops at the bridge, but attempted
to cross by force anyway and were beaten back with
staggering losses. Meanwhile the attempt to move the
other two British brigades into the bridge area were both
easily beat off by the newly arrived forces of the 10th
SS. Lift two arrived late due to fog in England, but put
down successfully in the afternoon.
To their south the 82nd was having troubles of its own.
Grave was well protected, but German forces contined to
press on the 82nd deployed to the east of Nijmegen on the
heights. In the morning they took one of their landing
zones, target for the second lift which was to arrive at
1pm. Troops from the entire area, even as far as the town
itself, rushed to the drop zone and by 3pm it was back in
their control. Luckily, due to the delay in England the
second lift didn't arrive until 3:30.
The 101st, faced with the loss of the bridge at Son,
attempted to take the similar bridge a few kilometers
away at Best. However they found their approach heavily
blocked, and eventually gave up. Other units continued
moving to the south and eventually reached the northern
end of Eindhoven. At about noon they were met by recce
units from 30 Corp. At 4pm they made radio contact with
the main force to the south and told them about the Son
bridge, asking for a Bailey Bridge to be brought forward.
30 Corp soon arrived in Eindhoven, and by that night were
camped out south of Son while they waited for the Royal
Engineers to erect the new bridge. Thus ended Day 2, with
the operation already 36 hours behind schedule and both
primary bridges still in German control.
Day 3, Tuesday the 19th
By this point most of the 1st Airborne was in place, and
only the Polish brigade was yet to arrive in the 3rd lift
later that day. Yet another attempt was made to reinforce
Frost at the bridge, and this time resistance was even
stronger. It appeared that there was no longer any hope
of reaching the bridge, and the isolated units then
retreated to set up strong lines to the west of the town,
in Oosterbeek (mun. Renkum). Meanwhile at the bridge
German tanks were arriving to take up the fight, which
was becoming desperate.
At 5pm a small part of the Polish units in the third lift
finally arrived, but fell directly into the waiting guns
of the Germans camped out arround the area with
the radios not working they still had no way to tell the
HQ that the landing zone was taken and many of the Polish
troops were killed. At the same time several of the
supply drop points were also in German hands, and the 1st
retrieved only 10% of the supplies dropped to them.
Things were going somewhat better for the 82nd, who found
advanced units of 30 Corp arriving that morning. With the
support of tanks they were able to quickly beat off the
Germans in the area, at which point they decided to make
a combined effort to take the bridge; the Guards Armored
and 505th (part of the 82nd) would attack from the south
while the 504th would cross the river in boats and take
the north. The boats were called for to make the attempt
in the late afternoon, but due to huge traffic problems
to the south, they never arrived. Once again 30 Corp was
held up in front of a bridge.
To their south the units of the 101st sent to take Best
the day before found themselves facing a renewed attack
that morning and gave ground. However as more British
tanks arrived the Germans were beaten off by late
afternoon. Later a small force of Panthers arrived at
Son, seemingly out of nowhere, and started firing on the
Bailey bridge. These too were beaten back by anti-tank
guns that recently landed, and the bridge was secured.
Day 4, Wednesday the 20th
Frost's force at the bridge continued to hold out. Around
noon the radios started working and they learned that the
rest of the division had no hopes of relieving them, and
that 30 Corp was stuck to their south in front of
Nijmegen bridge. By the afternoon the Germans had
complete control of the Arnhem bridge and started
lighting fire to the houses the British were defending.
The rest of the division had now set up defensive
positions in Oosterbeek to the west of Arnhem, waiting
for the arrival of 30 Corp.
In Nijmegen the boats still hadn't arrived during the
night, so the troops continued to wait. They didn't
arrive until the afternoon, but time was so short they
decided to do the crossing in daylight. In what is
generally considered to be one of the bravest actions in
military history, they made the crossing in 26 rowboats
into well defended positions. They took the banks and
pressed to the bridge, which caused the Germans to pull
back from their positions on the southern side. That
freed the Guards Armored, who rushed across the bridge
and met the airborne troops. Nijmegen bridge was now in
Allied hands after four long days.
Meanwhile the Germans organized another attack on the
heights on the east side of town, this time making
significant progess. Eventually the only remaining bridge
suitable for tanks fell to the Germans, but was retaken
by forces of the 82nd and Coldstream Guards.
To the south the running battles between the 101st and
various German units continued, eventually with several
Panthers once again rushing in and cutting off the roads,
only leaving when they ran low on ammo.
Day 5, Thursday the 21th
Although hard pressed, things were looking up for
Market/Garden this morning. 30 Corp was across the
Nijmegen bridge and less than an hour's drive from the
ongoing battle at the foot on Arnhem bridge. But it was
too late, Frost's force was down to two houses, a handful
of men, and had used up every bullet they had. With a
last radio message "out of ammo, god save the
king", his remaining force surrendered.
At the same time the rest of the Polish brigade, now two
days late due to weather, arrived. The situation north of
the river was obviously too hostile to land, so a new
drop zone on the south side across from the 1st was
selected. The landings went well, but the ferry they
planned to use to reach the British had been sunk. Their
force was largely wasted as a result.
Meanwhile the lead elements of Guards Armored sat still.
Their commander refused to move them forward while
Nijmegen to their south was still under constant threat,
and radioed back along to the line for the 43rd infantry
division to move up to take over the town. However by
this point there was a 30 mile long traffic jam behind
them, and the 43rd didn't arrive until the next day. But
the GA were close enough by this point that they were in
radio contact with the units in Oosterbeek, and starting
shelling any German units who attempted to approach them.
German attacks continued all along the route, but by this
point the Allied forces had clearly started to gain the
upper hand. Not only were the Germans attacks stalled,
the British and 101st continued to take more and more
Day 6, Friday the 22nd, Black Friday
The Poles continued to sit and watch the battle from the
sidelines, with British artillery flying overhead from
Nijmegen. That afternoon two British airborne soldiers
swam the Rhine and informed them of the desperate
situation, asking for any help they could give. The Poles
were equipped only with inflatable rubber rafts, but
promised to try a crossing that night. This operation was
opposed, and only 52 soldiers made it across.
By this point much of the battle area was now in allied
hands, and it appeared all of the problem was at the
north end of the line with 30 Corp. As soon as the 43rd
arrived things would be in better shape, and the Guards
Armored could attempt to retake the Arnhem bridge.
However the Germans had other ideas, and during the
previous night had organized two mixed armored divisions
on either side of highway 69 at about the middle of the
line between Veghel and Grave. They attacked and only one
side was stopped, while the other made it to the highway
and cut the line. Any advance on Arnhem was now
Day 7, Saturday the 23rd
The Germans had figured out what the Poles were
attempting to do, and spent the rest of the day trying to
cut the British off from the riverside. The British
managed to hold on, and both sides suffered heavy losses.
The Germans also attacked the Poles on the south side in
order to tie them down, but several tanks arrived from 30
Corp and they were beaten off. Boats and engineers from
the Canadian army arrived that day, and another river
crossing that night landed another 150 troops.
To the south several more German attacks from their road
crossing were stopped, but the road was still cut. 30
Corp then sent a unit of the Guards Armored south the
20km and re-took the road. The rest of the force to the
north continued to wait for infantry to move up, still
only a few kilometers from Arnhem.
Day 8, Sunday the 24th
Yet another German force attacked the road, this time to
the south of Veghel. Several units were in the area, but
were unable to stop them, and the Germans quickly set up
defensive positions for the night.
It was not clear to the Allies at this point how much of
a danger these actions represented. But it was on this
day that the operation was essentially stopped and the
decision made to go over to the defense. The 1st
Airborne, or what remained of them, would be withdrawn
that night. The lines would then be solidified where they
were, with the new front line in Nijmegen.
Day 9, Monday the 25th
At 10pm the withdrawal of the remains of the 1st begins,
as British and Canadian engineer units start ferrying the
troops across the Rhine. By early the next morning they
had withdrawn some 2000 of them, but another 300 were
still on the north at first light when German fire
stopped the effort. They surrendered. Of the 10,000
troops of the 1st Airborne Division, only 2,000 escaped.
To the south the newly-arrived 50th Infantry attacked the
Germans holding the highway. By the next day they had
been surrounded and their resistance ended. The corridor
was now secure, but with nowhere to go.
It's always easy to second-guess a battle, and it's
likely the case that this is even more true of
Market/Garden than any other battle in modern history.
One certain problem with the plan was that the entire
operation required both bridges over the Rhine to be
captured and held. Had the Nijmegen bridge been destroyed
or remained in German hands, the British would be cut off
kilometers to the north with no hope whatsoever. Even
with Nijmegen successfully taken, things would be little
better if Arnhem bridge fell. This would require a forced
crossing of the Rhine to relieve the airborne, and there
was no planning to allow for this very possible
Given this, it's astounding in retrospect that the plans
placed so little effort on capturing the important
bridges immediately with forces dropped right on them. In
the case of Veghel and Grave, where this was done, the
bridges were captured with only a few shots being fired.
There seems little reason to suspect the same wouldn't
have been true of Arnhem and Nijmegen, but with the
troops over an hour's march away, or told to do other
things, there was little hope of their success.
This is even more confusing when you consider the 1st
para-landing troops. They were to land along with the
glider-landing forces to secure the drop zone. This makes
little sense considering that it was up to the glider
forces to hold the zone, and the paratroops were going to
pick up and walk off immediately anyway. There's simply
no reason they couldn't have been dropped right on the
south side of the bridge.
Just as baffling is the end-game actions on the part of
30 Corp. Although Frost's force was likely lost under any
circumstance, Arnhem was not the only available bridge.
At a minimum had they pushed north they would have
arrived at the south end and secured it, leaving the way
open for another crossing to the north at some other
point. There was the smaller possibility of arriving with
Frost's force intact. This "lack of guts" on
the part of the GA is odd.
The commander of 30 Corp asked for another course of
action. About 25km to the west of the action was another
bridge similar to Arnhem, at Rhenen, which he predicted
was undefended due to all efforts being directed on
Oosterbeek. In fact this was the case, and had the GA
dashed over, it is almost certain they would have crossed
unopposed and fell onto the rear of the German lines on
the west of Oosterbeek. However by this time it appears
Montgomery was spooked by the continued resistance of the
German forces and refused to take the chance.
In the end Montgomery still called Market Garden 90%
successful and said:
In my prejudiced view, if the operation had been properly
backed from its inception, and given the aircraft, ground
forces, and administrative resources necessary for the
job, it would have succeeded in spite of my mistakes, or
the adverse weather, or the presence of the 2nd SS Panzer
Corps in the Arnhem area. I remain Market Garden's
The story of Operation Market Garden is, among others,
told in the Cornelius Ryan novel A Bridge Too Far and its
subsequent film adaptation by Richard Attenborough.
Text is available under
the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License