In a nutshell: on the 17th of September 1944, 11.500 men from the 1st Airborne Division, including the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade landed across the north bank at the Rijn by Arnhem to occupy ‘the bridge’. On the 25th of September, 2.500 men were taken back with boats to the south bank of the Rijn. ‘The bridge’ was again solid in the hands of the Germans. This is a book about the landings at Arnhem.
Operation Market Garden was successful for 90%, but ‘A Bridge too far’ as the British described this airborne landing fiasco. Market Garden is by far the biggest airborne landing operation of the military history. For comparison: the action by which 3.000 German para and airborne troopers (gliders) on the 21th of May 1941 managed to overpower a multiple of British on Crete was by than the biggest independent airborne landing operation of WO II. More than one book has been written about this loaded episode, for me this was the third book in a row about the landings at Arnhem. Then you have something to compare!
The first landings went according to the script; complete surprise, hardly any Germans to be seen, population happy! By the second (of the in total three) landings it all went cracking wrong, though the allied army command (field marshal Montgomery) didn’t want to acknowledge that yet.
Till so far it was a clear and easy readable story, but now it jumps from here to there and is it harder to keep a clear view. The book gives a reflection of the increasing confusion at the British, but certainly not the German side. At the third landing the landing areas were almost all already in German hands. The effect on the course of this landing can be guessed: heavy losses and chaos on the ground. This is also notable from the description of this last phase of Market Garden. It is difficult to keep to the red line in all of the events. I drowned in a torrent of details.
But there is more to be said about this book. Especially the description of the pre-history of this massive deploy of airborne troopers by the allied gives an excellent insight in the development of the airborne landing weapon. A combined parachute- and glider deploy was by the Germans, as a very successful part of the Blitzkrieg-tactic, demonstrated. After this, the allied copied this fight method, with Churchill as initiative taker, and used this tactic for the first time by the attack on Sicily. A lot went wrong there, the ‘profession’ had to be learned in the though practise. Normandy already went a lot better. The fiasco of Market Garden was not due to the qualities of the airborne troopers! This book sets out this development excellent readable.
Also the personal story of the indelible in the history included lieutenant-colonel John Frost is told from the beginning of the airborne troopers built up.
Credit where credit is due; ‘the bridge’ carries now his name! Some bizarre details: the ‘wanting to be there’, but then at the safe south side of the Rijn, of general ‘Boy’ Browning (man of Agatha Christie) demanded 44 gliders, who therefore could not lent support to the men on ‘the bridge’. And also: next to being cheered by the Dutch population the Airborne troopers had to fight with Dutch parts of the Waffen SS! How bizarre and trite can it be!
Summarized this book offers a lot of interesting background information about unique days in the military history, which perhaps sometimes could have been a bit shorter and more powerful displayed.