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Operation Market Garden Anniversary 2016

The John Frost Bridge at Arnhem (from my visit in 2013)
72 years ago today, Allied troops set off on what could be one of the boldest missions of World War 2, Operation Market Garden. Developed by Field Marshall Montgomery, the plan was to advance into Nazi occupied Holland and develop a bridgehead over the River Rhine into Germany. There were two parts to the operation:
  • Market (Airborne)
  • Garden (Ground Forces)
In what was the largest airborne operation of the war, paratroopers and glider troops had the job of securing bridges at Eindhoven (US 101st Airborne), Nijmegen (US 82nd Airborne) and Arnhem (British 1st Airborne). The ground forces, made up of the British XXX Corp had to advance up a single highway through Holland, linking up with the airborne forces as they went. In honour of the anniversary of Operation Market Garden we look back at some of the movies and TV Shows that tell the story of the Allies ill-fated attempt to end the war by Christmas 1944.

A Bridge Too Far

If you're going to talk about Operation Market Garden in movies you have to start with Richard Attenborough's epic A Bridge Too Far. Based on the book by Cornelius Ryan it looks at the operation from both the Allied and German points of view as well as that of the Dutch civilians. The story is told in such a way that doesn't glorify war whilst at the same time honouring all those involved in the operation. It doesn't even try to vilify the Germans either. Producer Joseph E. Levine was so determined to make the movie he financed the $22 million budget himself. By selling the distribution rights Levine was able to make $26 million before production completed, that's $4 million profit before the movie was even released.

A Bridge Too Far boasts an all star cast including Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Elliot Gould, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Robert Redford, James Caan, Dirk Bogarde, Hardy Kruger, Maximilian Schell and Laurence Olivier. Robert De Niro was offered a role but turned it down, as were Steve McQueen and Audrey Hepburn both of whom wanted too much money. At the time of filming, Major General Roy Urquhart didn't know who Sean Connery was and couldn't understand why his daughters were so excited that Connery had been cast to play him. Elliot Gould's character Colonel Stout was based on Colonel Robert Sink, commanding officer of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, who was famously played by Dale Dye in Band of Brothers. Hardy Kruger's "General Luwig" is a combination of Division Commanders Heinz Harmel and Walter Harzer.

There are several parts of the movie that are a blend of fiction and non-fiction. Sgt Eddie Dohun (James Caan) was actually Sgt Charles Dohun and he did save his Captain's life but he didn't drive out on to a battlefield alone to find him. Captain 'Legs' Johnson (named Captain Glass and played by Nicholas Campbell in the movie) was shot in the shoulder and eventually loaded on to a jeep to be evacuated to a field hospital, after delaying it in favour of the more seriously wounded. On the way to the hospital he took a round to the head from a German MG42 machine gun and when a Doctor examined him, finding him to be unconscious with his brain exposed he was deemed too seriously wounded to survive. Sgt Dohun was Johnson's orderly and knew he had a large amount of cash on him, not wanting it to be stolen Sgt Dohun checked Johnson's body which is when he discovered he was still breathing. When a surgeon refused to check him, Dohun threatened the surgeon with a Luger not a M1911A1 as depicted in the movie. The surgeon was also not the one to hold Dohun under arrest, Lt. Colonel Steve Chappuis, commander of 2nd Battalion, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment placed Dohun under arrest for sixty seconds before releasing him. Captain Johnson was in a coma for six weeks, he woke up blind, deaf and dumb but managed to regain partial sight as well as the ability to hear and speak.

It wasn't Bittrich who sent a message requesting the surrender of the British Paratroopers at Arnhem Bridge. Brigadefuhrer Heinz Harmel sent Sergeant Stanley Halliwell - a British POW - to deliver the message. Colonel Frost asked Halliwell to pass on the reply "go to hell" just as Anthony Hopkins did in the movie but Halliwell responded by saying "if it's all the same to you, Colonel, I'll stay. Jerry will get the message sooner or later".
Colonel Frost criticised Hopkins for running from house to house, telling him that "a British officer would never have run but would have shown disdain for enemy fire by walking from place to place".
Frost acted as a consultant on the movie, as did General Urquhart, General Horrocks, General Gavin and Colonel Vandeleur.
Major Carlyle is based on Major Allison Digby Tatham-Warter and not only did he carry an umbrella with him, he led a bayonet charge with it whilst wearing a bowler hat. He survived Market Garden, was captured by the Germans and taken to a hospital from which he promptly escaped.
General Urquhart was cut off from Divisional HQ for two days. However, there wasn't an attack by British Paratroopers on the tank that Urquhart was hiding from, he simply waited for the tank to leave.

The scene where Private Marsh runs on to the field to collect a supply canister did actually happen. But the soldier was a Corporal and he survived.
Only four Sherman tanks were made available for the movie, the rest are models mounted on Land Rovers. It is possible to see fake tank tracks that don't touch the ground and the wheels of some of the Land Rovers in certain shots.
The depiction of General Browning is considered highly controversial, not least of all by Dirk Bogarde who served under Montgomery and knew Browning. Dame Daphne Du Maurier - Browning's Widow - felt he'd been made the fall guy for the failure of the operation. It's believed by some that had he been alive, Browning would have sued Richard Attenborough and screenwriter William Goldman. Browning did say the famous line: "well, as you know, I always felt we tried to go a bridge too far" - or something close to it - which inspired the title of the movie and the book it's based on.  

According to the documentary on the DVD, A Bridge Too Far "was shunned by American critics and completely ignored at Oscar time for daring to expose the fatal inadequacies of the Allied campaign".

Band of Brothers

Episodes 4 (Replacements) and 5 (Crossroads) of Band of Brothers recounts Easy Company's involvement in Operation Market Garden and its aftermath.

Replacements follows Sgt 'Bull' Randleman (Michael Cudlitz) and the company's involvement in Market Garden. Unfortunately it's a mere snapshot of events both in terms of what Easy Company did and the operation as a whole. It does include the daylight drop, their arrival in Eindhoven and their advance eastward towards Helmond which was halted at Nuenen by the Germans. If you look carefully during the Eindhoven scene you can see the real Edward 'Babe' Heffron waving a Kingdom of the Netherlands flag. Heffron was a replacement who joined the company after Normandy, making Market Garden his first combat mission. 

I think this episode suffers because of what has been omitted. Firstly, after landing in Holland Easy Company advanced on Son in an attempt to secure the bridge there, however the Germans were able to destroy it. It wasn't until after the replacement Bailey Bridge had been constructed that the 506th moved into Eindhoven. From there it's not really explained to the audience what Easy's job was, we're shown their advance on the town of Nuenen and their subsequent retreat. This is where the episode could do with some context! What was the significance of Nuenen?

On the 19th September, two days after landing in Holland, Easy Company along with tanks from the British 11th Armoured Division headed east towards Helmond in order to protect the road XXX Corp were using to advance from German counter attack. However, they met fierce resistance at Nuenen from the German 107th Panzer Brigade and were forced to retreat. With every other battle, patrol or mission in the miniseries it's well explained what Easy Company are doing, why they're doing it and where they're going. There's no doubt that Randleman's story of being left behind is very important and should be told, but it seems to come at the cost of why Easy were headed to Nuenen in the first place. In the coming days Easy Company would help to defend the towns of Veghel and Uden and then move north of Nijmegen to an area known as "the island" (area between the Waal and Rhine Rivers) which brings us to episode 5.

Crossroads focuses on the aftermath of Operation Market Garden, or as Colonel Sink put it: "when Market Garden fell on its ass". Something not really looked at in movies or TV.

On 5th October 1944 a patrol stumbled across Waffen SS troops who had crossed the Rhine as part of a counter attack to retake the island and the Waal River Bridge at Nijmegen. After surviving a German grenade attack, the paratroopers made it back to the Easy Company command post and alerted Captain Winters (Damian Lewis), who assembled a squad and headed out to investigate. Upon arrival at the crossroads where the Germans had been spotted they noticed a German machine gun team firing bursts from an MG42 in a southerly direction, but the nearest target was 2nd Battalion's HQ and that was almost a mile away. According to War History Online the job of the Waffen SS troops was to create a distraction and draw the Allies attention away from the main attack, which would come at Opheusden to the west. This would certainly explain the random bursts of machine gun fire. After Winters and his men charged the crossroad, they were able to drive the Germans back towards the Rhine before highly accurate German artillery forced the Americans to retreat. But there wasn't a red smoke grenade, some men got snagged on low lying barbed wire and Winters just ran faster than everyone else causing him to arrive at the road first. As depicted Winters did come face to face with a German sentry, however they threw grenades at each other - neither of which went off - before Winters shot the sentry. This incident became known as the Battle of the Island. For War History Online's breakdown of the battle click here.

After Operation Market Garden failed, the British 1st Airborne Division was left trapped on the north side of the Rhine. On the night of 25th - 26th September during Operation Berlin, roughly 2400 British troops were able to quietly escape across the Rhine. However 500 men were left behind hiding in the woods and villages near the river. Among them was Major Digby Tatham-Warter, the inspiration for Major Carlyle (the officer with the umbrella) in A Bridge Too Far, who had escaped from a German Hospital. Due to the fact that the Allies had no plans to move north and the sheer number of men in hiding, it was decided that the safest option was to evacuate them. Lt. Colonel Dobie, commander of 1st Battalion (played by John Light in the miniseries) crossed the river on 16th October and was able to make contact with XXX Corp and the 101st Airborne. Named Operation Pegasus, the date was set for the night of the 23rd-24th October. However it was moved up a day when the Germans ordered the local residents to leave the area by end of day on the 22nd, the Allies decided to use the situation to their advantage. The RV point was marked using tracer rounds from a Bofors Gun, this was done on several nights to avoid compromising the operation. Easy Company's job was to provide security for the British and Canadian Engineers in charge of the boats, their first mission under the command of Lt. 'Moose' Heyliger (Stephen McCole). On the night 139 men gathered in the woods north of the Rhine, but when they moved to the river at midnight they were in the wrong place. After signalling the men in the boats they had a twenty minute wait before they arrived. Easy Company set a perimeter while a small group of men were dispatched to locate the 139 escapees and lead them to the boats. The group received some sporadic and inaccurate fire from the Germans who were able to apprehend one of the 139 who got lost, the group were back in Allied territory within 90 minutes. Due to the success of the operation, a second was planned. However, a journalist posing as an intelligence officer interviewed several escapees from Pegasus 1 and the resulting news article alerted the Germans, causing them to increase patrols. During the second attempt some escapees were compromised which resulted in a firefight, preventing anyone from making the crossing that night.

One of the great things about movies and television is the ability to educate and entertain for generations to come. In this case not only can you see how the operation unfolded but the result of its failings as well. What you won't see is the result of "Hongerwinter" (Hunger Winter); during September 1944 the Dutch government in exile encouraged Dutch Railway workers to strike. In retaliation, the Germans stopped food shipments to western Holland and during the harsh winter up to 22,000 Dutch civilians starved to death. There were many factors that contributed to Operation Market Garden's failure: the single highway, bad weather, poor communications, the presence of German Armour, the loss of the Son Bridge, the delay in reinforcements and the loss of drop zones preventing resupply. Despite all this, Montgomery claimed the operation was 90% successful. But just because the Allies failed to achieve their main objective, doesn't mean we should forget what they did.

Operation Market Garden 17th-25th September 1944


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