Arnhem 1944 by F Buckingham

Discussion in 'The Book Club' started by oldbooty, Aug 2, 2007.

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  1. Just read this book and (as an outside observer) thought that while the last half was fairly reasoned, the first two or three chapters were really heavily anti para (coming from a former bootneck that is some admission)
    Anyone else read it? what did you think?
  2. I have just started reading it, and agree that the opening chapters are rather negative.

    I am not sure yet if this is because the author is anti-Para, anti-military or just not using a proper scholarly approach to his subject. Some of the criticisms come across as unbalanced or poorly supported. It is a bit like a judge pronouncing "guilty" before the evidence has been fully laid out.
  3. Dont want to spoil your enjoyment of the book
    It does get better and supports the slagging of Browning in a convincing way. Urquhart on the other hand gets a pasting that perhaps he does not quite deserve.
    However it wasnt the act of pillorying of the commanders that struck me it was the attack on "the airborne arrogance" i found odd. Like commandos paras need to be arrogant as they are going into an area at a massive disadvantage compared to enemy forces. If they dont believe they are gods gift to the military world they are going to be in deep trouble.
    I dont know but maybe the author had an unpleasant experience with a para!
  4. Having read the book & discussed aspects of it with the author (whose first initial is W not F) I don’t think it comes across as anti-Para in the least, quite the reverse. If anything he is much more critical of XXX Corps and Guards Armoured Division (a little unfairly in the case of the latter, quite rightly in the case of the former). The comment that the book is badly researched & prejudicial is totally unfair & about as far from the truth as it is possible to be. The book is the by-product of his Ph.D thesis (on the early development & training of the British Airborne forces IIRC) and is exceptionally well researched making original & comprehensive use of the extant archive material. What is exceptional and seminal is the focus on 1st Airborne Division’s training and preparation prior to the operation, something which every other author on the subject has overlooked.

    To my mind his book is not in the least anti-Para and he fully acknowledges their heroic performance at both Arnhem Bridge and Oosterbeck. The point he is making is that in comparison to Gale’s 6th Airborne Division their training and preparation prior to the operation were highly lacklustre. Much of the problem lay with 1st Parachute Brigade, which had served with distinction in North Africa, and by 1944 much like other Desert veterans (notably 7th Armoured Division and 51st Highland Division) felt that they “had done their bit”. For example even Lt-Col Frost had a major problem restoring discipline in 2 PARA when they returned to the UK. Buckingham’s thesis, which I think the evidence fully supports, is that their training was lackadaisical and as a result their initial performance on D-Day was sub-par in comparison to 6th Airborne’s exemplary performance in Normandy. I think it is reasonable to be critical of Urquhart, who failed in a number of key respects:
    1. He didn’t grip the men under his command and ensure the division was properly trained (a few battalion COs should have been sacked from the outset) for the operation.
    2. He didn’t attempt to overrule either the RAF or Browning with the fatal choice of DZs so far from the objective – Driel would have been a much better choice. In addition he should have fought harder for lift assets (here Browning is clearly the main culprit) enabling a crucial second lift on D-Day
    3. He failed to co-ordinate 1 PARA Bde’s attack on the bridge, nor was he in a position to exploit Frost’s success. With the benefit of hindsight it is clear that he should have diverted 1 & 3 PARA from their original routes to the 2 PARA’s route once it was clear that there was no opposition on that axis as opposed to KG Spindler’s effective defence around the St Elizabeth Hospital.
    4. Not gripping Lathbury & Hackett

    Overall, in my opinion, Dr Buckingham’s book is a very welcome and valuable addition to the Market Garden canon. If it punctures a few myths about the performance of 1st Airborne Division then all the better but this, to my mind, is in no way “anti-Para” nor does it detract from their heroic actions.
  5. Right, a case in point the 11th Battalion was basically sacrificed during the assault supporting the Staffs, Urquharts messing about with this Battalion left them deep in it. Im currently doing a follow up book, to my book on the Staffords (now out of print sadly) about the 11th Battalion.

    This Battalion was given 3 changes in its plans, leading it to end up getting chopped to pieces around the Hospital and the streets around the prison, many 11th Battalion Vets keep quiet about what went on around the Hospital, due to them feeling they didnt perform well, not their fault definetly Urquharts, a reason i was asked to write their story.

    He wasnt sean connery, and one of his actions at the Hartenstein was disgraceful for a Senior Officer
  6. Do you mind elaborating on your last point?

    Some people think Eric Down (who commanded 2nd Para Bde in action and was acting GOC of 1st Airborne Div after Hopkinson was killed in Italy) should have been confirmed in command of the division. Instead he was sent to India to raise a new airborne division there. Do you guys think this would have made a difference to the division's preparation and planning for Market Garden?
  7. Well forcing men out of the Hartenstein back into a mortar bombardment and refusing food to an Officer wasnt what id expect. Also if Urquhart hadnt been away, then the 11th Battalion wouldnt have been sitting on their arrses for hours.

    I certainly think Down would have been a better Commander, the driel ferry that was working long after the Airborne arrived would have been used, lots of little faults occured that led to a lot of brave men being killed
  8. That is what I thought too.

    To Conall - I do not doubt that the book has been well researched. I set out to look at this area 25 years ago (when studying history at uni), and know a good deal about the issues he is raising in his book. That is why I bought it. I was just surprised by the way some of his points are made in the early part of the book, and which, as a history graduate (mediocre, rather than stellar) seem to be aggressively made, without the degree of justification that I would have expected.

    As I said, I am only part way through the book, and therefore looking forward to seeing his arguments develop. To my mind, the long term causes of the failure of Operation Market-Garden are a key part of understanding what went wrong. Most analysis of the operation focus on the problems in the immediate run up to September 17, and the failures on the ground. However, none of them seemed to fully explain what happened (even when added together and allowing for the fog of war). Some of the mistakes made seemed to be symptomatic of bigger or different long term problems.

    Maybe my comments were guilty of the same unsupported aggression as I accuse the author of!?
  9. Theirs a difference in the Airborne arrogance he eluds to, dont forget that the Glider borne Infantry were still what id class as Infantry, the Staffords said their training had been very much based on Battalion frontage attacks.

    So when forced into the funnel at the museum, they were very much trying to what id have classed more a Paras battle, conversley the 11th Battalion were being used more in an Infantry than Para battle.

    Would the drop have been different if based around Driel and the Railway Bridge, certainly the losses would have been higher than the landings at Wolfheze, well a lot higher but to use the term 'acceptable' would have been used.

    The Staffords actually had been to land by Glider by one of the bridges on Op Comet the precursor to Market Garden.

    Look at the capture of Grave bridge, to se that a drop near all bridges was feasable
  10. the_boy_syrup

    the_boy_syrup LE Book Reviewer

    For example even Lt-Col Frost had a major problem restoring discipline in 2 PARA when they returned to the UK.

    I read that 1 para were bumped from the unit designated to capture the bridge to a further back supporting role because of disipline problems
    Apperantly a Guards SGT Major was brought in and the whole unit refused too soldier
    Anyone else heard this?
  11. having also just read "pegasus Bridge" by Ambrose I understand that the Ox and Bucks got a guards Sgt Major who was a super scary one with the opposite effect. Are you sure it was 1 Para and not Ox and Bucks pre D Day?
  12. No problem. Like you I have a degree in History (and postgrad, because I'm a spod) and I would have to say that his work doesn't appear overly aggressive in style at least not in an academic context. Forcefully argued, perhaps. As for the lack of justification I have to differ with you there, as his arguments appear well supported by primary evidence, and as I recall the book is well supplied with endnotes which detail the primary source material to the points he is making.

    Quite possibly :D

    Part of the value of the book is that it does address, in considerable detail, the long term problems both with 1st Airborne Division and the very flawed planning and faulty assumptions made prior to the operation.
  13. the_boy_syrup

    the_boy_syrup LE Book Reviewer

    Certain it was 1 Para they were supposed to take the bridge but got moved down the order due to bad disapline
    Possibly as originally stated they felt they had done their bit?
  14. As Conall has already pointed out, there were disciplinary problems across the whole of the 1st Parachute Brigade. Frost was able to keep a lid on it and sort the 2nd Parachute Battalion but he refers to lots of low level indiscipline in his memoir. With ref to the 1st Parachute Battalion, when they got back to Britain in December 1943, a Guards officer named Cleasby-Thompson took over as CO; he imported a Guards RSM to tighten things up a bit but the blokes didn't see it that way and went on strike. Lathbury investigated and C-T and his RSM were posted. I've not come across the bit about them being bumped off the bridge grabbing before and while it's possible I'm a bit sceptical. From what I've seen going for the bridges wasn't plum job as such. The 3rd Para Battalion had problems too, the CO being replaced when the battalion failed some training test or other IIRC.

    As I'm the miscreant who's book is under discussion I thought I'd better address the other comments above too (Conall, the cheque's in the post :wink: ). No anti-Para or anti-military sentiment here I can assure you, quite the opposite. If the first few chapters seem negative that was not the intention, I just cast an objective eye over all the existing material I could find, applied a bit of analytical thinking and told it like I saw it. None of it's unsupported, all the evidence is either implicit and/or footnoted. The idea was to go a bit deeper than the superfical stuff level of most of the oither stuff and bring in *all* the underlying factors, not just the short term ones that look good, pass the buck and/or save blushes. Speciifcally:

    @ oldbooty - No bad experiences with Paras, I had some good friends in one of the Para batts years back and spent a fair bit of time in Aldershot's less salubrious watering holes. :) I wasn't having a pop at airborne arrogance per se (altho note that the wartime version was noticeably different to what developed post-war) but at the unwarranted arrogance of some bits of 1st Airborne Div who thought they were a all over it and acted accordingly - 1st Parachute Brigade's performance in the opening stages of MARKET was not as sharp as it could and should have been on a number of levels, and as a result the operation was blown in the first twelve hours. Contrast that with the performance of the 6th Airborne Div in the opening stages of the Normandy invasion.

    @ Not_That_Close - mebbe your comments are guilty of that which you accuse me of, but in mitigation I point at the bit above about telling it like I see it, and that it was my first attempt at this book writing lark. Altho I think I've managed to address this bit - "However, none of them seemed to fully explain what happened (even when added together and allowing for the fog of war). Some of the mistakes made seemed to be symptomatic of bigger or different long term problems." :)

    all the best,
  15. I dunno if it would have made a difference to the high level MARKET planning as a lot of that would have been outside his remit. I do think he would have gripped his people better than Urquhart though, as he (Down) knew the airborne ropes and I doubt he would have permitted the slacking that went on between 1st Airborne getting back to the UK in December 1943 and Arnhem. More importantly, I seriously doubt Down would have rolled over to accommodate Browning in the way Urquhart did, and that might have made all the difference.

    [edited for fat finger syndrome]