General Boy Browning

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by Hitch, Jun 20, 2007.

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  1. I have just finished William Buckingham's book Arnhem 1944 which presents a scathing account of General Boy Browning's role as commander of British Airborne forces in WW2 and more specifically at Arnhem. Buckingham goes so far to suggest that if Browning were a German spy in an Alastair MacLean book it is hard to think of more things he could do to wilfully sabotage the outcome of Market-Garden. Buckingham charges him with:

    - Approving the disasterous RAF plan to select DZ's and LZ's 8 miles from the target
    - Acquiescing to RAF's preference to drop the 1 Airborne Divison in lifts over several days instead of two drops on a single day
    - Deliberately supressing inteligence reports indicating presence of SS Corps at Arnhem.
    - Using badly needed glider transport (36 gliders) to take his personal staff to Holland when it was a questionable necessity
    - Interfering in the 82nd operation almost resulting in the loss of Nijmegan bridge
    - After 30 Corps arrived at the lower Rhine, washing his hands of 1 Abn Div as no longer his responsibility. He spent his time seeking comfortable quarters in Nijmegan as the perimeter at Oosterbeek shrank.
    - Sleeping in bed in his now secured comfortable quarters as 1 Abn Div was evacuated.
    - Slandering Gen Sosabowski in an effort to shift the blame for his own failures.

    Although Buckingham states his career was finished after the failure, he was still knighted and is still regarded as father of the Airborne units and I believe at least one barracks is named after him.

    Is anyone prepared to defend his reputation or was Browning really the utterly self-seeking careerist that Buckingham suggests? Hero or villain, what say you?
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  2. I knew someone who was a very close friend of Browning for many years

    This man went to the "Bridge Too Far" film and walked out mid way because he felt that Bogarde got the man totally wrong.

    Can't remember if I was given any detailed reasons why but I had/have tremendous respect for this person and if his view was that Browning was ok then I go with it.
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  3. Reasons 1 and 2 were the principle cause of the disaster, but that just goes to show that the RAF were largely culpable.

    Reason 3 is debatable - remember that there had been huge SOE disasters in Holland at the hands of the Gestapo, and all humint was under suspicion at the time.

    Reason 4 probably yes, but using too much resource seemed to be SoP for most allied generals in WW2.

    Reason 5 maybe - but none of us or any modern author has ever tried to command at that level in a very confused situation.

    Reason 6 and 7 - a bit facile; so he got himself sorted out in a forward HQ. What was he supposed to do - paddle one of the engineer boats across to Oosterbieck?

    Reason 8 - don't know, I wasn't there to listen in.

    Too easy for a modern author to use 60 years of 20/20 hindsight to rip into someone who is no longer around to defend himself. Takes a great feat of imagination to understand what it must have been like at the time - the environment, the limited information, the politics, and the uncertainty involved in planning such an untried operation. Maybe Buckingham is 100% right; maybe he has simply built a case around his preconceived villain.....
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  4. Blaming the RAF is an easy option. Do we know what German AAA was around that area? I understand that the Flak belts on Ruhr/Rhine were horrendous and a daylight drop in the teeth of that would have ended the operation before it started.

    Even if the flak belts had been pulled back to the Ruhr proper, we didn't have enough intelligence to know that for sure. Bad Intel dogged this operation , and an 8 mile tab off an area would have represented no real obstacle for a '44 Para. Presumably the belief was once the Paras had secured the area, resupply and reinforcement drops could be brought in closer.

    It also ignores the bravery of the RAF crews who fought to resupply the trapped 1 ABN Div , on what were effectively suicide missions. Read the citation for David Lord VC, even after he and his crew knew they were doomed, they still carried on attempting to drop.

    I know from my late Father , that Irish Guards Armoured had a hell of a time pressing for the Bridge , the German opposition had been seriously underestimated.

    Which takes us back to the original point. Was Browning/Montgomery's plan flawed from the outset, or was it a case that individual elements can be held to account for the disaster?
  5. Buckingham suggests that he could have insisted on drop zones closer to the objective and demanded that two lifts occur on the first day. Buckingham slates Browning for not using his authority so as not to delay or cancel Market Garden

    Yes, but this was not purely single humint source but corroborated by second source in photo air flights over the area. The intelligence officer who bravely insisted on the dangers was sent on sick leave

    Buckingsham point was that he needlessly insisted on 82nd Airborne seizing the Groesbeek heights and interfered in the US Divisional battle rather than concentrating on Corps level matters.

    This one I back Buckingham on. Once he located a comfy HQ he washed his hands of the trapped Division and considered it an issue for 30 Corps to resolve. The man should have raised hell with 30 Corps to pull out all the stops to reach 1 Abn at Arnhem. He did not consider the the lack of urgency of Guards Armoured and Gen Thomas nor the lack of amphibious assets to be his problem. As a Whitehall operator he could even have appealed to Montgomery to kick arse. He could have overseen the rescue operation of his former command, but instead chose to sleep and look immacualte the next day when he greeted Urqhart
  6. No one doubts the performance or bravery of the RAF crews on the day; the argument over tactics boiled down to who was willing to pay the butcher's bill - the RAF in flak losses, or the ground forces in the failure of the mission. As it was, of course, the RAF suffered heavily anyway, and one wonders if more could have been achieved by dropping on the target in the first place.

    Similarly, popular historical myth has XXX Corps sitting around drinking tea whilst the paras suffered; most of us appreciate that that was far from the truth, and that XXX Corps was doing their best over near-impossible ground.

    Snipes at Browning for having a good nights' sleep are also very shallow: if he had done all he could in the circumstances and had delegated the next 12 hrs ops to his staff, then he was justified in getting his head down. Lets not forget that the other very famous "good nights sleeper" was..... Monty.

    Arnhem is so steeped in myth and "commonly known fact" that it may no longer be possible to form a rational view of events. I certainly disregard most of the recent "best seller" historys, and those of us who have some service in some capacity will understand that the surviving evidence is probably only the tip of the iceberg - there must have been a huge amount of other contemporary military factors which we cannot fully understand all these years later.

    On the subject of the overall feasibility of the operation, my personal view was recently reshaped from the conventional "valiant but doomed" by reading Louis Hagen's account of Arnhem ("Arnhem Lift"). Hagen was a native German Jewish refugee, who eventually became a glider pilot and ended up on the Oosterbieck perimeter. His native german language enabled him to interogate prisoners and to frequently overhear the conversations of the encircling troops. His observations are enlightening: most of the Germans were poor quality troops and were absolutely bricking it in contact with the paras. He cites one example where a large part of the german perimeter evacuated each night to a distant strongpoint, as they were unable to face up to possible night attacks. Ruefully, Hagen notes that the paras could have wiped out this part of the german force, but were by that stage too few in number to carry out the required ambushes. Given that the Germans in any case failed to crush the British force in short order, Hagen's account seems to indicate that, but for just the tiniest extra bit of luck/ fortune/ good planning, the operation would have been a success.
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  7. There were a number of reasons for the failure at Arnhem, Firstly if the this operation had gone ahead a couple weeks earlier it would had been a great success, There was the problem of an Armoured SS Division that had gone there for a short rest and to reequip. there was the problem of the radios not working on the right waveband, There was a problem of the RAF not wanting to go near Arnhem in case they get shot down and insisted that they drop the Para's 10 miles away. Also could 30 th Corps done more to get there earlier. When they were in a few miles of Arnhem tanks of 30th Corp stopped for the night allowing the Germans to strengthen their defence in this area. The one thing you can't say that the Para's did not do all that was asked of them and more. They were told to hold for 3/4 days and they held for 9. I served with many men that had been at Arnhem after the war and they they did a fantastic job with very little. There are a lot of ifs and buts these days about this plan, but it came very close to being a success and it is about the only time that Ike made a lighting thrust towards Germany instead of his broad front policy.
  8. Buckinghams account also suggests that Browning consulted with Gen Gale, who had planned and commanded 6 Abn Div's succesful capture of Pegasus Bridge on D-Day. Apparently Gale suggested the best way to seize Arnhem bridge was by a coup-de-main force landing immediately adjacent to the bridge with follow on forces landing on the southern bank of the Rhine then using the crossing to create a perimeter to the north and south of the river. Since the RAF plan was already chosen this was advice Browning did not want to hear and asked Gale not to mention this to Urqhart and kept the conversation to himself.

    Lt Col Chatterton, commanding the Glider Pilot Regt, also suggested the exact same scheme as Gale but was rejected as it would allegedly complicate the already complex air plan.
  9. What lack of urgency in Guards Armoured? Guards Armoured had been fighting all the way down the road to get to Arnhem.

    Their timetable was set back over and over again by fierce and determined German resistance , and failures to capture Bridges on schedule etc. There was no lack of resolve in Guards Armoured , and Irish Guards in the vanguard to get to the Airborne. Even after Nijmegen, Guards Armd. had to wait to be reinforced by 43 (Wessex) because they'd taken such a beating.

    And even then J.O.E wanted to press on for Arnhem , and the general feeling was "We've come this far, let's finish it".

    I think I mentioned before Dad telling me contrary to Michael Caine's portrayal of Vandaleur as being unhappy , he was in fact absolutely furious , as his recce was reporting the sounds of Bren and Sten , still coming from the perimeter.

    He wasn't totally sure, but the opinion at the time was J.O.E had been told to "wind it in or get sacked" after a heated exchange with either Horrocks? or Browning.

    The fact is, IG Armoured and XXX Corps wanted to get in there and relieve 1 Abn.Div. That's what they'd fought across Holland to do , and took a beating in doing so. To suggest anything else is a grave disservice.
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  10. Please bear in mind I started this thread to argue over the reputation of Gen Browning based on Buckinghams analysis. The bravery, valour and determination of individual Guardsmen is in no doubt. I am insufficiently informed as to the veracity of his claims, however, I quote Buckingham's rational argument in this regard:

    Guards Armoured was late in jumping off from the Neerpelt bridgehead, it was extremely prompt in ceasing operations at the onset of darkness and equally tardy in resuming the advance for the first four days of Arnhem. On no occasion when it was advancing into German-held territory did the Guards Amroured move off before midday, each time wasting several hours of precious daylight.

    That is Buchinghams argument but I'll keep my mind open to other reasoned analysis. And once again, the reputation being discussed is Brownings not Guards Armoured.
  11. Look at Op Comet orders, they show what may have been achieved.
  12. I don't know all the historical details of this, so won't comment.

    Gen Browning's widow, Daphne du Maurier, was livid about his portrayal in A Bridge too Far, and I think both Richard Attenborough and Dirk Bogarde regretted that he had been depicted unfavourably.

    Gen Browning's letter recommending Sosabowski's dismissal can be read here.

    Sosabowski's son's comments can be read here.

    Whatever the truth of this, I find it utterly shameful that Gen Sosabowski should have wound up working, until the age of 76, in a CAV factory in bloody Acton. His contribution, and that of his men, to the allied cause deserved so much more.

    There were thousands of impoverished Poles and other DPs trying to scratch a living in an impoverished Britain after WW2. They were resented, much as the current influx of Polish migrants are resented.

    I suspect that there may be some truth in the theory that Sosabowski was a convenient scapegoat.

    Last edited: May 11, 2015
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  13. Hi all, thought I'd toss in my twopennies worth as it's my book under discussion. :) Hitch, glad you enjoyed it. One point, my analysis of the battle isn't merely rational, it is properly researched and verifiable. that's what all those endnote thingies in the book are for - to show where I got the info and to prove I'm not making it all up! Consequently, I don't merely suggest that Gale told Browning that the plan was a disaster waiting to happen, it is a matter of historical record, with the relvant documents being held in the Airborne Forces Museum Archive.

    Ref the rest, collective response to save bandwidth:

    4(T), no fitting up of preconceived villains or taking a pop at dead folk who can't defend themselves, and I disagree that what happened at Arnhem is so steeped in myth etc that meaningful analysis is impossible. I also disagree with your inference that only folk who have served can get a handle on such things; that's why we have trained historians. Taking the second point first, it is quite possible to sort out the dross from the good stuff with a bit of research and critical thinking, and to add some objective analysis on the result. I was actually surprised at how little proper analysis had actually been done despite the sheer number of books on Arnhem, and how much pretty damning stuff had been hidden in plain sight without comment. IMO part of the problem lies with attitudes like that displayed by Archer above - someone is a good chap so no-one bothers to look any further. This is compounded by the fact that a lot of British military history is written by ex-officers who don't like to rock the boat for their brethren. As I see it that attitude not only obstructs getting to the bottom of what what happened and why (overall, not just with ref to Arnhem), but it is also disrespectful to the blokes that get caught up in the wiorks too. This is especially rife with the history of British Airborne Forces - we have Browning and Urquhart at Arnhem, Hopkinson gets a free ride for the results of his appalling behaviour in Sicily and Italy, and H Jones provides a more recent example of the same thing.

    Ref Browning, his record speaks for itself. He was selected to command the British airborne effort because his contacts as a Guards officer made him an ideal choice to fight the airborne corner in Whitehall, not because of any operational acumen or experience - AFAIK he had no operational command experience save as a company level officer during WW1. He turned his role into an operational one with an adroit bit of empire building. Having studied the establishment and initial development of British Airborne Forces for my PhD, I cannot really see what Browning did to merit the title of Father of that force; John Rock or Richard Gale have a far stronger claim to the title. By 1944 Browning had gotten himself the top Allied airborne job, but again I cannot see how he was really qualified for the post. He had no real airborne experience operationally or otherwise, whereas men like Gale and Ridgeway had both and plenty of it. I think that seeking to rectify that is the only logical explanation for his decision to take a forward HQ into the 82nd Airbornes area at Nijmegen, diverting 38 gliders and tugs that could have been much better employed elsewhere. Also, Browning had form for this, having interfered with the planning for the Bruneval Raid in 1942.

    With ref to him sleeping while the remnants of 1st Airborne Div were being withdrawn across the Lower Rhine, I disagree this is a shallow snipe. He had played the major role in getting those blokes into the mess, the least he could have done was be up front as they came out. Note Browning wasn't just getting his head down, he was tucked up in a proper bed in silk PJs, so well that he kept Urquhart waiting for 20 minutes when the latter turned up at his HQ to report. Even Urquhart thought that was out of order with hindsight, according to his biography. FWIW I think Urquhart's behviour was a bit off too in just taking a place in the queue for the boats and then running straight off like a schoolboy to see Browning leaving his men to fend for themselves. I thought British officers were supposed to put their men before self...

    Without wishing to derail Hitch's thread, a couple of more general comments while I'm at it. PTP, ref blaming the RAF being easy, it comes as a surprise to most folk that the RAF had total control over airborne ops in WW2 until the troops were on the ground. It didn't make much difference before Arnhem because common sense prevailed but on that occasion the RAF simply stuck to its guns with the outcome predicted by some at the time. Also, with ref to the German flak, this is a bit of a red herring. The Arnhem landing areas were well west of the German home flak defences, and there was little to none when the op was launched; the Arnhem portion of the MARKET lift did not lose a single aircraft on the first day, and they only lost six on the second lift the next day. The suicidal stuff you refer to came later, after the op was supposed to have been over and the Germans had had time to drag light flak in from all over the shop and set it up all round the airborne perimeter.

    W.Anchor, your first bit reflets the popualr view of the battle, but there is a bit more to it than that. For example, there was nothing like an SS Panzer Div anywhere near Arnhem, and virtually nothing between 1st Parachute Brigade and Arnhem for the first 12 hours or so after landing. The key problem was an unrealistic and arguably unworkable plan and a lack of haste by 1st Para Brigade in that same 12 hour period. The command and general state of 1st Airborne Div doesn't do too well under close scrutiny, and some of the erros they made at Arnhem were repeats from Sicily.

    Anyway, that's enough for now.

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  14. I'm not too sure that the RAF's sole motivation for not having DZs close to the bridges was aircraft loss.

    Remember, the allies had done largely night drops up until then and the premier experience of daylight para landings had been the German assault on Crete.
    Hardly a stellar recommendation for it, especially when you're anticipating the sort of light and heavy flak the Germans could quickly and easily pull together in Holland.

    A stick jumping in broad daylight, taking fire from a flakvierling, doesn't bear thinking about!
  15. Fair one, but it is the excuse usually cited, and it fits with the RAF's tech focus and ongoing history of putting its aircraft before people. Frost thought they selected the Arnhem landing zones purely because they looked like a text book example of what one should look like, and what came after the landing was not their problem. The usual reasons given for not putting people nearer or on the bridge supports this. It couldn't be done because of flak around the bridge which does not appear to have existed, because the airplan was already complete/too complicated, and finally because the ground south of the Arnhem bridge was too soft. Even though the original plan was to put the 1st Polish Independent Para Brigade down exactly there in the third lift...

    Ref the day v night drop bit, a couple of points. Allied night drops were far from stellar either, all being misdropped and scattered to varying degrees; IIRC the Americans wanted day drops after Normandy because of the terrible scattering they suffered there, altho 6th Airborne didn't get off much lighter. Also, remember that the night drop idea originated in times of German air superiority which was no longer the case after D-Day. Finally, Arnhem had to be a day drop because you need some degree of natural illumination for airborne ops and by the time they launched MARKET it was a no-moon period.