Market Garden and Arnhem. By Swordman.

Discussion in 'Sappers' started by swordman, Apr 22, 2007.

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  1. The Film of The Market Garden Operation. Bloody Arnhem.
    I watched that film with more than a little anger at the insinuations of British failings. Of the implied idea that we were not too interested in getting there… that we stopped for tea…That is a disgrace and in my opinion an insult to the men that gave their all to reach the Paras at Arnhem.
    As one that took part in that operation. This gives me (A lone voice) this attempt to put matters right. For some of what is in that film to say the least, does nothing for the heroic efforts of the British army and had constantly angered me ever since. It also insults the memory of those that gave their lives in this endeavour.

    There has been much written about this mighty thrust forward towards the “Fatherland” Indeed, through countless films and documentaries many celluloid hero’s have been created, and even more myths that are now: because of the power of films, looked upon as the real history of the battle for Holland and Arnhem

    Because the main drive up through the centre of Holland was given so much publicity, it is not generally known that the drive North through Holland was a “two pronged affair” The other drive took place on the eastern side of the Country, and that was the operation that I, with my company took part in.

    Why was this mighty operation planned and put into operation? Well, I have written before on this. But let me recall the atmosphere of that time. It is of vital importance that the existing atmosphere around at that time is clearly understood.

    We were in fact, teetering on the edge of complete Victory. Everything was within our grasp. Just beyond Arnhem lay the open plains of Germany, where we would be able to tackle the enemy with our superior forces, and our air power.

    All the Northern industrial areas of Germany were now theoretically within our reach. Berlin itself was reachable through that Northern rout. The partially open gates that would enable a massive drive into the heart of Germany were there for all to see. Beyond those gates beckoned the golden prize of complete victory by Christmas and the greater part of Germany in Allied hands

    We had the Germans retreating, If now, at that time. While the battlefields were so “Fluid” could the plan work? Was it worth the risk? Consider this…Stop, and think about the fleeing Enemy, beaten to a pulp at Falaise, running for his life.

    Was it worth a possible catastrophic defeat? What were the odds? Yet if this master stroke could be pulled off? Then the war would be over by Christmas. Many tens of thousands of young men’s lives would be saved, USA, Canadian, and British. We would have been in Berlin long before the Russians!

    If it only half succeeded? Then the main of the country of Holland would be ours. It all lay out in front, just needing that “odds against” masterstroke that would end the war in one great leap forward.

    Should it fail? Then the great majority of Holland would be ours in this great leap forward anyway. The Americans had many times criticised Monty as being slow and indecisive, that to the British is one of the most stupid claims. This man had chased the enemy over many hundreds of miles of North Africa had beaten the living daylights out of the much respected Rommel, and never lost a battle.

    So with that in mind, would you have taken the risk? Monty had beaten and humiliated the enemy at Falaise, the greatest defeat inflicted on the German army anywhere, in any conflict, including Russia. He had taken Normandy ten days ahead of the planned schedule. The enemy were tired, having retreated continuously for many hundreds of miles.

    You have under your command some of the finest fighters in the world in the British airborne. It is a risk, but that is what fighting men are for…to fight.

    The rewards were beyond contemplation. The long years of war where this country had been bled white, could now be brought to an abrupt end. If it failed at the last hurdle? Holland would be ours anyway.

    What did happen is well known by now, but in those long years since Market Garden, so many books and films have been produced, many of them without a shred of truth behind their stories. Many prejudices have been exercised, much utter rubbish had been written, often by authors that want to please their readers by twisting the tale to suit their book sales, until now the whole history of those days is governed by Hollywood and anti British authors. Indeed that films have now become the true legends of those times, when in truth they are utter crap!

    The lone British voice talking about the atmosphere of those times, and the feeling that total victory was just within of our grasp, is lost in the wilderness of the masses of films and books and stands very little chance of being heard….Let alone believed. But I try!

    Now having read this, would you take the chance of total victory, almost within your grasp? Think about it…..You have chased the enemy for hundreds of miles, he is running for home, full pelt. There, stretching out before you, stood the wonderful golden prize of the whole of Northern Germany in your hands. Many thousands of young men lives would be saved. The war over by Christmas. The leap frogging operation up through Holland was a 100% success, the main of Holland central was ours.

    A few miles ahead lay the final gate into the Fatherland. The chances of forcing that gate? the final objective are about 50% odds in comparison with what had gone before. Now ! If the critics are to be believed, we should have stopped, sat on our hands saying “We have done well, now lets have a rest” in fact, stopping the fighting.

    Now you are in charge. You know that the casualties would be high, but the prize is there, if it could be grasped. In fact it only just failed. Would you go for it? Or would you chicken out? What do you think?
    Slow in getting there?. All sorts of reasons given, except one. The enemy
    Anyone that thinks the German army, and particularly the SS was going to roll over belly up, has little idea of the Fighting qualities of the Germans. We moved North being fired at as we went. If there is any doubt as to the resilience of the German army? then ask the Americans that were severely hammered in the Bulge later!

    No matter what was there to overcome, that outside chance of forcing the slightly ajar door to the fatherland had to be taken, no matter what
    So remember that when you look at what is really a money making fairy tale. Never look back at what is presented as a failure. It never was. Market garden was a heroic attempt to end the war in quick time. The chances of complete success where always minimal. But we took the greater part of Holland in one great drive North.
    That the final gate was never forced? A great shame and lengthened the war.
    Look back with pride British Army. I do.
  2. We didn’t fail.
    Like the boxer who just gets the upper cut in, his opponent stumbles back, he then goes hell for leather to end the match.
    But failure didn’t come into it, no sir.
  3. Swordsman, much respect for being involved in a piece of history which involved half the world and was one of the significant turning points of 20th century history.

    I am interested in you description of the operation and your account. While I don’t dispute anything you say. If you think back would you have been able to have made a decision based on the facts at hand rather than the hindsight you now have.

    Was a decision which would have hastened the end of the war and possible saved many lives available with the facts and intelligence available at that time. Additionally if the war in the west had come to a swifter conclusion what ramifications would this have had on the war on the eastern front and the subsequent developments which marred the later part of the 20th century for most of Eastern Europe?

    In the end, shit happens, we can only look back on it and reflect.

    Best REgards
  4. Swordman,

    If you have a look at the Mel Gibson Gallipolli Truth and Fictional, lying, toe rag, aussie pathetic view of the British you will see how easily a movie can embed the untruth into a Nation!!! The Aussies to a man believe the Brits used the ANZACS only in the Turkish front, truth be told the Brits lost a hell of a lot more than the Anzacs and lies about the Brits drinking tea while the Aussies needed help are so backwards and insulting to the British Infantry who instead of sitting drinking tea were the actual ones who went forward in an attempt to rescue the stranded Aussies and had many of their Battallion wiped out in the process!!! the Bridge at Arnhem Film (according to someone who was there i.e. yourself!) sounds evry sadly like it has fallen into this same lying category... Certainly the film doesn't portray a 'failure' on the Paras side as they held on against all odds for such a long time, totally surrounded and outnumbered and in the process gaining the 'Devils' reputation... I can see how you are annoyed being part of the armoured force on its way...
  5. WFG.
    Having chased the enemy across France Belgium and Holland It was a fair bet that they would be not at their best in at last turning to fight.

    Let me put it this way. We chased him headlong all that way. Now signs of resistance are becoming evident. But a few miles ahead lies the "Golden Prize " the gate to the open plains of Northern Germany. Where our faster armour and the Rocket firing Typhoons of the RAF would create bloody havoc across the "Fatherland"

    Now imagine you are in charge. Ignore all the warnings from the intelligence. Do you stop fighting? and say "we have done well, lets take a rest for a while" ......Really?

    Or do you take the battle to the enemy, with all the force at your disposal? Then ask this: Ahead lies Arnhem. Through Nijmegen and over the Island to the Arnhem bridge? and we are into the end game. (I took that journey for the company, I do know what it looks like)

    Now you have to decide, do we go for that one Golden Chance and accept the heavy casualties that will ensue? Or do we stop and dig in, giving the enemy time to build up his defences.

    Surely even the longest odds were worth the risk. For I cannot recall any battle that did not cost lives. So what would any of you readers done? Sit on your hands? or go for it? Despite the long odds against success, No one thought otherwise when it came to our losses. The Panzer Grenadiers are fine fighting men (Nearly as good as us!) So we surely knew what we were up against.

    Now, here we can use hindsight, we would have been across Northern Germany and into Berlin...The Berlin airlift would never have happened.
    The period of the cold war (if it took place) would have been a very different animal indeed. The implications of success at Arnhem are massive, and to be honest, in my opinion even today...."Unknown"

    Two choices then. GO for it and accept the casualties that would inevitably follow, no matter the odds..... for that one golden chance to end the war by Christmas...Or sit on your hands and wait till they get their defences in position. For there was no alternative.

    What I would plead with you to remember is this: these are the opinions of a very ordinary, very young, very skinny, very patriotic, but trusted 19 year old war time Sapper that served in a Field Company Royal Engineers, in 1944. I know that we did our bit to open the way forward.

    And not the opinion of some learned military expert......But I post these thoughts here for the Sappers of today to give their own opinion...I reckon the results will be fascinating.
  6. i reckon your lot had balls fo steel mate!! the way you describe it , the choice is clear. Attack must have been the order of the day. What could have been done differently in order for the plan to succeed in your opinion swordman?
  7. One of the worst things that ever happened in those far off days, was the sniping at "Monty" from the armchairs of the MOD. Safely back in England. Monty with his squeaky voice, his total belief that he could beat any German General...And did...was not the easiest man to get on with. But when it comes to scheming how, and when of battle, he was a master. Even today, there are still those around that do not give him full credit for what he achieved.

    Monty proved his worth when all others fell by the wayside. For what ever reason, that is of no concern here. He never wasted men's lives if he could help, but when decisive action was needed, he did not hang back.

    Monty took Normandy ten days ahead of schedule, and in the process, inflicted the carnage of Falaise on his enemy. Anyone trying to understand the Victory in Normandy, and the Falaise pocket would have had to see it and experience the total bloody carnage, and utter destruction that he inflicted on his enemies, That is to to understand the implications of "Falaise"

    Now the purpose of the preceding sentence is to show the man that I see now. Though he was popular in 1944.
    So taking into consideration the quality of the man. What would you expect him to do?
    We had driven North, on a two pronged drive, We arrived at Nijmegen and on to the Island within two rivers. The only way forward into Northern Germany was across the Waal and Niederrhine (The shortest route)
    In this operation, we took the main part of Holland in one damn great big drive incorporating paras, infantry and armour

    Now after that long chase. Monty was faced with that final hurdle. He had already achieved a near miracle in getting to where he was.....Onto the Island in the North of Holland. In that drive 7 water crossings had
    to be secured (WW2 The Sappers War) all that he planned and executed he achieved with masterful flare.

    Having now painted a little word picture of the time.....Where now is what you asked, Well, to be honest the only other alternative was to go sideways... hardly the thing to do when you are aiming at the heart of Germany. To do that we would have had to go back the way we came to avoid the river. In the end that is precisely what we did, And ran into the carnage of Overloon and Venraij, (See Captain Edwards) memoirs.

    Third British Infantry Division "Monty's Ironsides" were now getting ready for a drive across the water, and into the Reichwald. The forest on the far bank. We all knew that what was to come would be a "Blood Bath" attacking through a dense forest against well prepared positions. So in answer to the query: Where else could he go but forward or sit on his hands.

    With the glittering prize that beckoned what else could he do.......In the round he took the great majority of his planned operation, it was only that final hurdle that failed...That begs the question. Does anyone think that the Germans are pushovers? Not me lads! Not me!

    Now having answered that question as best I can, let me ask you this. What would the World and history have said about Monty had he not grasped that Nettle, the outside chance of an early end to the war. Just imagine what history would say......
    I repeat what I said earlier, This is the view of a skinny, and sometimes very scared, but determined young Dorset Sapper.