The Bridge too far? The Sappers War?

I post this as a serious discussion, put forward by an elderly, (But still handsome) Ahem ! old Sapper.

This is the subject up for grabs. It would be interesting to hear the modern day Sappers views on this much talked about operation? Here we go then:

The Market Garden Operation. BLOODY ARNHEM.

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 he 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 airpower.

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 was there some other way that could have been tried?Or would you chicken out?

So Modern day Sappers "of all ranks"
What do you think?
Of course it was worth the effort. The prize was enormous and the plan was a bold one. Even Bradley was surprised at the imagination and boldness displayed by Montgomery in proposing such an Operation. The Airborne had been training back in UK and were desperate for action after so many cancelled missions caused by the speed of the Allied advance.

Mistakes were made of course and Monty excepted the blame himself for the DZs of !st Ab Div being too far away from the objective. This, coupled with Eisenhower failing to allocate suffiscient priority to logistical support to 2nd Army at the expense of Patton's 3rd Army, made for a difficult mission from the outset.

The difficulty of fighting a Corps along a narrow causeway was also undersetimated by Horrocks who excepts the blame for failing to have a Dutch LO in his HQ to advise on the terrain. The slowness of 30 Corps in their advance to Arnhem is often cited by airborne veterans (Frost among them) as the reason why the last bridge was not relieved. A reluctance to take casualties at such a late stage of the war with victory in sight is understandable from a Corps which had been fighting in North Africa, Italy and Normandy almost constantly. An entirely different result may well have been achieved had Patton's 3rd Army been employed with its fresher troops and more cavalier approach. That I believe is the feeling among many Americans.
Point taken. But that begs the question: What had Patton done in the way of actual battle that would made his intervention more worthy than what we had already.

After all, he had precious little battle practice, roaming the French Countryside uttely devoid of the enemy.

This insistance that the rescue column could have got there faster, is down largely to the film "a bridge too far" Those that were there, and took part, battled away to get there, I know we did.

Still there is a lot to be said for the more GUNG HO attitude of the Americans, always accepting that their way of war is going to take out many of their own men.
Hi Sappers of all ranks. What I write here is entirely my own opinion. Much of it based on my own experience. I know that there are some that will challenge what is written here, that’s fine. But I do feel that someone has to defend the British Army from the celluloid versions. I welcome the views of the interested.
The piece I posted about the "Bridge too Far" was really a critic of the British ideas of Arnhem, who for some reason, maybe due to the film? Have always looked on that operation as being "Foolish" and a waste of lives. The critics have said, we knew about the armour there, so why go? Why we went was the Golden prize of the whole of Northern Germany in our hands, and the war over. Was that a risk worth taking? Too bloody right it was. Was it worth the casualties for that one chance when the door was afar? Of Course.
War is not won by being timid, it is won by those willing to take a calculated risk. Monty? Was he right to go ahead with Arnhem? Certainly. How could he do otherwise.
It has also been suggested that we were caring too much about the casualty rates. That is utter rubbish ! The fighting I saw, was probably fiercer than at any time in the battles of North West Europe. To even hint that the men did not give their absolute utmost, is to insult those that paid the price. We strove might and main to get there. We went without proper food and the supplies that an army needs in the dash. We lived on what we could get as the supply lines were cut. Anyone that queries that statement? Should read the Escaut Canal operation.
Those involved in that operation went for it "hell for leather" I think that film, like so many other celluloid creations, did the British army a huge disservice. Why? Well for some reason the British are always willing to shout down their own people. Stupid? of course it is. But typical. Look at any newspaper, any day of the week and somewhere they are tearing someone apart.
The reason why we never got there in time was due to one thing. It is something that the press and media never ever mention. What was it that held us up?

Well it may come as a surprise to learn that reason was “The Enemy” When the operation is looked at, and we were accused of slow going, it is forgotten that the enemy were still there, and if anyone thinks the German army and the SS in particular are going to roll over, belly up, is living in “Cloud Cuckoo Land”
Should anyone have any doubt as to that statement, or wish to pick holes in it, should remember what happened later with the Battle of the Bulge!

Films and Documentaries have created myths and fables that are, after a deluge of films, are now taken as the real history and legends of the battles of 1944.
Much of it is coloured and fashioned to produce profit for the film producer. What has that to do with the truth? For it certainly tainted the reputation of the British Army. In my humble opinion, unjustly so.

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