Shortly after the invasion of Normandy and the liberation of Paris during World War II, Allied forces in Europe wanted to create an invasion route into northern Germany from the Netherlands. Operation Market Garden, meant to achieve that objective, kicked off 75 years ago, on Sept. 17, 1944.
At the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., Sept. 17, representatives of the Allied nations that participated in Operation Market Garden — including Canada, the Netherlands, Poland and the United Kingdom — participated in a commemoration of Operation Market Garden. Maj. Gen. Mark C. Schwartz, a special assistant in the Office of the Director of the Army Staff, discussed the Allied operation.
“They deployed airborne and armored forces with the sole objective to capture key bridges in the Netherlands that would open the routes across the Rhine River and into the Third Reich’s industrial complex at the time the Ruhr Valley,” Schwartz said.
As many as 20,000 Allied airborne soldiers participated in the operation, as did more than 3,600 Allied bombers, fighters and transport aircraft.
Schwartz said Operation Market Garden was actually two operations: Operation Market, and Operation Garden.
Operation Market was led by the British 1st Airborne Division, under the ultimate leadership of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, he said. Junior officers from the Canadian armed forces augmented the 1st British Airborne Division because of the many junior-officer casualties the British had suffered in the war up to that time, the general said.
Several thousand paratroopers and soldiers in gliders from the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division and 82nd Airborne Division, along with Poland’s 1st Independent Parachute Brigade, participated in the operation.
“They conducted their airborne infiltration more than 60 miles behind enemy lines without any support,” Schwartz said, enabled by the Dutch resistance, who played a key role in the intelligence preparation and the actual execution of Operation Market Garden.
The paratroopers captured several key points in the Netherlands, including those in Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem, to allow for the eventual advance of the 30th British Corps during the follow-on operation, code-named “Operation Garden.”
Schwartz said British armor and mechanized forces were to link up with the paratroopers and push through across the Rhine River.
“Despite early successes, there was a lack of understanding and appreciation for the two Panzer Divisions that were actually garrisoned and arrayed around these key bridge crossings,” Schwartz said. “With the combination of bad weather that slowed reinforcements to include the deployment of the Polish Airborne Brigade, the hold on the corridor and the key bridge crossings weakened.”
Ultimately, Schwartz said, Allied forces had to withdraw. They suffered as many as 13,000 casualties.
“This was a very bold operation, but it ultimately did fail, leaving the Allies to find another way through Germany’s western defenses — the Siegfried Line, as it is well known,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz said that even after 75 years, it’s still important to remember the sacrifices of past service members and their battles.
“We can’t ever forget the sacrifices and the leadership that was demonstrated by those that have served before us,” Schwartz said, adding that Americans and service members of today must “take time to reflect on the sacrifices, the leadership and the service of those that have come before us.”
“They are a great example of what Americans should strive to be with every generation that has come forward from the greatest generation of World War II,” he said.