Montgomery conceived this daring plan in the full flush of victory. During the first week of September 1944, Allied intelligence reports painted a picture of a German army in rout that had lost all semblance of cohesion. In light of these reports and having been granted operational control of the newly formed First Allied Airborne Army as well as the U.S. First Army, Montgomery broke with his usual cautious battlefield demeanor and hastily devised market-garden.
The plan called for the establishment of an airborne corridor ( market) that would run in a northeasterly direction and comprise, from south to north, Major General Maxwell D. Taylor's U.S. 101st Airborne Division, dropping near Eindhoven, Holland; Brigadier General James Gavin's U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, dropping near Nijmegen, Holland; and Major General Robert "Roy" Urquhart's British 1st Airborne Division, reinforced by Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski's Polish 1st Parachute Brigade, dropping outside Arnhem. All airborne forces were to be under the command of British I Airborne Corps commander Lieutenant General Frederick "Boy" Browning.
Lieutenant General Brian G. Horrocks, British XXX Corps commander, led the ground ( garden) component and was expected to pass approximately 20,000 vehicles over bridges seized by the 101st and 82nd Divisions and get to Arnhem within 60 hours. Prior to the operation, Montgomery's army group had taken Antwerp but had failed to secure the islands commanding the Scheldt Estuary to the west. This oversight not only negated use of the port at Antwerp but also allowed the Germans to evacuate elements of nine divisions, totaling over 65,000 men, before they could be cut off and destroyed.
Meanwhile, Hitler had appointed General Kurt Student to form the First Parachute Army from these withdrawing German forces, with the mission of stopping any further Allied advance. Student's force was subordinated to Field Marshal Walther Model's Army Group B. Model, meanwhile, also had at his disposal SS-Gruppenführer Wilhelm Bittrich's II SS Panzer Corps, comprising the 9th SS and 10th SS Panzer Divisions. Unknown to the Allies, these panzer divisions were refitting in the vicinity of Arnhem.
Operation market-garden began with the simultaneous drop of elements of the 101st, 82nd, and British 1st Airborne Divisions in their respective areas during daylight on 17 September. Shortly thereafter, Horrocks's XXX Corps jumped off from its line of departure, the Albert Canal, driving northward toward Arnhem. Although taken by complete surprise, the Germans reacted quickly. They used the restrictive terrain to their advantage, slowing the Allied armor thrust while denying to the airborne elements the swift capture of their respective assault objectives. The Germans were aided by having secured the entire Allied operational plan, carried in defiance of orders by an officer who was killed in the crash of his glider.
Although both the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions encountered unexpected resistance, they were able to secure the bridges in their areas by 18 September, with the exception of two: the railroad and highway bridges over the Waal at Nijmegen. Meanwhile, XXX Corps had fought through tough German resistance to link up with the 82nd by the morning of 19 September. On the next day, however, the 3rd Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment conducted a daylight river crossing and secured the two Waal bridges, opening the way for XXX Corps to continue its advance to Arnhem. Unfortunately for the Allies, elements of Bittrich's II SS Panzer Corps had taken up defensive positions between Nijmegen and Arnhem and blocked any further advance by XXX Corps.
At Arnhem, Urquhart's paratroopers and glidermen landed more than 8 miles from their primary objective, a highway bridge over the lower Rhine in the heart of the city. They succeeded in getting only one battalion, Lieutenant Colonel John D. Frost's 2nd Parachute Battalion, to the northern terminus of the bridge. The two SS panzer divisions in the city, reinforced by hundreds of German soldiers garrisoned throughout the area, were able to cut off Frost's battalion from the rest of the lightly armed parachute division to the west, as well as from relief from the south. Holding out for three days and four nights, Frost's men were finally overrun as the result of an all-out armor-infantry assault on their positions. The remainder of Urquhart's division, surrounded in the suburb of Oosterbeek to the west, was finally withdrawn to the south of the lower Rhine on 26 September, bringing the operation to a close.
During market-garden, the Allies dropped more than 20,000 paratroopers; landed more than 13,500 glidermen; and air-delivered some 5,200 tons of equipment, 1,900 vehicles, and 560 guns. They were hampered for several days by cloud cover in England, which forced the postponement of follow-on drops, including Sosabowski's Polish paratroopers, leaving the British paratroopers at Arnhem especially short of water, ammunition, and needed reinforcements. British airborne casualties numbered more than 7,200 men, and the 82nd and 101st lost some 1,400 and 2,100, respectively. Horrocks's XXX Corps sustained 1,400 casualties. There is no listing of German casualties throughout the battle area, though they suffered more than 3,000 in Arnhem alone. Guy A. Lofaro
Blair, Clay. Ridgway's Paratroopers: The American Airborne in World War II. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985.; Kershaw, Robert J. "It Never Snows in September": The German View of
Guy A. Lofaro