A Magnificent Disaster: The Failure of the Market Garden, the Arnhem Operation, September 1944 by David Bennett

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A Magnificent Disaster: The Failure of the Market Garden, the Arnhem Operation, September 1944 by David Bennett

Category: History
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Bennett's reanalysis of Market Garden and rehabilitation of Major General Sosabowski is a boon for those with specialist interest in the subject. Immaculately researched but densely packed, it makes heavy weather for the general reader.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 352 Date: May 2011
Publisher: Casemate
ISBN: 978-1935149897

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Operation Market Garden, September 1944 is encapsulated for most people in the Hollywood movie "A Bridge Too Far" which, like most movies, gets some of it right and some of it wrong.

Such anyway is Bennett's assessment. So what is the true story of what one Major Norton called a magnificent disaster, perhaps consciously echoing that judgement on the charge of the Light Brigade in a far earlier conflict "C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre"?

For those not acquainted with the history, the Operation was the largest airborne operation in the history of warfare. Its objective was to gain a bridgehead over the Rhine and so secure the advance on the German-held industrial base of the Ruhr valley. The British 1st Airborne division was to capture the Rhine bridge at Arnhem while the Americans (82nd and 101st Airborne) were to take the river and canal crossings around Eindhoven, the Waal crossing at Nijmegen and the Maas at Grave.

Given the complexity of the operation it is perhaps more astonishing that it was even tried, than that it failed. Yet it could actually have worked, despite the plan being pulled together in less than a week and the, shall we say, "forceful" personalities involved.

With the German army now in retreat the Allies somewhat unexpectedly found themselves faced with the tactical need for rapid pursuit, but were hindered by the logistics of supply from fully grasping the opportunity. The press at home is increasingly optimistic of a victory shortly at hand, Eisenhower still cautious in August is also getting caught up in the mood by September. Churchill remained ever skeptical, expressing the thought that the war was as likely to carry on into the new year as not.

Hitler, for his part, had no such doubts. He was in it to the end. And (like it or not so where his troops). Surrender was a heresy that would not be spoken of, except by those tired altogether of living.

One of the first mistakes of Market Garden was to assume that the Germans remaining in Holland by this stage were not going to make a real fight of it. They did.

The second error was in selecting the commanders. Montgomery and Brereton knew nothing of airborne operations and the third, Browning, though one of the pioneers was not truly battle hardened. Lower ranked officers, with the real experience, advised repeatedly against proposals and suggested more workable options. They were repeatedly ignored.

Worse, after the disaster had transpired, the British managed to pass the blame to the most able man in the field, the Polish commander, Major General Sosabowski. Bennett's re-assessment of events is dedicated to Sosabowksi as one (along with Leading Seaman Herbert Bennett and Berliner and human rights activist Willi Derkow) of "three good men" and "the bravest of them all".

In somewhat dense prose Bennett takes us through the details of the planning, the launches and landings, the battles, the endeavours to win crossings and gain a few hundred metres of headway. He follows the operation from conception to complete abandonment. Writing at this distance in time he clearly has greater access to official records than author Cornelius Ryan did (A Bridge Too Far) had decades earlier. He has clearly been assiduous in checking out both sides of the story.

This is to the benefit of historians and those with a specific interest in military strategy. The wealth of detail is exceptional. For the more general reader, however, it is the book's downfall. Without the appropriate mental capacity for handling military strategy and keeping the maps, cast of characters, the jargon and the latest developments in my head I simply kept losing the plot.

If ever a book clearly demonstrated why characters get conflated for the film versions this is it.

A typical passage reads As soon as Hackett landed in the second lift, Mackenzie told him that Hicks was now in command of the 11th Parachute Battalion which was to drive towards the bridge. Hackett was angry at both of these prescriptions and demanded that another battalion be transferred to the command of the Fourth Parachute Brigade. He later got control of the KOSB. Hackett was told to report to Hicks' HQ s soon as practicable. He spent the next few hours trying to extricate 10th Parachute Battalion form the northern reaches of DZ-Y a move 156th Battalion toward Arnhem. The 10th Battalion had virtually destroyed the SS Wach Battalion in the combat on the DZ and was replaced by the Sicherheit (Security) Regiment Knocke. The 156th began its move at 1700 hrs, the same time that Hicks was pulling back the Borderers, hard pressed in von Tettau's attack, east toward Arnhem and a more constricted perimeter. The far positions in Renkum had been lost.

Me too, to be honest.

Of course, the book isn't aimed at the general reader. It is intended to be a detailed account of a specific series of events and to exonerate those who have been unjustly vilified on a false accounting of their part in them. On those levels it undoubtedly succeeds. For those keeping up with events in general the tone is leavened by personal reminiscences from the troops involved, but it is the upon the decision-making that Bennett rightly places his focus, since it was the key failure of commanders to listen to intelligence and adjust their positions accordingly that ultimately determined the fate of Market Garden.

Further reading suggestion For more tales from the front line in World War 2 try Inferno: The Devastation of Hamburg, 1943 by Keith Lowe or The Burma Campaign: Disaster into Triumph 1942-45 by Frank McLynn

Buy A Magnificent Disaster: The Failure of the Market Garden, the Arnhem Operation, September 1944 by David Bennett at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Magnificent Disaster: The Failure of the Market Garden, the Arnhem Operation, September 1944 by David Bennett at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy A Magnificent Disaster: The Failure of the Market Garden, the Arnhem Operation, September 1944 by David Bennett at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Magnificent Disaster: The Failure of the Market Garden, the Arnhem Operation, September 1944 by David Bennett at Amazon.com.


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