Another year, another sonorously-titled masterwork from the most feted military historian of our time. Here he takes on the Allied forces’ 1944 dart into the Netherlands, an airborne operation championed by Field Marshal Montgomery, Britain’s most senior commander, which aimed to take the lower Rhine and thrust Hitler’s army back on its heels. It was a daring, bold plan—and it was also a disaster. Beevor puts the blame for that failure squarely on Monty’s shoulders.
The irascible Field Marshal was desperate for a big success, and Operation Market Garden, as it came to be known, was intended to secure Monty’s authority among the Allied top brass. He wanted command over all Allied forces in Western Europe, including the Americans. But US officers hated the idea of taking orders from the Brit and that antagonism drove Montgomery in search of the success that would give him unquestioned authority. But the planning was flawed. The supply routes were impassible and the Germans were ready for a fight. Communications collapsed and the most important advantage—surprise—was lost.
The result was a horrific loss of life, as thousands of British, US and Polish troops became bogged down in savage fighting, before being forced into desperate retreat. As Dutch civilians suffered under a punishment famine, enforced by the Germans for their support of the invading forces, Allied commanders disgracefully tried to blame the failure of Operation Market Garden on a Polish general, claiming he’d held his men back from the fight.
Beevor is clear this is nonsense. Much of the story will be familiar from the film A Bridge Too Far—does the story really need to be retold? Beevor is such a good writer, with a gift for clarity and a knack for the telling personal portrait, that the answer is undoubtedly yes.
Arnhem: The Battle for the Bridges, 1944
by Antony Beevor (Viking, £25)