Operation MARKET-GARDEN

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Chapter 19

The Decision To Launch Operation MARKET-GARDEN

by Charles B. MacDonald

(See end of file for information on author.)

Was the decision to launch the largest airborne attack of World War II right or wrong?

It was the decision of a theater commander to commit what was, in effect, his strategic reserve. It was a decision to reinforce one success among a number of successes that had been achieved.

The commander was General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in the invasion of Europe during World War II. The operation was an airborne attack deep in the enemy's rear areas to be launched in mid-September 1944 in conjunction with a ground attack by the British Second Army. The two attacks were known collectively as Operation MARKET-GARDEN. [1]

The airborne attack was designed to lay a carpet of airborne troops along a narrow corridor extending approximately eighty miles into Holland from Eindhoven northward to Arnhem. (See Map 9; and Map VIII, inside back cover.) The airborne troops were to secure bridges across a number of canals as well as across three major water barriers-the Maas, the Waal (the main downstream branch of the

[1] This operation is covered in detail in Charles B. MacDonald, The 

Siegfried Line Campaign, a forthcoming volume in UNITED STATES ARMY IN 

WORLD WAR II. See also, Forrest C. Pogue, The Supreme Command 

(Washington, 1954), in the same series; Chester Wilmot, The Struggle for 

Europe (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1952); Dwight D. Eisenhower, 

Crusade in Europe (New York: Doubleday, 1948); and Field Marshal 

Viscount Montgomery, Normandy to the Baltic (New York and London: 

Hutchinson & Co., Ltd., 1947).

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Rhine), and the Neder Rijn (Lower Rhine) Rivers. Through this corridor were to pass British ground troops in a push beyond Arnhem to the IJsselmeer (Zuider Zee). The principal objective of the operation was to get Allied troops across the Rhine. Three main advantages were expected to accrue: cutting the land exit of those Germans remaining in western Holland; outflanking the enemy's frontier defenses, the West Wall or Siegfried Line; and positioning British ground forces for a subsequent drive into Germany along the North German plain.

In retrospect, General Eisenhower's decision can be analyzed by means of three questions:

(1) Was an airborne attack of any kind to exploit success advisable at the time?

(2) Was General Eisenhower justified in delaying opening the port of Antwerp while the airborne attack took place?

(3) If an airborne assault was advisable, why Operation MARKET instead of some other airborne attack?

Consideration of the first question involves recalling the aura of optimism which pervaded Allied ranks in September 1944. These were the glorious days, the halcyon days of pursuit. The heartbreak of near stalemate among the hedgerows of Normandy, which had followed close on the Allied cross-Channel invasion of France, was past, an event belonging, it seemed, to yesteryear when the war still had to be won. In the place of heartbreak had come heady optimism. Having crossed the Seine, Allied commanders had raised their sights, not to the next obstacle, the West Wall, but beyond the West Wall to the Rhine itself. [2] No less an authority than the G-2 at Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), had put the matter this way: "The August battles have done it and the enemy in the West has had it. Two and a half months of bitter fighting have brought the end of the war in Europe within sight, almost within reach." [3]

More specifically, the 21 Army Group, composed of British and Canadian troops, had dashed more than 250 miles since the breakout in Normandy. The lowlands of Flanders and the V-bomb launching sites in the Pas-de-Calais were behind. Brussels had fallen. A rapid armored thrust had taken Antwerp. As the day of the decision to launch Operation MARKET approached, the British reached the Dutch-Belgian frontier.

[2] These events are covered in Martin Blumenson, Breakout and Pursuit, 

a forthcoming volume in UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II. For the 

cross-Channel invasion, see Gordon A. Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack 

(Washington, 1951), in the same series.

[3] SHAEF Weekly Intelligence Summary 23, 26 Aug 44, in SHAEF G-2 files.

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[Map 9]

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The First U.S. Army had raced across Belgium and Luxembourg to the very gates of Germany. The Third U.S. Army had reached and crossed the Moselle River in northeastern France. The newly created Ninth U.S. Army was operational in Brittany and engaged in besieging the port of Brest. The 6th Army Group, arriving from southern France, was at the point of uniting with the Third Army to create a unified Western Front that would stretch from Antwerp to Switzerland.

There was one cloud in this bright blue sky. Those who looked carefully at the scene of intertwined Allied success and German chaos could see that the Allies had their own private chaos in the field of logistics. [4] For logistical purposes, the invasion of Europe had been geared to a methodical advance. Yet Allied moves from the beaches to the Seine had been erratic, culminating in an explosive dash that secured the line of the Seine eleven days ahead of schedule and neared the German border on D plus 96 as against a predicted date of about D plus 300. The supply services could not keep up with this advance. The difficulty at first was not a lack of sufficient supplies on the Continent, for the build-up of supplies in Normandy had exceeded expectations. The difficulty was transport. With depots far behind the front and the continental railway system crippled by Allied bombing and German destruction, the logisticians did not have the means of getting the supplies to the armies, which in some instances were 500 miles away. The situation spawned many supply problems, the most dramatic being a gasoline drought which immobilized the Third Army for five days at the Meuse River and a corps of the First Army for four days at the Belgian frontier. [5] A corps of the British Second Army was held for about two weeks west of the Seine so that its vehicles could augment the transport of the remainder of the army. [6]

It was obvious that a solution of the transportation problem could not be found until ports nearer the fighting front were secured. As consumption of supplies mounted and as prospects of approaching winter and bad weather threatened the unprotected Norman beaches, where the bulk of supplies was still arriving, the question of ports assumed increasing importance. As General Eisenhower put it on 13 September: "Our port position today is such that any stretch of a

[4] The logistical story is covered in Roland G. Ruppenthal, Logistical 

Support of the Armies, Volume I, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II 

(Washington, 1953) and Volume II (Washington, 1959). See above, 18, 

"Logistics and the Broad-Front Strategy," by the same author.

[5] George S. Patton, Jr., War as I Knew It (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 

1947) pp. 114, 117, 132; First Army After Action Report, Sep 44.

[6] Montgomery, Normandy to the Baltic, p. 214.

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week or ten days of bad Channel weather-a condition that grows increasingly probable with the receding summer-would paralyze our activities and make the maintenance of our forces even in defensive roles exceedingly difficult." [7]

In early September the Allies were using only Cherbourg, though they hoped soon to open a badly damaged Le Havre. Antwerp, captured virtually intact, could not be utilized until the Germans were cleared from the banks of the Schelde estuary, a sixty-mile long waterway connecting Antwerp with the sea.

General Eisenhower and his tactical commanders were not unaware of the logistical problems. But the tactical opportunities that lay before them were irresistible. If the Supreme Commander thought in terms of immediate objectives-like destroying enemy reserves in the Pas-de-Calais-his subordinates accepted no such mental discipline. As early as the latter part of August, the army groups and the armies were issuing operational orders couched in terms of the cities along the Rhine River-Mannheim, Darmstadt, Frankfurt, Koblenz. "It is contemplated," noted the 12th Army Group on 27 August, "that the Armies will go as far as practicable and then wait until the supply system in rear will permit further advance." Yet the operational orders made clear that the 12th Army Group hoped that "as far as practicable" meant the Rhine. [8]

The Americans by 10 September were no more than forty miles from the Rhine, the British no more than sixty. Yet the Allied war machine was showing signs of creaking to a halt because of logistical weakness. Should the Allies stop for repairs, or should they try to get across the last big ditch-the Rhine River-that separated them from quick and apparently certain victory?

Paved with opportunity, the road taken by the Allies in late August and early September had not been without rough spots that assumed the form of controversy. Basically, these were the conflicts of opinion over the much discussed theories of what have come to be called the broad-front strategy and the one-thrust concept. The aptness of General Eisenhower's decision-in effect a compromise between the two-is of concern here only insofar as it affected the alignment of the Allied forces at the time of Operation MARKET.

During the preinvasion planning, four routes leading from northern

[7] Eisenhower to Montgomery, 13 Sep 44, in SHAEF Secretary of the 

General Staff (SGS) File 381, Vol. I.

[8] 12th A Gp Administrative Instructions 13, 27 Aug; Ltr of Instr 8, 10 

Sep. Memo. Future Operations, 25 Aug; Ltr of Instr 6, 25 Aug; see also 

Ltrs, Bradley to Eisenhower. 26 Aug, and Eisenhower to Bradley, 29 Aug, 

all in 12th A Gp Military Objectives File 271.3, Vol. I

[9] For a detailed discussion, see Pogue, Supreme Command, pp. 261ff.

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France toward the objective of the Ruhr industrial area had been considered: (1) through the flatlands and Flanders, crisscrossed by waterways; (2) northeast via Liege and Aachen along the northern edge of the Ardennes; (3) across the Ardennes via Metz, the Saar, and Frankfurt. Terrain considerations having largely eliminated two of the routes, General Eisenhower had determined to advance Field Marshal Sir Bernard L. Montgomery's 21 Army Group (British and Canadian armies) along the route north of the Ardennes, Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley's 12th Army Group (American armies) south of the Ardennes. The main effort was to be vested in the former. Eisenhower allotted Montgomery the airborne forces available in the theater. [10]

As the pursuit toward the German border during late August and early September gathered momentum, Montgomery called for additional assistance. He wanted the entire American army to move along his right flank north of the Ardennes. Though Bradley thought a corps would be sufficient and though Eisenhower believed Montgomery was being overcautious, the Supreme Commander was inclined to favor Montgomery's request. Eisenhower was particularly anxious to attain the objectives that lay to the north. Montgomery might trap the remaining German reserves in the Pas-de-Calais; he would secure the Channel ports as far as Antwerp; and he would eliminate the flying bomb launching sites in the Pas-de-Calais. Acceding to Montgomery's request, Eisenhower directed the First U.S. Army to advance alongside the British north of the Ardennes. At the same time, Eisenhower emphasized his desire to gain the objectives in the north by reaffirming his earlier decision to put the airborne forces in the theater at Montgomery's disposal. [11]

The change in plans-shifting the First Army to the right of the northern force-placed that army along what has been considered the best route into Germany, the route via Liege and Aachen. The British and the Canadians, the latter scheduled to invest the Channel ports, were to push directly through Flanders, a region earlier ruled out for major advance by the planners because of its many water barriers. This divergence from plan affected Operation MARKET, for, as it turned out, the main Allied effort did not go through the Aachen Gap, the route recommended by the planners, by through

[10] SHAEF Planning Drafts, 3 and 30 May 44, in SHAEF SGS File 381,I: 

Eisenhower to Marshall, 22 Aug 44, in SHAEF Cable Logs; Ltr, Eisenhower 

to Montgomery, 24 Aug 44, in SHAEF SGS File 381, I; Eisenhower to 

Marshall, 5 Sep 44, copy in OCMH files; see also Eisenhower, Crusade in 

Europe, p. 345.

[11] Eisenhower correspondence cited n. 10.

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the canal-creased lowlands of Holland, virtually the same type of terrain as in Flanders, rejected as a main route of advance.

The airborne forces General Eisenhower allotted to the 21 Army Group were organized under the newly created headquarters of the First Allied Airborne Army. Commanded by Lt. Gen. Lewis H. Brereton, the headquarters controlled two British and three American airborne divisions, a Polish parachute brigade, the American troop carrier command, and two British troop carrier groups. [12]

One of the principal reasons underlying the creation of the First Allied Airborne Army was the insistence by the U.S. War Department on greater strategic use of airborne troops. From February 1944 Generals George C. Marshall, U.S. Chief of Staff, and Henry H. Arnold, commander of the Army Air Forces, had let General Eisenhower know unmistakably that they attached great importance to the employment of airborne units in actual operations deep in enemy territory. [13]

As had been contemplated, creation of the airborne army facilitated planning for airborne operations. The first plan was tentatively scheduled for execution on 20 August but was canceled, presumably because of concern over supply to the ground forces, since supplies were being delivered by aircraft that would have to transport the airborne troops, and because the ground troops would soon overrun the target area of the airborne forces. Even as the first plan withered, alternative plans were under consideration. By early September when American patrols approached the German border, eighteen separate airborne plans had been considered. Five had reached the stage of detailed planning; three had progressed almost to the point of launching; but none had matured. In most cases, the cancellations had been prompted by recognition that the fast-moving ground troops would overrun the objectives before an airborne force could land. [14]

The fact was that the paratroopers and glidermen resting and training in England had in effect become coins burning holes in SHAEF's pocket. That is not to say that SHAEF intended to spend

[12] For details of the formation of the First Allied Airborne Army, see 

James A. Huston, Airborne Operations, MS in OCMH files.

[13] Pogue, Supreme Command, pp. 119, 269-71, 279ff.

[14] The fledgling plans had embraced a variety of objectives, among 

them the city of Boulogne,; the city of Tournai, with the aim of 

blocking German retreat from the Channel coast; the vicinity of Liege, 

in order to get First Army across the Meuse River; the Aachen-Maastricht 

Gap, to facilitate Allied passage through the West Wall; and Operation 

COMET, to put British forces across the Lower Rhine. See Hq, First 

Allied Airborne Army (FAAA) History of Headquarters First Allied 

Airborne Army, 2 Aug 44-20 May 45; see also John C. Warren, Airborne 

Operations in World War II, European Theater, USAF Historical Studies: 

No. 97, USAF Historical Division, 1956, pp. 80, 88-100; see also, 

Houston MS.

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the airborne troops in a wild or extravagant fashion. Rather, SHAEF had decided to buy an airborne product and was shopping around. The impetus to buy did not come from General Eisenhower alone. As late as August, General Arnold had again voiced his desire for an airborne operation that would have strategic implications. The War Department obviously wanted to see what airborne troops could do in actual combat; pursuit warfare, many believed, provided an excellent opportunity for their use.

Not everyone advocated this approach at this particular time. General Arnold wanted the airborne army used because he felt that missions of troop carrier planes were not "comparing at all favorably with combat plane missions (other than supply and training).... [15] But some commanders, notably General Bradley, believed that this was as it should be. Impressed by the success his ground troops were achieving, Bradley wanted continued use of the aircraft to supply his ground columns. [16]

The most notable example of General Bradley's antipathy to an airborne operation occurred at Tournai. Though this city lay outside his 12th Army Group sector and inside the British zone, Bradley ensured its capture before an airdrop could be staged by ordering the First Army to rush ahead and take it. The ground troops arrived in good time to make an airborne operation there unnecessary. But Bradley had nevertheless lost a measure of air supply because the troop carrier planes had been withdrawn from supply missions to prepare for the drop. "Although we had made good on our boast and Ike's air drop was washed out," General Bradley later wrote, "even our smugness could not compensate for the critical loss we had suffered in tonnage.... During the six-day stoppage that had resulted from SHAEF's planned drop at Tournai, we lost an average of 823 tons per day. In gasoline, this loss would have equaled one and a half million gallons...." [17]

Whether General Bradley's armies could have gone considerably farther than they did had air supply not again been halted by Operation MARKET is a matter of conjecture. It should be noted that the halt of both the First and the Third Armies in mid-September cannot be attributed specifically to the lack of everyday supplies that airlift might have provided. The halts were due more to a combination of many causes, among them the rugged terrain along the German frontier, the presence of the West Wall, the exhaustion of American com-

[15] Quoted in Pogue, Supreme Command, p. 279.

[16] Omar N. Bradley, A Solder's Story (New York: Henry Holt and 

Company, 1951), pp. 401-03.

[17] Ibid, p. 403.

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bat units, the worn-out condition of their equipment, the rebirth of German strength, and, it has been argued, the thinly spread formation in which American troops approached the German frontier.

In any plan for an airborne operation the matter of weather was important. For Operation MARKET, the planners before the attack were fairly optimistic on this point. One of the field orders noted that the weather in the region was "very unreliable and subject to rapid change," but that conditions were supposed to be at their best during summer and early autumn. Yet the First Allied Airborne Army after the event admitted that though the weather had been poor during the operation, it had been no worse than could have been expected. [18] It is hard to say which view General Eisenhower had before him at the time of his decision.

Along with the question whether an airborne attack of any kind was called for should be considered also the matter of Allied intelligence. Accurate or not, the intelligence estimates current when General Eisenhower decided to approve Operation MARKET were the only basis available to the Supreme Commander for evaluating the enemy. These were the times when the First Army G-2 was predicting the possibility of German political upheaval within thirty to sixty days. [19] Some intelligence officers, notably the Third Army G-2, expressed more caution. [20] But SHAEF's estimate of the situation a week before the airborne attack was fairly typical of the optimistic Allied point of view. [21]

According to this estimate, the SHAEF intelligence chief believed that the enemy force available to defend the entire West Wall was no greater than eleven infantry and four armored divisions at full strength. As for reinforcements, an estimate believed to be unduly generous noted that a "speculative dozen" divisions might "struggle up" in the course of the month. It was considered "most unlikely that more than the true equivalent of four panzer grenadier divisions with 600 tanks" would be found. The G-2 declared flatly: "The West Wall cannot be held with this amount...." [22] Four days before the attack the headquarters of the British Airborne Corps noted that the enemy's total armored strength in the Netherlands and vicinity

[18] FAAA, Operations in Holland; see also The Climate of the Rhine 

Valley, Germany, in XIX Corps After Action Report (AAR), Oct 44, and The 

Climate of Central and Western Germany, Annex I to First U.S. Army 

(FUSA) G-2 Periodic Report 92 10 Sep 44, in FUSA G-2 Files.

[19] FUSA G-2 Estimate 24, 3 Sep 44, in FUSA Operations Reports.

[20] See, for example, Third U.S. Army (TUSA) G-2 Estimate 9, 28 Aug 44, 

in TUSA AAR, Vol. II.

[21] SHAEF Weekly Intelligence Summary 26, week ending 16 Sep 44, in 

SHAEF G-2 File.

[22] Ibid.

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amounted to not more than fifty to a hundred tanks. [23] The only warning sounded before the operation was that two SS panzer divisions might be refitting near Arnhem. [24] This turned out to be true, but the warning had come too late to affect Eisenhower's decision.

Thus, in considering the question whether an airborne attack of any kind was justified at the time of Operation MARKET, points for and against emerge. Most significantly, the tactical picture, from the Allied outlook and from intelligence estimates, was receptive to an exploitation maneuver. Also, demands for an airborne operation were great; the troops were at hand and military leaders, on the high echelons of command as well as in the field, wanted to see them used. On the other side, antipathy to an airborne operation did exist on the part of at least one army group commander who did not want the troop carrier aircraft diverted from supply missions to ground forces. Also, since the airborne troops would support the 21 Army Group, they would not be employed to reinforce the attack along the axis that the Allied planners had deemed most advantageous for entrance into Germany.

The second question-was General Eisenhower justified in delaying the opening of the port of Antwerp in favor of the airborne attack?-is pertinent because British ground troops would be tied up in Operation MARKET'S companion piece, Operation GARDEN. Thus, to authorize the airborne attack was to give tacit approval to delay at Antwerp. [25]

The principal factor in this discussion was the preoccupation of Allied commanders with the Rhine River. General Montgomery's main objective was "to 'bounce' a crossing over the Rhine with the utmost speed." Some of the Allied preoccupation was based on a natural desire to gain and cross this formidable historic water barrier before the Germans could recoup behind it. Also, the Rhine was virtually synonymous with what the Supreme Commander considered his primary objective-the Ruhr industrial area. Anything short of the Ruhr-and thus by inference the Rhine-was in effect an intermediate objective, even secondary. "The envelopment of the Ruhr from the north by 21st Army Group, supported by 1st Army," General Eisenhower said, even after the success of Operation MARKET was in doubt, "is the main effort of the present phase of operations." [26]

[23] Hq Air Troops Operational Instruction 1, 13 Sep 44, in 1st Airborne 

Division AAR on Operation MARKET, Parts 1-3, SHAEF FAAA.

[24] Intelligence Summary 26 cited n. 21.

[25] Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur W. Tedder's Notes on Eisenhower-

Montgomery Meeting at Brussels, 10 Sep 44, copy in OCMH files; see 

Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, pp. 306-07.

[26] Ltr, Eisenhower to Montgomery, 20 Sep 44, copy in OCMH files; 

Montgomery, Normandy to the Baltic, pp. 196, 213.

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It would be quoting out of context not to mention that almost every time General Eisenhower made this stipulation about the Ruhr, which he did on several occasions, he added that "on the way" the Allies wanted Antwerp "as a matter of urgency." [27] Nevertheless, in the Supreme Commander's words, written after the war, "The attractive possibility of quickly turning the German north flank [that is, of getting across the Rhine] led me to approve the temporary delay in freeing the vital port of Antwerp...." [28]

It should also be noted that General Eisenhower's concern about the port situation during the pursuit appears to date only from 10 September, the day he agreed to delay on Antwerp. The Supreme Commander had made little written comment about the port situation up to that time, but the failure to secure hoped-for usable ports was only then becoming marked. Little more than a week before 10 September, the possibility still existed of using the Brittany ports, in particular Brest and Quiberon Bay. Because the entire 12th Army Group was scheduled at that time to advance south of the Ardennes, these ports would still have been valuable. The Channel ports, except for Antwerp, were likely to be open to shipping in the near future. And in any event, the invasion beaches and Cherbourg were operating efficiently. A minor delay in opening Antwerp, it seemed, could well be countenanced.

This is not to try in any way to minimize the importance of Antwerp to the eventual Allied victory. Even before the invasion Allied planners had noted that "until after the development of Antwerp, the availability of port capacity will ... limit the forces which can be maintained." [29] Getting Antwerp was one of the main reasons why Eisenhower had strengthened Montgomery's northern thrust. With the possible exception of Rotterdam, which seemed out of reach at the moment there was no substitute for Antwerp. Eisenhower appreciated this. Yet he knew also how formidable the Rhine was.

Though Antwerp would have to wait, the airborne attack, if successful, might facilitate the task of opening the port. From the bridgehead that airborne troops were to establish across the Lower Rhine in Operation MARKET, British ground troops were to push on to the IJsselmeer. Thus Holland would be split in two and all Germans in western Holland isolated, including those denying both Antwerp and Rotterdam to the Allies. Though the Germans were great ones for wringing the most from bypassed, so-called "fortress defenses," it is

[27] See, for example, Eisenhower to Army Group Commanders, 15 Sep 44, 

in SHAEF SGS File 381, I; Eisenhower to Montgomery, 22 Sep 44, copy in 

OCMH files.

[28] Report by the Supreme Commander to the Combined Chiefs of Staff on 

the Operations in Europe of the Allied Expeditionary Force, 6 June 1944 

to 8 May 1945. p. 67.

[29] SHAEF Planning Draft, 30 May 44, in SHAEF SGS File 381, I.

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axiomatic that an enemy who is isolated is more easily subdued. Even if Operation MARKET-GARDEN failed to achieve more than a bridgehead beyond the Lower Rhine, the territory gained might serve as a buffer for subsequent moves to open Antwerp. From the Lower Rhine to the IJsselmeer the Germans would retain only a narrow corridor little more than twenty-five miles wide, and through that they would have to funnel the supplies for all their forces in western Holland, a distinct disadvantage.

The fact remained that if Operation MARKET was launched, an all-out campaign to open Antwerp would be delayed. The MARKET-GARDEN maneuver would in any case have to be staged on a thin logistical margin. As it turned out, three newly arrived American divisions had to be immobilized in Normandy so that their vehicles might be used to rush five hundred tons of supply per day to the British. Obviously, little or no supply would be left over for Antwerp. In manpower, MARKET-GARDEN would tie up the entire British Second Army; only the First Canadian Army, already busy with investiture of other Channel ports, would be available to open Antwerp. [30]

Among responsible Allied commanders were some who believed in early September that Antwerp was a dead issue. They remembered World War I, when the pursuit phase had marked the beginning of the end, the start of swift German collapse. If events ran true to the earlier experience, neither Antwerp nor any other port would be needed except to support the occupation of Germany. Whether General Eisenhower entertained similar thoughts is pure conjecture; but there is no doubt that some of his subordinates did. The First Army G-2 estimate of possible political upheaval is a clear example.

To recapitulate, the Ruhr-and thus by inference getting across the Rhine-was the main objective of operations at the time of Eisenhower's decision in regard to MARKET. Antwerp, for all its value, was a secondary objective, perhaps more correctly, an intermediate objective. The port situation had not become critical by 10 September, despite serious and even alarming indications. Without Antwerp, the logistical situation was imminently risky. Even though MARKET-GARDEN might eventually lighten the task of opening Antwerp, the airborne operation would delay the start of that task.

The third question-why MARKET? why not some other airborne attack?-may be introduced by a prior question: What were the alternatives to Operation MARKET? Eighteen suggested airborne plans preceded MARKET but in most cases were canceled because of the rapid

[30] On the Canadian task, see Col. C. P. Stacey, The Canadian Army, 

1939-1945: An Official Historical Summary, (Ottawa: King's Printer, 

1948), pp. 210ff.

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ground advance. One plan, Operation COMET, was virtually identical with MARKET, except that the latter employed more troops.

There were in addition eight other proposed operations that could have been considered current or worthwhile at the time of the MARKET decision. One plan to seize airfields at Berlin and the German naval base at Kiel was suitable only if the Germans were at the point of surrender or collapse. Another, to secure Walcheren Island at the mouth of the Schelde estuary for the purpose of assisting the opening of the port of Antwerp, was canceled because the island could easily be flooded by the Germans. The remaining six, planned variously to get the First or Third Army through the West Wall or across the Rhine, were all to take place in General Bradley's sector and thus required his approval. Whether Bradley's reluctance to have troop carrier planes diverted from ground supply missions had anything to do with the fact that none of these plans was chosen over MARKET is a matter for conjecture.

One other alternative was suggested. General Sir Miles C. Dempsey, the commander of the British Second Army, advocated, on the day of the MARKET decision, 10 September, an airborne attack to get the British across the Rhine, not, as in MARKET, at Arnhem but upstream at Wesel. [31] In many respects, this made sense. In earlier directives, Montgomery had oriented the 21 Army Group toward Wesel, close to the left flank of the First U.S. Army. [32] An airborne drop at Wesel would have conformed with announced direction and also would have prevented a gap from opening between the British and Americans. The gap, which caused serious concern, developed later as the British turned northward to Arnhem and the First Army moved eastward toward Aachen. A drop at Wesel also would have avoided what had begun to look like increasing German strength along the Dutch-Belgian border. But despite the advantages offered by a drop at Wesel, Field Marshal Montgomery overruled Dempsey's suggestion on the recommendation of air force commanders. Wesel was on the fringe of the Ruhr in one of the most concentrated flak belts in Europe. [33]

Alternatives aside, Operation MARKET had certain advantages of its own. In the official history of General Eisenhower's headquarters, Forrest C. Pogue has listed these in a manner that bears repeating. Operation MARKET, he has written,

[31] Wilmot, The Struggle for Europe, p. 488.

[32] See, for example, Montgomery to army commanders, 26 Aug 44, in 

SHAEF SGS File 381, I; see also par. 6 of 21 A Gp Operational Situation 

and Directive, 3 Sep. and Ltr, Bradley to Eisenhower, 14 Sep 44, both in 

12th A Gp Military Objectives File 371.3, I.

[33] Wilmot, Struggle for Europe, p. 488.

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... seemed to fit the pattern of current Allied strategy. It conformed to General Arnold's recommendation for an operation some distance east of the enemy's forward positions and beyond the area where enemy reserves were normally located; it afforded an opportunity for using the long-idle airborne resources; it was in accord with Field Marshal Montgomery's desire for a thrust north of the Rhine while the enemy was disorganized; it would help reorient the Allied drive in the direction 21 Army Group thought it should go; and it appeared to General Eisenhower to be the boldest and best move the Allies could make at the moment. The Supreme Commander realized that the momentum of the drive into Germany was being lost and thought that by this action it might be possible to get a bridgehead across the Rhine before the Allies were stopped. The airborne divisions, he knew, were in good condition and could be supported without throwing a crushing burden on the already overstrained supply lines. At worst, General Eisenhower thought the operation would strengthen the 21 Army Group in its later fight to clear the Schelde estuary. Field Marshal Montgomery examined the objections that the proposed route of advance "involved the additional obstacle of the Lower Rhine ... as compared with more easterly approaches, and would carry us to an area relatively remote from the Ruhr." He considered that these were overridden by certain major advantages: (1) the operation would outflank the Siegfried Line defenses; (2) it would be on the line which the enemy would consider the least likely for the Allies to use; and (3) the area was the one with the easiest range for the Allied airborne forces. [34]

Contrary to appearances, the military climate at the time of the MARKET decision was unsettled. Erratic winds were blowing in several directions. There was also the likelihood of a calm, a period of recuperation after the whirlwind of the pursuit. In this turbulent period emerged the decision to launch Operation MARKET-GARDEN.

The operation was a daring strategic maneuver that failed. That the decision to launch it has not prompted the kind of controversy surrounding other command decisions is somewhat singular. Here was no southern France, where one ally wanted it, the other opposed. Here was no Argentan-Falaise, where either ally could accuse the other of fault in failing to close the pocket. Even General Bradley, surely one of Field Marshal Montgomery's severest critics, has reserved his more pungent criticisms for other decisions.

Perhaps the reason for the lack of acrimony can be found in the narrow margin by which MARKET-GARDEN failed. Or, perhaps more to the point, in the license afforded commanders under conditions of success such as existed in September 1944. As British Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig put it on 22 August 1918, "Risks which a month ago would have been criminal to incur ought now to be incurred as a duty."

[34] Pogue, Supreme Command, pp. 281-82.

CHARLES B. MACDONALD, Historian with OCMH since 1948. B.A., Presbyterian College; Secretary of the Army Fellowship, 1957-58. Rifle company commander, European theater, World War II. Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart. Author: Company Commander (Washington, 1947); The Siegfried Line Champaign (in preparation) and (coauthor) Three Battles (Washington, 1952), UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II.