On 17 September 1944, the Allies launched an airborne landing at Arnhem, codenamed Operation Market Garden. With more than 35,000 American and British forces dropped behind enemy lines by parachute and gliders, it was the largest airborne operation in history.

Background

Operation Market Garden was the idea of Bernard Montgomery, commander of the Commonwealth forces in Europe. It was intended to speed up the Allied advance to Germany by establishing a route across the River Rhine, bringing the war to an earlier end. Three Allied airborne divisions would seize bridges and canal crossings at the Dutch towns of Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem, while the Allied tanks and troops of XXX Corps would advance by road to secure them.

Operation Market Garden

On Sunday 17 September 1944, British pathfinders touched down in fields west of Oosterbeek. They were followed by more paratroopers dropping from some 140 aircraft and 320 gliders. As the first wave of airborne forces attempted to advance, some met stiff resistance from German units.

By the evening, only a few hundred men of the Parachute Regiment had reached the Arnhem road bridge. They secured its northern end, but by the following morning the operation was already in jeopardy. German counter-attacks had cut them off from the landing zones, British forces were scattered and their radio communication disrupted, while bad weather delayed the arrival of vital airborne reinforcements.

Meanwhile, XXX Corps struggled slowly towards them along a narrow, well defended road. The forces around Oosterbeek fought to hold their ground and to reach their comrades in Arnhem, where a dwindling group of British paratroopers faced German reinforcements including Panzer tanks. The British had few antitank weapons, limited food and supplies and their ammunition was running low.

The first elements of XXX Corps finally arrived south of the river on the evening of 22 September, but by then the bridge had been lost and survivors had fought their way back towards encircled Allied troops at Oosterbeek. On the night of 25 September, in heavy rain and shielded by an intense artillery barrage from XXX Corps, the remaining airborne troops began to withdraw across the river. The Allies would not cross the Rhine again until the spring of 1945.

Aftermath

Arnhem became known as ‘a bridge too far’. Approximately 10,600 Commonwealth servicemen took part, but only 2,400 returned. More than 1,500 were killed, while the remainder were captured or wounded.

related Cemeteries & Memorials

Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery contains the graves and memorials of more than 1,680 Commonwelath servicemen of the Second World War, of whom nearly 240 remain unidentifeid. Commemorated alongside them are nearly 80 Polish and three Dutch servicemen.

Groesbeek Memorial in Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery bears the names of nearly 1,030 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War who died in north-west Europe and have no known grave. Nearly 460 of whom died in September 1944.