A Bridge Too Far

by Scott Cowin

In the Fall of 1944, the combined American and British armies were sweeping through France and approaching the German Fatherland. Allied thought varied on how to assault Germany in order to bring a swift end to the war in Europe. Allied planners produced several strategies including Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery's daring airborne assault which was given the green light by the Allied command. By this time, Montgomery's relationship with the Allied commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, had become strained. The stress was a result of differences of opinion that emerged during the advance across France. In Montgomery's mind, "Market Garden" - the code name for the airborne assault, would prove to the world his genius.

Montgomery's plan called for an airborne assault of three airborne divisions (some thirty-five thousand men) into Holland. These troops would take and hold various bridges in Holland and wait for strong British ground units to push up a single road that connected all the bridges and lead straight into the Ruhr, the industrial heart of Germany. While the plan was daring, it had some serious flaws. First, to avoid delay and gain surprise, only one week was allowed for planning the immense operation. Second, the plan centered on a single road, which once the Germans figured out what was happening, could be easily blocked. Third, if any of the bridges were blown up before they were secured by the Allied airborne troops the whole timetable would be ruined. Lastly, the Germans would have to act exactly as Allied planners anticipated.

Operation "Market Garden" proved a limited success. All of the above problems happened and then some. Not only did the single road and blown bridges cause delays, but unknown to the Allies, the Germans had placed a SS Panzer Corp in the area of Arnhem (the last bridge) for rest and refit. The British 6th Airborne Division landed practically on top of them. The British ground units eventually met up with the American paratroopers and took several of the bridges, but the bridge at Arnhem, after several days of tough days of fighting, became the graveyard of British paratroopers.

The movie A Bridge Too Far was based on a book of the same name by Cornelius Ryan. The movie depicts the battle in classic Ryan-style of a sweeping epic portrayed through various individuals involved in the fighting. Enhancing the film were performances by Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins, Michael Caine, Robert Redford, Elliot Gould, Ryan O'Neal, Gene Hackman, James Caan, Laurence Olivier, and Maximilian Schell. A Bridge Too Far and Ryan's book are still the best depictions of the immense Allied assault, Operation "Market Garden," which just may have been too ambitious and gone just a bridge too far.

Suggested Reading:

Monty: The Battles of Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery by Nigel Hamilton.

The War Between the Generals by David John Cawdell Irving.

A Field Marshall in the Family by Brian Montgomery.