Operation Market Garden: A Bridge Too Far

Operation Market Garden began on 17th September 1944. On the first day, the tanks of the Irish Guards who made up part of XXX Corps set off for Eindhoven.

In 1944, Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery put forward plans for what would become Operation Market Garden. The military operation took place in the Netherlands between 17th September 1944 and 25th September 1944. The main planning of the operation fell to General Brereton and General Williams of the United States Army Air Force.

Operation Market Garden consisted of 2 sub-operations:

Operation Market – An airborne assault by 1st Allied Airborne Army to capture a series of 9 key bridges. This would be the largest airborne operation up to that point of the Second World War. The key bridges covered the Meuse River, the Waal River, the Lower Rhine, and several other smaller rivers and canals.

Operation Garden – A ground attack by XXX Corps of British 2nd Army to follow up and create a 64 mile salient into German territory. Compared to the huge airborne assault, only a single Corps of ground troops was relatively small. XXX Corps brought with them 5,000 vehicles of bridging equipment and 9,000 sappers.

Paratroopers over Arnhem

Imperial War Museum Photo: BU 1162 (Part of the War Office Second World War Official Collection). Paratroopers drop from a Douglas Dakota over Arnhem on 17th September 1944 during Operation Market Garden. Photo taken by Sergeant DM Smith - Army Film and Photographic Unit.

The entire operation should have given the Allies a foothold over the River Rhine, easing an invasion route into northern Germany. General Eisenhower saw it as an opportunity to encircle German industrial heartlands in the Ruhr. Market Garden would establish the northern end of a pincer ready to go deeper into Germany. Allied forces coming north from Belgium across the Rhine would then consolidate north of Arnhem and close the pincer.

Operation Market Garden succeeded in liberating the Dutch cities of Eindhoven and Nijmegen as well as other towns along the way. They took several bridges between the cities in the early stages of the operation. The 1st Allied Airborne Army failed to take bridges at Son en Brugel and Nijmegan though which delayed the arrival of XXX Corps ground forces.

Day 1: 17th September 1944

On the first day of Operation Market Garden, all looked good for the combined Allied forces. In the north, almost all airborne troops landed on or within their drop zones, with a similar success rate for the gliders. Apart from the large bridge at Nijmegen, all river crossings were either in Allied hands or unusable by the German army. In the south, US 101st Airborne Division met little resistance and took 4 of their 5 bridges. Support came from elements of 44th Royal Tank Regiment.

On landing, British 1st Airborne Division and 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade experienced problems with their plan. Only half the division arrived with the first lift. Half of these men had to defend drop zones waiting for the second lift the following day. This left only 1st Parachute Brigade to advance on the bridge. With fewer men and limited artillery, they met strong German defences. They also suffered from communication difficulties in the drop zones.

Charles Thomas Brackstone

Sergeant | 2083005

Sergeant Charles Thomas Brackstone died on 17th September 1944 while serving in the Glider Pilot Regiment in Operation Market Garden.

Thomas George Clarke

Guardsman | 2719127

Thomas George Clarke of Altnamackin, Co. Armagh died on 17th September 1944 while serving in the Irish Guards during Operation Market Garden.

William Gill Moore

Guardsman | 7020985

Guardsman William Gill Moore of Belfast served in the Irish Guards at his time of death in the Netherlands on 17th September 1944.

William John Parkes

Squadron Sergeant Major | 2717391

Content warning: This article contains a graphic image of the corpse of Squadron Sergeant Major William John Parkes, which some readers may find upsetting.

Thomas Crowe Watson

Guardsman | 2724057

Guardsman Thomas Crowe Watson of Dunmurry, Co. Antrim died on 17th September 1944 during the Irish Guards' advance into the Netherlands.

Charles William Winkworth

Sergeant | 5110811

Sergeant Charles William Winkworth who lived in Belfast was a Glider Pilot on 17th September 1944, the first day of Operation Market Garden.

At 1415hrs, 300 guns of XXX Corps artillery opened fire supported by RAF Hawker Typhoons firing rockets at German positions. The Irish Guards under Lieutenant Keith Heathcote led the ground advance towards Valkenswaard. By 1500hrs, the leading Irish Guards had broken out of the bridgehead at Maas-Schelde and into the Netherlands. They then came under fire from German ambushes along what became known as Hell’s Highway. Despite losses along the way, the Irish Guards took Valkenswaard by the end of the day. This was only 7 miles of the hoped-for 13 mile advance to Eindhoven.

Day 2: 18th September 1944

In British 1st Airborne Division’s zone, fighting continued. Back in England, heavy fog delayed the Second Lift for 3 hours. By then, clouds were forming over Arnhem too. This hindered the arrival of more men and supplies and communication

1st and 3rd Battalions of The Parachute Regiment made progress towards the Arnhem bridge. Frequent skirmishes with the enemy held them up and fragmented their long columns. Among those lost was Sidney “Fighting Sid” Ellis of Belfast, Co. Antrim. By the end of Day 2, the Battalions were within 2km of the Arnhem Bridge but with only around 200 men left to fight. The Second Lift would land later that day.

At 0600hrs, the Irish Guards resumed their advance towards Eindhoven. There they would meet with US 101st Airborne Division. At 1600hrs, news came forward that the Germans had destroyed the Son bridge. The British constructed a Bailey Bridge allowing the Guards to get to Eindhoven by nightfall. Through the night, the Irish Guards came under aerial bombardment.

Day 3: 19th September 1944

Day 4: 20th September 1944

Day 5: 21st September 1944

Samuel Cassidy

Private | 14207764

Private Samuel Cassidy of Belfast died as a result of a tragic accident during Operation Market Garden between 20th-21st September 1944.

John Mallon Hamilton

Private | 5109896

John Mallon Hamilton of Belfast landed with The Parachute Regiment near Oosterbeek where he sustained fatal wounds on 21st September 1944.

Robert Percy

Flight Sergeant | 1077628

Flight Sergeant Robert Percy of Ballymena, Co. Antrim died over Arnhem on 21st September 1944 on a day of great loss for R.A.F. 190 Squadron.

Day 6: 22nd September 1944

George Doherty

Lance Corporal | 6977840

Lance Corporal George Doherty of Derry/Londonderry served in the King's Own Scottish Borderers at his time of death on 22nd September 1944.

William John Watters

Guardsman | 2723656

Guardsman William John Watters of Belfast died on 22nd September 1944 serving with 2nd Battalion Irish Guards in Operation Market Garden.

Patrick Leslie Whitehouse

Sergeant | 3383453

Sergeant Leslie Patrick Whitehouse was the husband of Maud Whitehouse of Co. Down. He died in Operation Market Garden on 22nd September 1944.

Day 7: 23rd September 1944

James Frederick Boyd

Staff Sergeant | 7013328

Staff Sergeant James Frederick Boyd of Portstewart, Co. Londonderry died on 23rd September 1944 during fighting in Operation Market Garden.

John Frederick Smellie

Captain | 158421

Captain John Frederick Smellie of Co. Down was a commanding officer at his time of death on 23rd September 1943 in Operation Market Garden.

Day 8: 24th September 1944

Trevor Aubrey

Lance Corporal | 3910777

Born in Glamorgan, Wales, Trevor Aubrey married a woman from Belfast. He died on 24th September 1944, killed during Operation Market Garden.

William Christopher Gibson

Private | 4921930

Private William Christopher Gibson of Belfast died on 24th September 1944 serving with Monmouthshire Regiment in Operation Market Garden.

John McClune

Lance Corporal | 6979069

Paratrooper John McClune of Belfast died on 24th September 1944 as 1st Airborne Division came under heavy attack in Operation Market Garden.

Day 9: 25th September 1944

Frederick Murdock

Corporal | 7010813

Corporal Frederick Murdock of Belfast died on 25th September 1944 in the final stages of Operation Market Garden and the Battle of Arnhem.

Robert Sutherland

Fusilier | 1501058

Fusilier Robert Sutherland of Belfast died on 25th September 1944 during the Allied retreat from Arnhem in Operation Market Garden.

Day 10: 26th September 1944

Allied forces had secured the 60 mile salient in German territory known for its V2 rocket launching sites. The mission to secure a foothold over the Rhine failed. The river remained a barrier to the Allied advance in Germany until 1945. Operation Market Garden would not see the war end before Christmas 1944.