How come Allied intelligence did not prevent failure at Operation Market Garden?

Kevinmeath

Ad Honoris
May 2011
14,135
Navan, Ireland
Regarding the 16/17 cancelled operations of the 1st Airborne, read recently a book about the Glider pilots (who I didn't realise were actually elite troops who were supposed to be evacuated soon after the start of any operation because they were so valuable) and in that several explained that many of those operations were cancelled at the very last minute. This was incredibly frustrating as they had basically prepared for death-- writing wills, last letter to loved ones and taking the foreign currency issue changing it and then using it for a last piss up.

They were so eager for the fight that even if you told them that the Germans were in strength at Arnhem they would not have cared.
 

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,813
USA
Can't help it. If Gavin had taken the Nijmegen bridge as he was supposed to do on the first day immediately after landing the XXX Corps would not have been delayed at Nijmegen. The Next stop would have been Arnhem and there's no doubt XXX Corps would have constituted a relief for the British.
Taking the Nijmegen Bridge was not the priority mission of the 82nd, and for that you can blame Browning, but more so the British 21st Army staff who turned Comet into Market. These were Gavin's WRITTEN orders:

"The 82d Airborne Division will seize and hold the bridges at Nijmegen and Grave (with sufficient bridgeheads to pass formations of the Second Army through). The capture and retention of the high ground between Nijmegen and Grosbeek is imperative in order to accomplish the division's task." (Bold is mine for emphasis) Source

"At 1530, 18 September, General Gavin had a conference with General Browning at which General Browning asked for the plans for the ensuing 24 hours. General Gavin stated his plan for the night of 18-19 September was to seize the bridge North of Nijmegen using one battalion of the 504 and in conjunction with the 508 envelope the bridgehead from east and west. General browning approved the plan in general, but on giving more thought, in view of the situation with XXX Corps, he felt retention of the high ground South of Nijmegen was of greater importance, and directed that the primary mission should be to hold the high ground and retain its position west of the Maas-Waal Canal. Therefore, General Gavin assembled the regimental commanders and issued an order for the defense of position." (Bold is mine for emphasis) Source

As anyone can see, on D+1, when Gavin finally had his full division on the ground, after Browning and his staff also landed and took up shop in the 82nd's drop zone, Gavin tried to shift the priority to taking the Waal bridge but was still denied. Showing the decision was not his to make. It was Browning, who was simply himself following the operational concept of Market, which was birthed from the original Comet objectives, which prioritized taking and holding the highest terrain in all of Netherlands, which happened to be in the 82nd's sector and happened to be just east of its drop zone, the Groesbeek Heights. Based on the plan that Gavin did not write, the 82nd NEEDED to hold that high ground. And it was not even a terrible concept, in fact they did have to defend it tenaciously from D Day onwards to keep it open (which the British 1st Airbourne could not do with their own drop zone, which was overrun, with all that entailed).

Counting all of the 82nd objectives they had to seize the Nijmegen bridge (success), the Grave bridge (success), the Maas railroad bridge (success), four canal bridges (three blown up, one success), and the Heights (Success), with the latter being the given to them in a written order as the priority. Meanwhile, only a portion of the total division was even present on D Day, with the bulk present on D+1. Based on his orders, Gavin prioritized securing the drop zone for a counterattack (which started on D Day and grew in strength in proceeding days), but still managed to detach an entire battalion on D Day (again, remember, the whole nine infantry battalions of the division were not present in full strength yet), but they encountered enough resistance that they were repulsed.

As for the entire operation, Gavin's 82nd was far from the only unit that was behind schedule in accomplishing its missions. The British 1st Airbourne captured none of its targets. The 82nd missed a couple canal bridges that were blown up and took the Waal bridge late. The 101st missed taking a few bridges that were blown up. And XXX Corps was days behind schedule themselves.

And what exactly was XXX Corps going to do at the Arnhem bridge? The entire south section of the bridge was still held by the Germans, in strength, who had elements from two armored divisions in the sector to reinforce, with only the northern section tenuously held by a single lightly armed reconnaissance battalion of the British 1st Airborne Division. Why was there only a single weak battalion only holding one side of the bridge, when that bridge was the single operational objective of an entire division? Why wasn't the better part of the 1st Airbourne holding both sides of the Arnhem Bridge? For the same reason nothing else worked, because the Germans got in the way of a poor plan.

The "Gavin's Fault" trope is ridiculous. It was not the fault of any participating unit. The fault of the operation was bad intel and stiffer than anticipated German resistance, caused by far more German troops in the area than expected.
 

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,813
USA
Browning was in overall command and as such him putting himself on the ground where he did was his fault. But the mission given to Gavin's division was Gavin's responsibility, and he failed to do that even as it was within his grasp. Gavin had one mission: take Nijmegen bridge. Did Browning order Gavin to do otherwise? You could fault Browning for not ordering Gavin to push for his primary objective. But in any case, the failure to take Nijmegen brigde doomed the operation, no matter who is to blame.
You are making up history. Bad!
 

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,813
USA
Allied commanders and frontline soldiers by this stage (after breakthrough from Normady swift liberation of Paris , France and Belgium) were all over optimistic in victory euphoria , looking everything with rose tinted glasses and after five year long all out war , they began to see what they wished to see and ignore the rest. The idea was just like in November 1918 (at the end of World War I) Germany was about to give up just the same in November month before end of year. When you began to confuse the facts on ground with your own wishes , things go awry. Presence of 2nd SS Panzer Corps was identified and relayed to 1st Airborne Army HQ in UK (not 21st Army Group command in Brussels though) but so many previous jump operations were cancelled out previously 1st Airborne Army HQ esp. 1st British Airborne Division was itching to get action no matter what before end of war. So many airborne divisions became extra unwanted coins to be spent in Eisenhower's pocket and with Allied advance towards German front stalling after first week of September 1944 and huge pressure from War Department in Washington to utilise them fopr a deep airborne strike operation (just the thing they were designed) and additonal equal pressure from Whitehall to Montgomery and 21st Army Group to finish the war before end of 1944 due to huge economic/social burden on British goverment , extremely overtruimphal Allied press declaring war is almost as good as won in September 1944 and Allied commanders beginning to believe their own propaganda...with all these factors combined an Operation like Market Garden was inevitable under that atmosphare. The idea and wish of everyone in Allied camp was one sharp stroke and war would be over in weeks.

2nd SS Corps was identified in Arnhem area by Allied intelligence but both General Browning and his planners (General Lewis Brereton-ex air commander of Douglas MacArthur who let entire USAAF bomber force destroyed on ground in a few hours on 8th December 1941 at Clark Field Phillipinnes and 1st British Airborne Division General Urqhuart) dismissed that corps was all but destroyed in Battle of Normandy and only its remants existed. And they were right. Two SS panzer divisions (9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions) on 17th September had fewer than 8.000 men and 50 tanks in total together. The problem was German operational and organisational method (mission oriented approach in operational thinking) of creating temporary kampfgruppes and grafting them to parent units like divisions or regiments quickly brought them back to strength. German operational method was all about improvisation in haste during an emergengy which a mass airborne landing was. Underestimating your opposition is usually a fatal mistake.

Allies at the other hand planned and prepared Operation Market Garden in haste with lots of last minute assumptions and improvisations with over optimistic thinking. Montgomery took authrorisation from Eisenhower to launch Market Garden on 8th September 1944 on Granville and issued orders briefing next day to Browning and other relevant commands to start Market Garden in eight days (17th September). Allies with a much more methodical order based approach in operational thinking were not accustomed to prepration of planning in such haste. In comparison airborne components of D-Day landings were planned in six months with preperation and constant updating of enemy strength present at landing zones at same time and modifying the plans accordingly.

Gavin takes too much blame in post war. Yes both Gavin and 101st US Airborne commander Maxwell Taylor (one of the architects of US involvement to Vietnam in 1960'ies) also made serious blunders during planning and execution of operation like not launching a coup de main operation to capture main target bridges (Son and Nijmegen) during initial landings (that is why airborne is for , suprise factor) and obsessing Groesbeek Heights too much. But main responsibility stops at 1st Airborne Army commander General Miles Browning (who transferred his HQ to Nijmegen with 30 gliders with extra space that could carry a coup de main to Nijmegen bridge and some instead) , from US Army Air Force General Lewis Brereton , RAF Air Marshal Leigh Mallory for a such bad airborne landing plan in daylight just to minimise possible casaulties to transport aircraft and General Roy Urqhuart commander of 1st British Airborne Div who was very good infantry commander but not an airborne expert. (he also neglected a coup de main operation to capture Arnhem bridge as soon as operation started)

Under other conditions like bad weather , plans of Market Garden captured by Germans on 17th September from a crashed US glider , malfunctioning radios of 1st British Airborne Division that was isolated and sudden arrival of 15th German Army vanguard from Scheldt to attack left flank of Allied salient at Eindhoven etc...it is remarkable that 30th Corps still carved a 94 km long corridor from Neerpelt to Elst north of Nijmegen (on Nijmegen island beween Nijmegen and Arnhem) and held it then enlarged it to liberate all southern Netherlands territory south of Maas river till December 1944.
They all failed in coup de main to take key bridges because the objectives were largely too audacious.

First, all had a large number of objectives that they had to take, besides single bridges in their sector. More so, and as was grossly evident around Arnhem, they had to take and hold a drop zone, because only a portion of their divisions actually landed on D Day, and besides gathering the rest of their forces they still needed to be resupplied, and that means holding those DZs at all cost. Its one thing, like Pegasus Bridge or some of other Normandy landings to move audaciously because they are within range to be relieved by the amphibious assault forces moving off the beaches within a day, if not a few hours. Its another thing when the plan, calling for essentially a cakewalk Sunday morning drive for XXX Corps takes upwards of three days. Then it becomes IMPERATIVE that those DZ be held.

Which means troops are needed to first secure the DZ. Then more are needed for the secondary and tertiary objectives. Then troops get diverted because of SNAFU situations, like unexpected counterattacks from tanks and infantry who weren't supposed to be there. Or a bridge blows up in their face. Or stiffer resistance. Or getting lost. Or a million and one problems that happen in complex battle scenarios.

Audacious plans are awesome until Mr Murphy shows up and tosses wrenches into the gears. Then they show why being cautious is sometimes a benefit, because if one was actually cautious, Market Garden would NEVER have been launched.
 
Apr 2014
416
Istanbul Turkey
Taking the Nijmegen Bridge was not the priority mission of the 82nd, and for that you can blame Browning, but more so the British 21st Army staff who turned Comet into Market. These were Gavin's WRITTEN orders:

"The 82d Airborne Division will seize and hold the bridges at Nijmegen and Grave (with sufficient bridgeheads to pass formations of the Second Army through). The capture and retention of the high ground between Nijmegen and Grosbeek is imperative in order to accomplish the division's task." (Bold is mine for emphasis) Source

"At 1530, 18 September, General Gavin had a conference with General Browning at which General Browning asked for the plans for the ensuing 24 hours. General Gavin stated his plan for the night of 18-19 September was to seize the bridge North of Nijmegen using one battalion of the 504 and in conjunction with the 508 envelope the bridgehead from east and west. General browning approved the plan in general, but on giving more thought, in view of the situation with XXX Corps, he felt retention of the high ground South of Nijmegen was of greater importance, and directed that the primary mission should be to hold the high ground and retain its position west of the Maas-Waal Canal. Therefore, General Gavin assembled the regimental commanders and issued an order for the defense of position." (Bold is mine for emphasis) Source

As anyone can see, on D+1, when Gavin finally had his full division on the ground, after Browning and his staff also landed and took up shop in the 82nd's drop zone, Gavin tried to shift the priority to taking the Waal bridge but was still denied. Showing the decision was not his to make. It was Browning, who was simply himself following the operational concept of Market, which was birthed from the original Comet objectives, which prioritized taking and holding the highest terrain in all of Netherlands, which happened to be in the 82nd's sector and happened to be just east of its drop zone, the Groesbeek Heights. Based on the plan that Gavin did not write, the 82nd NEEDED to hold that high ground. And it was not even a terrible concept, in fact they did have to defend it tenaciously from D Day onwards to keep it open (which the British 1st Airbourne could not do with their own drop zone, which was overrun, with all that entailed).

Counting all of the 82nd objectives they had to seize the Nijmegen bridge (success), the Grave bridge (success), the Maas railroad bridge (success), four canal bridges (three blown up, one success), and the Heights (Success), with the latter being the given to them in a written order as the priority. Meanwhile, only a portion of the total division was even present on D Day, with the bulk present on D+1. Based on his orders, Gavin prioritized securing the drop zone for a counterattack (which started on D Day and grew in strength in proceeding days), but still managed to detach an entire battalion on D Day (again, remember, the whole nine infantry battalions of the division were not present in full strength yet), but they encountered enough resistance that they were repulsed.

As for the entire operation, Gavin's 82nd was far from the only unit that was behind schedule in accomplishing its missions. The British 1st Airbourne captured none of its targets. The 82nd missed a couple canal bridges that were blown up and took the Waal bridge late. The 101st missed taking a few bridges that were blown up. And XXX Corps was days behind schedule themselves.

And what exactly was XXX Corps going to do at the Arnhem bridge? The entire south section of the bridge was still held by the Germans, in strength, who had elements from two armored divisions in the sector to reinforce, with only the northern section tenuously held by a single lightly armed reconnaissance battalion of the British 1st Airborne Division. Why was there only a single weak battalion only holding one side of the bridge, when that bridge was the single operational objective of an entire division? Why wasn't the better part of the 1st Airbourne holding both sides of the Arnhem Bridge? For the same reason nothing else worked, because the Germans got in the way of a poor plan.

The "Gavin's Fault" trope is ridiculous. It was not the fault of any participating unit. The fault of the operation was bad intel and stiffer than anticipated German resistance, caused by far more German troops in the area than expected.
Intelligence from Dutch resources , air recon photos and ULTRA were accurate. It was 1st Airborne Army Command (Browning , Brereton ) who ignored it. And neither Browning nor Gavin thought of capturing the Nijmegen bridge (main function of airborne is capture of targets with speed and suprise before defenders realise what was going on) during planning stage (Before opration started or during first hours after landing on 17th September , they could easily revise the plan or re write it to send one detachment during initial landing to capture it before Germans blew it up or capture it. Same with Urqhuart and 1st British Airborne who had at least half way excuse of residences south of bridge and north of Arnhem bridge that prevented paratroopers landing and swampy area in southern end that would prevent glider landings though real reason was USAAF and RAF Transport chiefs (Brereton and Leigh Mallory) reluctance to approach the bridge due to German AA gun sites close by at Luftwaffe airfiels at Haalen. When 6th British Airborne Div. commander General Richard Gale (who led Operation Tonga-Pegasus bridge and Caen Orne landing in D-Day) inspected Market Garden plan before take off he criticized it and remarked it had no chance of sucess due to lack of coup de main party and distance between LZs and Arnhem bridge which was the main target. He could make same observation about Son bridge (101st US Airborne) and Nijmegen bridge (82nd US Airborne) missions also.

As for 82nd Airborne Divisions tasks : Nijmegen bridge (success , only four days later landing and after linked and reinforced by 30th Corps and with huge aid from Guards Armored Division tanks , infantry and artillery firepower plus boats provided by British engineers , half of battle honor goes to Irish Guards and Granedier Guards for whose assistance Gavin personally thanked to Guards Armored Div. commander General Adair) , Maas Railway bridge (sucess thanks to coup de main party landed on top of bridge commanded by Lt. Thompson who captured the bridge with his platoon and dismantled all charges. 504 US Airborne Regt. which did not participate D-Day in June 1944 remembered airborne principles of suprise , shock and speed in first hours better than other regiments ironically) , Groesbeek Heights (sucess due to Gavin's concentration of his forces over there due to pre operation intelligence over estimates of 1.000 German panzers in Reichswald Forests in east and south of Groesbeek ! (according to Gavin' memoirs On to the Berlin) In fact there were scarecely any organised German units in Reichswald forest during 17th September.

30th Corps was delayed on 17th September due to German ambush of Irish Guards tanks en route to Valkenswaard and Eindhoven and then destruction of Son bridge before 101st US Airborne could capture it (no coup de main party again) but they compensated that delay with a fast drive from Eindhoven to Nijmegen by linking with 82nd US Airborne Div. over Maas river and driving into Nijmegen by 19th September at noon after putting a Bailey Bridge over Wilhelmina Canal. But Gavin's and Brownings mistake of not capturing Nijmegen bridge on first day delayed 30th Corps at Nijmegen for almost 36 hours after that. Nijmegen bridge was captured by Allies only by 20th September evening and declared safe and due to lack of infantry drive from Nijmegen to Arnhem was started only on 21st September at noon (no , Brit tankers did not waste time by brewing tea as Robert Redfords character implied in the movie. Without infantry support , armour is very vulnerable on an embarked road) By this time Germans not only retook Arnhem bridge but also crossing Rhine and sending reinforcements to block Nijmegen-Arnhem route by using ferries. Instead if Guards Armored Division have reached Arnhem bridge or at least southern shore of Rhine on 19th September afternoon or 20th September morning they could still establish a bridgehead over Rhine with help of Polish airborne landing over Driel. Even if they could not advance any further beyond Arnhem's northern suburbs and they could link up 1st British Airborne Division , save as many British paratroopers as possible in Ooesterbeek. Eisenhower's aim for Market Garden was much more limited than Montgomery's daring thrust idea towards north towards Zuider Zee or east towards Ruhr after crossing Rhine...Eisenhower simply wanted a bridgehead over Rhine for winter season (according to Crusade in Europe) and he would get that at least.
 
Last edited:

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,813
USA
You're still greatly simplifying what happens on an division level airborne assault. No, they don't just haul ass and run to their objective, not unless they are going to be relieved THAT DAY. If it is going to be a multiday endeavor, they need resupply and that means holding a footprint. Its just like an amphibious landing like Normandy, vs a raid like Dieppe. Duration means they need to establish a beachhead as the first priority before they can go running off inland to take control of something. What would the point of rushing off to take the Waal River Bridge in Nijmegen, only one of three river bridges and three canal bridges they needed to take and hold, when their landing zone would be overrun?

First, it wasn't Gavin that wanted to focus on the Groesbeek Heights. As my last post made clear when I posted, word for word, the written mission statement he received from his boss, Gavin was ordered to focus on their heights. It wasn't his decision, it was his orders, his duty, his mission to prioritize it over anything else. Only in hindsight have individuals trying to find a victim to blame for an operational failure made the attempt to shift it onto an American in order to bail out any British, namely XXX Corps failure themselves to make their own timehacks, as well as their inability to fight through to the Arnhem Bridge, as well as the British 1st Airborne's ability to get anything more to that bridge than a single battalion that only managed to take and control one side of it.

Second, to reiterate, it was a leftover from the original Comet plan, that had nothing to do with Gavin and the 82nd, that prioritized the Groesbeek Heights. And besides that objective, Gavin had a total of six bridges he had to take, three across rivers, three across canals. Per the written orders (as I showed above), Gavin had limited forces to accomplish seven different tasks. Its only in hindsight, of 70+ years later knowing that at the time they landed there was less than a full platoon guarding the Waal Bridge, and knowing that the big excuse alleviating XXX Corps of any guilt for making it to Arnhem is "we were delayed because the 82nd!" that this argument exists. But its frankly ridiculous. All the bridges were just as important. Had the Grave Bridge not been taken, it would have been just as major as not taking the Waal Bridge.

Third, the Waal bridge was 600 meters long. It would have taken at least a company, if not a full battalion, on either side to hold it when the Germans showed up with armor on D+1 to counter attack it. On D Day they would not have had the strength, and on D+1 they would not have had the strength, and on D+2 they would not have had the strength. As it was, they nearly had their DZ taken by a German counterattack when they did send that single battalion to try to deal with the bridge in the pm of D-Day. Had they took the bridge, they'd have stayed, then on the bigger D+1 counterattacks the 82nd would have had control of a bridge they couldn't fully control, in the town of Nijmegen they couldn't control, with no ammo, the rest of the division wouldn't have shown up, and the result would have been just like Arnhem.

Even on the night of D-Day, with the better part of a battalion, the 82nd still couldn't take the bridge without a major fight. So the only argument had to grab it early is based PURELY in hindsight, knowing long after the battle how important the bridge would come down to the ultimate success and failure, and knowing how few Germans guarded it. But the issue with working hard to find blame is that almost nobody here is actually looking at this situation historically. They are not discounting the intel they had access to, they are second guessing decisions made, and then they are placing the blame for the decisions on those who were ordered to carry it out, and not those who created it. For instance, all the blame of focus on the Groesbeek Heights, why the hell isn't Browning, whose decision it was, not catching all the blame? He was leading a field army, on the ground. He was the chief planner (let's not kid ourselves into believing Brereton had almost anything to do with the planning, he was lucky to successfully tie his shoes in the morning). It was Browning who did the Comet planning, it was Browning who did the Market planning, and it was Browning who told Gavin to prioritize the Heights over any bridge!

There were two aspects to Market Garden. Market failed because of the 1st Airborne, not the 82nd, couldn't take the single objective in their sector critical to the mission. Garden failed because the XXX Corps couldn't get to Arnhem before the single 1st Airborne battalion holding one side of it surrendered, as did the bulk of the division. But even that wasn't the fault of the men involved in the operation. There is nobody on the Allied side to blame for this operation besides the ones who missed or denounced the intelligence that there were actually far more combat ready German troops that were still itching to fight.

But mainly, its the Germans that need to be blamed, because it was their performance that caused all problems for the Allies. Who stopped the plan from working? THE GERMANS!!!!

Stop taking TIK as gospel. He is an entertainer, not a historian. He is most certainly not peer reviewed, and a good number of his arguments, including this one, Gavin is to blame, is rubbish and has no actual historical legs to stand on.
 
Oct 2014
273
Poole. UK
But mainly, its the Germans that need to be blamed, because it was their performance that caused all problems for the Allies. Who stopped the plan from working? THE GERMANS!!!!
.
So true, Everyone on the Allied side, did their best, it was a gamble, if it had succeeded, great, but it failed, at least it was tried. This British blaming the Americans, Americans blaming the British, is getting boring!
 

Lord Fairfax

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,511
Space Bat Lair
with only the northern section tenuously held by a single lightly armed reconnaissance battalion of the British 1st Airborne Division
It wasn't a reconnaissance battalion, it was the 2nd parachute battalion, along with part of the airlanding antitank (battalion)


. Meanwhile, only a portion of the total division was even present on D Day, with the bulk present on D+1.

(again, remember, the whole nine infantry battalions of the division were not present in full strength yet),
The 82nd didn't get substantial reinforcements on D+1, only a few artillery units.

The 82nd wasn't a 9 battalion division, it was a 13 battalion formation.
10 battalions dropped on the first day, with the final 3 battalions of the 325 glider regiment not dropping until the 7th day.
 

Lord Fairfax

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,511
Space Bat Lair
Counting all of the 82nd objectives they had to seize the Nijmegen bridge (success), the Grave bridge (success), the Maas railroad bridge (success), four canal bridges (three blown up, one success), and the Heights (Success), with the latter being the given to them in a written order as the priority
4 canal bridges? :think:

You're counting the 101st objectives I guess.

The 82nd needed to secure the Maas bridge, the Waal bridge plus one canal bridge over the Maas/Waal canal.

All other canal bridges were the responsibility of the 101st.

Based on his orders, Gavin prioritized securing the drop zone for a counterattack (which started on D Day and grew in strength in proceeding days),
There was no counterattack on D day.
 

redcoat

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,952
Stockport Cheshire UK
why, or even how would the allies be taken by surprise by landing on top of two crack divisions? Considering the quality of allied intelligence, it seems a little odd to be taken by surprise, even if some of the intelligence was ignored?
The 2 so- called crack divisions were the remains of 2 divisions that had been gutted and routed during the Battle Of France had had less than 50 tanks between the two of them.
The shock was not that these division were there, but the fact that the Germans were able to organise these divisions into effective formations so soon after they had been comprehensively routed.