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 Post subject: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Mon Sep 17, 2018 11:38 am 
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Today is the 74th anniversary of the ill fated Operation Market Garden, the attempt to seize the bridges over the Rivers Waal, Maas and Neder Rijn, in order to enter Germany by the back door and end the war by Christmas. This scheme, dreamed up by Montgomery, was a huge departure from everything he'd done before. Monty had a reputation for planning his battles, thus reducing the risk to his forces. El Alamein, for example, he refused to move, until he had in position all the men, armour and everything else he required. Even his estimate of battle casualties proved to be remarkably accurate. So why did he go for an operation like this, despite warnings that it could only succeed if nothing went wrong? In particular, he was warned against the nature of the road along which XXX Corps armour would have to advance, from the Eindhoven area to Arnhem. This single track cobbled road became known as Hell's Highway - and for a multiplicity of reasons, as predicted, it delayed the advance to such a huge extent that the mission ended in failure.
Another major factor that was not given due recognition, was the fact that Obergruppenfuehrer Wilhelm Bittrich's 2nd SS Panzer had been sent to recuperate in Arnhem after being in heavy combat since D Day. Their armour was being loaded for shipment to Germany for repairs - but much of it was still functional.
The third major factor was the weather. Heavy fog on the mornings of the next few days prevented the drops of further airborne forces and supplies - and when drops did occur, they often landed up in enemy hands. So many things went wrong, they are far too numerous to list here.
I've visited the area and seen the huge bridges at Grave and Nijmegen which were successfully taken by the American 82nd and 101st Airborne - but Arnhem was definitely a bridge too far.
The end result was a huge wastage of life and materiel, for no gain. The Germans punished the Dutch by evacuating the entire population of Arnhem, executing and imprisoning many and huge restrictions on rations. Many starved to death, in the following hongerwinter, as it was named.
The German General in charge was Field Marshal Walter Model. When he heard it was Monty's idea, he refused to believe that a man of his reputation could propose such a hare brained scheme. Eisenhower also should come in for criticism, for allowing it to be approved.

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 Post subject: Re: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Mon Sep 17, 2018 7:38 pm 
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I had a couple of friends, no longer with us, who were at Arnhem. One of them jumped on his 21st birthday and on his 71st did a tandem jump with an instructor, at Duxford I think.

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 Post subject: Re: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 18, 2018 10:47 am 
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This operation, while a bold stroke, was well planned, and brilliantly fought. What could not be planned for was crack troops resting in the area.Couple this with the perennial problem, still a problem today, of poor comms, and defective intelligence and the operation became more difficult.

However, it could still have succeeded, bur Monty was very unpopular (not with hos troops) and some of his contemporaries saw this as a chance to get back at him, and, while paying lip service, did not give him the unwavering support he could reasonably expect.

The original concept, copied from the German advance of 1940, of a lighting spearhead thrust into the heart of Germany and on to Berlin, would not only have shortened the war but, more importantly, though not everybody thought so at the time, have kept the subsequent Iron Curtain much further east.

Monty was Brilliant tactician but a poor strategist, particularly political strategy, which played an decreasingly important role from D-Day onward.

There were those in high places who were determined that Monty should not to Berlin.


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 Post subject: Re: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 18, 2018 12:02 pm 
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There were those in high places who were determined that Monty should not to Berlin.


Were they American?

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 Post subject: Re: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 18, 2018 12:45 pm 
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Not necessarily, though it's no secret that Patton, who had a lot of listeners, was at loggerheads with Monty from Dec 7 1941!

Patton saw himself as the McArthur of the European theatre, and Monty threatened that image.

Patton played on the petty jealousies of the British general staff to great effect.


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 Post subject: Re: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 18, 2018 1:52 pm 
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There was no single factor that caused the failure of the operation. It was a combination of factors. I now quote from The Memoirs of Field Marshal Montgomery.

In my - prejudiced - view, if the operation had been properly backed from its inception and given the aircraft, ground forces and administrative resources, necessary for the job, it would have succeeded in spite of my mistakes, or the adverse weather, or the presence of the 2nd SS Panzer Corps in the Arnhem area. I remain Market Gardens unrepentant advocate.

Firstly he claims:
The operation was not regarded at Supreme HQ as the spearhead of a major Allied movement on the northern flank designed to isolate, and finally occupy the Ruhr. The one objective in the West which the Germans could not afford to lose.
Eisenhower ordered priority to the northern thrust while scaling down the southern one. He thought it was being done. It wasn't.
If Eisenhower had halted Patton on the Meuse and given full logistic support to Hodges and Dempsey, after the capture of Brussels, the operations in Holland could have been an overwhelming success.
Secondly.
The airborne forces at Arnhem were dropped too far away from the vital objective - the bridge. I take the blame for this. It took them hours to reach it. It could have been taken in a matter of minutes, had they been dropped much closer.
Third
The weather. Stopped us carrying out much of the later airborne programme.
Fourth.
The 2nd SS Panzer in Arnhem. We knew it was there. After its mauling since D Day we supposed it could not fight effectively. We were wrong.It's battle state was far beyond our expectation, it was quickly brought into action against the Airborne Division.

What amazes me is that he makes no mention of the Hell's Highway! The difficulties here prevented Horrocks XXX Corps armour getting to Arnhem, or indeed anywhere near - in time.
Colonel Frosts's band who captured the northern half of the bridge, held out for days against Bittrich's men. This was because it took a long time to get their Tiger tanks etc, de-trained and battle ready. Airborne troops can only carry relatively light weaponry - and initially this was all Bittrich's men had to face them with. However, once the Tigers appeared, the game was up. But how different might things have been if Horrock's had managed to get there? Especially while they were still struggling to get their tanks organised.

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 Post subject: Re: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 18, 2018 2:01 pm 
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Purwell wrote:
Quote:
There were those in high places who were determined that Monty should not to Berlin.


Were they American?

Indeed they were. Eisenhower communicated with Stalin on his own initiative and kept Churchill and everybody else in the dark. Churchill was furious when he found out. Eisenhower declared that Berlin was not a strategic target. So instead, the Yanks met up with the Russians at Torgau - leaving the huge combined forces of Marshals Zhukov, Koniev and Rokkosovski to advance on and take Berlin

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 Post subject: Re: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 18, 2018 6:13 pm 
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As I said, Montgomery did not get the unqualified support hr could reasonably expect. Harding, in particular, a sort of latter day Haig, was very much opposed to the whole concept, and sniped away at it throughout.

Market Garden was not fought at Arnhem, but at SHAEF.

While I would not jump on the usual bandwagon of blaming the Americans, by this time Churchill was very much in the American pocket and had some of the IGS with him. Eisenhower knew he had virtually a free hand.

Montgomery, like his old adversary Rommel, a soldiers' soldier, and, also like Rommel, was ill equipped to deal with the machinations and intrigues at GHQ.

Monty knew, as did the Russians and the Americans didn't, and as subsequently proved to be the case, that if Berlin fell, so would Germany.

Like so many others, like Jellicoe, Harris and Dowding, history has so far treated him less than fairly.


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 Post subject: Re: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Wed Sep 19, 2018 8:54 am 
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Of course, the reason that Monty gets so much stick over this, is because it went disastrously wrong - and the consequences of its failure were extremely costly, in terms of life, materiel and human misery. However, had it gone right, his praises would have been sung, extremely loudly.
It was extremely audacious - and therefore very risky - which was why Model refused to believe that it was his idea. However, in war, audacity often pays huge dividends, you only have to look at the career of generals like Robert E Lee, to see how it was possible to achieve major victory, against all the odds.
In order for it to succeed, the objective was to get Horrocks's armour over the Arnhem Bridge. Because the route was behind enemy lines, although thin on the ground, German forces continually harassed the column, from day 1. They blew the bridge over the Queen Wilhelmina Canal at Son, causing long delays while the sappers constructed a pontoon bridge. On another occasion, a single self propelled gun, held them up for almost a day. Their progress was painfully slow.
Yet it was the things that didn't happen, that could quite easily have happened, that could have doomed this operation, at a stroke. As I mentioned earlier, the bridges at Grave and Nijmegen are huge - because these are very wide rivers. If one of these had been destroyed, that would not have been something you could temporarily patch up, to allow the passage of heavy armour.
Actually, it was a huge achievement by the Americans, to take these bridges.
Bittrich realised what the game was. The bridges had explosive charges laid, should it become necessary to blow them. He asked Model for permission to blow them. Model said no! He was going to push the armour back over the bridges and back to Belgium. However, as the situation became more critical, Bittrich decided to ignore the order and blow them. When the plungers were pressed nothing happened! The Dutch resistance had disconnected the wiring, under cover of darkness.

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 Post subject: Re: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Wed Sep 19, 2018 9:19 am 
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had it gone right, his praises would have been sung, extremely loudly.

Which is why some people at SHEF and on the General Staff were less than enthusiastic, and not fully supportive.

The plan was viable, and even with the external factors over which we had no control, was within Montgomery's capabilities.

What he had not foreseen, and could not counter, was the lack of wholehearted support from his superiors.


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 Post subject: Re: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Wed Oct 10, 2018 8:52 pm 
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When you took the German army on you were up against the best fighting men in the world at that time. It was never going to be easy!


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 Post subject: Re: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Thu Oct 11, 2018 8:40 am 
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Gunner wrote:
When you took the German army on you were up against the best fighting men in the world at that time. It was never going to be easy!


I don't think that was entirely true at the time.

While they were, and would remain for some time, a force to be reckoned with, they were very much on the back foot and in retreat on all fronts, a fighting retreat certainly but overall retreat nonetheless.


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 Post subject: Re: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Thu Oct 11, 2018 9:18 am 
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They may have been on the back foot but the resistance that they put up when the Allied armies entered Germany was extremely strong, even when they were suffering from huge logistical problems like the supply of food and ammunition. You only have to look at the casualty figures in places like Hurtgen Forest and the Reichswald. Then, during the Battle of the Bulge, it can be argued that this was the reason why they failed to get to Antwerp as planned because they ran out of fuel. Hasso von Manteuffel got furthest, reaching the Meuse and Kampfgruppe Peiper also made quite an advance before also having to walk back to Germany.
However von Manteuffel was a realist. Later, both he and Gotthard Heinrici chose to retreat before the huge Russian forces under Zhukhov, Koniev and Rossokovsky, which were facing them between the Oder and the Seelow Heights. They refused to fight to the last man and the last bullet, as Keitel ordered them to do, as ordered by the Fuehrer. They knew that to stand would be suicide and they had more concern for the lives of their soldiers, than to make a useless sacrifice in a war, which was so obviously lost - long before!

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 Post subject: Re: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Thu Oct 11, 2018 1:19 pm 
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As I said, still a force to be reckoned with, making a fighting retreat.

Your're right about the Reichswald, I've been there several times, there's a reason why it's the biggest allied war cemetery in Germany!

Germany's fate was sealed once Churchill persuaded the Americans to fight in Europe, but with access to fuel they could have negotiated pretty good armistice terms, rather than total surrender.


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 Post subject: Re: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Thu Oct 11, 2018 2:29 pm 
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I disagree there. I firmly believe that Germany's fate was sealed as soon as Hitler decided to take on the USSR, that is where 80% of his armies died. The entry of America and his decision to declare war on the USA just hastened the end.
Back to armour it was hopeless once the armour failed to arrive on time. My very good friend and workmate escaped there by swimming the Rhine.


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 Post subject: Re: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Thu Oct 11, 2018 4:14 pm 
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Or was it perhaps that Hitler, the supreme warlord, often refused to take the advice of his generals? When he first invaded, Army Group Centre was headed in the direction of Moscow. All 3 Army Groups were making huge progress, Russian resistance melting in front of them. Then Hitler made the fatal mistake of diverting Army Group Centre south, to Kiev, despite the objections of his generals who urged him to continue the eastwards advance. They took a huge number of prisoners - but that didn't matter, what the USSR wasn't short of, was more cannon fodder! Had he stuck to the original plan - and continued toward Moscow, taking the city, that might have altered everything. Another huge mistake was attempting to take Stalingrad instead of merely bypassing it.
When he eventually did arrive outside Moscow, just like Napoleon's Grande Armee, that was as far as he got. More hammer blows were to come. Kursk. Then the Russians launched Operation Bagration, almost wiping out Army Group Centre in the process. By this time the direction of the German armies was no longer eastwards - but with increasing rapidity towards the west.
What is certain that Hitler's statement - "We only have to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come tumbling down!" was very far from being correct, despite appearing to appear so, in the beginning.
Laurie, I too have visited the Reichswald cemetery and while there we visited the grave of one of my relatives, who is buried there, with other members of his Lancaster crew. He was only 23 and was the navigator. The operation was called Operation Ladbergen, the bombing of the Dortmund-Ems Canal, a major route for war materiel. The raid succeeded but 10% of the aircraft were shot down - a high price to pay.

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 Post subject: Re: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Fri Oct 12, 2018 9:41 am 
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Gunner wrote:
I disagree there. I firmly believe that Germany's fate was sealed as soon as Hitler decided to take on the USSR, that is where 80% of his armies died. The entry of America and his decision to declare war on the USA just hastened the end.
Back to armour it was hopeless once the armour failed to arrive on time. My very good friend and workmate escaped there by swimming the Rhine.


Barbarossa, while a strategic mistake, was, when launched,simply, a sideshow.

With Sealion "postponed" Hitler had a huge victorious apparently invincible army with nothing to do, so eastwards was a logical step.

As Stormy suggests, Russia, or the important bits, was well within the generals' capacity, but they weren't allowed free rein.

The entry of America into the war was as big a surprise as Russia, and could not have been foreseen, at least in Europe, when Barbarossa was launched, and, I repeat, sealed Germany's fate.

Russia made a massive contribution and shortened the war by years, but on their own, without the US, they would have been gobbled before their their ancient and creaking industrial infrastructure, mainly geared to food production, could have transformed itself into the massive production juggernaut it became.


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 Post subject: Re: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Fri Oct 12, 2018 2:46 pm 
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Remember also all the materiel that was supplied to Russia, much of it from the USA, at great cost to our seamen, via the Arctic convoys, to places like Murmansk. There was an enormous amount.

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 Post subject: Re: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Fri Oct 12, 2018 4:24 pm 
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I agree; the Russians made an enormous contribution, at tremendous cost. but they needed massive support.

The story of PQ 17, just of the Arctic convoys, gives some idea of the price of this support.


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 Post subject: Re: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 12:45 pm 
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I knew a couple of men who were on those Arctic convoys, one on an escort corvette whose name escapes me now and another in the Merchant Navy.

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 Post subject: Re: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 2:36 pm 
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The best account of PQ 17I read, now long out of print, was by a journalist called Godfrey Winn.

He was thought to be a bit effeminate and, in the custom of the time, was called Winnie the Poof.

Ir was a pretty harrowing account, and in my view was, and is, underrated.


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 Post subject: Re: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 5:15 pm 
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Recently there was a documentary about this, narrated by Jeremy Clarkson, of all people! However, Clarkson was being serious for once. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03n3297

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 Post subject: Re: Why did he do it?
PostPosted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 7:22 pm 
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Stormy wrote:
Recently there was a documentary about this, narrated by Jeremy Clarkson, of all people! However, Clarkson was being serious for once. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03n3297


Yes, I saw that, and thought that it failed to do the sbject justice, too superficial.

At the rime I expressed reservations that Godfrey Winn's book was not quoted as a soured..


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