Berlin, Germany · September 26, 1944

On this date in 1944 the German news agency announced the surrender of 600 British troops in a small village west of Arn­hem in Holland. For days the lightly armed men of the British 1st Air­borne Divi­sion had held the north­ern end of a key bridge that crossed the Dutch Lower Rhine, but Brit­ish armored rein­force­ments were not able to secure the south bank of the river. Forced to retreat under withering Ger­man assaults along the narrow and exposed 30‑mile‑long Eind­hoven-Nijmegen high­way corri­dor (“Hell’s High­way”), the British left behind 7,000 dead, wounded, missing, or cap­tured.

The Battle of Arn­hem was part of Opera­tion Mar­ket Garden (Septem­ber 17–26, 1944), an auda­cious Anglo-Amer­ican land-airborne opera­tion devised by British Field Marshal (since Septem­ber 1, 1944) Sir Bernard Mont­gomery intended to out­flank Ger­man forces defending the West Wall (or Sieg­fried Line) by crossing the Lower Rhine and thrusting into the heart­land of the Third Reich—the indus­trial Ruhr—which was Gen. Dwight D. Eisen­hower’s opera­tional objec­tive for the destruc­tion of enemy forces in the west. Fresh from having taken the vital port of Ant­werp in Bel­gium, “Monty” had hugely mis­cal­culated, due partly to his most con­spicu­ous attri­bute, namely his un­shake­able self-con­fi­dence. The demo­li­tion of a bridge over the Wilhel­mina Canal, an extreme­ly over­stretched supply line, and stiffer resis­tance than anti­ci­pated at the bridge at Arn­hem failed to deliver a force suf­ficient to cross the Rhine. That river remained a bar­rier to the Allied advance into the German heart­land until the offen­sives at Rema­gen (under Maj. Gen. John William Leo­nard), Oppen­heim (under Gen. George S. Patton), Rees, and Wesel (under Mont­go­mery) in March 1945.

Market Garden blemished Mont­go­mery’s standing with­in the head­quarters of SHAEF (Supreme Head­quarters Allied Expe­di­tion­ary Forces) at least from that time on. Market Garden shat­tered the opti­mism among the West­ern Allies that the war in Europe was nearing an end, and it ushered in a period of stale­mate on the front lines that occa­sion­ally would in­flict much pain; for example, the Battle of the Bulge during which, just among Ameri­can forces, 81,000 were killed, wounded, and taken pri­soner (mid-Decem­ber 1944 to mid-Janu­ary 1945). It was the largest and dead­liest battle fought by U.S. forces in World War II.

With help from Sir Bernard Law Montgomery’s son David, The Lonely Leader: Monty by Alistair Horne focuses on the British Army’s performance under Field Marshal Montgomery during the final war years, 1944–1945. Horne’s account is distin­guished by the inclu­sion of letters and enclo­sures Mont­gomery sent to his son. One gets a strong sense of Monty’s ego and vanity when he wrote David on one occasion and enclosed a “photo portrait, painted of me for the nation.” Besides his much docu­mented vanity, the letters add a touch of pater­nal sensi­tivity to Mont­gomery’s character that could be easily over­looked. Horne shows us how Monty warned his son against “playing the fool” in school, imploring him to “culti­vate a sense of respon­si­bility.” On another occasion Mont­gomery praised his son for being top of his class in a school report, writing that “I want you to know that I am simply delighted.” Thus, Horne’s book gives an ele­ment of humanity to the reader’s impres­sion of Mont­gomery, who, though cer­tainly con­ceited, was not beyond human com­pas­sion. None­the­less, Horne is apt to slight Mont­gomery’s clearest failings—for example, the disas­trous Arn­hem landings of Septem­ber 1944, which saw an entire British air­borne divi­sion destroyed, is reduced to four pages, and Horne uncon­vincingly deflects blame for the operation onto Monty’s Amer­ican superiors.—John Merrington

Battle of Arnhem, September 17–26, 1944

Arnhem, Holland, bridge over Lower RhineBritish glider-borne battalion en route to Arnhem, September 18, 1944

Left: Aerial view of the bridge over the Neder­rijn (Dutch, “Lower Rhine” or “Nether Rhine”), Arn­hem, one of a num­ber of choke points over water obstacles leading into Ger­many. British troops and destroyed Ger­man armored vehicles are visible at the north end of the bridge. Had Field Marshal Bernard Mont­gomery’s ambi­tious scheme for seizing the road, rail, and pon­toon bridges over the Lower Rhine suc­ceeded, the war in Europe might have been shortened by months. How­ever, back­up forces were un­able to come up quickly enough to en­able the advance air­borne troops to hold the strategically vital bridge at Arnhem.

Right: The Battle of Arnhem was fought in and around the Dutch towns of Arn­hem, Ooster­beek, Wolf­heze, Driel, and the sur­rounding country­side. In this photo, men of the British 2nd Bat­talion South Stafford­shire Regi­ment are shown towing a 6‑pounder anti-tank gun as they enter Ooster­beek en route to Arn­hem, Septem­ber 18, 1944. The 2nd Bat­talion started the opera­tion 867 men strong but only 139 returned to British lines.

Arnhem bridge after battle to hold it for the AlliesCaptured Arnhem bridge fighters

Left: The bridge at Arnhem—the “bridge too far”—after the British 2nd Para­chute Bat­talion (745 lightly armed men) had been over­run and driven back when it ran out of ammu­ni­tion following four days of some of the fierc­est fighting seen by either side. If all had gone to plan there would have been almost 9,000 men holding Arn­hem bridge for the two days it was supposed to take the British XXX Corps, 50,000 strong, to reach them.

Right: British prisoners at Arnhem Bridge, Septem­ber 1944. The British 1st Air­borne Divi­sion, sup­ported by men of the Glider Pilot Regi­ment, and the Polish 1st Inde­pen­dent Para­chute Bri­gade lost approx­i­mately 1,984 killed and 6,854 cap­tured. After nine days of fighting, the remains of the air­borne forces were with­drawn. With no secure bridges over the Neder­rijn, the Allies were un­able to advance further and the front line stabilized south of Arn­hem. The British 1st Air­borne Divi­sion lost nearly three-quarters of its strength and never saw combat again.

Operation Market Garden, the Netherlands, September 1944