Yen's Blog

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A bridge too far

As I outlined in my Nijmegen page, Arnhem figured prominently in WWII’s Operation Market Garden, the brainchild of Field Marshall Montgomery. The crucial bridge over the Neder Rijn was tasked to the British 1st Airborne Division under the command of Major General Roy Urquhart. Due to lack of transport and poor planning, the British were under-strength and dropped far away from their objective. Morever, due to bad luck and poor intelligence, they underestimated German strength in the area, which included two crack SS Panzer divisions. Displaying great courage and devotion to duty, British airborne troops of 2 Battalion under Lt Colonel John Frost managed to capture the town and the northern end of the bridge. However, they were isolated from the rest of the division, which were likewise scattered and fighting for their lives. Their only hope lay in promised reinforcements from the British 30 Corps, which were supposed to have advanced from Belgium. The progress of 30 Corps depended on American paratroopers capturing the key bridges to the south at Nijmegen and Grave. While the Americans achieved their objectives, they had to fight desperate battles, with the result that 30 Corps suffered crucial delays. Meanwhile, at Arnhem, the Germans’ much shorter supply lines meant that enemy forces steadily poured into the area. The 1st Airborne was fighting a losing battle. Frost’s lightly armed men had to fend off numerous armor attacks, in which German panzers moved into town and blasted the houses in which the British were holed up, one by one. Eventually, the inevitable decision was made to withdraw what was left of the division, leaving Frost and his men to their fate. With no ammunitions left and most of his men dead, wounded or captured, Frost was forced to surrender. In the end, his small command had held their position longer than the entire division was supposed to hold. The rest of the division managed to retreat, but only less than a quarter of the 10,000 men made it back. As for Frost, he spent the remainder of the war in captivity, until he was rescued by advancing American troops. The disastrous end of Operation Market Garden bore out the words of British Lt General Browning to Monty prior to the operation: “I think we may be going a bridge too far.” The sacrifice of the brave British airborne troops was for naught. This page has more details about the battle.

So much for the historical background. But as a tourist one may be more interested in the present. And Arnhem has an interesting attraction in the form of an outdoor museum. Among the displays are houses, farms, shops, and, yes, the inevitable Dutch windmills from different periods, all open for inspection. It’s a unique and wonderful setting for a leisurely day (if weather permits, that is).

Last visit: June 1999