Today is the 65th anniversary of the start of Operation Market-Garden
Don't know what that was? Want to know why you should care?
Well, let me tell you.
To summarize, Market Garden was a massive campaign by the Americans and British to try and end World War II by Christmas 1944. Kicking off on Sept. 17, 1944 the goal was to drop thousands of paratroopers behind German lines in Holland to pave the way for Allied ground forces to advance across that country and directly into Germany. How this operation happened is both a testament to courage, but also has lessons for today.
If you've read the book or seen the movie "A Bridge Too Far" you know this story. Skip the background info immediately below and move on to a couple of my pictures and observations.
If you don't know the story, stick with me for a moment and read the background first as it's relevant to the observations below.
The paratroopers were the "Market" portion of the operation. Their objective was to land behind the lines and capture a series of bridges over rivers and canals so that the "Garden" ground forces could advance across them. At the time the operation was planned, German forces were reeling backwards toward Germany in the aftermath of D-Day in June. Allied leadership felt that this was a perfect time to strike and, despite receiving some information to the contrary, simply assumed that opposition would be light. These were calculations they would regret.
The American 101st Airborne Division landed near the town of Eindhoven and took bridges in that area. The American 82nd Airborne Division landed near the city of Nijmegen (also the city where rock star Eddie Van Halen would later grow up by the way) and took several major bridges there - in particular the Nijmengen Bridge witch they captured in dramatic fashion by crossing the Waal River in little hand paddled boats and under fire. (Above: A picture of the Nijmegen Bridge that I took in 1994)
The British airborne forces dropped near the town of Arnhem, quickly moved into the city and secured the last and final key bridge of the operation there - the one across the Rhine. They were reinforced by Polish paratroops. (Below: A picture of the Arnhem Bridge I took in 1994)
Meanwhile, the British Garden ground forces had advanced over the other bridges secured by the Americans and had nearly reached Arnhem. But, German forces all along the route across Holland, and in particular near Arnhem, were significantly stronger than anticipated and ultimately after nine days of fighting the British had to withdraw from Arnhem. With the failure to capture and hold this last bridge, the overall operation failed in that the Allies couldn't cross the Rhine River and move on into Germany despite having captured a lot of enemy territory. And this is where the title of the book, the movie and the saying, "A Bridge Too Far" comes from. The war went on for another seven months.
OK, so...why remember this anniversary? Two reasons:
First and foremost, this was a HUGE operation that did help win the war overall despite failing in its own objectives. This success was not gained without loss of life. It is estimated that the Allies suffered 15,000-17,000 casualties in Operation Market Garden. So for those people's sacrifice alone I think it's worth taking a moment to remember the day they set off for their ultimate journey to defend freedom.
Second, I think that lessons of history are hard learned and this anniversary offers a reminder. One of the major reasons that Market Garden didn't fully succeed was faulty assumptions about the enemy and a willingness to look the other way when presented with info that might delay or cancel the operation. Sound familiar? It ought to given how we got into Iraq. So, my point here is that it is worth remembering the anniversary of Market Garden as a cautionary tale about over-excitement to enact military operations...even to the degree of ignoring significant danger signs or dismissing intelligence that suggests other actions would be better.