EVEN AS VON RUNDSTEDT gambled desperately to save the trapped Fifteenth Army, Major General George Philip Roberts, commander of the British 11th Armored Division, 150 miles away in Antwerp, was jubilantly informing his superiors of a startling development. His men had captured not only the city but the huge port as well.
Together with the Guards Armored Division, Roberts’ tanks had made an extraordinary dash of more than 250 miles in just five days. The spearhead of Lieutenant General Miles C. Demp-sey’s great British Second Army had been ordered by Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks, XXX Corps commander, to “keep going like mad.” Leaving the Guards to capture Brussels, Roberts’ division bypassed the city and in the early hours of September 4, with the courageous help of the Belgian underground, entered Antwerp. Now, some thirty-six hours later, after clearing the deep-sea complex of a stunned and panic-stricken enemy, Roberts reported that his men had captured Antwerp’s huge 1,000-acre harbor area intact. Warehouses, cranes, bridges, 3½ miles of wharves, quays, locks, drydocks, rolling stock—and, unbelievably, even the all-important electrically controlled sluice gates, in full working order—had been seized.
German plans to demolish the port had failed. Explosives had been placed on major bridges and other key installations, but, overwhelmed by the spectacular speed of the British and resistance groups (among them Belgian engineers who knew exactly where the demolitions were planted), the disorganized German garrison never had a chance to destroy the vast harbor facilities.
The thirty-seven-year-old Roberts had brilliantly executed his orders. Unfortunately, in one of the greatest miscalculations of the European war, no one had directed him to take advantage of the situation—that is, strike north, grab bridgeheads over the Albert Canal in the northern suburbs, and then make a dash for the base of the South Beveland peninsula only eighteen miles away By holding its 2-mile-wide neck, Roberts could have bottled up German forces on the isthmus, preparatory to clearing the vital northern bank. It was a momentous oversight.* The port of Antwerp, one of the war’s major prizes, was secured; but its approaches, still held by the Germans, were not. This great facility, which could have shortened and fed Allied supply lines all along the front, was useless. Yet nobody, in the heady atmosphere of the moment, saw this oversight as more than a temporary condition. Indeed, there seemed no need to hurry. With the Germans reeling, the mop-up could take place at any time. The 11th Armored, its assignment completed, held its positions awaiting new orders.
The magnificent drive of Dempsey’s armored forces in the north, equaling that of Patton’s south of the Ardennes, had run its course, though at this moment few realized it. Roberts’ men were exhausted, short on gasoline and supplies. The same was true of the remainder of General Brian Horrocks’ XXX Corps. Thus, on this same afternoon, the relentless pressure that had thrown the Germans back in the north, shattered and demoralized, suddenly relaxed. The blunder at Antwerp was compounded as the British came to a halt to “refit, refuel, and rest,”
General Horrocks, the XXX Corps’s capable and dynamic commander, was not even thinking about Antwerp.* Like Field Marshal Montgomery, commander of the British 21st Army Group, his attention was focused on another target: the crossing of the Rhine and a swift end to the war. Only a few hours earlier, elated at the verve and dash of his armies, Montgomery had cabled the Supreme Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower: “We have now reached a stage where a really powerful and full-blooded thrust towards Berlin is likely to get there and thus end the war.”
In London, His Royal Highness, the Prince of the Netherlands conferred with Queen Wilhelmina and then telephoned his wife, the Princess Juliana, in Canada. He urged her to fly immediately to England, ready to return to the Netherlands the moment the country was freed. Their long exile was about to end. The liberation, when it came, would be swift. They must be ready. Yet Bernhard was uneasy.
Over the past seventy-two hours messages reaching him from the resistance had again and again underscored the German panic in Holland and repeated the news that the retreat, begun on September 2, was still in progress. Now, on the fifth, underground leaders reported that although the Germans were still disorganized, the exodus appeared to be slowing down. Bernhard had also heard from the Dutch Prime Minister in exile. Prime Minister Gerbrandy was somewhat embarrassed. Obviously his September 3 broadcast was premature; Allied troops had most certainly not crossed the Dutch border as yet. The Prince and the Prime Minister pondered the reason. Why had the British not moved? Surely, from the underground messages they received, the situation in Holland was clear.
Bernhard had little military training and was dependent on his own advisers, yet he was puzzled.* If the Germans were still disorganized and, as his resistance leaders believed, a “thrust by a few tanks” could liberate the country “in a matter of hours”—why, then, didn’t the British proceed? Perhaps Montgomery disbelieved the reports of the Dutch resistance because he considered them amateurish or unreliable. Bernhard could find no other explanation. Why else would the British hesitate, instead of instantly crossing the border? Although he was in constant touch with his ministers, the United States ambassador at large, Anthony Biddle, and Eisenhower’s chief of staff, Bedell Smith, and as a result was well aware that, at this moment, the advance was so fluid that the situation was changing almost hour by hour, nevertheless Bernhard thought he would like firsthand information. He made a decision: he would request permission of SHAEF to fly to Belgium and see Field Marshal Montgomery himself as soon as possible. He had every faith in the Allied high command and, in particular, Montgomery. Still, if something was wrong, Bernhard had to know.
At his spartan, tented headquarters in the Royal Palace Gardens at Laeken, a few miles from the center of Brussels, Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery impatiently waited for an answer to his coded “Personal for Eisenhower Eyes Only” message. Its urgent demand for a powerful and full-blooded thrust to Berlin was sent in the late hours of September 4. Now, by midday on September 5, the brusque, wiry fifty-eight-year-old hero of E1 Alamein waited for a reply and impatiently fretted about the future course of the war. Two months before the invasion of Normandy he had said, “If we do our stuff properly and no mistakes are made, then I believe that Germany will be out of the war this year.” In Montgomery’s unalterable opinion, a momentous strategic mistake had been made just before the Allies captured Paris and crossed the Seine. Eisenhower’s “broad-front policy”—moving his armies steadily forward to the borders of the Reich, then up to the Rhine—may have been valid when planned before the invasion, but with the sudden disorderly collapse of the Germans, the Britisher believed, it was now obsolete. As Montgomery put it, that strategy had become “unstitched.” And all his military training told him “we could not get away with it and … would be faced with a long winter campaign with all that that entailed for the British people.”
On August 17 he had proposed to General Omar N. Bradley, the U.S. 12th Army Group commander, a single-thrust plan. Both his own and Bradley’s army group should stay “together as a solid mass of forty divisions, which would be so strong that it need fear nothing. This force should advance northeastward.” Montgomery’s 21st Army Group would clear the Channel coast, and secure Antwerp and southern Holland. Bradley’s U.S. 12th Army Group, its right flank on the Ardennes, would head for Aachen and Cologne. The basic objective of Montgomery’s proposed drive was to “secure bridgeheads over the Rhine before the winter began and to seize the Ruhr quickly.” In all probability, he theorized, it would also end the war. Montgomery’s plan called for three of Eisenhower’s four armies—the British Second, the U.S. First and the Canadian First. The fourth, Patton’s U.S. Third Army, at this moment making headlines around the world for its spectacular advances, Montgomery dismissed. He calmly suggested it should be brought to a halt.
Some forty-eight hours later Montgomery learned that Bradley, who he had believed was responsive to his own idea, actually favored an American thrust, a Patton drive toward the Rhine and Frankfurt. Eisenhower rejected both plans; he was not prepared to change his strategic concept. The Supreme Commander wanted to remain flexible enough to thrust both to the Ruhr and the Saar as the occasion permitted. To Montgomery, this was no longer the “broad-front policy” but a double-thrust plan. Everybody now, he felt, was “going his own way”—especially Patton, who seemed to be allowed enormous latitude. Eisenhower’s determination to persist in his original concept revealed quite clearly, in Montgomery’s opinion, that the Supreme Commander was “in fact, completely out of touch with the land battle.”
Montgomery’s view was based on a recent development which angered him and, he felt, demeaned his own role. He was no longer the over-all coordinator of the land battle. On September 1 Eisenhower had personally taken over command. Because the Supreme Commander believed Montgomery “a master of the set battle piece,” he had given the British general operational control of the D-Day assault and the initial period of fighting thereafter. Thus, General Omar N. Bradley’s 12th Army Group was under Montgomery. Press stories appearing in the United States at the end of August revealing that Bradley’s army group still operated under Montgomery created such a public furor that Eisenhower was promptly ordered by General George C. Marshall, U.S. Chief of Staff, to “immediately assume direct command” of all ground forces. American armies reverted back to their own command. The move caught Montgomery off base. As his chief of staff, General Francis de Guingand, later put it: “Montgomery … never, I believe, thought that the day would come so soon. Possibly he hoped that the initial command set up was there to stay for a long time. He was, I think, apt to give insufficient weight to the dictates of prestige and national feelings, or to the increasing contribution of America, in both men and arms … it was obvious, however, to most of us that it would have been an impossible situation for a British general and a British headquarters to retain command of these more numerous American formations indefinitely.”* It may have been obvious to his staff but not to Montgomery. He felt publicly humiliated, *
It was hardly a secret that Monty and his superior, Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, were highly critical of Eisenhower. Both men considered him ambivalent and indecisive. In a letter to Montgomery on July 28, Brooke commented that Eisenhower had only “the very vaguest conception of war!” On another occasion he summarized the Supreme Commander as “a most attractive personality,” but with “a very, very limited brain from a strategic point of view.” Montgomery, never a man to mince words, saw “right from the beginning that Ike had simply no experience for the job,” and while history, he felt, would record Eisenhower “as a very good Supreme Commander, as a field commander he was very bad, very bad.”* Angrily, Montgomery began promoting the idea of an over-all “Land Forces Commander,” a post sandwiched between the army groups and Eisenhower He knew just the man for the job—himself. Eisenhower was well aware of the underground campaign. He remained calm. The Supreme Commander was, in his way, as obstinate as Montgomery. His orders from General Marshall were clear and he had no intention of entertaining the idea of any overall ground commander other than himself.
Montgomery had no opportunity to discuss his single-thrust plan or his thoughts about a land-forces commander directly with Eisenhower until August 23, when the Supreme Commander came to lunch at 21st Army Group headquarters. Then the fractious Montgomery, with extraordinary tactlessness, insisted on a private conversation with the Supreme Commander. He demanded that Eisenhower’s chief of staff, General Bedell Smith, be excluded from the conference. Smith left the tent, and for an hour Eisenhower, grimly keeping his temper, was lectured by his subordinate on the need for “a firm and sound plan.” Montgomery demanded that Eisenhower “decide where the main effort would be” so that “we could be certain of decisive results quickly.” Again and again he pressed for the “single thrust,” warning that if the Supreme Commander continued the “broad-front strategy with the whole line advancing and everyone fighting all the time, the advance would inevitably peter out.” If that happened, Montgomery warned, “the Germans would gain time to recover, and the war would go on all through the winter and well into 1945. If we split the maintenance,” Montgomery said, “and advance on a broad front we shall be so weak everywhere we’ll have no chance of success.” To his mind there was only one policy: “to halt the right and strike with the left, or halt the left and strike with the right.” There could only be one thrust and everything should support it.
Eisenhower saw Montgomery’s proposal as a gigantic gamble. It might produce speedy and decisive victory. It might instead result in disaster. He was not prepared to accept the risks involved. Nevertheless he found himself caught between Montgomery on one side and Bradley and Patton on the other—each advocating “the main thrust,” each wanting to be entrusted with it.
Up to this point, Montgomery, notorious for his slow-moving, if successful, tactics, had yet to prove that he could exploit a situation with the speed of Patton; and at this moment Patton’s army, far ahead of everyone else, had crossed the Seine and was racing toward Germany. Diplomatically, Eisenhower explained to Montgomery that, whatever the merits of a single thrust, he could hardly hold back Patton and stop the U.S. Third Army in its tracks. “The American people,” said the Supreme Commander, “would never stand for it, and public opinion wins wars.” Montgomery heatedly disagreed. “Victories win wars,” he announced. “Give people victory and they won’t care who won it.”
Eisenhower was not impressed. Although he did not say so at the time, he thought Montgomery’s view was “much too narrow,” and that the Field Marshal did not “understand the over-all situation.” Eisenhower explained to Montgomery that he wanted Patton to continue eastward so that a link-up might be effected with the American and French forces advancing from the south. In short, he made it quite clear that his “broad-front policy” would continue.
Montgomery turned for the moment to the subject of a land commander. “Someone must run the land battle for you.” Eisenhower, Montgomery declared, should “sit on a very lofty perch in order to be able to take a detached view of the whole intricate problem, which involves land, sea, air, et cetera.” He retreated from arrogance to humility. If the matter of “public opinion in America was involved,” Montgomery declared, he would gladly “let Bradley control the battle and serve under him.”
Eisenhower quickly dismissed the suggestion. Placing Bradley over Montgomery would be as unacceptable to the British people as the reverse would be to the Americans. As for his own role he could not, he explained, deviate from the plan to take personal control of the battle. But, in seeking a solution to some of the immediate problems, he was ready to make some concessions to Montgomery. He needed the Channel ports and Antwerp. They were vital to the entire Allied supply problem. Thus, for the moment, Eisenhower said, priority would be given to the 21st Army Group’s northern thrust. Montgomery could use the Allied First Airborne Army in England—at the time SHAEF’s only reserve. Additionally, he could have the support of the U.S. First Army moving on his right.
Montgomery had, in the words of General Bradley, “won the initial skirmish,” but the Britisher was far from satisfied. It was his firm conviction that Eisenhower had missed the “great opportunity.” Patton shared that view—for different reasons—when the news reached him. Not only had Eisenhower given supply priority to Montgomery at the expense of the U.S. Third Army, but he had also rejected Patton’s proposed drive to the Saar. To Patton, it was “the most momentous error of the war.”
In the two weeks since this clash of personalities and conflicting military philosophies had taken place, much had happened. Montgomery’s 21st Army Group now rivaled Patton’s in speed. By September 5, with his advance units already in Antwerp, Montgomery was more convinced than ever that his single-thrust concept was right. He was determined to reverse the Supreme Commander’s decision. A crucial turning point in the conflict had been reached. The Germans, Montgomery was convinced, were teetering on the verge of collapse.
He was not alone in this view. On nearly every level of command, intelligence officers were forecasting the imminent end of the war. The most optimistic estimate came from the Combined Allied Intelligence Committee in London. The German situation had deteriorated to such an extent that the group believed the enemy incapable of recovery. There was every indication, their estimate said, that “organized resistance under the control of the German high command is unlikely to continue beyond December 1, 1944, and … may end even sooner.” Supreme Headquarters shared this optimism. At the end of August, SHAEF’s intelligence summary declared that “the August battles have done it and the enemy in the west has had it. Two and one half months of bitter fighting have brought the end of the war in Europe in sight, almost within reach.” Now, one week later, they considered the German army “no longer a cohesive force but a number of fugitive battle groups, disorganized and even demoralized, short of equipment and arms.” Even the conservative director of military operations at the British War Office, Major General John Kennedy, noted on September 6 that “If we go at the same pace as of late, we should be in Berlin by the 28th….”
In this chorus of optimistic predictions there seemed only one dissenting voice. The U.S. Third Army’s intelligence chief, Colonel Oscar W. Koch, believed the enemy still capable of waging a last-ditch struggle and warned that “barring internal upheaval in the homeland and the remote possibility of insurrection within the Wehrmacht … the German armies will continue to fight until destroyed or captured.”* But his own intelligence officer’s cautious appraisal meant little to the Third Army’s ebullient commander, Lieutenant General George S. Patton. Like Montgomery in the north, Patton in the south was now only one hundred miles from the Rhine. He too believed the time had come, as Montgomery had put it, “to stick our neck out in a single deep thrust into enemy territory,” and finish off the war. The only difference lay in their views of who was to stick out his neck. Both commanders, flushed with victory and bidding for glory, now vied for that opportunity. In his zeal, Montgomery had narrowed his rivalry down to Patton alone: a British field marshal in charge of an entire army group was trying to outrace an American lieutenant general in charge of a single army.
But all along the front the fever of success gripped battle commanders. After the spectacular sweep across France and Belgium and with evidence of German defeat all around, men now confidently believed that nothing could stop the victorious surge from continuing through the Siegfried Line and beyond, into the heart of Germany. Yet, keeping the enemy off balance and disorganized demanded constant, unremitting Allied pressure. Supporting that pressure had now produced a crisis that few seemed aware of. The heady optimism bordered on self-deception for, at this moment, Eisenhower’s great armies, after a hectic dash of more than two hundred miles from the Seine, were caught up in a gigantic maintenance and supply problem. After six weeks of almost nonstop advance against little opposition, few noted the sudden loss of momentum. But as the first tanks approached Germany’s threshold and at places began probing the Westwall itself, the advance began to slow. The Allied pursuit was over, strangled by its own success.
The chief problem crippling the advance was the lack of ports. There was no shortage of supplies, but these were stockpiled in Normandy, still being brought in across the beaches or through the only workable port, Cherbourg—some 450 miles behind the forward elements. Supplying four great armies in full pursuit from that far back was a nightmarish task. A lack of transportation added to the creeping paralysis. Rail networks, bombed in preinvasion days or destroyed by the French underground, could not be repaired fast enough. Gasoline pipelines were only now being laid and extended. As a result, everything from rations to gasoline was being hauled by road, and there was a frustrating shortage of trucks.
To keep abreast of the pursuit which, day by day, pushed farther east, every kind of vehicle was being pressed into service. Artillery, antiaircraft guns and spare tanks had been unloaded from their conveyors and left behind so that the conveyors could be used to carry supplies. Divisions had been stripped of their transport companies. The British had left one entire corps west of the Seine so that its transport could service the rest of the speeding army. Montgomery’s difficulties mounted with the discovery that 1,400 British three-ton trucks were useless because of faulty pistons.
Now, in herculean efforts to keep the pursuit going without pause, a ceaseless belt of trucks—the “Red Ball Express”—hammered east, delivered their supplies and then swung back to the west for more, some convoys often making a grueling round trip of between six and eight hundred miles. Even with all available transport moving around the clock and with commanders in the field applying the most stringent economies, the supply demands of the armies could not be met. Taxed beyond its capabilities, the makeshift supply structure had almost reached the breaking point.
Besides the acute transportation problem, men were tired, equipment worn out after the catapultlike advance from Normandy. Tanks, half-tracks and vehicles of every description had been driven so long without proper maintenance that they were breaking down. Overshadowing everything was a critical shortage of gasoline. Eisenhower’s armies, needing one million gallons per day, were receiving only a fraction of that amount.
The effect was critical. In Belgium, as the enemy fled before it, an entire corps of the U.S. First Army was halted for four days, its tanks dry. Patton’s U.S. Third Army, more than a hundred miles ahead of everyone else, and meeting little opposition, was forced to halt for five days on the Meuse, because armored columns were out of gas. Patton was furious when he discovered that of the 400,000 gallons of gasoline ordered, he had received only 32,000 due to priority cutbacks. He promptly ordered his leading corps commander: “Get off your fanny as fast as you can and move on until your engines run dry, then get out and walk, goddammit!” To his headquarters staff, Patton raged that he was “up against two enemies—the Germans and our own high command. I can take care of the Germans, but I’m not sure I can win against Montgomery and Eisenhower.” He tried. Convinced that he could bludgeon his way into Germany in a matter of days, Patton furiously appealed to Bradley and Eisenhower. “My men can eat their belts,” he stormed, “but my tanks have gotta have gas.”
The crushing defeat of the Germans in Normandy and the systematic and speedy annihilation of their forces following the breakout had caused the logistic crisis. On the assumption that the enemy would hold and fight on the various historic river lines, invasion planners had anticipated a more conservative advance. A pause for regrouping and massing of supplies, it was assumed, would take place after the Normandy beachhead had been secured and Channel ports captured. The lodgment area was expected to lie west of the river Seine which, according to the projected timetable, would not be reached until September 4 (D plus 90 days). The sudden disintegration of the enemy’s forces and their headlong flight eastward had made the Allied timetable meaningless. Who could have foreseen that by September 4 Allied tanks would be two hundred miles east of the Seine and in Antwerp? Eisenhower’s staff had estimated that it would take approximately eleven months to reach the German frontier at Aachen. Now, as tank columns approached the Reich, the Allies were almost seven months ahead of their advance schedule. That the supply and transportation system, designed for a much slower rate of progress, had stood up to the strain of the hectic pursuit at all was close to miraculous.
Yet, in spite of the critical logistic situation, no one was ready to admit that the armies must soon halt or that the pursuit was over. “Every commander from division upwards,” Eisenhower later wrote, was “obsessed with the idea that with only a few more tons of supply, he could rush right on and win the war…. Each commander, therefore, begged and demanded priority over all others, and it was quite undeniable that in front of each were opportunities for quick exploitation that made the demands completely logical.” Still, the optimism had infected even the Supreme Commander. It was obvious that he believed the impetus of the advance could be maintained long enough for the Allied armies to overrun the Siegfried Line before the Germans had a chance to defend it, for he saw signs of “collapse” on the “entire front.” On September 4 he directed that Bradley’s “12th Army Group will capture the Saar and the Frankfurt area.” Montgomery’s “21st Army Group will capture the Ruhr and Antwerp.”
Even Patton seemed appeased by the announcement. Now he was sure that, given adequate supplies, his powerful U.S. Third Army could, by itself, reach the industrial Saar and then dash on all the way to the Rhine.* And in the unparalleled atmosphere ofvictory that prevailed, Montgomery, with his coded message of September 4, once again doggedly pressed his case. This time he went far beyond his proposal of August 17 and his conversation with Eisenhower on August 23. Convinced that the Germans were broken, the commander of the British 21st Army Group believed that he could not only reach the Ruhr but race all the way to Berlin itself.
In his nine-paragraph message to Eisenhower, Montgomery spelled out again the reasons that convinced him that the moment had come for a “really powerful and full-blooded thrust.” There were two strategic opportunities open to the Allies, “one via the Ruhr and the other via Metz and the Saar.” But, he argued, because “we have not enough resources, two such drives could not be maintained.” There was a chance for only one—his. That thrust, the northern one “via the Ruhr,” was, in Montgomery’s opinion, “likely to give the best and quickest results.” To guarantee its success, Monty’s single thrust would need “all the maintenance resources … without qualification.” He was now clearly impatient of any other considerations. He was going on record both as to the worth of his own plan and his skill and belief in himself as the one man to carry it off. Other operations would have to get along with whatever logistic support remained. There could be no compromise, he warned the Supreme Commander. He dismissed the possibility of two drives, because “it would split our maintenance resources so that neither thrust is full-blooded” and as a result “prolong the war.” As Montgomery saw the problem it was “very simple and clear-cut.” But time was of “such vital importance … that a decision is required at once.”
Acrid and autocratic, the most popular British commander since Wellington was obsessed by his own beliefs. Considering the acute logistic situation, he reasoned that his single-thrust theory was now more valid than it had been two weeks before. In his intractable way—and indifferent as to how the tone of his message might be received—Montgomery was not merely suggesting a course of action for the Supreme Commander; the Field Marshal was dictating one. Eisenhower must halt all other armies in their tracks—in particular Patton’s—so that all resources could be put behind his single drive. And his Signal No. M-160 closed with a typical example of Montgomery’s arrogance. “If you are coming this way perhaps you would look in and discuss it,” he proposed. “If so, delighted to see you lunch tomorrow. Do not feel I can leave this battle just at present.” That his closing words bordered on the insolent seemed not to occur to Montgomery in his anxiety that this last chance to finish off the Germans must not be lost. Limpetlike, he clung to his single-thrust plan. For now he was sure that even Eisenhower must realize that the time had come to strike the final blow.
In the bedroom of his villa at Granville on the western side of the Cherbourg peninsula, the Supreme Commander read Montgomery’s Signal No. M-160 with angry disbelief. The fifty-five-year-old Eisenhower thought Montgomery’s proposal “unrealistic” and “fantastic.” Three times Montgomery had nagged him to exasperation about single-thrust schemes. Eisenhower thought he had settled the strategy conflict once and for all on August 23. Yet, now Montgomery was not only advocating his theory once again but was proposing to rush all the way to Berlin. Usually calm and congenial, Eisenhower now lost his temper. “There isn’t a single soul who believes this can be done, except Montgomery,” he exploded to members of his staff. At this moment, to Eisenhower’s mind, the most urgent matter was the opening of the Channel ports, especially Antwerp. Why could Montgomery not understand that? The Supreme Commander was only too well aware of the glittering opportunities that existed. But, as he told the Deputy Supreme Commander, Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Tedder, and SHAEF’s assistant chief of staff Lieutenant General Frederick Morgan, for Montgomery “to talk of marching to Berlin with an army which is still drawing the great bulk of its supplies over the beaches is fantastic.”
The Field Marshal’s message could hardly have come at a worse time. The Supreme Commander was propped up in bed, his right knee in a cast, as a consequence of an injury of which Montgomery, at the moment, was unaware. Eisenhower had more cause than this, however, to be edgy. Leaving the main body of SHAEF in London, he had come to the Continent to take personal control on September 1, four days earlier. His small advance command headquarters at Jullouville near Granville was totally inadequate. Because of the phenomenal movement of his armies, Eisenhower was stranded more than four hundred miles from the front—and there were, as yet, no telephone or teletype facilities. Except for radio and a rudimentary courier system, he was unable to communicate immediately with his commanders in the field. The physical injury which added to these tactical discomforts had occurred after one of his routine flying visits to his principal commanders. On September 2, returning from a conference at Chartres with senior American generals, Eisenhower’s plane, because of high winds and bad visibility, had been unable to land at the headquarters’ airfield. Instead, it had put down—safely—on the beach near his villa. But then, trying to help the pilot pull the plane away from the water’s edge, Eisenhower had badly wrenched his right knee. Thus, at this vital juncture in the war, as the Supreme Commander tried to take control of the land battle and with events happening so fast that immediate decisions were necessary, Eisenhower was physically immobilized.
Although Montgomery—or, for that matter, Bradley and Patton—might feel that Eisenhower “was out of touch with the land battle,” only distance made that argument valid. His excellent, integrated Anglo-American staff was much more cognizant of the day-to-day situation in the field than his generals realized. And while he expected combat commanders to display initiative and boldness, only the Supreme Commander and his staff could view the over-all situation and make decisions accordingly. But it was true that, in this transitional period, while Eisenhower was assuming personal control, there appeared to be a lack of clear-cut direction, due in part to the complexity of the Supreme Commander’s role. Coalition command was far from easy. Yet, Eisenhower, maintaining a delicate balance, and following to the letter the plans of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, made the system work. In the interest of Allied amity, he might modify strategy, but Eisenhower had no intention of throwing caution to the winds and allowing Montgomery, as the Supreme Commander later put it, to make a “single, knifelike drive toward Berlin.”*
He had been more than tolerant with Montgomery, granting him concession after concession, often incurring the anger of his own American generals. Yet, it seemed that Monty “always wanted everything and he never did anything fast in his life.”* Eisenhower said he understood Montgomery’s peculiarities better than the Britisher realized. “Look, people have told me about his boyhood,” Eisenhower recalled, “and when you have a contest between Eton and Harrow on one side and some of the lesser schools on the other, some of these juniors coming into the army felt sort of inferior. The man, all his life, has been trying to prove that he was somebody.” Clearly, however, the Field Marshal’s views reflected his British superiors’ beliefs on how the Allies should proceed.
Understandable as this might be, Montgomery’s arrogance in presenting such views invariably set American commanders’ teeth on edge. As Supreme Commander, armed by the Combined Chiefs of Staff with sweeping powers, Eisenhower had one prime concern: to hold the Allies together and win the war swiftly. Although some of SHAEF’s staff, including many Britishers, considered Montgomery insufferable and said so, Eisenhower never commented on him except in private to his chief of staff, Bedell Smith. But, in fact, the Supreme Commander’s exasperation with Montgomery went far deeper than anyone knew. Eisenhower felt that the Field Marshal was “a psychopath … such an egocentric” that everything he had ever done “was perfect … he never made a mistake in his life.” Eisenhower was not going to let him make one now. “Robbing the American Peter who is fed from Cherbourg,” he told Tedder, “will certainly not get the British Paul to Berlin.”
Nevertheless, Eisenhower was deeply disturbed at the widening rift between him and Britain’s favorite general. Within the next few days, the Supreme Commander decided, he would meet with Montgomery in an effort to clarify what he considered to be a misunderstanding. Once more he would attempt to spell out his strategy and hope for agreement, however grudgingly it might come. In the interim before the meeting, he made one thing clear. He firmly rejected Montgomery’s single-thrust plan and his bid for Berlin. On the evening of September 5, in a coded message to the Field Marshal, he said, “While agreeing with your conception of a powerful and full-blooded thrust toward Berlin, I do not agree that it should be initiated at this moment to the exclusion of all other maneuvers.” As the Supreme Commander saw it, “the bulk of the German army in the west has now been destroyed,” and that success should be exploited “by promptly breaching the Siegfried Line, crossing the Rhine on a wide front and seizing the Saar and the Ruhr. This I intend to do with all possible speed.” These moves, Eisenhower believed, would place a “strangle hold on Germany’s main industrial areas and largely destroy her capacity to wage war….” Opening the ports of Le Havre and Antwerp was essential, Eisenhower went on, before any “powerful thrust” into Germany could be launched. But, at the moment, Eisenhower emphasized, “no relocation of our present resources would be adequate to sustain a thrust to Berlin….”
Eisenhower’s decision took thirty-six hours to reach Montgomery, and then only the last half of the message arrived. The concluding two paragraphs were received by Montgomery at 9 A.M. on the morning of September 7. The opening section did not arrive until September 9, another forty-eight hours later. As Montgomery saw it, Eisenhower’s communication was one more confirmation that the Supreme Commander was “too far removed from the battle.”
From the first fragment of the message that Montgomery received, it was abundantly clear that Eisenhower had rejected his plan, for it contained the sentence, “No relocation of our present resources would be adequate to sustain a thrust to Berlin.” Montgomery immediately sent off a message disagreeing heatedly.
With the slackening of the pursuit, Montgomery’s worst fears were being realized. German opposition was stiffening. In his message, focusing in particular on the shortage of supplies, Montgomery claimed that he was getting only half his requirements, and “I cannot go on for long like this.” He refused to be diverted from his plan to drive to Berlin. The obvious necessity of immediately opening up the vital port of Antwerp was not even mentioned in his dispatch, yet he stressed that “as soon as I have a Pas de Calais port working, I would then require about 2,500 additional three-ton lorries, plus an assured airlift averaging about 1,000 tons a day to enable me to get to the Ruhr and finally Berlin.” Because it was all “very difficult to explain,” the Field Marshal “wondered if it was possible” for Eisenhower to come and see him. Unshaken in his conviction that the Supreme Commander’s decision was a grave error and confident that his own plan would work, Montgomery refused to accept Eisenhower’s rejection as final. Yet he had no intention of flying to Jullouville in an attempt to change Eisenhower’s mind. Such diplomacy was not part of his makeup, although he was fully aware that the only hope of selling his proposal was via a face-to-face meeting with the Supreme Commander. Outraged and seething, Montgomery awaited a reply from Eisenhower. The British Field Marshal was in near-seclusion, impatient and irritable, at the moment when Prince Bernhard arrived at the headquarters to pay his respects.
Bernhard had arrived in France on the evening of the sixth. With a small staff, three jeeps, his Sealyham terrier Martin and a bulging briefcase containing Dutch underground reports, he and his party flew to the Continent, guarded by two fighter planes, in three Dakotas with Bernhard at the controls of one. From the airfield at Amiens they drove to Douai, fifty miles north, and early on the seventh set out for Belgium and Brussels. At the Laeken headquarters the Prince was met by General Horrocks, introduced to Montgomery’s staff and ushered into the presence of the Field Marshal. “He was in a bad humor and obviously not happy to see me,” Bernhard recalled. “He had a lot on his mind, and the presence of royalty in his area was understandably a responsibility that he could easily do without.”
The Field Marshal’s renown as the greatest British soldier of the war had made him, in Bernhard’s words, “the idol of millions of Britishers.” And the thirty-three-year-old Prince was in awe of Montgomery. Unlike Eisenhower’s relaxed, almost casual manner, Montgomery’s demeanor made it difficult for Bernhard to converse easily with him. Sharp and blunt from the outset, Montgomery made it clear that Bernhard’s presence in his area “worried” him. With justification untempered by tact or explanation, Montgomery told the Prince that it would be unwise for Bernhard to visit the headquarters of the Dutch unit—the Princess Irene Brigade—attached to the British Second Army, quartered in the area around Diest, barely ten miles from the front line. Bern-hard, who, as Commander in Chief of the Netherlands Forces, had every intention of visiting Diest, for the moment did not respond. Instead, he began to discuss the Dutch resistance reports. Montgomery overrode him. Returning to the matter, he told the Prince, “You must not live in Diest. I cannot allow it.” Irked, Bernhard felt compelled to point out that he was “serving directly under Eisenhower and did not come under the Field Marshal’s command.” Thus, from the start, as Bernhard remembers the meeting, “rightly or wrongly, we got off on the wrong foot.” (Later, in fact, Eisenhower backed Montgomery regarding Diest, but he did say that Bernhard could stay in Brussels “close to 21st Army Group headquarters, where your presence may be needed.”)
Bernhard went on to review the situation in Holland as reflected in the underground reports. Montgomery was told of the retreat and disorganization of the Germans, which had been going on since September 2, and of the makeup of the resistance groups. To the best of his knowledge, Bernhard said, the reports were accurate. Montgomery, according to the Prince, retorted, “I don’t think your resistance people can be of much use to us. Therefore, I believe all this is quite unnecessary.” Startled by the Field Marshal’s bluntness, Bernhard “began to realize that Montgomery apparently did not believe any of the messages coming from my agents in Holland. In a way, I could hardly blame him. I gathered he was a bit fed up with misleading information that he had received from the French and Belgian resistance during his advance. But, in this instance, I knew the Dutch groups involved, the people who were running them and I knew the information was, indeed, correct.” He persisted. Showing the Field Marshal the message file and quoting from report after report, Bernhard posed a question: “In view of this, why can’t you attack right away?”
“We can’t depend on these reports,” Montgomery told him. “Just because the Dutch resistance claim the Germans have been retreating from September 2 doesn’t necessarily mean they are still retreating.” Bernhard had to admit the retreat “was slowing down,” and there were “signs of reorganization.” Still, in his opinion, there was valid reason for an immediate attack.
Montgomery remained adamant. “Anyway,” he said, “much as I would like to attack and liberate Holland, I can’t do it because of supplies. We are short of ammunition. We are short of petrol for the tanks and if we did attack, in all probability they would become stranded.” Bernhard was astounded. The information he received in England from both SHAEF and his own advisers had convinced him that the liberation of Holland would be accomplished in a matter of days. “Naturally I automatically assumed that Montgomery, commander on the spot, knew the situation better than anyone else,” Bernhard later said. “Yet we had absolutely every detail on the Germans—troop strength, the number of tanks and armored vehicles, the position of antiaircraft guns—and I knew, apart from immediate front-line opposition, that there was little strength behind it. I was sick at heart, because I knew that German strength would grow with each passing day. I was unable to persuade Montgomery. In fact, nothing I said seemed to matter.”
Then Montgomery made an extraordinary disclosure. “I am just as eager to liberate the Netherlands as you are,” he said, “but we intend to do it in another, even better way.” He paused, thought a moment and then, almost reluctantly, said, “I am planning an airborne operation ahead of my troops.” Bernhard was startled. Instantly a number of questions came to his mind. In what area were the drops planned? When would the operation take place? How was it being developed? Yet he refrained from asking. Montgomery’s manner indicated he would say no more. The operation was obviously still in the planning stage and the Prince’s impression was that only the Field Marshal and a few of his staff officers knew of the plan. Although he was given no more details, Bernhard was now hopeful that the liberation of Holland, despite Montgomery’s earlier talk of lack of supplies, was imminent. He must be patient and wait. The Field Marshal’s reputation was awesome. Bernhard believed in it and in the man himself. The Prince felt a renewal of hope, for “anything Montgomery did, he would do well.”
Eisenhower, acceding to Montgomery’s request, set Sunday, September 10, as the date for a meeting. He was not particularly looking forward to his meeting with Montgomery and the usual temperamental arguments he had come to expect from the Field Marshal. He was, however, interested in learning what progress had been made in one aspect of the Montgomery operation. Although the Supreme Commander must approve all airborne plans, he had given Montgomery tactical use of the First Allied Airborne Army and permission to work out a possible plan involving that force. He knew that Montgomery, at least since the fourth, had been quietly exploring the possibility of an airborne operation to seize a bridgehead across the Rhine.
Ever since the formation of the First Allied Airborne Army under its American commander, Lieutenant General Lewis Hyde Brereton, six weeks earlier, Eisenhower had been searching for both a target and a suitable opportunity to employ the force. To that end he had been pressing Brereton and the various army commanders to develop bold and imaginative airborne plans calling for large-scale mass attacks deep behind the enemy’s lines. Various missions had been proposed and accepted, but all had been canceled. In nearly every case the speeding land armies had already arrived at the objectives planned for the paratroops.
Montgomery’s original proposal had called for units of Brere-ton’s airborne force to grab a crossing west of the town of Wesel, just over the Dutch-German border. However, heavy antiaircraft defenses in that area had forced the Field Marshal to make a change. The site he then chose was farther west in Holland: the Lower Rhine bridge at Arnhem—at this juncture more than seventy-five miles behind the German front lines.
By September 7, Operation Comet, as the plan was called, was in readiness; then bad weather, coupled with Montgomery’s concern about the ever-increasing German opposition his troops were encountering, forced a postponement. What might have succeeded on the sixth or seventh seemed risky by the tenth. Eisenhower too was concerned; for one thing he felt that the launching of an airborne attack at this juncture would mean a delay in opening the port of Antwerp. Yet the Supreme Commander remained fascinated by the possibilities of an airborne attack.
The abortive operations, some of them canceled almost at the last minute, had created a major problem for Eisenhower. Each time a mission reached the jump-off stage, troop-carrier planes, hauling gasoline to the front, had to be grounded and made ready. This loss of precious air-supply tonnage brought cries of protest from Bradley and Patton. At this moment of relentless pursuit, the airlift of gasoline, they declared, was far more vital than airborne missions. Eisenhower, anxious to use the paratroopers and urged by Washington to do so—both General Marshall and General Henry H. Arnold, commander of the U.S. Army air forces, wanted to see what Brereton’s new Allied Airborne Army could accomplish—was not prepared to ground his highly trained airborne divisions. On the contrary, he was insisting that they be used at the earliest opportunity.* In fact, it might be a way to catapult his troops across the Rhine at the very moment when the pursuit was slowing down. But on this morning of September 10, as he flew to Brussels, all other considerations were secondary in his mind to the opening of the vital port of Antwerp.
Not so Montgomery. Anxious and determined, he was waiting at Brussels airport as Eisenhower’s plane touched down. With characteristic preciseness, he had honed and refined his arguments preparatory to the meeting. He had talked with General Miles C. Dempsey of the British Second Army, and Lieutenant General Frederick Browning, commander of the British I Airborne Corps, who was also deputy chief of the First Allied Airborne Army. Browning was waiting in the wings for the outcome of the conference. Dempsey, concerned at the ever-stiffening enemy resistance before him and aware from the intelligence reports that new units were moving in, asked Montgomery to abandon the plan for an airborne attack on the bridge at Arnhem. Instead, he suggested concentrating on seizing the Rhine crossing at Wesel. Even in conjunction with an airborne mission, Dempsey contended, the British Second Army probably was not strong enough to drive due north to Arnhem by itself. It would be better, he believed, to advance in conjunction with the U.S. First Army northeast toward Wesel.
A drive into Holland was, in any case, now imperative. The British War Office had informed Montgomery that V-2’s—the first German rockets—had landed in London on September 8. Their launch sites were believed to be somewhere in western Holland. Whether before or after receiving this information, Montgomery altered his plans. Operation Comet, as originally devised, called for only a division and a half—the British 1st Airborne and the Polish 1st Parachute Brigade; that force was too weak to be effective, he believed. As a result, he canceled Comet. In its place, Montgomery came up with an even more ambitious airborne proposal. As yet, only a few of the Field Marshal’s upper-echelon officers knew about it and, apprehensive of General Bradley’s influence with Eisenhower, they had taken great pains to see that no hint of the plan reached American liaison officers at the British headquarters. Like Eisenhower, Lieutenant General Browning and the headquarters of the First Allied Airborne Army in England were, at this moment, unaware of Montgomery’s new airborne scheme.
Because of his injured knee, Eisenhower was unable to leave his plane, and the conference was held on board. Montgomery, as he had done on August 23, determined who should be present at the meeting. The Supreme Commander had brought his deputy, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, and an assistant chief of staff, Lieutenant General Sir Humphrey Gale, in charge of administration. Curtly, Montgomery asked that Eisenhower exclude Gale from the conference while insisting that his own administrative and supply chief, Lieutenant General Miles Graham, remain. Another, less acquiescent superior might well have taken issue with Montgomery’s attitude. Eisenhower patiently granted the Field Marshal’s demand. General Gale left.
Almost immediately Montgomery denounced the Supreme Commander’s broad-front policy. Constantly referring to a sheaf of Eisenhower’s communications that had arrived during the previous week, he called attention to the Supreme Commander’s inconsistencies in not clearly defining what was meant by “priority.” He argued that his 21st Army Group was not getting the “priority” in supplies promised by Eisenhower; that Patton’s drive to the Saar was being allowed to proceed at the expense of Montgomery’s forces. Calmly Eisenhower answered that he had never meant to give Montgomery “absolute priority” to the exclusion of everyone else. Eisenhower’s strategy, Montgomery reiterated, was wrong and would have “dire consequences.” So long as these two “jerky and disjointed thrusts were continued,” with supplies split between himself and Patton, “neither could succeed.” It was essential, Montgomery said, that Eisenhower decide between him and Patton. So fierce and unrestrained was Montgomery’s language that Eisenhower suddenly reached out, patted Montgomery’s knee and told him, “Steady, Monty! You can’t speak to me like that. I’m your boss.” Montgomery’s anger vanished. “I’m sorry, Ike,” he said quietly.*
The uncharacteristic but seemingly genuine apology was not the end of the matter. Doggedly, though with less acrimony, Montgomery continued to argue for his “single thrust.” Eisenhower listened intently and with sympathy to the arguments, but his own view remained unchanged. His broad-front advance would continue. He told Montgomery clearly why. As Eisenhower was later to recall,* he said, “What you’re proposing is this—if I give you all of the supplies you want, you could go straight to Berlin—right straight to Berlin? Monty, you’re nuts. You can’t do it. What the hell! If you try a long column like that in a single thrust you’d have to throw off division after division to protect your flanks from attack. Now suppose you did get a bridge across the Rhine. You couldn’t depend for long on that one bridge to supply your drive. Monty, you can’t do it.”
Montgomery, according to Eisenhower, replied, “I’ll supply them all right. Just give me what I need and I’ll reach Berlin and end the war.”
Eisenhower’s rejection was firm. Antwerp, he stressed, must be opened before any major drive into Germany could even be contemplated. Montgomery then played his trump card. The most recent development—the rocket attack on London from sites in the Netherlands—necessitated an immediate advance into Holland. He knew exactly how such a drive should begin. To strike into Germany, Montgomery proposed to use almost the entire First Allied Airborne Army in a stunning mass attack.
His plan was an expanded, grandiose version of Operation Comet. Montgomery now wanted to use three and a half divisions—the U.S. 82nd and 101st, the British 1st Airborne and the Polish 1st Parachute Brigade. The airborne forces were to seize a succession of river crossings in Holland ahead of his troops, with the major objective being the Lower Rhine bridge at Arnhem. Anticipating that the Germans would expect him to take the shortest route and drive northeast for the Rhine and the Ruhr, Montgomery had deliberately chosen a northern “back door” route to the Reich. The surprise airborne attack would open a corridor for the tanks of his British Second Army, which would race across the captured bridges to Arnhem, over the Rhine and beyond. Once all this was accomplished, Montgomery could wheel east, outflank the Siegfried Line, and dash into the Ruhr.
Eisenhower was intrigued and impressed. It was a bold, brilliantly imaginative plan, exactly the kind of mass attack he had been seeking for his long-idle airborne divisions. But now the Supreme Commander was caught between the hammer and the anvil: if he agreed to the attack, the opening of Antwerp would temporarily have to be delayed and supplies diverted from Patton. Yet, Montgomery’s proposal could revitalize the dying advance and perhaps propel the pursuit across the Rhine and into the Ruhr. Eisenhower, fascinated by the audaciousness of the plan, not only gave his approval,* but insisted that the operation take place at the earliest possible moment.
Yet the Supreme Commander stressed that the attack was a “limited one.” And he emphasized to Montgomery that he considered the combined airborne-ground operation “merely an extension of the northern advance to the Rhine and the Ruhr.” As Eisenhower remembered the conversation, he said to Montgomery, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do, Monty. I’ll give you whatever you ask to get you over the Rhine because I want a bridgehead … but let’s get over the Rhine first before we discuss anything else.” Montgomery continued to argue, but Eisenhower would not budge. Frustrated, the Field Marshal had to accept what he called a “half measure,” and on this note the conference ended.
After Eisenhower’s departure, Montgomery outlined the proposed operation on a map for Lieutenant General Browning. The elegant Browning, one of Britain’s pioneer airborne advocates, saw that the paratroopers and glider-borne forces were being called upon to secure a series of crossings—five of them major bridges including the wide rivers of the Maas, the Waal and the Lower Rhine—over a stretch approximately sixty-four miles long between the Dutch border and Arnhem. Additionally, they were charged with holding open the corridor—in most places a single highway running north—over which British armor would drive. All of the bridges had to be seized intact if the armored dash was to succeed. The dangers were obvious, but this was precisely the kind of surprise assault for which the airborne forces had been trained. Still, Browning was uneasy. Pointing to the most northern bridge over the Lower Rhine at Arnhem, he asked, “How long will it take the armor to reach us?” Montgomery replied briskly, “Two days.” Still intent on the map, Browning said, “We can hold it for four.” Then he added, “But sir, I think we might be going a bridge too far.”
The most northern of all crossings to be seized by Anglo-American and Polish airborne forces was the Arnhem bridge over the Lower Rhine. Assigned to Major General Urquhart’s British 1st Airborne Division and Major General Sosabowski’s Polish 1st Parachute Brigade, it was the key to Montgomery’s plan to end the war in 1944. Photo shows bridge with long boulevards stretching back to the concert hall complex, Musis Sacrum (left foreground).
The Bridges: Urquhart’s men were also to capture the Arnhem railroad crossing and the pontoon bridge. The Germans blew up the former, and the middle section of the latter was found missing. Mystery surrounds RAF photo of pontoon bridge taken eleven days before attack: were Germans replacing or removing the center? No one could tell, but attack was ordered just the same.
Major General Gavins 82nd Airberne swiftly captured the 1500-foot-long Grave bridge over the Maas River and, among others, the Heumen Canal bridge . But due to confusion in orders and quick German reaction, they failed to capture on the first day Nijmegen bridge, over the Waal, eleven miles from Arnhem. Crossing fell in combined Anglo-American attack on the 19th when the 82nd made a daring river assault which has been called a “second Omaha Beach landing.”
South of 82nd’s positions, Major General Taylor’s 101st Airborne captured all bridges but one: the crossing at Son was blown up, throwing Market-Garden’s schedule off by 36 hours.
Eisenhower and Montgomery were bitterly opposed on war strategy. Montgomery thought Supreme Commander indecisive with “no experience for the job”; Eisenhower considered Britain’s popular Field Marshal “an egocentric who never made a mistake in his life.”
New chief of First Allied Airborne Army, Lieutenant General Brereton, had never commanded paratroops before. He was in disagreement with British deputy, Lieutenant General Browning. Hours before attack planning began, Brereton received a letter of resignation from Browning.
Browning, Britain’s foremost airborne authority, withdrew his resignation when named to command Market-Garden. He had never had operational control of an airborne corps before.
(Left to right) Major General Adair, commander of Guards Armored Division; Field Marshal Montgomery; Lieutenant General Horrocks, whose XXX Corps tanks and infantry would make drive; and Major General Roberts, whose Eleventh Armored captured Antwerp but was halted to “refuel, refit and rest,” thus allowing bulk of German Fifteenth Army to reach Holland and participate in Market-Garden offensive.
Major General Taylor, commander of the U.S. 101st Airborne, meets with Lieutenant General Ritchie, of 12th British Corps; and General Dempsey, chief of Second British Army, confers with Major General Gavin, U. S. 82nd Airborne Commander.
Dutch intelligence man Henri Knap with Arnhem underground chief Pieter Kruyff
Warned London of Panzer divisions in Arnhem area on September 14th. ·
Major Brian Urquhart, Browning’s intelligence chief also spotted German tanks on RAF reconnaissance photos. Warnings went unheeded. ·
Major General “Roy” Urquhart, commander of British 1st Airborne, though veteran combat leader, was commanding paratroop division for first time. He was not only unaware of German armor but was forced to land his units from six to eight miles from crucial Arnhem bridge. Hardly had the attack begun than communications failed, and General Urquhart, cut off from headquarters behind German lines, was forced to hide out for 39 vital hours.
With Urquhart “missing” Brigadier Hicks was forced to lead the division. • When 4th Parachute Brigade landed, September 18th, Brigadier Hackett
Because of seniority, challenged Hicks over division command. · Urquhart’s Chief of Staff, Colonel Mackenzie
Calmed down arguing brigadiers. • Meanwhile, unaware of true situation in Arnhem, General Sosabowski
And his Polish 1st Parachute Brigade were delayed more than two days because of bad weather. · Brigadier Lathbury
commander of 1st Parachute Brigade, should have assumed division leadership, but was wounded and, like General Urquhart, considered “missing.”
Holding northern approaches to Arnhem bridge and outnumbered by at least 10 to 1, Colonel John Frost, with his men, in one of history’s greatest feats of arms, held off elements of two German Panzer divisions. · Another bridge hero, Captain Eric Mackay
Though almost out of ammunition, actually called on Germans to surrender. Wounded and captured, Mackay
Refused to give up; he escaped and floated downstream to Nijmegen with companions.
Irish Guards tank group led the armored breakout from Dutch-Belgian border. Shown here are its commander, Colonel J. O. E. Vandeleur and his cousin Giles, a battalion commander
The two men as they appeared in 1944. The Germans succeeded in halting Vandeleur’s tanks barely six miles short of Frost’s men on Arnhem bridge.
RAF Flight Lieutenant Love ground-to-air communications officer during tank drive, wondered why he had volunteered for job. · Lord Wrottesley who made first contact with Urquhart’s isolated troops. · Lieutenant Hay whose “Phantom” radio unit finally contacted ground forces for Urquhart. •
Colonel Chatterton Glider Pilot Regiment commander, who pressed for a daring glider coup-de-main on Arnhem bridge. Had his plan been adopted, the bridge might have been taken within hours. Instead, Chatterton was called “an assassin and a bloody murderer” for suggesting the idea.
In his division’s last stand at Oosterbeek, Major Cain though wounded again and again, continued to fight back against enemy tanks. · Miss Clair Miller of London’s Hobson & Sons Ltd., made Browning’s Pegasus flag, contrary to the Arnhem myth that it was the work of his wife, novelist Daphne du Maurier. Miss Miller also sewed 500 tiny compasses into troopers’ uniforms, which later aided many in making an escape. · Major Lonsdale whose “Lonsdale Force” held out to the very end.
In the Anglo-American attack on Nijmegen bridge, 82nd Airborne’s Major Cook led the unprecedented crossing of Waal River to seize bridge’s northern end. · Simultaneously Lieutenant Colonel Vandervoort together with British forces, attacked southern approaches.
Military Cross winner Lieutenant Gorman had his “doubts” about the entire operation. He felt that no one was moving fast enough to rescue Frost’s men on Arnhem bridge. · Lieutenant Wierzbowski was sent with a company to capture the bridge at Best, which was believed to be “lightly held.” The area actually contained more than1,000German troops of the forgotten Fifteenth Army and in the end involved an entire regiment of the 101st Airborne.
Lieutenant Glover who took his pet chicken, Myrtle, on the Arnhemjump. “Myrtle, the parachick” was killed and in the midst of the fighting was given a formal burial. · Major Deane-Drummond second in command, 1st Airborne Division Signals, had doubts that his communications would work, but like everyone else was “swept along with the prevailing attitude,” which was “For God’s sake, don’t rock the boat.” ·
Colonel Tucker 504th regimental commander, whose units crossed Waal River, was appalled at slowness of British tanks. He had expected a special task force to make the eleven-mile dash to Arnhem and relieve bridge defenders. Instead, Tucker said, the British “stopped for tea.”
Fired by Hitler after the Normandy debacle, Von Rundstedt the Reich’s most competent Field Marshal, was recalled in September. The situation on the western front was so catastrophic that Von Rundstedt believed the Allies could invade the Reich and end the war within two weeks. His strategy in saving Fifteenth Army was a major factor in defeating Montgomery’s Market-Garden plan. Field Marshal Model whom Von Rundstedt called a “good regimental sergeant major,” had been unable to halt Allied drive across western Europe, but by chance had moved the II SS Panzer Corps into the Arnhem area days before the airborne attack. Captured Market-Garden plans were in his hands within 48 hours, but, incredibly, Model refused to believe them.
II SS Panzer Corps commander, Lieutenant General Bittrich (shown above as he is today and in 1944), knew nothing of captured Market-Garden plans, but correctly deduced that main objective was Arnhem Bridge.
The Reich’s airborne expert, Colonel General Student (today and in 1944), was stunned by the size of airborne drop and “only wished I had had such forces at my disposal.”
The British landed virtually amidst two Panzer divisions in the Arnhem area, to the surprise of their commanders: Lieutenant Colonel Harzer [AS HE IS TODAY AND IN 1944] of 9th SS “Hohenstaufen” Division; Major General Harmel of 10th SS “Frundsberg” Division.
Double agent “King Kong” Lindemanns crossed front lines to inform Germans of British ground attack on September 17th. Contrary to British newspaper reports after the war, Lindemanns knew nothing about scope of airborne attack.
Luftwaffe General Dessloch was so worried about possibility of airborne attack that he refused to visit Model. The battalion of Major Krafft was by chance in position on the edge of British drop zones.
The first man at Model’s headquarters in Tafelberg Hotel to learn of airborne drop barely two miles away was Lieutenant Sedelhauser. “They are dropping in our laps,” he was told.
Prince Bernhard shown as he arrived in liberated Eindhoven and as he is today. Neither Bernhard nor his general staff were consulted about terrain difficulty in the Market-Garden plan until it was too late, and detailed information which the Prince had from Dutch underground sources regarding German armor in Arnhem was discounted.
Expecting liberation, the Dutch in Oosterbeek found themselves caught up in brutal battle. “Montgomery will be here soon,” optimistic Britishers told 17-year-old Anje van Maanen. • Jan Voskuil could not rid himself of a “feeling of hopelessness.” · Hendrika van der Vlist wrote in her diary that Oosterbeek had become “one of the bloodiest battlefields.”
Kate ter Horst with son Michiel during war and with husband, Jan, as they are today, courageously made her home available to British wounded. At one time during battle more than 300 casualties crowded the house. A former Dutch captain, Jan could not understand why the British failed to use Driel ferry to cross the Rhine. In Market-Garden planning the ferry was completely overlooked.
The embryo concept (which thereafter would bear the code name “Operation Market-Garden”—“Market” covering the airborne drop and “Garden” for the armored drive) was to be developed with the utmost speed, Montgomery ordered. He insisted that the attack had to be launched in a few days. Otherwise, he told Browning, it would be too late. Montgomery asked: “How soon can you get ready?” Browning, at this moment, could only hazard a guess. “The earliest scheduling of the operation would be the fifteenth or sixteenth,”* he told the Field Marshal.
Carrying Montgomery’s skeleton plan and weighed with the urgency of preparing for such a massive mission in only a few days, Browning flew back to England immediately. On landing at his Moor Park Golf Course base near Rickmansworth on the outskirts of London, he telephoned the First Allied Airborne headquarters, twenty miles away, and notified the commander, Lieutenant General Brereton, and his chief of staff, Brigadier General Floyd L. Parks. The time was 2:30 P.M., and Parks noted that Browning’s message contained “the first mention of ‘Market’ at this headquarters.”
The airborne commanders were not the only officers caught unaware. Montgomery’s daring plan so impressed and surprised the Field Marshal’s greatest critic, General Omar N. Bradley, that he later recalled, “Had the pious, teetotalling Montgomery wobbled into SHAEF with a hangover, I could not have been more astonished…. Although I never reconciled myself to the venture, I nevertheless freely concede that it was one of the most imaginative of the war.”*
It was, but Montgomery remained unhappy. He now prodded the Supreme Commander even further, reverting to the cautious, perfectionist thinking that was characteristic of his military career. Unless the 21st Army Group received additional supplies and transport for the “selected thrust,” Montgomery warned Eisenhower, Market-Garden could not be launched before September 23 at the earliest, and might even be delayed until September 26. Browning had estimated that Market could be ready by the fifteenth or sixteenth, but Montgomery was concerned about Garden, the land operation. Once again he was demanding what he had always wanted: absolute priority, which to his mind would guarantee success. Eisenhower noted in his desk diary for September 12: “Monty’s suggestion is simple—’give him everything.’ “Fearing that any delay might jeopardize Market-Garden, Eisenhower complied. He promptly sent his chief of staff, General Bedell Smith, to see Montgomery; Smith assured the Field Marshal of a thousand tons of supplies per day plus transport. Additionally, Montgomery was promised that Patton’s drive to the Saar would be checked. Elated at the “electric” response—as the Field Marshal called it—Montgomery believed he had finally won the Supreme Commander over to his point of view.
Although opposition before Montgomery’s troops had stiffened, he believed that the Germans in Holland, behind the hard crust of their front lines, had little strength. Allied intelligence confirmed his estimate. Eisenhower’s headquarters reported “few infantry reserves” in the Netherlands, and even these were considered to be “troops of low category.” The enemy, it was thought, was still “disorganized after his long and hasty retreat … and though there might be numerous small bodies of Germans in the area,” they were hardly capable of any great organized resistance. Montgomery now believed he could quickly crack the German defenses. Then, once he was over the Rhine and headed for the Ruhr, he did not see how Eisenhower could halt his drive. The Supreme Commander would have little choice, he reasoned, but to let him continue toward Berlin—thus ending the war, as Montgomery put it, “reasonably quickly.” Confidently, Montgomery set Sunday, September 17, as D Day for Operation Market-Garden. The brilliant scheme he had devised was to become the greatest airborne operation of the entire war.
Not everyone shared Montgomery’s certainty about Market-Garden. At least one of his senior officers had reason to be worried. General Miles Dempsey, commander of the British Second Army, unlike the Field Marshal, did not dispute the authenticity of Dutch resistance reports. From these, Dempsey’s intelligence staff had put together a picture indicating rapidly increasing German strength between Eindhoven and Arnhem, in the very area of the planned airborne drop. There was even a Dutch report that “battered panzer formations have been sent to Holland to refit,” and these too were said to be in the Market-Garden area. Dempsey sent along this news to Browning’s British I Airborne Corps, but the information lacked any back-up endorsement by Montgomery or his staff. The ominous note was not even included in intelligence summaries. In fact, in the mood of optimism prevailing at 21st Army Group headquarters, the report was completely discounted.
*The late B. H. Liddell Hart, the celebrated British historian, in his History of the Second World War wrote: “It was a multiple lapse—by four commanders from Montgomery downwards …” Charles B. MacDonald, the American historian in The Mighty Endeavor, agrees with Liddell Hart. He called the failure “one of the greatest tactical mistakes of the war.” The best and most detailed account on the cost of Antwerp is undoubtedly R. W. Thompson, The 85 Days, and I agree with him that one of the main reasons for the missed opportunity was “weariness.” Men of the 11th Armored, he wrote, “slept where they sat, stood or lay, drained of emotion, and in utter exhaustion.” If we accept his theory it is doubtful that Roberts’ 11th could have continued its drive with the same vigor. Nevertheless, Antwerp and its vital approaches, argues Thompson, might have been taken with ease “had there been a commander following the battle, hour by hour, day by day, and with the flexibility of command to see the prospect.”
*Horrocks, in his memoirs, gives a very frank explanation. “My excuse is that my eyes were fixed entirely on the Rhine and everything else seemed of subsidiary importance. It never entered my head that the Schelde would be mined and that we would not be able to use Antwerp until the channel had been swept and the Germans cleared from the coastlines on either side…. Napoleon would, no doubt, have realized these things but Horrocks didn’t.” He also readily admits there was little opposition ahead of him and “we still had 100 miles of petrol per vehicle and one further day’s supply within reach.” There would have been “considerable risk” but “I believe that if we had taken the chance and carried straight on with our advance, instead of halting in Brussels, the whole course of the war in Europe might have been changed.”
*The young Prince, although named Commander in Chief of the Netherlands Forces by the Queen, was quite frank in interviews with the author regarding his military background. “I had no tactical experience,” he told me, “except for a course at the War College before the war. I followed this up with courses in England, but most of my military knowledge was learned in a practical way by reading and by discussions with my officers. However, I never considered myself experienced enough to make a tactical decision. I depended on my staff, who were very well qualified.” Nevertheless Bernhard took his job very seriously. In his meticulously kept personal diary for 1944, which he kindly placed at my disposal, he recorded in minuscule handwriting each movement, almost minute by minute, from telephone calls and military conferences to official functions. During this period, based on his own notations, I would estimate that his average working day was about sixteen hours.
*Major General Francis de Guingand, Generals at War, pp. 100-101.
*Montgomery and the British public, as outraged as he, were somewhat mollified when George VI, at Churchill’s strong urging, made Montgomery a field marshal on September 1.
*Author’s interview with Field Marshal Montgomery.
*For a more detailed version of Allied intelligence estimates see Dr. Forrest C. Pogue, The Supreme Command, pp. 244-45.
*Patton’s weekly press conferences were always newsworthy, but especially memorable for the General’s off-the-record remarks, which, because of his colorful vocabulary, could never have been printed anyway. That first week of September, as a war correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph, I was present when, in typical fashion, he expounded on his plans for the Germans. In his high-pitched voice and pounding the map, Patton declared that, “Maybe there are five thousand, maybe ten thousand, Nazi bastards in their concrete foxholes before the Third Army. Now, if Ike stops holding Monty’s hand and gives me the supplies, I’ll go through the Siegfried Line like shit through a goose.”
*In all fairness to Montgomery, it must be said that he, himself, never used this phrase. His idea was to throw forty divisions together and drive toward Berlin—certainly no knifelike thrust—but he has been credited with the remark and in my opinion it hurt his cause at SHAEF during the many strategic meetings that took place.
*To the author. In a taped interview, President Eisenhower almost relived for me his emotions at the time of this bitter argument with Montgomery. When I told him I had interviewed the Field Marshal, Eisenhower cut me short and said, “You don’t have to tell me what he told you—he said I knew nothing about war—right? Look, I’m interested only in getting this thing down truthfully and logically, because any historian has to make deductions…. Personally, I don’t believe I would put too much weight on what generals remember, including me. Because memory is a fallible thing … Goddammit, I don’t know what you heard in Britain, but the British have never understood the American system of command…. When the whole damned thing [WW II] was done … I never heard from the British any goldarn paeans of praise. And you’re not going to hear it now, particularly from people like Montgomery…. His associates—they’ve said things about him that I would never dream of repeating…. I don’t care if he goes down as the greatest soldier in the world. He isn’t, but if he goes down that way it’s all right with me…. He got so damn personal to make sure that the Americans and me, in particular, had no credit, had nothing to do with the war, that I eventually just stopped communicating with him … I was just not interested in keeping up communications with a man that just can’t tell the truth.” The reader is urged to remember that never, during the war, did the Supreme Commander publicly discuss the Field Marshal, and his views expressed here are revealed for the first time.
*Pogue, The Supreme Command, p. 280.
*In his memoirs, Montgomery, in discussing the meeting, says that “we had a good talk.” But he does state that, during these days of strategy arguments, “Possibly I went a bit far in urging on him my own plan, and did not give sufficient weight to the heavy political burden he bore…. Looking back on it all I often wonder if I paid sufficient heed to Eisenhower’s notions before refuting them. I think I did. Anyhow … I never cease to marvel at his patience and forbearance….”
*To the author.
*Eisenhower told Stephen E. Ambrose, according to his book, The Supreme Commander, p. 518 fn.: “I not only approved … I insisted upon it. What we needed was a bridgehead over the Rhine. If that could be accomplished, I was quite willing to wait on all other operations….”
*Minutes of the first planning meeting, First Allied Airborne Army operational file 1014-1017.
*General Omar N. Bradley, A Soldier’s Story, p. 416. Bradley also added, “I had not been brought into the plan. In fact, Montgomery devised and sold it to Ike several days before I even learned of it from our own liaison officer at 21st Army Group.”