C-47 Skytrains carrying elements of the 101st Airborne during operation Market Garden. (Jack Cook Collection)
Operation Market Garden (September 17–25, 1944) was an Allied military operation, fought in the Netherlands and Germany in World War II. It was the largest airborne operation of all time.
The operation plan’s strategic context required the seizure of bridges across the Maas (Meuse River) and two arms of the Rhine (the Waal and the Lower Rhine) as well as several smaller canals and tributaries. Crossing the Lower Rhine would allow the Allies to outflank the Siegfried Line and encircle the Ruhr, Germany’s industrial heartland. It made large-scale use of airborne forces whose tactical objectives were to secure a series of bridges over the main rivers of the German-occupied Netherlands and allow a rapid advance by armoured units into Northern Germany.
Initially the operation was successful and several bridges between Eindhoven and Nijmegen were captured. However the ground force’s advance was delayed by the demolition of a bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal at Son, delaying the capture of the main road bridge over the Meuse until September 20. At Arnhem the British 1st Airborne Division encountered far stronger resistance than anticipated. In the ensuing battle only a small force managed to hold one end of the Arnhem road bridge and after the ground forces failed to relieve them they were overrun on the 21st. The rest of the division, trapped in a small pocket west of the bridge, had to be evacuated on the 25th. The Allies had failed to cross the Rhine in sufficient force, and the Rhine remained a barrier to their advance until the offensives at Remagen, Oppenheim, Rees and Wesel in March 1945.