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Posted on Sep 30, 2007 in Front Page Features, War College

Operation Market Garden – Part 1

By Wild Bill Wilder

mg1.jpg
Paratroopers landing in the Netherlands as part of
Operation Market Garden, September 1944.

September 17-25, 1944

The Situation in September 1944, all things considered, the Allied invasion of Europe had gone better than expected. At the beginning of September 1944, the German forces were reeling from the Allied onslaught. An orderly retreat had turned into chaos. In only three months, Allied forces were across the Seine River in France. In some places they had made penetrations to the Rhine River, which is part of the western border of Germany. German casualties during these three months were than a million.

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The Germans faced a formidable foe. General Eisenhower, at the first of September, had at his disposal 26 infantry and 13 armored divisions. Though at first glance, it gave the appearance of a mighty land armada, the reality was that Allied troops were stretched to the limit. His only reserves at that time consisted of 4 1/2 airborne divisions, and an airportable division.

The Germans, under von Rundstedt, listed an almost equal amount of units, but there was a vast difference. They were in comparison to the Allied forces, at a very low point, both in material and manpower. Many of their units were "paper." That is, they were listed as active units, even when they no longer existed. The reality of the situation was that their infantry forces were equivalent to about half the number of Allied divisions. The Allies possessed a 2 1/2 to 1 superiority in artillery pieces, and 20 to 1 in tanks.

In addition, Germany’s Air Force was practically non-existent on the western front. Most of their aircraft were located within Germany for air defense against the incessant stream of bombers that slowly pounded German cities into powder. A number of German divisions (among them, the 9th and 10 Panzer Divisions) were being pulled out of the line for rest and refitting.

Once Allied forces broke out of the Normandy beachhead, there seem to be no stopping them. By D+97, in some three months, they had reached the line originally proposed for D+330. Now a new dilemma faced General Eisenhower. He was outrunning his supplies. The two main entry points for resupply was the Normandy beachhead and Cherbourg. The amount of material reaching Europe was more than adequate.

The big problem was how to transport it to front line troops. The "Red Ball Express," which consisted of thousands of trucks, was running around the clock from the supply depots to the troops. Other alternatives, such as rail lines, pipelines, and air transport were being developed.

In September, however, the logistics of supply were a nightmare. The leading Generals, Bradley, Patton and Montgomery, were all pleading for the material needed to continue their own offensives. Two alternatives were being considered. The first was to move the supply centers, or depots, further forward.

This would take time, and time was on Germany’s side. It would give her troops time to rebuild and consolidate. They could stop retreating long enough to establish strong defensive positions. This option would take the advantage of continual attack and advance away from the Allies.

The second was to secure more key ports. The Schelde Estatuary, which formed the land mass around Antwerp, still belonged to Germany, thereby blocking the use of the port. Some German armies had polarized in this area. Hitler had ordered that each port city was to be turned into a fortress and held to the "last man."

Thinking among Allied planners then turned to some sort of swift, decisive action that would penetrate deeply into the enemy’s rear. The ideal place to strike would be the Ruhr, the heart of the industrial strength of Germany. It was in the northwest corner of Germany, near the border with Holland. Such a move would place the Allies in a most advantageous position. They would overrun many of the rocket sites of the Germans, circumvent the Siegfried Line (Germany’s western static defenses), and be behind the bulk of the German Army.

Up until this point, the Allies had been pushing along a broad front. This meant attacks from different points, and slowly pushing the enemy back along a wide line. At this juncture, the supplies needed to continue this "broad front" were not available to the front line troops. There were enough supplies, however, to initiate an attack from England. This attack would not be like a hammer, slowly bludgeoning the enemy into submission. This would be a dagger stroke, swift and deep, to the heart of the enemy. This would be a blow to the foundation of the Third Reich. If this could be accomplished, it would cause the German’s war machine superstructure to crumble quickly.

[continued on next page]

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