On September 17, 1944, the Allies undertook a bold but risky operation to establish a bridgehead over the Rhine River, opening the way into northern Germany.
The operation was called “Market Garden” — “Market” was the airborne assault while “Garden” was the ground operation. More than 20,000 men would parachute 60 miles behind the German lines. They were augmented by nearly 15,000 men in gliders. The goal of the airborne operation was to secure a series of nine bridges to allow British XXX Corp to race across the country and, theoretically, drive into northern Germany.
The effort fell short — a “bridge too far” — which was the title of the book by Cornelius Ryan on the operation. While the Allies were able to seize most of the bridges, they failed to secure the last bridge over the Rhine in Arnhem. More than 15,000 of the airborne troops were killed or wounded.
On Sunday, more than 1,000 parachutists from the countries that participated in the operation 75 years ago commemorated the event by jumping into Holland.
Recreating the mass drops of September 1944, military aircraft flew low over Ginkel Heath on Saturday and current military parachutists leaped out. Thousands of spectators watched and applauded the soldiers once they were on the ground.
One veteran of the original landing, Sandy Cortmann, jumped again Saturday while strapped to a British paratrooper. After their landing, a wheelchair took Cortmann to a tent to watch the anniversary ceremony.
Cortmann is 97 years old.
Veterans of the operation, a group with ever-dwindling members, attended the mass parachute drop, joined by Britain’s Prince Charles, the former Dutch queen, Princess Beatrix, and other dignitaries.
Charles, wearing camouflage fatigues and the parachute regiment’s maroon beret, mingled with the veterans after the service as more paratroopers drifted to the ground behind him.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he attended to pay tribute to the World War II heroes and said that Operation Market Garden showed “the importance of forces from different countries being able to operate together and that is exactly what NATO is about.”
Market Garden failed for a variety of reasons: Allied overconfidence, intelligence failures, the weather. It was a logistical nightmare and the optimistic timetable established by British General Montgomery meant that the operation’s airborne and ground assault units got hopelessly out of synch. Support was delayed or never arrived.
More than 15,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded, with the British 1st Airborne Division suffering 8,000 alone. In the end, not much was gained, although a large area of Holland was liberated. But an operation designed to end the war before Christmas 1944 only prolonged the conflict another six months.