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Anthony Beevor: Arnhem

Malcolm Redfellow

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Before I go off on a rant, how have others taken to this one?

I'll admit I was a bit 'off' Beevor after Ardennes 1944. I'd need to re-read before attempting to define why. As a result I've hung off Arnhem until the paperback, suitably discounted, became available.

That said, I find this one highly readable. I'm wondering if that is, in part, because Beevor inserts the boot heavily into Montgomery.

But — my, my — what a cøck-up from beginning to end.
 


Catahualpa

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Have never read it but have gone through

Arnhem 1944: The Airborne Battle by Martin Middlebrook

A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan

&

Arnhem What went wrong and Why by Major General R.E. Urquhart

All excellent works BTW

Oh also Montgomery's Memoirs [not bad at all actually!]

Over ambitious plan dogged by bad luck and poor intelligence - esp not spotting two
SS Panzer Divisions adjacent to Arnhem before the drops were made cost the Paras dear

Cant really blame Monty for that - but he never could admit failure could he

- so he dubbed the operation '90% success' which only drew derision!

But in war you must take risks

I suppose the question must be with Hitler on the back foot and going down was it really necessary to take such a risk?

I think most people would say no and that Ike's more cautious approach of the 'Broad Front' advance was the safer option.
 

jmcc

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The problem with the accounts from the participants is that they may have been written before the breaking of Engima became widespread knowledge. Surely the Allies would have had detailed information from some of the decrypts? Montgomery did seem, from what I've read, to have a very high opinion of his abilities (he was a good defensive general) whereas the Germans were far more worried about Patton. Haven't looked into the history of the Enigma decrypts at the time but it wasn't 100% coverage. It would be interesting to see if the Engima traffic the SS divisions in the area was being actively decrypted.

At that stage, the Allies would also have been decrypting Tunny (German high command cryptosystem). There might have been indications of movement from this but both Enigma and Tunny decrypts could't be used without the source being obscured.
 

shutuplaura

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The British felt that the German Army was collapsing and that they could get into Germany with one bold stroke. That really is why the planning was so shoddy and why they left just so much to chance. The Front had already showed signs of stabilisation and the war had longer to run than they hoped. Had they taken and held the bridge what then? They were left with a narrow salient into Germany that was extraordinarily vulnerable.

It's a good book by the way.
 

cozzy121

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Have never read it but have gone through

Arnhem 1944: The Airborne Battle by Martin Middlebrook

A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan

&

Arnhem What went wrong and Why by Major General R.E. Urquhart

All excellent works BTW

Oh also Montgomery's Memoirs [not bad at all actually!]

Over ambitious plan dogged by bad luck and poor intelligence - esp not spotting two
SS Panzer Divisions adjacent to Arnhem before the drops were made cost the Paras dear

Cant really blame Monty for that - but he never could admit failure could he

- so he dubbed the operation '90% success' which only drew derision!

But in war you must take risks

I suppose the question must be with Hitler on the back foot and going down was it really necessary to take such a risk?

I think most people would say no and that Ike's more cautious approach of the 'Broad Front' advance was the safer option.
"... and poor intelligence - esp not spotting two
SS Panzer Divisions adjacent to Arnhem before the drops were made cost the Paras dear"

Apologies about my limited knowledge on the subject (Op Market Garden), but was there not intelligence available that there was panzer divisions in the area, prior to the start?

Also I've just realised that the OP was about the Battle of the Bulge
:oops:
 

jmcc

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"... and poor intelligence - esp not spotting two
SS Panzer Divisions adjacent to Arnhem before the drops were made cost the Paras dear"
Paras were light infantry without much support in the way of tanks and artillery. (Allied paras were very different to the German paras who were much better equipped and trained. The advantage that the Allies had was in numbers.) The SS panzer divisions also would have had grenadiers which were very effective troops and used to working with tanks. The idea was that the armoured support would reach the paratroopers. It wasn't a bad plan as such but Montgomery wasn't the one to plan and lead it as he was trying to be Patton without Patton's genius for offensive warfare.
 

Catahualpa

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"... and poor intelligence - esp not spotting two
SS Panzer Divisions adjacent to Arnhem before the drops were made cost the Paras dear"

Apologies about my limited knowledge on the subject (Op Market Garden), but was there not intelligence available that there was panzer divisions in the area, prior to the start?

Also I've just realised that the OP was about the Battle of the Bulge
:oops:
No I think he means he is now landed on Arnhem....

Intelligence never made it up the chain of command in time IIRC
 

Malcolm Redfellow

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Intelligence never made it up the chain of command in time IIRC
The thing that gets me is the 'intelligence' was there. My appreciation of Beevor (and I've skimmed, but still digesting the book) is every stage in the process was completely banjaxed:
  • Eisenhower was recovering from an accident, and perhaps not wholly on task;
  • Montgomery misled Eisenhower, his superior, at each turn, out of personal ambition — was that, in part, because PR-conscious Montgomery chafed at what had happened (or not) on the left flank in Normandy?
  • Churchill urged Montgomery on, in the need for a 'British' success;
  • there was, but of course, vast distrust between the services (especially the British) and between the Yanks and the Brits;
  • a sense of general arrogance by those who engendered this mess;
  • the paras were directed by a man puffed up with self-importance, but no recent experience — it is of 'Boy' Browning (Mr Daphne du Maurier *) of whom I primarily speak;
  • the brown jobs failed to listen to the fly-boys about the problems of the operation;
  • nobody seems fully to have appreciated the geography.
If there is a bottom line is out to be headlined Walcheren. How on earth did that not become the prime target? As long as a major German force was occupying that bit of territory, Antwerp could not be an Allied provisioner. Since the other Channel ports were hors de combat, thanks to the efficiency of Allied bombing and German sabotage, until there was a more eastern route for the logistics, everything needed was still coming over the Normandy invasion sites.

But, no, that key point was left to the Canadians to sort out.

* One of Beevor's early throwaways:
She had chosen maroon for the paratrooper's beret as it was 'one of the General's racing colours'
(page 24 — anyone reading the book should watch for such gems).
 
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Sweet Darling

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Paras were light infantry without much support in the way of tanks and artillery. (Allied paras were very different to the German paras who were much better equipped and trained. The advantage that the Allies had was in numbers.) The SS panzer divisions also would have had grenadiers which were very effective troops and used to working with tanks. The idea was that the armoured support would reach the paratroopers. It wasn't a bad plan as such but Montgomery wasn't the one to plan and lead it as he was trying to be Patton without Patton's genius for offensive warfare.
7,000 British paras dropped there weapon's and surrendered once they realised they were up against battle harden troops .
That little fact was forgotten when they were stichten the name Arnhem
on their Reg' flag
 

Malcolm Redfellow

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7,000 British paras dropped there weapon's and surrendered once they realised they were up against battle harden troops .
That little fact was forgotten when they were stichten the name Arnhem
on their Reg' flag
Nice to know what is that poster's native language.

7,000 British paras did not dropped there weapon's and surrendered. British and Polish troops, with Canadian engineers, placed in an impossible position by incompetent planners and commanders, maintained a hopeless position for eight days. 1,984 were killed. 6,854 were taken prisoner. German losses have never been properly accounted: Model reckoned on 3,300.

Far greater attrition fell upon the civilian population.
 

shutuplaura

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Regarding Montgomery on the left flank at Normandy...is that the failure to capture Caen?
 

Polybius

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The plan wasn't great but the main reason it failed was because of the lack of drive and efficiency of the British Army. The British XXX Corps did not show the urgency required and Brian Horrocks was not the commander they needed. An American Army under Patton could have gotten to Arnhem in 72 hours.
 

Malcolm Redfellow

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Regarding Montgomery on the left flank at Normandy...is that the failure to capture Caen?
Different episode, but instructive.

Montgomery's frontal push on Caen had largely failed, though he would never recognise it. On 10 June he held a field conference near Port-en-Bassin with Bradley, and outlined an alternative pincer movement. The 51st Highland and 4th Armoured were to attack to the south and east from the Orne bridgehead to take Cagny. The 7th Armoured would strike west to Evrecy. All to kick off immediately.

Beevor, D-Day, page 183-4, says of this:
This plan to envelop Caen was strikingly out of character. Montgomery was usually criticized for taking too long to mount an operation. Was he simply responding to the crisis with the best plan available in the circumstances? Or was there also an element of show, to divert attention from the way the Second Army had failed to achieve its objectives?
That didn't go so well, either.
 

Malcolm Redfellow

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The British XXX Corps did not show the urgency required and Brian Horrocks was not the commander they needed.
XXX Corps essential problem was the bailey bridge at Son, the 'choke point' for its logistics.
An American Army under Patton could have gotten to Arnhem in 72 hours.
I'm sure Patton would have agreed.

Bedell Smith (footnote p.218) would seem to concur. That same footnote balances it with Bridadeführer Harmel insisting. 'they would have stood no chance once they got there, because by this time ... Arnhem was in German hands.'

Beevor (page 220) says of Wednesday 20 September:
Whether or not the road to Arnhem was wide open that night has been another area of debate, but even the strongest and freshest battle group with General George Patton lashings them on would have been lucky to get through. That afternoon the Germans had retaken the Arnhem road bridge and were sending panzer grenadiers and Tiger tanks south to Nijmegen.
 

Catahualpa

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Different episode, but instructive.

Montgomery's frontal push on Caen had largely failed, though he would never recognise it. On 10 June he held a field conference near Port-en-Bassin with Bradley, and outlined an alternative pincer movement. The 51st Highland and 4th Armoured were to attack to the south and east from the Orne bridgehead to take Cagny. The 7th Armoured would strike west to Evrecy. All to kick off immediately.

Beevor, D-Day, page 183-4, says of this:
This plan to envelop Caen was strikingly out of character. Montgomery was usually criticized for taking too long to mount an operation. Was he simply responding to the crisis with the best plan available in the circumstances? Or was there also an element of show, to divert attention from the way the Second Army had failed to achieve its objectives?
That didn't go so well, either.
The bulk of the Panzer divisions were on Montgomery's Front

- it was always going to be a tough slog

They had to be pinned there in order for the US Army to be able to turn the German left flank

OK Monty was over optimistic & as we know he could never admit failure

- but what alternative was there other than attack and take it on the chin

- and hope to shatter the German jaws....
 

shutuplaura

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I am not an expert on this at all, but my understanding was that Monty was to draw German forces to his sector and allow the Americans to break out further south, which is what happened. I did read a book by an English historian which used this point to show that Monty was a genius snd Patton was overrated. I don't know enough about this subject really to, just hoping to verify or correct my understanding.

Regarding Market Garden, Beevor mentions that US Airborne divisions were stronger than British ones, and had been allocated more planes in the first day. He suspects that the British elected to take the furthest bridges and to use multiple drops over three days because politically it would reflect very poorly in the States if a US division was destroyed in a British operation. Found that interesting, though it doesn't sit with his belief that the allies essentially underestimated the amount of fight left in the Germans.
 

owedtojoy

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Before I go off on a rant, how have others taken to this one?

I'll admit I was a bit 'off' Beevor after Ardennes 1944. I'd need to re-read before attempting to define why. As a result I've hung off Arnhem until the paperback, suitably discounted, became available.

That said, I find this one highly readable. I'm wondering if that is, in part, because Beevor inserts the boot heavily into Montgomery.

But — my, my — what a cøck-up from beginning to end.
Funny, almost bought it today.

Beevor praises Montgomery is his Ardennes book, so I guess this is a corrective.

Montgomery was usually mindful of the lives of his men, and throwing the Parachute Division so far forward was not typical - either he thought the sacrifice worth the risk, or he lost the run of himself. Maybe, both.

We should mention also the sacrifice of the Polish Parachute Division Brigade, thrown in to retrieve a losing position.

IMHO, in spite of the defeat, it was probably the best fighting performance by the British Army in the war. Churchill was continually disappointed by the poor performance of the Army (compared to the RAF & Navy) - he could not have been disappointed on this occasion, though it was in a losing battle.
 
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owedtojoy

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The Poles had some bitter experiences in the service of the British.
The Polish ground forces never get the recognition given to the Polish air squadrons that served with the RAF.
 

Polybius

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XXX Corps essential problem was the bailey bridge at Son, the 'choke point' for its logistics.

Yes but XXX Corps also failed to exploit the capture of the bridge at Nijmegen. The British tanks crossed the Bridge and then did nothing while the 1st Airborne was being annihilated at Arnhem.
 


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