Arnhem: The Battle for the Bridges, 1944 by Antony Beevor
Antony Beevor is renowned for his gripping military histories, said Saul David in The Daily Telegraph. And in this “tirelessly researched and beautifully written” book, he looks at an episode of the Second World War that was “crying out for his storytelling talents”: the attempt by Allied troops in autumn 1944 to establish a route into Germany by seizing a series of Dutch bridges, including the one over the Rhine at Arnhem. Had it succeeded, Operation Market Garden, as the air and land mission was known, would have enabled Field Marshal Montgomery to “be the first Allied general into Germany” – and might even have brought the War to an end by Christmas.
“The plan consisted of two halves,” said Keith Lowe in the Literary Review. “Operation Market” involved dropping thousands of men and tonnes of equipment into German-held territory close to the bridges. “Operation Garden” – the ground attack – involved breaking through German lines and rushing “103km up a single road to outflank the enemy”. It was a mission, writes Beevor, that was “doomed from the very start”. Because the drop zones weren’t close enough to the bridges, “all surprise was lost” by the time the paratroopers reached them. And “any Dutch officer” could have predicted that the ground operation would run into trouble: the road the Allies had to travel up was so easy to defend that it featured as a question in their staff college exams.
Many Allied commanders, including the hugely overconfident Montgomery, expected Arnhem to be a “cakewalk”, said Gerard DeGroot in The Times. But the Germans put up more resistance than anticipated, the Allies lacked coordination and “lightning assault deteriorated into a battle of attrition”, which after nine days resulted in a desperate withdrawal. The suffering didn’t end there: the Dutch, who’d greeted the Allies as liberators, “were left to the mercy of the Germans, who no longer felt motivated to keep their captives fed”. Arnhem has been chronicled many times before, said Giles Milton in The Sunday Times, not least by Cornelius Ryan in A Bridge Too Far(turned into a film by Richard Attenborough). But Beevor’s version stands out for its stark honesty about the flaws of the main players and the brutality of the battle. Montgomery in particular comes across as “an insufferable bore with a highly inflated ego”. Beevor makes no bones about blaming him for the disaster, as indeed did Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, who remarked at the time: “My country cannot afford another Montgomery victory.”