A critical study of the last major German victory of World War II, one occasioned by a spectacular failure on the part of the Allies.
The story of Operation Market Garden, a paratroop-led campaign to seize bridges on the Rhine River between the Netherlands and Germany, has been often told, notably by former war correspondent Cornelius Ryan in his bestselling 1974 book A Bridge Too Far. Beevor (Ardennes 1944: The Battle of the Bulge, 2015, etc.), though well-accomplished as a historian of WWII in Europe, doesn’t quite have Ryan’s storytelling chops, but he spins some fine anecdotally driven stories along with the rather drier recitations of battle order and generals’ memoirs. One story, told at just the right level of detail, is how German and British soldiers, at a temporary standstill before the massive Wehrmacht counterattack, came to accommodations about not firing on each other while drawing supplies, causing one officer to marvel, “what a wonderful nation we are for standing in queues.” The author adds that German rations, by all accounts, were pretty nasty, all horsemeat sausages and harder than hardtack. As such, American paratroopers stranded behind the lines had to forage, living for a time off turnips. This isn’t a history of wartime food, though; instead, Beevor’s greatest contribution is in laying out an unmistakably clear chain of responsibility for an Allied failure that gave Germany breathing room for many months to come. At heart, that responsibility falls on a British and American leadership that could never quite mesh—and, when Dwight Eisenhower, even though outranked by a star, took command over his counterpart Bernard Montgomery, the British field marshal pretty well ignored orders and did as he wished. “General Eisenhower, until the very end of his life, could not get over the way Montgomery was never able to admit that he had been responsible for anything going wrong," writes Beevor—though Montgomery’s failure cost thousands of lives.
A vivid, deeply researched history of an episode that proved the shortfalls inherent in coalition campaigns, to say nothing of raging martial egos.