Well-told accounts of Allied airborne operations Market Garden and Plunder Varsity, conceived to break across the Rhine into Germany after the Normandy invasion.
In September 1944, British Field Marshal Montgomery designed Operation Market Garden (made famous in the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far), a bold plan to use parachute troops behind enemy lines to help secure bridges across the lower Rhine. Clark (War Studies/Royal Military Academy Sandhurst; Anzio, 2006, etc.) lays out the political headaches Allied Supreme Commander Eisenhower had in running a massive, multinational war effort whose principle battlefield commanders continuously lobbied to get their attack proposals approved. Clark ably disproves the widely held notion that Market Garden was Montgomery’s wholly owned operation, which doomed thousands of soldiers’ lives for leadership glory. On the contrary, many Allied field commanders had confidence in Market Garden as “a calculated risk which would be interesting and revealing, whatever happened.” But the plan was fraught with logistical problems from the beginning, and the Allies underestimated German tenacity. Six months later, in March 1945, Operation Plunder Varsity proved they had learned from mistakes made with Market Garden’s airborne assault. Better timing, clear supply lines and airborne troops kept in tight units made this push across the Rhine decisive. Nazi generals knew the end was near. “When the briefing had finished, the Field Marshal [Kesselring] asked, ‘Is there any good news at all?’ ” recalls his Oberstleutnant. “The Staff officers looked at each other and shrugged. There was silence.” Clark is best when narrating battle scenes at a rapid pace. Personal narratives gleaned from soldiers on both sides of the battle lines bring home small-scale episodes of grunt fighting, heroism and pitiful death: “Slamming down the hill, firing from the hip and screaming at the top of our lungs,” remembers the sergeant of a platoon that attacked several hundred German troops, “we acted like crazy Indians on the warpath.”
The fighting spirit of Allied paratroopers comes through with exciting clarity.