Pros: Detailed account of the abortive Allied attempt to end the war in 1944.
Cons: The operation failed. Field Marshal Montgomery who commanded from the rear.
Shortly after the tremendous success of the D-Day invasion, Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery (Monty) approached Supreme Commander Eisenhower (Ike) with a daring plan to end the War in Europe. The normally cautious Monty conceived an end run around the Siegfried Line and a bold leap across the Rhine River into Germany before the approaching winter set in.
Code named Operation Market-Garden, the plan depended upon two phases; an initial mass insertion of airborne paratroopers and glider borne infantry (Market) would seize and hold five key bridges across Dutch waterways and rivers until a following tank and infantry force (Garden) crossed the Rhine into the Ruhr Valley in Northern Germany.
To succeed, the airborne troops had to seize the bridges intact and hold the narrow intervening corridor of land between friendly territory and the Arnhem Bridge until the armor could drive through, a distance of sixty-four miles. During the final staff conference on September 10, 1944, Lt. Gen. Browning expressed his misgivings about taking the bridge at Arnhem ? sixty-four miles behind enemy lines. ?Sir, I think we might be going a bridge too far. Lt. Gen. Browning?s fears proved to be prophetic for the greatest airborne invasion in history.
Privately, Eisenhower thought that Gen. Patton?s drive into Antwerp, thus seizing a port to drop supplies, was more important to the war effort. However, intrigued by the idea of an early bridgehead across the Rhine and wanting to give the British a stake in the ultimate Allied victory, Ike agreed to Monty?s project. Operation Market-Garden, incidentally, was the cause of Patton?s gasoline supplies being diverted to the British, a source of much acrimony between the American and British forces.
In A Bridge Too Far, author Cornelius Ryan sets the stage, introduces a vast cast of characters, and lets them speak in their many voices, giving a blow-by-blow description of the operation. Although the advance was bold, it was also risky and was plagued by misadventure; Because of the adverse weather, many of the paratroops missed their drop zones. Unknown to Allied Intelligence, there was a seasoned German Panzer Division in the area. The Allied armor bogged down and could not make it up the single narrow road to Arnhem. Field Marshal Walter Model happened to be in the area and immediately grasped the goal of the attack, thereby thwarting it.
Of the 10,000 paratroopers from the British 1st Airborne Division who dropped into the vicinity of Arnhem, only 2,163 survived. In all the Allies sustained about 17,000 casualties, about 12,000 of whom were British. The Germans lost about 3,300 killed and wounded. To give a rough comparison, the Allied losses were about twice as many as were lost on D-Day.
Ryan?s book is a work of history showing the warts and all of Operation Market-Garden. Ryan interviewed literally hundreds of players in the invasion, including Germans and Dutch civilians. There is no real apology for the Allied blunders nor disparagement of fortune that happened to favor the Germans in this case. Neither does he shrink from revealing the blunders of the Allied High Command. Ryan pretty much presents the story and lets the reader decide on its interpretation. As a minor con, I found it somewhat difficult to follow the story since there are so many characters and locations to keep up with in this 600-page book.
I would recommend A Bridge Too Far to any history buff, Anglophiles, and WWII enthusiasts as I think Ryan was as fair as possible to all parties given the distance from that fateful September in 1944.