Review of Arnhem: The Battle for the Bridges, 1944 – Antony Beevor

Posted: May 15, 2019 in nonfiction, Review, war
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On 17 September 1944, General Kurt Student, the founder of Nazi Germany’s parachute forces, heard the growing roar of aero engines. He went out on to his balcony above the flat landscape of southern Holland to watch the vast air armada of Dakotas and gliders, carrying the British 1st Airborne and the American 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions. He gazed up in envy at the greatest demonstration of paratroop power ever seen.

Operation Market Garden, the plan to end the war by capturing the bridges leading to the Lower Rhine and beyond, was a bold concept: the Americans thought it unusually bold for Field Marshal Montgomery. But the cost of failure was horrendous, above all for the Dutch who risked everything to help. German reprisals were cruel and lasted until the end of the war.

The British fascination for heroic failure has clouded the story of Arnhem in myths, not least that victory was possible when in fact the plan imposed by Montgomery and General ‘Boy’ Browning was doomed from the start. Antony Beevor, using many overlooked and new sources from Dutch, British, American, Polish and German archives, has reconstructed the terrible reality of this epic clash. Yet this book, written in Beevor’s inimitable and gripping narrative style, is about much more than a single dramatic battle. It looks into the very heart of war.

Don’t miss hearing Antony Beevor talk at the Auckland Writer’s Festival Saturday 18 May 2019.  Click here for details.

Arnhem: The Battle for the Bridges, 1944

Antony Beevor

Viking

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Stephen Litten

For many World War II armchair generals, no subject is likely to generate a vigorous discussion than Operation Market Garden – the attempt to capture a series of bridges in the Netherlands in late 1944. Devised by the recently promoted Field Marshall Montgomery, the aim was to capture a bridgehead over the Rhine in the Netherlands and pursue the Germany army into Germany. Needless to say, the operations did not go as planned.

Beevor starts the action a few weeks before the actual period in question, as the situational background is important in understanding the decisions behind the plan. He then follows the planning and implementation of the operation as envisaged. The last chapter is devoted to the aftermath of the operation and the German response. Those that know about Operation Market Garden and the film, A Bridge Too Far, will be aware that it failed.

Beevor, as part of his research, sought answers as to why. Blame is firmly attributed to Monty and his senior commanders. Beevor consulted documents from multiples sources, including Dutch and German, before writing this book. These two sets are important – both were witnesses and participants to the plans as executed. The Dutch army also had an Army Staff College who would have failed Montgomery for implementing a plan so simple and obvious as running directly up the road and straight for the Arnhem bridges.

I enjoyed Arnhem: it is a good read and the action reporting is balanced (it seems confusion abounded on both sides early in the battle). While the title is Arnhem, that city is not the sole focus, as fighting continued along the entire 120km route. It was the target, however, and despite later claims the operation was 90% successful, in this case the miss may as well have been a mile. Read it. I thank Penguin for supplying a review copy.

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