An alternative to Market Garden?

  • 2019 2018 2017

    The “On this day during W.W. 2” reminded me of Operation Market Garden, and I had a look at the map and started wondering whether it would have been such a great idea even if it had succeeded. The Allied armies would still have found themselves behind the IJssel river after crossing the Arnhem bridge. The IJssel is by no means as formidable an obstacle as the Rhine, but it would have provided the Germans with a line of defense. And even after crossing that river, the Allies would have been poised for the boggy marshland of Lower Saxony, a sparsely populated area of limited economic value. To get to Germany’s industrial heartland, the Ruhr area, they would have to make a sharp right turn there and cover the distance they had first marched north.

    So as a “what if”, I was wondering whether aiming for the city of Venlo on the Dutch-German border wouldn’t have been a better idea. They could then have followed the old Haltern-Venlo railway which was actually in use as a German supply line at the time. And instead of the bridge at Arnhem, could have tried for the Wesel Railway Bridge.
    The main obstacle would have been the northern part of the Westwall (aka “Siegfried Line”), which Market Garden attempted to bypass on the north. But the Westwall could be breached, as was demonstrated by US forces about a month after Market Garden. But Venlo wasn’t very far from the front line at that time and Wesel is a lot closer to the Ruhr than Arnhem.

    So what do you strategists think? Would this have been a better plan? Were they going to hang out their washing on the Siegfried Line if they had tried?

  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    The concept for Market-Garden revolved around the notion that the Ruhr could be secured through a quick, rapier-like thrust, and that the success of such an operation would (to quote a phrase that soldiers have optimistically used in countless conflicts) “end the war by Christmas.”  The British, who had been in the war longer than the Americans, favoured the idea because it was (on paper) economical in terms of lives.  The Americans, who had a lot more resources than the British, and who hadn’t been in the war for as many years, and many of whose officers (like Patton) were Ulysses S. Grant types who wanted to hit the enemy head on and get the job over with, were strongly opposed to the idea.  They said that this kind of “pencil-like thrust” was too vulnerable to being cut off at the base, isolated and destroyed, which is the classic technique for dealing with a salient (though, admittedly, the kind of thrust envisioned was more of an envelopment that a salient), and they advocated instead for an advance on a broad front (which is what the Anglo-Americans ended up doing, for the most part).

    I would add two other arguments to support the American position.  First: Churchill’s “soft underbelly of the crocodile” advocacy for an invasion of Italy was a similar British idea for a rapier-like back-door thrust at (ultimately, I would assume) Berlin.  We all know how that brilliant idea turned out.  Second: the Ardennes Offensive of late 1944, a.k.a. the Battle of the Bulge, showed that the Wehrmacht still had enough punch at that late date to drive a huge salient into a broad front, so I would argue that this indicates that the Germans would have had no difficulty cutting off and destroying a narrow, pencil-like thrust to the Ruhr (in whatever form such a thrust might take).

  • Liaison TripleA '11 '10

    Great post! Fascinating read and question!

    It’s interesting, this subtly highlights the crossroads where strategy, tactics, politics, and reality intersect in conflict;
    And the interesting results they create.

    Market Garden may have been the operation simply because that’s what allied command could get everyone to agree to, and was able to do. It also “sounded like” a good idea.

    Inevitably the enemy must be faced in some front, and some kind of plan is needed; why not market garden!

    It’s clear to me that many key decisions in conflict are loosely based on half facts and agreed opinions, instead of hard truths.  Then the men get thrown in; and if it’s a win, command was obviously genius.  If it’s a fail… obviously incompetents.  And the next truth is that this cascades down the line at each level; From the 5 star generals, to the leiutenants and even the common private. And that sumizes the end result.

    The best plan can be defeated by your own weakest links;
    And the worst plan can succeed of exemplary efforts by incredible front line/individual efforts.

    The issuing of the “credit” for success however, is a very different matter

  • Correct, the UK view of Axis forces in Europe was a stand notion. I think they thought Market Garden would put full allied armies into Germany against auxiliary forces by the Wehrmacht and thus beat them to Berlin or the idea was that it would force the German forces away from France and the real invasion would come from them but this time, the Allies would roll into Germany against an empty shell. I don’t know for sure what the British were thinking. It was damn foolish to assume that the bulk of the Wehrmacht was against USSR there for their western front would be weak.

  • 2018 2017

    Airborne operations in WW2 were an anomaly–they wanted a way to “break the rules” that constrained the mobility of forces and the element of surprise.  It wasn’t until the Airmobile concept of the Vietnam era that this concept reached its full expression;  arriving on the battlefield in whole units with integrated firepower on the transports.

    Kind of like the “tank destroyer” concept, the theoretical idea of glider and paradrop troops was popular but difficult to apply because of the limits of technology and logistics that existed at that time.  It’s not as if amphibious landings were any safer.    They had the transport planes, and had trained the troops in this technique, so they went ahead and executed the intended experiment—but the shortcomings and vulnerabilities of this entire method of warfare weren’t fully fleshed out until well after the war was over.  Attempts to resupply by air only (stalingrad, dien bien phu) did not work well either.

    Airborne troops are dependent on being used alongside a traditional relief force of conventionally deployed troops.  When that careful dance didn’t execute properly, disaster ensued (MG, crete, partially sicily).  There were situations where airborne deployments went well (eben emael, normandy) but those were situations where the enemy was not well prepared for the surprise, and the local presence of friendly forces and support overwhelmed the inadequate defense.  In the face of a well prepared and integrated defense, airborne operations were costly and difficult to justify.  In the case of Market Garden, most units dropped needed to be relieved within 48 hours by conventional forces…which required too much coordination and luck to succeed.  I suppose this means the entire operation should have been called off, and the elite troops simply deployed alongside other allied units, but that would have been a difficult decision to admit that the entire theoretical framework of airdrop was shaky and should only be used under optimal conditions.

  • I think that was the entire point of capturing the Bridges under Wehrmacht command. If the airborne backed by armored got those bridges, then regulars could start coming in waves and thus the airborne could be pulled off the lines. However as I said before, the Allies had terrible intelligence of Axis forces in the area of operation.

  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10


    Airborne operations in WW2 were an anomaly–they wanted a way to “break the rules” that constrained the mobility of forces and the element of surprise.  It wasn’t until the Airmobile concept of the Vietnam era that this concept reached its full expression;  arriving on the battlefield in whole units with integrated firepower on the transports.

    Good analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of paratrooper / glider troop operations in WWII.  The concept had great appeal because it created the opportunity for a “vertical envelopment”, i.e. outflanking the enemy’s front lines vertically rather than horizontally, and because it allowed rapid surprise attacks against strategically vital facilities and structures (like bridges), but its major limitation was that these things were achieved at the expense of firepower and staying power.  Troops air-deployed behind enemy lines were lightly armed and, by definition, operated without overland logistical support; air-dropped supplies helped somewhat, but could not always be delivered accurately (if at all).  Oversized gliders like the Hamilcar could deliver light tanks, but for most practical purposes air-deployed troops lacked heavy weapons.  All this meant that they had to be relieved by ground troops quickly in order to succeed.  Market-Garden was wrecked by many problems, notably intelligence failures, but one of its most critical flaws was a planning error that should have been obvious: its success depended on the rapid movement of an entire corps of motorized troops over a long distance through enemy-controlled territory over a single narrow road.  The plan made little allowance for vehicle breakdowns and other traffic-slowing factors, including the potentially fatal necessity to capture several bridges intact (the Germans managed to demolish one of them).

  • Liaison TripleA '11 '10

    Market-Garden was wrecked by many problems,

    Let’s not forget stopping for tea.  Or was that just Hollywood?

  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 '13 Moderator

    You have to have tea at 4.

  • That tea $hit got a lot of allied soldiers killed during WWI though and Germany knew UK would do that.

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