France 1944: Missed Opportunities from Mortain to Market Garden

Arnhem Bridge

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In 1985 Judy and I visited her cousin and her family in the Netherlands when I was an Army Lieutenant in Germany. Since I was a history major in college and had done a lot of reading and study about Operation Market Garden, which most people associate with the movie Bridge Too Far I decided that on our way back to Germany that we needed to stop by Arnhem and Oosterbeek to visit the battlefield and the British Airborne Museum. It was one of those places that even today evokes poignant memories. When we walked through the British cemetery across from the museum which is in the former British headquarters, the Hartenstein Hotel I saw a grave marker. It read Capt. J.S. (James Strathern) Dundas, 7th KOSB (7th King’s Own Scottish Borderers) of the British 1st Airborne Division. He was the 2IC, or Executive Officer of Company B of that Regiment. He assumed command of the company on the 19th after its commander was reported missing in action. He commanded the company until his death on September 25th 1944 when commanding the rearguard of the battalion as it and the remnants of the 1st Airborne Division evacuated the bridgehead over the Rhine. It was a sobering reminder of the cost of war. 

Grave marker of Captain J.S. Dundas at the British Cemetery at Oosterbeek

September 17th 2018 will be the 74th anniversary of the Allied attempt to liberate the Netherlands, secure a crossing across the Rhine and plunge into the heart of German industry and war making capacity the Ruhr basin. The plan is better known as Operation “Market-Garden” and was the first major use of Airborne Divisions in a strategic jump versus a tactical or operational mode.  What made this operation different was the distance that the Airborne would be dropped from the front lines and the number of obstacles that the ground troops would have to cross to get to them.  It was a high risk strategic plan to end the war early.  However this operation did not occur in a vacuum and was the product of operational and strategic decisions that the Allies made from the time of the Normandy breakout.  Each decision was made on the fly as the situation rapidly developed from a static slugfest in the hedgerows to the pursuit of a broken enemy.  As the Allies advanced across France decisions had to be made of how the advance would be made which became a major bone of contention between Eisenhower and his subordinates.  To understand how the Allies got to the point of launching Market-Garden one has to look back at the events leading up to it beginning with the Allied decisions made shortly after the breakout.  The actual campaign does not always correlate to popular myths nor does it allow for a uncritical analysis or generalization of the events which made up this part of the campaign in Western Europe.

It is a campaign that teaches us even today that mundane things such as logistics, weather and the failure to recognize moments of opportunity and times for caution matter in a military campaign. The campaign is a reminder that every military campaign has risks and that even crippled enemy can inflict costly defeats on superior forces and regain lost initiative. 



Patton Bradley and Montgomery, Time Magazine Photo

Lieutenant General Omar Bradley’s 12th Army Group breakout from Normandy opened a realm of possibilities for the Allies to defeat the German Army in detail and end the war.  The manner in which the Allies exploited their success and their failure to destroy the German Army in the west in the late summer of 1944 was a key factor in prolonging the war.  Both the Allies and the Germans faced challenges due to the change in the nature of the campaign. For nearly two months they had waged a nearly static war of attrition in the Norman hedgerows.  The breakout changed the dynamic of the campaign to one of maneuver.  In the post-breakout period the Allies had several opportunities to envelope large portions of the German Army in western France, Belgium and southern Holland.  The campaign became one of maneuver and a “commander’s battle” in which it was “the decisions of the generals that determined the manner in which events unfolded in August, their successes and failures which brought about the position that was achieved by September.”[1] Prior to the breakout success in the hedgerows was determined on “the ability of British, American and Canadian units to seize ground from their German opponents on the next ridge, the next hedge, beyond the next road.” [2]The change would expose the weaknesses in the quality of allied generalship and logistics management.  The Allies failure to recognize the ability of the Germans to recover from disaster conspired with key elements in the campaign to end the war by Christmas.[3]

Grenadiers and Tanks of 12th SS Panzer Division (Hitler Jugend) in Normandy

A key decision reached early in the campaign was for Bradley’s XII Army Group to capture Brest and other Brittany ports.  This decision meant that when 3rdArmy exploited the break out the preponderance of its forces went west, the opposite way that the battle was developing.  This deprived the Americans of forces and logistical assets that could have supported the envelopment of the major part of the German Army still engaged in Normandy. Russell Weigley lays the blame for this decision on Bradley.  The dash into Brittany did little to help the Allied logistical problems and diverted much needed troops away from the focal point of the action in Normandy.[4] Hastings criticizes Bradley’s lack of imagination in the initial stages of the breakout in adhering to the original OVERLORD exploitation plan[5] rather than adapting to the situation on the ground. Patton’s biographer Carlo D’Este seconds this opinion and it makes sense from an operational standpoint.[6] Why send significant forces to an area far away from the critical part of the battle for little practical gain?  In the end German forces held out, in some cases to the end of the war, denying the Americans the use of the ports either by just holding out or by demolishing the port facilities.

Mortain: German Counter Attack and the Short Envelopment

The American exploitation of the breakout, notably by elements of Patton’s 3rdArmy pushing east combined with the continued pressure of the British Army Group toward Falaise. The breakout forced forced the Germans into a strategic decision to attempt to restore the front in Normandy or withdraw to the Seine or further east as there was no “defensive position short of the permanent fortifications of the West Wall on Germany’s frontier offered so many defensive strengths as the Normandy line the Americans had just breached and turned.”[7]

With limited options Hitler determined that German forces again needed to ensnare the allies in the hedgerows.[8] There was disagreement between Hitler and Field Marshal von Kluge regarding the offensive while von Kluge opposed it.  Hitler believed that the American breakout gave the Germans a chance to cut off the American forces in Brittany and possibly more believing that “once the coast had been reached at Avranches a beginning should be made with rolling up the entire Allied position in Normandy!”[9]

The German attack named Operation Lüttich was led by XLVII Panzer Corps assisted by elements of 1st SS Panzer Division.  Despite warnings from ULTRA the panzers achieved tactical surprise on the front of the 30th US Division at Mortain on the night of 6-7 August when the Germans attacked without the customary preparatory artillery bombardment.[10] The Germans made initial progress against the 30th Division which had recently taken over positions at Mortain.  However the 2nd Battalion 120th Infantry “Old Hickory” Regiment held key ground which enabled them to call artillery fire and air strikes on German forces attempting to advance on Avranches.[11] The Americans quickly reinforced 30th Division with elements of 2nd Armored Division, 35th Infantry Division and the veteran 4th Infantry Division to hold the line against the weakened German Panzer divisions.  Bradley and other American commanders viewed Lüttich as “an opportunity, not a threat.”[12] Bradley was “not merely confident of withstanding them, but expected to destroy them.”[13] Bradley attempted to lure more Germans into the potential trap by radio transmissions hoping that the Germans to persist in their attacks around Mortain.[14]

American Armor Advancing in Normandy

The German plan included the use of a significant number of aircraft to support the attack.  However this did not happen and German troops were furious at the failure of the Luftwaffe to shield them from Allied air attacks which devastated the Panzers.  The 300 fighters promised by the commander of Luftwaffe forces were engaged by British and American fighters and savaged so badly that no Luftwaffe units made an appearance over Mortain.[15] Despite some local success the German ground forces were turned back by the Americans who did not even halt their eastward movement further imperiling the German forces in Normandy.

Knocked out Panzer V Panther Tank at Mortain

With the Germans ensnared at Mortain, the 3rd Army driving east and the Canadians advancing on towards Falaise, Bradley suggested a short envelopment in which over 100,000 German troops would be trapped between the Patton’s troops and the Canadians who had opened their TOTALIZE offensive from Caen to Falaise on August 8th.  This modified plans for a deep envelopment by XV Corps of 3rd Army to entrap the Germans against the Seine crossings with an operation that might promise “still surer results.”[16] Speaking to Secretary of the Treasury Henry Mongenthau Bradley said that “he told the Cabinet officer he had “an opportunity that comes to a commander not more than once in a century. We’re about to destroy and entire hostile army.”[17] However the short envelopment was predicated on the Germans continuing their advance, had they as Hastings notes “behaved rationally, recognized the threat of envelopment to their entire front and begun a full-scale retreat east, then Bradley could indeed been accused of losing his armies a great prize.”[18]

The decision to turn the better part of 3rd Army west into Brittany deprived Bradley of forces that could have better accomplished the mission of enveloping the German 7th Army.  General Wood of 4th Armored Division to his dying day “remained embittered over the lost opportunity”[19] lost when his division was turned back into Brittany rather than being allowed to move east toward the Seine.   Weigley points out an even deeper flaw regarding the Brittany decision that was that OVERLORD planners “had not thought anything resembling the Avranches breakout and pursuit without pause to the Seine likely…” Weigley critically stated that it is among the worst forms of generalship that takes counsel of its fears. Yet that was exactly the condition of OVERLORD logistical planning.”[20]

The Falaise Pocket

Luftwaffe Fallschirmjaeger in France

The Allies did have a chance to destroy the German 7th Army.  LXVII Panzer Corps and II SS Panzer Corps as well as the remnants of II Parachute Corps and other formations battered in Normandy were attempting to move east from Mortain following the failure to break through.  The remnants of I SS Panzer Corps led by 12 SS Panzer Division Hitlerjügend and various battle groups of other decimated divisions and Army units such as 21st Panzer Division offered determined resistance to the Canadians toward Falaise.  In the south only scattered Kampfgruppen of divisions shattered in Normandy opposed Patton’s forces at Avranches.  These German units, outnumbered and without air support were aided by a fortuitous decision of the commander of the 2nd French Armored Division to move a combat command along a road needed by the American 5thArmored Division.  The delay allowed the Germans to send a battalion into the town which could have “fallen easily a few hours before.”[21]

Grenadiers of the 12th SS at Falaise

At this point the Allies were bedeviled by several failures which prevented the short double envelopment from occurring and allowed the remnants of 7th Army to escape to fight again. The Germans suffered grievous losses in men, material, and especially armored fighting vehicles, artillery and motor transport but more often than not their units retained their cohesion and ability to operate.

Carnage in the Falaise Pocket

The first failure belonged to the Canadians who failed to push the Germans out of Falaise despite overwhelming material and air superiority.  The Canadian attack Operation TOTALIZE was planned by the best of the Canadian generals, Simonds.  The operation began on a promising note but bogged down halfway to Falaise due to a quick counterattack by 12th SS Panzer kampfgruppen. The Canadians were not helped when a misguided bombing attack by “friendly” air units hit them rather than the Germans.  Likewise the inexperience of the Canadian 4th and Polish 1st Armored Divisions showed when they paused to eliminate strong points rather than bypassing them and advancing to disrupt the Germans.  As such they gave the Germans the opportunity to reform their lines.[22] The second failure was that of Montgomery who had refused to adjust army group boundaries with Americans which put more pressure on the Canadians to “renew their drive promptly and vigorously.”[23] Rather than pushing on General Crerar of Canadian 1st Army spent five days “doing what really battlewise generalship could do by regrouping and making diversionary attacks.”[24] It took Crerar over 48 hours to launch a determined attack to close the gap despite the weakness of German forces that opposed him despite the fact that even Montgomery personally called him urging him to “Close the gap between First Canadian Army and 3rd U.S. Army.”[25] General Kurt Meyer of 12th SS faulted the Canadian leadership with a failure to use imaginative planning, and noted that “none of the Canadian attacks showed the genius of a great commander.”[26] American units which Patton had cautiously advanced north of Argentan towards Falaise were recalled after Bradley was unable to convince Montgomery to alter the army-group boundary in light of the new circumstances.[27] Patton recounts that he believed that his units could have “easily entered Falaise and closed the gap” and that the “halt was a great mistake.”[28] Weigley blames Bradley as much for the halt order as much he does Montgomery for “discouraging whatever might have been done to rectify the blunder- even discouraging on August 13th a call from the Supreme Commander to Montgomery about the inter-allied boundary.”[29] Thus through a series of Allied mistakes particularly by senior commanders the first opportunity to envelop the Germans passed into history as a great yet incomplete victory.

Opportunities in South France: Operations ANVIL and DRAGOON

The invasion of South France Operations ANVIL and DRAGOON[30] had been debated by the Allies as early as April 1943.  The British resisted ANVIL from the beginning with Winston Churchill not yielding “his struggle until five days before the eventual D-Day of August 15th.”[31] American planners saw the need for the operation and had never given up on it despite its postponement due to a shortage of amphibious lift at the time of OVERLORD.  Following the invasion the perilous logistic situation created by the lack of operational major ports in Normandy and Brittany caused American planners to “believe that ANVIL was virtually imperative.”[32] Landings in the south offered significant advantages to the logistical needs of the Allies.  The major seaports and naval bases at Marseilles and Toulon were both closer to Germany than Cherbourg.  Both offered major modern port facilities and the south included rail nets that had not suffered significant damage from Allied air attacks. Likewise the presence of a major navigable river, the Rhone, made it possible to move supplies into the heart of France by water.  From a strategic point of view the move into southern France would “help Eisenhower form a front along the whole German border from the North Sea to Switzerland, to stretch the German army as perilously thin as possible for its defense of the Fatherland.”[33] ANVIL also offered the opportunity to bring more trained American divisions into the fight which could not otherwise come ashore in Normandy due to the port and supply problems.[34]

The Allies initially allotted three American divisions of 7th Army and VI Corps as well as units of the French Army based in the Mediterranean to the invasion.  Commanding VI Corps and its three veteran Divisions, the Regular Army 3rdInfantry Division, the “Rock of the Marne”, the 36th “Texas” Division and 45th“Thunderbird” Division of the National Guard was Lieutenant General Lucian Truscott.  Truscott was of the best American Corps commanders. Early in the war he had created the Rangers and had distinguished himself in Italy commanding 3rd Infantry Division.  He followed this by taking over to rescue the unhappy Anzio campaign from utter fiasco.[35] A hard driving officer and prewar friend of Patton Truscott was the ideal commander for the operation.[36]

Truscott’s forces were opposed by the weak and widely scattered German 19thArmy of General Blaskowitz’s Army Group G.  The landings were highly successful and the Americans made rapid progress inflicting heavy casualties and capturing large numbers of Germans with relatively low American casualties.  However in Blaskowitz the Americans faced a skilled commander who managed to extricate the bulk of his forces and form a continuous front with the remnants of Army Group B by mid September.  Hitler had recognized the necessity of this link up but held Blaskowitz in low regard due to his resistance to Nazi policy while Military Governor of Poland in 1939, said to Field Marshall von Rundstedt of Blaskowitz: “If he contrives to do that (i.e. join up 19th Army rapidly with the main body) then I will make him a solemn apology for everything.”[37]

Truscott made the German army his objective. Truscott pushed his units hard but was hampered by his meager forces and his tendency to outrun his supplies.  German delaying actions hampered the American advance and prevented the Americans from utterly destroying the 19th Army.   Despite this the campaign in the south prevented the Allied logistical situation in France from becoming “insurmountable” in the fall of 1944 and “contributed directly and mightily to bringing the bulk of the American Army to grips with the German army in the West, to defeat and destroy it.”[38] Had Truscott had more forces and adequate supplies he may have achieved even more than he did. One can only imagine the “what if” scenarios that could have developed in the West with the application of more force to this option rather than feed the limited number of American divisions into the cauldron of the hedgerow country.

To the Seine and Beyond

With the closing of the Falaise pocket too late to catch most of the German forces the next opportunity for the now postponed “long envelopment” was now staring the Allies in the face.  The Seine beckoned.  Could the Allies prevent the fleeing remnants of the 7th Army and Panzer Group West, soon to be renamed the 5thPanzer Army from escaping across the Seine?   Bradley’s belated decision to restart the drive to the Seine on 14 August was beset with the problem of the logistical sustainment.  The logistics problem was not limited to port facilities.  The Allies had moved well past the eastern edge of the Normandy lodgment area over two weeks before planners anticipated. Fuel to propel the Allied armies forward became a critical consideration. Despite this the Allied high command saw the opportunity to complete the destruction of the German forces fleeing Normandy and Montgomery “anticipated for weeks the possibility of the long envelopment at the Seine.”[39] Adjustments were made on the fly. The plan to pause at the Seine dictated by OVERLORD was discarded in favor of trying to cross it on the run.  XV Corps of 3rd Army had reached Mantes crossing into the British 21st Army Group zone.  Montgomery refused an American offer of trucks to assist the British and Canadians to Mantes to complete the envelopment from the west. However he gave permission for XV Corps to continue its advance into the British zone in the hopes of completing the encirclement of the estimated 75,000 German troops west of the Seine.[40]

American Soldiers Cross the Seine

Yet again the Allied hopes for the encirclement of German forces west of the Seine were dashed.  XIX Corps came up to assist XV Corps in its advance into the German rear on the 24th of August at Elbeuf.  However a scratch Kampfgrüppemade up of elements of eight panzer divisions made a stand that delayed the American forces five days.[41] The British and Canadian forces did not push hard.  The determined resistance of the panzer battle group and the failure of the British and Canadians to push harder enabled Army Group B to evacuate many of its troops, 25,000 vehicles and most of its higher headquarters across the Seine before the Canadians and XIX Corps linked up on 26 August.[42] [43] While the envelopment attempt ran its course the Americans pushed across the Seine. The Americans allowed the French 2nd Armored division to liberate Paris on August 25th and rapidly began to move east in pursuit of the German forces.

Despite horrendous losses in men and material including all but about 100 of the 2300 tanks and assault guns committed to Normandy[44] the German command rapidly organized the survivors into Kampfgrüppen.  These battle groups though hastily organized were well led and usually comprised of hardened veterans skilled in the active defense.  Field Marshall Model “Hitler’s Fireman” took command of Army Group B after Von Kluge committed suicide when returning to Germany after being implicated in the attempt on Hitler’s life.  Hitler gave the western front priority on tank replacements. Likewise reinforcements of newly formed Panzer Brigades flowed into France even as the Americans advanced east fighting not only the Germans but the gasoline shortage.[45] Patton’s army reached the Moselle but by September 2nd its tanks had run dry.  “Third Army received just 25,390 gallons, when its divisions needed at least 450,000 gallons to resume their advance.”[46] Patton continued by scavenging fuel wherever he could get it whether captured German stocks or by various creative means. Patton had his logistics officers divert fuel or send raiding parties into 1st Army’s depots. His agents bartered for fuel at port facilities and depots by offering captured souvenirs to those running those facilities in exchange for gas.[47]

American M-8 Armored Car at the Arch d’Triumph during the Liberation of Paris

The Allied shortage of gasoline, a product of both the lack of ports, damage to the French rail system and the unexpected rate of advance[48] ultimately forced Eisenhower to make the decision to halt Patton’s advance in favor of a push by Montgomery in the north. Now complicating Eisenhower’s situation the Germans Likewise the ability of the Germans to join Army Group B with Army Group G’s 1st and 19th Armies from Army Group G further assisted the German defense.  The German army’s self preservation in late August and early September became known to them as the “Miracle of the West.”[49] A successful envelopment of German forces took place at Mons just south of the Belgium border where 1st Army captured over 25,000 prisoners from units that had escaped from Normandy.[50] Throughout the campaign in France the Allies were beset by logistical problems and sometimes by bad generalship as they attempted to change the campaign plan on the fly.[51]

Antwerp and the Scheldt: Missed Opportunity

While Bradley and Patton’s American units sped across France “advancing faster and further than any Army in history,” Montgomery’s 21st Army Group crossed the Seine and began a drive that rivaled the Americans in speed.  XXX Corps under the recently appointed General Horrocks attacked out of the Seine bridgehead on 29 August.  After overcoming initial stiff resistance from the German Kampfgrüppen defending the area XXX Corps advanced with great speed capturing Brussels and Antwerp by 4 September.  Logistics also tied Montgomery’s hands just as it had Patton in the south.[52] He was forced to immobilize 8th Corps to supply XXX Corps which advanced north as 1st Canadian Army attempted to capture the channel ports.[53]

Canadian Soldiers during the Battle of the Scheldt

The quickness of the advance and erroneous decision making kept the XXX Corps attack from complete success.  This caused serious complications to further operations and which gave the Germans the break that they needed to stabilize the front.  General “Pip” Roberts commander of 11th Armored division which had just liberated Antwerp assumed that the British drive would turn east toward the Ruhr industrial area of Germany. In doing so he failed to capture the crossings over the Albert Canal.[54] Additionally he failed to advance the few miles needed to cut off the German 15th Army on the Scheldt thus missing the opportunity to trap an entire German Army against the sea.  Hastings lays the blame for this not entirely on the Division and Corps Commanders, Roberts and XXX Corps commander Horrocks, but on those responsible for the overall strategy, Eisenhower, Montgomery and Dempsey who should have realized this and especially that Montgomery “might have been expected to see for himself the pivotal importance of the Antwerp approaches.”[55] While the British rested in Antwerp the Germans blew the bridges over the Albert Canal. General Von Zangen of 15th Army took the opportunity to extricate his Army using any vessel available to cross the Scheldt. He occupied the strategic island of Walchern on the Antwerp approaches and placed his troops in position to assist in the defense of Holland and northern Germany.  Due to British inaction and his own creativity Von Zangen evacuated 65,000 troops, 225 guns, 750 vehicles and over 1000 horses across the waterway in 16 days to fight again.[56]

North of the Albert General Kurt Chill in the typical fashion of so many German commanders in a crisis situation took charge and halted the panicked retreat of German forces into Holland. Chill organized personnel from all branches of the German military into something resembling an Army.[57] Likewise Generals Bittrich of II SS Panzer Corps and Harmel of 10th SS Panzer Division salvaged “vehicles abandoned by other groups and weapons from deserted army depots” including 12 brand new howitzers on abandoned train.  The improvisation of the German commanders in these few days would be of decisive importance in the coming days.[58]

While the British paused to regroup in Belgium the Germans took the opportunity to form a new Army, the 1st Parachute Army under the Luftwaffe paratroop expert, General Kurt Student. 1st Parachute Army was hardly an army at all, barely the size of a fully manned allied division.  Made up of battle groups formed around remnants of the elite 6th Parachute regiment, assorted parachute training battalions, Flak units, a hodge-podge of Army Kampfgrüppen, General Chill’s units and divisions evacuated from the Scheldt, Student laid out a defensive line along the Albert Canal.[59] Student expected the British to attack when he was so terribly weak. He could not believe that he was not attacked when his line was most vulnerable to a determined assault that much of the German command believed would cause the front in Belgium to collapse.  The British Guards Armored division slowly advanced from the Albert to the Meuse-Escaut canal but the German defense had assured that any further advance to the north would be on a narrow front with a vulnerable left flank.[60] Von Rundstedt’s new Chief of staff at OB West Siegfried Westphal noted that “the situation was desperate. A major defeat anywhere along the front-which was so full of gaps that it did not deserve that name would lead to catastrophe if the enemy were to fully exploit the opportunities.”[61] Hastings and Weigley both note that the British failure to close the gap were of decisive importance to the coming campaign in Holland.[62]

Arnhem: The Failed Vertical Envelopment

Operation Market Garden, the Largest Airborne Operation in History

The Allies still believed there was the chance to break into Germany in 1944.  Lacking the logistical base to sustain a wide front advance Eisenhower opted to make Montgomery the primary effort. Montgomery planned to utilize the 1stAllied Airborne Army in a bold and “in the context of Anglo-American generalship in France, refreshingly daring”[63] operation.[64] The concept of “vertical envelopment” had been advocated by General Marshall and General H.H. Arnold and throughout the campaign 18 airborne exploitation operations had been planned “each of them cancelled by the rapidity of the advance of the ground forces.”[65] Eisenhower made Montgomery the primary effort on September 10th and Montgomery “immediately detailed planning …for an idea he had already conceived to use the airborne reserve.”[66]

American Paratroops in Holland

The plan was Operation MARKET-GARDEN and to be successful Montgomery’s forces would have to cross 8 water obstacles including 3 major rivers.[67] He had to use one two lane highway bordered by soft Dutch podder, thick woods and drainage ditches that restricted armor and mechanized forces to the road itself.[68] The was for three Allied airborne divisions, the American 82nd and 101st, the British 1st Airborne and the Polish 1st Parachute Brigade to secure the bridges over the waterways between the front and Arnhem 65 miles north of the front.  The goal was to establish a bridgehead over the Rhine for the British Second Army to advance deep into the German heartland.  XXX Corps was to advance up this “corridor of death” and link up with each of the airborne divisions with the goal of breaking the German defense in the west.

British Paras in the ruins of Arnhem

Nearly all the writers agree that had the offensive been launched 7-10 days earlier when the Germans were in complete disarray it might have succeeded in its objective of crossing the Rhine and getting into Germany.  Hastings and Weigley both believe that the axis of the offensive was wrong and that the attack should have been made further south using 21st Army Group and 1st Army to drive to the Rhine.[69] All believe that an attack by Patton’s 3rd Army would not have achieved significant strategic gain as he now faced the bulk of the Wehrmacht’s strength and that there was little of strategic value in the part of Germany he could attack.

German Sturmgeschutz III in Arnhem 

The attack was made on 17 September.   The shortcomings of the plan became rapidly apparent.[70] German resistance in South Holland was much stronger than expected, the Son bridge was demolished by the Germans which created a major delay as bridging equipment had to be found and brought forward.  Due to the presence of battle groups from the 10th SS Panzer Division and other units dug in the city around the bridge the 82nd could not secure the Nijmegen Bridge until XXX Corps arrived.  The 1st Airborne was landed too far away from Arnhem Bridge to secure it in the face of the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions of II SS Panzer Corps.  Due to a shortage of aircraft and refusal of the air transport command to make two drops on the first day the drops took 3 days to get all the airborne units into the fight.  The single road ensured that the spearhead of the XXX Corps advance was limited to a squadron of tanks and supporting infantry on a front two tanks wide.[71] The flanks were weakly held and German units salvaged from the Scheldt attacked the west and units from the Germany proper attacked the 82nd’s lodgment area.  Communications problems in the 1st Airborne Division prevented it from communicating with its own units as well as higher headquarters leaving everyone wondering what was happening.[72] The advance of XXX Corps was often both before Eindhoven and after Nijmegen lacking in urgency.[73] When all was said and done 1st Airborne Division was all but destroyed and had to be evacuated from its bridgehead and the operation ended in failure.[74] Numerous events contributed to the failure of the operation, many of which occurred before it was planned.  The German ability to make an army out of nothing coupled with planning which was based more on assumptions about what the Germans were incapable of doing rather than what was happening on the ground was a major fact. Likewise the British command discounted intelligence reports of Panzers in or near the drop the drop zones.

SS Panzer Grenadiers in Arnhem

The plan itself left much to chance and was built around the assumption that the Germans lacked the ability to stop them, neglecting the restrictions in which the Allied forces would have to execute the plan. If things could go wrong they did, especially in the 1st Airborne area of operations. Critical equipment failed to arrive, communications broke down, 2 of 3 battalions detailed to seize the Arnhem Bridge were stopped by a mixed bag of German forces including Panzers, an SS training battalion and various Army units and only one battalion reached the bridge. The failure to plan for and establish a landing zone on the south side of the Rhine kept them from being able to take the bridge, which became a key factor in the German ability to move troops from Arnhem to Njimegen. General Urquart was trapped in a house by German units which posted themselves around it and the commander of 1st Airborne Brigade was wounded.  The Germans succeeded in over running the drop zones and without communications British Airborne could not let the air transport know that supplies were not getting to them.


This phase of the French campaign exhibited the best and the worst of Allied generalship. The reasons; generally inexperienced American leadership at this level of warfare and poor leadership by the more experienced British command.  The key failures were logistics management and the strategic focus following the breakout which changed the nature of the planned campaign. The Allies were running at the limit of their capacity, shortages of fuel and other supplies and heavy casualties incurred in Normandy weakened the Allied advance demonstrating von Clausewitz’s understanding of what happens when a offensive reaches its culminating point. The drive into Brittany, the failure at the Falaise gap, the failure to close the door at the Seine, the failure to trap the 15th Army at the Scheldt and its failure to cross the Albert Canal, as well as the Market-Garden fiasco can all be directly attributed to Allied leadership at high levels.  Likewise the extraordinary ability of German commanders to restore seemingly hopeless situations all demonstrated how Clausewitz’s understood “genius” in war.

The campaign from the Normandy to Arnhem was one of spotty performance by the Allies especially in terms of generalship and logistics planning and the ability to improvise.  The Germans suffered from Hitler’s interference, especially at Mortain where he insisted on counterattack versus withdraw. Likewise they suffered from a critical lack of air support.  However German commanders were masters of improvisation taking advantage of Allied errors and confusion to recover the situation time and time again.


[1] Hastings, Max. Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy Vintage Books, New York, 1984 p.280

[2] Ibid.

[3] Hastings, Max. Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-1945 Alfred a Knopf, New York, 2004 p.37.  Hastings comments that “British planners threw away it had learned since 1939 about the speed of reaction of Hitler’s army, its brilliance at improvisation, its dogged skill in defense, its readiness always to punish allied mistakes.”

[4] Weigley, Russell F. Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany, 1944-1945, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1981pp.184-186

[5] Ibid. Hastings. Overlord pp.282-283

[6] D’Este,  Carlo. Patton: A Genius for War. Harper Collins Publishers New York, 1995 pp.632-633

[7] Ibid.  p.195

[8] Ibid. Also

[9] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45 Presidio Press, Novato CA 1964 pp.449-450.

[10] Ibid pp.195-196. Weigley notes that Montgomery and most other Allied commanders  had been optimistic in not anticipating the German counter attack despite the ULTRA warnings, while Bradley and Patton were cautious in making troop deployments.

[11] Michael Reynolds in Steel Inferno: The 1st SS Panzer Corps in Normandynotes that the Americans inflicted “astonishing casualties on the northern thrusts of 2nd SS Panzer and remained undefeated when the Germans withdrew 4 days later.”  Reynolds, Michael Steel Inferno: The 1st SS Panzer Corps in NormandyDell Publishing, New York, 1997 p.264

[12] Ibid. Hastings Overlord p.283

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid. Weigley p.199.

[15] Carrell, Paul. Invasion! They’re Coming!” Trans. E. Osers, Originally published as Sie Kommen! Gerhard Stalling Verlag 1960, Bantam Books New York, 1964, 5th Printing June 1984. p. 249

[16] Ibid. Weigley p. 199

[17] Ibid. p.200

[18] Ibid. Hastings. Overlord. pp.282-283

[19] Ibid. D’Este. p.631

[20] Ibid. Weigley. p.286  He also points out that the Brittany diversion could have been “worse had it not been for Montgomery’s influence”  p.288

[21] Ibid. p. 202

[22] Ibid. p.204

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Reynolds, Michael Steel Inferno: 1st SS Panzer Corps in Normandy Dell Publishing New York, 1997. p.320.

[26] Meyer, Kurt Grenadiers trans. By  Michael Mende and Robert J.  Edwards, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing, Inc. Winnipeg Manitoba, Canada 2001 p.290.

[27] Ibid. Hastings Overlord pp.288-289.

[28] Patton, George S. War As I Knew It Bantam Books NY  published 1980, originally published by Houghton Mifflin Company 1947. pp.101-102

[29] Ibid. Weigley p.209  Weigley quotes Major Hansen, Bradley’s aide in stating that the Falaise halt orde was “the only decision he has ever questioned.”

[30] DRAGOON was the airborne component of he south France operation.

[31] Ibid. p.218

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid. pp.222-224

[36] Patton and Truscott had a clash during the Sicilian campaign over Patton’s push for an amphibious operation accusing him of being “afraid to fight” and threatening to relieve him but then throwing his arm around him and offering him a drink. See D’Este pp.526-528  This incident was made famous in the movie “Patton.”

[37] Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Hippocrene Books, New York 1997 p.338

[38] Ibid. Weigley

[39] Ibid. p.241

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid. p.243

[42] Ibid. p.246

[43] Hans Von Luck, the commanding a Kampfgrüppe of 21st Panzer Division describes how he and his troops camouflaged his “Schwimmwagen” with bushes to cross the Seine successfully disguising the vehicle to avoid persistant Allied air attacks. VonLuck, Hans Panzer Commander Dell Publishing New York 1989. p.209

[44] Ibid. Weigley. p.255

[45] Weigley, Hastings and D’Este all place a fair amount of blame for the logistical crisis on the commander of the COMMZ, General John C.H. Lee.

[46] Ibid. Hastings, Armageddon p.24

[47] Ibid D’Este pp.647-652

[48] Weigley notes that OVERLORD plans had not envision support American divisions for offensive operations across the Seine until D+120, yet by “D+90, sixteen United States divisions were already 200 kilometers beyond the Seine.” p.268.  Hastings and Weigley also note the waste in the American supply system noting that of “twenty-two million fuel jerrycans shipped to France since D-Day, half had vanished since September.” Hastings. Armageddon p.23.

[49] Ibid. Weigley

[50] Ibid. p.275-276

[51] Both Weigley and Hastings note the logistical problems of the British which not only included the problems that beset the Americans but problems of their own making including poor trucks of numerous makes rather than the standardized American trucks.  Hastings notes that for a time around Antwerp that “Montgomery’s armies were obliged for a time to commandeer thousands of horse-drawn wagons abandoned by the Wehrmacht, to make good its shortage of vehicles for the haulage of supplies.” Hastings. Armageddon p.23

[52] Weigley notes that Montgomery had a fiasco of British logistics in which some “1,400 British three-ton lorries, plus all the replacement engines for this model, had been discovered to have faulty pistons rendering them useless.” p.281.

[53] Ibid. Hastings. Armageddon. p.20

[54] Ryan in A BridgeToo Far quotes the XXX Corps Commander Horrocks who said in his memoirs “My excuse is that my eyes were entirely fixed on the Rhine and everything else seemed of subsidiary importance.” Ryan, Corrnelius. A Bridge Too Far Fawcett Popular Library by Arrangement with Simon and Schuster Publishing, New York, 1974  p.60

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid. Hastings p.20.  Weigley on p.293 gives a higher figure of 86,000 troops, 600 artillery pieces, 6,000 vehicles and 6,000 horses.

[57] Ibid. Ryan. p.49

[58] Reynolds, Michael Sons of the Reich Casemate, Havertown PA 2002 p.98

[59] A significant unit that was to plan a key role in the German defense against XXX Corps was Kampfgrüppe Walter formed around the 6th Parachute Regiment and other assorted units.  It is noted in almost every volume devoted to the campaign.

[60] Ibid. Weigley. p.294

[61] Ibid. Ryan. p.52

[62] See Hastings p.22 “The fumbled handling of Antwerp was among the principal causes of Allied failure to break into Germany in 1944.  It was not merely that the port was unavailable for the shipment of supplies; through two months that followed, a large part of Montgomery’s forces had to be employed upon a task that could have been accomplished in days if the necessary energy and “grip” been exercised at the beginning of September, when the enemy was incapable of resistance.”  and Weigley pp.293-294

[63] Ibid. Weigley p.288

[64] Hastings notes that since the Airborne Army had been created that “the apostles of the new art of envelopment from the sky were determined that it should be used.” Armageddon p.35

[65] Ibid. p.289

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid. Weigley. p.291

[68] Ibid. p.295

[69] Also see Ryan. p.81 Ryan notes that in the planning General Dempsey because of his doubts about the ability of 2nd Army suggested an attack “seizing the Rhine crossing at Wesel….” as “it would be better, he believed to advance in conjunction with the U.S. First Army northward toward Wesel.”

[70] All the commentators make reference too the misgivings voiced at the final planning conference. Hastings comments on Gavin who believed that “If I get through this one, I will be very lucky.”

[71] Ibid. Weigley. p.295

[72] Hastings comments “It was a scandal-for which in the Russian or German armies some signals officers would have been shot-that the communications of 1stAirborne Division remained almost non-existent from 17 September onwards.Armaggedon p.58

[73] Ibid. p.293

[74] Casualties in 1st Airborne were high, of “the original 10,005 man force only 2,163 troopers, along with 160 Poles and 75 Dorsets, came back across the Rhine. After nine days the division had approximately 1,200 dead and 6,642 missing, wounded or captured.” Ryan p.509.


Carrell, Paul. Invasion! They’re Coming!” Trans. E. Osers, Originally published as Sie Kommen! Gerhard Stalling Verlag 1960, Bantam Books New York, 1964, 5th Printing June 1984

D’Este,  Carlo. Patton: A Genius for War. Harper Collins Publishers New York, 1995

Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Hippocrene Books, New York 1997

Hastings, Max. Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-1945 Alfred a Knopf, New York, 2004

Hastings, Max. Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy Vintage Books, New York, 1984

Meyer, Kurt Grenadiers trans. By  Michael Mende and Robert J.  Edwards, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing, Inc. Winnipeg Manitoba, Canada 2001

Patton, George S. War As I Knew It Bantam Books NY  published 1980, originally published by Houghton Mifflin Company 1947.

Reynolds, Michael Sons of the Reich Casemate, Havertown PA 2002

Reynolds, Michael Steel Inferno: 1st SS Panzer Corps in Normandy Dell Publishing New York, 1997

Ryan, Corrnelius. A Bridge Too Far Fawcett Popular Library by Arrangement with Simon and Schuster Publishing, New York, 1974

Von Luck, Hans Panzer Commander Dell Publishing New York 1989

Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45 Presidio Press, Novato CA 1964

Weigley, Russell F. Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany, 1944-1945, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1981

1 Comment

Filed under History, Military, nazi germany, us army, world war two in europe

One response to “France 1944: Missed Opportunities from Mortain to Market Garden

  1. Fascinating. The breakout from Normandy and the ensuing operations were so large in scale, so logistically complex, and so complicated by the diverse Allied command structure, that the mistakes and miscalculations detailed here were probably unavoidable at least to some extent. However, Market Garden appears to stand out as particularly flawed. The timeline objectives for XXX Corps, given the limitations posed by the single road and terrain, were overly optimistic at best; and, the dismissing of intelligence reports on German forces in the area by Allied leaders is unforgivable IMO.

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