With German forces on the run following the Allied success at Normandy and the breakout and pursuit across France, Allied forces were staged to enter Germany in late summer 1944. Both Field Marshal Montgomery and General Bradley clamored to be given the priority of effort. General Eisenhower chose Montgomery’s Operation MARKET GARDEN as the plan for action. It called for airborne forces to open the route for a ground force to move more than sixty miles up a single road, ending up north of the Rhine River near Arnhem, Netherlands.
By accomplishing this task, the German Ruhr industrial heartland would be within easy grasp. But the operation failed. The ground force did not make it to the last bridge; it was six more months before Allied forces crossed the Lower Rhine River near Arnhem. Between 17 and 26 September 1944, there were 17,000 Allied casualties including eighty percent of the 1st Airborne Division (UK). The historical evidence overwhelmingly shows that the British 1st Airborne Division lost the Battle of Arnhem because of poor planning.
This paper will prove the failure of The Battle of Arnhem was not solely the fault of MG Roy Urquhart. Although this was his first command of such a division (being an “outsider”) could he have not completed his wartime mission any better despite having inexperienced leaders planning airborne operations, bad intelligence, allowing the Air Force to plan the DZs based off what was best for the air movement plan and poor execution. This paper examines MG Urquhart, the commander of 1st Airborne Division (UK).
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The 1st Airborne Division (UK) was made up of three brigades of infantry (two parachute, one glider borne), supporting artillery and anti-tank batteries and substantial Royal Engineer units, as well as supporting elements such as Royal Army Service Corps, Royal Army Medical Corps units and 1st Independent Polish Brigade. The task of securing the Rhine Bridgehead fell to the 1st Airborne Division under the command of Major General Roy Urquhart.
The Division was required to secure the road, rail and pontoon bridges over the Lower Rhine at Arnhem and hold them for two to three days until relieved by XXX Corps. Understand Despite the fact that the individual soldiers involved in Operation Market were, on the whole, well trained and disciplined, there were some limitations in the leadership that hurt the operation’s chances of succeeding. Major General Roy Urquhart was new to the airborne corps and Operation Market would be his first airborne operation.
Montgomery and Brereton, who was the overall commander of the First Allied Airborne Army, both had little experience in airborne operations. LTG Browning, Brereton’s deputy, had experience in airborne operations, but it was limited to the staff level. Although the individual soldiers that would plan and carry out the Battle of Arnhem were well-trained, some of the key leaders had weaknesses that limited the ability of the operation to succeed.
During the planning for Market Garden, Urquhart regarded it as the job of an airborne commander to get hold of as many transport aircraft as possible without sparring a thought for the other Divisions involved, and so he made a habit of lodging frequent requests with Corps HQ. One time he asked for a further 40 aircraft from Browning, who was doubtful that even a small number of these would materialize. Urquhart’s account of the operation, he was told that “because of the limited number of aircraft available, he would have to go in three lifts” and that “his” plan had to be tailored to fit three lifts.
Visualize From the beginning, however, Urquhart was severely restricted in how he could prepare and deploy his troops for the upcoming battle. The U. S. IX Troop Carrier Command were limited in their availability; with two more major drops taking place at the same time, there were insufficient carrier aircraft available to fly the entire division to the Netherlands in one lift. British commanders knew they were badly short of transport aircraft and the area near Arnhem was ill-suited for a landing.
They decided they’ll have to land in an open area eight miles (13 km) from the bridge. With more of his officers disagreeing with distance, Urquhart told his officers they will use the gliders to transport jeeps to make the travel to Arnhem. However, due to the ambush, most jeeps didn’t arrive or was shot up and damaged beyond use. It has been opined that if he had been an experienced airborne commander, Urquhart may have been more determined to oppose the decision to land the whole Division 8 miles from the bridge, rather than drop the parachutists much closer to it.
It is a point that those who knew the General would refute without difficulty. However it is true that his objection to the poor air plan could have been stronger than it was, but it must be remembered that Urquhart had to plan an entire operation in only seven days, and so when faced with stubborn opposition from fellow commanders he had little option but to accept the situation and move on. Nevertheless, these failings in the plan sealed the fate of Market Garden before it had begun.
The initial airborne drops caught the Germans totally by surprise, and there was little resistance. MG Urquhart, later wrote that “ever since the first landing, General Bittrich commander of the II SS Panzer Corps and his staff had expected the British second lift. ” He also wrote that the Germans had provided early warning measures for follow-on lifts and knew about the second lift 45 minutes before it reached the drop zone, which allowed them to divert anti-aircraft guns that were being used in the ground battle to the drop zone in order to oppose the landings.
Lead One of the major problems encountered at Arnhem was the failure of the radio sets used; they either did not work, or ground conditions and the existence of so many areas full of trees often made radio links unworkable. Urquhart could visibly see that the 1st Para Brigade and the Divisional Units were going about their business without problems, but the 1st Airlanding Brigade were out of sight on LZ-S, and so he set out in his Jeep to verify that they were alright.
It was at the HQ of Brigadier Hicks that Urquhart had heard that the Reconnaissance Squadron was forced to abandon its swift attack attempt on the Bridge after running into Battalion’s Krafft’s blocking line. The 1st Para Brigade could not be contacted by radio, and so Urquhart, growing increasingly anxious and impatient, made the fateful and very dangerous decision to set out in his Jeep to find the commander of the 1st Para Brigade, Brigadier Lathbury and warn him that no British forces would be at the bridge when his men arrived. Lathbury was paying a call on the 3rd Battalion when Urquhart caught up with him, but a hort time later the forward elements of the Battalion encountered the German blocking line. After the skirmish had ended, Urquhart returned to his Jeep to find that it had been hit by a mortar and his signals operator had been seriously wounded. Lathbury was unhappy with how his Brigade plan was progressing, while Urquhart realized that he was losing control of events and knew that he must get back to his HQ as soon as possible; unfortunately the area was now decidedly unsafe for either man to leave the protection of the 3rd Battalion.
BG Lathbury was wounded and had to left behind with a Dutch family to get him to the hospital. Meanwhile, Urquhart and company pressed on until they could go no further. Anton Derksen and his family offered them shelter in their attic, which Urquhart reluctantly accepted. Almost immediately after the street was filled with soldiers of the Wehrmacht and several surrounded the house in which Urquhart was hiding, and they were followed by a self-propelled gun which came to a halt directly outside, though all were blissfully unaware of the General’s presence.
All Urquhart could think about was that he had to return to HQ as soon as possible, and he was quite prepared to destroy the SP gun using the few grenades they had at their disposal and then make a dash for it. He was dissuaded from doing so by his companions because they would certainly be killed or captured within moments. Urquhart could do nothing but wait in frustration until British troops caught up with him. It wasn’t until morning on Tuesday 19th that the group were able to leave the house.
On Monday 25th, Urquhart was told to withdraw his men from Oosterbeek at a time of his choosing. At 8am he radioed Major-General Thomas and said “Operation Berlin”, the codename for the withdrawal. It was not an easy thing to do as his Division was extremely weak at this time, and if the Germans sensed that a withdraw was in progress then they would rush in to cut them off from the River bank. Urquhart assessing his division and its capabilities, he developed a plan. His plan was excellent under the circumstances.
Calling LTC Charles Mackenzie, his Chief of Staff, to work out the finer details, he said: “You know how they did it at Gallipoli, Charles? Well, we’ve got to do something like that”. Many years ago, Urquhart had studied the classic withdrawal from this First World War conflict. He remembered how great care was taken to maintain the illusion of defiance until the last moment, meanwhile the forward positions were thinned out and the force was evacuated from the beaches in good order, while the enemy were completely oblivious to it.
The Division would withdraw from top to bottom, with those in the north leaving their positions first, and so on until everyone was out. There were so many wounded by this time that it was agreed that they could not be evacuated and so would stay behind, together with all medical staff, and take over the vacated positions, meanwhile the Light Regiment and XXX Corps would continue to fire their guns until the last moment.
This way it appeared as if nothing had changed. When the senior officers assembled at Divisional HQ to hear the plan, Urquhart gave specific instructions that word of the withdrawal should not be given until it was almost time to depart, as with a day’s fighting to still to endure the capture and subsequent interrogation of anyone who knew would place the entire operation in jeopardy.
This plan was successful in allowing 2,000 men of the 1st Airborne Division to withdrawal and join Second Army southern bank of the Neder Rijn. In conclusion, despite having inexperienced leaders planning airborne operations, bad intelligence, allowing the Air Force to plan the DZs based off what was best for the air movement plan and poor execution, MG Urquhart displayed outstanding qualities of leadership and courage.
Although, the initial planning and beginning phases of this is operation was full with flaws, MG Urquhart’s leadership and planning after things went awry was without question. During the phase of the battle when 1st Parachute Brigade became separated from the rest of the Division he personally organized an operation for the relief of 1st Parachute Brigade and himself became involved in street fighting during this period.
Later, when the remnants of the Division were withdrawn into a close perimeter, his defensive planning, and his determination were largely instrumental in ensuring the defense put up by the troops of his Division. During the withdrawal, his cool planning, foresight and initiative were responsible for 2,000 men of the Division rejoining their comrades of the Second Army on the southern bank of the Neder Rijn. The conduct of MG Urquhart throughout this operation was beyond praise.
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