The Devil's Bridge: The German Victory at Arnhem, 1944
The Allied debacle of Operation Market-Garden continues to fascinate readers 75 years after the end of World War II. How could the Allies, after sweeping victoriously across France and Belgium, suffer such a costly defeat at the hands of a nearly beaten German Army? Why did the operation go wrong?
In this fast-paced narrative, Anthony Tucker-Jones offers the first significant update to the German side of this crucial battle since the landmark It Never Snows in September published almost 30 years ago. Using a variety of primary and secondary sources, he provides a newly comprehensive look at how the shattered German forces facing the Western Allies were able to reconstitute a viable fighting force to defeat the lightly armed Allied airborne forces by holding off the advance of a British mechanized corps.
Two major themes are brought forth in the narrative. First, the Germans had extensive experience at fighting defensive battles while badly outnumbered from their three years of fighting the Soviet Red Army. Their troops were very experienced at giving ground when outnumbered and then looking for an immediate opportunity to counterattack to blunt the momentum of an Allied advance.
Throughout the nine major days of battle, the Germans launched constant counterattacks all along the Market-Garden front, some successful, most less so, but they absorbed a great deal of Allied attention and forces that could not be used to sustain the advance on the beleaguered British paratroops clinging to the Arnhem bridge.
The aggressiveness of the German forces took the Allies by complete surprise, who assumed their forces would easily roll over the Lower Rhine River and into northwest Germany and ultimately the Ruhr industrial complex to end the war by the end of 1944. The ability of the German high command in the West to not only bring order out of the chaos of their defeat in France, but make a concerted stand against this latest Allied attack was nothing short of an operational marvel. The author does an excellent job chronicling the efforts of the Germans to scrape together men and material to replace their losses and establish a viable defense of the Belgian-Dutch border.
Another key part of this defensive experience from the Eastern Front was the German ability to take whatever formations that were available, meld them together into a kampfgruppe, literally a “battle group” under whatever senior officer was available, and send them into battle. The author describes multiple German units during the battle that were composed of infantry, Luftwaffe ground personnel, rear echelon support troops, whatever tanks and artillery that could be found, and even training units being thrown together to plug gaps in the line or conduct local counterattacks to keep the Allies off balance. Although some of the units suffered heavy casualties for minimal gains, they also inflicted significant losses on the Allied paratroopers and delayed the overall pace of the advance, they key operational feature needed for its success.
Of course, the Allied overconfidence, which lead to overly risky operational planning also aided the German defenses. The widespread and vulnerable Allied drop zones, the use of a single highway to feed the advance of an entire mechanized corps, the lack of anticipation of poor weather, and the general dismissal of any likely German resistance provided the Germans with numerous opportunities to take advantage of the Allied blunders, which they did with alacrity and determination.
But the Germans didn’t have everything their own way, and Allied firepower was often overwhelming for poorly trained German units thrown into battle with no armor or artillery support. The Germans also suffered heavy casualties, but at the end of the battle, they retained control of the crucial Arnhem bridge which was the linchpin of the entire Allied plan. This fact alone made the battle a significant German victory as it kept the Allies from achieving “victory by Christmas” and ensuring the war in Europe would slog on for another eight months.
This little volume provides an easy to read operational narrative of the German side of the battle. The author provides an adequate number of maps and illustrations, along with a nicely detailed order-of-battle for the German forces involved. For students of the battle wanting to know what happened “on the other side of the hill” as the saying goes, this is an excellent account.