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The Road to Arnhem: A Screaming Eagle in…
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The Road to Arnhem: A Screaming Eagle in Holland (World War II Library)

by Donald R. Burgett

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Donald R. Burgett was a 19-year-old trooper, Able Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, 1st Allied Airborne Army, when he jumped into the Netherlands on September 17th, 1944. He was already a veteran of the D-Day airborne landings; the wound on his forearm was still slightly tender to the touch. If you happen not to be familiar with the situation, operation MARKET-GARDEN was an uncharacteristically bold plan by Field Marshall Montgomery to break into northern Germany by seizing three crucial river crossings in the Netherlands: over the Wilhelminakanal and Dommel at Eindhoven; over the Maas and Waal at Nijmegen, and over the Nederrijn at Arnhem. With the airborne troopers holding the bridges, the British XXXth Corps would advance into Germany, seize the Ruhr, and the war would be over by Christmas.

Burgett’s account has “I was there” immediacy. The 101st Airborne troopers each carry their own weapons, plus mortar rounds, machine gun ammunition, bazooka rockets, satchel charges, antitank mines, Bangalore torpedoes, and everything else that might prove useful, to the extent that each soldier’s weight was figured at 250 pounds for aircraft lift calculations. The first out the door are the machine gunners and mortar men, who have those weapons strapped to their legs (to be let down on a rope before landing, a lesson learned from Normandy). After jumping, Burgett has to draw up his legs to avoid being hit by a C-47, and watches others, smash through the clouds of paratroopers. Things are initially quiet on the ground but turn ugly as a nearby battery of 88mm FLAK guns open up; the flat-trajectory 88s would not normally be all that effective against infantry but the troopers were getting organized in a wooded area and were prey to shell and wood fragments as the FLAK gunners cut down the trees. Once out in the open the paratroops charged and overran the gun emplacements; Burgett was dissuaded from bayonetting a German gunner by his plea of “Nein, bitte, nein”. The 101st captures Eindhoven, takes one bridge but has the other blow up in their face, gets bombed by the Luftwaffe, fends off counterattacks by German armor and infantry, and eventually links up with XXX Corps.

The rest is desultory but deadly. There’s house-to-house fighting in small Dutch towns, a comical-tragical encounter in an apple orchard with German troops who are initially assumed to be British, a stray dog adopted as a mascot who proves adept at hearing incoming German artillery before anybody else, and the liberation of a Dutch jam factory. One tends to be skeptical of accounts written 60 years after the fact by a high-school dropout, but this one has elements that ring very true; most of Burgett’s memories are not about combat and gunfire and death but about not enough food, not enough sleep, and being cold and wet. (One story involves Burgett and his mates shooting a Dutch cheese out of the upper branches of a tree when it had lodged after artillery fire; another recounts how he slept on a what he thought was a waterlogged sofa in a partially flooded Dutch house; in daylight the “sofa” turned out to be a dead goat).

Burgett is not politically correct; the enemy is “krauts” or “Nazis”. In one case he’s standing guard at night when someone immediately behind him calls “Hey, you”; this turns out to be a German soldier covering him with an MP40. Burgett thinks he’s had it, but the German then asks, in perfect English, “If I surrender do you promise not to kill me?” The relieved Burgett accepts the offer, and then gives the man his last cigarettes as he enters a POW cage. Burgett is also not terribly fond of his British allies; he repeats the usual allegation that the British 1st Airborne was sacrificed at Arnhem because XXX Corps delayed for hours at Nijmegen after 82nd Airborne seized the bridge after a bloody river crossing. He also has nothing complimentary to say about British rations, especially oxtail soup and compo tea. (To simplify supply arrangements, American troops involved in MARKET-GARDEN only got ammunition resupply from American sources; everything else was British). Finally he makes the same comment (explicitly blaming Montgomery) that Ambrose makes above; highly specialized airborne and airlanding troops were used as line infantry (a role for which they were underequipped in terms of artillery and antitank assets) for weeks after MARKET-GARDEN had obviously failed – especially ironic since one of the reasons for MARKET-GARDEN was to use air assault resources otherwise inactive in England.

Rather ironically, this book has much better maps than Ambrose’s professional work – although they are all of small-unit actions Burgett took part in. Most would make excellent Squad Leader scenarios. Photographs are stock WWII. There is no index or references. Comparing the writing in The Road to Arnhem with Donald Burgett’s Web page suggests there was quite a bit of professional editing involved in the book. So what? ( )
  setnahkt | Dec 31, 2017 |
I promised to one of my friends in GR to make a review of this book. We’re both fans of the Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers and he would like to know how the 101st Airborne Division feat was during Operation Market Garden. Well, lucky that this book is written by a paratrooper, member of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, which was the same regiment as Easy Company. Different battalion though.

First I have to say that Burgett wrote his war memoir very well. I’ve read a number of war memoirs, which are usually great, but this one is unique. Somehow he managed to arrange his stories as compact as possible (Market Garden was the largest airborne operation then), but still succeeded in including all important details (combat missions, battle strategy, combined with lots of hilarious, quirky events).

Burgett recounted how the Screaming Eagles (nickname for the 101st) were deployed into a disastrous operation in Holland, courtesy of Monty (and Ike of course, as the Supreme Commander). The British higher echelons were quite the ‘antagonist’ here, not the Germans. They deliberately ignored intels about the presence of panzer divisions in the area, they overlooked the details on the terrain, roads, ferry crossing, and they refused to accept the help from the Dutch underground, which was one of the best underground forces in Europe at that time.

I admit that a number of freakish accidents and mishaps also interfered the operation. Bad weather (delaying reinforcements), wrong drop zones (troopers jump too far from their objective or directly into battle fields, as happened to the poor Polish brigade), supplies were dropped into the German sides instead, complete communication wreck, loss of crucial officers, how could three divisions handle those. But still, undoubtedly Operation Market Garden was significantly flawed since the beginning. Its failure rest on the shoulders of the Command. Monty’s plan to make a thrust into Ruhr was a daring one, but he underestimated the Krauts’ strength and made a number of absurd strategic decisions, such as he did make the best use of the recently-captured Antwerp Port. He practically gave the way for the German 15th Army to escape from Pas de Calais and reinforce Arnhem. And mind you, those SS panzergrenadiers around Arnhem were not old men and young kids, opposite to the Allied Forces’ previous briefings.

I have two favorite events in this Operation. The first is the superb stand-off of Colonel Frost’s battalion of British paratroopers in the city of Arnhem for days waiting for the (eventually never came) British XXX Corps to relieve them. If you’ve seen the movie, Col. Frost was played by Sir Anthony Hopkins. The second is the assault done by one of the battalions in the 82nd Airborne Division to capture the bridges near Nijmegen, planned by the division commander, Gen. Gavin. The British officers were shocked to that plan since they could not imagine paratroopers (!) making a little Normandy-style assault crossing the Waal River. Unfortunately, despite the shocking success of the mission, the Americans became so pissed because the British tanks refused to pave their way to liberate their own encircled paratroopers in Arnhem, which was only 11 miles away, just because they wanted to have some tea and waiting for their infantry. The British’ text-book approaches during the Operation really annoyed me. Patton wouldn't do that.

Back to the 101st, I think their feat in the Operation was a bit lighter than the 82nd. This is probably because they were assigned in the southern part, meaning less enemy’s resistance. However, that did not stop a number of bloody battles to occur and killing thousands of its troops. The battles were so bloody, the Screaming Eagles named the corridor as "Hell's Highway".

Speaking about paratroopers, Burgett argued that the British and American paratroopers were completely misused by Monty. As paratroopers, they were supposed to jump behind enemy lines, secure the area in rapid assaults for the upcoming infantry then leave the area to go jump some place else. Burgett was once left behind to stall the German forces (an entire regiment of artillery, a battalion of engineers and an armored division) with only four other troopers.

However, despite they were being treated as regular infantry, their performance was worth applauding. Especially the Red Devils (nickname for the British 1st Airborne Division) who bravely stood up to their defense although they were surrounded by superior armor and armor grenadier forces, run over by SS panzer divisions, pounded mercilessly by artilleries and attacked frontally from all sides. Even the battle-hardened Germans saluted them for their bravery.

Well, apparently I’ve written a review about two books, LOL. It so happened that I’ve recently finished a splendid masterpiece from Cornelius Ryan, titled A Bridge Too Far. Oh well, if you want to read a more personalized, concise, easy-to-read, less technical account of the Operation, you better read Burgett’s book. Reading close-quarter combats in fox holes and towns has never been this exciting.

However, if you think you can handle all the debacles of Operation Market Garden and to look at them from all sides including the Germans, while also craving for more meticulously-researched facts (including the gruesome, frustrating ones), go read A Bridge Too Far. ( )
1 vote Choccy | Nov 7, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0440236339, Mass Market Paperback)

In a daring plan to end the war, the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne jumped into the heart of Nazi-held Europe -- and began a journey into hell....

In September 1944 -- sixteen weeks after the D-Day invasion -- British Field Marshal Montgomery unleashed a daring attack aimed at the heart of Nazi Germany. For the men of the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne, including nineteen-year-old Donald Burgett, the plan meant parachuting in broad daylight into Holland, securing the road to the Rhine River, and helping the British cross into Germany. It was a mission that sent thousands of young men to their deaths.

In this electrifying memoir, Donald Burgett takes us into seventy-two days of close-quarter combat in foxholes and towns against brutal Panzer counterattacks and into the face of the feared German 88mm artillery as the Screaming Eagles push straight into the might of the German Army. Capturing the horror and confusion of war, as ally and enemy move within yards of each other, Burgett tells the story of a legendary fighting unit's bloody victory -- in an epic battle for "a bridge too far."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:59 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In a daring plan to end the war, the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne jumped into the heart of Nazi-held Europe -- and began a journey into hell.... In September 1944 -- sixteen weeks after the D-Day invasion -- British Field Marshal Montgomery unleashed a daring attack aimed at the heart of Nazi Germany. For the men of the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne, including nineteen-year-old Donald Burgett, the plan meant parachuting in broad daylight into Holland, securing the road to the Rhine River, and helping the British cross into Germany. It was a mission that sent thousands of young men to their deaths. In this electrifying memoir, Donald Burgett takes us into seventy-two days of close-quarter combat in foxholes and towns against brutal Panzer counterattacks and into the face of the feared German 88mm artillery as the Screaming Eagles push straight into the might of the German Army. Capturing the horror and confusion of war, as ally and enemy move within yards of each other, Burgett tells the story of a legendary fighting unit's bloody victory -- in an epic battle for "a bridge too far."… (more)

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