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Arnhem: The Battle for the Bridges, 1944 by…
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Arnhem: The Battle for the Bridges, 1944

by Antony Beevor

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In many ways the updated and expanded version of 'A Bridge too Far', with the story being told in a series of vivid vignettes and personal anecdotes. It is superior to A Bridge too Far, as Beevor doesn't focus as much to the race to the bridge at Arnhem, but gives due attention to the problems of the US airborne down the corridor, the German reactions and above all, the Dutch, who -rightly- figure largely in this book. The failed attempt at Arnhem did a lot to make the last war winter particularly miserable for the Dutch, something Beevor points out explicitly. None of the British upper echelon commanders come out very well in this book. Market Garden was a last attempt by the British to take the lead in conduct of the war, and was a grand failure.

As Bornanalog mentioned in his review on this site, Beevor doesn't go for the 'heroic failure' angle. We get the story of a lot of people getting killed because of overoptimistic and shoddy planning and command decisions. ( )
  CharlesFerdinand | Jun 10, 2019 |
This is one of the most depressing military histories I have ever read. I've read a few books about Operation Market Garden including, of course, Cornelius Ryan's A Bridge to Far. But what makes this book so depressing is also what makes it so refreshing. So many military histories, in general but concerning this operation specifically, spend a lot of their time playing the "what if" game. They focus on one or more factors, perceived operational flaws, bad decisions, and argue that if those things had played out differently then history would have been different.

Beevor is having none of it. He argues from the get-go that Market Garden was a terrible plan, conceived out of Allied arrogance, on a ridiculously short time scale, with zero attention to even some basic details (making sure radios worked and that everyone knew what frequencies everyone else was using) and that the plan had zero chance of ever working. The only "what if" that is raised implicitly (but never explored) is: what if the Allied commanders weren't a bunch of schmucks engaged in a pecker-waving contest and came up with a completely different plan from top to bottom?

Unfortunately, a lot of ordinary soldiers paid a horrific price for the arrogance of Montgomery and the mutual distrust of US, Polish, and British commanders. Beevor maintains for the most part a clear narrative of extremely complex events, interspersed with many anecdotes and firs-person accounts. These are often short, pithy examples, and his sense of when to insert one of these to help illustrate the human toll of the battle is impeccable. The effect is a steadily escalating sense of the scale of the horror and suffering. Germans and allies often fought in close quarters with little or no quarter: prisoners were shot by both sides, wounded were executed by both sides. Both sides employed ghastly weapons such as phosphorous shells and grenades.

Beevor's major achievement in this piece is the focus on the experience of the Dutch resistance and civilians. The Dutch paid a terrible price for helping the Allies. In addition to the "routine" Nazi reprisals, the Germans forcibly evacuated virtually the whole of Arnhem (after having set fire to or blown up many portions of the city that hadn't already been destroyed in the fighting).

Given the focus on the Dutch, I had expected a little more focus on the Hunger Winter of 44-46, which seemed to be hurried in at the end. Like all popular histories, the book would also benefit from a more creative use of well-designed charts and tables. This was a huge battle, unfolding in multiple places, fought by different commands. Just keeping the major players and units straight can be a challenge.

Nevertheless, this is a thought-provoking history that will appeal to those who have read other histories of the operation or who are learning about it for the first time. More than a useful historical resource, however, there is an underlying bleakness here which is perhaps the only sane response to an operation that wasted a lot of lives for no real gain. ( )
1 vote BornAnalog | Jan 2, 2019 |
As usual, Antony Beevor delivers a detailed, thoughtful and deeply researched book. Previously I would have counted D-day as his best work but Arnhem now ranks as a close second in my mind, even above the legendry Stalingrad. Personal accounts mix seamlessly with grand strategy and the whole book feels tightly written with every aspect of the battle covered with respect and care. Well worth it. ( )
  spooks101 | Dec 4, 2018 |
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"On September 17, 1944, General Kurt Student, the founder of Nazi Germany's parachute forces, heard the groaning roar of airplane engines. He went out onto his balcony above the flat landscape of southern Holland to watch the air armada of C-47 Skytrains and gliders, carrying the legendary American 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions and the British 1st Airborne Division. Operation Market Garden, the plan to end the war by capturing the bridges leading to the Lower Rhine and beyond, was a bold concept, but could it have ever worked? The cost of failure was horrendous, above all for the Dutch who risked everything to help. German reprisals were pitiless and cruel, and lasted until the end of the war. Antony Beevor, using many overlooked and new sources from Dutch, American, British, Polish, and German archives, has reconstructed the terrible reality of the fighting, which General Student called "The Last German Victory." Yet this book, written in Beevor's inimitable and gripping narrative style, is about much more than a single dramatic battle--it looks into the very heart of war."--Provided by publisher.September 17, 1944, southern Holland. General Kurt Student, the founder of Nazi Germany's parachute forces, heard the groaning roar of airplane engines. From his balcony he watched an air armada of C-47 Skytrains and gliders, carrying the legendary American 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions and the British 1st Airborne Division. Operation Market Garden, the plan to end the war by capturing the bridges leading to the Lower Rhine and beyond, was a bold concept, but could it have ever worked? The cost of failure was horrendous; German reprisals against the Dutch were pitiless and cruel, and lasted until the end of the war. Beevor has reconstructed the terrible reality of the fighting-- and in doing so looks into the very heart of war. -- adapted from publisher info.… (more)

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