Arnhem, Myth and Reality

Arnhem: Myth and Reality

Airborne Warfare, Air Power and the Failure of Operation Market Garden

Author: Sebastian Ritchie

Most of us would have read the book or seen the movie/video/dvd ‘A Bridge Too Far’. This new book provides strong evidence that the powers that be took a very long time to understand the doctrine about deployment of paratroops and failed to learn the consequences.

It covers more than just Operation Market Garden, although this particular operation or more correctly the critique of this Operation, is the main thrust of the book and it is looked at in great detail. But we go back to Eban Emael, Crete and D-Day, plus other airborne operations to see what happened and what lessons could be learned. It seems that the risk of dropping para borne forces too far distant from conventional ground forces and supporting troops, or their inability to carry heavy weapons (other than air dropped machine guns and mortars), or food and water for more than a day’s rations, or the casualties taken out of proportion for the task when compared to conventional ground forces with their associated support in armour and artillery all seem to have been ‘conveniently’ overlooked or failed to comprehend. At the very least, it was a steep learning curve and the lessons difficult to comprehend and dissect before moving on to the next parachute assault.

It’s a fascinating read and shows how Market Garden was a convenient way of utilising expensively trained and maintained airborne troops who were ‘sitting around waiting to be used’. The hasty and inadequate training, adaptations of plans from previously cancelled drops, new and inexperienced transport pilots, lack of understanding of British and American equipment from their opposite numbers are all additional factors, along with egos or lack of comprehension at the highest levels (Montgomery and Browning in particular) which all made for a potential and indeed an actual failure. And this is without the poor or inadequate interpretation of Intelligence, misunderstandings regarding air support both transport and ground attack or escort, along with drops made too far from the targets, politically motivated targets, tricky terrain, radio communication failures, time between morning and afternoon drops and the length of daylight hours! And more!

It is an eye opener and certainly with the value of hindsight, there were lessons to learn long before Operation Market Garden. Wartime always provides expensive lessons and these, whilst not being totally unknown to me as a result of earlier reading, show more than are usually revealed to us as armchair generals. Is it a good read? Yes, indeed it is!

It is a quite fascinating book for any military enthusiast at a very competitive price. Written by Sebastian Ritchie, an official historian at the Ministry of Defence, first as a thesis and then as an historical account, it provides a rare and valued account with information not available or not put forward for earlier publications. It is available from Hyland’s Bookshop in Melbourne or 03 9654 7448 for about $50.

Many thanks to Ms Orietta Colussi of DLSA Australia for the review copy.

John Baxter

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