By September 1944, the Second World War had almost reached a conclusion. The Allied armies had rapidly pushed the disorganised Germans almost completely out of France and Belgium, and it was here that the front line stood, several miles short of the Dutch border.
This rapid advance had caused the Allies crippling supply problems and, despite their best efforts, all the armies did not have the resources to keep advancing at their present pace. Given the view that the Germans were almost on the point of collapse, it was agreed that a single army should be given priority of the supplies to enact a plan that would deal the final blow and win the war before the end of 1944. This honour fell to Field Marshal Montgomery and his 2nd British Army.
Montgomery proposed a highly ambitious plan to fly three Divisions of glider and parachute troops (35,000 men) and land them in various parts of Holland to capture no less than five key bridges. British tanks would simultaneously break through the front line and link up with the Airborne Divisions one by one to properly securing these bridges. Once they were all taken, there would then be no further river obstacles between the British and Germany, and a quick conclusion to the war would surely follow. The plan, the largest airborne assault in the history of warfare, was codenamed Operation Market Garden. D-Day was set for Sunday, 17th September.
Two of the Airborne Divisions selected to capture the bridges were American. The 101st were to take two bridges around Eindhoven, while the 82nd would take a further two at Nijmegen. It was estimated that they would be relieved by British ground troops after only a matter of hours, and one or two days respectively. The final bridge at Arnhem, the ultimate goal of Market Garden, was entrusted to General Roy Urquhart and his 1st British Airborne Division with the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade under command. Urquhart and his 10,000 men were to be dropped 60 miles into enemy territory, and it would be 3 days before British tanks reinforced them.
Overwhelming though this colossal assault was, it was also equally flawed. Airborne troops are only lightly armed and their survival depends upon taking the enemy by surprise and reaching objectives before they have time to react with heavy weapons. However, so cocksure were the Allies in their view that the Germans were already beaten, numerous grave errors were made which doomed Market Garden to failure before a shot had been fired. Principally, there were not enough transport planes to fly all three Divisions to their targets in one go. Instead they had to be flown to Holland in three lifts, with only one lift per day.
As a result, only half of the 1st Airborne were flown to Arnhem on the first day. Also, due to the unsuitability of the ground in the area, they were dropped a massive 8 miles from the bridge. It was not anticipated that this would prove a problem as immediate opposition was believed to be light, however by a complete fluke, two elite German SS Panzer Divisions had recently been billeted in and around the town. These units were well trained, fresh from battle, and were equipped with tanks.