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The Battle of Arnhem: The Deadliest Airborne Operation of World War II.

The Battle of Arnhem: The Deadliest Airborne Operation of World War II. By Antony Beevor. (New York, NY: Viking, 2018. Pp. xvii, 459. $35.00.)

In The Battle of Arnhem prize-winning author Antony Beevor emphasizes the Napoleonic maxim, echoed by fellow author Cornelius Ryan, concerning the probabilities of success that had been grossly overestimated by the British. He quotes a British officer who reminded the brigade commander, Colonel de Ruyter van Steveninck, that one should never fight unless you are at least 75% sure of success. The other 25% you can leave to chance (66). XXX Corps commander Lt. Gen. Brian Horrock's plan was designed, in concert with Field Marshall Sir Bernard Montgomery, to narrow Eisenhower's broad front strategy. As Beevor points out, this appeared to reverse the proportions of the maxim.

Beevor's purpose in writing The Battle of Arnhem is to expose the inference "a bridge too far" as a daring quest overcome by ambition, and he reveals that the infamous British-led parachute assault was nothing more than a failure brought on by inept leadership, amplified by personal hubris. There is little doubt that the trials, tribulations, and military analyses of the mission to seize the bridges straddling the Netherlands and Germany on the Rhine River have been exhaustively told in numerous accounts, notwithstanding Cornelius Ryan's bestselling book A Bridge Too Far. Why, then, yet another book on the series of airborne drops and frontal assaults known as Operation Market Garden?

Besides an immensely enjoyable read rife with historical intrigue, Beevor offers a provocative view of what was occurring on the ground before, during, and after what the author titles "... one of the most disastrous episodes of World War II." In his captivating manner, realized in a vast number of award-winning works, Beevor vividly describes the impact and actions of civilians, as the Germans retreated through Dutch villages to meet operational challenges further west. As an example, the human element comes alive as Beevor describes the humiliating head-shaving of those Dutch women who were accused of fraternizing with the Germans--a topic he covers in his other volumes. However, he subtly reveals a contrast of reactions depending upon the country liberated, since the Dutch were less emphatic than the French about such transgressions.

Beevor's immaculate research and ability to weave in dozens of first-person accounts like this make this book an enjoyable read, make no mistake. Nonetheless, his greatest contribution here is in laying out an unmistakably clear chain of responsibility for the Allied failure, one which gave the weakened Germans opportunities to recover for many subsequent months. The Allies had had remarkable successes in the west and through the soft underbelly via air, ground, and sea. However, as admitted by Brigadier Edgar "Bill" Williams, Montgomery's chief intelligence officer, "we didn't work in the serious way we did for D-Day" (27). As Beevor adds, both First Allied Airborne Army and Montgomery's Headquarters churned out one airborne operation plan after another, culminating in Market Garden. This leads one to conclude that, at this point in time the leadership had lost its way--and nearly 17,000 Allied Soldiers during the fight, and some 20,000 Dutch civilians during the resultant Hunger Winter of 1944-1945, paid the price for this (370).

Dominic J. Caraccilo (Colonel, Retired)

Independent Scholar
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Title Annotation:EUROPE
Author:Caraccilo, Dominic J.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2019
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