Without being cruel to Lloyd Clark, he does a certain amount of this…
ARNHEM – Jumping The Rhine 1944 and 1945 by Lloyd Clark
Market Garden should always in our thoughts in September or, indeed, any time. It was an epic, pure and simple. There is little point in illustrating this fact with accounts or repeats of well-known stories from the battle itself. A Bridge Too Far or A Bridge At Arnhem may be your books of choice. In recent accounts, there are barely any new tales and most, if not all books simply recycle the classic episodes of the German retreat, the bitter rivalries of the army commanders, the airborne assault or the final disaster.
Without being cruel to Lloyd Clark, he does a certain amount of this here and at times I actually thought I was reading a digest of Cornelius Ryan. But what this new book does is look beyond the Arnhem bridge to the Rhine crossing of 1945 and tries to put it all in to perspective. Mr Clark is a devotee of Market Garden and tells us in the epilogue that this specific interest made him become a military historian. He is quite clearly attracted by the men who formed the Airborne armies and it is difficult to contest this affinity. They were an amazing group of individuals.
To my mind, Market Garden is where the character and brilliance of the American Airborne truly comes to prominence. In the Netherlands they became un-impeachable. We’ve all seen Band of Brothers, the misery of ‘The Island’ and the trial of the 101st at Bastogne which followed. Here Lloyd Clark keeps a weather eye on the 82nd, no Cinderellas; and introduces us to the 17th, who dropped in to Germany with the veteran British 6th Airborne. Whether British, American, Polish or Canadian; these men were all giants.
For the Rhine crossing – Operation Plunder Varsity – Montgomery played orthodox. Bradley mocked his use of the Airborne Army as being some kind of ultra-safe overkill. Events proved the little Field Marshal to be right. He used the right amount of force to achieve the all-important breakthrough; allowing Churchill and Brooke to join him for a gleeful piddle in the Fatherland. For all his faults he was not about to see good men killed at the risk of final victory. Market Garden was his great out of character gamble. Plunder Varsity was traditional fayre and deserves more air time.
Arnhem will always overshadow the Rhine, which is a great shame; because this book makes you want to learn so much more, but a British defeat will always sell more books. Mr Clark looks to the argument that Market Garden was actually much more of a success, it’s result fitting nicely with Eisenhower’s broad front plan. Maybe so, but the bitter pill of Arnhem and the destruction of the British 1stAirborne Division will forever stain Monty’s reputation perhaps more than any ill-advised press conference or his complete lack of finesse with compatriots and allies.
The jealousies that consumed Eisenhower’s army commanders will continue to exercise historians. While Monty’s failed grand drive into the Ruhr may have run out of literary steam, there are other events which would benefit from continued interpretation. A closer look at the Rhine crossing would be a good starting point.
Published by Headline Review. £20.00.