65 years ago today – The Arnhem plan

Major-General Roy Urquhart

Major-General Roy Urquhart

The task facing Major-General Roy Urqhuart, The Commander of the British 1st Airborne Division, was immense. Conventional wisdom for airborne operations held that they should be dropped as close to the objective as possible, all at the same time, and preferably at night. Operations in Normandy, and in particular the dramatic coup-de-main capture of Pegasus Bridge, had shown this perfectly. The element of surprise was the main weapon of the airborne soldier.

None of these factors were taken into account at Arnhem.

The air planners, fearful of flak near the Anrhem Bridge and at Deelen airfield to the north, were over-cautious in their choice of landing zones. Urquhart was eventually forced to accept landing zones 8 MILES away from the Bridge, woefully inadequate or the task in hand. This would mean a long march, on foot, and the loss of any surprise.

The lack of air transport meant that it would take 3 DAYS for Urquharts division to be flown into Arnhem. The shortage of aircraft was compounded by the ruling that transport crews were only to fly one mission a day.

Furthermore, the Operation was planned to take place during the wrong moon phase for a night time operation. In addition, the American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions had suffered such scattered drops in Normandy after jumping at night that American senior officers were heavily opposed to night time drops.

Urquhart, very much a newcomer to Airborne operations, accepted most of these provisos. As a newcomer to this mode of fighting, he may have lacked the knowledge or confidence to question his superiors. His direct superior, General Browning, supposedly had the experience and influence to press for changes and more resources on his behalf. Tellingly, he did not do so.

All this flew completely in the face of any theory or experience. When Browning consulted Major-General Richard Gale, the commander of the 6th Airborne Division in Normandy, he stated that he would rather resign than carry out the Arnhem plan. Browning chose not to follow this advice.

But as we will see later on, practically no-one was counting on the Germans putting up and kind of opposition, so what did it matter?

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46 Comments

Filed under Army, Arnhem, News, Remembrance, Royal Air Force, World War Two

46 responses to “65 years ago today – The Arnhem plan

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