Daily Archives: 10 September, 2009

65 years ago – Comet cancelled

After standing by to go into action for Operation COMET, on 10 September 1944 the 1st Airborne Division and the Polish Parachute Brigade were stood down, and eventually the operation. Monty was concerned about increasing German opposition in the area, and bad weather forecast in England made the landing schedule look decidedly dicey.

Immediately, the whole plan was resurrected in an even bolder Operation, code named MARKET GARDEN. MARKET covered the airborne troops, and GARDEN the ground forces. What envisaged one division capturing 3 bridges, would now involved 3 divisions taking 7 bridges along a 60 miles stretch of road.

Eisenhower flew to Belgium to meet with Montgomery. Ike, who had injured his knee, could not leave his aircraft, so the conference took place in the plane. Monty proceeded to launch a damming attack of Eisenhower’s strategy. Before he had finished, Ike put his hand on Monty’s knee and spoke the memorable phrase ‘steady Monty, I’m your boss. You can’t talk to me like that’. The air cleared, Monty went on to outline his plans for Operation MARKET GARDEN, which met with Ike’s wholehearted approval. Or so Monty thought. Ike still had no intention of stopping Patton. Who, in his usual insubordinate fashion, did whatever he wanted.

Departing the conference, Monty summoned Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Browning, the commander of Britain’s 1st Airborne Corps, who was to command the Airborne part of the operation. Curiously Monty side-stepped the commander of the 2nd Army, Miles Dempsey. Dempsey is thought to have not been keen on the plan, so Monty simply left him out of the structure. It was at this planning conference that Browning is thought to have uttered the immortal phrase ‘but sir, I think we are going a Bridge too far’. While this phrase went into legend, it is highly unlikely that Browning even said it, given his enthusiasm for the operation, and the complete lack of proof that it was ever said. It is more likely that it was dreamt up afterwards.

After flying back to Britain with Monty’s plan, a conference was rapidly called of the commanders involved. The logistical hurdles were gigantic – 35,000 men, 60 miles behind enemy lines, 7 bridges, around 3 towns. It would take 3 days to fly all of the men in.

And only 7 days to plan it in.

Meanwhile, on the Belgian-Dutch border the Guards Armoured Division captured a bridge over the Meuse Euscat Canal in Leopoldsburg. Christened Joes Bridge, after the Irish Guards commander Joe Vandeleur, the ground forces had their jumping off point for the coming battle….

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