The Airborne Forces were only half of Monty’s plan for Operation Market Garden.
As the 3 Airborne Divisions landed around Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem, the ground forces of the British 2nd Army would break out of their bridgehead at Neerpelt, and ride like hell up the single highway, linking each city. The plan was simple in its theory. They had to punch a hole, and drive up the road as fast as possible, and in Monty’s words, ‘pay no attention to what was happening on the flanks’.
Sadly, what was a very simple plan in theory became woefully inadequate in practice. Due to Eisenhower’s lack of material support for Market Garden, there was only enough resources to support one Corps, XXX Corps, to make the main attack. Therefore, their flank would be horribly exposed, as there was nowhere near enough supplies to maintain VIII and XII Corps. Contrary to Monty’s orders, XXX Corps would have to be very wary about what was going on its left and right. What effect would this have on its orders to reach Arnhem in 2 to 3 days?
XXX Corps had performed gallantly since D-Day. In particular its commander, Lieutenant-General Sir Brian Horrocks, was one of the most gifted and talented British commanders of the Second World War. Seriously wounded in North Africa, he would probably have risen to greater heights had the effects of his wounds not recurred so often. A protege of Monty, he seems to have had a talent for galvanising his subordinates into doing exactly what he wanted. Horrocks was played brilliantly by Edward Fox in the film Bridge too far. Horrocks hed a briefing at Leopoldsburg, in a cinema. ‘This a story you will tell your Grandchildren – and mightily bored they’ll be’, began the ever charismatic Horrocks.
XXX Corps consisted of 3 Divisions, 2 of which would be particularly prominent in the coming battles. The Guards Armoured Division was an armoured unit based around the British royal Guards Regiments. As a result it consisted of highly disciplined, mainly regular troops. However, it was also subject to strong regimental rivalries – infantry and armoured elements from each regiment would only work with each other, for example. This was all very well for regimental harmony, but in the thick of battle when time was of the essence, could be a serious handicap. There were also doubts as to the Divisions commander, Major-General Alan Adair. Monty had attempted to have him removed before D-Day, but had come up against too much opposition from the influential Guards. The Guards would spearhead the breakout.
The 43rd Wessex Division was an infantry Division, recruited mainly from the south west of England. Its commander, Major-General Ivo Thomas, was known – not affectionately – as ‘Butcher’ Thomas, for his lack of regard for his mens lives. They had trained extensively for river crossings, and as a result were placed on standby in case any of the bridges were blown, or if the territory proved too difficult for tanks.
Monty had assured Browning that XXX Corps could do the 60 miles in 2 days. This was an astonishing prediction – and counted on there being very little opposition, and the Guards and Wessex Divisions driving hell for leather. Big risks were being taken in launching the operation, and by the Airborne troops at Arnhem. Big risks would be needed to make the link up succesfully.
But would Horrocks characteristic drive and dynamism rub off on his subordinates?