Home Lifestyle COLUMN: A bridge too far Part II

COLUMN: A bridge too far Part II

Pvt. James Bolton's memorial flag. Bolton served in the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division during World War II.
J.A. Bolton

Operation Market Garden began early on Sunday morning, Sept. 17, 1944. Thousands of Allied paratroopers and glider personnel were flying to their destination in Holland.

Moffat Burriss was a company commander in the 82nd Airborne. He and one of his sergeants were standing in the open jump door of one of the many Douglas C-47s flying just over their jump zones. Soon, both could see tracers from German anti-aircraft guns singing by their plane. They both ducked back into their plane. It wasn’t long before they began to laugh. How could the thin skin of their aircraft stop one of those huge shells? Sticking his head out the door again, Burriss said, “You dirty Krauts, we’ll be down there and get you in a minute.” So was the attitude of most of the Allied personnel.

Out of the large number of Allied airborne troops involved in Operation Market Garden, the Americans of the 101st and 82nd were the only ones who had much battle experience as a unit. The 1st British Airborne and Polish Independent Brigade consisted of mostly inexperienced troops.

Command of the operation was put into the hands of the “double-hated” Gen. “Boy” Browning of the British high command. Although Browning was notified of his command just weeks before the operation, the American general, Matthew Ridgeway, was much more qualified for the job.

The goals of Operation Market Garden were to seize a series of eight bridges on and around the Rhine River in Holland. The airborne troops would hold the bridges until a larger force could arrive. Thousands of lightly armed paratroopers were assigned different bridges and towns to take.

The main bridge over the river Rhine was at Arnhem and it was assigned to the Brits.

As the British paratroopers advanced toward Arnhem, they were met with extremely heavy German resistance. The British also found that their radios didn’t work properly. Without the radios, it was just about impossible to carry out a coordinated attack on the bridge. Out of all of the 1st Airborne, only a single battalion made it to the northern approach to the bridge. These men were the chief victims of the disastrous plan.

With extraordinarily heavy fighting, the Americans obtained most of their objectives, although the Germans blew up several of the bridges to keep them from falling into the Allies’ hands.

All the Allied troops on the ground, after the first few days of the operation, were waiting on reinforcements and supplies. What they didn’t know was that the weather in England postponed the rest of the planes from taking off. All the while, German reinforcements, tanks and supplies were being rapidly brought to the front to stop the Allied advance. My Dad, Pvt. James Bolton, 82nd Airborne, said that the Germans used the many Dutch rock houses as machine-gun pillboxes and the windmills as observation and sniper towers.


At Arnhem, the lightly armed British paratroopers were no match for the German tanks. With many wounded and others being low on ammo, the Brits were told to abandon their hard-fought positions. Many dead and wounded British paratroopers were left to the mercy of the Germans.

The story of the incredibly gallant Waal River crossing near Nijmegen by the Americans has been told many times. The men of the 504th Airborne crossed the 400-yard rushing river under heavy fire while riding only in canvas boats. Survivors said the water in the river looked like a hail storm of bullets being fired at them. German 88s, flak wagons, 20-mm cannons, machine-gun fire, and riflemen fired continually on them. Some of the boats were blown out of the water, so only 13 boats out of 26 were able to come back to pick up the second wave of paratroopers. Paddles were short and some men used the stock of their guns to paddle with. Many of the men were wounded and 48 paratroopers were killed, but the rest established a beachhead and helped secure the bridge at Nijmegen.

In 1977, a movie was produced called “A Bridge Too Far.” It was directed by Richard Attenborough and starred actors Sean Connery, Ryan O’Neil, Michael Caine, and Laurence Olivier. It was mostly a true story of Operation Market Garden, the Allied attempt in September 1944, to hasten the end of World War II by driving the Germans through Belgium and Holland back to their homeland of Germany.

Operation Market Garden had basically failed for the Allies. The cost to the Allies was between 15,130 and 17,200 killed, wounded or captured, with the bulk of losses by the British. German losses numbered somewhere between 7,500 to 10,000 men. These losses didn’t count the 100,000 suffering Dutch people who lost their homes and livelihoods or the 25,000 who died from starvation that winter. As they died, they must have wondered why the Allies had not continued their advance in September of 1944. It would be another four months before the Allies crossed the Rhine River into the German industrial homeland. The war would drag on, costing the lives of many more service people and civilians.

As I close out this story, I’m almost in tears from the gallantry and sacrifices these brave men gave for their countries. These men are part of the Greatest Generation our country has ever known. My hope and prayer is that these ungrateful people going around burning their countries flags and taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem will someday know that our freedom is not free and should not be trampled upon. The only ones who ever died for us, the American soldier and Jesus Christ, will never be forgotten.

 J.A. Bolton is author of “Just Passing Time,” co-author of “Just Passing Time Together,” and just released a new book called “Southern Fried: Down-Home Stories.” Contact him at ja@jabolton.com.


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