Friday, 25 September 2020 12:54

COLUMN: A bridge too far

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COLUMN: A bridge too far J.A. Bolton

In the early 1940s, our country — along with most of the world — was at war. Germany and Japan were looking to expand their boundaries with no regard for other countries or their people. Before the war ended, many lives would be lost, and destruction would be everywhere.

It seems some countries had not learned a lesson from the Great War (World War I.) It was supposed to have been the war to end all wars, but another war (World War II) had to be fought with even more death and destruction than the first.

The story I’m about to tell you happened between Sept. 17 and 25, 1944 (76 years ago) in the Netherlands of Europe. I researched this for the history buffs, but mainly I did it because my dad, Pvt. James A. Bolton, 82nd Airborne, Glider Division, was on the front lines around Nijmegen, Holland during the operation called Market Garden.

Before we get into this two-part story, a little history is needed about how WWII was progressing in Europe. On June 6, 1944 (D-Day) the U.S. and its allies had landed on the shores of France. After many days of hard fighting, France was liberated from the Germans. 

The German Army pulled back from France in full retreat. It looked to the Allied high brass like the Nazi Army was headed for their homeland. The Allied high command was wrong. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to underestimate your enemy.

Adolf Hitler had seen the collapse of his western front, but he defiantly refused to give in. Hitler recalled his best field marshal from retirement, Gerd von Rundstedt. Von Rundstedt quickly reorganized the German forces. He then placed them in key areas, like bridges and large cities, which lay between him and the Allied forces.

The fighting had been heavy, and many lives were lost in France on both sides. France had been liberated, but there were many more battles yet to come. After the French campaign, units of American paratroopers, glider personnel of the 101st (Screaming Eagles), and the 82nd Airborne (All-American) were sent back to England to rest, lick their wounds, and reinforce their divisions in the English countryside.

Meanwhile, British Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery, came up with a plan to outflank the German Army around the Netherlands and be in Berlin by Christmas. The plan was named “Operation Market Garden.” The plan called for airborne units from the Netherlands, USA, United Kingdom, Poland and Canada to take and secure the bridges over the rivers Meuse, Waal and Rhine in the Netherlands. If his plan worked, it would outflank the heavily armed German defenses of the Siegfried line.  

The risks, inherent in Operation Market Garden, were well- known. They were (1) the weather; (2) not enough aircraft and gliders to carry out the landing at one time ;and (3) carrying out the assault in broad daylight. Some of the airborne troops would be dropped some 60 miles behind enemy lines. Supplies and reinforcements had to be brought in by air.

Even though the Dutch resistance fighters warned the Allies that the German Army was building up in the region, the largest airborne operation in history still went on as planned. 

The morning of the operation, a total of 1,545 Douglas C-47 troop transports and 478 gliders left England headed toward the Netherlands. Among the paratroopers was Maj. Gen. “Jumping Jim” Gavin. Under General Matthew Ridgeway, Gavin was the commander of the 82nd Airborne. He was a soldier’s general. When he jumped, he carried a 9.5-pound M1 Garand rifle, just like a private would. Each paratrooper carried whatever type of pistol they could find. While jumping, you either had the pistol in your hands or on the ready because the Germans were known to try and shoot the paratroopers before they hit the ground.

Some gliders carried about 16 men, while other gliders carried machine guns and Howitzers that could be put together and fired in less than 20 minutes. Some gliders even carried a jeep or needed supplies for the operation.

Unlike D-Day, when men and supplies were scattered everywhere, the C-47s in the Netherlands held their course allowing paratroopers and gliders to drop on target. Although some gliders outright crashed and some made controlled crashes, most made it to the ground safely. As in any airborne jump, some of the paratroopers weren’t so lucky.

One of the humorous stories about one of the 82nd paratroopers in the operation was the story of Lt. Col. Wilber Griffin. Seems he hit the ground so hard, he broke his ankle. That wasn’t funny, but when Gen. Gavin came around checking on his men, he found Griffin’s men pushing him around in a wheelbarrow, giving orders like he usually did. Griffin saluted the general while sitting in the wheelbarrow.

The British paratroopers of Operation Market Garden were dropped around Oosterbeek, a village in eastern Netherlands, to hopefully take the bridges near Arnhem and Grave. The American 101st were dropped near Eindhoven, while the 82nd Airborne were dropped near Nijmegen.

Each Allied division met with heavy resistance from German forces, which included SS troops, heavy artillery, machine-gun fire, tanks, and anything else the Germans could throw at them.

Next week, we will find out more about what happened in Operation Market Garden and whether the operation was successful or whether it was a terrible blunder.

J.A. Bolton is author of “Just Passing Time,” co-author of “Just Passing Time Together,” and just released his new book, “Southern Fried: Down-Home Stories.” Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..