With his troops in a bitter fight with German forces in northern France in the late summer of 1944, General Omar Bradley, commander of the Allied 12th Army Group, could not believe his ears. “Had the pious teetotaling Montgomery wobbled into SHAEF with a hangover, I could not have been more astonished than I was by the daring adventure he proposed,” Bradley remembered. He was of course referring to Operation Market Garden.
Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery had led British and Commonwealth forces to victory in North Africa during the pivotal Battle of El Alamein in 1942 and then chased the German-Italian Panzer Armee Afrika across 1,000 miles of desert. Coupled with the Allied landings of Operation Torch in the west, the Axis forces were caught in a vice and defeated thoroughly by the spring of 1943. Through it all, Montgomery had proceeded with caution, meticulously planned, and made sure that his forces were superior in number to the enemy. The same conduct had characterized his command of the 21st Army Group since the D-Day landings in Normandy on June 6, 1944.
Now, however, it appeared that the cautious, deliberate Montgomery had gone off his rocker. As summer gave way to autumn in 1944, Montgomery had been lobbying General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, to abandon or at least suspend the broad front strategy that had the Allied armies advancing sluggishly toward the German frontier, where the fixed fortifications of the Siegfried Line, or West Wall, were waiting, their garrisons intent on defending the Fatherland.
Montgomery hammered home his concerns. Not only did stiff German resistance promise to become even tougher, but supply lines were stretching. The availability of fuel, ammunition, foodstuffs, and all the elements that keep an advancing military force on the move were becoming scarce.
Montgomery continually argued that the American Third and Canadian First Armies should be halted and resupplied just enough to consolidate their gains and hold their lines against any German counterattack. His own British Second Army and the American First Army would then take center stage, receive the vast majority of war matériel, outflank the Siegfried Line, and rapidly thrust into the Ruhr, the industrial heart of Germany. A swift and successful offensive under Montgomery’s command would cripple Germany’s capacity to wage war and open a direct route to the Nazi capital of Berlin.
On September 10, 1944, Montgomery outlined his tactical blueprint in a meeting with Eisenhower in Brussels, Belgium. Along with the strategic overview of the offensive, Montgomery proposed Market Garden, a preparatory attack as bold as it was shocking.
A two-phase offensive, Operation Market Garden called for airborne troops to parachute into the German-occupied Netherlands and seize key bridges across the Maas, Waal, and Lower Rhine Rivers. The paratroopers would hold the bridges until relieved by ground troops racing swiftly through the Netherlands and into Germany. The war might even be won by Christmas 1944 if everything went according to plan.