Operation Market-Garden, along with Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, occupies a unique place when people think of the European theater of operations in World War II. The Operation took place in September 1944 and was a highly ambitious effort using three divisions of airborne troops in connection with armored columns in an attempt to speed the conclusion of the war. The seminal work on this campaign, Cornelius Ryan’s “A Bridge Too Far” and the subsequent film focused on the tragically heroic experiences of the British 1st Airborne and immortalized them forever in that account. In his latest work, “A Magnificent Disaster: The Failure of Market Garden, the Arnhem Operation September 1944” published by Casemate Publishing, author David Bennett seeks to build on Ryan’s work and expand the focus to the operation as a whole and all the units involved.
Published in hardcover, “A Magnificent Disaster” consists of 286 pages and measures 6 x 9 inches including 16 pages of black and white photos in the middle of the volume. As a historical work, it seeks to expand the narrative scope beyond Ryan's focus to include the events leading up to the Operation being launched and the tactics and strategy employed in the Operation itself. It also aims to detail the efforts of the US 101st and 82nd Airborne and British 1st Airborne as well as the British Second Army XXX, VIII, and XII Corps. The book is organized into 14 chapters across 202 pages with an additional 45 pages devoted to the Epilogue and various Appendices. 24 pages involve the Notes on the Text and Bibliography with the final 14 pages devoted to the Index.
Our hobby is all about modeling history and, as a historical work, the book provides a great amount of detail for anyone looking to get an in-depth look at this particular campaign. In the Chapters and Appendices, information is brought to light on many of the lesser known events and units and also explores the efforts to scapegoat the Polish Airborne commander, General Sosabowski, after the Operation had concluded. Attention is also paid to the involvement of all elements of the British Second Army ground forces, not just the dash up "Hell's Highway" by XXX Corp as in other volumes. The book also explores the real motivations behind the Operation as a means to attack the strategic Ruhr industrial area as opposed to merely secure a bridgehead across the Rhine as commonly understood from other accounts. The involvement and movements of the wide variety of German units and formations, not just the II SS, is also laid out in great detail. In many cases throughout the narrative, references are made to other accounts and works, adding to or correcting them as the case may be. As a result, the book delivers additional insight and details not found or expounded upon in previous works.
As I read through the different chapters however, the one thing that struck me the most was the continual assumption by the author that the reader would already be familiar with key players and figures in the events unfolding. The result produces an almost coldly clinical assessment and doesn’t delve too deeply into the personalities, focusing instead on the events and their details with only cursory backgrounds provided. This imparts an almost rushed feeling as you read through it, as if the author was under a word count restriction and still needed to get all of the important details in under that cap and had no time for extras as a result. The author attempts to make up for this to some degree in the Epilogue but ends up almost randomly providing bits of information on various personalities on both the Allied and German sides without any real connection back to the events in the text, some of whom are mentioned for the first time in the Epilogue itself. The result is that you never quite feel drawn into the narrative but remain detached throughout as a reader.
The book also fails to provide much in the way of graphic resources either in terms of detailed maps or organization charts to aid the reader. It again assumes that you are already largely familiar with the places and geography under discussion. Adding to the disorientation feeling, only a few small black-and-white maps are included at the start of some of the chapters but these are difficult to read or refer back to easily while navigating the chapters. The maps could have been printed larger to "fill the page" but this wasn't done for some reason.
The organization of the chapters and their place in the overall narrative also doesn’t always click. For example, the author will often be discussing what’s happening with a particular unit on D-plus-4 and then in the very next sentence or paragraph make comments about other events that happened to that same unit on D-plus-7 or similar, requiring the reader to stay on your toes throughout to keep track of what’s transpiring on many occasions.
From a historian point-of-view, a particular frustration is the fact that none of the chapters have any sort of notation methodology or footnotes to indicate the sources used within the chapters themselves. Instead, the Chapter Notes section is the only source for detail on the sources used at the individual Chapter level, making it somewhat harder to evaluate that aspect if looking for confirmation of specific events or anecdotes or to cross-reference to other works.
The black-and-white photos included in the middle section of the book ultimately contribute little to the value of the text. They feel like they are an obligatory afterthought and are also somewhat random in their selection and arrangement. There are photos of some but not all of the key bridges as they look today for example, only a couple of combat photos are interspersed with no real rhyme or reason, and the rest are random photos of various surviving veterans and commemoration events that presumably the author interviewed as part of the story but whom are never really talked about in any great detail in the text.
After making your way through the chapters, the author reserves most of his analysis until the final chapter, aptly named “Assessment”. This chapter offers up several engaging analytical points about the failure of the operation and the key players involved and helps bring sese to much of the preceeding narrative. Curiously, there’s also quite a bit of interesting information relegated to the Appendices, particularly those dealing with critical supply situation of Montgomery's 21st Army Group prior to Market-Garden, the Air Forces utilized, and the humiliation of General Sosabowski. Why this was relegated to the Appendices though is somewhat of a mystery and ironically presents some of the truly fascinating information included in the volume vs. that in the chapters. This information would’ve been better served as inclusion for the most part in the “Assessment” chapter or in the various narrative chapters to bolster the text and increase the readability in my opinion. The fact that a substantial portion of the book is given over to Appendices vs. the core text is an unusual approach and the narrative suffers from this as a result.
Even with the short comings in the narrative and the sometimes curious arrangement of the text, “A Magnificent Disaster” remains an informative volume at the end of the day and provides a wealth of detail. The Index is particularly well designed to make it easy to find information on locations, key characters, or units as an informational reference. It will make a valuable addition to your collection if you’re an enthusiast of Market-Garden or the ETO in WW2 in general.
Highs: Adds details on many aspects often overlooked in other accounts of Market Garden, particularly that of the ground forces and the Polish units. Lows: Narrative and timelines can be difficult to follow, some information relegated to the Appendices that could've been handled in the actual chapters as relevant support. Verdict: A good resource to supplement an existing reference collection vs. a stand-alone reference due to assumptions of knowledge of events/ personalities by the author.
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About Bill Plunk (wbill76) FROM: TEXAS, UNITED STATES
Like many, I started out in the hobby as a kid building airplanes to hang from my bedroom cieling. I took a long break from the hobby, returning in 2001 with an interest in armor inspired mostly by online gaming. WW2 armor, 1/35 scale, is my preferred genre with a special taste for the stranger vehi...