Arnhem 1944: The airborne battle
By Martin Middlebrook (first published 1994), Pen and Sword Military
UK ISBN 978 1 84884 075 1
Martin Middlebrook has an impressive track record for researching key historic events. For Arnhem, Middlebrook has ‘trawled’ through archives and personal diaries and testimonies to assembled a detailed account of the battle. By concentrating on Arnhem, the author has provided fresh details and accounts overlooked by other authors. This is not a revisionist history, but certainly one, which sets out to answer more fully the failings by British military planners.
The structure of the book provides a detailed account covering not only the military planning and the battle for Arnhem, but also tackles the logistics and the detail of the support units. The value of this book lies in Middlebrook’s ability to finally answer some key questions. Why were the British sluggish at clearing the far too distant landing zones was due to overloading the paratroopers and this lesson seems to have not been learnt from mistakes made on D-Day airborne operations. Perhaps the most worthy contribution attempts to clarify the failed breakthrough by the British 1st Airborne to reach Frost at Arnhem bridge. The 1st Parachute Brigade attempt then followed up by 4th Parachute Brigade failed due to ineffective piecemeal action lacking support, which in effect led to their own destruction and the collapse of the operation. The logistical nightmare of reliance upon airdrops or ground re-supply stretching all the way back to Normandy is adequately covered, but fails to re-evaluate the strategic decision by Montgomery not to free Antwerp from German control.
While Middlebrook clearly highlights the failings by Montgomery and Browning to deliver the decisive ‘punch’, the criticism of the failure by the US Airborne Division to capture Nijmegan Bridge earlier seems at odds within the critical analysis of the book. The chapter on the Polish Parachute Brigade’s drop into Driel follows quite a conventional analysis and criticism of Major-General Sosabowski’s role, which inadvertently supports British establishment views of the Polish contribution. However, Middlebrook does acknowledge in Chapter 21 The Reckoning that the failure to accept Sosabowski’s views at the Valburg Conference concerning the rescue of the 4th Dorsets led to the un-necessary sacrifice of the battalion.
The book is a great read and the interspersed personal accounts provide an appropriate insight to offset the rich detail from the research. In the final chapter The Years That Followed has poignant comments and recollections from survivors whose individual ordeals reminds us that some experiences never go away nor should the fallen be forgotten.
Julian Hoseason, editor polandinexile.com