Why Arnhem?

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by cameron39, Dec 1, 2020.

  1. cameron39

    cameron39 Junior Member

    Why Arnhem?

    While numerous books have been written about the battle of Arnhem, very little discussion has taken place about why in fact the battle took place at Arnhem.

    A quick look at a map shows clearly that from the position of Allies in September 1944,the most direct route to the Ruhr, the centre of the German armaments industry, was via Wesel. Various reasons have been put forward as to why this route was not chosen, not least that there were very intensive anti-aircraft defences in that area.However at that stage of the war the Allies had almost total air superiority and one feels that that could have been dealt with.Could the real reason have been that, as suggested in Richard Lamb’s excellent book “Montgomery in Europe 1943-45”,put forward by Brigadier Williams, that going via Wesel would have meant Monty sharing the follow-up assaults with the Americans on his right flank? The problem for Monty was that there was no overriding reason for going via Arnhem.Perhaps the arrival of the V2 gave him the excuse he needed.

    On the 8th September the first V2 landed on London and a cable was sent from the War Office asking if anything could be done about the launching points for this new weapon in Holland. Perhaps Monty now had his justification for going to Arnhem.

    At the time of the battle Freddie de Guingand,Monty’s chief of staff was in hospital in England and his Acting Chief of Staff was Brigadier(later Major-General) David Belchem.

    In a note dated January 1981, attached to an unpublished manuscript about the battle, David Belchem wrote “ All I can personally affirm is that up to about 1900 hrs on the 9th September,we were definitely going to Wesel, because I overheard Monty speaking on the beamed radio telephone link with Eisenhower. Wesel was obviously being discussed, but there was no mention whatever of Arnhem.That evening Monty never mentioned Arnhem to me, then Acting Chief of Staff.

    But around 08.00 on the 10th September,when Generals Dempsey and Browning arrived at Monty’s command post with their maps and planning notes for an attack on Wesel, Monty greeted them on the steps of his caravan with the simple statement “We are going to Arnhem”.The look on our faces can well be imagined! No-one of any consequence wanted to go anywhere near Arnhem.
    Nevertheless at the time of writing,in spite of very diligent research,no record or hint has been found about the switch from Wesel to Arnhem,nor about the authority responsible for it.”

    After the war (when David Belchem was Monty’s Chief of Staff) he wrote” When we were living together in Fontainbleau, I tried to get Monty to discuss the subject,without success”.
    Tragically after the war in a French television programme in which David Belchem took part with German Generals Westphal and von Manteuffel, they agreed with his view that “21st Army Group could have cycled to Wesel”.
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  2. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    You have supplied a hypothesis to answer your own question. There looks like an obvious connection between the northerly thrust of Op Market Garden and first V2 landings in London. Liberating the Netherlands within V2 range of London looks like a more achievable objective for 21st Army Group. 30 Corps was not strong enough to invade Germany on its own.

    A supplementary question is why doesn't this change in strategy appear to be documented anywhere? This was a major deviation for the main thrust of the Allied Forces backed by the Allied First Airborne Army. It ought to have at least been discussed with Eisenhower's staff.

    It may be that the British did not want the Americans to become aware of how worried the British government was about the imminent V2 offensive. One little discussed aspect of the war is how badly British morale was affected by the three month V1 offensive. There was little Blitz spirit left by 1944. The end of the war was in sight. Industrial production in London fell by a quarter. Many people fled the city. This was against a cruise missile against which the air force and AA Command could engage and shoot down the majority before they reached their intended targets. The V2 was unstoppable. No one knew how effective the V2 would be, or how the British public would react.

    There is no reference to this in Alanbrooke's Diary. Churchill and Brooke were in Canada for the Quebec conference. The entries for the 9th and 10th are all to do with the Chiefs of staff meeting.

    Not all of the anti V weapons decisions were made under political control. The decision to use the double cross agents to report the pattern of V1 missile impacts as mainly overs meant that the Germans shortened the range and the mean point of impact fell short of central London on the less populated suburbs and rural Kent. This caused an uproar among politicians who objected to the idea. It was not the job of democratic politicians to singling out a particular set of set of electors to be sacrificed, even if it was for the common good. Herbert Morrison the Home Secretary vetoed the scheme. The secret service did it anyway. Double-Cross System - Wikipedia

    Maybe Montgomery was contacted by someone in this circle and persuaded to make a 90 degree turn in the axis of advance. This may fuel a deep state conspiracy theory but....
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2020
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  3. smdarby

    smdarby Well-Known Member

    Agreed about the V2 threat. Also the Westwall ends just south of Nijmegen, so Arnhem was a way around this. It also allowed access to the North German Plain, which is easier to traverse than the more undulating German countryside to the south.
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  4. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    Not too sure about that. Lots of waterways to cross.
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  5. smdarby

    smdarby Well-Known Member

    Fair point, but there are waterways everywhere in Germany.

    I think I've made this point before on the forum about Market Garden, but there seems to be an assumption that once you cross the Rhine at Arnhem then you have a clear run into Germany. This is wrong. You still have to cross the Ijssel river, which is just as wide as the Rhine is at Arnhem and is a formidable obstacle. In fact, as I'm sure most people are aware, Deventer on the Ijssel stood in as a substitute for Arnhem in "A Bridge Too Far".
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  6. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Belchem obviously misremembered - look up Operation "Comet"!


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  7. horsapassenger

    horsapassenger Senior Member

    Tom - Dad was briefed for Operation Comet - his Company ( A Coy, South Staffords) were to land before dawn in a coup de main assault on Arnhem Bridge. It’s also worth remembering that at the same time as Market Garden consideration was being given to using airborne forces to land on Walcheren and open up the port of Antwerp
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  8. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

    Why Operation Market Garden, the Allies' battle for Arnhem, was a disaster in the planning


    "The next morning, Dempsey went to Montgomery’s headquarters and managed to persuade him that Operation Comet was too weak. They needed at least three airborne divisions. Montgomery liked the idea. It would bring the American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions under his command. But to Dempsey’s dismay, Montgomery also brandished a signal at him that had arrived from London. The first V2 rockets had landed in England, having apparently been fired from the area of Rotterdam and Amsterdam. For Montgomery, who wanted to go north via Arnhem (Dempsey preferred to go east), this was the just the confirmation he needed to justify his decision."
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  9. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Rather than Beevor's opinion, I would recommend going to the primary sources. For example see signal from Montgomery to his Chief of Staff of 3 Sep quoted in Hamilton's 3rd volume of his Montgomery biography.


  10. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    Easy answer. The quickest route through Germany is the low flat land that runs in the direction Osnabrück - Hannover area. Once over the Rhine at any point North of Wesel you’re away.
    it’s why Varsity was picked only slightly South of Arnhem at Wesel / Hamminkeln.

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