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Montgomery's ill-fated operation to capture the Rhine crossing at Arnhem was ingenious but fatally flawed. Evidence suggests that the Allies knew there were German armoured units in the town a few days before the first paratroopers landed, so why send them? The paras had no effective anti-tank weaponry and so surely it was suicide to carry out the original plan.

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+1, but could you point us to to the German armor evidence? It's hard to answer a question like this without the whole picture. Thanks. –  Russell Sep 30 '12 at 16:58
Apologies. I saw a documentary that had aerial reconnaissance photos showing suspected German armour hidden in the woods around the town. The photographs were reportedly taken a "few days" before the start of the operation, I will try to find some evidence of this on line and post a link. –  davidjwest Sep 30 '12 at 17:04
No problem, the question is still answerable. Unfortunately is 1 AM here, and I need to get to sleep. :( –  Russell Sep 30 '12 at 17:17
A good reference to Operation Market Garden is Cornelius Ryan's 'A Bridge Too Far'..Just read it recently and highly recommend it. –  user2991 Oct 10 '13 at 23:29

2 Answers 2

up vote 13 down vote accepted

The What

Here are details on the incident from Wikipedia:

A number of reports about German troop movements reached Allied high command, including details about the identity and location of German armoured formations. Station X at Bletchley Park monitored and decrypted German Ultra intelligence reports and sent them to senior Allied commanders but they only reached army headquarters level and were not passed down any lower. On 16 September ULTRA decrypts revealed the movement of 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions to Nijmegen and Arnhem, creating enough concern for Eisenhower to send his Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith, to raise the issue with Montgomery on 10 September; however, Montgomery dismissed Smith's concerns and refused to alter the plans for the landing of 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem. Further information about the location of the German Panzer Divisions at Arnhem was revealed by aerial photographs of Arnhem taken by a photo-reconnaissance Spitfire XI from RAF's No. 16 Squadron, as well as information from members of the Dutch resistance.

Another source states that:

Major Urquhart recalled that five oblique angle pictures showed "the unmistakable presence of German armor" in the Arnhem area.

So, there was intelligence on the Nazi armoured divisions. The article goes on to say that:

Fearing that 1st Airborne Division might be in grave danger if it landed at Arnhem the chief intelligence officer of the division, Major Brian Urquhart, arranged a meeting with [Frederick] Browning and informed him of the armour present at Arnhem. Browning dismissed his claims and ordered the division's senior medical officer to send Urquhart on sick leave on account of 'nervous strain and exhaustion.'

So, Browning was the cause of this mistake. Here is another excerpt from Wikipedia.

Browning downplayed evidence brought to him by his intelligence officer, Major Brian Urquhart, that the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen and the 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg were in the Arnhem area, but was not as confident as he led his subordinates to believe.

(emphasis mine)

The Why

There are a few possible reasons for this.

  • Mistrust of the Dutch intelligence

British forces at Arnhem ignored the local Dutch resistance. There was a good reason for this: Britain's spy network in the Netherlands had been thoroughly and infamously compromised — the so-called England game, which had only been discovered in April 1944. Perhaps assuming that the Dutch resistance would be similarly penetrated, British intelligence took pains to minimise all civilian contact.

If the British had heeded word from their agents in Arnhem, they would have been alerted to the presence of two enemy panzer divisions.

  • False assumptions

This one played the bigger role of the two. The allied commanders believed that the Germans were still retreating in an unorganized fashion and were incapable of putting up an effective resistance. This made them believe that the airborne corps would meet little resistance. Otherwise, they might have paid more heed to the reports of German armour. The allies correctly believed the Germans had about 50 tanks. What they did not take into account however, was that, "the soldiers crewing these tanks were some of the best in the Wehrmacht". Also, the panzer strength was growing daily, because of superb German logistics. The allies were able to put together a "fairly coherent picture of German equipment strength, as of 01 September." However, by the 17th of September it had completely changed. Intelligence analysts vastly underestimated the recuperative ability of the German logistical reinforcement system.

Other Sources

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Another person warning against following the original plan of attack was Polish general Sosabowski. –  quant_dev Oct 1 '12 at 11:58
Nice, and I am glad to see more sources than just Wikipedia. –  MichaelF Oct 1 '12 at 12:00
It's probably worth saying that all military operations are risky, and their commanders know it. Even with the armour, the Paras held out a long time and if the ground forces had managed to move more quickly Arnhem might have been taken even with the presence of the Panzers. Capturing Arnhem would have been a huge win for the Allies, and it might well have been worth taking the risk even if the presence of the armour was known beyond doubt. –  DJClayworth Oct 2 '12 at 17:22
Excellent answer, many thanks. –  davidjwest Oct 2 '12 at 19:53
another missing false assumption was that the Germans stationed in the Arnhem region were the broken remnants of units pulled back from the eastern front, there to recover and reorganise, and were in no shape to put up a coordinated resistance against a massive operation like MG. –  jwenting Jan 16 at 5:42

The 10th PZ Division was under orders from Berlin (OKW) to handover its heavy weapons and to load and leave by train by Sept 13th. So the remaining kampfgruppe Harzer (2500 men) had almost no tanks available. Contrary to the orders its halftracks of the Panzergrenadiere were not all shipped to Germany or handed over to the 9th PZ Div near Ruurlo. The 9th PZ Div went into action near Nijmegen. After the landings both divisions were reinforced from Kleve with tanks wich happened to be underway to Aken.

My favorite sources are the book from Middlebrook and the site Defending Arnhem

My inkling is that through Ultra the OKW order to leave was known and all else was handed by the Germans by Phone and therefore not not decoded. We know that much about Ultra was never revealed. In those days long after the Englandspiel Dutch reports were daily and reliable again. In this case they were ignored.

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