Book Review
A Magnificent Disaster
A Magnificent Disaster: The Failure of Market Garden, The Arnhem Operation September 1944
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by: Bill Plunk [ WBILL76 ]

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.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: Other
  Mfg. ID: ISBN 978-1-932033-85-4
  Suggested Retail: $32.95
  PUBLISHED: Jul 16, 2008

Our Thanks to Casemate Publishing!
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About Bill Plunk (wbill76)

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...

Copyright ©2021 text by Bill Plunk [ WBILL76 ]. All rights reserved.


Good review Bill, thanks. Having a keen interest in Market Garden (well, more specifically the 1st AB at Arnhem part of it) this is another title I am very interested in. Having read a number of the 'older' works that do go into detail about the people and events involved, this may well add more insight to the background of the events. As more titles have been published over recent years, the emphasis of the contents has shifted from a 'narrative' (a large number of the books were written by those who were actually in the battle, with great first hand experience, but probably little knowledge of the overall picture, or the politics and events shaping the Operation) to a more analytical view, uncovering many facts that influenced the direction and result of Market-Garden, and consequently the remainder of the war. As it is, Market-Garden was flawed, and pretty much doomed, from the start. The price looks good, for a Hard Cover of this size, but I wonder what the price will be on our side of the pond, in ££. Cheers Henk
JUL 16, 2008 - 01:13 AM
Henk, Casemate-UK has it listed at 19.99 GBP. It's true that this work is more of the factual/analytical strain vs. the "man on the scene" account or memoir even though it draws heavily on several of those personal accounts for some of the tactical narrative and discussion. The book makes the point you outline about M-G being doomed from the start as too hastily conceived with too rigid a timeframe and no consideration made for the possibility of substantial German opposition. The Appendices in particular offer very valuable insights into a variety of topics not usually discussed in previous accounts.
JUL 16, 2008 - 02:28 AM
Ironically, Market Garden was more undone by the German opposition that didn't exist, the illusory German tanks in the Reichswald that occupied the minds of the men who should have been taking the bridge at Nijmegen and pushing up the road to head off the scratch German forces heading the other way. David
JUL 16, 2008 - 02:49 AM
You are correct in that the diversion to the Groesbeek Heights, to secure the flank against the non thread from the Reichswald, was a major factor in the delay in capturing the Nijmegen bridge David. This was another event where the commander of the actual troops wanted to get to the objective (the bridge) as quick as possible, to secure it. Like Urquhart at Arnhem, Gavin was over-ruled by Browning. The first (and some say principal) error that jeopardised M-G was the escape of Von Zangen's 15 Army. However, M-G was in many ways a dead duck right from the inception. It went against the advice of the Dutch Military in England, who knew that the terrain in the Netherlands was totally unsuitable for this kind of operation. And even if the bridge at Arnhem would have been captured and secured, that would have still left yet another major river to be crossed, the IJssel, which runs from just before Arnhem (Westervoort), due North to the IJsselmeer . This is a major obstacle, and indeed in 1940, when the Germans invaded Holland, this bridge at Westervoort was of such paramount importance, that the Germans captured it by dressing in Dutch Uniforms, to avoid the Dutch blowing it up as they approached. This never seems to be realised, but capturing the bridge at Arnhem would have achieved little more than liberation of the West of the Netherlands. Welcome as that would have been, M-G would not have 'opened up' the road into the Ruhr. M-G was in many ways just a big ego trip, Montgomery feeling that he could single handedly go all the way to Berlin, before Christmas (not to mention wanting all the glory for just himself), and Browning, who was desperate to have his 'Major Airborne Operation' before the war would end. His decision to fly his headquarters in by glider on day one (giving himself his only actual 'combat landing' for his resume), depriving 1st Airborne Division of 56 (IIRC) desperately needed gliders for the first drop, was a selfish act which cost the 1st Airborne dear. Henk
JUL 16, 2008 - 03:52 AM
Urquart shares a part of the blame, but Gavin seems not to have argued too hard despite highlighting the importance of the bridge to his men before they took off. Leading to an assault river crossing under fire and the GAD having to fight their way through the streets of Nijmegen, all of which was totally avoidable. Strange though that the real German tanks were (allegedly) ignored by the planners, but the bogus ones loomed so large in their imagination (or in their memoirs anyway). Yet again the Germans provided the Allies with an object lesson in grabbing the initiative and using it to the full. Anyway Berlin belonged to the Red Army. David
JUL 16, 2008 - 04:15 AM
Drader/Henk-- you guys raise some good points. Never knew that about Browning's staff. What might have been? I have often felt that the landing sequence was incorrect. By that I mean, the least experienced division (British 1st Airborne) should not have been tasked with securing Arnhem Bridge. Rather they should have been used in the 101st area. Thus the initial link-up with British forces would have been logisitically sound. As it turned out British ground logistically support, to say nothing of combat support, had to cross through two American divisions to get to the British unit. I also believe that Gavin as commander of the 82nd would never have dropped so far from the target. Damn fine drop zones on the south side of the Arnhem bridge. Frost and his men did a magnificent job, but human endurance can only do so much. Regardless, looks like a great book and I thank Bill for a fine review. DJ
JUL 16, 2008 - 07:35 AM
My pleasure DJ, thanks for the comments.
JUL 17, 2008 - 11:23 AM
I am in the middle of "A Bridge Too Far" by Ryan. The British attitude towards the Dutch underground was unbelieveable. The undergrounds gave them warnings that were ignored and things like RR bridges and ferries were not considered as important. Some high level officier took along the whole M-G plans that were captured. And the idea that you could launch an attack that deep in a road only one or two tanks wide was just plain stupid. Too bad Monte did not lead the group in at Arnheim. I feel real sorry for the blokes trying to hold the bridge in Arnheim listening ti the BBC saying everything is going as planned and they think the tank tracks are the Allied tanks arriving. Instead they were Tigers and Panzer IVs.
JUL 17, 2008 - 03:36 PM

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