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A Bridge Too Far

On September 17, 1944, the Allies launched the greatest airborne assault in history: Operation Market Garden. In all, 35,000 paratroops and glider infantry were employed. The U.S. 101st Airborne Division landed near Eindhoven, and the 82nd Airborne Division parachuted onto the Nijmegen area. After hard and bloody fighting, the Americans captured both cities along with bridges over the Maas and Waal rivers. Meanwhile, the British 1st Airborne Division and the Polish 1st Parachute Brigade landed near Arnhem to capture the vital bridge over the Rhine.

The plan called for a ground force to break through the German front line along the Dutch-Belgian border; roll 100km (62 miles) north along a single road through Eindhoven, Nijmegen, and Arnhem; cross the bridges captured by the airborne; and get across Hitler's last big defensive barrier, the Rhine, before the Germans could react.

As one Allied commander feared, it turned out to be "a bridge too far." The British airborne troops landed close to the tanks and artillery of the German 2nd SS Panzer Corps and were plunged into a fight for survival. Bad weather prevented reinforcements and supplies being flown in on schedule. A single battalion of paratroops made it to the Rhine bridge and held it in 4 days of bitter fighting, but they were finally overwhelmed. The division's tenuous bridgehead across the Rhine at nearby Oosterbeek was lost when the relief column was held up along what was dubbed "Hell's Highway."

The British survivors withdrew across the Rhine on September 27, having suffered 13,000 casualties. American losses were around 3,500.

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