In his introduction to this surprisingly powerful book, Tim Lynch writes that “any attempt to challenge received wisdom will inevitably be criticised by some as ‘rewriting history’, although those who condemn ‘revisionist’ history seem at a loss to explain why history must be carved in stone and why new information should be ignored.” Tim Lynch certainly sets himself up for such criticism in this frank, and no doubt to some, painful investigation into one aspect of what has become one of the most celebrated actions of Operation Market Garden – the crossing of the River Waal.
Much of the story is, of course, well-known,. The operation was an ambitious attempt to short-circuit the war by a combined aerial assault and land advance to capture the bridges over the Meuse, the Waal and the Lower Rhine. All went well at first but the ground forces were unable to capture the bridge across the Waal at Nijmegen. The received wisdom that Tim Lynch refers to is that whilst the Americans tried their utmost to help the Allies trapped at Arnhem, their British counterparts meekly accepted the situation and “sat drinking tea”.
It is true that the US 82nd Airborne Division attempted a heroic crossing of the Waal in flimsy boats under heavy enemy fire. They captured the bridge which should then have allowed the British tanks to rush towards Arnhem to save the paratroopers that were still holding out under extreme pressure. Yet the Guards Armoured Division which should have spearheaded the advance did not move for eighteen hours. By the time that the Guards moved towards Arnhem the Germans had managed to bring up reinforcements that effectively blocked the only road which could be used. The American heroics on the Waal had been in vain. That, at least, is how the events of September 1944 have been portrayed.
It is this story that Tim Lynch picks over, with some startling conclusions. For example he states that, “It was not in American interests that Market Garden should succeed. If it had, Eisenhower might have been forced to throw his weight behind the despised Montgomery. In an election year, what was militarily sound was not [necessarily] politically sound. The American public, it was claimed, would not tolerate the thought that the war might be ended under British leadership. Far better to prolong it and have an American victory.”
Tim Lynch also accuses Generals Bradley and Patton of drawing resources away from the British, and that by undermining the airborne forces they could watch Montgomery “fall on his face.” The animosity towards the British by many Americans is startling and certainly challenges the accepted view of the so-called “special relationship”.
Nevertheless, there is the question of the British sitting around and drinking tea rather than trying to help their comrades at Arnhem. A slightly different take on this is provided by an American soldier. Whilst no progress could be made by the troops of either country, the Americans simply did “nothing constructive”. The British, on the other hand, produced a football and organised a game of soccer amongst the tank crews – a far more constructive use of the time.
In the final chapter Tim Lynch cites General J. Gavin, who stated that after the war the United States Military Academy at West Point taught that Arnhem was an American victory! Now that really is a case of rewriting history.
Review courtesy of Britain At War Magazine.