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on 1 December 2016
The Devil's Birthday is an excellent account of Operation Market Garden, written by one who fought in Arnhem. Powell provides a history of the whole battle, though focuses more on the airborne rather than the actions of XXX corps - though these still get covered, rare for a British book, there is proper recognition of the efforts of the US 101st and 82nd airborne divisions (the latter called the 83rd on the back cover!) during the battle, and the key role they played.

Powell hits home on the tragedy of the battle in his concluding chapters, yes the British 1st airborne division suffered terribly in the fighting at the bridge, and wider Arnhem battle front, but the real tragedy is that even if the plan had been successful and bridgehead had been created across the Rhine, the war would not have ended by Christmas. It is this litany of assumptions on which the operation that is launched (easy to point to in hindsight, some not so easy at the time) that is the real tragedy. Morale had not collapsed in the German army, they were still able to galvanise men to populate the fighting divisions, and whilst perhaps not of the calibre of 1940, were sufficient to give a significant bloody nose to the western allies. And if this is the case, the battle should not have been tried, as Lathbury identified, to make it worth while, all the bridges were needed, not 90%, and Geoffrey Powell builds on this to argue that without a collapse of the German army in the west it was not worth it, instead creating a narrow and difficult salient into enemy territory, and untold suffering for the people of Holland, who bravely continued their protest action against the Germans for the rest of the war.

Interestingly the author concludes that the strategic parachute force developed by the allies during the war was not in fact justified by the resources spent, and the results achieved - whilst not denying the undoubted gallantry demonstrated by those who fought in the divisions. Airborne victories were more tactical than strategic, and when being used as a strategic force, in Market Garden, they were unsuccessful.

This is an excellent account of the battle, well recommended to any with even a passing interest in the war in Western Europe in 1944.
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on 18 August 2013
This book is written by someone highly qualified for the task. The account is absorbing and provides sound explanation for the series of events of Operation Market Garden.

The author does not mince his words and acknowledges the difficulties that were encountered.

For the reader Montgomery's scheme is a difficult one to critique although in hindsight it is easy to say what should or might have happened if.

When I first read about this battle many years ago and had the privilege of meeting Major General Frost in Arnhem in the 1960s I asked many of the questions Colonel Powell seeks to answer in his narrative. He tells the heroic tale of the battles along "Hells Highway" giving the reader a good understanding of why Arnhem could not be held.It was not bad intelligence, it was not lack of support, it was not lack of training, it was not lack of co-ordination: it appears it was in fact the very essence of the operation-speed. It is remarkable given the frustration of planners and soldiers alike that such a vast operation was organised in so short a time. Because of that many things were overlooked of necessity because it was a case of urgent priority to achieve the objective. Whilst the strategic objective was not fully achieved most of the tactical objectives were.

In war risks have to be taken and everyone who fought in those battles is the judge of whether it was worth it. Those who fought in Arnhem and Oosterbeek and along that highway and all those heroes of the 101 and 82 US Divisions gave the verdict of the campaign many with their lives. All one can say in the words of that memorial in Oosterbeek: "Their Name Liveth For Evermore"
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