Montgomery and Eisenhower had long been debating the merits of a broad front attack strategy versus concentrating power in one area and punching through German lines.
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Eisenhower favoured the former, and Montgomery the latter. However, in late , logistic problems meant that the former was temporarily out of the question.
Montgomery conceived Operation Market Garden to implement a narrow front strategy. The idea was to land airborne forces in the Netherlands to take vital bridges over the country's various rivers. Armoured formation would then relieve the airborne forces and advance quickly into Germany.
American paratroops were dropped at intermediate points north of Allied lines, with the British 1st Airborne Division and Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade at the tip of the salient at Arnhem. All the bridges were captured on the 1st day except the Nijmegen bridge, which caused a near two day delay, the plan then began to run into serious trouble.
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Being unable to progress past Nijmegen, congestion along the road emerged. The Germans reacted quickly to attack the road from both sides. Consequently, XXX Corps had to seize the bridge which the US 82nd paratroopers failed to do, which took a great deal longer than expected to progress through to Arnhem.
The 1st Airborne Division held the Arnhem bridge for four days , and had a large force over the river for a total of nine days, before finally withdrawing in a daring night escape back over the Rhine.
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Of the more than 10, men who flew into the Arnhem operation, only about 2, returned. In the aftermath of the attack, the salient's flanks were expanded to complete the closing up to the Rhine in that section of the front. Following Market Garden, the great port of Antwerp had been captured.
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However, it lay at the end of a long river estuary, and so it could not be used until its approaches were clear. The southern bank of the Scheldt was cleared by Canadian and Polish forces relatively quickly, but the thorny problem of the island of Walcheren remained. Walcheren guarded the northern approaches to Antwerp and thus had to be stormed.
The dikes and dunes were bombed at three locations, Westkapelle , Veere and Flushing , in order to inundate the island. In the last great amphibious operation of the war in Europe, British Commandos and Canadian troops captured the island in the late autumn of , clearing the way for Antwerp to be opened and for the easement of the critical logistical problems the Allies were suffering.
Military history of the United Kingdom during World War II
After December , the strategy was to complete the conquest of the Rhineland and prepare to break into Germany proper en masse. However, what happened next completely caught the Allied staffs by surprise.
The Germans launched their last great offensive in December, resulting in the Battle of the Bulge. In an attempt to repeat their success, German forces were launched through the Ardennes. Again they encountered weak forces holding the front, as the American formations there were either new to the war or exhausted units on a quiet sector of the front rehabilitating. There were however also some important differences to which resulted in the German offensive ultimately failing. They were facing enormously strong Allied airpower unlike in when they had ruled the skies.
The opening of the offensive was timed for a spell of bad weather, aimed at removing the threat of the Allied airpower, but the weather cleared again relatively soon. Most of the forces that took part in the Battle of the Bulge were American.
Some great feats of staff work resulted in the Third Army and Ninth Army , essentially altering their facing by ninety degrees to contain the salient. However, the salient created by the German attack meant that First and Ninth Armies were cut off from 12th Army Group Headquarters, so they were shifted to the command of 21st Army Group for the duration of the battle meaning the British army group had an important controlling role. By the end of January, the salient had effectively been reduced back to its former size, and the temporarily aborted mission of liberating the Rhineland recommenced.
The penultimate preliminary operation to close up to the Rhine in the British section was the clearing of the Roer Triangle codename Operation Blackcock. Following the reaching of the Roer, Second Army shifted to the mission of pinning German forces opposing it. By 5 March , the Canadian, British, and American forces had closed up to the Rhine in all but a small salient on their sectors of the front.
That salient was reduced by five days later. On 23 March, the operations to cross the Rhine in the north began. The British Second and U. Ninth Armies took the lead. Ninth Army, on the south flank, took part in the great encirclement of German forces in the Ruhr. First Army on the right crossed the Rhine in early April and then swung left to liberate the north of the Netherlands. After the closing of the Ruhr pocket on that day, Ninth Army reverted to the command of 12th Army Group. On 15 April the British troops liberated Bergen-Belsen.
By 18 April, First Army had reached the coast in much of the Netherlands , isolating the German forces there. Second Army reached the Elbe the next day. The only moves in the Netherlands that the Canadian and Polish forces made for the remainder of the war were reducing a small amount of the coast of the IJsselmeer that had not been captured and liberating a small amount of territory around Groningen. Most of German Frisia also fell to Canadian and Polish forces.
British units reached the Baltic on 2 May, and then halted as they had reached the agreed line of meeting Soviet forces.
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The war came to an end on 7 May, and British forces reoriented to the task of occupying Germany itself. Action in this theatre officially ended on 9 September with the surrender of Japan. The outbreak of war in the Far East found the United Kingdom critically overstretched. British forces in the area were weak in almost all arms. The sinking of these ships was triply significant.
It represented the loss of the last Allied capital ships in the Pacific left after the Pearl Harbor disaster. The Prince of Wales and the Repulse were the only Allied modern or 'fast' battleships to be sunk in the entire war. It was the first time that a battleship had been sunk by enemy aircraft while underway at sea. Reverses in the air and on the ground soon followed. Japanese forces had naval superiority, and they used it to make outflanking amphibious landings as they advanced down the Malayan peninsula towards Singapore.
Japanese assaults from the ground and air soon made the forward landing grounds that much of the RAF's only real hope of defending Singapore from the air rested upon untenable. The RAF took a toll of Japanese forces, but there were never enough aircraft to do anything more than delay the Japanese offensive. Indian , British, and Australian army forces in Malaya were larger in numbers than the other services.
But they were equally ill-prepared and ill-led. They were committed in numbers both too small and too poorly positioned to counter the Japanese tactic of outflanking strongpoints through the jungle. Over a period of several weeks, the Allied ground forces steadily gave ground. In early , Singapore was critically unprepared for the assault that came. It had been neglected during the famine years for defence of the s.
It had then suffered during the war as British efforts were focused on defeating Germany and Italy. The colony was run by a Governor who did not want to "upset" the civilian population. Military neglect was exacerbated when he refused to allow defensive preparations before the Japanese arrived. Following Japanese landings on Singapore, intense fighting occurred over several days.
But the poorly led and increasingly disorganised Allied forces were steadily driven into a small pocket on the island. This was the largest surrender of personnel under British leadership in history. Many of the troops saw little or no action. The civilian population then suffered a brutal Japanese occupation.
Some aircraft escaped to Sumatra and Java , but those islands also fell to the Japanese within a short time. British forces were forced back to India and Ceylon.