TBTD – Where was XXX Corps?

Today in Throwback Thursday (Seb: late, yep) it is the British XXX Corps that took part in Operation Market Garden in September 1944. In this complex and highly ambitious operation the XXX Corps was to take a large role in supporting the British and American paratroopers taking the bridges crossing the rivers; mainly with tanks. However, due to a long series of events, XXX Corps could not reach its goal and the operation failed. Was XXX Corps solely responsible for this failure or was it due to other factors? Let’s find out.

Why Market Garden?

Before digging into deeper detail of the events of Market Garden, one must understand why this operation was planned.

After the successful establishment of getting a foothold on the European mainland it was Montgomery’s objective to get a bridgehead into Nazi-held territories. One of the main objectives was to secure the Allied flank in France/Belgium (Eisenhower’s benefit) but more importantly was the entering of Germany and bypassing the heavily fortified Siegfried line (Montgomery’s reasoning).

D-Day was mostly an American operation (planning-wise) and Montgomery felt the need to come up with a plan which the British were the architects of. The plan was to quickly secure all of the bridges crossing the main rivers in Holland, whereby the Germans had no chance to blow them up and slow down the advance. Once the advantage was seized, the Allies were going to be hard to stop. All bridges were to be taken by paratroopers, more or less all at once, followed by support in the rear by XXX Corps, the VIII Corps and the XII Corps. The paratroopers and tanks from the rear were to completely ignore what was happening on their flanks; this was a job for VIII and XII.

Eisenhower was not convinced, but Montgomery had everything worked out in detail and after some time they had concluded that both their goals could be reached by the execution of the same plan: Market Garden.

XXX Corps – Previous Experience

XXX Corps was a battle hardened unit that had fought successfully against Rommel in North Africa at the peak of the conflict, even though badly bruised and battered. It was then forced to retreat and play a role in the background for the rest of the North African campaign.

Insigne van het Britse 30e Legerkorps
The XXX Corps insignia

Later when Sicily was invaded; XXX Corps spearheaded the left flank. Initial successes were booked, but progress slowed down after the hilly terrain made it hard to maneuver and Germans made good use of the terrain. The Germans then retreated to the mainland; XXX Corps was sent back to England to refit and train for D-Day.

At D-Day the Corps landed on Gold Beach and reached its goals within the first day. Slowly progressing after that, XXX Corps was to exploit a gap in the German lines along with the 7th Armored Division “Desert Rats”. Since the execution of the plan to pincer and surround the Germans around Villers-Bocage was sloppy, the commander of XXX Corps was fired; Lt-General Horrocks was to replace him. The performance of the Corps improved after that.

The neverending Causeway

As Market Garden had started, the first two days were going fairly well. XXX Corps was to advance from the South to support the 101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles). Eindhoven was taken with relative ease and XXX Corps could advance north unto Son (see map). The bridge at Son was however no longer intact and the engineers had to construct an artificial bridge.

More problems started to arise however, as the causeway dubbed “Hell’s Highway” was often no more than an actual road. The surrounding ground and fields were so soggy, that the Shermans and Fireflies would often beach themselves on their bellies. They were therefore forced to only use the roads, making the advance prone to traffic jams.

Another problem of Montgomery’s plan to not pay attention to the flanks was that German forces could often cut the Causeway with guerilla tactics; wait for the tanks to pass, recapture the cross roads. Any reinforcements would then have to win the causeway for itself again.

On the third day of the attack the Corps was able to cross the bridge at Son. More bridges were secured between Son and Veghel with the help of American paratroopers. An additional bridge was built by American engineers after it was determined the original bridge was not strong enough for tanks; the bridge was already finished when XXX Corps arrived, giving some breathing space. XXX Corps was able to link up with the 82nd Airborne at Grave. By this point the attack was still on schedule.

But, now real trouble started as one bridge; allowing quicker access to Nijmegen; had been damaged in the battle between 82nd Airborne “All American” and the Germans. A train bridge had to be used as an alternative; the road bridge still firmly in German hands. The Nijmegen bridge attack was bogged down due to strong German defensive positions with 88mm guns, small artillery and infantry.

The next morning the paratroopers, supported by XXX Corps, successfully attacked the Nijmegen road bridge, turning the tide for the better. However, a small village named Mook, near Nijmegen was growing as a stronghold for the Germans, that had a good tactical position to be able to threaten the railway bridge again. Furthermore, down south at Son a German armored unit punched through the Causeway, slowing down reinforcements in the back.

XXX Corps’ commander Horrocks decided to wait for his infantry to arrive in order to finally secure the causeway and to hold Nijmegen before being able to secure Arnhem. There was however an issue that the entire Corps was stretched out over 80 kilometers of road. The infantry was more than 10 kilometers away. This took time, as there was only one free road from Grave to Nijmegen.

XXX Corps Cromwell tanks crossing the Nijmegen road bridge

A Bridge too far

The delay of XXX Corps meant that the 1st British Airborne division was more or less alone in the battle of Arnhem. Without going in too much detail, the attack on the Arnhem bridge was plagued with misfortune. At first the plans had leaked after a British officer had taken the plans of Market Garden with him and perished on the battlefield. The 82nd Airborne had stalled XXX Corps, a German SS Panzerdivision was on training in the surrounding area (this was not known with general staff), bad weather delayed planned reinforcements (Polish airborne division), supplies were dropped behind German lines et cetera.

The British paratroopers could not hold out for long and one of the largest defeats in British WWII warfare was a fact.

British POWs

Responsibility and Effect

Market Garden was a failure in the end, because not all bridges could be obtained and the diversion attack plan by Montgomery could not be performed. Eisenhower was slightly more optimistic as the important supply harbor of Antwerp was now covered. Yet the question arises, was XXX Corps responsible for the failure of this plan?

It is safe to say that the plan was too ambitious for the role that XXX Corps was assigned with by the general staff (read: Montgomery). The commander of XXX Corps Horrocks had proven himself in the latter part of the Normandy campaign and is generally seen as an adequate leader. Yet, the plan of ignoring the flanks, not knowing the terrain and being forced to stretch the whole corps over 80 kilometers meant that the advance was too time consuming in order to be effective. Therefore the error lies with the planners rather than the executives.

The constant breaching of the Causeway by German counter attackers meant XXX Corps had to permanently act as a fire brigade, extinguishing the German attacks before focusing on the real objective: getting the bridges in one piece and supporting the paratroopers.

The failure of Market Garden gave the Germans a bit of breathing space before they decided to attack in the Ardennes later that year with the goal of cutting off resupply lines of Antwerp. The delay meant the war was going to drag well on into 1945.

6 thoughts on “TBTD – Where was XXX Corps?

  1. Frankly, if Matt Ridgway rather than Miles Browning had been given the planning responsibility he probably would have recommended that Market-Garden be aborted; he was quite ruthless about gutting plans to have battles for the sake of having a battle. Still, the paratrooper community wanted to show their stuff and Monty was under great pressure to give the Brits an operationally-relevant victory. If you really want to blame someone in particular blame Churchill.

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  2. Before Market Garden, the Allies under Ike were advancing through France on a broad front. This was slowdr going, but ensured that they would sweep through without creating any dangerous salients that could be cutoff by counterattacking Germans. While Patton and much of the US forces advanced west, and the Allies that landed in southern France joined up with them, pushing north as well as (with limited success) east towards Italy, the Brits and Canadians had the task of advancing north, towards the Lowlands. This was even slower going with the flooded fields and difficult terrain.
    Market Garden was far too ambitious, and while it could have shortened the war had it succeeded, it was basically putting all the eggs in one basket. And sadly the egg that did crack was 1st Airborne at Arnhem.

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  3. “D-Day was mostly an American operation (planning-wise)” ?
    The original plan put together in March 1943 was by COSSAC a joint British & American team and commanded by Brigadier Freddie Morgan (British) who was chief of staff to the supreme allied commander (who didn’t actually exist at this time).

    Nice article, good read. But a bit more attention to detail can add that extra layer of polish to a piece

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      1. No problem, it is nit-picking but it is meant in a positive way. Please keep doing what your doing and I look forward to future articles from you. I think TAP in general is moving in a positive direction 🙂

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