Why did General Jim Gavin, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, not prioritise the capture of the bridge at Nijmegen as part of Operation Market Garden? James Holland and Al Murray examine the after event report to work out who decided the capture of the Groesbeek Heights was the priority.
Ep 11: Smoking Snakes
James Holland and Al Murray discuss the remarkable story of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force and their contribution to the war effort in Italy. Plus the boys debate the raid on Dieppe and the incompetence of German Intelligence.
I enjoyed this podcast (as I do them all – keep up the great work, chaps). It was particularly interesting as I’m researching an essay on why Market Garden failed for my MA (John Buckley is one of the tutors, in fact.)
My personal view is that Gavin screwed up. He had too much to do with too few forces, admittedly, but as the commander of the 82nd it was up to him to flag that up (as Taylor did successfully for 101st’s objectives). Moreover, while the loss of the Groesbeek Heights might (I emphasise: might) have led to the failure of Market Garden, failing to capture the bridge would most certainly do so. So, if nothing else, the Nijmegen bridge had to be captured. Browning is at fault for pushing for the Heights to be taken first (not to mention for ‘stealing’ 38 gliders to bring in his HQ!), but Gavin cannot be absolved. Failure to take the bridge immediately allowed the SS to reinforce the positions at the bridge which exacerbated the whole problem.
The thing I really don’t understand is: what actually was Gavin’s plan? He himself told his commanders the best way to take a bridge was from both ends – yet he didn’t do so for that massive bridge! What WAS his plan, then? Was it just to walk up with one battalion, hoping everything would be OK? If it wasn’t ‘OK’, what then was his plan?
That all said, we do need to remeber that Gavin, clearly a talented individual who went on to further greatness, was very young and relatively junior (a Brigadier General; I think he was actually promoted during the operation?) He was an experienced leader, but had only taken command of the 82nd one month earlier. He had also sustained a fairly bad injury during the drop (he discovered five years later that he’d fractured tow discs!) and I cannot help wondering if that did not help his judgement on the day (a bit like the question mark over Horrocks and the alleged ‘lack of drive’ from 30 Corps.) So, there may be some mitigation, but the simple fact is that Gavin failed to take a major objective which directly resulted in 30 Corps being held up for a considerable period of time. To accuse 30 Corps of failing to bring up the boats in good time misses the point – the bridge should have been taken; 30 Corps should not have needed boats.
Just my opinion! 🙂