On Saturday the 17th of September 2016 the most important operation of World War II (WWII) for the Netherlands was commemorated. Exactly 72 years ago, in 1944, Operation Market Garden was carried out. It was the major allied offensive with the intent to conquer the most important bridges over the main rivers Maas, Waal and Rhine. The operation's goal was to free the southern parts of the Netherlands from the German occupation.

How it went

The operation started on the 17th of September 1944. American, British and Polish soldiers from the 101st and 82nd American Airborne Division, 1st British Airborne Division and 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade took part. From England 1,073 transportaircraft, mainly American and British Dakotas, flew to Belgium and the Netherlands to drop paratroopers. The air offensive was known by the codename Market. The ground offensive that followed was codenamed Garden. The overall goal was to take over all main bridges between Eindhoven and Arnhem, forming a long corridor which should divide German ground forces and prevent them from further provision. Especially because of the tight schedule - the ground forces had to be near Arnhem within 2 days - there were objections to the plan. Supreme Commander Eisenhower originally found the plan too risky, but eventually agreed. A remarkable statement came from the British commander of the airborne troops, General Browning: "I think we could go a bridge too far."

At first some Dutch cities, such as Eindhoven, were freed. However, the Germans offered heavy resistance, resulting that the Rhine bridge couldn't be taken by the allies during the Battle of Arnhem. Also the fact that a large part of the Polish military equipment was lost because it landed in between the fights, played a huge factor in the defeat at Arnhem. The German resistance became fiercer in the following days. On September 22nd the German Army broke the thin corridor at the village of Veghel. This proved to be the final blow for the entire operation.
Operation Market Garden had to make sure that WWII ended around Christmas 1944. The allied defeat however became 'a bridge too far', after the famous predictive words from Browning. Because Operation Market Garden failed, WWII lasted six months longer than intended and the Germans had the opportunity to perform the 'The battle of the Bulge' in the Belgian Ardennes.

Falcon Leap

Operation Marker Garden is commemorated every year in the Netherlands with several events, among them drops of paratroopers. Traditionally, the paratroopers are dropped in the Netherlands over the Ginkel Heath between Ede and Arnhem. To practice the drops and to get familiar with the terrains, the international exercise Falcon Leap was conducted on Thursday the 14th of September. The exercise was led by the Eindhoven Air Base (AB) stationed 336 Squadron of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF).Transport aircraft of the German Air Force (GAF), United States Air Force (USAF) and Polish Air Force (PolAF) participated, accompanied by two RNLAF C-130s.

Commemoration drops

The commemoration drops on the 17th of September were planned to be carried out during two waves. Around 09.00 o'clock the first wave started, followed by another in the afternoon around 14.00 o'clock. During flight the first drop had to be cancelled due to low clouds above the dropping zone. The afternoon drop was carried out as planned.
In total seven aircraft were used, all flying from Eindhoven AB. Besides an historic ex US Army Air Force Dakota C-47, two GAF C-160Ds, two C-130s of the RNLAF, one Royal Air Force Hercules C4, one Belgian Air Component C-130H and one USAF C-130J-30, also the PolAF participated. One C-295M light transport aircraft, serving with the 3. sltr based at Kraków-Balice, flew in both waves. Paratroopers from the United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany participated. For the first time also Italian paratroopers. Well over 300 paratroopers were dropped, of which about 50 jumped from the Polish transport aircraft.

This article was also published in Lotnictwo Aviation International 11/2016. We would like to thank Theo Rombout, Arnoud Schoor and Rob Hendriks for providing some photos and thereby supporting this article.