Simon Forty and Leo Marriott
While the 6th Airborne Division had landed in France on D-Day and covered itself in glory, its counterpart, the 1st Airborne Division, had last seen action during an amphibious assault at Taranto on September 9, 1943, as part of the invasion of Italy. Returned to the UK in December 1943, it was held in reserve during the battle of Normandy and spent three months waiting for action, as plan after plan was proposed and then discarded, such was the speed of the Allied pursuit of the Germans. In September 1944, however, 1st Airborne played a leading role in Operation Market- the air component of Operation Market Garden, an audacious attempt by the Allies to bypass the Siegfried Line and advance into the Ruhr. It was to be 1st Airborne’s last action of the war. Encountering more resistance than expected, including II SS Panzer Corps, the division landed too far from Arnhem bridge, and fought bravely but in vain. Held up en route, particularly at Nijmegen, XXX Corps’ advance to Arnhem stuttered and ran late. After nine days of fighting, 1st Airborne had lost 8,000 men around Arnhem when the survivors retreated across the Lower Rhine to safety. During those nine days, however, they had created a legend: first as the small unit under Lt-Col John Frost held the “bridge too far” and then as the Oosterbeek perimeter came under sustained attack waiting for XXX Corps to arrive.
The Past & Present Series reconstructs historical battles by using photography, juxtaposing modern views with those of the past together with concise explanatory text. It shows how much infrastructure has remained and how much such as outfits, uniforms, and ephemera has changed, providing a coherent link between now and then.
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