A Bridge too Far
Winning and losing is not our concern - living and dying... is.
The film begins with a description of the state of affairs five years into the war. D-Day had come and gone and the allies were bogged down by overextended supply lines. Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower had to decide between General Patton (U.S.) and Field Marshal Montgomery (UK), each of whom had competing plans for ending the war quickly. Under political pressure, Eisenhower chose Montgomery's operation market garden.
In September, 1944, the Allies are advancing but have paused in Belgium. A Dutch family observes the German withdrawal toward the Fatherland and awaits the impending arrival of Allied forces. Fieldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt arrives in the Netherlands and discovers he has few resources in men or equipment and morale is very poor. A local teenager keeps careful notes of German troops evacuating through his town, information he will later pass on to the Dutch resistance.
Operation Market Garden envisions 35,000 men being flown 300 miles from air bases in England and being dropped as much as 64 miles behind enemy lines in the Netherlands, laying a "carpet of airborne troops" to seize key river bridges with "thunderclap surprise" and hold them until they can be taken over by allied mechanized units. Arnhem's bridge, the bridge which turns out to be "too far", crosses the mighty Rhine River, and seizure of it will allow vast Allied armies to swing around Germany's main defences.
Gene Hackman plays a Polish General (Sosabowski) who remains silent during the Market Garden command briefing, after which he voices his deep doubts that the plan can work. He is one of two dissident voices that are shuttled aside but correctly forecast defeat. American command worries about parachuting in daylight but note it is a "no moon period" anyway meaning a night drop would be difficult.
The Dutch teenager manages to pass through German lines and discover that German Field Marshal Waler Model is at the German command HQ, an important bit of information for the underground because Model is a prominent figure and is always accompanied by crack German troops.
A young British intelligence officer, in the film called Major Fuller, asks British command to allow another low level recon mission of the landing zone. Later, learning a German Panzer tank division might be near the drop zone, the intelligence officer brings the reconnaissance photos to the British commander and it is quite clear Panzers are present at Arnhem. The British commander speculates the tanks are not operative and dismisses the photos, also ignoring the reports from the Dutch underground. Major Fuller's concerns are brushed off and he is actually removed from duty by a British doctor whose diagnosis is that the officer is too stressed to perform his duties.
British commanders planning the drop note they are badly short of transport aircraft and the area near Arnhem is ill-suited for a landing. They will have to land in an open area eight miles from the bridge. British technical support preparing the portable radios for the mission note they are not likely to work for the long distance from the drop zone to Arnhem bridge. As with most others with doubts about the mission, they choose not to rock the boat and do not convey their concerns up the chain of command.
At the ground forces briefing, the overall plan is outlined, laying out the bridges that will be taken by the paratroopers, held and then secured by ground forces. Speed is the vital factor. Arnhem must be reached within 2-3 days. It is the crucial bridge, the last means of escape for the German forces in the Netherlands and an excellent route to Germany for Allied forces who hope to finish the War by Christmas. There is only a single highway (much of it elevated) linking the various key bridges.
The initial phases of Market Garden go as planned but German resistance begins slowing XXX Corps' progress immediately. The advance is also curtailed by the narrow highway. A bridge near Eindhoven is blown, and it takes many hours to bring up bridging equipment. In Nijmegen, part of the 82nd Airborne is forced to perform a dangerous river crossing in flimsy canvas-and-wood assault boats. British paratroopers do take and occupy parts of Arnhem in some exciting battle scenes, but can only hold so long. British Armor continues to fight its way up the corridor, but is hopelessly delayed by events. After days of house-to-house fighting in Arnhem, paratroops versus crack SS infantry and Panzers, the paras are either captured or forced to withdraw. Operation Market Garden has failed.
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