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Crossing the Rhine : Breaking into Nazi Germany 1944 and 1945--The Greatest Airborne Battles in History
From one of the world's leading military historians comes a thrilling and richly detailed account of the two most critical offensives in World War II's western theater after D-Day-- the Allied airborne assaults on the Rhine
In September 1944, with the Allies still celebrating their success at Normandy and eager to finish the job, thirty-five thousand U.S. and British troops parachuted into Nazi territory in the Netherlands. The controversial offensive, code named "Operation Market Garden," was conceived by British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery to secure the lower Rhine--Germany's last great natural barrier in the west--and passage to Berlin. Eisenhower approved the plan over a chorus of complaints by General George Patton and other U.S. officers.
Allied soldiers outnumbered Germans by two to one, but they were poorly armed against German Panzer tanks and suffered devastating casualties. After nine days of intense fighting, they were forced to retreat, which opened up their flank to the Germans, who counterattacked at the Battle of the Bulge. Several months later, in March 1945, Montgomery orchestrated another airborne attack of the Rhine, where soldiers were fighting around the town of Wesel in Germany. This time they won and began their march into the heart of the Third Reich.
Lloyd Clark is one of the premier military historians of his generation, and his new book uses original research to chronicle both battles--examining them in relation to one another and in the larger context of the war--to show how the Allies' earlier audacity led to their later success. He argues that, contrary to popular opinion, these operations were the right offensives at the right times for the right reasons. He relates the events leading up to combat: the intense power struggle between American and British generals, the extensive training of airborne soldiers, and the growing disillusionment of German troops. And he uses stirring personal accounts from soldiers on both sides of the battles to put readers directly in the line of fire.
Ideal for readers of Rick Atkinson and James Bradley, Crossing the Rhine moves at a fast pace, delivers an innovative interpretation of the past, and forces us to ask ourselves just what it takes--in blood spilt, in lives lost--to win in war.
Two battles anchor this narrative of Allied efforts to cross the Rhine at WWII's climax. The first is the famous Operation Market-Garden, during which British paratroopers seized a Rhine bridge and were virtually wiped out by German counterattacks. The second is Operation Plunder-Varsity, a set piece crossing by a huge Allied force, including a superfluous airborne attack, that bulldozed through flimsy German defenses in the war's closing days. Although Plunder-Varsity lacked Market-Garden's drama, British military historian Clark (Anzio) tells both sagas well, including planning meetings, harrowing parachute descents and foxhole firefights; he sets the battles in the context of the bitter strategic debates between British and American generals. Less convincing is his rehabilitation of British general Bernard Montgomery's oft-criticized handling of the engagements. Clark describes Market-Garden as both strategically and operationally sound and, contradictorily, as a plan too flawed to be a success. His appreciation of Plunder-Varsity--both an outrageous success and a conservative operation against a terminally weak enemy--is similarly halfhearted. But the courage and resourcefulness of ordinary soldiers, though not of their commander, comes through in this vivid war story. Maps. (Nov.)
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October 31, 2008
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Excerpt from Crossing the Rhine by Lloyd Clark
Thousands of faces--American, Canadian, British, and German--stared skyward, aghast at the staggering size of the airlift. Watching from a hilltop behind Xanten, Winston Churchill yelled "They're here!" to Generals Eisenhower and Simpson and Field Marshals Alan Brooke and Montgomery. The small party had climbed to the exposed spot where a picnic table, chairs, and a basket of food and drink awaited them. Churchill, dressed in the uniform of his old regiment, the Fourth Hussars, had dismissed Montgomery's frugal offering of sandwiches and tea with the remark, "You may be happy with stale bread, but it takes a good deal more to satisfy me." He dispatched a corporal to retrieve cigars, Scotch whisky, and champagne from the trunk of his black 1939 Daimler. Churchill regaled the assembled commanders with how he would have fought the battle. "I should have liked to have deployed my men in red-coats on the plain down there and ordered them to charge," he announced, "but now my armies are too vast."
Shuffling from foot to foot, Montgomery griped to General Simpson, commander of the U.S. Ninth Army, that Churchill was "too much of a self-publicist." The irony of the field marshal's declaration was not lost on the perceptive American. Nevertheless, as the armada thundered overhead, Churchill removed the Havana from his lips and broke into a disarming smile, turning to congratulate Generals Lewis Brereton and Matthew Ridgway. The two men graciously accepted Churchill's plaudits but were acutely aware that there was still much that could go wrong.