Open Eyes and Closed Minds:
The Use of Intelligence for Operation Market-Garden.
In September 1944, on the heels of a seemingly demoralized, broken and retreating German Wehrmacht in northern France; with the Rhine River bridges tantalizingly close; Operation Market-Garden was conceived and executed as a bold, lightning strike designed to facilitate the capture of the Ruhr, and end the war within four months. It was also seen as an opportunity for Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, stung after the failure of Operation Goodwood at Caen, to regain his reputation and gain the publicity limelight over his principal American rival for newspaper headlines: George S. Patton. Since D-Day, the Allies' airborne units had sat idle in England, and were nominally the theater reserve. But Allied planners were anxiously seeking ways to employ these highly trained and now veteran units. They had become literally "coins burning holes in the Allied Command's pockets." The operation was designed to utilize three airborne divisions (US
82d and 101st, the British 1st) and the Polish Parachute Brigade the newly created First Allied Airborne Army, to seize key terrain along a land corridor through Holland from the Meuse-Escaut canal, through Eindhoven, Nijmegen, and Arnhem. The British Armored Corps, spearhead for the British Second Army, would attack through this corridor and seize a bridgehead over the Rhine River.
Allied commanders (and some of their intelligence staff) believed that German units in the Market-Garden Area of Operations (AO) were disorganized and incapable of putting up an effective resistance. As events bore out, the opposite was true. The primary units of the II SS Panzer Corps: the 9th and 10th SS Panzer divisions, were ordered to the Venlo-Arnhem area by Field Marshal Model (then Commander of the German Western Front, having succeeded Erwin Rommel) on 3 September 1944. The presence of these crack German divisions (understrength though they were); refitting and rearming after the battle of Normandy, more than any other factor, contributed to the virtual destruction of the British 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem and the strategic failure of Market-Garden. What role did intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination play in the operational planning? How were Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), Human Intelligence (HUMINT), and Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) integrated into the Allied Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB)? What follows is an examination of the use of intelligence in preparation for one of the most dramatic combined arms operations of World War Two.
The rapid German withdrawal to defensive positions behind the Meuse-Escaut Canal made collection and analysis a difficult problem for the British Second Army, which had responsibility for this sector. However, information on the situation in the Market-Garden target area was available through several sources. At this point in the war, ULTRA had been operational since the spring of 1940. The information provided by the ENIGMA machine and the decryption staff at Bleckley House was the best source of high grade SIGINT during the war in Europe. An ULTRA decrypt on 5 September specifically mentioned that the 9th and 10th Panzer along with two other Panzer divisions of the II SS Panzer Corps (2d and 116th) were ordered to the Venlo-Arnhem area to rest and refit. However, the British 21st Army intelligence summary (INTSUM) for 12 September placed the 2d and the 116th Panzer in front of the US Seventh Army. The INTSUM did not indicate that the 9th and 10th Panzer would constitute a serious threat to Market-Garden.
As planning for the operation continued, (having begun on 10 September) XXX Corps G2 echoed this sentiment. Low grade SIGINT was provided by DF/intercept vans operating along the 21st Army Group front. Their only contributions though, were DF bearings on unit callsigns, which could confirm, but not deny the & presence of any particular unit. If the picture provided by SIGINT seemed contradictory and confusing, the one painted by HUMINT was even more so.
Dutch Resistance groups (as well as some of the hastily trained and infiltrated Allied espionage groups) were widely disparate, mostly ill equipped and ill trained, though highly motivated, to conduct quality missions. The intelligence provided by these groups was difficult enough to get out, (due to the effectiveness of German DF operations) it was spotty and sometimes exaggerated enemy composition and disposition. However, as operational planning continued, disconcerting and coherent reports about the 9th and 10th Panzer were coming in on a regular basis. The information usually came through the British 2d Army via Resistance line crossers and Dutch liaison officers working with the Allied First Airborne Corps (subordinate to the First Allied Airborne Army). An unspecified 2d Army INTSUM dated 7 September, (origin of the information unknown) stated that "Dutch Resistance sources report that battered panzer formations have been sent to Holland to refit, and mention Eindhoven and Nijmegen as the reception areas."
The Supreme Allied Headquarters Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) weekly INTSUM for the week ending 16 September 1944 stated that these units were the 9th and probably the 10th Panzer Divisions. The summary also stated that they were being equipped with new tanks from a depot in nearby Cleve, Germany. This INTSUM was produced by Major General Kenneth Strong, the SHAEF G2 and his staff. The G2 analysts had combed through the voluminous, contradictory, and often vague SIGINT and HUMINT reports looking for the missing panzer divisions. They finally concluded, on the basis of reports from Arnhem's Dutch Underground intelligence chief, Henri Knap, which confirmed the ULTRA reports; the location and activity of the II SS Panzer Corps. Although Strong and his staff could not speculate on the panzers strength and fighting ability, General Strong did inform Eisenhower's chief of staff that they were being resupplied with new tanks. Strong's intelligence sufficiently alarmed Lieutenant General (LTG) Walter Bedell Smith, that he personally visited Montgomery (commanding the 21st Army Group), but that the information was "ridiculed". Smith's objections to the operation based on the enemy situation were "waved aside.”
General Smith was not the only man disturbed by ULTRA and Resistance reports of armor in the target area. Major Brian Urquhart, the twenty-five year old intelligence chief on LTG Roy Browning's I Airborne Corps staff, was sufficiently alarmed to request that air reconnaissance be flown over the Arnhem area on 12 September, five days prior to D-Day. However, because of bad weather, sorties employing a total of eight aircraft were only flown on 12 and 16 September. Of the results of these flights though, there is a marked discrepancy. While the official post-war narrative says that "nothing significant" was observed; Major Urquhart recalled that five oblique angle pictures showed "the unmistakable presence of German armor" in the Arnhem area.
This, however, did not impress General Browning, who had operational command of Market-Garden. Of all of the available information, the high grade SIGINT provided by ULTRA should have been the most convincing. This information, provided to and ignored by SHAEF and the 21st Army Group, specifically mentioned the presence of the 9th and 10th Panzer at Arnhem. Intelligence dissemination had to filter through several levels of command, not just down the chain, but across Allied intelligence channels.
At the highest level, the SHAEF G2 provided information to the 21st Army Group, through the 2d Army (General Dempsey) to XXX Corps (LTG Horrocks) which conducted the armored drive on Arnhem. For the airborne operation, information came through SHAEF to the First Allied Airborne Army (LTG Brereton, seconded by LTG Browning) down to the three subordinate airborne divisions. The problem with intelligence operations during the Market-Garden planning was not so much with dissemination as it was with professional opinion between the different G2 staffs. The 21st Army Group was receiving ULTRA decrypts from SHAEF, and from the lower level, Enemy Prisoner of War (EPW) and SIGINT DF reports from subordinate units, as well as Resistance reports from Dempsey's 2d Army G2. However, the 21st Army Group did not agree with intelligence reports from higher or lower echelon on the composition and disposition of armor units in the target area. Down the dissemination chain, it appears that intelligence information down to the regimental level was at least coherent with the SHAEF intelligence summaries.
The 504th PIR, 82d Airborne Division intelligence annex to the regimental operations order, dated 12 September, 1944 reads in part: "There is no doubt that the enemy has made a remarkable recovery within the last few days. A captured document indicates that the degree of control exercised over the re-grouping and collecting of the apparently scattered remnants of a beaten army were little short of remarkable. Furthermore, the fighting capacity of the new Battle Groups formed from the remnants of battered divisions seems unimpaired." This in itself presents a clear enough statement that the Germans command and control, logistical and fighting ) abilities were not to be underestimated. As John English perceptively concludes (even if it is an unpopular conclusion) that man for man, the German soldier outfought his British and American counterparts, because German soldiers were trained to exercise a high level of individual tactical initiative. They were also able to fight on a logistical shoestring without a lot of supervision, detailed orders, and the micromanagement common to the Allied armies.
At least one commander, who had previous experience against the German Army, did not underestimate his foe. Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski (commanding the Polish Brigade) repeatedly asked the British planning staff: "The Germans what will the Germans be doing while all of this is going on?" He felt that the planners were not bothering to factor in German resistance to the appearance of Allied paratroopers strategically flanking them on the Lower Rhine.
Further on, in regards to the presence of German armor in the AO, the annex says: "one of the broken Panzer divisions has been sent back to the area north of Arnhem to rest and refit; this might produce some 50 tanks. We may therefore reckon that the forces from Rotterdam to the German frontier might comprise a Regt from 719 Div, a regt from 347 Div, remnants of 70 Div, a few mobile bns, some scraped up static troops and one Panzer division, much worse for wear." In the Nijmegen area itself, (the Division objective) the 504 S2 estimated 4000 SS soldiers, and puts total German strength at divisional size. Returning to the 9th and 10th Panzer divisions, the annex quotes SHAEF, as of 01 September, estimating the 9th at 3000 troops and the 10th at 2000. The TO&E strength of a Panzer division in World War II was 9000 troops. The estimate of 50 tanks in the Arnhem area approximates 5.8% of the standard 290 tanks per panzer division, was not far off the mark. What was not taken into account however, was that the soldiers crewing these tanks were some of the best in the Wehrmacht, and that panzer strength was to grow daily, because of superb German logistics.
All of this begs the question: What were actual committed and reinforcing forces in the Market-Garden AO? At parachute hour on 17 September, Field Marshal Model had four divisional battle groups along the Meuse-Escaut canal (Line of Departure and FLOT for XXX Corps). Committed through the airborne corridor were the 59th Infantry Division, the 9th SS Panzer with one company of 20 Mark V Panthers, and armored infantry regiment with 40 armored personnel carriers (APC) with heavy machine guns, one towed artillery battalion, two self-propelled assault gun batteries, and Hauptmann Paul Grabner's armored reconnaissance battalion. Total personnel strength: 6,000. The 10th SS Panzer was probably equipped with one armored infantry regiment, two artillery battalions, and one armored reconnaissance battalion. Total personnel strength: 3,500. The obvious point here is that while the tank count was close, the presence and number of APCs, assault gun batteries, and towed artillery units was discounted. This tipped the balance of combat power in favor of the Germans.
When Model began issuing deployment orders for reinforcements, he committed the 280th Assault Gun Brigade, the 107th Panzer Brigade, the 407th Landeschuetzen (Infantry) Division and a collection of training units: Division von Tettau, and the 16th Panzer Training Battalion; into sector to defeat the Allied operation. A German directive issued on 19 September committed the 1st, 2d, and 12th SS Panzer divisions into sector. The most significant commitment of reinforcements began on 24 September (D+7) with the delivery to II SS Panzer Corps of sixty Tiger tanks from the 506th Heavy Tank Battalion. The bulk of these (45) went (to the understrength 10th Panzer. In summation, while Allied intelligence collection assets complemented each other and were able to piece together a fairly coherent picture of German equipment strength, as of 01 September; that picture had completely changed as of 17 September. Intelligence analysts vastly underestimated the recuperative ability of the German logistical reinforcement system.
By July, August, and September 1944, German industrial productivity was at its wartime peak, and the shortened logistical chain from the Ruhr made the German soldiers almost lavishly supplied with ammunition. Additionally, while the presence of tanks was noted, that of APCs, SP gun batteries, and towed artillery was not taken into account in determining German fighting power. This is reflected in the 504 PIR intelligence annex where the emphasis is on tanks and troop strength. Aside from ADA units in the area, other units, specifically armored infantry regiments and SP gun batteries, are not even mentioned. The airborne troops, armed with only light machine guns and light anti-tank weapons were unevenly matched against the Germans, to say the least. This was laconically noted in the WSEG Staff Study Number 3: "Fewer tanks were encountered than had been predicted, but the overall coordinated strength was greater." The only advantage that the British airborne enjoyed was that of defending in the urban environment of Arnhem and the large suburban enclave of Oosterbeek. This actually gave them a certain degree of mobility against armored vehicles : operating in narrow confines with limited fields of fire.
What would have been the outcome had the intelligence red flag been waved enough to convince the operational commanders to change the concept of Market-Garden? Two options that were mentioned were: 1. LTG Bedell-Smith recommended dropping one more airborne division in addition to the three and one half (a Polish brigade) divisions the plan called for. 2. The other plan recommended shifting the airborne carpet in a more easterly direction towards Wesel, directly over the Rhine. Interviews with German generals later indicate that this was a weakly defended area. Despite our tendency to express strength and casualty figures in terms of ratios, percentages, and convenient color codes, the British 1st Airborne Division's losses remind us of the painful realities of miscalculation, underestimating a foe, and the inflated ego of a self-important commander: of the 9,000 British and Polish paratroopers who reached the north bank of the Rhine, fewer than 2,400 got out of the Oosterbeek perimeter. American paratrooper casualties were 3,500. Counting British ground troops, Market-Garden cost the Allies a total of 11,850 casualties.
Intelligence operations prior to Market-Garden stand as a reminder to all intelligence officers of our primary duty: We must paint the picture for our commanders as it is; not as we or they wish it to be. Estimating combat power is not merely the counting or estimating of numbers of heavy weapons systems. As Martin Van Creveld draws the conclusion in his comparison of the German and American armies during World War Two: fighting power is the mixture "of discipline and cohesion, morale and initiative, courage and toughness, the willingness to fight and the readiness, if necessary, to die." Intelligence analysis must also integrate the human factor; whether we are dealing with the Wehrmacht's fighting power in 1944, or the Iraqi will to fight in 1990; the mission remains the same. Commanders and decision makers must also be willing to listen to a professional, informed opinion. The military history of intelligence operations and analysis offers lessons enough for those willing to learn.
Chester Wilmot, The Struggle for Europe, (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1952) p. 488.
Cornelius Ryan, A Bridge Too Far, (New York: Simon and Schuster Inc, 1974) p. 157.
Alexander McKee, The Race for the Rhine River Bridges, (New York: Stein and Day, 1971) p. 115.
Martin Van Creveld, Fighting Power; German and US Army Performance, 1939-1945, (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1982)p. 170.
Charles B. MacDonald, The Siegfried Line Campaign, U.S. Army in World War Two (Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History). Hinsley, p. 385,20. David
Daivd Irving, The War Between the Generals, (New York: Congdon and Weed Inc., 1983) p. 281. 21. Bauer, p. 74.
504 PIR Annex (Intelligence), 82d Airborne Division, dtd 15 September 1944.
Samuel W. Mitcham Jr., Rommel's Desert War, (New York: Stein and Day, 1982) p. 14
Erwin Rommel, The Rommel Papers, (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1953) p. 427.
Information compiled from British Intelligence and The Siegfried Line Campaign.
Geoffrey Powell, The Devil's Birthday, (New York: Franklin Watts, 1985) p. 25.
WSEG Staff Study Number 3, Enclosure H, Intelligence, dated 20 Feb 1951, titled "A Historical study of some World War II Airborne Operations. On file at the 82d Airborne Division Museum, Fort Bragg, NC.