The allied troops, which landed in Normandy on June 6th 1944, subsequently advanced rapidly through France. In early September 1944, Brussels and Antwerp had already been liberated and it only took a very short time for the Allies to reach the Belgian-Dutch border. The U.S. commander-in-chief, Dwight Eisenhower, and the British field marshal, Bernard Montgomery, disagreed about how to continue the battle. Eisenhower wanted a broad frontal attack, while Montgomery preferred to advance towards the ďIJsselmeerĒ , through the Netherlands, in order to immediately occupy the Ruhr area.
After fierce discussions between these top soldiers, Montgomery got the approval to develop a plan of attack according to his own philosophy. He devised a bold, immense operation. Three American and British paratrooper divisions were to be dropped near the cities of Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem. They were to capture the bridges across river Maas, Waal and Lower Rhine and next give the ground forces access to the North German low lands. In this way, mid-September '44, Montgomery as well as Eisenhower saw an opportunity to achieve another decisive victory to the German army and to enforce the capitulation of the German Empire. This operation, called Market Garden, was planned to start on September 17th, 1944
Operation Market Garden did not meet the expectations. Of the 1st British Airborne Division paratroopers, only lieutenant colonel John Frost succeeded in penetrating into the northern approach of the bridge with about 600 men. Due to the heavy resistance, they did not manage to cross the Arnhem road bridge in order to reach the south bank of the river Rhine. On the 18th of September, the connection between the British main forces and their men was already broken at the bridge and all attempts to relieve Frost failed.
On the 20th of September, the British XXX Corps and the American paratrooper divisions captured the bridge at Nijmegen, from the province of Northern Brabant after a tough battle. However, all attempts by the ground forces to reach the Arnhem bridge failed. On September 21st, Frostís battalion was destroyed and the bridge was permanently in German hands. Meanwhile, the majority of the 1st British Airborne Division had rounded up near Oosterbeek, west of Arnhem. They had to defend themselves in an ever-smaller area and even the deployment of the 1st Polish Airborne Brigade could not stop the fierce German attacks. The vanguard of the XXX Corps had reached the south bank of the Rhine, but were not able to extrude the Germans from their positions in order to cross the river northward.
On the night of September 26th to 27th 1944, defensible paratroopers crawled to the Rhine to be transferred to the south bank by boats. At dawn of September 26th, the evacuation was discontinued, because heavy German fire made it impossible to pursue. Nevertheless, about 2200 British paratroopers returned safely to the liberated area on the south bank of the Rhine. Nearly 8,000 of the approximately 10,000 troops of the 1st British Airborne Division who participated in Operation Market Garden, remained in Oosterbeek. Next to the dead and wounded, approximately 6600 prisoners of war formed part of those who remained. Approximately 300 of those who were left behind, were lucky to escape from German captivity. They sought refuge in the forests around Arnhem and Oosterbeek.