The Devil’s Bridge: The German Victory at Arnhem, 1944

Book review

By Anthony Tucker-Jones; reviewed by Trevor James, published 8th July 2020

The Devil’s Bridge: The German Victory at Arnhem, 1944, Anthony Tucker-Jones, Osprey Publishing, 2020, 304p, £20-00. ISBN 978-1-4728-3986-2

The British view the events surrounding the bridge across the River Rhine at Arnhem in 1944 as an heroic attempt to accelerate the defeat of Nazi Germany, a view exaggerated in popular understanding by the film ‘A Bridge Too Far’. Its failure is rarely discussed. The people of Arnhem to this day still celebrate the Allied paratroopers for their bravery, visibly with the naming of the John Frost Bridge, the Airborne Square and the Airborne Memorial at the Oosterbeek War Cemetery.

This book does not question the bravery involved in this courageous manoeuvre nor the Dutch people’s continued appreciation of the Allied attempt to take this crucial bridge. What it does offer is an entirely different understanding of this major event. Using German records and recollections of those who withstood the Allied attack, we can begin to develop a different perspective on what happened at ‘Operation Market Garden’.

We discover that the Germans had been warned that the Allies might attempt an airborne landing at Arnhem but had basically disregarded these warnings because they did not believe that the Allies would over-reach themselves in this way. This was confirmed by the fact that one local commander was in the process of confidently installing himself into a new headquarters in a hotel to the west of Arnhem when his staff began to see the paratroopers landing nearby. We also learn that the German military strength was extremely stretched because Hitler was still prioritising the defence of Antwerp rather than worrying about the Rhine crossings.

It also becomes apparent that the Allies had been receiving briefings from the Dutch Resistance about the strength of the German defences on the Rhine, especially in respect of the bridge at Arnhem, but had disregarded such information because they believed that the Dutch Resistance had been severely infiltrated by the Nazis. As with most contexts like this, the situation was much more complex: there had been infiltration but the local information provided about the relative strength of the defences at Arnhem’s bridge was entirely accurate and wholly dependable.

We know that the Allied strategy did make unrealistic assumptions but this book actually reveals that weak German defences, over-stretched and under-resourced, managed, by co-ordinated leadership, to secure a short-term victory, against the tide of the Allied advance. This analysis provides a valuable insight into an event which is a signally important event in British military history.