Airmen of Arnhem...

 

... from Pen & Sword

 

Title: Airmen of Arnhem

Author: Martin W Bowman

Publisher: Pen and Sword

ISBN: 978-1-52674-611-5

 

September 2019 marked the 75th anniversary of the ill fated Operation Market Garden. This excellent book is another fine read from author Martin W Bowman. The story of the British airborne troops in Arnhem was very much the focus of the film 'A Bridge Too Far', though it doesn't ignore the role of 30 Corps and the armoured units such as Guards Armoured Division, plus the troops of both the US 101st and 82nd airborne divisions.
There have been a lot of books covering the history of Market Garden but this is the first I can recall which really concentrates on the work and in many cases the sacrifice of the RAF and USAAF aircrews, along with the glider pilots and those members of the RASC who worked as Despatchers on the multitude of resupply missions, many of them not familiar with flying. The book is split across 13 chapters, starting from the lead-in to the operation, and then both the British and American Lifts on the first day of the operation. There were a large number of troops and a lot of equipment to be flown in, so much of it was held over to a second day. These initial landings went well generally, and it was left until the subsequent days when many re-supply missions were flown in and which suffered much more from German Flak defences which they had put in place after the initial surprise of the early landings. It was in the later days when the Polish paratroopers were able to fly in, but not all went according to plan as weather conditions prevented them from flying. There are so many aspects to the story, including the various units involved, the different aircraft types that were used, the issues with locating the correct dropping zones as time went on and German troops took control of some. There was a lot of bravery with aircraft that did not manage to drop all their supplies in one go, and who bravely chose to go round and try to deliver the remaining panniers, only to suffer from flak so that numbers were brought down. The personal stories that are included illustrate those events quite graphically, and the bravery shown by all involved.
The planning for the operation meant that aircraft along with gliders met at assembly areas and then flew designated routes to their target areas. Interesting also to read how air-sea rescue units were prepositioned across the Channel, so any gliders which came down in the sea suffered relatively few casualties as troops and crews were swiftly picked out of the water and returned safely to the UK. The sheer number of aircraft involved, several thousand, and over 1000 gliders, the sight and sound of those flights must have been quite staggering to see and a volume of aircraft in the air together that we simply can't see today. Add the fighter protection provided for all these transports and there was so much involved beyond the ground battle itself. While aircraft were shot down, many others got back home but with considerable damage which needed to be repaired, where possible.
There are a couple of sets of archive photos included and the level of detail within the text, especially with the individual stories of pilots and aircrew and their experiences which make good reading, and for many of them, what I think is an appropriate memorial to the sacrifice that many of them made in their dedication to get their cargo delivered. If you have an interest in Market Garden, then I think this is one you should read.

Thanks to Pen and Sword for this review copy.

Robin