GINKEL HEATH, Netherlands (AP) – Hundreds of parachutists floated out of clear blue skies in the eastern Netherlands Saturday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of a daring but ultimately unsuccessful World War II mission that Allied commanders hoped would bring a swift end to the global conflict.
Operation Market Garden was British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s ill-fated plan to drop some 35,000 paratroopers deep behind enemy lines in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands to capture and secure key roads and bridges, so that Allied forces massed in Belgium could pour into Germany’s industrial heartland and bring World War II to an end.
On Saturday, military aircraft flew low over Ginkel Heath and parachutists leaped out as thousands of spectators looked on, applauding as the soldiers walked past after landing.
The British 1st Airborne Division led the huge airborne assault in September 1944 that also involved the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division and 82nd Airborne Division, along with Poland’s 1st Independent Parachute Brigade.
But once on the ground, the Allied troops met with stubborn German resistance in and around the city of Arnhem and their advance stalled on a bridge there spanning the River Rhine in a battle immortalized in the book and Hollywood film “A Bridge Too Far.”
More Allied troops – about 11,500 – died in the nine days of Operation Market Garden than in the D-Day landings.
Britain’s Prince Charles and the former Dutch queen, Princess Beatrix, were among dignitaries who joined the ever-dwindling group of veterans who took part in the operation for the annual commemoration event