Friday, August 29, 2014

The Battle of the Bridges by Frank Van Lunteren

Main characters:  The men of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment
Location:  Nijmegen, Holland
Time period: World War II, 1944
Genre:  History, Nonfiction, World War II

I do realize that it is strange to say that I have affection for Operation Market Garden, but I do.  When I was a history major in college, I did my senior research paper on the battle of Arnhem which was just one part of the Operation.  I did tons of reading on the battle and even had a Dutch classmate whose parents answered some of my questions in a series of letters.

Operation Market Garden was a huge operation, conceived of by Field Marshall Montgomery, that--if successful--could have allowed the Allies to invade Germany and end the war by Christmas of 1944.  It consisted of 3 parachute zones and a tank corps that tied them all together.  Unfortunately, it was too ambitious and failed at the farthest point--the bridge at Arnhem, which became know as the "bridge too far" of Cornelius Ryan's book.

As I said, my own research paper focused on the battle of Arnhem, so I was interested to read this book with its focus on the 504th regiment of the US 82nd Airborne Division.  This was the middle of the 3 zones and is notable for the daring river crossing that allowed the paratroopers to take the Nijmegen bridge by capturing both ends at once.  I had a broad understanding of this battle, and this book filled in details.  A lot of details.

It is obvious that Van Lunteren did extensive research for this book.  Besides the written record of military reports, there are also the memories of a number of the men who participated in this battle.  In addition to his own interviews, he had access to the interviews that Ryan conducted--information that did not make it in to Ryan's book.  There is even information that shows the German side of the experience.  I found it interesting that some of the stories cited here show the same events from different points of view.  One man may talk about how he witnessed a certain officer perform heroic acts, only to be cut down by enemy gunfire.  Right after would be another man's memory of how he helped to carry that officer back to behind the lines for medical aid.  This helps to tie together what might otherwise be a fragmented narrative.

Even after the supposed end of the Operation--the retreat and escape of the British from Arnhem--these men had to continue to hold their territory they had won.  The battle may have been over and done with in September, but the occupation lingered.  Fortunately, they had a lot of assistance from the Dutch citizens, who housed and fed them, and in some cases formed relationships that lasted for years after.

As much as I enjoyed this book, I do wonder how wide its appeal will be.  I won't be recommending it for my relatively small library.  But I could see it in large public libraries, academic libraries where there is a strong history program, and libraries with a specialized military collection.

I received this book as an e-ARC from NetGalley.

No comments: