Operation Market Garden was the Allied attempt to sieze key river bridges in the Netherlands by airborne assault in September 1944, to allow the Allies to cross the River Rhine and attack Germany's industrial heartland in the Ruhr. British General Bernard Montgomery conceived the plan, and believed its success would end the Second World War by Christmas 1944.
Before an operation of this magnitude could be launched, aerial reconnaissance had to be undertaken to allow photographic interpreters to assess the strength of German defences at the target bridges, select suitable drop and landing zones for paratroops and gliders, study the planned route of the ground troops who were tasked to link-up with the airborne elements, and to identify enemy defences and order of battle in the surrounding area.
On 6 September 1944, photo-reconnaissance Spitfires of 541 Squadron, RAF, were tasked to carry out three low-level sorties over the bridges at Arnhem, Nijmegen and Grave, to collect imagery for use in the planning of Operation Comet, a smaller version of Market Garden employing only one airborne division. Comet was subsequently cancelled on 10 September and replaced by the much larger Market Garden operation.
This feature highlights some of the aerial reconnaissance images taken in the lead-up to the assault, and during the battle for the bridge at Arnhem.
On 17 September 1944, some 20,000 Allied airborne troops were dropped behind enemy lines, near to bridges over the rivers and canals in the Netherlands: the 101st US Airborne Division around Eindhoven, the 82nd US Airborne Division around Nijmegen and the 1st British Airborne Division around Arnhem. Simultaneously, Allied 2nd Army, with XXX Corps at its spearhead, began to advance northwards from Belgium with the objective of linking up with the airborne troops at each bridge and reaching Arnhem within four days.
German resistance to the advance of XXX Corps, and around the bridges, was stronger than anticipated. While US airborne troops had successfully captured their objectives, British airborne units had become separated and met heavy resistance in Arnhem, where they nevertheless held the north end of the road bridge.
In the face of tenacious German resistance, XXX Corps were unable to keep to the ambitious timetable set for them. On 21 September, the Germans recaptured the north end of the Arnhem bridge, while at Oosterbeek, west of the town, British and Polish troops held onto a pocket of ground until 24 September, when survivors were evacuated south, across the Rhine.