Devil’s Birthday: The Bridges to Arnhem 1944 – Geoffrey Powell

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I read this book on Kindle and the number of small formatting errors in the text makes me believe that it is a scanned in document. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this practice it’s essential that somebody proof reads the version before it goes on sale. That way the integrity and clarity of the product remains unchanged. It won’t take away from what I’m about to say about the book but it would be nice to see publisher’s taking more care about their products on the digital market.

When I was about twelve my family went to Holland on holiday, specifically in the Gelderland region. Amongst the usual family days out spent riding bicycles, falling out of trees and exploring small towns; my dad insisted that we visit Oosterbeek. At twelve years old I didn’t really realise that Oosterbeek had any more significance than any other town we visited in Holland. That is until we got there. My dad pulled into the Arnhem-Oosterbeek cemetery and proceeded to drag us around grave by grave for several hours. Coach tours dropped in and out, each bringing a sudden ten minute outburst of furious and noisy remembrance. After a while one of the people that tended the graves came over and said how happy he was to see that some people spent more than a few moments wandering around. We were so lucky that this man knew so much and was happy to take time out to show us around and tell us so many stories about the people silent before us. I don’t tell many people but it’s probably my favourite moment from any holiday ever.

What’s this got to do with the book? Oosterbeek is a key location in the story of the failure of Operation Market Garden to bypass the Siegfried Line and get across the Rhine. Oosterbeek was the location that the British 1st Airborne division made their stand whilst waiting for relief before being withdrawn. It is a location that a large portion of this book centres around. As Powell lived through the failure at Arnhem he is best placed to give the reader a real sense of what it was like to live through it.

His book is a really solid overview of Operation Market Garden starting from its inception as a massively modified Operation Comet to the eventual withdrawal of the remnants of the British 1st Airborne division. He is unflinching in his analysis of some of the failings of Market Garden, especially the lack of trust between the British and the Dutch resistance groups. Powell sets out the information clearly and the events are easy to follow. I was especially happy to see that he had not neglected to comment on the situation of the American forces at the other objectives of Market Garden. Whilst he tells the reader about everything going on in the Arnhem area he didn’t forget to comment on the events that slowed down the advance on “Hell’s Highway.”

If I had one criticism of this book it would be that the author seems to give Monty the benefit of the doubt. Most of the criticism for the failure of the operation is deflected away from Monty and onto his subordinates or the supply situation in Europe. However, the author is a solider that fought during the operation and he is likely to have felt, as many did at the time, that Monty had done all he could to achieve success.

Overall Rating: 9 out of 10

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