Never Snows in September
Never Snows in September
The German View of MARKET-GARDEN and the Battle of Arnhem 1944
Vivid testimonies poured in following a request by the British Staff College to provide German eye-witness reports for a staff battlefield tour of Arnhem and the MARKET-GARDEN battles of September 1944. A put out an appeal for information through my Bundeswehr colleagues. The human content and pathos that radiated from the replies was such I felt they had to be recorded in some way. British parachute veterans were amazed at the stories and confirmed that this was credible and potentially revisionary material.
I declined an offer to write an account for the Staff College feeling I ought to go it alone and heed the advice of a number of parachute veterans who said I should write a book. This I found daunting in the midst of a busy career. Nevertheless, a number of representative chapters were sent to twenty publishers whose addresses I had copied from well thumbed military library books. After ten not unexpected refusals I received my first three acceptances. It appeared the project was a goer!
Surviving German soldiers were interviewed from all over Germany, where I was serving at the time, well directed by advice from my German Army colleagues. Included among them was Heinz Harmel, the commander of the Frundsberg 10th SS Panzer Division, tasked with defending the Nijmegen Bridge and fighting free the Arnhem road bridge to reinforce his men on the River Waal. He was the first to bring clarity to research on a confusing battle, talking me through the operation over a map wreathed in cigar smoke. Many of these veterans were quite old even during the battle and beginning to pass away when I conducted these interviews in the late 1980s. Most accounts were captured just in time.
I did not appreciated at the time what a privilege it was to receive such stories until the project eventually took shape and still information was pouring in. I finally wrote the book at a particularly busy time as Second in Command of 1 PARA, finishing the final chapter after my third operational tour in Northern Ireland.
I received enormous encouragement from British Arnhem veterans, including Major General John Frost, General ‘Shan’ Hackett and Colonels Geoffrey Powell and John Waddy – all respected authors in their own right. Otherwise I might never have started. Encouraging reviews from John Keegan added confidence and pleasure to my first book written under challenging conditions. My career was active; three young sons were snapping about my ankles and needed more attention. Without an incredibly supportive wife, this book would have never happened.
John Keegan: Sunday Telegraph 18 Aug 1990.
Robert Kershaw…succeeded in tracking down and interviewing many of the German survivors, whose eyewitness testimony lends so much vividness to his narrative…No-one until now, has asked the Germans why they thought the enterprise turned into tragedy. What they have told Kershaw transforms our understanding’.
British Army Review: December 1990.
This excellent book makes a major contribution, not just to the study of MARKET-GARDEN and the NW Europe campaign as a whole, but to a number of ever – relevant military problems.
Royal Engineers Journal 1991:
…A remarkable book by almost any standards…This book is a major contribution to military history and is strongly recommended for all who are interested in the art of war. Robert Kershaw has demonstrated that he is a military historian of considerable talent. This is his first book, I very much hope that it is not his last.
Max Hastings: Sunday Telegraph 24 April 2006.
…an outstanding analysis of the 1944 Arnhem battle.
Major General John Frost:
…a wonderful effort – the research is of great value to historians today in allowing a new assessment to be made of the battle’.
General Sir John Hackett: RUSI Journal. 1990.
‘Among much that deserves praise in this outstanding book is its extensive use of first hand source material originating at all levels’
‘In any collection of books about market-Garden… Kershaw’s book must be seen as an indispensable addition’.
Background & Preparation
Arnhem was a resounding defeat for the British, but in human endurance terms, the stuff of legend. Press glamorisation at the time laid the basis for a ‘legend’ upheld by Allied historians for years. Exhaustive research of the few remaining documents covering German post-operational reports corroborated by numerous contemporary eye-witness accounts revealed a new perspective. This was how the battle appeared to the ordinary German soldier, from private to battalion commander level. Kershaw interviewed numerous participants throughout Germany.
The immediate post-war view that defeat at Arnhem was caused by Allied mistakes because Germany had already lost the war persisted for a very long time. Extensive research revealed a very different picture. Much vaunted SS panzer divisions ‘waiting’ for the British were only at 30% strength and possessed virtually no tanks. A scratch-built force of German sailors, airmen and reservists fighting as infantry checked the airborne landings. Model the supreme German commander did not flee panic-stricken from the Hotel Tafelberg in Arnhem as paratroopers landed. He was a cold dedicated professional, who had already saved German fronts from defeat and retreat five times before and did so again.
It is claimed the British Airborne Division was dropped too far from the Arnhem Bridge. Kershaw’s research of German unit locations suggests defeat may have occurred sooner if they had. The German view was that the British had been skilful in their selection of the drop zone to cloak their intention and ought to have reinforced with another division in the same place. General Urquhart commanding the 1st British Airborne Division was often criticised as being too far forward in the battle, being cut off during a crucial phase. His German opposite, General Kussin, the town Commandant, was killed seeking the same fragmented information. His death resulted in a temporary paralysis of the defence of the Arnhem road bridge, enabling Lieutenant Colonel John Frost’s Second Parachute Battalion to capture it with ease.
That Arnhem was ‘A Bridge Too Far’ is the most famous myth exposed by this book. XXX Corps commanded by General Horrocks was reportedly just unable to reach it. An assessment of German troop locations following the capture of the Nijmegen Bridge reveals the remaining 14-kilometer stretch of road to Arnhem was virtually undefended and clear the following night. An opportunity to relive Frost barely holding onto the Arnhem Bridge was missed.
It Never Snows in September offers a number of revisionary perspectives to prevailing Arnhem myths. It recognizes the American contribution in keeping the ‘Airborne Corridor’ open despite the German discovery of the MARKET-GARDEN plan. The book reveals the plan was not recovered in its entirety; rather the Germans were never strong enough to exploit the windfall.
The ‘chivalric’ battle of Arnhem and Oosterbeek is reassessed in uncompromising terms. Excesses were committed by both sides. German casualties were more than twice previously claimed estimates. The British evacuation caught the Germans unawares, so impressed had they been by the ferocity of resistance, that they could not comprehend the British would abandon their bloodily won bridgehead. It took a further half-day of fruitless fighting against the remaining stragglers after the evacuation before the Germans appreciated their birds had flown the trap.
This book has necessitated a re-examination of some of the traditional views of the MARKET-GARDEN battles, which mainly project the allied view. ‘What about the Germans?’ allegedly remarked the commander of the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade when confronted with the Arnhem plan. It Never Snows in September offers just this perspective.
John Keegan: Sunday Telegraph
18 Aug 1990.
‘This is a model of the battle monograph, and will be an essential source for students of the Arnhem tragedy and of air landing operations in perpetuity.