This dissertation is an examination into the evolution of Britain’s airborne forces during World War Two and their participation in two of the most contentious battles that they were involved in, Operations Market Garden and Varsity. These airborne operations were mired in controversy at the time and have remained so ever since. The 1st Airborne Division was reduced to a fragment of its once proud self after only nine days at Arnhem. Yet Arnhem is not a battle that should be examined in isolation. The major airborne operation that followed it, the Rhine crossing in March 1945, was also extremely controversial as a result of the considerable losses suffered by the 6th Airborne Division. The two battles are not separate actions; they form a continuous sequence in comprehending the development of airborne experience within the British military by war’s end. An examination of the expansion of airborne forces from their earliest days provides a degree of illumination as to why the events at Arnhem and Hamminkeln transpired as they did.

The desire to create such a force was a far from seamless process and many issues emerged, some of which continued to influence events right until the end of the war. Clausewitz‟s famous dictum, that “the practice of war is uncertain and much subject to human error” fits perfectly the history of British airborne forces between 1940 and 1945. In attempting to create such a force during wartime conditions, many mistakes were invariably made and many compromises were required. It is the comprehension of these mistakes and compromises that enables a much deeper understanding of the events that took place at Arnhem and the reasons for its eventual failure. This in turn leads to much more acute understanding of the events surrounding Hamminkeln.


Michael Jarmain, 2010 - University of Wales
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