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"Professionals Talk Logistics--Arnhem and Bastogne" Topic

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robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP01 Dec 2023 8:23 a.m. PST

Re-reading stuff on the 23rd December resupply airdrop at Bastogne, and contrasting it with the 19 September resupply drop at Arnhem. Has anyone ever read anything explaining why the two drops were so very differently conducted--which, of course, led to very different outcomes? Can anyone recommend reading on the subject?

Joe Legan01 Dec 2023 9:29 a.m. PST

I didn't realize they we all that different. I thought Arnhem failed because the perimeter was too small. Interesting…

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP01 Dec 2023 9:56 a.m. PST

No, take a look. At Bastogne, they dropped an air liaison officer, got in good comms with the 101st and had a list of most urgently needed supplies, then dropped a pathfinder team to lay out the perimeter for the air drop. None of this was mentioned as done at Arnhem in anything I've read. The drop zone there seems to have been based on earlier planning, not "facts on the ground." At Bastogne, there are jeeps and trucks waiting on the drop zone, and the first 105mm rounds dropped were being fired before the last C-47 had dropped its cargo. All units were to report what they'd recovered for the logistics people to balance later. Again, no mention of any similar effort at Arnhem.

I'll have to compare drop zone sizes, but it looks like a lot of prep work went into the Bastogne drop which simply wasn't done at Arnhem. That's the thing about staff work: you only notice it when it isn't done right.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP01 Dec 2023 11:59 a.m. PST

Did more checking to be sure. ZERO air-ground communication prior to the drops on the 18th and 19th of September. By the 20th, 21st and 23rd, the pilots were verbally informed of the perimeter, but no such thing as pathfinders with new markers for the drop zone. In fact, on the 20th, the pilots were told to use their own judgement. I'm sure a larger drop zone would have helped, but it doesn't sound as though that were the only problem.

4th Cuirassier01 Dec 2023 1:27 p.m. PST

Wasn't the problem at Arnhem that the dadios didn't work? The boots on the ground weren't able to get anything back go HQ other than indirectly via the artillery net.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP01 Dec 2023 3:58 p.m. PST

True as far as it goes, 4th. But you notice that at Bastogne, even though they had radio contact, they parachuted in an air-ground liaison, followed by pathfinders to get communications really good and make sure supplies were the ones wanted and delivered to the right place. So why, when they're hearing nothing from 1st Abn HQ, is no one sent in to establish contact at any stage? Especially before the first two resupply drops, when they have no communications? This wasn't some freak zone where no radios worked: this was sending the wrong radios and never even fixing--never even trying to fix--enough of the problem to get resupply right.

Forget the resupply. 1st Abn drops, and no one hears from them, though they can be seen fighting by aerial recon, and the Dutch underground--whose radios DO work--report the landings. There were two more days of landings. Why didn't anyone drop different radio gear and techies to find out what the problem was? It's being treated like an act of God.

All the excuses for failed resupply at Arnhem sound much better until you see it done right at Bastogne. Did someone learn from the Arnhem experience? Were different people in charge? Which goes back to my original post: why are they working so much harder at getting comms and resupply right in December than they had been in September?

Joe Legan01 Dec 2023 5:24 p.m. PST

Hopefully they had learned from Sept. I think it would be a lot harder to drop in Pathfinders into Arnhem than bastongne though.


robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP01 Dec 2023 5:40 p.m. PST

Into the city at the bridge, I'd grant you. But if you can land three or four brigades just west of Arnhem, I'm pretty sure you could have dropped an air-ground liaison and a squad or so of pathfinders.

But "hopefully they learned" begs my initial question. Were the two airlifts run by the same organization? By the same individuals? Turns out to be much easier to track battalions in either battle than to find out who's organizing 100+ transport plane airlifts. That I keep getting references to Stirlings at Arnhem and not at Bastogne makes me suspect different organizations were involved. But suspicions are not proof.

epturner01 Dec 2023 6:56 p.m. PST

Two very different scenarios, one with the benefit of hindsight from the other.

Same organization? More or less, yes. Same people? Maybe or not. Don't forget you are dealing with multi-national planning staffs.


Wargamorium02 Dec 2023 3:01 a.m. PST

I think the circumstances differed greatly. I think they assumed Arnhem would be a tremendous success and that XXX Corps would link up after three days and that would be that.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP02 Dec 2023 4:56 a.m. PST

OK, since no one's going to do the work for me, I had to go back and try again. Preliminary results:
(1) Probably NOT the same people or organization. Looks as though resupply at Arnhem belonged to RAF Carrier Command, and resupply at Bastogne was the work of IX Troop Carrier Command. I still need to learn more about the bureaucracy of aerial transport in WWII.

(2) The pathfinders at Bastogne may have been dumb luck. Pathfinders were always volunteers, and the survivors of MARKET GARDEN had unvolunteered. A fresh batch was just finishing training when the Bulge hit, and since XVIII Airborne Corps drove to battle, no one had to drop pathfinders ahead of them. So they were available to guide in the resupply C-47's. I wonder whether, had the troops parachuted in, anyone would have thought to keep some pathfinders back for subsequent resupply?

But I'll stand by my initial assessment: if the people trying to resupply 1st Airborne Division had gone through the same steps--sent in an air-ground liaison to establish good communications, checked supply priorities, and then sent in pathfinders to mark the drop zone, the Brits would have been better supplied and the fight less one-sided. "They thought it would be easy" isn't much of an excuse for not having a resupply system thought out. My best opponent always insists that if you do all the little things right, you have to REALLY screw up the overall plan to lose the battle. Of course, MARKET-GARDEN may have been that screwed up.

Personal logo Dal Gavan Supporting Member of TMP02 Dec 2023 6:18 a.m. PST

It was more than the loggie net that caused the failure at Arnhem, Robert. The situations were significantly different as well. The 1AD DZ/LZ was eight miles from the objective, covered by enemy fire and under constant attack. Which means that, even if they did have the back link network up and running, and had pathfinders galore to mark the DZ, then they probably would still have been unable to recover much of the dropped stores. Then there was getting enough, if any, stores through to Frost's men on the north end of the bridge- which was not going to happen after Day 2, because the Germans had cut the LoC back to the LZ/DZ.

Drop 200 ton a day, right on the DZ, and it means nothing if you can't get it into Arnhem (along with enough troops to capture the other end of Frost's bridge). Unfortunately the Germans were fighting hard to prevent that.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP02 Dec 2023 7:15 a.m. PST

Oh, many sources for failure Dal. There usually are. But "it probably wouldn't have reversed the outcome" is no excuse for not doing one's own part professionally. And supplies dropped within 1st Abn Div's lines were recovered, German artillery or no. It's not as though Bastogne were not under German artillery fire and even sometimes air attack. The problem with 1st Abn Div is how few of the supplies were dropped within the perimeter, and I can't help but feel that's closely related to not making a real effort to establish comms and mark the supply drop zone.

Starfury Rider02 Dec 2023 8:00 a.m. PST

I suspect there's a copy online these days, below are extracts from a CD-ROM I got way too many years ago to recall when.

1 Airborne Division report on Operation 'MARKET'

P.27, para 211 – Maintenance Plan

Based on the assurance that the Div was to be linked up with ground forces after four days, the maintenance plan was as follows -
a. SUPPLIES. All troops to land with two 24-hr rations per man, one emergency ration per man. All gliders to carry one box of Compo.
b. PETROL. 350 miles per vehicle.
c. AMMUNITION. 1st Line Scales plus a considerable amount of certain extra ammunition carried in -
i. Spare containers by Units.
ii. Airborne vehicles of RASC.
iii. Bulk load Hamilcars.

f. RASC. One Para platoon dropped or landed with each Bde. Five gliders were alloted to each Para pl for the carriage of their Jeeps and trailers which would be used to carry spare ammunition for the Bdes in the initial stages but would later revert to control of the CRASC for us in clearing Div supply drops.
The balance of 18 Horsa gliders were used to transport half one light transport platoon, RASC, who were to carry Div spare ammunition and to carry ??? ??? RASC duties within the Div. ??? are unreadable, I suggest 'carry out normal RASC duties'.

213. Before departure, lists of ammunition and stores required for supply by air, based on the figures of aircraft available, had been given to HQ Airborne Troops. Certain SDPs (Supply Dropping Points) had been selected.
Marking of SDPs was to be carried out by 1 Indep Para Coy using Eurekas on predetermined frequencies. After drops all stores were to be cleared to the Div Maint Area (DMA) by RASC and issued to units on demand…

214. That the re-supply of the Div was unsuccessful can be attributed to various factors, the main of which were -
a. In the early stages lack of communications prevented changes in SDPs being notified to Base.
b. The strength of enemy Flak defences caused considerable loss to aircraft, forced them to take evasive action and prevented accurate dropping.
c. The comparatively small size of the Div perimeter, combined with (b) above, meant that the major portion of the re-supply fell into enemy hands.
d. Lack of communications between ground and air prevented the exact location of SDPs being notified to aircraft when overhead. Some form of VCP (Visual Control Post) in future is essential.
e. The constant shelling and mortaring and consequent loss of vehicles made collection and distribution on a Div and even a Bde level in the later stages impossible. Units merely recovered what they could from containers dropped in their own area.

There is also a table showing the re-supply effort.

18 Sep – 33 Stirlings (2 lost)
19 Sep – 100 Stirlings (11 lost) and 63 C-47 (8 lost)
20 Sep – 99 Stirlings (11 lost) and 63 C-47 (3 lost)
21 Sep – 63 Stirlings (14 lost) and 53 C-47 (19 lost)
22 Sep – no missions flown
23 Sep – 73 Stirlings (11 lost) and 50 C-47 (4 lost)
24 Sep – no missions flown
25 Sep – 4 C-47s only (1 lost)

Total 601 aircraft flown and 84 lost (14%)

Net approx tonnage of supplies dropped 1431.

Approx net tonnage of total supplies COLLECTED 106 tons, expressed as 7.40% of total actually dropped. This included 14 tons from three Hamilcars landed on D+1. One of the three fell into enemy hands, the other two being successfully unloaded.


typhoon202 Dec 2023 10:38 a.m. PST

1st AB at Arnhem did pretty poorly all round, especially with the RAF calling the shots on DZs/LZs, timetables, etc. Next time Carrier Command was used en masse (along with IX Troop Carrier Command) was Op VARSITY at the Rhine crossings. Supply aircraft were dropping loads before the last of the paras and gliders had landed, so lesson identified and learned.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP02 Dec 2023 11:24 a.m. PST

Thank you much, Starfury and typhoon!

Personal logo Dal Gavan Supporting Member of TMP02 Dec 2023 3:28 p.m. PST

It's not as though Bastogne were not under German artillery fire and even sometimes air attack.

The drops to Bastogne were much more effective, I agree, and enabled 101AB's success. The lessons learned in the drops at Market-Garden would have helped at Bastogne, as typoon2 notes. But in your direct comparison 101AB had the advantage of having the DZ within the defensive perimeter, so stores didn't have to be moved miles through the German lines, to the primary objective. They were available in sufficient quantity and a timely manner.

Positioning the re-sup DZ at Oosterbeek was a failure of planning, not logistics. Perfect drops with 100% recovery would not have changed the outcome at Arnhem. Nor does great logistics management ensure victory when planning, tactics and/or strategy fail. Just look at Vietnam and Afghanistan for two recent, notable examples.

Failure or not, those re-sup flight crews were gutsy and did their best. The below (Oosterbeek memorial to the supply aircrews lost) is one of the most moving memorials I've seen- and (for service rivalry reasons) I'm not a great admirer of people who wear blue. ;-).


robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP02 Dec 2023 3:44 p.m. PST

The courage of the resupply aircrew in both cases is beyond question, Dal. And I've said before there were serious flaws in the overall MARKET-GARDEN plan. But as a former staff puke, I take support planning and execution seriously. The guys on the cutting edge deserve the most accurate possible intelligence, written in a way they understand, good maps, working effective equipment and timely resupply. That's our responsibility: the commander's intent is outside our remit. When a modern professional staff doesn't deliver, it's worth asking why.

Marcus Brutus02 Dec 2023 4:45 p.m. PST

Like others I don't really see a great deal of similarities between Bastogne and Arnhem. The LZ/DZs at Arnhem were fragile and in a constant state of risk. Bastogne was a secure little fortress. Arnhem was an offensive operation of many moving parts while Bastogne was essentially a defensive operation. And also, the Allies had another 3 months of maturity in their operations. It is important to remember just how raw the Allies were even by September of 44. We are talking 3 1/2 months from D Day to Arnhem. That is not a very long time, especially from a logistical point of view.

Personal logo Dal Gavan Supporting Member of TMP02 Dec 2023 11:48 p.m. PST

But as a former staff puke, I take support planning and execution seriously

I didn't know that, Robert. I like your method of discussion despite that. :-)

Seriously, though, I think you'll understand my view, even if you don't agree. The major lines of failure were placing the DZ/LZ too far from the objective and the comms plan- which obviously failed to take into account propagation difficulties and back up equipment/comms plan in case of failure or damage. Yet apparently nobody did anything about it (at least nothing that's mentioned in the histories), when it would have been obvious to the head shed in the UK that they had no comms to Arnhem.

As for the memorial, I was really impressed by it, and the men it honoured. It's simple but gets the message across with a thump. I wasn't suggesting you were rubbishing the aircrews and biscuit bombers, mate.

BattlerBritain03 Dec 2023 5:17 a.m. PST

Great discussion and as a gamer I've been wondering about different options that might have made Market-Garden work.

One for me is:
Why do all 3 drops at the same time, especially if you know there's some German armour near Arnhem?

Doing all 3 drops does rather telegraph to the opposition what the overall intention is.

Would doing just the first drop nearest Joe's Bridge, letting the ground troops advance and seeing how far they got with linking up to 1st drop before letting the second drop go for Nijmegen have been better?

That way the German reaction might have drawn the German armour south of Arnhem and made it less of threat at Arnhem?

Then instead of dropping on Oosterbeek drop on The Island, with gliders at the Southern end of Arnhem bridge in a rerun of Pegasus Bridge, if possible?
Maybe drop Paras directly on Arnhem itself?

Just ideas as 'what-ifs' 😊


Kevin C03 Dec 2023 7:27 a.m. PST

Maybe because at Bastogne Jake "McNasty" MacNeice helped coordinate the airdrops.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP03 Dec 2023 10:03 a.m. PST

I've always liked the "Pegasus Bridge" option--land smack on the objective and cling to it for dear life. Might not have salvaged Market-Garden, but I think it was far and away the best chance.

That said, wherever they landed, and whatever the odds for or against success, There were people in XXX Corps and in England who knew by the end of the first day that communications with 1st Airborne Division weren't what they needed to be, and it baffles me that they weren't moving Heaven and Earth to fix the problem by the second day's drop, let alone later.

Kevin, that was part of my point about Bastogne. MacNeice wasn't trucked to Bastogne with the 101st. He'd been detached to the Pathfinders and was one of the people dropped in by IX Troop Carrier Command on the 23rd precisely to make sure those drops went right. There doesn't seem to have been any equivalent effort with the 1st Airborne.

You can find the MacNeice with the Pathfinders story here:

Bill N03 Dec 2023 6:45 p.m. PST

Thank you Robert for starting this post. As someone only moderately informed about Market Garden it was my understanding the primary problems were (1) XXX Corps could not reach 1st Airborne in anywhere near the time planned; (2) Weather and other factors delayed the Poles' arrival, and restricted their ability to assist 1st Airborne north of the Rhine; and (3) The presence of stronger forces in and near Arnhem allowing the Germans to make a stronger effort than anticipated.

Having the 1st Airborne better supplied does not impact these factors. So would a better supplied 1st Airborne have been able to hold a sufficiently large pocket north of the Rhine to have allowed British 2nd Army to continue its advance into the Netherlands in the face of the German troops in the area? Because that was the real goal.

If 1st Airborne could hold a large enough pocket north of the river, not taking or holding the Arnhem bridge becomes a speed bump. If the best 1st Airborne can do is hold a few blocks around the north end of the bridge, anything trying to cross the bridge would be subject to direct fire from German positions. So wouldn't the advance come to a halt?

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP04 Dec 2023 5:09 a.m. PST

Bill N, I think failure to take and hold Arnhem Bridge was probable from the plan and certain by the second day. It looks to me as though a better-supplied 1st Airborne might have been able to hold a crossing point for XXX Corps, though whether XXX Corps could have reached it and maintained itself is another question.

But all that sort of thing is subject to a great deal of chance, and none of it affects the obligation of staff and support units to see that the men actually being shot at have the food, ammunition, medical supplies and such that they need. Which is where I started. Maybe better supply would have made a difference. Certainly it couldn't have hurt. So my initial question: why does the aerial resupply effort at Arnhem look so amateurish next to the one at Bastogne a few months later? Best answer we seem to have so far is that they were organized by different commands, and there may have been some luck in the availability of resources--especially the Pathfinders for the supply drop. Anyone else have any thoughts?

Thank you all.

Starfury Rider04 Dec 2023 6:57 a.m. PST

A few people have pointed out articles to me in years gone by, that try to examine the reasons for the failures of communications constantly quoted in the innumerable autopsies of the Arnhem operation.

Looking at a few of these over the last couple of days, I can't see a particular emphasis on reporting to Base or 30 Corps that the supply dropping points had been compromised and new ones needed to be urgently rearranged. One of the more exhaustive narratives is here -


(I don't know why the No.22 set gets a kicking, another piece said it only had a range of 6 miles, which is much shorter than the manuals reckoned, and much shorter than the usual roles it was used in)

There were multiple communication failures affecting the basic Divisional intranet of Div to Bdes and Bde to Bns. I don't know that anyone on the "Q" side was in a position to communicate concerns to higher HQs on D+1 or D+2.

The supply plan of the Div does appear to have been 'frontloaded' with a higher amount of amn and POL taken in than perhaps would be the norm, maybe because they expected to have difficulties in resupply.

I tend to agree that it's not an even situation to compare the supply drops of an already compromised airborne assault with that of resupplying ground forces that were already in the area to varying extents.

I did note this para in the CMH piece on Bastogne


"Through assiduous scrounging, requisitioning, and an enforced pooling of unit resources, the G-4 of the 101st would be able to work minor logistic miracles-but these alone would not have insured the survival of the Bastogne garrison. The airborne division had been supplied by air during the Holland operation, and when, on the 21st, McAuliffe knew that his command was isolated he asked for aerial resupply. Unfortunately no plans had been worked out in advance for airlift support and the supply records of the Holland campaign-which would have made logistic calculation and procedure easier-were back in France. In the first instance, therefore, the troops in Bastogne would have to take what they got whenever they could get it.

Communications would present no major problem. A corps radio-link vehicle arrived in Bastogne just before the road to Neufchâteau was severed; so Middleton and McAuliffe had two-way phone and teletype at their disposal throughout the siege. Inside Bastogne


there were enough armored and artillery units-comparatively rich in signal equipment-to flesh out a speedy and fairly reliable command and artillery net. Tactical communication beyond the Bastogne perimeter, however, as for example with the 4th Armored, had to be couched in ambiguous-sometimes quite meaningless-terms."



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