GINKEL HEATH, Netherlands — Parachutes glowing gold and white against clear blue skies, hundreds of paratroopers floated to the ground in the eastern Netherlands on Saturday to mark the 75th anniversary of a daring but ultimately unsuccessful mission that Allied commanders hoped would bring a swift end to World War II.
Operation Market Garden dropped nearly 35,000 paratroopers deep behind enemy lines in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. After landing, the troops were to capture and secure key roads and bridges so Allied forces massed in Belgium could pour into Germany’s industrial heartland.
Recreating the mass drops of September 1944, military aircraft flew low over Ginkel Heath on Saturday and current military parachutists leaped out. Thousands of spectators watched and applauded the soldiers once they were on the ground.
One veteran of the original landing, Sandy Cortmann, jumped again Saturday while strapped to a British paratrooper. After their landing, a wheelchair took Cortmann to a tent to watch the anniversary ceremony.
The British 1st Airborne Division led the huge airborne assault 75 years ago that was part of British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery ill-fated plan for Operation Market Garden. Paratroopers from the U.S. Army’s 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions and Poland’s 1st Independent Parachute Brigade also were dropped into the Netherlands.
“It was a day like today. Weather was just like this; lovely sunny day,” he said, adding there was no opposition on the Sunday afternoon when he landed close to two German soldiers lying in the heathland with their girlfriends.
“They were quite surprised to see me,” he added with a cheeky smile.
But as he and other paratroopers got to Arnhem there was plenty of opposition from German troops. He was hit by a German shell and his right arm was amputated shortly afterward.
The Allied troops met stubborn German resistance in and around Arnhem. Their advance stalled on a bridge spanning the River Rhine, a battle immortalized in the book and Hollywood film “A Bridge Too Far.”