Monday, 20 July 2015

A Street in Arnhem: The Agony of Occupation and Liberation - Robert Kershaw

This review was submitted to the Canadian Army Journal.
Title: A Street in Arnhem: The Agony of Occupation and Liberation
Author: Robert Kershaw

ISBN: 978-1-7110-3754-0
Publisher: Ian Allen
Pages: 304
Photos/Maps: 39/4 

Operation Market-Garden, its ambitious goals, challenges and ultimate failure are well known to both historians and the general public; however, the details of the fighting that took place between the German defenders and Allied attackers within the towns of Oosterbeek and Arnhem are not nearly as well understood or documented. Even less so is the trial by fire that the civilian population living in Oosterbeek underwent as the adversaries grappled with one another.  

Kershaw's book commences with a broad perspective on the history of the town and its people as well as the Battle of Arnhem itself before focussing upon the effect of the fighting on its epicentre, two streets: Stationsweg and Utrechtseweg. Over the course of eight days of intense combat, these streets, their populations and an entire way of life was utterly transformed.  

Kershaw's style is very personal; while he draws in the broad strokes of the units, fighting styles, larger influences of the Western Campaign and the regional actions of the Market-Garden Operation, the real strength of the book lies in its rendition of the personal reminisces of those involved in the fighting (including civilian, Allied and German sources). This adds a great deal of depth and understanding for the reader of the real impact on those participating and, more importantly, their motivations, fears and observations as their world was turned on its head. 

There are a number of central lessons to be gleaned from this book: 

1. The impact of five years of war had had upon the individual quality of the German soldier. Throughout the book, comment is made (especially by the civilian population) of the changes in quality, deportment and professionalism compared to the German Army that had passed through the region in 1940; 

2. The frustration and disillusionment of the Allied soldiers with their high command with the poor planning and lack of support as they fought for their lives with relief only 10 km away; 

3. The resiliency of the civilian population, completely unused to war suddenly forced into basements with no food or water or access to medicine for their wounded; 

4. The ability of German forces to undertake offensive operations this late in the war and the hubris with which the Allied planners assumed away resistance; 

5. Language barriers amongst the Allied forces which prevented effective cooperation (Polish and English paratroopers); 

6. The vulnerability of Allied air forces as they attempted to drop reinforcements and supplies to the beleaguered Allied paratroopers. The intervention of Luftwaffe anti-aircraft units and the engagement of Luftwaffe fighter units amongst the Dakotah aircraft of the Allies was frightful; and  

7. Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease as the Allies, in an effort to liberate Holland and progress the end of the war, caused the utter destruction of a region of the country previously untouched by the ravages of conflict.

The publishers have produced a very high quality book with excellent coloured overview maps in the inside front and rear covers. The font is very easy to read and the author has provided a very comprehensive bibliography and end note sections. Canadians played a significant role in the operation as it was Canadian Engineers who evacuated the British and Poles across the Lower Rhine river to safety. A strongly written, educational, balanced and engaging book well worth a read.



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