Review of September Hope: The American Side of a Bridge Too Far
By Dr. John C McManus
Published by New American Library in 2012
Anyone familiar with the phrase “a bridge too far” may look at this book and think that maybe enough has been written about Operation Market-Garden. But, as Dr. McManus points out in his preface, despite the large amount of work on this piece of WWII history, very little focuses exclusively on the American part of the operation. Cornelius Ryan’s seminal work heavily focuses on the British perspective and to a lesser extent the German. Max Hastings also focuses more on the British parts. The reason for all that attention is the great deal of interest in the “last stand” drama of the Red Devils at Arnhem. But even Stephen Ambrose who wrote so much of US feats in Europe only includes Market-Garden as part of his examinations of the European campaign. So, once thought through, McManus has in fact filled a grievous void.
And he has filled it with an outstanding work. September Hope is a fantastic blend of operational analysis and personal stories. It gives a good idea of both what happened and what it was like to be there.
His analysis is in praise of American soldiers by virtue of its focus, but otherwise remains objective, and pulls no punches with the operational mistakes. Although, most of these mistakes were not made by the Americans, but were imposed by Field Marshal Montgomery. McManus’ criticism of Monty is frequent and valid, as any defense or excuse of Montgomery has to be seen as revisionism for revisionism’s sake. McManus’ criticism is well founded and defended, and in line with most works on the subject.
But the operational analysis, while fascinating in its focus on the US perspective, is not the soul of the book. The personal stories of heroism, tragedy, and humor pull the reader into the book and make it real.
Interestingly, he also devotes a chapter to the US involvement of the clearing of the Scheldt Estuary, of which very little has been written. His contribution is invaluable almost just for this inclusion.
Perhaps most importantly, September Hope is an easy and enjoyable read. The perfect combination of interesting and informative for those familiar with Market-Garden, and just as interesting and accessible for those who may have never read a book on military history. His operational analysis does not bog down in technicalities, and the personal stories add real life drama and excitement. While it seems a dichotomy, his book is both pleasurable and comprehensive.
The only criticism one may find is that if one is well read on Market-Garden, they will see use of some of the same source material and interviews used by Ryan and Ambrose, and from biographies of Donald Burgett and others. But there is enough new and fresh material to still keep your interest.
September Hope is highly recommended if for no other reason than that the focus it has on US perspectives makes it stand out among other books on the subject. His use of personal stories makes it interesting for the beginning military historian, or anyone interested in the effect of war on the human condition.
Reviewed by Chris Ketcherside