A Bridge Too Far: Some dialogues

A Bridge Too Far is an epic war film telling the story of Operation Market-Garden during World War II, and its ultimate failure.

The operation envisaged the seizure of bridges across the Maas (Meuse River) and two arms of the Rhine (the Waal and the Lower Rhine) as well as several smaller canals and tributaries. Crossing the Lower Rhine would allow the Allies to outflank the Siegfried Line and encircle the Ruhr, Germany’s industrial heartland. It made large-scale use of airborne forces whose tactical objectives were to secure a series of bridges over the main rivers of the German-occupied Netherlands and allow a rapid advance by armoured units into Northern Germany.

Initially the operation was successful and several bridges between Eindhoven and Nijmegen were captured. However the ground force’s advance was delayed by the demolition of a bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal at Son, delaying the capture of the main road bridge over the Meuse until September 20. At Arnhem the British 1st Airborne Division encountered far stronger resistance than anticipated. In the ensuing battle only a small force managed to hold one end of the Arnhem road bridge and after the ground forces failed to relieve them they were overrun on the 21st. The rest of the division, trapped in a small pocket west of the bridge, had to be evacuated on the 25th.

The name for the film comes from an unconfirmed comment made by British Lieutenant-General Frederick A.M. Browning, deputy commander of the First Allied Airborne Army, who told Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, the operation’s architect, before the operation, “I think we may be going a bridge too far.”

That is the background for those who are interested.

I saw the movie years back and was captivated by the sterling performances, the crisp dialogues, not to mention the memorable soundtrack (based on a movement from one of Johnann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos). Certain recent events have re-awakened my interest,  and some of the dialogues are quite applicable to me (I think).

Here is a selection. I have tried to put them in a chronological order, but it is possible that somewhere I may have erred.

Major General Gunther Blumentritt: Everyone knows you have never lost a battle.
Field Marshall Gerd von Runstedt: I’m still young, give me time.

[final plans are being discussed]
Lt. Gen. Frederick Browning: Only the weather can stop us now.
General Stanislaw Sosaboski: Weather. What of the Germans, General Browning. Don’t you think that if we know Arnhem is so critical to their safety that they might know it too?
Lt. General Browning: See here, General Sosaboski, I should think you would have more faith in Field Marshal Montgomery’s plan.
General Sosaboski: Faith? I will tell you how much faith I have. I am thinking of asking for a letter from you stating that I was ordered to go on this mission in case my men are massacred.
Lt. General Browning: I see… I do see. Do you wish such a letter?
General Sosaboski: No… In the case of massacre: what difference will it make?

Major General Urquhart: [looking at the escaped lunatics pointing and laughing at the British paratroops] Think they know something we don’t?

Field Marshal Model’s aide: Field Marshall, thousands of paratroops have landed in this area, three kilometres from here.
Field Marshall Walther Model: What? Why? There is nothing important here… me! I’m important! They must’ve landed here just to capture me. [stands from his lunch and moves to the door]
Field Marshall Model: Get my car ready. [makes to leave]
Field Marshall’s aide: Yes, sir! [about to leave himself]
Field Marshall Model: [pops back in and shouts] And don’t forget my cigars!

Lt. General Bittrich: Yes, thousands of paratroopers have landed in Nijmegen… right on top of Field Marshall Model.
General Ludwig: I’ll bet they landed in his soup!
Lt. General Bittrich: You’d like that, wouldn’t you?

Corporal Hancock: Sir. [Offers mug of tea]
Major General Urquhart: Hancock. I’ve got lunatics laughing at me from the woods. My original plan has been scuppered now that the jeeps haven’t arrived. My communications are completely broken down. Do you really believe any of that can be helped by a cup of tea?
Corporal Hancock: Couldn’t hurt, sir.
[Urquhart accepts his mug of tea]

Lt. General Horrocks: This is a story you will tell your grandchildren; and mightily bored they’ll be.

Lt. General Horrocks: Kickoff will be at 14:35 hours tomorrow afternoon. The Irish Guards under the command of Col. Vandeleur will take the lead.
Lt. Colonel J.O.E. Vandeleur: [sotto voce] Christ, not us again.
Lt. General Horrocks: What’d you say to that, Joe?
Lt. Colonel Vandeleur: Delighted, sir, truly delighted.
Lt. General Horrocks: I’ve selected you to lead us, not only because of your extraordinary fighting ability, but also because, in the unlikely event the Germans ever get you, they will assume from your attire that they’ve captured a wretched peasant and immediately send you on your way.

Lt. General Horrocks: Do you think you’ll be able to pull it off, Joe?
Lt. Colonel Vandeleur: I have nothing else planned for this afternoon.

Lt. Colonel Vandeleur: Remember what the general said; we’re the cavalry. It would be bad form to arrive in advance of schedule. In the nick of time would do nicely.

Grenadier Guards Major: How the hell do they expect us to keep schedule on a road like this?
Lt. Colonel Vandeleur: You don’t know the worst. This bit we’re on now?
Grenadier Guards Major: Yes?
Lt. Colonel Vandeleur: It’s the wide part.

Field Marshal Model: No reinforcements to Arnhem. Von Runstedt says we will need them for our counter attack.
Lt. General Bittrich: Counterattack! With what?
Field Marshal Model: Paratroopers are lightly armed and equipped. They cannot hold out for long. If we can hold up their infantry on the road to Arnhem, they will be forced to surrender.

Field Marshall Walther Model: Why do all my generals want to destroy my bridges?

Col. Stout: I’m Bobby Stout.
Lt. Colonel Vandeleur: Have you ever been liberated before?
Col. Stout: I got divorced twice, does that count?
Lt. Colonel Vandeleur: That counts.

Brigadier General Gavin: What’s the best way to take a bridge?
Maj. Julian Cook: Both ends at once.
Brigadier General Gavin: I’m sending two companies across the river by boat. I need a man with very special qualities to lead.
Maj. Julian Cook: Go on, sir.
Brigadier General Gavin: He’s got to be tough enough to do it and he’s got to be experienced enough to do it. Plus one more thing. He’s got to be dumb enough to do it… Start getting ready.
Junior Officer: What was all that about, Major?
Maj. Cook: Well someone’s come up with a real nightmare. Real nightmare.

Home Owner: She says you are much too noisy.
John Frost: She does realize there’s something of a war going on, doesn’t she?

General Ludwig: Forgive me, but there is a battle. And we are in the process of winning it.
Dr. Jan Spaander: Winning and losing is not our concern – living and dying… is.

[an SS officer is approaching under a white flag]
Major Harry Carlyle: Rather interesting development, sir.
[to the German]
Major Carlyle: That’s far enough! We can hear you from there!
SS Panzer Officer: My general says there is no point in continuing this fighting! He wishes to discuss terms of a surrender!
Major Carlyle: Shall I answer him, sir?
Lt. Col. John Frost: Tell him to go to hell.
Major Carlyle: We haven’t the proper facilities to take you all prisoner! Sorry!
SS Panzer Officer: [confused] What?
Major Carlyle: We’d like to, but we can’t accept your surrender! Was there anything else?
[German officer walks off]
Lt. Col. Frost: Well, that’s that.
[the officer returns to General Bittrich, and they converse in German]
SS Panzer Officer: They rejected our surrender offer. What are your orders, Herr General?
Lt. General Bittrich: Flatten Arnhem.

[after the fighting is over, Bittrich rides in to meet the English captives. He sees Frost, who is sitting on the ground with a leg injury. He offers a bar of chocolate and says something in German]
Bittrich’s Aide: My general says, please take it. It’s very good chocolate. Your planes dropped it to us yesterday.
[Frost waits a few moments, then takes the chocolate]
Lt. Gen. Wilhelm Bittrich: English?
[Frost nods]

Lt. General Browning: Hello, Roy. How are you?
Maj. General Urqhart: I’m not sure I’ll know for a while. But I’m sorry about how it turned out.
Lt. General Browning: You did all you could.
Maj. General Urqhart: Yes, but did everyone else?
Lt. General Browning: They’ve got a bed for you upstairs if you want it.
Maj. General Urqhart: I took ten thousand men into Arnhem. I’ve come out with less than two. I don’t feel much like sleeping.

Lt. General “Boy” Browning: I’ve just been on to Monty. He’s very proud and pleased.
Major General Urquhart: Pleased?
Lt. General Browning: Of course. He thinks Market Garden was 90% successful.
Major General Urquhart: But what do you think?
Lt. General Browning: Well, as you know, I always felt we tried to go a bridge too far.

Brig. General James Gavin: So that’s it. We’re pulling them out. It was Nijmegen.
Lt. Colonel Vandeleur: It was the single road getting to Nijmegen.
Lt. General Horrocks: No, it was after Nijmegen.
Lt. General Browning: And the fog, in England.
Maj. General Sosabowski: Doesn’t matter what it was. When one man says to another, “I know what let’s do today, let’s play the war game.”… everybody dies.



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