Courtesy Richard Lanni

The Americans on Hell's Highway

WW2 Reflections has released its second documentary in a planned trilogy of works that chronicle the major battles fought by U.S. troops in Western Europe during World War II. "The Americans on Hell's Highway" picks up the story shortly after the D-Day invasion, when planning began for Operation Market Garden.

The film was produced by Richard Lanni, a past contributor to The American Legion's Web site and the Online Update. His video on the 65th anniversary of the Normandy invasion appeared last June. His work also appeared last month as part of a Legion Web presentation on the Battle of the Bulge.

"The Americans on Hell's Highway" depicts the most massive daytime drop of airborne troops in military history: The 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions parachuted into occupied Holland to capture and secure several bridges that crossed the Rhine into Germany. How these outnumbered troops seized bridges - and defended "Hell's Highway", running back through Dutch countryside to the Belgian border - is the story told in this outstanding documentary.

With military historian Ellwood von Seibold serving as battlefield guide, we are quickly drawn into the drama of Market Garden and its sobering mission to cross the Rhine, bypass the enemy's heavily fortified Siegfried Line and end the war in Europe by Christmas 1944. Seibold, dressed in an authentic Airborne combat uniform, shares anecdotes that drive home the bravery and sacrifice of those soldiers who parachuted into enemy territory on Sept. 17, 1944.

The Allied plan called for the 82nd and 101st to take three key bridges (the Grave, Son, and Nijmegen) and defend them until British armored units - led by XXX Corps - came up "Hell's Highway" to relieve them.

At least, that was the plan. This well-researched program covers the many details of what went right and what went tragically wrong during the nine-day saga of Market Garden. The narrative is bolstered with several interviews of veterans from both sides who took part in the battle, including Capt. T. Moffatt Burriss of the 82nd Airborne, who parachuted into the Netherlands last year to help commemorate the operation's 65th anniversary.

"Hell's Highway" intercuts archival and re-creation footage most effectively, creating a compelling visual montage that makes the solid, to-the-point narration even more compelling. Seibold excels in his battlefield tour, helping to re-create the dramatic capture of the Grave Bridge, recounting the bravery of Pfc. Joe Mann that earned him the Medal of Honor, and explaining how the sacrifice of one Dutch resistance fighter stopped the Germans from blowing up the Nijmegen Bridge.

The program's soundtrack, footage quality and graphic treatments are excellent throughout, and the DVD includes several entertaining extras: a "making of" short film, nearly six minutes of video shot during the 65th anniversary celebrations, a gallery of high-quality still images, and some short clips in which Seibold explains the formidable firepower of the German 88 mm anti-tank gun, and why America's main battle tank - the Sherman - was called "Tommy Cooker" by the British and "Ronson" by the enemy. For more information, visit here.

Philip M. Callaghan is The American Legion’s media marketing director.