I’m a big fan of the movie “A Bridge to Far.” I love movies about WW2 and this one is one of my all-time favorites. Not only is loaded with great actors, but there are tons of valuable lessons that military leaders can learn from the movie. What I want to do in the paragraphs below is share some of the lessons I learned in the movie that really resonated with me. These lessons are listed in no particular order.
# 1 Always PMCS and Test Your Equipment BEFORE You Need to Use It
Throughout the movie, the British Soldiers had communications problems. In fact, their radios didn’t work and they couldn’t communicate with each other for most of the battle. The radios had not been tested in a similar environment ahead of time. The Signal Officer knew their might be a problem with the radios, but he didn’t want to rock the boat and get in trouble, so he didn’t say anything. As a result, the British got slaughtered during the mission. My takeaway is that leaders need to test ALL of their equipment before they do any type of mission. This is where PMCS, PCCs, and PCIs come in handy.
# 2 Murphy Is Always Working Against You
Throughout the military, it seemed like “Murphy” was worked against the Allied Forces. This included communications problems, unexpected enemy forces, inadequate supplies, bad weather, terrain challenges, leadership challenges and much more. In some cases, the Allied Forces had contingency plans and in many other cases they didn’t. My takeaway is that you always need to prepare for Murphy. Always have a backup plan and plan for the unexpected.
# 3 Close Air Support is a Beautiful Thing
No, I’ve never been an infantryman or ground pounder myself, but I have to tell you that close air support is a beautiful thing. Seeing the planes come in and knock out the enemy forces has got to be pretty darn awesome. Combine that with good artillery support and the infantry have a strong advantage on the battlefield. My takeaway is to use close air support whenever necessary.
# 4 Don’t Let Your Ego Get in the Way
Several of the German Field Marshals and Generals had a big ego in this movie. One Field Marshal thought the Americans were coming to his town just to capture him. Several of the British leaders were just as guilty of having huge egos. The leaders were “set” on making the plan work, no matter what, even when it was brought to their attention that there were flaws in the plan. My take is to check your ego at home. The more rank you have the more you need to be open minded. Be a servant leader and don’t think the world exists to please you.
# 5 Don’t Be Scared to Rock the Boat, Even if it Can Hurt Your Career
One thing that disturbed me about the movie is when the British Intelligence Officer was forced to “take a break” because he showed the General Officers that there were German tanks in the Area of Operations. To be quite frank, he rocked the boat and it probably ruined his career. My take on this is that as leaders we have a responsibility to bring things to the attention of our senior leaders when it affects the Soldiers or mission at hand. There will be times in your career where it could even get you fired or in trouble. My advice is to do it anyway. Do the right thing, even if it rocks the boat.
# 6 The Plan Is Only As Good as the People Who Have to Do It
Any OPORD or plan can look good on paper. Any staff officer can come up with a great idea. Where the problem happens is when there is a disconnect between the person writing the plan and the person who has to execute the plan. From my perspective, none of the senior leadership asked for input from their subordinate leaders, as to their capabilities and thoughts. This really backfired throughout the battle. My takeaway is to get input from the people who are asked to actually get the job done. Find out their thoughts, constraints and capabilities. It will give you valuable insight that you might not think about on your own.
# 7 The Importance of Logistics on the Battlefield
I’m a former Logistics Officer myself. Throughout the movie the Allied Forces were “slowed down” on the battlefield because their supplies couldn’t catch up with them. They did not have adequate supply routes or logistics plans to keep their units fueled and supplied properly. Even in the air drop they were significantly short on airplanes so they had to do three different drops. My takeaway is that senior leaders and commanders must incorporate logistics as part of their mission planning process. There are times where some plans must be reworked or scrapped all together because of logistics constraints. I understand most leaders don’t want to hear that, but it’s the truth as I see it.
# 8 The Impact of Terrain on the Battle Field
The Netherlands was a very different battlefield than Africa and some other parts of Europe. It had hills, mountains and forests. The roads were narrow. This slowed the movement of tanks and ground forces and also had a huge impact on radio communications. My takeaway is that terrain analysis is an important part of the mission planning and Military Decision Making Process. Whenever possible, get “eyes on” the terrain during the initial planning process.
About Operation Market Garden
Operation Market Garden was an Allied campaign during WW2 (17-25 SEP 1944) consisting of nearly 41,000 Airborne Soldiers plus one armored division, two infantry divisions and one armored brigade. It took place in the Netherlands and in Germany. Allied Forces consisted of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Poland, and the Dutch Resistance. Allied casualties were approximately 15,000 to 17,000 Soldiers.
The Allied Forces were led by Field Marshall Montgomery (Britain). At the time, it was the largest Airborne operation of all time. It was a huge defeat for the Allied Forces.
About the Movie
“A Bridget too Far” came out in 1977. It portrays Operation Market Garden, a major Allied campaign during World War 2. The movie stars tons of great actors such as Sean Connery, James Caan, Anthony Hopkins, Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, Edward Fox and many others. The movie cost about $25 million to make and grossed more than $50 million at the box office. From what most critics say, the movie is historically accurate. It received mix reviews by movie critics with the major issues being that there wasn’t enough “action” in it and that it was nearly three hours long.
In summary, “A Bridge too Far” is a much watch movie for any military leader. Overall, I give it an 8 of 10 and consider it a valuable addition to any military leader’s personal library. It’s loaded with great history and leadership lessons. If you haven’t seen it yet you are definitely missing out.
What are your thoughts? Have you seen the movie yet? If so, what lessons did you takeaway from the movie? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts. I look forward to hearing from you.
Former Army Major (resigned)
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8 thoughts on “A Bridge Too Far: Movie Review and Lessons Learned”
I always thought the A Bridge Too Far was a great movie. Now after reading about the great lessons that can be learned from the movie, I think it is even greater.
I plan on watching it again with all these lessons in the forefront of my mind. I just totally agree with your take on Murphy’s Law. We as humans need to always have contingency plans, because if we don’t, Murphy will prevail 9 times out of 10.
I also have to agree with logistics. Many people do not like or deal with statistics or logistics. All numbers and possibilities must be surveyed. As a commander in a war, logistics are a huge part of the goal of winning. Use them because they work.
Glad you liked my review. Yes, you should definitely check out the movie.
I’ve never seen A Bridge Too Far but had read about Operation Market Garden. It’s interesting for a movie to center on what constituted a military failure but that, in my opinion, makes it far more interesting and complex. A takeaway you mentioned that resonates with me is to do the right thing even if it rocks the boat. I have a lot of philosophical thoughts on that and think it applies to absolutely every aspect of life.
You should definitely watch the movie. I think you will enjoy it.
Many of your points regarding “A Bridge Too Far” resonated with me on one of my own favorite military movies, “We Were Soldiers.” The idea of close air support really can give your troops a strong advantage, but it can also help you retreat from a surprise attack as well. And Mel Gibson’s character should have rocked the boat. How can you head into a battle where you have absolutely no intelligence on how many enemy troops you’ll be facing or even where they are?
“We Were Soldiers” is one of my favorite military movies.
I’m a huge fan of the grittiness and realistic feel of older war films (saw many of them during JROTC in high school), and while I’ve heard “A Bridge Too Far” tossed around in conversation, I’ve still never seen it. However, your takeaways from the film make me want to watch it as soon as possible. I love a thought-provoking movie that can teach me some life lessons along the way. For example, #6: The plan is only as good as the people who have to do it. Writing the plan and executing the plan are vastly different. Disconnect can prove fatal (literally or figuratively). This is true across multiple scenarios: war, business, sports, and so on. While a great leader and team might still succeed with a bad plan, a good plan in the wrong hands will almost surely end in failure.
Good point. This “disconnect” is one of the most common problems I saw in the Army.