“Plans are Worthless, but Planning is Everything:” How Failure to Properly Plan Led to the Failure of Operation Market Garden

Guiding Question:

Why did Operation Neptune succeed and Operation Market Garden fail?


As General Eisenhower stated in a speech on November 14, 1957, “plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” Using the military five-paragraph OPORD (operations order) format, students will be able to compare and contrast Operation Neptune with Operation Market Garden in order to understand and explain why Neptune succeeded while Market Garden failed.


Historical Context

After the breakout from Normandy in August 1944, Allied forces quickly moved eastward across France. In early September, the Allied armies found themselves on the doorstep of Germany. The only major barrier between them and the German heartland was the Rhine River. In early September, British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery proposed an audacious plan to “jump the Rhine” and hasten the end of the war in Europe. The plan, Operation Market Garden, called for landing three airborne divisions along a 60-mile long swath of Holland. Their objective was to conduct a daring daytime airborne assault to seize a series of bridges (Market) over which a large British armored force (Garden) would cross over, propelling them over the Rhine and into the industrial heartland of Germany.

The plan was approved by General Eisenhower and launched within one week’s time. Although the opening stages of the operation were successful, a stronger than expected German response, coupled with weather and logistical challenges, doomed Market Garden to failure. The shattered attempt to vault the Rhine resulted in over 17,000 Allied casualties and an additional eight months of hard combat in Europe. First Lieutenant Warren Hill Frye and many other men who served in Operation Market Garden are buried at Netherlands American Cemetery.


At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to

  • Understand how a military operations order initiates an operation;
  • Understand how inaccurate or hastily planned operations can have disastrous results; and
  • Develop critical thinking skills that assist with the decision-making process.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.3 Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

Connections to C3 Framework
D2.His.9.9-12 Analyze the relationship between historical sources and the secondary interpretations made from them.
D2.His.11.9-12 Critique the usefulness of historical sources for a specific historical inquiry based on their maker, date, place of origin, intended audience, and purpose.
D2.His.14.9-12 Analyze multiple and complex causes and effects of events in the past.
D2.His.16.9-12 Integrate evidence from multiple relevant historical sources and interpretations into a reasoned argument about the past.


Activity One: Operations Orders (OPORDS)

Activity Two: Operations Orders (OPORDs) and Introduction to Operations Neptune and Market Garden

Activity Three: Compare and Contrast Operations Neptune and Market Garden

Lesson Preparation

Activity One: Operations Orders (OPORDS)

Activity Two: Operations Orders (OPORDs) and Introduction to Operations Neptune and Market Garden

  • Secure access to computers (ideally, one per student).
  • Divide students into groups of four to five students each.
  • Print one copy of the Compare Contrast Graphic Organizer for each student.

Activity Three: Compare and Contrast Operations Neptune and Market Garden

  • Pair each student with another student with whom they have not previously worked.
  • Print one copy of the Compare Contrast Graphic Organizer for each pair of students.
  • Give students access to Operational Orders for Operations Neptune and Market Garden (printed or online). Each OPORD packet contains the OPORDS for both operations for Intelligence, Mission,
  • Operations, Administration, and Communication. All packets are subdivided into two sections for each operation and contain the overall mission statement for both operations. Each student should receive one component (intelligence, etc) of the OPORD.

Assessment: Determine why Neptune succeeded and Market Garden


Activity One: Operations Orders (OPORDs) (45 minutes)

  • Introduction
    • Show picture of massive airborne drop (slide two of the Military Operational Order PowerPoint Presentation. Ask students, How does a military operation of this size and scope happen?
    • Explain how a detailed order is issued from the highest headquarters down to the common soldier about what is about to take place; who is responsible for certain task(s); when it is to occur; where it is to take place; and why the mission needs to be accomplished.
  • The Parts of an OPORD
    • Using slides three through seven, the teacher will explain the five sections of an OPORD. These include Intelligence, Mission, Operations, Administrative, and Communications.
  • Practical Exercise
    • Distribute one OPORD Worksheet to each group; then using slide eight, brief the mission to the class. The mission is to execute a class picnic.
    • Divide class into groups of three to four so students can begin to collaboratively work on writing their group’s OPORD using the blank OPORD Worksheet (one worksheet per group) for the class picnic.

Activity Two: Operations Orders (OPORDs) and Introduction to Operations Neptune and Market Garden (45 minutes)

  • Reassemble student groups from the previous activity, and ask them to prepare their OPORD briefs for the class picnic.
  • Select one team for each subordinate mission to brief their OPORD to the class. Each group should turn in their completed OPORD Worksheet for a formative assessment.
  • Transition students to the historical application. Analyze selected closed sources (either online or printed or both) for students to familiarize themselves with both Operations Neptune (also known as Operation Overlord or the Normandy Invasion) and Market Garden.
  • Using the Compare and Contrast Operations Organizer, students will record their findings. This task can be completed as a homework assignment if desired.

Activity Three: Compare and Contrast Operations Neptune and Market Garden (45 minutes)

  • Pair students with someone with whom they have not worked previously.
  • Distribute a new Compare and Contrast Organizer to each pair and ask them to synthesize their findings and reach a consensus on similarities and differences.
  • Project a copy of the Compare and Contrast Organizer on the board. Using a whiteboard or smartboard, the teacher will lead a discussion on the student findings on the similarities and differences between the two operations. Emphasis should be placed on the overall success or failure of the operation – this helps focus students' attention on finding the clues to success or failure in the actual orders.
  • Re-assemble students into groups of four to five students each and distribute a different section of the actual OPORDs for the two invasions (one student in the group receives Intelligence, the next person receives Communications, etc).
  • Ask students to analyze their assigned portion (one of five sections) of the OPORD for each operation, looking for similarities and differences between the two.

Assessment Materials

Assessment: Determine why Neptune succeeded and Market Garden failed

  • Teacher Guide, Operations Neptune
  • Teacher Guide, Market Garden
  • Ask students to return to their groups from the previous activity.
  • Ask students to share their findings about the differences in the OPORDS for Operations Neptune and Market Garden.
  • Using the Reasons for Success / Failure Worksheet, each group of students should synthesize the four most important reasons why Operation Neptune succeeded and Operation Market Garden failed.
  • Facilitate a class discussion to discuss the reasons that the groups have synthesized.

Methods for Extension

  • Students can compare and contrast other operations during World War II (different theaters or time frames).
  • Students can research specific leaders, units, and individuals involved in one or both Operation Neptune and Operation Market Garden.
  • The American Battle Monuments Commission maintains U.S. military cemeteries overseas. These cemeteries are permanent memorials to the fallen, but it is important that students know the stories of those who rest here. To learn more about the stories of some of the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, visit the Understanding Sacrifice Interactive Map.


  • Teachers can annotate OPORD packets to assist in student understanding.
  • Teachers can record sections of OPORD packets to assist student understanding.
  • Teachers can consult the Teacher’s Guide for suggestions on which OPORD section is best suited for student groups of different abilities.
  • Activity Two can be modified and used as a single lesson to compare and contrast Operation Neptune with Operation Market Garden.


Return to Activity

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources