Hundreds of parachutists landed in the eastern Netherlands on Saturday in a reenactment of a daring but unsuccessful Allied mission that was meant to bring a speedy end to World War II.
The 75th-anniversary commemoration of the September 1944 Battle of Arnhem included a minute's silence and the laying of wreaths in front of veterans and thousands of spectators.
Britain's Prince Charles, Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg took part in the ceremony in the Dutch town of Ede, remembering more than 10,000 soldiers who died in the nine-day offensive.
On September 17, 1944, Operation Market Garden saw nearly 35,000 Allied paratroopers dropped deep behind German lines in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands.
In one of the biggest allied air and land operations in World War II, the troops were then supposed to capture and secure key roads and bridges so Allied forces massed in Belgium could pour into Germany's industrial Ruhr heartland.
Hastily arranged, poorly executed
But bad weather and a series of errors, including a landing site too far away from a key bridge, and communication issues, together with the stubborn resistance of German soldiers, meant the mission ended in failure and saw thousands of troops killed on both sides.
"The battle was tough, brutal and vicious," Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld said at the commemoration.
"We all know that Operation Market Garden did not bring the liberty that everyone was hoping for," the mayor of Ede, Rene Verhulst, said.
"But these were days of great courage, that were decisive for the future of our continent."
The huge assault was led by the British 1st Airborne Division, and included paratroopers from the US Army's 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions and Poland's 1st Independent Parachute Brigade.
Their advance stalled on a bridge spanning the River Rhine, a battle immortalized in the book and 1977 Hollywood film A Bridge Too Far, starring Sean Connery.
More Allied troops died during Operation Market Garden than during the D-Day landings in France two months earlier.
The loss of the Battle of Arnhem prolonged World War II in Europe until the final liberation in May 1945.
mm/jlw (AP, dpa, Reuters)