Our Market Garden is a uniquely blended tour. It features all the elements expected in a typical MG tour. However, we also incorporate the unheralded and largely unknown contribution that our Canadian ‘CANLOAN’ Officers made as part of the British Army. In addition, we follow the dangerous and heroic efforts of our Canadian soldiers in their role in the evacuation of British 1st Airborne Div. from Arnhem-Oosterbeek, in September 1944. This tour starts and ends in Eindhoven.
While not normally a good idea to present such a long narrative as we have below; the story is so compelling and rife with Canadian heroics and bravery, that we simply chose not to edit it. Sadly, like the Battles of the Scheldt and the Rhine, few Canadians have any idea of the intensity and importance of these battles. Our Canadian involvement in Market Garden, is no exception. So, please take the time to read this narrative. You will not be disappointed. You will be fiercely proud of the role we played and the countless lives saved by our Canadian’s heroic efforts.
This 2 day tour lends itself well to a combination of other tours, in the same general location. Combine it with our Scheldt tour; our Battle of the Rhine tour; our Liberation of Holland tour. Combine this MG tour with any these, or better yet- with all of them, for a 7-10-day tour!
With the collapse of German resistance in Normandy at the end of August 1944, Allied forces found themselves with free rein on the far side of the Seine. After advances measured in yards per day in the summer’s costly fighting, Canadian, British and American tanks could make spectacular gains. American troops bumped up against the fortified Siegfried Line at Aachen while the British Army liberated Antwerp with its extensive port facilities. Fuel consumption became a larger menace than the Germans themselves. The Canadian Army, on the extreme left flank of the Allied advance, entered several battles in September to help clear the channel ports of Calais and Boulogne from their German occupiers. In the meantime, the supreme commander General Eisenhower had to weigh two competing schools of thought with regards to overall strategy. The “broad front” policy meant that all the armies under his command were to maintain a steady advance against the enemy. Some of his subordinates, however were pressing for a “single thrust” to end the war.
Since the landing in Normandy, many operations for the growing airborne forces in the United Kingdom had been planned and then cancelled. The 1st Airborne Division has sixteen such operations cancelled between 6 June and 17 September 1944, often because the ground forces had advanced so rapidly, the objectives had been captured before the airborne had a chance to deploy. Montgomery and Eisenhower both desired to usefully employ the newly created 1st Allied Airborne Army, and thus Montgomery proposed their use in an unusual “single thrust” operation which would get the British 2nd Army across the Rhine and behind the Siegfried Line north of the Ruhr.
MARKET-GARDEN was relatively simple in concept, but spectacular in its scope. As planned, it was – and remains – the largest airborne operation in history. Several airborne divisions were to land by parachute and glider, with the furthest – the British 1st Airborne Division – some 65 miles away from friendly lines. Each division was tasked with seizing bridges over vital waterways on a single highway leading from the positions of the British 30th Corps, to the bridge over the Rhine River at Arnhem. It was felt that a quick advance over this “carpet” of airborne troops could establish a firm bridgehead over the Rhine, from which operations could be mounted into Germany’s industrial heartland of the Ruhr, bringing about a speedy end to the war in the calendar year of 1944. The link-up between ground forces and the troops in Arnhem was to be, per Montgomery’s directive, “rapid and violent, and without regard to what is happening on the flanks.”
The landings of the American forces went well, particularly because this drop occurred in daylight and scattering of the airborne forces was not as problematic as in earlier night drops. Bridges over the Aa River and Wilhelmina Canal at Veghel were captured intact and the Dommel River bridge at St. Oedenrode was taken undamaged, though a bridge at Zon over the Wilhelmina Canal was blown up by the Germans and caused a delay. The Grave Bridge to the south of Nijmegen was captured intact by a coup-de-main.
The 82nd landed north of the 101st against little resistance, their drops and landings proving “phenomenally successful” with only 1 of 482 planes and 2 of 50 gliders failing to reach their target areas. The division seized the Groesbeek heights and at 18:00hrs two companies were sent to seize a crossing bridge over the Waal at Nijmegen. Two large spans stood over the water: a rail bridge and a road bridge further east. German commanders made Nijmegen a center of main effort and the reconnaissance battalion of the 9th SS Panzer Division was hurriedly dispatched there with a battle group from the 10th SS Panzer Division. Their orders were to block Allied troops long enough to annihilate the British in the Oosterbeek area. The seizure of the north ramp of the Arnhem bridge put a hamper on further German reinforcements, isolating units in the Nijmegen area, notwithstanding those units now willing to endure a long flanking march and slow ferry ride across the Rhine well upstream. Other reinforcements in the immediate area were activated including troops from the nearby Military District 6.
The road bridge at Nijmegen after the battle
The arrival of SS reinforcements had halted all forward motion by the Americans and thoughts of capturing a bridge vanished. The local Resistance did pass on that the Post Office in Nijmegen contained one of the firing mechanisms for destroying the bridges, and that same night a patrol seized the building and destroyed what they believed to be the firing mechanism. Fighting on the Groesbeek Heights led Major-General Gavin, commanding the 82nd Airborne Division, to abandon plans to seize the bridge that night and concentrate his forces against those arrayed against him to the east. A single company in Nijmegen was all that could be spared to continue the assault on the Waal bridges. The company attempted to bypass German resistance until they ran into SS defenses close to the river and fell short of taking the road bridge by 100 yards.
On 18 September (D+1) the 30th Corps, led by tanks of the Guards Armoured Division, had linked up with the 101st Airborne but were already behind schedule, delayed by opposition south of Eindhoven. The town was secured by U.S. paratroopers and when the tanks reached it that afternoon, bridging material was already on the way forward to replace the blown bridge at Zon. Another bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal at Best was heavily contested by German forces and troops of the 101st were unable to push them off. The Zon bridge was not completed until 06:15hrs on 19 September (D+2). Contact was made between the leading elements of British 30th Corps and the U.S. paratroopers in Grave just over two hours later.
In Nijmegen, the additional troops split into two forces and prepared to assault both the road and rail bridges. The Eastern Force came under fire 300 yards from the road bridge where the Germans were heavily fortified in stone houses and an ancient fort called the Valkhof. Three British tanks were knocked out in exchanges with German flak and anti-tank guns. Attempts to gain an advantage by flanking the Germans through the side streets failed to succeed and the Eastern Force withdrew under heavy German artillery fire. The Western Force advanced with the paratroopers riding on the tanks and the British infantry mounted in armoured carriers. This force also ran into heavy opposition and were unable to penetrate to the rail bridge. Major-General Gavin asked the 30th Corps about the availability of boats, and a river assault was drawn up. The Guards Armoured Division’s Royal Engineer Field Park Squadron brought up 26 assault boats while forces in Nijmegen continued to attack the approaches to the bridges.
On the afternoon of 20 September an attack on the railway bridge gained ground as the U.S. paratroopers began fighting from rooftop to rooftop, but ultimately stopped short of the span. Originally planned for 08:00hrs, the river crossing was delayed when the boats failed to arrive. The entire MARKET-GARDEN operation was being mounted in places over a single road, often blocked by damaged vehicles and German counter-attacks. Just the day before the 107th Panzer Brigade had closed the highway to traffic by attacking the 101st at Son.
When the river assault finally began at 15:00hrs, it went off in flimsy canvas boats for which too few paddles had been provided (the men were required to row by hand, some with rifle butts), into a current that was strong and fast, and flowing away from Nijmegen in an area almost entirely under direct German observation, two miles to the west of Nijmegen. The only saving grace was that German anti-aircraft guns could not depress their gun barrels low enough and concentrated their fire on the two squadrons of British tanks assigned to cover the assault. There were 100 field guns firing in support, with a smoke barrage laid on to hide the attack. The restricted access imposed by the single road that 30th Corps was using to move supplies limited the number of rounds per gun to about 50 and all of MARKET-GARDEN’s artillery shoots were likewise hampered until 26 September when the highway was finally cleared.
The river was 175 yards wide and one report states that the boats travelled the first 100 yards without a shot being fired. The Germans had not expected an attempt to cross “one of Europe’s widest and fastest flowing rivers in daylight”, in the words of one of the German divisional commanders, the notion was disregarded as “inconceivable and dismissed as suicidal.” Only scattered outposts had been placed out on the Waal. The infantry landed in good order on the far bank, and Royal Engineers started shuttling heavy weapons over. A 17th Century fortress 500 metres from the north end of the railway bridge was taken by 18:00hrs and the American flag run up the north end of the railway bridge. Resistance began to melt away at the south end during the evening, but either the success was never reported or the importance of the news was not realized by a headquarters fixated on the road bridge.
Half an hour after the river crossing started British and American infantry attacked again toward the road bridge through the Valkhof Gardens which were by now fortified by engineers with crawl trenches and barbed wire. During the desperate fighting, a garbled radio message that the paratroopers across the river had “reached the northern edge of the bridge” was misunderstood to refer to the road bridge, not the rail bridge, and orders were given to the Grenadier Guards to dash ahead. A squadron of tanks – the last uncommitted reserves in the city – went forward and five managed to make it onto the bridge where they engaged German engineers and dismounted to cut the cables of the demolitions.
The road to Arnhem was not yet open; more fighting in Lent to the north would continue, as well as counter-attacks on the bridges – but the fighting in Nijmegen proper was almost at an end.
Allied tanks crossed the Waal in the early evening of 20 September but did not advance on Arnhem. German counter-attacks continued to mount in several locations along the axis of advance, notably the Groesbeek Heights and Eindhoven. A general advance north did not continue until D+4, some 18 hours after the bridge at Nijmegen had fallen, over flat and wide open terrain perfectly suited for defending against armoured attacks. By D+6, however, the 1st British Airborne Division had been surrounded and cut to pieces.
After “phenomenally successful flights, drops and glider landings” on 17 September in which not a single aircraft was lost, other problems began to mount almost immediately. Intelligence reports about the existence of two SS armoured divisions refitting in the area had been downplayed or ignored. The drop zones were miles away from the bridge itself, due to congestion of forest and buildings as well as concentrations of enemy anti-aircraft guns closer to the city. Troops tasked to defend the distant landing zones, through which vital reinforcements and supplies would flow, could play no active part in the main fighting until those reinforcements landed – over the course of three successive days. Radio sets were unreliable and lacked range. Weather in the U.K. delayed reinforcement lifts and the initial air assault was made piece-meal due to aircraft shortages. The initial assault on the bridge was supposed to be carried out along a road to the north of Arnhem code-named “Leopard” by a fast-moving jeep-mounted reconnaissance unit, but the attack was delayed and then shot up in an ambush.
One battalion of paratroops under Lieutenant Colonel John Frost did reach the Arnhem road bridge on 17 September, travelling by a different route along the river bank (code named “Lion”). Other units were unable to follow them to the bridge as German defenses crystallized. To make matters worse the divisional commander, Major-General Urquhart, set out on the first day to make personal contact with sub-units after the failure of his radio equipment and was cut off by German troops. Forced to take refuge among Dutch civilians he remained incommunicado for two full days. In his absence, two brigade commanders disputed who should take over command of the division.
On 18 September, German forces managed to seal off Lieutenant-Colonel Frost’s 500-man battalion at the Arnhem bridge and prevented them from being reinforced by additional British units. Attempts to break through to the bridge were defeated by a strong German defensive screen, and even the arrival of fresh troops wasn’t enough to tip the balance. Four battalions (one air-landing and three paratroop battalions) had to fall back into defensive positions around the Landing Zones on the night of D+2, their numbers down to about 200 in all. More frustrating was the fact that radio contact had been made with Frost and divisional headquarters realized the north ramp of the bridge had been taken.
The planned landing of the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade directly south of the bridge into Drop Zone “K” was postponed by bad weather in the United Kingdom, and then relocated because the Germans had overrun the DZ. Supply drops falling into insecure drop zones was an ongoing concern during the battle. Communication outside Arnhem, to 30th Corps, 2nd British Army, and I Airborne Corps in England was finally established, though supplies continued to be dropped unwittingly into German hands. Shortages of water, ammunition and medical supplies began to mount. In the early hours of 21 September Frost’s men at the bridge were forced to surrender, at the least having denied Germans reinforcements a quick avenue of approach to Allied forces fighting at Nijmegen.
The Polish parachute brigade finally arrived though they found the ferry at Driel they expected to carry them over the river had been sunk. What was more encouraging was the fact that 30th Corps units were so close that their artillery was now firing missions in support of the Oosterbeek perimeter. In the words of the General Officer Commanding 1st Airborne Division:
It is doubtful if any medium unit has ever shot so many rounds with such accuracy at such a range and at targets so close to our own troops. Many (German) attacks were broken up as a result of its fire and its support may have made all the difference to the ability of the defence to hold out for the time that they did.
The 1st Airborne firmly established a three-mile perimeter at Oosterbeek with 3,500 men. Attacks by various German units continued to increase in intensity, but British hopes were raised briefly on 22 September (D+5), when armoured cars of British 30th Corps managed to reach the positions of the Polish parachute brigade. Tanks and infantry followed behind down a narrow corridor that evening, and an attempt by the Poles to cross the river met with disaster.
On 23 September a break in the poor weather that had dogged operations permitted air support to assist the British pressed into the Oosterbeek perimeter, while the remainder of the Polish brigade landed far to the south in a secure American drop zone rather than at Driel, passing directly into reserve. It had become clear that the 1st Airborne was too weak to assist 30th Corps in taking the Arnhem bridge even if they were to break through German resistance to reach it. The last chance of reinforcing or rescuing the beleaguered Oosterbeek force was through the link-up established at Driel. The 43rd (Wessex) Division strengthened their position there by clearing secondary roads and securing Elst. By nightfall a brigade had fought to the outskirts of Elst and another was in position in strength in the vicinity of Driel. The commander of 30th Corps still hoped to build a secure bridgehead over the Lower Rhine and sent assault boats to the Poles, but the Germans held the north bank, and attempts to cross the river under cover of darkness resulted in just 150 paratroopers getting across.
On 24 September yet another river crossing was planned for that night, and 400 men of the 4th Dorsets went across in advance of the 43rd Divisions planned deployment into the bridgehead. There weren’t enough boats, they were forced to assemble in daylight, and came under heavy German fire. Few reached the British perimeter and only about 75 saw the south bank again. At 09:30hrs on 25 September, the decision was made by 30th Corps and 1st Airborne Corps to withdraw the survivors of 1st Airborne Division back over the Lower Rhine.
The well-planned withdrawal was carried out on schedule, where Canadian engineers used storm-boats to bring the British troops back across the river. The Germans were fooled into thinking the movement was a resupply effort and never realized the perimeter in front of them was collapsing. In all, 2,398 men were successfully evacuated, including 160 Poles and 75 men of the 43rd Infantry Division. Some 300 had to be left behind on the north bank as the sun came up and conditions became too dangerous to continue the operation.
OUR CANLOAN OFFICERS &THE CANADIAN ROLE IN
THE EVACUATION OF THE BRITISH 1st AIRBORNE DIV.
FROM ARNHEM-OOSTERBEEK, SEPTEMBER 1944
CANADIAN PARTICIPATION IN MARKET-GARDEN
By early 1944, the British Army found itself short of officers, especially for the infantry and ordnance corps. Canada, on the other hand, had a surplus, and through a scheme called CANLOAN, these young Canadian officers (mostly lieutenants) were assigned to duty with the British Army. In the end 623 infantry officers and 50 ordnance corps officers were so employed, the infantry officers being used as platoon commanders, company second-in-command, and in some cases even as company commanders. An attempt was made to have these officers join their affiliated units. Of the 673 volunteers, 465 became casualties, 127 of them fatal, and over 100 decorations for bravery were made, including 41 awards of the Military Cross.
A total of thirty-two CANLOAN officers were made prisoners during the war, more than half of them during the fighting at Arnhem in September 1944. In fact, the greatest single concentration of the 673 CANLOAN officers was in the 1st Air-landing Brigade of the 1st Airborne Division, which boasted 47 Canadian officers on its rolls (23 serving in the 7th Battalion, The King’s Own Scottish Borderers, 13 in 2nd Battalion, The South Staffordshire Regiment, and 11 in the 1st Battalion, The Border Regiment.) Eight of the KOSB battalion’s 27 platoons were commanded by Canadians. Three Canadians also served in the parachute units of 1st Airborne Division, two with the 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, and Lieutenant James McKenna who was killed with 11 Para on 22 September.
Only one Canadian, Lieutenant Leo Heaps, was with the 1st Parachute Brigade on 17 September, serving in a supernumerary capacity with the headquarters of the 1st Battalion of The Parachute Regiment. Heaps was captured on 25 September though he subsequently escaped and worked with the Dutch Resistance, earning a Military Cross.
Several Canadians landed with the 1st Air-landing Brigade and took part in the early fighting. Lieutenant Albert E. Kipping and Lieutenant Peter B. Mason both served in “D” Company of 7 KOSB. Kipping was killed on the 18th and Mason wounded and captured with men of his platoon. Lieutenant Albert E.F. Wayte was wounded with “C” Company and died of his injuries two days later. On 20 September Lieutenant Martin Kaufmann led a patrol of 7 KOSB outside the perimeter to ambush Germans near the railway embankment and was wounded in a full-scale German attack on the battalion positions later, leaving just two unwounded Canadians in 7 KOSB, Lieutenant Jim Taylor and Lieutenant Erskine Carter. Taylor was captured after being wounded during a German tank attack on “C” Company on 22 September.
Captain Basil W. H. Hingston of the 2nd Staffordshires was killed during the defence of the Drop Zones, and on 19 September Lieutenant Philip Hart Turner led his platoon of 2 Staffords into an attack on a hill at Der Brink. He later commanded part of the perimeter at Oosterbeek. Both actions were mentioned in the citation for a United States Distinguished Service Cross. Lieutenant John A. Wellbelove, one of three CANLOANS to land with 1 Border, was killed defending the area near Westbouing. The other two officers were Lieutenant Clifford M. Aasen and Lieutenant George W. Comper.
A CANLOAN officer was also serving in the 1st Grenadier Guards, part of the 30th Corps units fighting through NIjmegen. Lieutenant Larry Fazackerley was wounded on 20 September with No. 4 Company during an assault to break through to the Waal. There were also CANLOANS in the 4th Battalion of The Dorsetshire Regiment which had reinforced the Poles, and both took part in the crossing. Captain Thomas King and Lieutenant John Foote, the latter in “B” Company. Lieutenant J.L.P.H. Boucher also took part in the ferrying of troops as a CANLOAN officer from the RCE. Assigned to the 204th Field Company of the 43rd Infantry Division, he was awarded the Military Cross for actions on the Lower Rhine during MARKET-GARDEN.
Only two CANLOAN officers of twenty that served at Arnhem managed to escape. Lieutenant W. Alex (“Doc”) Harvie and Lieutenant Philip H. Turner both served with 2nd Battalion, The South Staffordshire Regiment and both were evacuated across the Rhine before the battle ended. Turner received the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during the battle.
CANLOAN Officers During MARKET-GARDEN
|Lieutenant||Aasen, Clifford M.||1 Border||1 Airborne||POW|
|Lieutenant||Boucher, J.L.P.H.||204 Field Coy, RE||43rd (Wessex)||MC|
|Lieutenant||Boustead, Albert E.||2 Staffs||1 Airborne||POW|
|Lieutenant||Cameron, Donald A.||7 KOSB||1 Airborne||POW|
|Lieutenant||Carter, Erskine E.R.E.||7 KOSB||1 Airborne||POW|
|Lieutenant||Comper, George W.||1 Border||1 Airborne||POW|
|Lieutenant||Erskine, James S.||2 Staffs||1 Airborne||POW|
|Lieutenant||Fazackerley, Larry||No. 4 Coy, 1st Grenadier Guards||Guards Armoured|
|Lieutenant||Foote, John||4 Dorsets, “B” Coy||43rd (Wessex)|
|Lieutenant||Godfrey, Arthur R.||2 Staffs||1 Airborne||POW|
|Lieutenant||Harvie, W. Alex||2 Staffs||1 Airborne||Evacuated, MID|
|Lieutenant||Heaps, Leo||1 Para, “HQ” Coy||1 Airborne||POW, escaped, MC|
|Captain||Hingston, Basil W. H.||2 Staffs||1 Airborne||KIA 19 Sep 1944|
|Lieutenant||Kane, Lawrence||7 KOSB||1 Airborne||POW|
|Lieutenant||Kaufmann, Martin||7 KOSB||1 Airborne||WIA, POW|
|Captain||King, Thomas||4 Dorsets||43rd (Wessex)||POW|
|Lieutenant||Kipping, Albert E.||7 KOSB, “D” Coy||1 Airborne||KIA 18 Sep 1944|
|Lieutenant||MacDonald, G. Smith||7 KOSB||1 Airborne||POW|
|Lieutenant||MacDonald, John J.||2 Staffs||1 Airborne||POW|
|Lieutenant||Mason, Peter B||7 KOSB, “D” Coy||1 Airborne||POW|
|Captain||McCourt, James F||7 KOSB||1 Airborne||POW|
|Lieutenant||McKenna, James||11 Para||1 Airborne||KIA 22 Sep 1944|
|Lieutenant||Norwood, Carlisle||2 Staffs||1 Airborne||POW|
|Lieutenant||Palen, Frank F.||2 Staffs||1 Airborne||WIA, evaded capture|
|Lieutenant||Taylor, Jim||7 KOSB, “C” Coy||1 Airborne||WIA, POW|
|Lieutenant||Taylor, Kenneth||2 Staffs||1 Airborne||POW|
|Lieutenant||Turner, Philip Hart||2 Staffs||1 Airborne||Evacuated, DSC|
|Lieutenant||Wayte, Albert E.F.||7 KOSB, “C” Coy||1 Airborne||DOW 20 Sep 1944|
|Lieutenant||Wellbelove, John A.||1 Border||1 Airborne||KIA 25 Sep 1944|
One officer of 2 Staffords, Lieutenant Frank Palen, was wounded during the fighting at Arnhem, but went into hiding with a Dutch family. He managed to find his way back to British lines and eventually the U.K. where he joined the 12th Battalion, the Parachute Regiment. He was captured during the Rhine Crossing when he made a second combat jump with the 6th Airborne Division.
THE CANADIAN ROLE IN EVACUATION OF THE BRITISH 1st AIRBORNE DIV. FROM ARNHEM-OOSTERBEEK, SEPTEMBER 1944 – by David Bennett
This article will describe and evaluate the part played by two Canadian engineer companies, the 20th Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers, under the command of Major A.W. Jones, and the 23rd Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers, commanded by Major M.L. Tucker, in the evacuation of 1st Airborne on the night of D+8 – a story that has thus far been buried in official reports and privately published memoirs.
The Historiography of the Evacuation
The evacuation of 1st Airborne Division over the Lower Rhine from Oosterbeek was carried out by four engineer companies, the 553rd and 260th Field Companies, Royal Engineers, and the
20th and 23rd Field Companies, Royal Canadian Engineers, of which the last of these played, in practice, by far the most important role in the evacuation. In the accounts of the evacuation, the names and identity of these Canadian companies are almost never mentioned beyond the original archival documents, and, occasionally, in unit histories. The most one usually finds are references to motorized storm-boats, used by the two Canadian companies, or a reference to the fact that Canadian engineer units were involved. This is certainly the case with respect to two famous accounts of Market Garden, those of Cornelius Ryan and Martin Middlebrook. In the latter case, the author downplays the role of the Canadians, stating that motorized storm-boats were not used in the 20th Company sector, hardly acknowledging that most of the airborne troops were evacuated by the Canadians. Other standard accounts follow this pattern, with the result that the full, balanced story of the evacuation has not yet been told. Why this glaring omission? The answers are speculative, but they are likely twofold. The first is that the British commands, from XXX Corps on down, botched the attempt to reinforce 1st Airborne Division in Oosterbeek. Though bridging units were available in the vicinity of Nijmegen, no attempt was made to bring them forward until midday on D+7; they were then immediately stood down from reinforcement initiatives, to be replaced by the plans for an evacuation. The four engineer companies came under the oversight of yet another unit, the 204th Engineer Company, Royal Engineers. At some level, quite probably at that of the 204th Company, the engineers were reluctant to employ the motorized storm-boats, on which only the Canadians had been trained, either for the reinforcement operation or for the evacuation. The British apparently did not trust them. Middlebrook furthered this legacy when he rather smugly suggested that the storm-boats were too noisy to be used in the 20th Company sector, and that they would give away the evacuation proceedings. Therefore, it is quite possible that the British did not want to admit that the evacuation only succeeded because of troops and equipment in which they had no confidence, and whose use they had attempted to subvert. Browning, the British Airborne Corps commander, wrote to the Commanding Officer (CO) of the 4th Dorsets after the evacuation, thanking the battalion for “the magnificent show you put up in enabling the survivors of the 1st Airborne Division to withdraw across the river. As will be seen, this is exceptionally misrepresentative. The least that can be said about Browning’s words is that this is what the British wanted to believe. The second reason why the role of the Canadians has not been acknowledged may well be the bitterness felt by the survivors of 1st Airborne towards all the relieving forces, essentially the Guards Armoured Division and the 43rd (Wessex) Division. Though the rank and file of XXX Corps were the least to blame for the failure of the relief efforts, none of their members have been made welcome at anniversary celebrations of the Battle
of Arnhem-Oosterbeek, not even the 4th Dorsets, who suffered grievously in the battle, and a few of whom joined 1st Airborne in the Oosterbeek perimeter after their crossing on the night of D+7. The Canadians have been condemned by association with the relieving forces, despite the fact that, without them, the evacuation would undoubtedly have failed. Two Canadian officers, Major Michael L.Tucker, DSO, CO of the 23rd Company, and Lieutenant Russell Kennedy, MC, the unit’s Reconnaissance Officer, deserve a place in the memories of Market Garden no less than the operation’s legendary heroes, such as Lieutenant-Colonel Reuben Tucker and Major Julian Cook of the US 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment – remembered for their part in the assault crossing of the Waal – and Lieutenant-Colonel John Frost, whose reinforced 2nd Parachute Battalion defended the north end of the Arnhem bridge until D+3.“
The Decision to Move from the Reinforcement of 1st Airborne to Its Evacuation
The 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade dropped on the south bank of the Lower Rhine around Driel on 21 September. Fifty men crossed the Lower Rhine to reinforce the pocket at Oosterbeek on the night of 22 September and 250 more crossed over in assault boats on 23 September. On 24 September the British 130th Infantry Brigade had linked up with the Poles at Driel and about two companies of the 4th Battalion, The Dorsetshire Regiment crossed over to the north bank of the Lower Rhine. The same day the decision was made to not reinforce 1st Airborne Division, but to evacuate them back across the Rhine. The operation began on 25 September (D+8) and was facilitated in part by two Canadian units, the 20th Field Company, RCE (commanded by Major A.W. Jones) and the 23rd Field Company, RCE (Major M.L. Tucker).
The Canadian engineer units both belonged to First Canadian Army Troops Engineers (i.e. they were assigned directly to the First Canadian Army). They were joined in their task by the 260th and 553rd Field Companies, Royal Engineers of the British Army. The Canadian engineers were equipped with storm boats while the British units used assault boats. Storm boats were 20-foot long craft made with oak frames and plywood sides, powered by 50-horsepower Evinrude outboard motors capable of carrying 18 fully-equipped troops and travelling 6-knots when fully loaded. The assault boat was a smaller craft made of canvas and propelled by paddles. The Canadian Army’s official history described the evacuation succinctly:
In dismal weather (which nevertheless helped to conceal their movements) the sappers brought their craft forward over difficult routes to the river’s edge opposite the British bridgehead. All through the night the boats shuttled back and forth across the wide stream in driving rain, bringing exhausted survivors to safety under constant machine-gun and mortar fire. When daylight came the machine-guns up on the hill above the bridgehead rained a murderous hail of bullets on those craft which were still operating, but the downward angle of the fire was much less effective than it would have been had the guns been in position to make more horizontal sweeps. Mortar and 88 mm fire fell everywhere.
The 23rd Field Company worked at a site north-east of the village of Driel. Very few soldiers came down to embark at the point farther west to which the 20th had been allotted. When the evacuation ended, about 2400 men had been ferried back, most of them apparently in the storm-boats of the 23rd. This company had five killed and three wounded. Among the men it brought out was Major-General R. E. Urquhart, the G.O.C. 1st Airborne Division. The company commander, Major M. L. Tucker, subsequently received the D.S.O., mainly for this night’s work on the Neder Rijn.
Major Tucker had anticipated Canadian participation in an assault crossing of the Lower Rhine beginning on 20 September (D+3) once it became known the north end of the Arnhem road bridge had been lost. Three Canadian engineer units (20th Field Company, 23rd Field Company and 10th Field Park Company) had moved up just south of Nijmegen on 21 September with Class 9 assault rafts and storm boats and placed under command of the 204th Field Company, R.E. (the 204th was a permanent unit of the 43rd Infantry Division’s divisional engineers). A platoon of the 204th had been sent to ferry the Poles across on their second attempt across the Lower Rhine but for some reason the Poles had been left to man the assault boats on their own. A Canadian officer went with the 204th to reconnoitre possible launching points for storm boats, but complained that the British apparently had no confidence in the craft. On 23 September Canadians and their storm boats. once again played no part in a river crossing attempt by the Poles. The Poles instead had been using a small stock of assault boats and, more dangerously, pneumatic rubber boats (officially, Reconnaissance Boats) which were in essence 14-foot inner-tubes that were, in the words of one of the Polish engineers who participated in the crossings, “not meant for navigating swift rivers (and) very difficult to control.”
The 20th and 23rd Field Companies were warned to move at noon on 24 September, then ordered back to bivouac about two hours later when the reinforcement of 1st Airborne Division was scrapped. The assault crossing by the Poles and Dorsets once again did not include the storm boats, though the commander of 130th Infantry Brigade had known the Canadians were prepared and had in fact promised the boats to the commander of the Poles. The role of the Dorsets changed to reinforcing the perimeter to guarding the left flank of the withdrawal. The Commander, Royal Engineers of the 43rd Division, Lieutenant-Colonel W.C.A. Henniker, assigned two British engineer companies to assist the Canadian companies on the understanding there would be two main evacuation points. The majority of storm boats were assigned to the eastern crossing point. On the morning of 25 September, with the evacuation set for the night of 25/26 September, Major Tucker learned that the mission had changed to an evacuation. He sent two officers to reconnoitre a route to the river and select a crossing site for the 23rd. South of the river were two large dykes, a winter dyke 18-20 feet high a few hundred yards from the water, and a summer dyke 400 yards closer to the river just 7-10 feet high. An orchard was found to launch the storm boats from.
During the reconnaissance, the 20th and 23rd Field Companies moved to a staging area closer to the river accompanied by 12 fitters and carpenters from the 10th Field Park Company. At 18:00hrs Major Tucker received his orders: the 23rd Company, 14 storm boats and six of the tradesmen would proceed to the eastern crossing point in three jeeps, a scout car and twenty 3-ton lorries and the 20th received six storm boats and the other six tradesmen. Artillery cover started at 21:00hrs and the boats of the 23rd went into operation at 21:30hrs, the 20th two hours later. The 23rd launched their boats ten minutes earlier than the scheduled 21:40hrs, and had in fact no training in offloading the boats which normally required a derrick truck which was not available. The boats were stacked three high on the trucks, and each boat weighed 1,500 lbs when fitted with all equipment, including the 198-lb engine. When empty, the boats weighted 500 lbs. The boats were carried a quarter mile through dark and rain over both dykes, in muddy terrain under shell fire. The steep winter dyke proved to be wet and slippery, and though the boats had hand ropes attached, carrying bars were not fitted until after the operation. The fitters were also kept busy servicing the engines, having to change or service ten engines. Another concern was that the motors were not water-proofed, and that soaked spark-plugs would fail to ignite when the pull-starter was engaged. At least one of the storm boats was on the north side of the Rhine in heavily overloaded condition when the engine failed to start and it took “dozens” of tries on the pull-starter to get the engine to catch.
The western crossing area serviced by the 20th Field Company employed only British assault boats, and only 46 men of the Dorsets were evacuated in the swift current (including a trip by a section of Dorsets using an assault boat they found themselves on the north bank). Attempts late in the night to move four of the storm boats to the eastern crossing site to reinforce the 23rd resulted in the loss of one boat to mortar fire and the abandonment of a second under machine gun fire due to engine failure. Operations at the western crossing officially ceased at 03:30hrs.
The 23rd Company was relatively safe from machine gun fire as Germans on the Westerbowing heights could not sweep the river but only fire downwards. Nonetheless, the first storm boat was sunk on launching by being holed by rocks, and the second boat was lost with its crew of four to enemy fire. The fourth boat capsized when passengers instinctively tried to dive flat from the sound of enemy fire and several men were lost in the river. By 03:30hrs the 14 remaining storm boats were in continuous operation. Wounded men were given priority in the evacuation, with 60 stretcher cases and 100 walking wounded flowing into the Regimental Aid Post of the engineers before being evacuated by truck to Driel. The river evacuation was a slow process, due mainly to the limitations of the boats themselves, which had no reverse gears, no clutches, and temperamental engines which stalled in the rain. By first light at 04:00hrs only two boats were operational and the exhausted storm boat crews of the 23rd were sent back to the orchard. Lieutenant Kennedy and others continued to make trips across the river, alternately coaxing storm boats to life, towing and paddling, until Major Tucker was ordered to cease operations at 05:45hrs. Of the 2,400-2,500 men evacuated, Major Tucker believed that all but 100 had been carried in his storm boats, carried over in 150 trips. Six men of the company had been killed, five wounded, and five were decorated, including a Military Cross to Lieutenant Kennedy.
The 23rd Field Company was involved in two final postscripts to MARKET-GARDEN in the weeks that followed. Operation PEGASUS I was the successful evacuation of 128 evaders from the 1st Airborne Division trapped on the far side of the Rhine. The operation was orchestrated by the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. In November 1944 Operation PEGASUS II was intended to likewise evacuate another 120 men across the Rhine, but only a handful of men were in fact transported due to the presence of German patrols and tanks. The company moved to the Waal River where it opened a river ferry service, moving 6,500 men of the 101st Airborne back across the river, ending their service in the Nijmegen area.
Of Major Tucker, Russell Kennedy wrote, “He led us into France through the N.W. Europe campaign and back to England with unvarying fairness and with a judicious mixture of firmness and fatherly concern.” Tucker, from Westmount, Quebec, was “a very kind fellow… the only criticism that I would voice at all was that he was very ready to take on any job that his superiors offered him. I figured if the war went on long enough, he would get us all killed… eventually!” Kennedy also said that Tucker was an “impulsive Irishman.” However, there is no indication at all that Tucker’s impulsiveness led him to poor judgment.
On 20 September, D+3, it became clear to Tucker that since the British had lost the north end of the Arnhem road bridge, the Canadians would be required to conduct an assault crossing of the Lower Rhine. The 20th and the 23rd Companies, along with the 10th Field Park Company, Royal Canadian Engineers, assembled along the Bourg Leopold-Hechtel road and were then rushed to a point just south of Nijmegen on D+4. Class 9 (nine-ton) assault rafts and storm-boats accompanied the convoy, still part of the engineers’ supply pool and not yet assigned to specific companies. The Canadians were then placed under the overall command of the 204th Field Company, Royal Engineers. One platoon of the 204th Company was sent forward to take the Poles over the river in their second crossing. For reasons that are not entirely clear, this platoon did not take part in the operation: the untrained Poles had to man the assault boats, with the result that only 250 troops crossed the river on the night of D+6. Lieutenant Kennedy, attached to the 204th Company on D+4 for reconnaissance purposes, said only that he “didn’t learn much,” implying that he was not present at the launching of the assault boats. Major-General Stanislaw Sosabowski, the Polish brigade commander, wondered afterwards why the 43rd Division, trained and equipped for assault crossings, had not done the job.
Kennedy’s reconnaissance party was “to look for sites from which storm-boats may be operated, if required. We feel that storm-boats should be used in the first place, but they (the British) have no confidence in them and it looks as if we and our boats have just come along for the ride.” The Canadian engineer companies played no part in the Polish crossing on D+6: “Why won’t they let us play?” asked Tucker, certain only that the 20th Company would be called in to do assault rafting. On D+7, Tucker recorded, “At last we are to be used,” clearly for a night assault crossing to reinforce 1st Airborne Division. The two companies prepared to move off from their positions south of Nijmegen, the 23rd Company with the storm-boats and the 20th Company with the assault rafts. The movement order was given at midday, but perhaps as early as 1400 hours, the order was cancelled and “we return disappointed to our bivouac area.” The reason was that one of the higher commands had made the decision to move from the reinforcement of 1st Airborne Division to its evacuation, although this does not explain why no engineer units were involved in the assault crossing that night. On reflection, Kennedy later speculated that the alert on D+7 was indeed for that purpose.
Originally, the crossing on D+7 was to be carried out by the Polish brigade and the 4th Dorsets. Sosabowski had been promised motorized storm-boats by Brigadier Ben Walton of 130th Infantry Brigade. Walton, naturally enough, knew that the Canadians were ready and available. But then the Polish operation was cancelled and Sosabowski was obliged to hand over his small stock of assault boats to the Dorsets. The reason for the shortage of assault boats is inexplicable: five engineer companies were in the vicinity of Nijmegen, with a platoon of the 204th Company, at least, up at the front line. Whatever the reason, the Canadians spent the night of D+7-8 south of Nijmegen. By this time, the life seems to have gone out of the XXX Corps leadership and its subordinate formations: after the lightning advance of the engineers, in which the route was cleared of all traffic from Hechtel, through Eindhoven and Grave to Nijmegen, command was paralyzed in supine stagnation.
That night, 350 Dorsets set out for the north bank, of whom 315 arrived ashore. Why they were sent at all is not clear. Formally, the evacuation order from Second Army was not issued until the following day. Both Sosabowski, and, initially, Lieutenant-Colonel Gerald Tilly of the Dorsets were under the distinct impression that the crossing was to be the prelude to a bigger crossing on the following night. Again, formally, this has been the rationale of XXX Corps for the operation. The reality was different. Just before the operation, Brigadier Walton told Lieutenant-Colonel Tilly that the purpose of the crossing had changed: Tilly was now to hold the base of Urquhart’s perimeter while the 1st Airborne Division was withdrawn. Walton did not even believe in this reduced role, since he ordered a maximum of 400 Dorsets to cross, with the quite remarkable rider that Tilly himself need not go. Tilly, who led his men across and into captivity, considered that his battalion had been sacrificed – “chucked away” – a view endorsed by Martin Middlebrook.
Officially, the role of the Dorsets was to cover the left flank of 1st Airborne’s withdrawal. Yet this mythology – to use a charitable categorization – determined the tactics used in the evacuation on the following night. The engineers, under the command of the 204th Company, and possibly under the influence of the 43rd Division engineer commander, Lieutenant- Colonel W.C.A. Henniker, were given to understand that there would be two major evacuation points, both with very substantial numbers of evacuees. That is why two engineer companies were assigned to each sector: the 553rd Royal Engineers and the 20th Royal Canadian Engineers in the west, and the 23rd Royal Canadian Engineers in the east, with the 260th Royal Engineers just to their left. At the same time, the idea that the Dorsets would cover the withdrawal was reduced to a cypher, since the western crossing, opposite the Dorsets, was to commence a mere two hours after that of the eastern crossing. That the 204th Company assigned most of the storm-boats to the eastern crossing proves nothing. The British did not rate them highly, and, in the event, declined to use them on the western crossing. This was not their finest hour. Kennedy’s impression was that it “didn’t really appear that the generals had expected us to bring out many survivors.” The decision to divide the evacuation into two equal projects was deeply misguided and disingenuous. What saved the evacuation from failure was a matter of shrewdness and superb soldiering – shrewdness in Kennedy’s choice of the eastern crossing point, and superb soldiering on the part of the 23rd Company.
Lieutenant Russell J. Kennedy, MC
By 0400 hours, as the first dull light appeared through the darkness and rain, only two boats were still in service. Tucker, directing operations under machine gun fire at the shore, sent the remaining crews, all exhausted, back to the orchard. Kennedy was already tired out from his reconnaissance the previous night. Nevertheless, he found a storm-boat, abandoned because its motor had failed, and managed to get it started. He then took it across with Lance Corporal Gillis and Sapper McCready. On the north bank, they encountered an “uncontrollable mass of men.” Kennedy, standing in the storm-boat, pulled out his Browning pistol, thought better of it, and then went down with his boat as it promptly sank in four feet of water. After about an hour, the boat was re-floated, then returned across the Rhine, propelled “with two paddles and some rifle butts.” Kennedy then found another storm-boat, managed in turn to get it started and then set out again, towing an assault boat from the 260th Company and the original storm-boat, waterlogged and barely seaworthy. The crews were, again, Kennedy, Gillis and McCready. The three boats returned to the south bank, fully loaded. Kennedy described this as the biggest miracle of the night, a “real triumph. Felt great.” On the third and final run, Russell again took across the working storm-boat, with McCready as the sole crewman in a towed storm-boat, its engine still dead. However, “discipline had slipped” and both boats were overloaded. Kennedy’s engine refused to restart and the passengers in McCready’s boat cast off, paddling with rifle butts. It was said that of 25 men in McCready’s boat, all but four, including McCready, succumbed to machine gun fire. Kennedy managed to get his motor started and returned slowly in his overloaded boat, machine gun bullets “making interesting patterns around us.” The boat touched the south bank in daylight at 0720 hours. Kennedy was last off the boat, leaving only a dead paratrooper who had been killed beside him.
In his last two crossings, Kennedy was said to have deposited a load of German life jackets on the north bank. This story is, in fact, false. This apocryphal incident has often been recorded, but the highly significant achievements of the Canadians is usually only noted briefly and in passing. The 23rd Field Company Report credits the organization of the evacuation to Kennedy, as well as the bringing over of 125 men. Tucker, who had exposed himself to fire in the grand manner of Urquhart and Sosabowski, was ordered to cease crossing at 0545 hours. The western crossing had ceased at 0330 hours. At least 2398 men had been evacuated, including 160 Poles and 75 Dorsets. Tucker calculated that his storm-boats had carried across all but about a hundred in 150 crossings, for a total of 2400 to 2500 men. The Canadians were warmly praised by Lieutenant-Colonel Henniker for this operation. Five were decorated, including the award of a Military Cross for Lieutenant Kennedy, a tangible sign of how well the Canadians had performed. Six from 23rd Company were killed and five wounded. Kennedy lost two close friends, his driver, Sapper Buck McKee, and Lieutenant Russ Martin.
The Nijmegen Salient – a large bulge in the lines – became a home to the American airborne divisions for several weeks, and later on a winter home for the entire Canadian Army in Northwest Europe as it rested after the Battle of the Scheldt. In April 1945, Arnhem was again fought over during Operation ANGER when 1st Canadian Army finally crossed the Rhine River and approached the city to liberate it from the Germans. While troops of the British 49th (West Riding) Division performed the main role of attacking the city, the Princess Louise Fusiliers, a machine gun unit of the 5th Canadian (Armoured) Division, was also granted a Battle Honour for its participation in the battle.
- Initial attack British 30 Corps
- Son Bridge – the Bailey Bridge
- Joe Mann Memorial – Battle at Best
- Main drop zone 101 Airborne
- Koevering road cut
- Grave bridge
- Heumen lock bridge
- Battle at Mook / Plasmolen
- Main drop zones 82 Airborne at Groesbeek
- Nijmegen road bridge / Hunnerpark
- The Waal River Crossing
- Drop and landing zone 1st Airborne 17 Sept
- The culvert / ambush recce squadron by Kampgruppe Kraft
- Drop zone Ginkelse Heath
- Blocking line Kampfgruppe Spindler
- Arnhem & John Frost Bridge
- Fighting in Arnhem west / Urquhart’s hideout
- Oosterbeek-Laag church – the Oosterbeek perimeter
Additional tour information
As with our other tour options, this tour will be a private, personalized tour, available anytime on a first come-first serve basis, ideally for groups of 1-4 people. As with our other tours, our personalization service allows you to participate in the structure of the tour. If you have any special requests, like following the footsteps of a particular Veteran or unit, we are happy to accommodate, whenever possible. If you do have an interest in a particular soldier or unit, please provide us with his details and we will do some preliminary research, to make your tour an even more meaningful experience.
This tour, as well as our others, will be priced on the following basis. The price quoted will be for all ground transportation within the battlefield areas, with professional guide(s). It does not include anything else. Of course, we are happy to make recommendations to help with your travel planning, like hotels, B&B’s. There are many hotel booking sites but we have always liked booking.com.
You will be responsible for getting to Eindhoven, where we will pick you up and drop you off at the end of your tour.