Article Operation Berlin - Canadian 23rd Field Company at Arnhem


Mi General
MI.Net Member
Apr 17, 2019
I saw something earlier today talking about how it was soon the anniversary of Operation Berlin - the last ditch evacuation efforts of the remainder of the British 1st Airborne from the Arnhem Oosterbeck perimeter, carried out by the British 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division, 1st Polish Parachute Brigade and the 20th and 23rd Field Companies of the Canadian Army.

This is the wikipedia article on it - but I also found the following article about the Canadian involvement. I've picked paragraphs out from it but the whole thing is genuinely worth a read, though for some reason the Polish General Sosabowski's name is continually misspelled in it -

Few people on the Airborne Walk know the full story behind the memorial and even fewer know that almost all of those who were saved owe it to the men of the 23rd Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers.

The 20th and 23rd field companies had been attached to 43 Wessex Div. in an attempt to bolster the division’s river crossing capacity. The Canadians were equipped with stormboats powered by Evinrude motors. Each boat could carry 36 men. The British made do with smaller assault boats that had to be paddled.


On the morning of Sept. 25, 1944, the confusion and uncertainty that had marked the operations of the ground forces throughout Operation Market Garden were still evident. When Major M.L. Tucker–the commanding officer of 23 Field Co.–arrived at an orders group he was assigned a sector and told to bring out as many survivors as he could. No one could say how many there might be and there was no information available on the enemy or the crossing sites. 20th Field Co.’s sector proved to be opposite an area already held by the enemy.


Those who made it to the riverbank were organized into a queue with the walking wounded given priority. Men fell into an exhausted sleep or hunkered down to wait. The first boat to arrive was one of the small assault craft of 260 Wessex Field Co. The current in the flooded river was very strong and so the British sappers had to approach diagonally while paddling furiously. On the return trip the passengers had to help out or risk being swept away. The rescue of large numbers of men depended upon the Canadians, but the first boat they launched sank after being badly holed. The second boat, captained by Lieutenant J.R. Martin, set off across the river to determine the situation and start the evacuation. Two witnesses reported that a direct mortar hit caused it to break apart in mid-river. None of the crew survived.

The third boat, commanded by a Corporal McLachlan, followed the same route. It reached the far bank without incident and wounded men were quickly loaded and rushed to safety. The fourth boat was swamped when a mortar bomb fell close by. Just four passengers survived. These setbacks might have led Tucker to question the point of the operation, but there really was no choice. Everything that could be done had to be tried. Fortunately, McLachlan and his crew seemed to lead a charmed life. They made 15 consecutive trips and evacuated nearly 500 men before they were relieved by a fresh crew. Other boats were launched at intervals of 20 minutes and by 3:30 a.m., 14 boats were at work.


“It was impossible to regulate the number of passengers carried in boats at times. Men panicked and stormed onto the boats, in some cases capsizing them. In many cases they had to be beaten off or threatened with shooting to avoid having the boats swamped. With the approach of dawn this condition became worse. They were afraid that daylight would force us to cease our ferrying before they could be rescued…. A corporal operating a boat which was leaking badly decided he could make one more trip and bring off a few men before it went down. It sunk as it approached the south shore, but fortunately the water was shallow and they were able to wade ashore safely. It is estimated that approximately 150 boatloads were brought back by the stormboat crews and the average load carried was 16 passengers. Thus, approximately 2,400 to 2,500 troops were brought off.”


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