Thanks to The Airborne Soldier for a copy of this report.
Evasion Report: 21st September - 23rd October 1944
by Major A. D. Tatham-Warter
2nd Parachute Bn.
Captain Frank and I escaped from a hospital in ARNHEM in the night 21/22 Sept and hid about two miles west of the town. After a week we heard that Brigadier Lathbury had done much the same thing and was lying up quite close. We soon made contact with him and later heard of 10 men also in the area. On the 3rd October the HQ of the underground movement of EDE got in touch with us and asked us to move to EDE to help them in
(a) Sending information to 2nd Army
(b) Taking care of the men of 1 Airborne Div hiding in their area.
The following day I was moved by bicycle to EDE and the same day visited about 45 men, mostly of 133 Para Fd Amb and 10 Bn who were hiding in farms about 3 miles from EDE. Later that day I was taken to meet KING, a Belgian S.A.S. officer operating in the district. The latter was most helpful and contracted to arrange a supply drop of weapons, food and cigarettes on a D.Z. in operation further North. He also put me in touch with an escape route which will be called W.
On 4th October it was decided to move the Brigadier and Capt Frank to EDE which was considered a safer area and offered some opportunity for escape. Pete, the ex-leader of the ARNHEM underground, volunteered to move both these officers, who were wounded, by Red Cross Car. He accomplished this safely on the morning 6th October and both were established in houses in EDE.
It was obvious that there was little I could do in this line. Their method of collecting information was very efficient. These included thorough patrolling of the whole district to locate artillery, dumps, etc. a night and day round count on all roads, all troop movements and concentrations. This information was passed to 2nd Army via KING and also by a method to be known as 'Q'. Plans and sketches were photographed and sent over the river either by courier or by picked men of ours by Route "W". It seemed a most efficient organisation and produced definite but not always good results from the R.A.F. and R.A.
The only limitation was that the area two km North of the River was 'out of bounds' to civilians and so no accurate information as to enemy dispositions on the River could be obtained.
(a) Route "W". This was the existing method and it was never really satisfactory. The Rhine crossing was about 30 km West of EDE and was comparatively easy, the main difficulty being the WAAL. We sent 11 men at different times by this route and 3 were captured. Later we sent an officer, Lieut Adams, to establish a post North of the WAAL with a view to speeding up the process. He was replaced by an 'I' officer from 2nd Army who was caught and the route was finally blown.
(b) Route "R". This was a much shorter route, being one due South of EDE, and only involved one River crossing. When all arrangements were made we sent off an American Pilot to try it out. Luckily for him the route was blown while he was still three miles from the River.
(c) The Air. Before the Brigadier arrived we evolved a plan for getting him flown out. Unfortunately in the only suitable areas, the fields were so small that nothing bigger than an Arty O.P. A/C could land with safety. We suggested to 2nd Army that this could be done at dusk. They turned this down but offered to bring a Lysander in at night if we would flood-light the field diagonally. We turned this down.
We were left with the rather insecure route "W", which it was quite impossible to use for large numbers, and was at the best of times precarious.
The next person of note to arrive in EDE was Lt-Col Dobie, who turned up one day after some very harrowing experiences. Shortly after this Pete repeated his former exploit by delivering Brigadier Hackett intact, but very weak from his stomach wound. He was put to bed in the town under the care of a Dutch doctor.
We kept getting reports of men in hiding within a radius of 30 miles and agents were always sent to investigate. Sometimes these reports were true and at the end of the ten days we had collected about 80 men, including six officers and several pilots, RAF and American, in the neighbourhood of EDE. We then decided that EDE was getting congested and Pete of ARNHEM opened a new base at REEMST, about six miles North East. Pete then discovered Tony Hibbert, Capt Robinson, Lieut Hindley and several men who were hiding some distance North East of Arnhem. It was intended to move this party to REEMST at a later date. At the end of a month the numbers were approx 80 in and around EDE and 40 at REEMST.
The supply drop we had asked for was successfully carried out about 7th October on a D.Z. some way to the North. The weapons and food reached us, but four years of war and home grown tobacco got the better of our Dutch friends sense of honesty and very few cigarettes survived transit. We couldn't grumble as they kept us very well supplied out of their meagre stock of home grown tobacco. The weapons were hidden in a farm near EDE and proved very useful later. Later we asked for, and received, a further drop, which included clothes for escape which had always been a great problem to the Dutch. We should have liked a more regular supply system but the Boche made this difficult by discovering the D.Z. and new ones hard to find.
These supply drops were arranged through KING the Belgian S.A.S. officer, who I used to meet at a farm near EDE about twice a week.
Bill, the leader of EDE resistance, very wisely refrained from all sabotage except for cutting the railway when required. It is of interest that he received orders from his 'Brigade' Commander to carry out wholesale sabotage and slaughter of Boche officers. It he had done this EDE would have ceased to exist and both the Intelligence System and our safety would have been compromised. His prompt action on the railway was on one occasion directly responsible for the destruction of quite a number of light tanks. These were parked in sidings North of EDE. Bill cut the lines North and South and then asked the RAF to complete the job. The result was quite good. The line was cut on three other occasions and only four trains passed through during my stay in EDE.
I was once asked to provide a party to blow a train on an important line 20 miles to the North. We should have liked the job, but there were many difficulties and we felt it was the job of the Resistance men in that area, who had better facilities and were experienced in the work.
We were expecting the 2nd Army any day, and so, when we had collected about 80 men whom we could arm, we made plans for sabotage on all roads when the right moment should come. This would not be until a bridgehead was formed and the Boche had started to pull out.
The plan, roughly, was to work in small parties, five of our men with five Dutch, on all roads leading from EDE and ARNHEM and as far North as APELDOORN. Tony Hibbert was to take charge of the ARNHEM district while I worked at EDE and coordinated the whole operation. We hoped to make road movement, by night at any rate, impossible without a strong escort. The country was ideal as most of it was thickly wooded. Just when our plans were completed and the necessary dispositions were being made, we got word that our efforts would not be required for a long time and we started to think seriously of escape.
Relations with the Enemy
Once we had reached EDE we were not seriously inconvenienced by the Boche in and around the town. We were lucky in that there were very few S.S. in the district, though there were a great many Wehrmacht and later a few Grune Polizei. The situation got worse towards the end of our stay when it was realised that the district was in no immediate danger of attack, and the 'back room' boys, who had cleared out during the Arnhem battle began to creep back.
The two things that worried us most were -
(a) A call up of all bicycles which lasted about ten days, and entailed the blocking of most roads and a search of houses and farms for hidden bicycles. During this period we had to be very careful how we moved and there was always the danger of discovery in the search.
(b) Billetting - They made two or three attempts to take over the Brigadier's house and entered several others that we were using. For the last three days there were four men of a panzer unit in my house, which was most inconvenient as it was a busy time for us.
We were very lucky in only having three men caught and they were some way from EDE, so the Boche never had any reason to suspect that there were large numbers hiding in the district, and our disguises, though sometimes a bit eccentric, seemed to be effective.
It is of interest that the Boche chose the day after we left and crossed the river for a mass call up of all men from 15 to 60 years old, to dig defences. They had done it in all the towns in the neighbourhood and it is very doubtful if we should all have survived this very thorough process.
Col. Dobie's Escape
I have already mentioned Route "W" and the fact that the officer we sent to establish it was replaced by an 'I' officer from 2nd Army. He sent word that the route was good and could take six men per day. Col Dobie was anxious to try his luck, so we sent him off on 14th October, carrying very important photos and plans of defences. Shortly after he left I received the information which changed our plans and got word to him before he crossed the River asking him to go into the question of a mass escape which we had already discussed in outline.
He had a most exciting journey, but got through at the same time as Route "W" was finally blown. The full story of this and the arrangements he made South of the River have been written by him (See Annexure 1 attached). It is sufficient to say that without his detailed knowledge of our situation and the excellent arrangements he made, it is very doubtful whether the escape would have worked.
Immediately after Col Dobie's departure we got news that Route 'W' was blown so we were doubtful if he would get through. As it was essential that some one knowing our situation and plans should be South of the River to make arrangements there, the Brigadier volunteered to try a crossing alone South of EDE - a night patrol by Capt Wainwright (156 Bn) showed that the area we had selected was much too strongly held so we had to think again. Tony Hibbert had been brought over to EDE and now took command of the party at REEMST. A daily conference was held at the Brigadier's house, which the Brigadier, Tony and I attended, and a plan was drawn up.
On 16th October we got the good news that Col Dobie was across and that night I talked to him by 'Q'. We found that his ideas fitted in very well with our plans and after fixing preliminaries we agreed to discuss full details the following night. He gave me another area for the crossing which was to be known as 'DIGBY'. The plan finally decided was very simple. We were to make our own arrangements for reaching the River; at midnight and every hour after that a Bofors would fire a burst due North over 'DIGBY'. When we were ready we would flash a red Vic and ten boats, with flank protection, would come across. Col Dobie guaranteed the fullest support from the South bank if we should get into trouble.
The Brigadier was skeptical as to the merits of a Bofors as direction signal, but we agreed to use it. Afterwards his doubts were more than justified.
Having decided on the plan, the main problem confronting us was how 130 odd Englishmen were to be concentrated at the River. It entailed moving them a distance varying from 8 to 15 miles through country thickly populated by Boche, and finally through the defence lines to the River. We originally planned to do this by moving to a concentration point in the wood just North of DIGBY the night before, in two separate parties, one from EDE, the other from REEMST. It was a difficult undertaking as the area we should move through contained a great number of Batteries and all that goes with them. However we were spared this by a great piece of luck. At 1700 hours on Friday, 20 October, we got the news that the Boche had ordered the evacuation of BENNEKOM, which was a village only two miles from our concentration area, by midday Sunday. This meant that on the following day the road would be congested with refugees, so we at once decided to make use of this opportunity. Bill mobilised his whole organisation and starting at 0730 hrs on Saturday, the 90 men from EDE district were moved down in parties of two's and three's to the concentration area, three miles North of Digby, in a thick part of the woods. There were one or two ugly moments but by 1730 hrs the concentration was complete and the whole party had been equipped with their uniforms, weapons and food which had all been transported to the area by horse and cart.
There still remained the problem of the other 40 men from REEMST. We had decided to move them down in two lorries provided by the Dutch Red Cross starting at dusk on the evening of the crossing. According to plan, soon after dusk on the Sunday 22nd October the lorries picked up their load with Tony Hibbert in command, drove down, passing many Germans without incident, and drew up at the selected point on time. They had chosen a bad moment for as they debussed a German bicycle patrol came down the road and had to slow up, ringing their bells, to get past the congestion on the road. They didn't appear to notice anything wrong, not even the Dutch guides shouting instructions in English.
The whole party was now concentrated and organised into platoons and Sections. Our numbers were swollen by fifteen Dutchmen and two Russian Pilots who wished to accompany us.
The area selected for crossing had been reconnoited by myself in daylight on Saturday morning and by a very thorough Recce patrol led by Capt Wainwright on Saturday night. We had a Dutch farmer to lead us through the woods and the last 1000 yards to the river was across open meadows, through a gap 250 yards wide between two strong enemy posts, sited 300 yards back from the river. We then had to move West along the River bank for 800 yards to DIGBY. The River front was covered by a series of posts all sited 300 yards back on the winter dyke and the bank itself was known to be regularly patrolled. It would have been a hazardous move with a highly trained company, but with a mixed bag of 120 parachutists, largely R.A.M.C. orderlies, 10 British and U.S. pilots, two Russians and 15 Dutchmen, all of whom were unfit and many of whom had never seen their leaders in daylight, it soon became obvious that our chances of slipping through unobserved were remote. Before we reached the River the party most closely resembled a herd of Buffalo, and I think it was this fact, which probably mislead the Boche as to our numbers, added to the fact that the US parachutists on the South bank had been patrolling very vigorously on previous nights, that got us through. Although they were aware of our presence they were obviously windy to take us on. We moved off at 2100 hrs and reached the River at 2350 hrs. Captain Wainwright had lead the party with great skill over the route he had reconnoitred and so far not a shot had been fired. Soon after we started moving West we bumped into a small patrol which opened fire and caused some consternation. Several enemy posts then sent up Red verey lights but fortunately the expected S.O.S. fire did not materialise.
At midnight we still reckoned we had about 500 yards to cover to DIGBY but were surprised to see the Bofors tracer passing what appeared a very short distance ahead. We moved on another 150 yards and then signalled for the boats; after 20 minutes waiting and still no boats we were beginning to wonder, when an American officer appeared and pointed out that if we moved another 400 yards West we should find all the boats waiting. We were very relieved, but decided then never to trust a Bofors again. We found Col Dobie waiting with the boats and rather annoyed that we had been so long. Still not a shot had been fired from the German positions, although we were clearly in view of them all the time; and we crossed without incident, to find a magnificent reception laid on for us.
Annexure 1 to Appx 'F'
Report on Operation to Liberate Personnel from Northern Holland
by Lt-Col. D. T. Dobie. D.S.O.
Monday 16 Oct 44
Had been asked to proceed to 2nd Army HQ with plans of defences of ROTTERDAM and certain photographs of defences etc in North HOLLAND. Went to underground HQ and saw Major Tatham-Warter, and went through plan of ambushing roads when 2nd Army cross the Rijn. All arrangements and communications fixed before I left.
1600 hrs. - proceeded to Capt Haig and sent wireless message to London reference operation. Remained night at Capt Haig's.
Tuesday 17 Oct 44
Was guided by underground to region Amerongen - 4077 - where I crossed Neder Rijn to Maurik - 4176. Underground at Maurik stated it was impossible to cross river Waal as there had been a fight the same day at TIEL, and two German soldiers had been killed. They agreed to give me guides the following day.
Wednesday 18 Oct 44
Arrived Tiel 1730 hrs but was told quite impossible to cross river owing to dusk curfew. Frans de Veldor, a boy of 19, volunteered to get me to river bank through town. This he did, and we reached another underground house on outskirts of town. There I was told I could not cross owing to numerous German posts and patrols on the northern bank. However, Frans de V. once more volunteered to take me across. This was accomplished by 2200 hrs by infiltrating between two German posts and crossing the river in a rowing boat. Contact was made with British armoured car patrol at Wamel - 4367 - at 2350 hrs.
Thursday 19 Oct 44
Contacted I.S.9 and went to 2nd Army HQ. Plans were delivered to G.1 Section. I then went to General Dempsey's Tac HQ and informed him of the presence of approximately 200 airborne north of the river Rijn, armed, organised, and ready for his advance over the Rijn. Ambush plan explained.
G.O.C. said I would have to evacuate them, if it was possible, and sent me to HQ 30 Corps, to make plan with General Horrocks.
Friday 20 Oct 44
Two crossings were decided on
1. For personnel North of Arnhem at area OOSTERBEEK 6975.
2. S.E. of WAGENINGEN - 604759.
the date to be night 23/24 October/
1. to be carried out by 50th Div.
2. To be carried out by 101 U.S. Airborne Div.
Rough outline plan completed, and I passed plan by telephone to Major Tatham-Warter at EDE. Was informed by him that they had to get out night 21/22 October and could only go by the western crossing.
Saturday 21 Oct 44
Detailed plan completed with General Taylor, 101 U.S. Airborne Div. The 2nd Bn 506 Regt would carry out the task. 30 Corps RE to provide assault boats.
Is holding North bank of river Neder Rijn with main positions on high ground some distance from the river bank. The bank itself is covered only with patrols and posts.
2. Own Troops.
Approx 130 officers and men of 1st Airborne Div are in area North of Neder Rijn. This party is organised, armed, and in a fit state to make its way by night to the North bank of the river.
3. 30 Corps will evacuate the party of 1st Airborne (Br) Div from the area North of the river Neder Rijn.
4. 2nd Bn 506 Regt of 101 U.S. Airborne Div will supply an assault party in three groups -
Left; One patrol of one officer, 7 men and F.O.O.
Right; same party
Centre; Company Commander beach party under Lieut Heaps (attd 1 Parachute Bn).
OC 30 Corps Engineers.
23 assault boats will be manned by 30 Corps R.E.
5. Covering party.
Local to the bridgehead by the remainder of the company during crossing. Remainder of regimental machine guns and mortars to line bank to support crossing and evacuation which will be carried out in one lift.
Indication of Crossing Place
6. Patrol from 1st (Br) Airborne will indicate crossing place by flashing 'V' with red light from North bank. Crossing will be effected immediately. A Bofors gun will indicate to airborne personnel crossing place by firing bursts of 10 due North over crossing places every clock hour, from 2400 hrs onwards.
7. The operation will be supported by 30 Corps Artillery by -
(a) Box barrage at local bridgehead.
(b) Concentrations on known German positions.
(c) C.B. in whole area.
8. The crossing to be silent, and no firing by anyone unless ordered by O.C. crossing.
9. Lt-Col. Dobie will command crossing and be responsible for evacuation.
10. All personnel will be in position ready to effect the crossing by 2300 hrs.
11. D.A. & Q.M.G. will make arrangements for transport and reception. I.S.9 will make arrangements for planes back to England.
12. (a) Walkie-talkie between flank parties and OC Coy.
(b) W.T. to command post duplicated by line.
(c) Command post Randwick - 5975.
The co-ordinating conference was held at HQ 101 U.S. Airborne Div by General Horrocks.
Contact again was made by me with Major Digby Tatham-Warter, and final instructions passed. Was informed by him that concentration North of Rijn was already proceeding smoothly and had all artillery stopped in area 3 kms North of crossing place as some troops were already there.
Sunday 22 Oct 44.
Proceeded to HQ 2nd Bn 506 Regt and went over the plan in detail with Lt-Col Strayer, the CO of the Bn.
At 1900 hrs we proceeded to Command post at Randwick.
All preparations were completed without mishap at 2300 hrs. At 2400 hrs the Bofors gun indicated crossing place. About the same time we heard small arms fire from North of the river about 1,000 yards east of our crossing place. This later proved to be a German patrol which had run into the airborne personnel on the river bank.
At 0005 hrs the red light flashed 'V', but it was approximately 800 yards east of our crossing place. I immediately gave the order to cross, and we established a small bridgehead on the North bank of the Rijn. Germans were heard and seen 150 yards away in the woods. Lieut Heilecker proceeded at top speed eastwards to contact parachutists. I remained area bridgehead and organised defence.
At 0030 hrs two red verey lights were fired by Germans in the wood. Mortars opened up and landed near my left-hand patrol. A machine gun opened up from about 1,000 yards West. Shooting was inaccurate.
At approx 0100 hrs Lieut H. returned with the first party of parachutists, who were embarked and sent across. A red and a white were sent up by the Germans and some artillery fire came over in the Randwick area. Mortar fire continued, but no casualties were caused/
By 0130 hrs the remainder of the airborne personnel had come in.
By 0200 hrs all had been embarked, and I withdrew the covering party and reported back to the Command post.
The operation was completed without casualty, and 100 per cent success.
This information was sent to Airborne Forces HQ by wireless, and to 30 Corps HQ.
All personnel were transported to Nijmegen C.C.S., the total number being 138. The next day the party was flown to England.