ROYAL ENGINEERS - ROYAL CANADIAN ENGINEERS MEMORIAL, DRIEL
As the situation in the Oosterbeek perimeter became increasingly difficult, General Urquhart decided on a withdrawal across the Lower Rhine. This was made possible as elements from XXX Corps had now reached Driel on the far bank from Oosterbeek, and units from the Royal Engineers and Royal Canadian Engineers were on standby. These consisted of 260th Field Company RE and 23rd Field Company CE at the point opposite 1st Airborne Division's perimeter, and 553rd Field Company RE and 20th Field Company CE, a mile downstream at the point where the 4th Dorsets had crossed the day before.
This became Operation Berlin, which took place in the darkness of the night of 25th/26th September 1944. The Engineers made repeated crossings, and while estimates vary, it is accepted that more than 2,000 men were evacuated from the Perimeter. The last crossing was finished by 0545 hours on the morning of the 26th. A number of boats had been knocked out by the Germans on the high ground at Westerbouwing, and fatal casualties amount to 7 men among the Canadians.
A good account of the operation comes from Major General H.Essame's The 43rd Wessex Division at War 1944-1945 (William Clowes and Sons Ltd 1952):
A night of intense blackness descended with heavy rain. It was so dark that men had to walk in front of the vehicles and even they could scarcely be seen by the drivers... On the far bank the burning factory cast a light over the dark swirling waters of the river. Sustained and accurate machine-gun fire from the direction of the railway bridge up river clipped the near bank.
At nine o'clock the whole Divisional artillery opened up with overwhelming effect... the noise was deafening and awesome as the first parties of Sappers carried the assault boats over the dyke walls and down to the water's edge. The crews dipped their oars and disappeared into the darkness. More boats followed. Punctually at 9.40pm the first reached the far side and waited for the Airborne troops who were due at ten.
Luckily the dark night, the heavy rain and the strong wind concealed the unobtrusive move of the Airborne Division down to the river bank and the waiting boats. They embarked. Soon the first flotilla had brought across about a hundred men and some wounded, and returned to the north bank. Throughout the night the Sappers crossed and re-crossed the river.... the Canadian storm boats plied manfully to and fro across the river. Still the work went on. The strong current carried some of the boats down-stream. Crews became strained and tired and had to be increased, first to six men and then to eight... by dawn over 2,000 men of the Airborne Division had been swiftly passed to the rear.
The memorial was erected overlooking the site of the crossing in September 1989, and bears the badge of both the Royal Engineers and Royal Canadian Engineers.
ŠPAUL REED 2002