When dawn arrived on September 26th 1944, Lieutenant Russ Kennedy of the 23rd Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers, found himself on the wrong side of the Rhine River in a storm boat with an engine that wouldn’t start. With him were thirty-six battle weary members of the British 1st Airborne Division, crammed into a boat meant to carry only sixteen men. They had two choices; to either sit around waiting to be captured or risk crossing the strong and wide river that was well within the sights of German machine gunners and artillery fire.
They had just witnessed the fate of the previous boat. Without an engine, twenty-five men had tried to paddle across without success. They were a slow moving target on a river in full illumination. Only four of them lived to make it to safety. If the Lieutenant and his boatload of men could get across, it would mark the end to a long and difficult night. They were the last boat and the engineers had done a terrific job despite the odds. All night, the engineering units had ferried over 2,300 troops across the river. What was left of the besieged British 1st Airborne Division had been rescued.
THE EPIC BATTLE of the British 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem in 1944, has been told many times, but so far the story of how they were evacuated across the River Rhine has only been merely touched upon. This is the story of how the Royal Canadian Engineers not only supported the Royal Engineers, but ferried the lion’s share of the Airborne troops across the flooded river under less than ideal conditions.
One unit in particular, the 23rd Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers would find fame because of their expert handling of the Storm Boats and for their bravery. Unfortunately, glory came at a high cost to a unit that would soon earn the nickname, ‘The Storm Boat Kings’.
About the Author
John has written numerous non-fiction books on the engineers in WWII, a travel book and a novel. For his books on WWII engineers please visit John's website Storm Boat Kings