|No finer pair of liberating wings than those carried by the workhorse of the Allied airborne divisions, the Douglas C 47 Skytrain or RAF Dakota.|
As well as looking at the Roman collections in the area where we were staying in Holland this summer I was keen to explore the history of WWII in the area particularly with regard to my own father's involvement in the battle to reach Arnhem covered in my previous posts.
Of course any look at the events surrounding the Arnhem campaign would have to include the airborne troops who were dropped along the route that XXX Corps needed to move up to reach the last bridge held by 1st British Airborne Division.
The area we were staying in near Eindhoven fell into the remit of 101st US Airborne, with the 82nd ABD further along at and near Nijmegan.
As well as visiting battle sites along the route up to Nijmegan I was keen to see what museum collections their were in our area dedicated to the Airborne troops, in particular, as well as the campaign to liberate Holland as a whole.
The Museumpark Bevrijdende Vleugels or Liberating Wings Museum in English, seemed to be among the best collections and fortuitously within a short bike ride from where we were staying.
The museum started as an exhibition of items for the 40th anniversary of Operation Market Garden and was established by Mr Jan Driessen in Veghel in 1984, staying there until 1996 when the growing size of the collection forced a move to its present location in 1997 in Best where the new museum was opened in the presence of His Royal Highness, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands.
The current collection is housed, in the main, in a group of new halls opened for the purpose in 2009, allowing the most important items to be housed under cover and protected from the elements, but as you will see not all the items are afforded this level of preservation.
A case in point was seeing the remains of this Opel Blitz truck in what would seem to be original camouflage paintwork and markings for 1st SS Panzer Division Liebstandarte with their famous key motif linking them to their original commander Sepp Dietrich, dietrich translating to 'key' in English.
The entrance to the museum has a nice reference to their founder Jan Driessen who died in 2010, and have his original airborne coat on display together with his campaign medals.
It is easy to see how this collection has grown from a tribute to the Allied forces involved in Operation Market Garden to a much wider inclusion of exhibits that help tell the story of WWII in this part of Holland, covering the invasion and occupation in 1940, the liberation by Allied forces and a look at the air war that was fought over Holland where many of its victims lie as mute testament to the battle that raged overhead.
On entering the linked halls the visitor is lead on a journey that covers the history of WWII in Holland following that time-line with a Dutch sentry box and illustrations showing the Dutch forces who fought to resist the German invasion.
With occupation came the realisation of what being occupied by the Nazis meant to the civilian population and the bravery of those who decided to resist and the misery of those caught up in the systematic murder of those deemed unfit to be able to live at all.
|Resistance fighter, Hannie Schaft arrested 21st March 1944 and shot on the 17th April 1945, aged 24|
The horror of the concentration camps was visited on this part of Holland and, as well as being represented here in the museum, Carolyn and I saw the monument of old railway lines heading off into woodland that marks the access to what was the Vught Concentration Camp whilst cycling in the area.
|The railway line is the monument to Vught camp|
My own father was well aware of this brutality during his service with Guards Armoured Division when the GAD were involved in the liberation of Bergen-Belsen in April 1945 where, due to the appalling conditions of their camp, 14,000 prisoners died, even after liberation.
The next part of the museum focuses on the Market Garden campaign with exhibits that capture that particular moment in history when the Allied forces attempted to drive into Germany along the narrow corridor of airborne troops.
|The skeletal remains of a WACO glider|
The Guards Armoured Division were illustrated with vehicles and manikins displaying the various arms of service within the division, with a column of vehicles from the Irish Guards suitably scrawled over in chalk by recently liberated Dutch civilians.
Storm boats played an important role in this operation that entailed multiple crossings of the many waterways in this part of the world.
I can remember paddling one of these on a gravel lake in Surrey many years ago as a member of the Air Training Corps and they are not pleasant or comfortable to paddle whatsoever.
The Allies received invaluable intelligence about German activities from PAN the Dutch Resistance organisation very often able to use the telephone network to dial up from one town to the next to find out what the enemy troops were up to.
Nice to see the 55th Field Regiment, West Somerset Yeomanry, represented as they were the towed 25lbr regiment in the Division.
On leaving the Guards Armoured hall one is led via pictures and photos of the Allied air drop into the airborne hall with the massive C47 dominating the display alongside other aircraft and vehicles that were involved in the air operations.
The RAF 2nd Tactical Airforce played a major part in the operation to secure air superiority over the battlefield and the replica Spitfire in the markings of No. 322 (Dutch) Squadron illustrated the kind of fighter planes they would have been using. That said I am not sure they were operating a clipped wing Mk IX as this replica seems to suggest.
I hadn't come across one of these glass-fibre replicas before and from a distance they are very effective.
On leaving the airborne display there are several glass cabinets with displays of equipment and pictures that would have been very familiar to the infantrymen that fought Market-Garden.
The next hall focused on the airborne soldiers and their German enemies as the battles were fought to secure the key crossing points at Eindhoven, Nijmegan and Arnhem.
The WACO glider seen in this display is one of the very convincing replicas constructed for the film 'Saving Private Ryan' but serves equally well to show a similar scene that would have been common in the landing zones of the 82nd and 101st Airborne in the Market Garden corridor.
Where we were staying was quite close to the famous Son Bridge shown blowing up in the face of Elliot Gould in the film 'A Bridge too Far' later having to request the use of 'that Bailey Crap' from a crisply clipped Colonel Joe Vandeleur played by Michael Caine, when looking to get a new bridge put in place.
The film took a few liberties with the actual events but is one of the best scenes from it and beautifully displays the saying, "two nations separated by a common language".
Also close by the Son Bridge is where two Congressional Medals of Honour were awarded to the members of the 101st Airborne during their battle to secure the route through Eindhoven and the Son Bridge.
One of the key points of the battle was sparked when the US paratroops bumped a German blocking position close to the city held by German troops supported by the ubiquitous 88mm guns. This type of blocking position was well shown with the display of German troops of the period together with that formidable gun.
The German Military Police otherwise known as 'Chain Dogs' referring to their distinctive chain and gorget as seen on the manikin below were often a hazard to German troops retreating in the face of Allied breakthroughs.
Any German troops not being able explain their presence or lack of equipment, especially weapons, could expect to be summarily executed as an example to prevent similar unauthorised retreats or desertion and it became more common for allied troops to see German soldiers hanging from trees and lamp posts after encountering their own military police.
The final hall is dedicated to looking at the air-war over Holland with the equipment used by both sides and some very interesting and moving displays of some of the many aircraft wrecks in the area.
|This amazing vehicle is a mobile German sound-direction locator|
The V1 or Doodlebug as it became known to the Allies was the precursor to the modern equivalent of pilot-less flying bombs.
These weapons became a menace to the civilian population in and around London in the last two years of the war and indeed my own paternal grand parents moved to Devon to escape the threat of them leading them to settle there in post war years.
In 2012 before I started this blog, Carolyn and I had a cycling holiday near Dieppe in France and cycled out to a wooded VI rocket launch site restored to show its layout hidden among the trees.
In the end a combination of Allied air response, proximity anti-aircraft shells and intelligence deception on the Germans vastly neutralised the VI campaign, but the effect of one of these bombs landing could cause terrible casualties and damage as evidenced in the picture below.
Perhaps some of the poignant artefacts on display in this part of the museum were the recovered parts from aircraft wrecks.
It is important to remember when looking at these that they were and are often parts from a grave site for the unfortunate crew members killed when their aircraft was destroyed.
However they play an important reminder by being displayed, of the waste and futility of war, and the stories lying behind how these aircraft came to be found crumpled and destroyed within a Dutch field or polder are an important way of remembering and honouring those killed in action.
Short Stirling LJ916 was serving with 190 Squadron RAF as a glider tug and supply aircraft and was part of the force detailed to support the airborne forces during the Market Garden campaign.
These aircraft, the first of the RAF four engine bomber force, had been withdrawn from bombing operations by 1944 as their poor service ceiling and smaller bomb pay load compared to the Halifax and Lancaster made them obsolete in comparison and an easier target for the German night-fighter force.
|Short Stirling Mk4 of 190 Squadron RAF|
This particular Stirling was shot down, thankfully without crew casualties whilst on a supply drop mission to Arnhem on September 21st 1944.
This small part, the crew ladder seen deployed in the picture above, is all that remains of this aircraft and is all the more important as there is now no complete Stirling anywhere, which hopefully might be remedied by the rescue of a complete wreck sometime in the future.
When aircrew were shot down and had managed to successfully bail out, their chances of escape and evasion from German troops on the ground required them to be able to work out where they had landed and to quickly make contact with Dutch civilians willing and able to help smuggle them away back to the UK.
Of course escaping from a badly shot up aircraft especially one that had made a crash landing that might have rendered the normal access routes unserviceable left crews often to have to resort to brute force to smash their way out and the implement seen below would come in very handy.
Another very interesting display featured the remains of a Boulton Paul Defiant, one of six aircraft from 264 Squadron operating over the Hague against German Stuka dive bombers on May 13th 1940 during the German invasion.
These aircraft had early success against the German Me 109 when mistaken for a Hurricane and stalked from the rear only to be rudely acquainted with the four Browning machine-guns in that rear turret.
However once the German pilots realised what they were contending with in the very unwieldy Defiant with no forward armament, the aircraft soon became a liability as a daylight fighter.
|Pilot Officer Samuel Thomas circled with other members of 264 Squadron next to one of their Defiants on May 29th 1940|
This aircraft was flown by Pilot Officer Samuel Thomas on the day it was shot down when the Defiants were 'bounced" by Me 109's seeing five of them shot down for the loss of four Stukas and an Me 109.
The rear gunner LAC J.S.M. Bromley was killed but P.O Thomas managed to bail out before the aircraft crashed south of Rotterdam, with Thomas managing to be back in England within two days of the combat.
The remnants of the aircraft, seen below, were recovered in 1994.
Lancaster LM 508 code SR-P of RAF 101 Squadron was operating with a force of one-hundred and thirty two Lancasters and six Mosquitos raiding Wesseling, just south of Cologne, on the night of 21st-22nd June 1944.
The aircraft took off from Ludford Magna at 23.17 and was operating as an ABC (Airborne Cigar) aircraft attempting to jam and confuse German radio communications and having an extra German speaking crewman aboard together with a reduced bomb load. Unknown to RAF commanders at the time, these jamming emissions also enabled German night-fighters to home in on the broadcasting aircraft. LM 508 was hit several times on the way to the target which caused two engines to stop, however the crew continued on to the target, a synthetic oil plant, and dropped their bombs.
|A Ju88 G6 of 7/NJG2, the type flown by Hans Shafer|
The Lancaster went down in flames crashing in polder land at 01.50 south east of Werkendam, not however before six of the eight crew had managed to bail out.
Sadly two of the crew went down with the aircraft, bomb-aimer, Flight Sergeant Thomas Duff and the rear gunner Sergeant John Keogh; and it was during the recovery of the wreck in 2014 that Sergeant Keogh's remains were recovered and he was finally laid to rest with his fellow crew member Flt.Sgt. Duff in Werkendam cemetery.
|A Lancaster, B-Beer of 101 Squadron dropping bombs including a rather large 'cookie' over Duisburg - Note the two ABC radio antenna on the fuselage|
|Rear-gunner, Sergeant John Keogh|
|The remains of Sgt Keogh's rear turret|
Any school-boy of my age will have memories of watching black and white WWII films made in the 50's that depicted the great British achievements during the Second World War.
Probably one of the best of them was "The Dam Busters" with its stirring sound track as Lancaster bombers of 617 Squadron, braving German flak, were shown skimming in at low level to launch their bouncing bombs at the Ruhr Valley dams; they really don't make em like that any more.
These memories are even more vivid when I remember that Sir Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the bomb and the Wellington bomber, lived in Effingham, Surrey just up the road from one of the schools I attended and was a well known character in the area during the late 70's.
|Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC second left with King George VI|
Needless to say it was a great thrill to see the following items associated with the great Wing Commander Guy Gibson who lead 617 Squadron on that raid among others and was awarded the Victoria Cross as it is so 'matter of fact' recorded in his flying log book shown below.
|Wing Commander Gibson's battledress jacket|
The Museumpark Bevrijdende Vleugels has a great and varied collection of items some of which are quite unique and very interesting to see close up.
On leaving the last hall and coming out into the sunlight among the vehicles and equipment parked up, some it seems awaiting some much needed tender loving care, it seems likely that this collection may still continue to grow and is well worth visiting if in the area.
Still a few other posts to come from our trip to Holland this year with some of the interesting places we visited associated with the Market-Garden campaign and those two Congressional Medals of Honour I referred to.