The Brabant village Oisterwijk and Operation Market-Garden

After the population in the area around the airfield slowly got used to the feeling of being liberated and fully aware that it had been done with the oppression, the people again dared to leave the safety of their immediate surroundings and travel further from home. Many people went to the airfield to take a close look to see what the Germans had build there during the past years. What struck them at first was the enormous destruction to buildings and the devastation that was caused by all the air raids on the airfield. The many buildings and shelters were aircraft could be parked where destroyed by the Germans. There was not much of value remaining between the wreckage. On 29 October British engineer troops arrived at the airfield with a wide range of vehicles and machinery to deal with the reconstruction of the airfield. On 1 November they started ploughing the entire airfield and started to fill in the many bomb craters. In the meantime the airfield was carefully examined on mines that where placed by the Germans. Fortunately, not one was found and the area was declared safe for use.

 

 

After an appeal by the British at the address of civilian population in the surrounding villages to come and work on the reconstruction of the airfield thousands of people reported themselves. Many people gave priority to the reconstruction of the airfield in despite the need for rebuilding their own homes or factories and restart their businesses. Many saw the importance of the airfield, in particular for the reconstruction of this part of Brabant. A benefit for all those people working on the airfield was food. At home there was a shortage in food, but the British cared well for the workers and provided them with food. They even provided food to take home to their family’s. The first days were rather chaotic but quickly structure was formed in the reconstruction work and under British leadership separate shifts were formed. When the day shift ended in the evening the field was lighted up so the night shift could continue work. Trucks with loads of sand and other materials drove on and of to repair the roads and runway’s so they could be used again. For many people who had worked in the factories that were destroyed by the Germans during their retreat the work on the airfield was a welcome change.

 

 

Already after a few days Auster aircraft could land safely on the airfield. These small aircraft were used by the British for liaison and monitoring tasks. At the end of November also transport aircraft were able to land on the airfield. After working so hard in bad weather conditions those past weeks it was a great delight and satisfaction when Avro Anson and Dakota transport aircraft landed on the first repaired runway. RAF ground personnel arrived soon after and were quartered at Camp Prinsenbosch. Guard troops with armoured vehicles assigned to guard the airfield were stationed in the village of Gilze. Anti-aircraft batteries were stationed in the surrounding area’s of the airfield. In the city of Breda the staff of the 84th Tactical Support Group arrived. The task of this group was attacking German ground targets and therefore this group relocated their headquarters from Belgium to Breda.

 

 

 

 

Fliegerhorst Gilze-Rijen, deel VII

       Airfield during the war

What happened on the airfield after the liberation

Despite the bad weather conditions the second runway was ready at 21 November. The following day the 35th Wing arrived with Spitfires, Typhoons and Mustangs. The pilots were housed in tents along the taxi way’s. It was very important for the Allies to have an airfield close to the frontlines. Many aircraft where equipped with onboard camera’s for photo reconnaissance of the front and for a rapid development of their films the 4th Mobile Field Photographic Unit left Belgium for Gilze-Rijen. This mobile photographic unit could start working quickly because everything they needed was at hand, such as mobile dark rooms and develop equipment for developing the film. On a daily basis large numbers of aircraft took off on reconnaissance missions and to attack ground targets in the still partly occupied Holland. The now fully operational airfield was given station code B77.

 

Above a british Avro Anson.

Left a British Auster Mk.I.

During the dive attacks on the village the Typhoon of Flight Lieutenant Colebrook was hit by enemy Flak and he had to aboard his attack without firing his rockets. On the return flight to Gilze-Rijen he was forced to land his aircraft in Culemborg between the roads Parallelweg and Beedseweg. After hiding at various places with the help of the local resistance he finally ended up in Tiel after leaving his hideout in Tricht. In Tiel he was hidden in the home of a resistance family who also had children. With the help of the resistance several attempts were made to reach the liberated part of Holland but unfortunately they all failed. In the end he was sadly caught on 21 December and taken prisoners of war by the Germans. Also the woman of the house was caught and arrested. Because the resistance was very much afraid that the Germans would get her to talk they decided to try and free the women in which the resistance successfully succeeded. The Germans decided to reprisal this act of the resistance and out of retaliation they had five men from Tiel arrested and murdered.

 

 

The remaining Typhoon fighter aircraft, each armed with four 20 mm cannons and 8,3 inch rockets with a 60 pound heavy war head filled with high explosives attacked Houten. Of the 19 Typhoons that had departed from B77, 17 Typhoons eventually made it to Houten and 16 aircraft were able to fire their rockets. Approximately 128 rockets were fired on the target and during the attack they made good use of their onboard cannons. The intention was to completely destroy the German headquarters at the Herenweg. In spite of the fact that the rockets and cannons were not able to destroy the target lots of houses and a school around the headquarters were destroyed or badly damaged. In the attack a total of five Dutch civilians and seven German soldiers were killed. Possible more Germans died later on because of fatal injuries. The target itself could not be destroyed however. Most likely this was caused by map coordinates that were some 100 yards of. It is unclear whether the pilots also left Gilze-Rijen with these coordinates. It later became known that General Reinhardt was not even in his headquarters during the attack. The General apparently had left his headquarters at 07:15 hrs to travel to airfield Deelen. The air attack began at 11:00 hrs. At 12.00 hrs the Germans began to remove the headquarters to Bilthoven. At 13:00 hrs the General arrived back in Houten to subsequently leave to his new headquarters location in Bilthoven at 15:15 hrs.

 

 

After the liberation of Gilze-Rijen the war around the airfield seemed to be far from over. Gilze-Rijen appeared to be exactly under the approach route of German V1 and V2 rockets that were fired on Antwerpen from the area of the Hellendoorn woods in the province of Overijssel. There were days that V1’s occurred over Gilze-Rijen every 15 minutes. From October of 1944 until March of 1945 some 20 V1’s came down around the area inflicting lots of damage and wounded. At Oisterwijk a V1 came down in area of Kerkhove were today runs the road Veldweg.

 

 

After the liberation on 5 May of 1945 the municipal of Gilze-Rijen could make up the balance of 5 years of war. Many soldiers were killed, especially during the early years of the war. 76 citizens of the villages Gilze, Rijen, Molenschot and Hulten had lost their lives as a result of the bombings and other acts of war. 6.3% of the total number of homes, factories and other buildings in Gilze-Rijen were destroyed, including the Church of Gilze and Hulten. The Church of Rijen could just be saved, although it was prepared by the Germans to be blown. Just before their retreat some young Dutch were able to take away the detonation cord so the Germans failed to set off their explosives. Of the remaining houses and buildings 67,6% was heavily damaged. On 16 April 1945 the 6th Dutch Auster Squadron was formed on Gilze-Rijen compromising 6 Auster MkII aircraft. The British left in January of 1946 and left behind a well maintained airfield that enabled B77 to continue to stay a Dutch military airfield. Today (2009) Gilze-Rijen is a modern military airbase for Dutch army helicopters. The base houses three operational squadrons being;

 

 

298 Squadron; using the ‘Chinook’ (CH-47D).

300 Squadron; using the Eurocopter ‘Cougar’.

301 Sqaudron; using the ‘Apache’ (AH-64D).

In December 1944 Typhoons of No.164 squadron took off from B77 to attack the headquarters of the German General Christiansen, the Commander-in-Chief of the German 25th Army Corps. Six RAF Typhoon fighter aircraft appeared over the village of Hilversum at 14.40 hrs. In three raids the complex was attacked with rockets and bombs with as many as seven bombs dropped exactly on the bunker but without making any significant damage! Unfortunately there was a lot of collateral damage and in a fairly large radius multiple houses were destroyed with only one German soldier killed. No less than seven civilian victims were to be regretted.

 

 

Thyphoon Colebrook;

 

On 28 November 1944, 19 Typhoons of the two days earlier arrived RAF squadrons on Gilze-Rijen, being No.164 and no.198 squadron, attacked the headquarters of General Reinhardt in the village of Houten. At 10:27 hrs 11 Typhoons of no.164 Squadron and 8 Typhoons of no.198 Squadron took off from the airfield to attack the headquarters of the German 88th Army Corps. This headquarters was located in some villa's along the Herenweg in Houten. Because of intense German anti-aircraft fire two Typhoons of no.198 Squadron aborted the attack and ended up in the clouds and lost contact with their squadron. The two aircraft eventually would return to Gilze-Rijen without participating in the attack.

 

 

Generaal Christiansen, Supreme commander of the German 25th Army.
The pilots lived in tents on the fields alongside the taxi way’s.
Fliegerhorst Gilze-Rijen, deel VII