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.
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.