The Incredible Patrol

October 1944. After the failure of operation ‘Market Garden’, the 101st Airborne Division was put under command of the British XII Corps and positioned on a static front line known as the Island (a small area of land between the Lower Rhine and the river Waal). During October and November 1944 , they must defend this area against German counter attacks and infiltrations.

At the end of October (29 October 1944), the intelligence service (S2) of the 501st PIR gave the instruction to send out a patrol to the other side of the Rhine in Renkum with one clear objective: capturing a German soldier.

Lieutenant Hugo S. Sims was leading this patrol which, in the end, would come back with 32 prisoners. Sims, disappointed by the poor results of other companies in trying to bring prisoners from enemy territory, asked for permission to lead a patrol to the other side of the river himself. Colonel Ewell approved the request and signed his written approval document. Afterwards, Sims picked 5 of his best men to accompany him on this mission. These 5 men where Sergeant Peter Frank, a Belgian who spoke German and French without a problem, other soldiers in the patrol would be Sergeant Bill Canfield, Robert O. Nicolai, Roland J. Wilbur and Frederick J. ‘Ted’ Becker.

All 6 painted their faces black, put on wool hats and armed themselves with Thompson submachine guns and Colt.45 pistols, except for Wilbur who was specialized in handling the M1.

Based on aerial pictures, as preparation of their mission, Sims had indicated geographical markers which the patrol would need to reach at specific timings. The patrol would also have the availability of a radio. Before the patrol left, clear agreements were made about how the radio be operated, who would give suppressing fire and how artillery light signals would be used to see in the dark and be able to use the rubber boats to cross the river.

After the crossing, the 6 men occupied a house along the Amsterdamseweg between Utrecht and Arnhem. The patrol was now situated 13km behind enemy lines. At this location, the soldiers stayed the majority of the next day and took some German soldiers prisoner who were unaware of the presence of American soldiers in their sector. Afterwards, they also managed to capture a German truck with 13 SS soldiers in it. When the group was preparing to return to the Rhine with the prisoners, an SS captain, driving a “Schwimmwagen” and looking for the missing truck and soldiers stopped at their location. He was also taken prisoner. The complete group left towards the Rhine by using the captured truck. While on the road, the truck got a breakdown and the rest of the return had to be completed on foot. During the return, the group encountered some Germans who believed that the Americans were taken prisoner (instead of the Germans!). They even marched in formation through the town of Renkum without anybody noticing them. The German soldiers complained about the marching speed and the German officer even tried to escape in the forest. Luckily enough he was caught again by Nicolai who put him in the middle of the group to avoid future escape attempts. While underway to their own lines, the Americans destroyed a few German outposts along the shore of the Rhine after which they used light signals to notify the other side that they were ready to be picked up. Rowing boats, manned by volunteers, picked from the best swimmers, arrived immediately after seeing the signals.

Ed Halo of the 101st Airborne Division, 501st was one of the men supporting the crossing still remembers that there were 2 rowers per boat. There were 2 prisoners in the middle as rowers while the Americans where sitting in the front and in the back of the boat to guard the prisoners. In the end, the 32 prisoners and the small patrol of American soldiers arrived safe and sound to the southern bank of the Rhine.

During the entire operation the patrol only had to fire 2 shots and these where only warning shots. After their return the prisoners were transported to the rear to be interrogated.

The story of this patrol was extensively covered in the American press. Sims was rewarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions. The other members of the patrol received the Silver Star.

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