October 1944: Incredible patrol along Arnhemseweg
The part of the Netherlands south of the rivers was liberated in October 1944. To the north, the Germans were still in control, and Ede was directly behind the German front line. The Americans were on the south side of the Rhine. On 20 October, General Higgins gave Lieutenant Hugo Sims the order to bring him a prisoner of war.
As a dutiful intelligence officer, Sims followed the order. After sending out many patrols for ten nights without any result, Sims decided to carry out the order himself and lead a textbook patrol. The goal was to track German troop movements some 10 kilometres behind enemy lines and to capture a few prisoners of war.
They planned to pass through the enemy positions on the first night, to spend the day in a house on the Arnhem-Ede road (N224) and to return the second night, possibly with a car.
On October 30, it was time to go. The night was dark and a light rain was falling. Perfect conditions, in other words. They left after dinner. They crossed the road near Castle Doorwerth and navigated around a pond around eight o’clock, getting their feet wet in the process. They went straight through German positions, passed sleeping Germans within some twenty metres and walked past a large ammunition dump.
Eventually, they ended up at Planken Wambuis exactly as planned and decided to walk towards Ede. After two kilometres, they arrived at two small houses on the Arnhemseweg road. Forester J. Ruiter lived at number 75. There was a small red cross on the outside of the house, which was a symbol for ‘emergency hospital'.
Two prisoners of war
Members of the patrol, Sergeant-Major Frank and Private Nicholai, heard snoring and entered the house through the back door. They found two German officers asleep in the front room. The officers were immediately taken prisoner. Sims decided to set up the house as an observation post. He installed the radio in the attic and sent word straight away that the operation had been successful so far. By then, it was five o'clock in the morning.
Eight Dutch civilians
At seven o’clock, a 16-year old civilian boy appeared at the front door. He said that his brother would also be coming, and that he was a member of the Dutch resistance. The patrol received six other unexpected guests during the course of the morning. The civilians had known that the house was empty and wanted to see whether there was anything worth taking. Food was extremely scarce during those months and this sort of ‘plundering’ was common. All eight Dutch civilians were obliged to stay in the house and were not allowed to leave until the patrol left.
The road grew increasingly busy around noon. Many military vehicles travelled from Ede to Arnhem. Suddenly, a German wandered up to the house for a drink of water. It turned out he was a German mail courier. They put him with the two other prisoners of war.
Two hours later, a German soldier arrived with two horses. He gave the horses water and was taken as the fourth prisoner of war. Sergeant-Major Frank interrogated the Germans and Sims immediately transmitted the information to the south side of the Rhine. By the end of the afternoon, another two Germans had been taken prisoner.
It was time to prepare for the journey back. Once it was dark, they went outside in hopes of commandeering a vehicle. Sergeant-Major Frank and the German mail courier went and stood on the side of the road. A German motorcyclist stopped unexpectedly; he was taken as the seventh prisoner.
Around eight o’clock, the pair managed to flag down a five-tonne cargo truck. The driver tried to thwart their attempt, but the threat of a tommy gun helped him to listen. There were 13 SS soldiers in the cargo bay, who quickly surrendered. With twenty German prisoners, the four American soldiers got into the truck. Lieutenant Sims and Sergeant-Major Frank climbed into the cab with the driver.
Before long, the truck came to a halt and an amphibious Volkswagen stopped. An SS officer began shouting that he was blocking the road. The German captain was arrested and he, too, was forced to climb into the cargo bay. They continued driving southwards. They approached the A12, which was under construction. Seven kilometres from the Rhine, the vehicle became stuck on a dirt track.
The Americans allowed the Germans to climb out; at that moment, the SS captain tried to escape. Soldier Nicholai shouted ‘HALT’ and two shots rang out. Moments later, he returned from the woods with the SS captain. ‘Hände hoch’were the only two German words he knew.
Marching through Renkum
Sims decided to continue on foot, right through the German lines. The Germans were lined up in two columns, with Sargeant-Major Frank and the SS captain in front. They marched straight towards Renkum. After arriving here, their formation marched boldly into the village, with the German hobnailed boots clearly audible. They reached the southern end of the village at a quarter to twelve and only had to march to the river dyke.
After passing the Rhine dyke, they spied a guard post manned by four Germans. Frank called out in German that they had nothing to worry about. The guard post was likewise easily caught by surprise and the men were obliged to join the march. With 26 men, they continued along the Rhine, where an additional six Germans from two other river posts were invited to join the rear. The six-man patrol was now in charge of 32 prisoners.
Sims gave the agreed light signal to the other side. It took 11 trips across the river; by the time everyone was on the other side, it was almost 2 o'clock. The patrol received their well-deserved hot meal and the POWs were interrogated immediately. Sims rang General Higgins: ‘Lieutenant Sims reporting back with 32 prisoners, general.' ‘How many?’ ‘Thirty-two, general'. ‘Incredible!’