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Submarines on the River Waal - 12th January 1945

This article was kindly submitted by Mr Wally Hibbard.

Whilst the rail and road bridges had been captured intact, life became very uncomfortable - the Gerry using all means to destroy them with shelling, frogmen and later by the mini-subs. A third bridge was set up by our own engineers, using barges. In late September the Gerrys managed to get a frogman through, using mines. On one such attack they managed to blow a hole through the road bridge leaving a gap of about 80 feet. They also damaged the rail and barge bridges in December, by floating mines down the river.

It was at this point Sergeant Hibbard and his platoon was to move into a large 'Dutch Bunker', built in 1936, to defend these bridges. This was late December 1944 until 28th January 1945. His patrol was fitted out with snow suits. They marched from Bemmel, along the banks of the flood dykes, in a blizzard. His first duty was to build a dugout some 200 yards in front of the bunker. With the weather so bad, he only allowed his men to be on look-out for 1 hour guards. His duties were to intercept the Gerry patrols who were escorting frogmen - to slip into the water to blow holes through the booms that had been laid across the river.

On the afternoon of 12th January 1945, he was called forward by the dugout to sentries. They had spotted, about 100 yards upstream on the opposite bank, some Gerrys preparing to put two mini-subs into the water. Sgt Hibbard reported this to Captain Jake Forman of the Canadian Glengarry Highlanders who, in turn, contacted his C/O - Lieutenant Colonel Roger Rowley - telling him he had ordered two anti-tank guns. They then opened up with armour-piercing shells, followed by high explosives and the rest is history. There was a brief, but noteworthy conversation between the two officers - the C/O asked Captain Forman if he needed the help of the heavy field artillery. His reply was: "And let them steal my thunder?!" [Captain Forman's men went on to successfully destroy the Submarines, on their own, without the help of heavy field artillery.]

Other launch attempts were made - during January and February - these amounted to about 17.



Sergeant Hibbard returned to the Battalion and continued to lead more patrols during February 1945. This was the best month of our time in Holland, the Bunker had everything; "good sleeping bunks, good hot food, and was always nice and warm".

Another version of these events was sent to us by Graham Pickles, Webmaster and owner of The Hemlington Nautical History Society:

Background Information

K Flotilla 262, was set up in Poortershavn/Hellevoetsluis, head of the Wall/Maas estuary in or around 1943. Originally only 30 Bieber were sent there, but in 1945 an extra 60 Bieber were sent. On the 29th 30th of Jan 1945 it was reported to the main K Flotilla base in Hellevoetsluis that 15 Bieber boats were sent out. Eight of these returned to base, with slight damaged from ice. Of the remaining 7, one was lost in a collision with ice, one was later found beached, and five more simply failed to return.

The design of the Bieber is such that the pilot would not be able to see through a snow storm or blizzard. Eight Bieber pilots returned knowing any mission was fruitless, others carried on. It could be that in these severe weather conditions, their only option may have been to stay afloat using the petrol engine, or to beach and hope they could hide and/or re-float later. It seems that their intention was indeed to mine the bridges. The Bieber could carry either two torpedoes or two mines (but not both). The fact that Wally fired upon them without causing a great explosion, seems to suggest they were carrying mines, not torpedoes.

The maps I have show that Wally was just up the river from a Bieber base.

Abortive attempt to destroy Road Bridge over River Waal at Nijmegen

The road bridge over the river Wall had been captured by the US 82nd Airborne division in September 1944.

Assault frogmen had already made an unsuccessful but daring raid on the rail bridge. However the defenses around bridges where strengthened by rigging four net barriers across the Wall upstream from the bridge. The operation began on the night of 12/13th January 1945, when the Germans released 240 mines in four waves. These were to destroy the net barriers and where to be followed by 20 Bieber. Each with there periscopes camouflaged to resemble floating nests. These Bieber were to fire torpedoes fitted with hooks to catch the nets and make gaps in them. Finally, 4 Bieber towed 600lb explosive charges which, according to orders, should be released to float down (or drift down) under the bridge. Each charge was fitted with a photo-electric cell. As the charge floated beneath the bridge the change of light would trigger the charge and complete the night’s work of destruction. The operation was marked as a failure.

The official report reads:

  • "Both banks of the Waal were held in strength by the Allies and, after the explosion of the mines the river was raked by gunfire. All four of the explosive devices were destroyed before they passed the net barriers."

Two Bieber confirmed sunk and two lost.

The Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders: War Diary

Extracts from the War Diaries of the SD&G-Highlanders on the Perception of German mini-submarines in de river Waal, East of Nijmegen between 12 and 15 January 1945.

OOY, Sheet 6 SW
13 January 45
00:15.  "D" coy reports heavy explosion in river at map ref 785633. It appears to be some kind of a mine. The blast shook the whole area and blew ice and water into the air.
01:45.  "C" coy hears a terrific explosion 755656 and a geyser of water shoots into the air. 11:15.  "C" coy capsules the attention of Bde . . . and unknown higher formations by reporting that they have spotted several midget enemy submarines in the river WAAL in their area.
13:15.  "C" coy report a seconde sub and all available weapons are engaging it. We are attempting to get an A/Tk gun up . . . and Bde suggests we try some 45 PIAT shooting. Enemy arty is not inactive an coys are sending in shellreps.
14:20.  Parts of the submarine which was blown up are found in "C" coy area. The propellor is brought into BHQ, and Bde sending someone down to pick it up.
15:45.   "D" coy reports round objects half-spherical in shape with a pipe sticking out of them floating down the river 400 to 1000 yards apart. Two recent explosions are thought to have been caused by these objects . . . possibly mines, detonating on hitting the bank.

OOY, Sheet 6 SW
14 January 45
12:00.   "C" coy reports an object sticking part way out of the water at ref 76606435. It appears to be one of the blown-up subs and is described as having four fins, 2 and one-half ft long and 8 in wide with a hook on each fin. It also has one two-bladed propellor. Its nose is under water.

The photograph of Roger Rowley on this page and the extract from the "Glens" War Diaires were kindly provided to us by Wigger KF van der Horst.

3 July 2012
"I have sent you some pictures which I made of the PBD-project in 2009. The collection of pictures is about 60 pictures. I don't know if you have seen these picts before? Part of the project is also the story of John Dean, which he has sent to me personally. The map of the ammo-depot is a remake of the drawing of the resistance group "Albrecht" in Hilversum. The original was sent to me by the Ministery of Defence in The Hague (NIMH). They were very generous to sent me these files. Now they have also the remake, because it is very important that this information is saved and public for all people, interested or searching for info."
Kind Regards,
Wigger KF van der Horst