Robert Irwin. (2003).
Good God How Gorgeous.
Toronto: Robert Irwin.
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During the battle of Otterloo, Robert Irwin was a lieutenant
in C Squadron of the Governor
General's Horse Guards (“GGHG”).
The Governor General's Horse Guards were
also known as the 3rd Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment.
The emphasis was now on speed — to slash through the Germans to the North Sea.
We hastened out of Arnhem
to the town of Otterloo near the Ijselmeer, confidently
believing the Germans would continue their retreat in front of us.
We were not in a state of mind to listen to reports, which we thought of as rumours, brought
by local Dutch people, of thousands of Germans massing to the east of Otterloo.
In this we made as bad a mistake as had been done by the participants in
We were saved from an equally appalling disaster only by astounding good luck, and
the entirely different calibre of the opposition.
We did make a half hearted attempt to check out the reports.
My friend “Pat” Murphy drove his scout car in the darkness a mile
or so to the north of Otterloo, shut off the motor and listened for some time.
He repeated the manoeuvre to the east and again heard nothing.
At about midnight, some thousands of uniformed Germans abruptly stood up in the woods
to our east and charged into and through our positions.
So unexpected was the onslaught that they overran even Division Headquarters.
It appeared that someone had rounded up everyone within miles wearing a German uniform
— some of them were sailors — concentrated them within a short distance
of us, pointed them in our direction and told them to
We never saw a German officer during or after the affair, and those participating
seemed to have only a vague idea of what they were involved in.
We were in the process of cutting the lines of communication between the Germans who still
occupied Amsterdam and the west side of the Ijselmeer, and those on the east.
Possibly Hitler himself decided something must be done about this.
It was a mad night.
The Germans ran right past us and ended up fighting with
· · ·
Probably, those gunners had never seen a live armed German before, hurling shells, as they did,
at the enemy from miles behind the lines.
I was with some of the other officers in a church where
had asked us to meet him.
At some point a most annoyed artillery sergeant brought in half a dozen Germans whom he gave to us,
saying petulantly, “We're not supposed to be doing this.
This is your job.”
The Germans could have killed a great many of us if they had shot at us while rushing
through, instead of firing their weapons wildly in every conceivable direction.
We moved very little during darkness as we had no idea where either our own troops or the enemy
were, although we knew some of them were no more than a few yards away because they were
making so much noise.
When day broke we were able to assess the situation.
That was when the Colonel of the Irish Regiment of Canada brought in his mobile
It appeared most of the remaining Germans, the smart ones having disappeared, were in the ditches along
the main highway we were following.
Many of them tried to surrender or run away as
these terrifying monsters came along the road, frying anything that moved.
There was no quarter given.
I wondered at the time why the
wasn't being more restrained, since the mere sight of a flamethrower is usually,
enough to encourage even battle-hardened troops, which these certainly weren't,
to throw up their hands.
I discovered he was a new man in the job.
He, more than anyone, should have thought of having flanking patrols out as we advanced.
Possibly, he expected to be fired on the spot and was taking his pique out on the
I walked around the area afterwards.
It smelled like roast pork.
What the dead Germans had in their water bottles smelled like battery acid.
I wonder if they had all been drunk.
Many of them seemed to be children.
The unit following us was a conglomeration of weird armoured vehicles, the sort of thing
which the insane (some might say, ‘ingenious’) imagination of the British seems
to produce in time of war.
One of these inventions was known as a “Petard tank,” since it was equipped
to hurl at a high trajectory immense containers of explosive.
The Petard tank commander was evidently under the impression the Germans were still
When one of the petards landed, the whole town shook and pieces of buildings fell off.
We found this uncomfortable, but the
were taking casualties and after considerable
anguished pleading from the Irish's new
we fired back.
Whether we hit the Petard tank or not, it ceased firing at us.
Incredibly, the Horse Guards did not lose a single man during the night.
In the morning, one of our trucks backed over, and killed,
one of our people
who had been sleeping behind it.
He was our sole casualty.
Nothing daunted, we gathered ourselves together and
charged north at full speed, and with no more caution, to Leeuwarden.