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Engineer Assault Boats in Canadian Service

Engineer Assault Boats in Canadian Service Book Review

By Cookie Sewell

Date of Review January 2007 Title Engineer Assault Boats in Canadian Service
Author John Sliz Publisher Service Publications
Published 2006 ISBN 1-894581-43-1
Format 24 pages, softbound MSRP (CDN) $9.95


Probably the only passing information most of us have seen on folding boat operations in WWII comes from the film "A Bridge Too Far" when General Gavin (Ryan O'Neal) asks one of his majors (Robert Redford) to use British folding boats to cross the Rhein and secure the opposite end of Neimegen bridge before the Germans can blow it up. The crossing is held up until the boats arrive, and then is made under fire in broad daylight with only chemical smoke for cover. The attack is successful, as Redford takes the bridge just in time for XXX Corps tanks to cross.

But aside from that one film segment, few of us have any clue about these boats. This new book from Service, written by one of the few historians covering Canadian engineer operations, is the first one to examine them at any length. Four types of boats are covered: Folding Boat Equipment, Reconnaissance Boats, Assault Boats (the ones used in the film), and Storm Boats.

Folding Boat Equipment was produced in three marks and was basically a general purpose boat, which could be used for ferrying troops or equipment or combined to be used as pontoons for bridging. They were made with sloped bow and stern sections, weighed around 940-1000 pounds in action, and three could be loaded on a custom modified US Diamond T 4-ton 6 x 6 truck. Kit for these boats included a boathook, five 10 foot oars, a tin bailer (bucket) and a mop!

The Reconnaissance Boat was a small two-man inflatable rubber boat about the size of a life raft and was designed for use as a stealthy craft to get scouts across water obstacles or for engineer reconnaissance of the same. These were used in the withdrawal of the British 1st Airborne Division from Arnhem in 1944.

The Assault Boat was a more common boat, created with a plywood bottom and canvas sides with a wood gunwale held in place by locking struts. Produced in three marks, the Mark III version of this boat was 16 feet 8 inches long and 5 feet 5 inches in beam and able to carry 16 men with a boat crew of two, but normally due to combat kit it only was used for carrying 11 men with the two-man crew. It weighed 350 pounds.

The Storm Boat was designed to be used as a fast craft for making opposed crossings, and could carry items of equipment up to the size of a jeep or 6-pdr antitank gun with the proper loading equipment and channel-type racks. Also used to evacuate the British 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem, these 1500 pound boats were powered by outboard engines and could reach speeds of up to 20 knots empty and 6 knots loaded to capacity. Originally provided with quirky Johnson 22 HP or Evinrude 50 HP outboards, they later switched to British Seagull 4 HP motors.

One thing generally not brought out was that once the Invasion of the Continent took place, engineering equipment such as this was pooled, with US, Canadian and British engineer units supporting all three forces with the same equipment, but by and large each nation stuck to its own organic designs.

Overall this is an offbeat but interesting little book, and provides 1/48 scale plans of the four boat types covered.

Thanks to Clive Law of Service Publications for the review copy.