The Hawkins link

source: Victor M. Lansink; Duitse Lijntje,,

In the spring of 1945, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery aimed to liberate the area between the Roer and the Rhine with a pincer movement. Under the name “Operation Veritable” (meaning true or decisive), the Allies launched an offensive that ranks among the largest and most significant operations of World War II. Operation Veritable is also known as the “Rhineland Offensive” or the “Battle of the Reichswald”. Around Nijmegen, a quarter of a million Allied soldiers gathered in early February. On February 8, supported by 1,500 cannons, they launched an attack on the German defensive lines. While a combined British-Canadian army under the command of Canadian General Crerar and British Lieutenant General Horrocks launched the attack from Nijmegen, the Americans began an offensive in the south (Roermond) called “Grenade”.

This pincer movement aimed to clear the way to the Rhine and subsequently to more eastern areas. Bad weather and fierce resistance significantly delayed the attack. By February 22, it almost came to a standstill. On February 23, the Americans, led by Lieutenant General Simpson, managed to cross the Roer and soon completed the pincer movement to the north.

During the preparation of both operations, it quickly became apparent that the supply of troops and materials (food, weapons, ammunition) and the evacuation of the wounded posed a logistical problem. This was partly due to the unavailability of the railway bridges at Mook and Gennep, which had been blown up by retreating German troops on September 17 and 18, respectively. Nijmegen station was overloaded and also within the range of German artillery. Moreover, the Bailey bridge built by the Allies at Oeffelt offered insufficient relief. Therefore, a unique solution was chosen. It was decided to construct a military railway line between Wijchen and Hommersum. A Royal Engineers unit named ROC (Railway Operating Company) was responsible for the construction. It consisted of two sections connected by an existing line (Nijmegen-Venlo). The first part (“Avoiding Link of Division”) was 5 km long and ran from Wijchen via Neerbosch, Malden to the Nijmegen-Venlo railway line, connecting just north of the current glider airfield. The track was built in four weeks.

The second part of the line was called the “Hawkins Link.” It began at Molenhoek Station (Mook-Middelaar) and ran on the east side of Mook along Bovenste Weg and Fabritiusstraat until it reached the Rijksweg. It continued on the east side of the road towards Plasmolen. Remarkably, the road was now bordered by rails on both sides. On the west side, the MBS tram line ran parallel. Both tracks converged near Camping de Geuldert in Plasmolen. From there, the military railway veered slightly eastward via Langstraat towards Milsbeek, passing through the center of Milsbeek and then heading south of “Onderkant” towards the CNC compost factory. At this mushroom composting facility, there was a switch point with two crossing tracks.

Video afspelen
A train passes the Kleefseweg near "de Maria Roepaen'.

At this point, “Forest Loop,” trains could pass each other. The railway line then ran parallel to Aaldonksestraat towards Ottersum. Near Maria Roepaen, it made a sharp turn to the south, crossing Kleefseweg and the Niers River over a wooden bridge composed of seven spans, each 1.8 meters long.

After crossing the Niers, the track ran along the ‘t Oord farm and Oordseweg, finally connecting at kilometer 50.1 (one and a half kilometers east of Gennep Station, at the current military area on the Looier Heide) to the Boxtel-Goch railway line: Hommersum Junction, named after the nearby village of Hommersum.

Construction began at the end of January and the line was put into operation on February 26. Four weeks for 15 km! Unlike the usual practice of using a gravel bed, a sand bed was used for this railway, resulting in its “moderate” quality. The speed limit was thus set at 30 km/h. While it is not precisely known

what goods were transported over the line, historians believe the first train was a fuel train carrying gasoline. The connection to the NBDS line was made via a curve where the tracks ran parallel for a while before switching lines. There were derailments on this track, but the consequences were limited due to the low speeds.

Shortly after its construction, the Allies had already advanced much deeper into Germany, so the line was mainly used by trains carrying soldiers on leave and repatriates. On June 11, 1945, the operation of the line was handed over to the NS (Dutch Railways). In the summer of 1946, all tracks, crossing stations, and passing loops were dismantled. They were no longer needed and the numerous level crossings often hindered regular road traffic. The railway existed for just over a year.

De Hawkinsline (left) and the MBS track (right) at "de Plasmolen"

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