OPERATION AMHERST: French SAS in Holland, April 1945

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by stolpi, Dec 2, 2018.

  1. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Introduction: Operation Amherst (7 - 14 April 1945)

    In the last weeks of the war several SAS operations were conducted in the 21st Army Group sector in Northeast Holland & NW Germany:
    - Operation Keystone (air drop in support of 1st Cdn Corps);
    - Operation Larkswood (Jeep ground operation in support of the 4th Cdn Arm Div and 1st Polish Arm Div; see:The Belgian SAS Parachutists);
    - Operation Archway (see: Operation Archway - Wikipedia);
    - and Operation Amherst (air drop in support of 2nd Cdn Corps).

    Liberation North-East Holland.jpg
    Map taken from Roger Flamand, Amherst les parachutistes de la France Libre, 3e et 4e SAS, Hollande 1945 (Partly accessible over here:

    The largest of these actions was Operation Amherst conducted by French paras of 3rd and 4th SAS (or respectively the 3e en 2e Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes (RCP)). On the night of 7 to 8 April 1945 some 700 SAS soldiers - divided over 47 sticks of 15 men each were dropped by Stirling bombers of No 38 Group RAF deep behind enemy lines ahead of the ground formations of 2nd Canadian Corps. The paras landed roughly in the triangular area between the Dutch towns of Groningen - Coevorden - Zwolle, an area that almost coincided with the territory of the Dutch Province of Drenthe, a sparsely populated part of Holland. The SAS operation was of commando oriented nature. Contrary to conventional parachute missions, the assignment was not to engage the enemy directly. The primary mission was to operate behind the lines and attack and sabotage enemy communications and "cause alarm and confusion in the enemy rear areas", as the Operation order for Amherst termed it. The paras were to disrupt German communications, forestall bridges from being blown by removing the explosive charges (a process they called 'delousing'), knock out key facilities such as German airfields and enemy HQ's, raise local resistance and gather intelligence information; thus facilitating the advance of 2nd Cdn Corps. It was estimated that it would take Canadian ground forces 48 to 72 hours to reach the paras. So, the lightly armed French would be out on their own for two to three days at a maximum. The troops had been given 4 days rations to carry, but some, in order to lighten their loads, only carried a 2 day supply. Resupply by air would take place on an emergency basis only, which would be carried out by fighter-bombers of no. 84 Group (Typhoons) only in day-time.

    Planning for Amherst started on 28 March. On 3rd April both French SAS battalions, who were resting and refitting near Ipswich, in Suffolk, after their deployments in France and Belgium, were alerted for a move within 24 hours to Mushroom Farm, a secret transit-camp near Wetherfield in Essex (1). Preparations for this sudden move had to be made in haste and immediately there was great activity. The company leaders and officers put together sticks of 15 men. The men received their equipment, checked their armament and packed their bags. In the afternoon op 4th April the French SAS paras were transported by road to Mushroom Farm. Here tactical preparations for Amherst started. Landing zones were designated, troop leaders received their missions and studied the terrain maps which hung on the walls of the intelligence room. The start of the operation was set for the night of 6 to 7 April. On April 5th Brigadier Calvert visited Mushroom Farm and held a speech for the assembled men. Next day the start of the operation, owing to adverse weather, was postponed to the night of 7 to 8 April.

    On the morning of the 7th, the plan had to be partially modified because part of the operation area, including the town of Coevorden, had been reached by Canadian ground forces; three Dropping Zones and their related targets were cancelled. These last minute changes necessitated a new alignment of flights and radar control. Weather conditions had not improved on the 7th, yet it was decided to continue the operation, though No 38 Group RAF warned that owing to the bad conditions the drop would be made from 1.500 feet, above cloud and fog, and the troops might land anywhere within a radius of three miles from the Dropping Zone. This risk was accepted for the troops, but since the reception lights for the Jeeps would not be visible from the ground the Jeep drop was cancelled. It was intended to drop 18 armoured SAS Jeeps by parachute at certain drop zones; dropping them blind would result in a 100% loss (see post #6 below for the Jeep drop).

    In the afternoon of the 7th, by 16:00 hours, the SAS paras were moved by road to three airfields in SE Engeland, where Stirling aircraft were awaiting them for the flight to Holland; the airfields were Rivenhall, Shepherds Grove and Great Dunmow, while at Earls Colne Halifaxes loaded with the SAS Jeeps stood ready. That evening the aircraft, each carrying a stick of French SAS paras, took off one after another and with an interval of about two minutes between each plane flew alone to their destination. Between 11:45 p.m. and 1:30 am, in the night of 7/8 April, the aircraft released their loads over nineteen different Drop Zones. There were no aircraft losses. All returned safely to their base a few hours later. The French SAS battalions were dropped astride the railway line Groningen-Assen, which ran north - south through the area. The 3e RCP/3rd SAS, under Lt.Col. Jacques Pâris de Bollardière, dropped to the west of the railway line, while the 2e RCP/4th SAS, Major Pierre Puech-Samson, landed to the east of it. Owing to technical failure, one aircraft which carried the stick Lagèze failed to take off. The stick was dropped the following night. A total of 702 men jumped, including a four-man Jedburgh team, which had to make liaison with the Dutch resistance and carry out special assignments.

    Owing to navigation problems and adverse weather the parachute drop did not go according to plan; though No 38 RAF group called the results 'satisfactory'. The French paras landed wide apart and in most cases far from their targets. The night drops had to be carried out ‘blind’, using Gee mobile radar sets to establish the position of the Drop Zones. This however turned out to be less accurate than expected. More than half of the sticks landed over 5 kilometers from the intended landing zones, many more than 8 kilometers; one group even 60 kilometers (2). Due to the low cloud the jump had to be made from an altitude of about 1,500 feet, much higher than usual. With a moderate N to NE wind (3 Beaufort) this resulted in a scattered landing. This made the start of the operation for the French by no means promising. Much time was lost with regrouping and orientation. It turned out that the SAS units had to put up with obsolete maps and in many cases had to seek contact with the local population to orient themselves, with all attendant risks. Plans of attack had to be changed and commanders had to improvise. There was much confused fighting as scattered SAS para's wandered around in search of their units and objectives. It is not surprising that in the end not all designated objectives were taken. Despite all this, the French paras went about their tasks with great determination. They occupied a series of bridges, interdicted roads and conducted hit and run attacks on enemy posts and HQ installations and created a lot of confusion behind enemy lines. In most cases the 72 hours elapsed without the ground troops making contact, this accounted in particular for the sticks that landed further north. This was cause for concern on the part of Brigadier Calvert, commander of the SAS Brigade. On April 10th, three days into the operation, he pleaded for air patrols over the area to be intensified and for ground operations to be stepped up. The sticks unavoidably ran out of supplies, especially ammunition. In some cases Typhoons succeeded to drop supplies on W/T instructions. Other groups, which lacked the means of communication, had to lay low and went into hiding, often with the help of benevolent Dutch civilians who, at great risk for themselves, supplied them with food and water. The last group of French SAS was relieved on the 14th, seven days after the start of the operation.

    In the circumstances of that moment, with the German Army already in disarray, it is difficult to make a precise assessment of the effectiveness of Operation Amherst. The headquarters of the 1st British Airborne Corps, which had the 1st SAS Brigade under command, considered that the effect on enemy morale was "considerable"; "numerous troops who were badly needed for defense against advancing ground forces had to be deployed over a very wide area against these French regiments". Calvert in his report, on the other hand, pointed out that the enemy was less 'surrender-minded' than had been expected. It had been assumed that the German troops were worn out and demoralized and that they probably would be prepared to surrender honorably when the opportunity would rise. In practice this was proven wrong. The enemy morale was still fairly high, especially that of the Fallschirmjäger trainees. Though operation Amherst undeniably caused a lot of confusion behind enemy lines, it did not prompt the expected collapse of the enemy resistance.

    Paras in Gasselte_0009.jpg
    French SAS paratroopers of the stick of Lt. Michel Legrand (2 Coy/2 RCP) in the 'Bois de Gieten' a wooded part of the Dutch Province of Drenthe. Most of the fighting was done in this sparsely populated part of Holland (photo courtesy JvdWalle).

    Amherst had been a costly operation. The French SAS lost 33 men killed in action; including two who were killed in landing accidents and three who were executed by their captors - this was not the first execution of Special Servicemen; Hitler in 1942 had issued his notorious 'Commando Order' in which he ordered to give no quarter to 'enemy sabotage troops'. In addition, the French counted 56 seriously injured (including nine who had contracted fractures during the night drop), and a total of 69 were taken prisoner, though most of the prisoners were liberated by the advancing Canadian and British ground forces by the end of April. Taking into account that several of the wounded were also made POW, the loss rate was about 13% - 20% (3) which may be considered high. The German losses, according to Brigadier Calvert, were quite severe and estimated at 676 men dead, wounded or taken prisoner, but not all were confirmed and the number is probably an exaggeration. About 30 enemy vehicles were destroyed or captured (4). Even in it's demise - the war was in its final weeks - the German Army's response to the events was pitiless. The murdering of at least three French paras after they had been taken POW are grim evidence of that, as was the shooting of over 50 civilians in retaliation for the - sometimes alleged - support given to the French.

    Operation Amherst, despite it's spectacular character, is not well-known. The thread below is an attempt to tell the story of the French SAS paratroopers by aggregating what information is available on Operation Amherst - which is almost as fragmented and scattered as the operation itself was and the sources not always turned out to be correct or were contradictory. This thread was made possible by the invaluable assistance of Horsapassenger, Bedee, Harold de Jong, Gert-Jan Westhof, André Jans, Jan van der Walle, JvD, Klaas Rein Noppert, Albert Eleveld and David Portier who kindly provided information, documents and photographs. Pen and Dagger kindly gave permission for the use of photographs he took during a Jeep tour of the Amherst area. I made use of the book of Roger Flamand, the files at the Dutch Institute for Military History , and smaller local histories and newspaper reports, which are scattered all over the internet. Whenever possible I mentioned these in the text.

    Navigation through this thread: the SAS actions in the different operation zones:
    Brigadier Calvert's Report: Operation zones: OPERATION AMHERST: French SAS in Holland, April 1945
    Zone A (Zwolle, Meppel, Coevorden): OPERATION AMHERST: French SAS in Holland, April 1945
    Zone A' (Hoogeveen): Operation Amherst: French SAS in Holland, April 1945
    Zone B (Beilen, Spier): Operation Amherst: French SAS in Holland, April 1945
    Zone C (Westerbork and Oranjekanaal): Operation Amherst: French SAS in Holland, April 1945
    Zone D (Intermezzo: Jeep Sticks Larralde, Cochin & Leblond (2nd RCP/4th SAS) OPERATION AMHERST: French SAS in Holland, April 1945
    Zone D' (Assen, Rolde, Gieten, Borger) : Operation Amherst: French SAS in Holland, April 1945
    Zone E (Smilde, Appelscha, Diever, Haulerwijk): Operation Amherst: French SAS in Holland, April 1945
    Zone F (Assen - Norg) : Operation Amherst: French SAS in Holland, April 1945
    Zone F' (Zuidlaren -Gieten) : Operation Amherst: French SAS in Holland, April 1945

    Also very informative is this site of FFLSAS: Bienvenue

    An excellent overview of the operation can be found in the article by (the late) Jaap Jansen who translated the book of Roger Flamand into Dutch: Operation Amherst - TracesOfWar.com

    The 33 SAS soldiers who fell in the operation are commemorated on the Amherst Monument at the Dutch town of Assen - which is the capital of the Dutch Province of Drenthe where most of the action took place. The monument represents a breached wall. Elsewhere there are eight other (smaller) monuments. See also: Monument Franse Paratroepen - Assen - TracesOfWar.nl


    A pictorial impression is given here: Battlefield Tour Operation Amherst

    Link to the report of Brigadier J.M. Calvert on Operation Amherst: R.A.F. Report: Operations Amhurst & Keystone (and media: Operations Amhurst & Keystone | WW2Talk). (Courtesy dbf)

    (1) Following the operations in the Ardennes, the French SAS paras, who were resting in Champagne, were handed over to the SAS Brigade to be transferred to Great Britain and be placed in reserve. On February 9, 1945, the paratroopers of the 3rd and 4th SAS joined Le Havre and settled for a few days in a transit camp before embarking on February 17 aboard a troop transport bound for Portland. Upon their arrival in Great Britain, the SAS were directed to Wickham Market, a small town located near Ipswich in Suffolk. The 3rd SAS took up residence at Rendlesham Hall while the 4th SAS was quartered at Orwell Park. Gradually, the men resumed training and in particular the veterans took charge of the training of young recruits. (courtesy https://fflsas.org/fr/event/392).

    (2) The No. 38 RAF Group Report on Op Amherst concludes: "Allowing for the fact that their was insufficient time to arrange special deployment of the Gee stations [mobile radar stations], and the poor Gee cover in the area, the [...] results are considered satisfactory". The RAF Report refers to the SAS Report, which contains a list of intended and actual Drop Zones in appendix 'B'. Based on this list the No. 38 RAF Report summarizes the results of the air drop by the 47 Stirlings as follows:
    - 6 aircraft dropped their load on, or within negligible distance of the DZ;
    - 30 aircraft dropped their load within 6 miles of the DZ;
    - 7 aircraft dropped their load more than 6 and less than 12 miles from the DZ;
    - 1 aircraft dropped its load more than 12 miles from the DZ;
    - 3 parties dropped, but no details of position are known.
    The average error was 3,5 miles.

    (3) Calvert in his Report on Op Amherst, May 1945, puts the loss rate nearer to 20% taking into account the number of POWs (over 50 all ranks).

    (4) Calvert, ibidem, gives the following summary of enemy losses: Killed 269, Wounded 70, Killed or wounded unconfirmed 150, Prisoners 187, Transport destroyed or captured 29, Railway cut 3 places. According to Calvert it is hard to assess the exact damage done to the enemy; the figures in his opinion give some idea of losses inflicted and are probably about midway between the most optimistic and pessimistic claims.
    Last edited: May 24, 2023
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  2. smdarby

    smdarby Well-Known Member

    I visited a few Operation Amherst sites this summer. Memorials to two paratroopers and civilians executed - both in Spier. DSCF4569.JPG DSCF4564.JPG
  3. smdarby

    smdarby Well-Known Member

    Another civilian execution memorial near Hoogeveen and memorial to French paratroops killed at a farm near Assen.
    DSCF4572.JPG DSCF4582.JPG
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  4. 509thPIB

    509thPIB Well-Known Member

    For further reading:

    amherst (72).jpg
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  5. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Terrain: Drenthe

    Kaart Drenthe.jpg NE Holland.jpg
    Left: Map of the province of Drenthe. Right: Map of NE Holland (aka Netherlands) with the provinces of Gelderland (Gelre), Overijssel, Drenthe, Friesland and Groningen.

    The Netherlands are divided into a dozen regional areas, called Provinces. One of these is the Province of Drenthe, where most of the Amherst actions took place. The area is a sandy plateau with shallow ridges formed by Ice Age glaciers and bowl soils in between that over the ages became covered with a thick layer of peat. The vast forbidding moorlands and the thin sandy soil, which did not permit large-scale agriculture, is why Drenthe remained a bit of a backwater area which was sparsely inhabited. In the course of the last centuries large-scale peat extraction took place for fuel supply for the towns and cities in western Holland which changed the character of the landcape drastically. The peatlands were dried and excavated. The many small canals dug for water drainage and transport of peat are a permanent testimony of this period. The sandy soils (yellow on the map) are covered with waste lands and forests and dotted with the characteristic 'esdorpen' (es-villages), small picturesque farming settlements, built on the transition between dry sandy plateaus and wet pastureland, consisting of loose collections of large thatched Saxon farms. Some of the settlements are very old and even date back to prehistoric times as is evidenced by the presence of 'Hunebedden' or dolmens. The reclaimed peatlands (pink area on the map) are predominantly flat featureless landscapes with straight barge canals and dito roads. The more recent founded small villages, generally consist of modest brickstone laborer houses built in single rows on either side of the road or canal. The place names are reminiscent of the 'colonization' era, such as Nieuw-Amsterdam, Nieuw-Hollandscheveld, or are named after distant desolate regions, such as De Krim (Crimea), Siberië (Siberia). These areas are still known in Holland as the 'Veenkoloniën' (or Peat Colonies).

    The well-preserved Orvelte is a typical example of one of the old 'esdorpen' of Drenthe; a must-see when you ever come near.
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2022
  6. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Armoured SAS Jeeps

    An armoured SAS Jeep. The European version of the Armoured Jeep was fitted with two permanent 30 gallon self-sealing fuel tanks behind the driver and gunner, also an additional fuel tank was fitted under the gunner's seat. The Jeeps were now fitted with a two inch thick wind screen for the driver, which could be folded down, and one for the gunner whose shield was fitted with a twin mount for the Vickers K guns. The vehicles were fitted with an armoured plate below the screens. The European SAS Jeeps were also fitted with rear armoured plates to protect the fuel tanks, driver and gunner, from enemy fire from the rear (details courtesy: SAS European Jeep).

    In Operation Amherst it was intended to drop 18 armoured Jeeps by parachute at certain drop zones. The Jeeps were flown in by Handley Page Halifaxes fitted with special crates under the bomb bay that allowed them to drop the vehicle. Since the paratroopers could not be dropped by the same planes which carried the armoured Jeeps, the vehicles were flown in an hour after the Jeep teams had dropped. The Halifaxes would not drop their loads 'blind', but were to be guided in by reception lights set up by the Jeep teams; three white reception lights and one flashing letter on the down wind side. The aircraft were to search for the reception lights no longer than five minutes.

    Brigadier Calvert, the SAS commander, stated after the war: "I did want, if possible, to have jeeps dropped. I considered that besides the material effect these jeeps would have against the enemy, they would have a big morale and confusion effect in appearing amongst the enemy, who might think that they were the advance parties of our ground elements already arrived. Both Bn commanders have later stated that these jeeps would have been of great value (…)".

    Unfortunately on account of the weather, the planned Jeep drop was cancelled at the last moment. The 18 Halifax aircraft that would start from airport Earls Colne stayed on the ground. Owing to the bad visibility on the night of the dropping the reception lights for the Jeeps, which had to be displayed by the dropped Jeep teams at the dropping site, would not be visible from the air, which meant that the RAF could not guarantee accuracy. A blind drop almost certainly would lead to a 100% loss of vehicles. All Jeep teams were dropped on the first night. The decision to delay the vehicle drop was taken at the very last minute and the message did not reach all teams on time. Some would be waiting in vain for the Jeeps to arrive the first night of the operation. At first, the vehicle drop was postponed to the following night (8/9 April), but next day it was definitely cancelled. It was briefly considered to drop the Jeeps in the zone of the Belgian SAS (around Coevorden), in order to infiltrate the AMHERST area with the vehicles from there; in the end it was decided to fly the Jeeps to an airfield in the Canadian sector.

    Amherst is on.jpg
    Message from Main HQ to Tac HQ SAS confirming the start of Op Amherst, but also the cancellation of the Jeep drop. The message was sent on April 7th, at 18:43 hrs.

    Amherst 11 aircraft to B 77.jpg
    Next day another message signaled the cancelation of the Jeep drop altogether; the Jeeps were to be flown in to the Airfield of Gilze-Rijen (codename B77) in Holland, whence they were to travel overland to Coevorden.

    Dropping a Jeep from a Halifax bomber - see for more info Ground Vehicle Photos!
    Jeep drop.jpg

    Jeep drop 2.jpg

    For moving pictures of a Jeep drop see also: OPERATION AMHERST: French SAS in Holland, April 1945

    Amherst Halifax Jeep transprt.jpg
    A Jeep being carried under a Handley Page Halifax, ready to be air-dropped. The jeep is partly contained within the bomb bay, and came to earth in a protective cradle that had shock absorbers below the wheels to reduce the shock of the parachute landing. This jeep is being inspected by General Brereton, the American commander of the First Allied Airborne Army (photo courtesy Jeep carried under Handley Page Halifax). Below: An image taken from the French film "Le bataillon du Ciel" shows a parachute drop of Jeeps. Four 60-foot parachutes were used for each Jeep (see also: OPERATION AMHERST: French SAS in Holland, April 1945).

    Jeeps parachutes.jpg

    Thumbnail: A jeep dropped by a Halifax comes down supported by four large parachutes during an airborne demonstration held in feb 1945 (photo © IWM H 41276)
    IWM  H 41276 jeep drop.jpg

    On April 9th, eleven of the armoured Jeeps destined for Operation Amherst were flown by Halifaxes to airfield Gilze-Rijen (codename B 77), an airfield in the south-west part of Holland, whence the vehicles travelled overland to the town of Coevorden. Here Col. Prendergast, Deputy CO of the SAS Brigade, had set up a Tactical Special Forces HQ.

    Only 10 of the scheduled 11 Jeeps arrived, one plane failed to take off from England. The missing Jeep was flown in a day later. Several Jeep groups were formed at Coevorden, consisting of two or three vehicles, manned by volunteers from Prendergast's HQ and by French SAS teams that had been relieved by the ground forces. The task Jeep Groups were to infiltrate into enemy territory to contact the French paras and make arrangements for their withdrawal. From April 10th onwards, the French Jeep groups operated north- and westwards of Coevorden in conjunction with the Belgian SAS (5th SAS) (1). On the 11th they crossed the Oranjekanaal at the lock gate near Orvelte, from where they relieved the sticks that had been parachuted north of the canal. The Jeeps operated successfully against the enemy and evacuated a large number of the French SAS troops, including the wounded SAS men and POW's (See: OPERATION AMHERST: French SAS in Holland, April 1945).

    A Belgian SAS Jeep patrol on the move photographed near Oosterhesselen, April 1945. One of the lessons learned by the Belgian SAS from the recent Jeep operation in the Ardennes (Jan 45) was to add a motorized section of assault troops, transported by a 15 CWT truck, to the Jeep patrols to give them more punching power. They also added two sections of 3" mortars (2 per section) in support of the assault troops.

    (1) The Belgians operated on the main axis of the 1st Polish Armoured Division. The Belgian Jeep parties, assisted by Polish Recce forces, in the first days of Op Amherst contacted some of the French para units. Some moved deep into the Amherst area as far as Witteveen and Orvelte on the Oranjekanaal. See: OPERATION AMHERST: French SAS in Holland, April 1945
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2023 at 12:28 PM
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  7. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The French SAS troopers wore a black beret up until August 1st, 1944 (and for a little while afterwards). It was at this point that King George VI granted them the special honour of wearing the red beret of the SAS in recognition of their bravery and endeavours during the opening weeks of the invasion in France and their sterling service with the SAS in Africa.
    Red Berets.jpg
    (Photo courtesy: WWIIReenacting.co.uk Forums • View topic - Free French paratroops SAS in action)

    Red Beret & Yellow scarf.jpg Insigne_des_SAS_Français_en_44.jpg
    Left: During Amherst the French paras wore a yellow Airborne recognition scarf. Used in the late-war period, notably by the 17th US Airborne for Operation Varsity. By this stage of the war, nearly every plane was Allied, and the ground troops needed to be recognized so the target-hungry fighters wouldn’t prey on their own (photo courtesy: IMG_2937). Right: The cap badge of the French paratroopers "Qui Ose Gagne" or "Who Dares Wins".
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2022
  8. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The SAS Brigade:

    Calvert inspection.jpg
    CO Brigadier J.M. (Michael aka "Mad Mike") Calvert, DSO

    Brig. M.Calvert SAS Bde.jpg

    Brigadier Michael Calvert was of Chindit fame. For his bravery and outstanding leadership in the second Chindit expedition in Burma in 1944, he received a bar to the DSO, he had been awarded for courage as a column commander in the first expedition. Then, after the Chindits were withdrawn to India for further training in September 1944, absurdly in view of his battle experiences, Calvert found himself evacuated to England with an Achilles tendon, injured in a football match. The Chindits were abruptly disbanded while he was in hospital but, as soon as he was fit, he was appointed to command the Special Air Service Brigade on 21 March 1945, comprising British, Belgian and French units. Calvert took over command from Brigadier R.W. McLeod, who departed in March for India.

    Interview with Calvert (Audio in IWM):
    Reel 19: Calvert, James Michael (Oral history)
    Continues: reason for return to GB, 9/1944 and subsequent period of hospitalization; acceptance of post to command Special Air Service. Recollections of operations commanding Special Air Service in GB and North West Europe, 3/1945-10/1945: composition of Special Air Service; activities of Special Air Service in North West Europe; communications; memories and opinions of fellow officers; relationship of irregular warfare and politics; nature of irregular warfare; importance of unpredictibility; initial relations with troops; description and use of armoured jeeps; problems with French Special Air Service troops and ex-Long Range Desert Group officer at Colchester; story of day sorting French troops out; background and opinion of French troops.
    Reel 20: Calvert, James Michael (Oral history)
    Continues: plan for River Rhine crossing; own airborne crossing and walk back across River Rhine; opinion of 2nd Army; plans for crossing of IJssel, Netherlands; problems with airborne operations; meetings with French in Essex and details of parachute drops; drive into northern Netherlands; reasons for decision to not pass information to Dutch Resistance, Netherlands, 4/1945.
    Reel 21: Calvert, James Michael (Oral history)
    Continues: details of activities in Netherlands; description of attack on Winschoten, Netherlands; opinion of French Special Air Service troops; liberation of camp for Polish female internees and treatment of guards; opinions of Special Air Service and own personnel including second in command; military situation in Norway; fate of French and Belgian Special Air Service troops at end of war; preparations for operations in Norway at Colchester. Aspects of period commanding Special Air Service in Norway, 1945: arrival in Norway; surrender of German forces; attitude of U-Boat crews; escape of a U-Boat to Argentina.

    Composition of the SAS Brigade:
    1st and 2nd SAS Regiments (British)
    3rd and 4th SAS Regiments(French)
    5th SAS Regiment (Belgian)

    The composition of a SAS regiment was in theory about 600 men spread in:
    - one HQ company (squadron) composed of a section (troop) of transmission with a 12 team radio, one support section, one protection section and the service troops
    - one motorized company (squadron) with four platoons of 4 jeeps
    - three combat companies (squadrons) each with a command section and two combat sections with four groups

    Amherst was not the first operation conducted by the French SAS battalions. They had previously seen action in North Africa and France and Belgium (Ardennes). For a listing of all their operations see: SouvenirSAS - Pge Operations SAS 1941-1945

    The two French parachute battalions were originally formed in North Africa and came to England some months before D-Day for the invasion of France. They consisted of troops from all parts of General De Gaulle's Army. Later after operating successfully in Bretagne and Central-France with the Maquis - together with 1st and 2nd British SAS Regiments - they returned to England for further training and re-organization. The ranks were brought up to strength by new recruits from the Maquis, who, although very fine types, had received little or no military training. Owing to delays most of the new recruits had not been able to undergo or complete their parachute courses and as a result only two slimmed-down parachute battalions, each about 350 men, would take part in the Amherst operation.

    It is important to note that the mission of the SAS was of a commando oriented nature. Unlike conventional parachute troops, the mission of the SAS was not to engage the enemy directly nor seek long-term control over territory, but to wage a 'guerilla war' and sow confusion behind the enemy lines. There goal was to disrupt enemy forces, destroy installations and secure information by conducting limited raids.

    Though the SAS were organized in battalions and companies (sometimes also called squadrons), the units usually did not operate as such. Characteristic for the SAS was the acting in small teams, called 'sticks', each consisting of 15 men, large enough to carry out assignments independently and small enough not to stand out immediately. In average each company counted six sticks. Each stick consisted of two Officers, two NCO's and eleven corporals and soldiers. If necessary it could be broken into two teams ( a 'half-stick' or in French a 'demi-stick') each under the command of an Officer and a NCO. The sticks or demi-sticks maneuvered and operated each on their own. Flexibility was paramount, the units often regrouped and sometimes united to carry out certain operations and then dispersed again. Mobility remained the key to safety, and speed of action the best guarantee of success. The SAS paras were lightly armed with a Colt .45, an U.S. dagger, a carabine with folding buttstock, a Stengun (in some cases replaced by a Patchett submachine gun), some paras carried the Thomson sub-machine gun. The men carried hand grenades and 'Gammon' bombs (or No. 82 grenade); paratroopers called the latter their "hand artillery" (1). Heavy weapons consisted of the Brengun (two per stick) and an occasional PIAT. The heavy weapons were dropped by container.

    As to Signal communication: Eight wireless sets were dropped in Operation Amherst (each battalion had four sets; one per Coy and one in HQ Coy). Messages were transferred in morse-code to main SAS HQ in England who relayed the wireless messages back to First Canadian Army, making the Radio Logs of both these HQ's an invaluable source for Op Amherst. Some of the recorded messages are presented in this thread. Each stick carried a small receiving set through which they could receive messages broadcasted by the BBC with information as to the progress of the ground troops or the whereabouts of other SAS parties and be given special instructions; each stick had its own codename; in the case of Op Amherst the call-name was CORBEAU or ARCHIVISTES in combination with a number, which made it possible to sent instructions to individual sticks.

    3rd SAS (aka 3e Regiment Chasseurs Parachutists, 3rd RCP)

    Lt.Col Bollardiere 3 RCP.jpg
    CO Lt.Col. Jacques Pâris de Bollardière

    1st Coy Lt. Picard
    Stick 1 - Lt. Rouan
    Stick 2 - Lt. Ferchaud
    Stick 3 - 2nd Lt. Valayer
    Stick 4 - 2nd Lt. Poli-Marchetti
    Stick 5 - Lt. De Sablet
    Stick 6 - 2nd Lt. Boiteux
    Stick 7 - Lt. Boulon

    2nd Coy Capt. P. Sicaud
    Stick 8 - Lt. Thomé
    Stick 9 - Lt. Hubler
    Stick 10 - Capt. Sicaud
    Stick 11 - Lt. Collery
    Stick 12 - Lt. Duno
    Stick 13 - 2nd Lt. Vidoni

    3rd Coy Lt. Baratin
    Stick 14 - Lt. Baratin
    Stick 15 - 2nd Lt. Bouffartigues
    Stick 16 - 2nd Lt. de Lagallard
    Stick 17 - Lt. Gayard
    Stick 18 - L'Aspirant Marschal

    Staff Coy
    Stick 19 - Lt.Col. de Bollardière
    Stick 20 - Capt. Paumier
    Stick 21 - Lt. Dreyfus
    Stick 22 - Capt. Vallières
    Stick 23 - 2nd Lt Grumbach
    Stick 24 - 2nd Lt. Lecomte

    NB. For operation Amherst the 3rd RCP, consisting of 42 officers and 315 men, was split up into 24 'sticks' of about 15 men each. (Courtesy: After Action Report of the 3rd RCP/3rd SAS)

    4th SAS (aka 2e Regiment Chasseurs Parachutists, 2nd RCP)

    Major Puech-Samson 2 RCP.jpg
    CO Major Pierre Puech-Samson

    1st Coy Lt. Appriou
    Stick 2 - l'Aspirant Forgeat
    Stick 3 - Lt. Appriou
    Stick 4 - Lt. Sriber
    Stick 5 - Lt. Simon
    Stick 6 - 2nd Lt. Stéphan

    2nd Coy Lt. De Camaret
    Stick 7 - Lt. Legrand
    Stick 8 - Lt. De Camaret
    Stick 9 - Lt. Gabaudan
    Stick 10 - 2nd Lt. Corta
    Stick 11 - L'Aspirant Edme

    3rd Coy Capt. A.Betbèze
    Stick 12 - Capt. Betbèze
    Stick 13 - Lt. Leblond
    Stick 14 - 2nd Lt. Nicol
    Stick 15 - 2nd Lt. Taylor

    Staff Coy
    Stick 16 - Capt. Gramond
    Stick 17 - Capt. Berr
    Stick 18 - Lt. Lasserre
    Stick 19 - Adjudant Bourrel
    Stick 20 - Lt. Varnier
    Stick 1 - Lt. Col. Puech - Samson

    NB. For operation Amherst the battalion, with 21 officers and 298 men numerically slightly weaker than the 3rd RCP, was split up into 20 'sticks' of about 15 men each. (Courtesy Roger Flamand)

    In addition the 2nd RCP (4th SAS) carried three Jeep Groups with 9 armoured Jeeps; split up into three sections (twelve to fifteen men each) each equiped with 3 Jeeps.

    Jeep Groups:
    Stick 21 - Capt. Larralde + Jedburg team (4 men)
    Stick 22 - Lt. Cochin
    Stick 23 - L'Aspirant Lagèze

    (1) For the Gammon bomb see: Gammon bomb - Wikipedia
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2023
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  9. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Brigadier Calvert's Report: Operation zones

    Immediately after the completion of the action, Brigadier Calvert wrote a report on Operation Amherst, but it is quite summary, incomplete and at times a bit garbled. In his report Calvert divided the Amherst battle area into six operation zones labelled A to F. This classification will be followed below. In this thread the parachute drops and actions are treated for each zone separately, starting with a fragment from Calvert's report, a map with the intended and actual drop zones and a description of the actions that took place. Each is concluded by the story of the link up with the ground forces - in general Canadians, but also Poles and Belgians.

    To give an overview of the advance of the Allied ground forces, below a map taken from Stacey's Victory Campaign. The green circles, labelled A to F, are my addition, they are the operation zones as mentioned in Calvert's Report. The map gives the main advance of the ground forces of 2nd Canadian (Cdn) Corps. Note that the Canadians moved along three separate axis. On the left bordering the River IJssel the 3rd Cdn Inf Division headed to the northwest from Zwolle over Meppel and Steenwijk into the Province of Friesland with Leeuwarden (the province capital) and the Afsluitdijk as objectives, the 2nd Cdn Inf Division moved north along the central axis Ommen - Assen - Groningen. Both divisions were to cut off the escape route of the enemy's 25.Army in western Holland, by heading for the North Sea as quickly as possible. On the right operated the 4th Cdn Arm Division, which after the capture of Almelo, in order to conform with the advance of 2nd British Army, diverged from its northern course and moved in a more northeasterly direction into Germany. The ever-widening gap between the Canadian Armoured Division and 2nd Infantry Division was filled up by the 1st Polish Armoured Division, called forward from an resting area near Breda in south-west Holland. The Poles became operational on April 10th from the vicinity of Coevorden.

    Stacey Map aa.jpg

    Below the original map from to Calvert's report. It depicts the Operation Zones and the intended Drop Zones within each, as had been planned for Amherst (the place names are my addition). The 19 Drop Zones are indicated by a black dot; those with a circle around it were the sites where a Radio Transmission set was dropped, each with its W/T- code written next to it - with the exception of that of Captain Sicaud (Zone E) who was known under code no. 204. Each of the French battalions carried four W/T sets (for transmission and receiving); each demi-stick was equipped with a radio-receiver capable of receiving encrypted messages broadcast by the BBC. Each receiver had its own codename: Archiviste 2 - 3 - 46 - 30 - 47 - 20 - 14 - 40 - 51, and Corbeaux. Due to faulty radar navigation and adverse weather conditions the paras were scattered over a far wider area than was intended. The actual landings are indicated in the smaller black and white maps added to each operation zone.

    Map Amherst Zones Calvert.jpg

    Radio codes 3e RCP (3th SAS):
    Amherst 104: Picard
    Amherst 204: Sicaud
    Amherst 304: Baratin
    Amherst 404: Bollardiere

    Radio codes 2e RCP (4th SAS):
    Amherst 106: Puech-Samson
    Amherst 206: Gramond
    Amherst 306: Legrand
    Amherst 406: Appriou

    Op Amherst Order 1.jpg Op Amherst Order 2.jpg Op Amherst Order 3.jpg Op Amherst Order 4 amandment.jpg
    The operation Order for Amherst as it read on 5 April 1945; the addendum of April 6th indicates the targets that were dropped as a result of the advance of the 2nd Cdn Corps:

    Narrative of the battle in the different operation zones:
    Zone A (Zwolle, Meppel, Coevorden): Operation Amherst: French SAS in Holland, April 1945
    Zone A' (Hoogeveen): Operation Amherst: French SAS in Holland, April 1945
    Zone B (Beilen, Spier): Operation Amherst: French SAS in Holland, April 1945
    Zone C (Westerbork and Oranjekanaal): Operation Amherst: French SAS in Holland, April 1945
    Zone D (Intermezzo: Jeep Sticks Larralde, Cochin & Leblond (2nd RCP/4th SAS) OPERATION AMHERST: French SAS in Holland, April 1945
    Zone D' (Assen, Rolde, Gieten, Borger) : Operation Amherst: French SAS in Holland, April 1945
    Zone E (Smilde, Appelscha, Diever, Haulerwijk): Operation Amherst: French SAS in Holland, April 1945
    Zone F (Assen - Norg) : Operation Amherst: French SAS in Holland, April 1945
    Zone F' (Zuidlaren -Gieten) : Operation Amherst: French SAS in Holland, April 1945
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2023
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  10. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The night drop (night 7 to 8 April 1945)

    Amherst mess Calvert to French Bns.jpg
    In the afternoon of April 7th, with all set for Op Amherst and the start of the operation that night final, Brigadier Calvert wished his men good luck with the action (Ops Log Main HQ SAS, serial 759)

    The Stirlings, each carrying one stick of French paratroopers, took off from three Airfields in eastern England (Great Dunmow, Shepherds Grove and Rivenhall) and flew single to their destinations with an interval of about two minutes between each plane. They were guided on their target by mobile radar. Special arrangements were made for the AA-artillery along the flight route; between 07.2100 and 08.0600 no AA guns were allowed to fire along the axis Brussels - Goch - Enschede - Emmen. The air operation went smoothly. No enemy opposition was encountered, and all aircraft involved in the night drop returned safely.

    Amherst is on 2.jpg

    Route Diagram of RAF bombers carrying the SAS troops:
    Route Diagram Planes.JPG

    No38 RAF weather 7.4.jpg
    The weather report from No. 38 RAF Group of 7th April (16:05 hrs)

    Short Stirlings of the 620 Squadron, RAF in September of 1944.jpg
    Above: Photograph of Short Stirlings of the 620 Squadron, RAF in September 1944. It gives a good impression of the hustle and bustle prior to the take-off. Below: Crew of the Stirling 'Bitter Sweet' poses with some members of a stick of the 2nd RCP. The picture was taken on April 7th, 1945, at the Shepherds Grove airfield (photo courtesy: Operation Amherst: French SAS Attack Behind German Lines).

    299 Sqn crewshot.jpg

    Supply containers.jpg
    Another picture taken at Gormoenen airfield shows the supply containers that were used by the paratroop units, in Amherst each Stirling dropped 4 of these containers; two containing food, the other two a Brengun and mixed ammunition.

    Stirling airplane.jpg
    A post-war picture of a Stirling at the Hannover airport 1945. (photo courtesy: Operation Varsity, 24 March 1945 - 02.Crew at Wunstorf nr. Hanover.)

    SAS board Stirling.jpg
    Fully packed paras boarding a plane; each Stirling carried a stick and four supply containers as well as a number of para simulators (dummies).

    Deception plan

    It was the intention to try and exaggerate in the mind of the German Command, the magnitude of the operation, in order to increase confusion, induce the adversary to give in, feeling that honor was satisfied, or mislead him in the hope that he would make false dispositions. The methods planned to create this deception were:
    (i) Drop simulators by air - a number of 140 para dummies was dropped;
    (ii) Employment of Bomber Command and 100 Group, who were to take action that night in areas near the drop as they would if it had been a normal airborne landing (1);
    (iii) The use of the B.B.C. and press to announce that large airborne landings had taken place in Northern Holland.
    (iv) After the landings no effort was to be made to hide the parachutes. They had to be left behind in the open, visible for the Germans - it was estimated that the amount of parachutes would be very intimidating for the enemy soldiers, or as the French termed it: create a "psychoses du parachutists" among the enemy.

    Although one of the tasks of the SAS paras was to contact the local resistance and where possible co-ordinate actions with them, the Dutch resistance, in order to prevent premature leakage of the action and not unnecessarily endangering the resistance due to the uncertain start date of the operation, was only informed of operation Amherst half a day after the start of the operation by means of a coded message: "De boot is omgeslagen" (“The boat has capsized”), which was broadcasted by Radio Oranje.

    Amherts Dummy.jpg
    To deceive the enemy a large number of simulators, dubbed 'Ruperts', were dropped during the night of the 7th. These were dummy parachutists made up of sandbags, approximately one-third the size of a man, fitted with timing delays that were triggered upon leaving the aircraft. Once they hit the soil they would simulate machine gun or rifle fire for a duration of about five minutes. The simulated fire, it was hoped for, would attract the enemy attention to the dummy drop and sow further confusion among the enemy. The devices had also been deployed during the D-Day landings in Normandy.

    (1) The cover plan also provided for small bombing attacks by no. 84 Group at Emden, Papenburg and Leer between 23:00 and 02:00 with the intention of simulating a program of isolation of dropping zones. No. 100 Group was requested to simulate a large dropping force in the area Groningen - Leeuwarden.
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2023
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  11. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Zone A: Southern half, area Zwolle, Meppel, Coevorden

    Zone A contained the Drop Zones 17 and 18 which were assigned to the 3rd Coy of the 3rdRCP/3rd SAS. In this post the operations of the sticks that landed on Drop Zone 17, the southern part of Zone A, will be discussed; the other drop zone is dealt with in the next post. The mission of the sticks assigned to Drop Zone 17 was to secure crossings over the canal of the Dedemsvaart and interdict the railway line between Meppel and Zwolle.

    Extract from Brigadier Calvert's Report (courtesy JvD):
    Amherst Zone A.jpg

    Amherts Map Zone A.jpg

    C/N = Chalk Number of aircraft.

    - The Chalk Nos. 55 - 57 were three Stirlings from Shepherds Grove Airfield. Together they carried 45 paratroopers. The sticks were dropped between 23:00 - 23:30 hours on 7 April 1945.Each aircraft also carried four containers - two with weapons (Bren and a PIAT), ammunition and communication equipment and two with food supplies
    - Chalk No. 15 a Stirling which flew in from Rivenhall Airfield dropped its load, 15 men and 4 containers (Stick Sriber), far off target between 23:30 - 23:59 hours on the 7th.

    Immediately after landing the men started with their normal routine of regrouping and collecting weapons and equipment in the darkness, orienting themselves, establishing a base from which they could operate, contacting local resistance groups, gather intelligence information and search for their objectives. Men and supply containers were dropped from the same planes; the containers, stowed in the old bombing bays of the Stirling aircraft, were dropped halfway through the stick, after the first half of the men had jumped, to ensure that the containers landed in the center of the area where the paras came down. Once on the ground the drill was that the paras started to move towards the center, in the direction of the containers; the paras that had jumped first moved against the flight direction of the plane, the second half started walking in the opposite direction. The first and last man did not move in a straight line but zigzagged through the terrain to have a wider search range, increasing the chance of finding the others. In the darkness flashlight signals, small reflective plates carried on the helmets and small red signal lights on the containers were supposed to make regrouping easier. Each Stirling dropped four supply containers, two filled with weapons and ammunition and two filled with rations. Recovering the containers obviously had a high priority, as they contained the 'heavy' weapons (Bren guns) and spare ammunition, as well as extra rations for the coming days and, in case of the Coy and Bn staff Coy, the wireless sets.

    French was a tongue not widely spoken by the Dutch population, to say the least. To overcome the language barrier a German-speaking soldier, usually an Alsatian, was added to each stick. Though the German language certainly is better understood by the Dutch, the use of it more often than not initially caused great consternation and mistrust. Most of the civilians were scared to death when German speaking soldiers in strange uniforms knocked at their door in the dead of the night. In most cases it took some persuasion on the part of the French to convince the locals that they were friendly troops. What often made the difference was the small leaflet the French paras carried with them, which explained in Dutch that they were Allied troops who came to liberate the country and asked the reader to be helpful.

    The small leaflet that the French carried with them. It explained in 'Dutch' that the paras were friendly troops who came to liberate the Dutch and asked them to give as much help as possible. The problem with the document was that it had been composed by Dutch refugee of German decent, and consisted of crooked language full of errors and Germanisms, which contributed little to dispelling the mistrust about the carrier of the note. It nevertheless worked and was successfully used by the paras on numerous occasions. Probably the formal stamp did the trick (photo courtesy Boersma).

    'Bois de Staphorst'/Balkbrug - Sticks Baratin & Bouffartigue & Lagallarde

    The sticks of 2nd Lt. Jaques Bouffartigue and Aspirant Gérard Lagallarde came down close together near the Staatsbos of Staphorst, which was about 3 miles to the south of the intended DZ (No. 17). The balance of the stick Bouffartigue landed in the fields hard south of the Staatsbos, some of the men came down inside the forest, which consisted of young plantations. One man of the stick Bouffartigue, Paul Roux, did not jump. His parachute had opened up prematurely inside the aircraft. He flew back to England and arrived later in Coevorden with the Jeeps that were driven in overland. At first the French were disoriented since the forest did not show up on their outdated maps; the trees had been planted as a reforestation project for the unemployed in de mid 30-ies (to the French it became known as the 'Bois de Staphorst' ). Inside the woods was a secret camp of the local resistance group under Jos Bonvanie. They had constructed a hideout, consisting of a well-hidden wooden shed and a tent. Here a group of about 25 - 30 resistance fighters were gathered, strongly armed with Bren and Sten guns and even an anti-tank weapon (bazooka) and mines - all weapons that had been dropped by air at the end of March 1945 (1). Unfortunately not all went smoothly. In the darkness a couple of resistance men were mistaken for enemy soldiers and a short skirmish took place inside the Staatsbos with the French, in which two Dutch resistance fighters were wounded. Lieutenant Bouffartigue and most of his men landed in the open fields to the south of the forest and assembled in the barn of the farm at the Kanlaan 56. The local peasant famliy did not speak a word of French, but somehow Bouffartigue was able to pinpoint his location from the information they gave. At dawn on the 8th he moved into the forest where he got in touch with the stick of Lagallarde near the forester's house. The latter had landed to the south of the forest, around Den Hulst, a township consisting of single rows of houses stretched out along both sides of the Dedemsvaart canal. Though further away and scattered on both sides of the canal, Lagallarde was the first to arrive in the Staatsbos. The men who landed north of the canal made their way to the forest during the night, with the aid of a civillian guide, Wiep van Werven, an assistant veterinarian who had worked in Belgium and spoke French well. They gathered in the barn of the forester's house in the southern part of the forest. The bulk of the stick Lagallarde, about ten men, had drifted off and landed to the south of the Dedemsvaart canal, near Nieuwleusen. One landed on the local football field, the others near the Zandspeur. One of them, Henri Godet, had been slightly wounded during the landing, when he got entangled in some electricity wires and landed upside down. Luckily for him the electricity was switched off. With the assistance of local civilians, these men during the night crossed the canal on a barge and were guided by civilians to the Staatsbos, where they joined the rest of the stick Lagallarde at the foresters house. Most of the residents did not notice the dropping until next morning, when they discovered the parachutes that were scattered throughout the area, some hanging from the fruit trees.

    The stick of Lt. Jean Paul Baratin, the CO of the 3rd Coy, landed even more far off to the east near Balkbrug, some 7 miles SE of the designated Drop Zone. According a member of the stick, Octave Bernault , the stick managed to reach the 'Bois de Staphorst' next morning with the help of a civillian guide. Here they joined the other sticks (2).

    Map of the actual drop zone of the stick Lagallarde. The stick was scattered and landed on both sides of the Dedemsvaart canal. The Staatsbos is to the north, outside the map. See for more details also: search for name paratrooper/amherst/french SAS stick 14/15 den hulst april 1945

    Amherst 304 - 1st message.jpg
    At 08:20 on 8 April a first message was transmitted to Main SAS HQ by Lt. Baratin, with radio call sign Amherst 304, containing the intelligence thusfar gathered by his men, most of it probably obtained from the local resistance network (Ops Log Main HQ SAS, serial 791).

    At the 'Bois de Staphorst' the joined sticks together fielded about 44 men. A division of duties was arranged with the Dutch resistance group of Bonvanie. While the latter took care of the security of the bivouac area, the French paras went about their tasks. All roads in the area were blocked and the French also cut the nearby railroad Staphorst - Zwolle. Baratin, who was in command of the 3rd Coy (3rd RCP/3rd SAS), sent the sticks to recce the nearest bridges across the Dedemsvaart; Bouffartigue to Lichtmis (in the main road between Zwolle and Meppel) and Lagallarde to Balkbrug. Unfortunately the bridges across the Dedemsvaart were found demolished. They had been blown by the enemy a couple of days before. Recce parties sent out in the direction of Meppel confirmed the information obtained from the resistance. The town was strongly occupied by enemy forces, who also controlled the main road running from Meppel south to Zwolle. The enemy seemed intent on defending the town. Several dikes were destroyed, setting fifty square kilometers of land between Zwolle and Meppel under water.

    2nd Lt Jaques Bouffartigue.jpg
    The 23-years old 2nd Lt Jaques Bouffartigue, photo courtesy http://lerot.org/joomla25/index.php?option=com_fflsas_user&view=person_show&lang=FR&personid=183)

    Meanwhile, in consultation with the French, the resistance group of Bonvanie, probably in order to increase the security of the bivouac area, proceeded to arrest the NSB-families who were known to live in neighborhood, an area locally known as Punthorst. The NSB (Nationaal Socialistische Beweging) was the much despised Dutch national political party that collaborated with the Nazi regime. Some paras of the stick Bouffartigue assisted the resistance men in this task. Resistance fighter Kees de Roos and the French para Yves Loichot were on their way to the families Sterken, Prins and Santing, fervent NSB'ers. First they went to the house of the Prins family, where they arrested three people and took them to the Staatsbos. Then they went to the farm of the family Santing on the Dekkersweg. The Santing's were known as Landwachters, a Pro-German Dutch auxiliary police force, willing accomplices of the German Military Police (Feldgendarmen), mostly composed of unsavory subjects, who terrorized whole areas and ruthlessly hunted down resistance fighters and others who were in hiding. At the Dekkersweg things started to go wrong.

    Loichot and De Roos took up position in a ditch in front of the Santing farm. The gun at the ready. When they spotted two men leaving the farm - Harm Santing and a friend - Kees de Roos shouted: "surrender, or I shoot", but the two dashed back inside the farm. De Roos and Loichot opened fire on the fleeing men, hitting Harm Santing in his arm. The other man escaped via the back of the house.

    Within the house, the brothers Santing, Jacob, Willem and Harm, scrambled up the attic. One of them, probably Jacob, opened fire from an attic window and killed De Roos and Loichot - who were still lying in the ditch - with a head shot. A witness saw it happen and rushed to the neighbors, the Spijkerman family. Lenie, the daughter of the house, thereupon was sent to the Staatsbos to inform the French and the resistance fighters about the fatal event. Here the French paras and resistance group were just about to move out for an attack on the Lichtmisbrug, the bridge across the Dedemsvaart in the main road Staphorst - Zwolle. It was decided to delay the attack and dispel the Landwachters first.

    Raoul Loichot, twin brother of the slain Yves, immediately hurried with two paras and members of the resistance to the Santing farm. They silently entered the farm by a side door. Then they shot through a suspicious haystack in the farmyard. They heard shouts and four blood-stained men emerged from it. When asked, by para Jacques Noel, an Alsatian who spoke German, who shot the paratroopers, Jacob Santing replied brutally: 'That was us'. The brothers Jacob, Willem, Harm, and the father Hendrik were shot on the spot.

    Then matters further aggravated. Back in de Staatsbos one of the prisoners, the young Derk Jan Prins, managed to escape from the forest hideout. As his escape compromised the safety of the bivouac, it was decided to move it to another location. That same evening the remaining four prisoners, who had become a liability, the NSB members Klaas Prins and Rutger Prins who were arrested earlier that morning, the wife of Hendrik Santing and the 15-year-old Alex Duif were shot. Alex Duif, also from an family of collaborators, was caught that morning by the resistance. He cycled together with a courier of the resistance and another man in the forest. The courier and the man were released, probably upon promising not to tell anyone about the presence of the resistance fighters and French. Alex however proved a hardheaded teenager and therefore was detained. He now paid dearly for his behavior.

    In all there were ten deaths, on what locally became known as 'Black Sunday'; April 8th was a Sunday (Story courtesy: Vlak voor de bevrijding vallen er in Punthorst tien doden).

    Dekkersweg Punthorst.jpg
    Along the Dekkersweg, two crosses mark the spot where Yves Loichot and Kees de Roos fell.

    YL Helmet b.jpg YL Helmet a.jpg
    The helmet worn by Yves Loichot in Operation Amherst was found and brought to Canada at the end of the war by a Canadian soldier who had been assigned to duties in Holland in 1945. Some years later, the helmet was turned in by the veteran to his Regimental Museum. Eventually the museum deaccessioned the helmet from its collection (with the written consent of the donor/veteran who was still alive at the time) in order to obtain another important item specifically relevant to the museum's collection (photo courtesy WW2talk member 303sniper).

    The French paras were not long on their own. At some point in the early afternoon of that Sunday, 8 April, contact was established with the 12th Manitoba Dragoons, the Recce Regiment of the 2nd Cdn Corps which was on a recce mission towards Meppel. The link-up was confirmed by a wireless message sent by Lt. Baratin to Main SAS HQ at 15:45 hrs. The Manitobas were probing into the area from the east, from the direction of Hardenberg, and were well ahead of the Canadian ground troops, who at that time were still fighting for Zutphen. While the rest of the armoured Recce cars went ahead with their task, a scout car of the Manitoba's remained with the sticks under Baratin to provide a wireless link.

    On 9 April four Canadian Staghound heavy armoured cars of "A" Squadron, 12th Manitoba Dragoons, entered the village of Rouveen, halfway between Zwolle and Meppel. The latter two places at the time were still occupied by the enemy as was the nearby Lichtmis Viaduct just south of Rouveen. The Staghound in teh picture carries light bridging equipment. Fully in their element, the swift armoured cars of the 12th Manitobas roamed through the area during daytime from the direction of Hardenberg, shooting up enemy columns on the way. At night they retired to their base (Photo courtesy
    https://www.destentor.nl/kop-van-ov...tie-bevrijdingsevenement-in-rouveen~ae81d651//© collectie gerrit stegeman).

    In the afternoon the French paras under Lieutenant Bouffartigue together with the local resistance fighters, made for the Lichtmis bridge, a modern viaduct in the main road Zwolle - Meppel across the canal of the Dedemsvaart which came into use in 1939, just before the war. It was one of the few bridges over the canal that was still intact. The bridge was occupied by an enemy detachment, which had set up several machinegun posts covering all of the approaches. In addition an observation post was established in the over 50 meters high water tower next to the bridge which could give early warning. In the flat and unpleasantly open countryside the lightly armed French paras stood no chance. The bare landscape offered scant cover and the approaching French paras were immediately spotted and pinned down by long range machinegun fire. One of the paras, Maurice Gelot, was wounded. The French did not press the matter and at about 16:30 hrs the attack was broken off and the men returned to the 'Bois de Staphorst', only to learn that the safety of the base camp had been compromised by the escape of one of the prisoners, as already mentioned above.

    Viadukt Lichtmis 1.jpg
    The Lichtmis viaduct across the Dedemsvaart canal later was blown up by the retreating enemy. Behind the bridge the water tower that served as an observation post for the bridge garrison (photo courtesy: Nieuwe pagina 1)

    beeldbank 2.jpg
    Photo taken from the water tower with a view of the Lichtmis viaduct and the lock with lock/bridge keeper's house and right above café Ennik. Coming from Nieuwleusen, the old road crossed the bridge behind the viaduct and then under the viaduct continued along the Lichtmiskanaal to Zwolle. (Photo courtesy: Lichtmis (foto 11478 uit de beeldbank Museum Palthehof))

    The French paras spent the night to April 9th at a new camp site, a farm on the eastern edge of the 'Bois de Staphorst'. Next morning, Baratin decided to leave the area altogether and move east towards Balkbrug, to assist the Canadian Recce men in securing the village, pending the arrival of the ground troops approaching from the south. At Balkbrug the injured para and the two injured resistance fighters, who had come to grief in the encounter with the French on the night of the dropping, were handed over to the Manitobas who evacuated them towards Coevorden.

    Balkbrug lay on the main axis of advance of the 2nd Canadian Division. Though the local bridge across the Dedemsvaart canal had been destroyed by the Germans it was important that the village be held. The French paras were detailed to take up a blocking position at the site of the destroyed bridge. The French were on the alert. The small town of Ommen on the River Vecht, to the south of Balkbrug, was still occupied by a strong enemy force, estimated at about 200 - 400 men, with orders to deny the Canadian 2nd Infantry Division access to the local bridge across the Vecht River. This force was now hemmed in between the 2nd Cdn Infantry Division, who approached Ommen from the south, and the combination of Manitoba's and French paras at Balkbrug. An enemy attempt to elude encirclement seemed imminent. During the night of 9 to 10 April the threat materialized. An enemy vehicle column, consisting of an armoured vehicle and three trucks, approached the French position at Balkbrug, but was driven off in a short firefight. The enemy, probably more bend on getting away than engaging in a battle, made no further attempt to pass through Balkbrug, though the situation remained tense. In the course of 10 April contact was established with the 2nd Cdn Infantry Division, who had crossed the river Vecht and moved out north from Ommen. The enemy force, having found the route to the north blocked, escaped towards the west in the direction of Zwolle during the night.

    10.04 Bouffartigue Ommen Balkbrug.jpg
    A message sent by Lt Baratin to SAS Main HQ on the morning of 10th April the message reports the nighttime contact with the enemy near Balkbrug (Ops Log Main HQ SAS, serial 958)

    Balkbrug improvised bridge.jpg Balkbrug bridge 1945.jpg
    Two pictures of the bridge at Balkbrug. On the left the temporary ship bridge which was build with the help of the civilian population and improvised from pontoons and wooden planks and beams. This enabled the Canadian spearhead to continue the advance towards Hoogeveen. The remains of the demolished bridge are visible in the background. To the right the Class 40 bridge built by Canadian Engineers. The Dedemsvaart canal no longer exists, somewhere in the mid-sixties the channel was filled in and now functions as a road (photos courtesy: Dutch children watching Canadian artillery cross a temporary bridge, Balkbrug, Netherlands, April 11, 1945 / Enfants hollandais observant des pièces d’artillerie canadienne sur un pont temporaire, Balkbrug, Pays-Bas, 11 avril 1945 & Kruispunt Balkbrug (foto 20289 uit de beeldbank Historische Vereniging Avereest)).

    Balkbrug 11 april 45 Para link up.jpg
    Balkbrug, 11 April, units of the 2nd Cdn Inf Div - tanks of the Fort Garry Horse and 1st Cdn APC Regiment - meet with the French paras.

    Balkbrug 11 april 45.jpg
    Kangaroos of the 1st APC Regiment at Balkbrug. The small canal is typical for the many watercourses which lay across the line of advance of the Canadian ground troops. Broken bridges caused a lot of delay and so many streams and canals had to be bridged that bridging equipment even became scarce.

    PS. For the story of the sticks of Bouffartigue & Lagallarde I made use of: G.J. Westhoff, "De Laatste sprong, De Zuidflank van Operatie Amherst op de grens van Overijssel en Drenthe". See: Operation Amherst: French SAS in Holland, April 1945

    (1) On March 30th, 1945, two Stirling bombers had dropped 57 crates and containers filled with weapons, complete with manuals in many languages, smoking articles, food and even Easter eggs. The resistance group of Bonvanie now had an arsenal of weapons at their disposal: 10 machine guns, 200 sten guns, a large amount of rifles, cartridge holders, explosives, anti-tank weapons, hand grenades, revolvers, incendiary bombs, etc. (courtesy: Kwartaalblad Ni'jluusn van vrogger)
    (2) Note that Westhof, "De laatste sprong" somehow mixed up the stick Lagallarde and Baratin; the former according to his story landed near Balkbrug. Info on Octave Bernault from David Portier.
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2023
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  12. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Zone A': Northern half, Hoogeveen

    Drop Zone 18 east of Meppel was assigned to the sticks Gayard and Descours, both belonging to the 3rd Coy of the 3rd RCP/3rd SAS. Their task was to secure the bridges across the canal between Meppel and Hoogeveen: the Hoogeveense Vaart. Both sticks were deposited far off the designated drop zone by their aircraft and were unable to carry out the assigned mission. The stick Descours landed even so far away, in the neighboring zone B, that it joined the men of De Bollardière in the operations around Spier. On the other hand, two other sticks ended up in zone A' by mistake - the stick Nicol and Sriber respectively near Hoogeveen and Dedemsvaart. Both sticks landed far off their designated Drop Zones - Sriber was even 60 kilometers off target. Completely isolated, they had to improvise mission-wise.

    Map Zone A Hoogeveen.jpg

    - Chalk No. 58 & 59, two Stirling bombers, took off from Shepherds Grove and dropped their sticks between 23:00 and 23:30 hours on the 7th. Besides the four containers both aircraft each dropped 10 simulators.
    - The Stirling with Chalk No. 6 took off from Dunmow airfield an dropped its load somewhere between 22:30 and 23:30 hours. The stick of 2nd Lt Nicol landed far astray, some 11 miles, from the designated DZ No.3 to the north of Westerbork.

    Amherst paras SAS.jpg
    The bad weather is of great influence on the droppings; many troops land in the wrong place and once on the ground the French have to improvise. They have to seek contact with the local population to orient themselves with all attendant risks. An artist's impression of a stick of paras approaching a farm. It depicts an action of Belgian SAS men in Belgium, who unlike the French were armed with Lee Enfield rifles. The French paras carried the much lighter carabines with folding buttstocks instead of rifles.
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2022
  13. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The activities of the sticks that dropped near Hoogeveen are somewhat better documented.

    Stick Gayard

    The stick Gayard experienced some difficulty in regrouping. Two men were missing, one was injured during the landing. The remaining men spent the night with searching for the containers, which were finally retrieved in the early morning. The wounded man, Pte Maurice Legay (1), had broken his ankle during the landing and was left behind in a haystack. His mates warned the nearby farmer, who realized that the ankle needed medical attention. The farmer dressed Legay in civilian clothes and took him on his bicycle to the doctor in the nearby village of Ruinen. While the doctor was plastering the ankle, there was a sudden knock on the door. Two German soldiers, slightly injured in a skirmish on the other side of the village, demanded medical treatment. While the doctor reluctantly obeyed, Legay, sitting in the same room, hidden behind a folding screen with his Colt at the ready, experienced anxious moments. Lucky for all, the two German soldiers did not notice anything and were quickly helped by the doctor. After he had got rid of them with some gentle insistence, the stout-hearted physician finished the treatment of the ankle. Accompanied by the farmer, Legay returned to the farm, where he remained in hiding until the Canadian ground troops arrived.

    After the Report of Calvert the men of Gayard ambushed a German staff car near Ruinen and destroyed it, killing all of the occupants, four Wehrmacht officers - presumably members of the Gestapo of The Hague. Roger Flamand (author of the Amherst book) has another more prozaic story to tell. That afternoon the French paras tried to ambush a German bicycle patrol of five men, but the attempt failed. The Bren malfunctioned because it was too thickly greased.

    Paras in Gasselte_0006.jpg
    Each stick was equipped with a Brengun, which was dropped by container. However the guns had not been used previously and shot in by the teams. It turned out that, owing to the short time given for preparation of Op Amherst, most of the Brens came straight from the arms depots and were in most cases still heavily greased and did not function. The weapons first had to be disassembled and cleaned (photo courtesy JvdWalle).

    When darkness fell on the 8th the stick Gayard left Ruinen and moved westwards towards the canal of the Drentsche Hoofdvaart near Havelte. After sabotaging a railroad line they arrive in early morning of the 9th at an unguarded bridge and lock across the canal of the Drentsche Hoofdvaart (identified by Harold de Jong as the Havelter Brug en - Sluis). The bridge had been undermined by the enemy with aerial bombs. The detonators and explosive charges were cautiously removed by the French and thrown into the canal. Their mission was to reconnoiter the military airfield of Havelte (aka Steenwijk Airfield) which had been constructed by the Germans just to the north of the village, but they decided to wait till the evening before moving further westward in the direction of Havelte. In late afternoon news arrived from Dutch civilians that the Canadians had arrived in the vicinity. The French paras dispatched one of the civilians with a message for the Canadians and before long Canadian Armoured Recce Cars belonging to the 1st Cdn Armoured Car Regiment (Manitoba Dragoons/Royal Canadian Dragoons?) arrived at the bridge. Since it already was late in the day, the men of Gayard agreed with the Canadians to remain on the spot and guard the bridge that night. The Canadians promised to return next morning and to support the advance to the Airfield. No sooner said than done and after an uneventful night, during which the residents around the bridge celebrated their liberation, the Canadians returned and together with the French paras moved out towards the airfield. They reached it and made about 14 POW's but it turned out that the airfield was already abandoned and thoroughly destroyed, with all runways heavily cratered by recent Allied air-raids (2). What the Allied bombs had failed to hit, had been blown up by the retreating Germans themselves.

    Above, I followed the story of Roger Flamand as given in his book on Operation Amherst, but not without some hesitation, since other sources claim that Havelte and the Havelte Airfield were reached from the NW by the Royal Canadian Dragoons late on April 12th, after the Royal Dragoons had crossed the Drentsche Hoofdvaart not at Havelte but at the Dieverbrug further to the north in the morning of the 12th (See below: Operation Amherst: French SAS April 1945). I believe that Flamand was at the airport, but that he might have confused dates and events. The men of the Stick Gayard most likely encountered the armoured cars of the Royal Canadian Dragoons at Ruinen on the 11th. This is confirmed by the Message Log of the Div HQ 2nd Infantry Division, which contains a message, sent at 18:00 hrs (TOO), of the Royal Canadian Dragoons that a group of 15 paras - presumably the stick Gayard - was encountered at the village that afternoon. The French, according to the Dragoons, had patrolled to within 3 km of Meppel which they reported still held by the enemy.

    Ops Log 2nd Cdn Corps - Ruinen.jpg
    The message of the encounter with the French SAS paras was received at 2nd Cdn Corps HQ at 03:45 hrs on the 12th April. The original was transmitted at 18:00 hrs.

    The men of the stick Gayard then might have set out on their mission to move against the airfield of Havelte and secure a crossing over the nearby Drentsche Hoofdvaart, arriving at the bridge over the canal in late afternoon (11th); the distance to the bridge from Ruinen is 8 kilometers as the crow flies. That same evening the Royal Canadian Dragoons, moving by Ruinen to Dwingeloo, reached a point on the same canal 12 km at Dieverbrug, further to the north, but found the bridge there demolished. It is probably this group of armoured cars the civilians reported about to the stick Gayard. As indicated by Flamand, the French sent a message to the Canadians, telling them that they had secured the Havelterbrug intact. In early morning of the 12th the balance of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, 'C', 'D' and Rgt HQ Squadron, crossed the canal at Dieverbrug and moved NW and SW from there. Steenwijk was reached on that day and from there recce elements departed for the Havelte Airfield (3). Unfortunately the documents and Regimental History of the Royal Canadian Dragoons give no indications whatsoever of contact with the French paras at the Havelterbrug. From the staff map belonging to the War Diary it appears that at some point the bridge at Havelte was used by 'B' Squadron of the Royal Dragoons, which moved up from a rearward position to Frederiksoord. Though no date for this movement is given by the map, the move must have occurred on the 12th. According to the War Diary, 'B' Squadron, at 15:00 hours on that day received orders to join RHQ at Frederiksoord. At the time 'B' was in position south of Hoogeveen, near Lemelerveld, where it was clearing the area it had reached the previous day. The squadron according to the map did not move to Dieverbrug, but followed a more southerly route over Hoogeveen - Eursinge - Krallo - Ansen, probably with the task of screening the left flank of the Royal Canadian Dragoons and investigate the (French?) reports about the Havelterbrug. 'B' Squadron crossed the canal and by way of Havelte moved on to RHQ at Frederiksoord, thus passing by the airfield.

    The sudden departure from Ruinen of the French SAS and Royal Canadian Dragoons caused some alarm among the residents. On the morning of the 11th, when it became apparent that the enemy had abandoned the village, the residents had taken the French paratroopers in from the woods. Now that everyone had left, the village was unprotected and nearby Meppel still had a strong enemy garrison. Their call for help was answered by the nearby 5th Cdn Inf Bde, which then formed the reserve of 2nd Cdn Inf Div, which headed north toward Beilen and Assen. The 5th Cdn Inf Bde dispatched a MMG unit to the area to investigate and stay there for the time being.

    Royal Canadian Dragoons Drenthe & Friesland.jpg
    Staff map which indicates that 'B' Squadron of the Royal Canadian Dragoons followed a more southerly route and crossed the obstacle of the Drentse Hoofdvaart by way of the Havelterbrug, before joining the RHQ at Frederiksoord. According to Flamand the intact bridge was secured by the stick of Gayard (for the operations of the Royal Canadian Dragoons see below post #48 and onwards: OPERATION AMHERST: French SAS in Holland, April 1945).

    Airfield Havelte 24.03.1945.jpg
    Aerial of the Military Airfield at Havelte (aka Steenwijk Airfield in the Op Report of Amherst or Fliegerhorst Havelte by the Germans). The airfield was constructed during the war by the Germans to be used as base for their nightfighters (ME 110's). Due to frequent bombardments it never became fully operational. The most severe air attack took place on 25 March 1945. On that day the USAAF dropped 271 tons of bombs and completely disabled the airfield (Photo courtesy: Havelte).

    Fliegerhorst Havelte.jpg
    The contours of the Fliegerhorst Havelte are still visible in the landscape, especially the old runway. The road along it has been most appropriately called De Startbaan (The Runway). (Photo Courtesy Google Maps)

    Stick Nicol at the Spaarbankbos

    There is some more information available about the stick of Lieutenant Nicol, of the 2nd RCP (or 4th SAS), mainly because of the tragic aftermath the action had for the residents. The stick Nicol dropped near the Wijsterseweg, to the NW of Hoogeveen, in an area that is known as Toldijk, some 11 miles off from their planned dropzone. Initially Lieutenant Nicol was missing, he became separated from his unit during the drop but found his way back later in the day with the help of the local resistance. Since they were too far off target, the stick Nicol decided to stay where it was and await the arrival of the ground troops. The paras took shelter in the nearby Spaarbank forest (aka Spaarbankbosch). They laid several ambushes and knocked out a German lorry with an American bazooka they had obtained from the local resistance. They took three German soldiers prisoner and five others later on. The prisoners were detained in the house of the Vos family (4).

    The news that French paratroopers were in the Spaarbankbos spread like a wildfire and many curious came to watch. Several 'instant' resistance fighters joined the French and carelessly paraded openly in the street with weapons. Urgent advice from the local resistance to the French to stay no longer and leave for a saver place went unheeded (there is a post-war report from the local resistance which is critical of the indeciveness of the French commander). As a result the civilians living in the area were unintentionally endangered. This situation asked for trouble and it did not take long for the enemy to react. Next day, Monday April 9th, there came an end to the 'peaceful' waiting. A patrol conducted by two French SAS men, 2nd Lt Raufast and Sgt Krysic, in the direction of Hoogeveen, soon bumped into enemy soldiers. After a short firefight the men had to retire. In the afternoon, at half past four, a coordinated attack was launched against the paras. The attack started with a mortar barrage. From the Spaarbank forest a large Germans force pressed on into the direction of the Wijsterseweg. The French defended themselves fiercely. Because the Germans suspected that there were paras in the house, they took the house of the Scholing family under fire. Arend Scholing (55) and his sons Dirk (26) and Gezienus (14) died on the spot. His wife, Dam Margje Scholing-Dunkirk (55), was seriously wounded. She died in the hospital on April 14th.

    The paras of Lieutenant Nicol managed to slip away with the help of the local resistance who guided them to safety towards the SE, where they eventually contacted ground forces near Dalen. The paras took the German prisoners with them.

    Amherst reenactment.jpg
    In the Spaarbankbos a German lorry was ambushed and destroyed by the French paras. Picture of two trucks in the same forest during a mock-battle that was staged during one of the annual Amherst Memorials (Photo courtesy André Jans).

    Bloody aftermath

    The operation of the stick Nicol did not remain without repercussions for the population. The Germans reoccupied the entire area and started to arrest the local residents. The German commander, in this case, made some effort to separate the innocent from the guilty. An 18-year-old student nurse of NSB origin, who temporarily stayed at the Wijsterseweg, assisted the German commander by pointing out who had actively taken part in the fighting and who didn't. Afterwards she was marked as a traitor, but in this case she actually saved people's lives.

    Three groups of people had to be viewed separately. A first group was allowed to leave, because the young NSB nurse stated that these people were innocent. Six were accused by the young nurse of having taken up arms against the Germans. They were Hayo Wubs (27) and Roelof Veldman (24) from Hoogeveen, Gerrit Coelingh (26) from Baarn, Pieter Strijker (24) from Meppel, Matthijs Erkens (24) from The Hague and Hendrik Markveld (27) also from The Hague. The latter two stayed temporarily in the vicinity of Hoogeveen, as were so many other people living there either in hiding, as a food collector, refugee or whatever. These men were guilty and therefore were not allowed to leave. Then there was a third group of nine of whom the nurse did not know if they had taken part in the fighting. Since the opposite was not certain, the Germans assumed they were guilty. They were Reinder Lunenborg (52), Egbert Lunenborg (16), Johannes Lunenborg (49), Willem Lunenborg (17), Ate le Duc (26) from Pijnacker, Marinus Voerman (39), Jan Rotmensen (25), Mintinus Pol ( 28), and Arend Jan Scholing (17).

    All together fifteen men were accused by the Germans of assisting the enemy. Later investigation showed that several of these people actually had helped the French. The men were marched off in a northerly direction along the main road with their hands in the neck. They were broughg over to a prisoners camp at Westerbork. That night they slept in the barn of farmer Geert Moes in the township of Eursinge. Shortly after the group arrived there, the residents of the nearby village of Pesse heard a number of shots. One of the prisoners, Hayo Wubs, had been shot dead. His body was found next day abandoned in the barn. He had been wounded in his knee, which had been bandaged. Had he tried to escape or had he simply been shot because the wound had disabled him and he could go no further?

    On April 10, 1945, the remaining 14 men with their hands in their neck entered Spier, a small crossroads settlement along the main road from Hoogeveen to Beilen. Many residents witnessed the scene. German guards walked in front of the prisoners, behind them and beside them. It was clear to all that the Germans were serious. The prisoners did not resist and no escape attempt was made. Then, at the other end of the village, a truck from the direction if Beilen, carrying a small party of six men of the Grüne Polizei (military police) under command of Jung, met the column. The plans had changed. The German guards had to hand over the prisoners to Jung.

    The men were marched back into the village center. The German guards put the men on a row outside the café Ten Buur facing to the wall. Should they not have something to eat? Villagers asked if they could do something for the prisoners. No, was the harsh response, the Germans would take care of that.Then the Germans went inside for some rest and consultation. There, in café Ten Buur, a decision was made about life and death. Presumably because the road to Westerbork was too long and too risky - there were reports of French para landings in the area [actually Spier would be occupied by the French SAS that same evening see: Operation Amherst: French SAS in Holland, April 1945]. Jung wanted to get away as quickly as possible, so the choice was made to get rid of the prisoners. It now was about noon. The 14 men were put on the march again. Just north of the village an unpaved path branched off into the forest, called the Eerste Lange Maatseweg. The prisoners were turned into this path which led to the wet pastureland at the Beilerstroom, where the farmers from Spier usually let their cattle graze. According to residents of Spier, one of the prisoners shouted "Long live the Queen!", just before the prisoners were driven at gunpoint into the forest. About 50 meters from the road all 14 men were killed by a neck shot, murdered by Jung and his six men.

    As soon as all was clear, Willem Kremer and other men from Spier collected the bodies of the victims. These were transported on a flat farm cart and put down in a barn close to the Oude Postweg 4 farm behind the Woudzoom hotel. The barn no longer exists. The actual spot of the execution can no longer be reached, because nowadays it lies in the central reservation of the motorway A-28.

    Meanwhile, further south, the 2nd Cdn Inf Div operating along the central axis of 2nd Cdn Corps, leading over Ommen - Hoogeveen to Assen, reached the southern outskirts of Hoogeveen late on April 10th. The Canadian right flank was covered by Jeep patrols of the Belgian SAS (5th SAS). The Canadians seized the small town early next moring, April 11th. As soon as a bridge had been completed over the Hoogeveensche Vaart, Canadian Armoured Recce cars of the 8th Cdn Recce Regt (14 Canadian Hussars) set out from Hoogeveen and reached Spier in the early afternoon, rescuing in the nick of time a seriously cornered party of French paras (see operations Zone B).

    (Story courtesy of: Col. Roger Flamand: "AMHERST : les parachutistes de la France libre, 3e et 4e SAS, Hollande 1945"; I used the Dutch translation of this book by Jaap Jansen & "Executies in Spier, Het verhaal van de doden van de Wijsterseweg en Spier", by Albert Metselaar Executies in Spier)

    Executie monument Hoogeveen.jpg
    At the Wijsterseweg at Hoogeveen a monument is dedicated to the 19 people who were killed during the fighting on the 9th and in the subsequent execution at Spier on the 10th. For a close-up of the monument see: Operation Amherst: French SAS April 1945. Another monument can be found at Spier near the actual site of the execution. The monument is depicted here (why it tells of 21 victims is a bit of a riddle, since 14 persons were actually shot at that spot): Operation Amherst: French SAS April 1945. See for the location of this monument: Execution Memorial 10 April 1945 - Spier - TracesOfWar.com

    When they fell back from Hoogeveen, on April 9th, the Germans executed another three young men near the Spaarbankbos. They were Johan Dhont, Sybrand Jan van der Linde and Albert Eggen. They had been arrested by the Germans over the last days for various reasons, which were not directly related to the operations of the French paras. The bodies of the three unfortunate men were found on 11 April 1945 in a ditch at the edge of the Spaarbankbos. In the forest a small memorial commemorates these victims: Executiemonument Spaarbankbosch - Fluitenberg - TracesOfWar.nl

    (1) According to Flamand the wounded man was Pte Casanova; however the FFLSAS website http://fflsas.org/fr/person/958 indicates that Maurice Legay was wounded and taken care of by a farmer.
    (2) The airport was heavily bombed on 24 March 1945, D-Day for 21st Army Group's Rhine Crossing operation, by four squadrons of the 390th Bombardment Group of the Eighth US Air Force. They dropped a total of 1,384 100-pound General Purpose bombs, most of them hit the runway. After this raid the airfield had to be written off completely.
    (3) The recce elements advanced as far as the northern edge of the airfield. See also the Armoured Car dash to the North-Sea: OPERATION AMHERST: French SAS in Holland, April 1945
    (4) The (After Action) Report of the 2nd RCP (4th SAS) sums up the actions of the stick Nicol for April 8th as follows: a) Ambush on the road Hoogeveen - Eurzinge, 3 enemy soldiers killed and one lorry destroyed by 'bazooka'; b) Ambush on the same road, a light car knocked out by a machine gun; c) Ambush on the same road - a group of cyclists attacked and dispersed, 2 POWs and several enemy soldiers 'hors de combat' ; d) same road - a group of cyclists attacked and dispersed, 4 POWs. Unconfirmed enemy casualties during these actions numbered about 4 or 5 men (killed or wounded).
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2023
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  14. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Fluid situation: Dedemsvaart/Balkbrug/Meppel (6 to 11 April 1945)

    1. Note on the organisation of the enemy defense of Drenthe:

    The responsibility for the defense of NE Holland rested with the former commander of Heeresgruppe H, General Blaskowitz, who on 6 April 1945 was appointed to Oberbefehlshaber für den Niederlanden (OB Niederlanden). It must have felt as a demotion to Blaskowitz. As OB Niederlanden he only retained command of the 25.Armee and the security forces of the Wehrmachtsbefehlshaber Niederlande (WBfN) under General der Flieger F. Christiansen. The 25.Armee had been almost completely stripped down of forces during the previous months in order to provide reinforcements for the 1. Fallschirmarmee, heavily involved in the Rhineland battles. Blaskowitz was subordinated to the newly formed OB NordWest, General Busch, who in turn was under direct command of the OKW.

    General de Flieger
    Christansen had moved his HQ to Delfzijl, in the northeastern tip of Holland. Here, on 7 April 1945, he had a final meeting with General Blaskowitz, during which in all likelihood the formal authority over all troops in Holland was transferred to the latter. Christiansen, thereafter, did play no formal role anymore. During the night of 7 to 8 April, the night of the Operation Amherst landings, Blaskowitz left Delfzijl with his driver. Luckily for him, he took the northern route to Holland and travelled by car across the Afsluitdijk to western Holland. At Hilversum he took over command of the 25. Armee and the area of Western-Holland, that was to become known as Festung Holland.

    The German army was on its last legs. The German command was no longer able to take effective countermeasures due to a lack of combat-worthy reserves. At best it could try to delay the enemy advance and maintain some cohesion of the front line. But even that proved too much to ask. The two armies, which formerly made up Heeresgruppe H, were driven apart by the advance of the British and Canadians. Most of the 25.Armee was pushed back to the northwest to and over the River IJssel, while the right wing of the 1.Fallschirmarmee, consisting of the II. FJ Korps, was pushed northeastwards and coalesced in and around Lingen on the Ems river. The 6. Fallschirmjäger Division, the right flank unit of the II. FJ Korps, in an effort to maintain a link with the 25.Armee, retreated northwards in front of the Canadians. Initially the units of the Fallschirmjäger Division received orders to fall back northeastward in the direction of Coevorden, but when the latter town was captured by the 4th Cdn Armoured Division, they moved west and pulled back across the River IJssel, thereby detaching themselves from the 1.FJ Armee. Thus a growing gap was created between the 25. Armee and the 1. FJ Armee. In the area between the rivers IJssel and the Ems all organized resistance practically ceased to exist. It was into this area that the 2nd Cdn Corps thrusted.

    schets 36 Sit 10 April 45.jpg
    (Courtesy: Bontekoe, verslag van Duitse zijde over de gevechten in Midden-Drenthe, 7, 8 en 9 April 1945 - kindly provided by Pen and Dagger & Van Hilten, "Van Capitulatie tot Capitulatie, 1940 - 1945", Leiden 1949)

    Engaging troops from the three armed forces, which did not benefit a well coordinated defense, the Germans in the first week of April frantically organized a defense of sorts in an attempt to plug the gap between the 25. Armee and the 1. FJ Armee. Basically the new defensive lines, in fact only delaying lines, followed the waterways that lay across the path of the Canadian advance. From south to north they were established subsequently along the Twente Kanaal, Schipbeek, Overijssels Zijkanaal, the River Vecht (A on the map below) and the canal of the Dedemsvaart (B on the map below). Finally, the town of Meppel was turned into a bastion and a last defensive line was established along the Hoogeveensche Vaart, a canal which ran east from Meppel to Hoogeveen and further on in the direction of Emmen (C on the map below).

    Responsible for the defense of the Hoogeveensche Vaart was Generalmajor D. Böttger of the Feldkommandantur 674, the former territorial commander of the city of Groningen since March 1944. At the start of April Böttger received instructions from the WBfN, General Christiansen, who had moved his HQ at the start of February 1945 from Hilversum to Emmen, to set up the defense of 'Midden-Drenthe'. General Böttger received the almost impossible task to defend a 26 kilometer long line along the Hoogeveensche Vaart, for which he had only four companies of combat troops at his disposal, whose strength varied from 100 up to 130 men. The companies formed a mixed bag of different branches of the regular army and Luftwaffe personnel, with the exception of one company of Fallschirmjäger from the 8. FJ Div. The force lacked heavy infantry weapons and had no anti-tank guns nor artillery. For anti-tank defense the troops had to rely on the Panzerfaust. General Böttger had a 28 men strong reserve force of motorized Feldgendarmerie (military police). In order to strengthen the slender resources, the troops along the canal obviously tried to round up as many stragglers as possible.

    With these sparse forces Böttger took up position along the canal: one company was in position to the west of Hoogeveen, one company occupied Hoogeveen itself, one was in position at Nieuweroord and the last one was south of Gees. The latter the company composed of Fallschirmjäger of the 8. FJ Div. The troops took up a thin line to the north side of the canal and concentrated their defense at the crossing sites. The intermediate areas were only lightly screened by small posts and occasional patrols. Most of the bridges had already been blown, with the exception of those at the town of Hoogeveen, which were prepared for demolition. Here the troops still occupied the part of the town to the south of the canal.

    To the north of this defensive line, in fact hardly any more than a weak security line, there were other rearward area troops falling under the command of different units. In case of an airborne assault, all these units had to form "Alarm-einheiten" (emergency units) under command of the Wehrmachtskommandant Assen. The units were:
    1) at Assen: parts of a reserve division of the Luftwaffe (2nd FJ Erstaz & Ausbildungs Regt ? - most likely recruits intended as reinforcements for the divisions of the 2. FJ Korps/1. FJ Armee), newly formed sections of army units, pioneer sections under command of Organisation Todt and several lesser units as well as military hospitals;
    2) at Gieten: some army service corps units under direct command of the WBfH Niederlanden; 3) at Beilen: a war economy inspectorate.

    On 7 April, the day before the start of Op Amherst, German reinforcements arrived at Assen consisting of two newly formed Luftwaffe field replacement battalions. According to Böttger these were so inexperienced and ill equipped that they could not be deployed in the forward line. It therefore was decided to let them occupy a back up position along the line of the Oranjekanaal (D on the map below), between Smilde and Schoonoord, under command of the Wehrmachtskommandant Assen. The Oranjekanaal was to function as a second defensive line or back stop for the forward line. The new arrivals were to reinforce the pioneer parties that were already busy preparing bridges for demolition along the canal. The new troops started to arrive at the Oranjekanaal in the course of the afternoon and evening of the 7th.

    Northern Holland Cdn advance 00.jpg
    Map of the main watercourses in the Amherst area: A = De Vecht (River); B = Dedemsvaart; C = Hoogeveensche Vaart; D = Oranjekanaal; E = Beilervaart/Linthorst Homan Kanaal; F = Drentsche Hoofdvaart aka Smildervaart

    2. The 12th Manitoba Dragoons move west

    In the meantime the formations of 2nd Cdn Corps forged ahead. As a result of the many waterbarriers and enemy delaying actions, which were especially stubborn around the IJssel cities of Zutphen and Deventer, the progress on the left (3rd Cdn Inf Div) and in the center (2nd Cdn Inf Div), was slower and lagged behind that of the 4th Cnd Armoured Div on the right. This resulted in a staggered advance of the Canadian Corps, creating a wedge shaped frontline running northeast to southwest. The armoured recce cars of the 12th Manitoba Dragoons (18th Cdn Arm Car Regt), tasked with covering the left flank of the 4th Cdn Armoured Division, took full advantage of this situation. Turning lateral on April 6th, the 12th Manitobas advanced westward from the area of Hardenberg and forayed deep into the enemy held area south of the Hoogeveensche Vaart, thereby cutting into the rear of the enemy forces still opposing the advance of the infantry divisions of the Canadian 2nd Corps. The roving armoured cars of the Manitobas turned the situation south of the Hoogeveensche Vaart very 'fluid', which is well illustrated by the large number of captured enemy soldiers. During the period of April 5 - 11,1945, the Manitobas took approximately 765 prisoners.

    Zwolle Hoogeveen 1945 000.jpg
    Map of operations of the Manitobas (18th Arm Car Regt) south of the Hoogeveensche Vaart. They moved in from east to west, thereby cutting into the rear of the enemy forces that were facing the Canadian Infantry Divisions further south.

    Fragment from the Regt History of the 12th Manitoba's (or 18 Cdn Arm Car Regt) describing the nature of the operations during these days, which took place under highly ideal conditions for Armoured Recce units.
    18 Arm Car Regt.jpg military-ww2-canadian-xii-manitoba_360_f2a51be01f1ab75863114a2967de7805.jpg

    Though the Manitobas initially had only one Squadron ("A") available for the task, they nevertheless recced as far west as Meppel. "D" Squadron, which had been guarding the canal at Lochem, joined in a couple of days later and established a base at De Wijk, four miles southeast of Meppel and patrolled the roads east, north and south of that location. It was a patrol of this Squadron that most likely made contact with the stick Gayard at the Havelterbrug. The unit report of the Manitobas stated that the French SAS actions in the area "proved of little value to the unit, since the Regiment had worked itself well into the area before the paratroopers were dropped". Most of the French paras in the area had been contacted by the end of April 8. The situation lasted until late evening of the 10th, when the Manitobas, to their great regret, were redirected towards the 2nd Cdn Corps' right flank in Germany. The Manitobas were replaced by the Royal Canadian Dragoons (or 1st Cdn Arm Car Regt), attached from 1st Canadian Corps. The Royal Canadian Dragoons reached Dedemsvaart and Balkbrug in the early afternoon of April 11th, closely followed by the infantry of 6 Cdn Inf Bde (2nd Cdn Inf Div) moving north from Ommen.

    Map of the the advance of the ground forces of 2nd Cdn Corps (and 30 British Corps) (Courtesy: Operatie Amherst - TracesOfWar.nl)

    Just how 'fluid' (and hazardous) the situation was is demonstrated by the following story of Dedemsvaart, where three Armoured Recce Cars of the 12th Manitoba Dragoons entered the village on April 6th. April 6th, Dedemsvaart was free! Flags were put out everywhere, people in hiding were able to show themselves openly on the streets for the first time in months and the men of the Dutch Resistance searched the village for members of the NSB and other collaborators, who were all transferred to the village school next to the tram station. And since the three Canadian Armoured Cars had tentatively ended their triumphal procession on the site of the local Tram Station there was a cheerful and friendly bustle around and at the station. Practical whole Dedemsvaart had come to greet the liberators and to boo the imprisoned oppressors

    However, at seven o'clock in the evening, the Canadians left. They were only a reconnaissance party with the task of probing and protecting the left flank of the 4th Cdn Armoured Div whose main axis lay further to the east.

    Most of the local resistance fighters also departed the village, sitting atop the armoured cars. Only two armed members, Egberts and Oostenbrink, remained behind to guard the prisoners in the school. Despite the Canadian promise to return next morning (Saturday, April 7), there was disappointment among the people at the Tram Station yard, a mood that turned into dismay and panic, a few minutes after the Canadians had left, when a few panting men arrived from the direction of Balkbrug, shouting: "The Moffen, the Moffen are coming back!". [Moffen = Dutch slang for 'Jerries'].

    Slowly, cautiously advancing past the houses and through back yards, a patrol of about twenty Dutch S.S. men approached under command of a German. They came to take revenge and to relieve their captured comrades. They immediately headed for the school. Egberts and Oostenbrink tried to resist and released some shots from their stenguns, but when this fire was replied with hand grenades, they had to give up their post and seek a good escape. The SS patrol, however, took no risks and fired for a long time at the school and the nearby Huisman's house, throwing hand grenades and even firing a Panzerfaust. No window remained in these buildings, while the doors flew out of their hinges.

    After liberating the prisoners, the Germans took out their fury on the villagers. They randomly arrested thirty men who were marched off under the guard of the Dutch SS soldiers towards the bridge at the nearby village of Balkbrug. Here, in the café next to the bridge, fifteen of this group were selected and executed that evening. Miraculously, six of the fifteen survived, four managed to flee in the dark before the executioners could fire a shot, two others were only wounded and played for dead. They managed to get away unnoticed later that night. Either the Dutch SS were lousy shots or, as some say, were heavily drunk.

    Monument of the execution of 6 April 1945 at Balkbrug: Monument Executie 6 April 1945 - Balkbrug - TracesOfWar.nl

    Dedemsvaart POWs.jpg
    Dedemsvaart, April 6th, amidst an elated population German POWs are carried off by three Canadian armoured cars of the 12th Manitoba Dragoons. For them "war der Krieg vorüber" (the war was over). They don't seem to be sorry for that at all.

    Dedemsvaart POWs 2.jpg
    The Armoured cars, with the POWs on top, left the village shortly after. In the background a hoisted Dutch tricolor is visible. Hardly anyone could have guessed that this was the prelude to the drama that would unfold that evening.

    3. Dedemsvaart (stick Sriber)

    Sunday, April 8, 1945 was initially quiet in Dedemsvaart, but in the afternoon suddenly shots rang out again. A small German patrol had returned to Dedemsvaart and had nervously started shooting. They probably were looking for paratroopers. Around midnight of the 7th a stick landed in the neighborhood of Dedemsvaart, belonging to 1st Coy, 2nd RCP/4th SAS under Lieutenant Jean Sriber. Due to the bad weather and faulty radar navigation, Lieutenant Sriber's stick dropped hard south of Dedemsvaart. They came down in an area where the Manitobas had been roaming around for several days, chasing the enemy from pillar to post.

    The French paras under Sriber quickly regrouped. One of them, Cpl. Pierre Ruffenacht, was injured. He had sprained his ankle during the landing. At first there obviously was great confusion in the landing zone. Lieutenant Sriber did not recognize the sector at all and was completely lost. From contacts with Dutch residents he soon learned that he had come down southwest of the township of Lutten, nearly forty miles (!) from the designated DZ. By the end of the day contact was made with a Belgian Jeep patrol.

    There is a small snippet of information in the official records regarding the contact with the Belgians. The Action Report of the Belgian SAS (Op Larkswood) has on record that in early morning of the 8th, at 07:30 hours, one of its Jeep patrols at Hardenberg was informed through the Dutch resistance that a group of 11 French SAS paras, who were mistakenly dropped at the Stegerens Hoeve, a farm to the east of Dedemsvaart, was encircled and in need of help. One of the paras was injured. A Belgian Jeep patrol of 4 vehicles and one 15 CWT truck were immediately sent out to contact the French. The French were found and identified as the stick Sriber. The men were not surrounded and told the Belgians that they wished to stay in the area. The wounded Ruffenacht was evacuated to Coevorden.

    Lt. Sriber decided to stay and make the best of it. For a time the paras carried out intelligence operations and patrols for the benefit of the Canadians. On the 10th they combed out the woods south of the road Ommen - Heemse (near Hardenberg), searching for groups of isolated enemy soldiers. They also set up ambushes on the same road and managed to destroy two enemy vehicles. On the 12th and 13th April they again patrolled in the forests to the south of the road Ommen - Heemse and along the Vecht river.

    Stick Scriber Dedemsvaart.jpg
    April 11th, The stick of Lieutenant Sriber photographed at Dedemsvaart. Lt. Sriber is on the far left.

    Photos & Story courtesy: Bevrijding Avereest

    Julianabrug Hoogeveen.jpg
    North of Dedemsvaart/Balkbrug the Canadians encountered the next watercourse which lay across their line of advance, the Hoogeveensche Vaart. A main barge canal running east-west from Meppel to Hoogeveen and thence further eastwards to Klazienaveen and the German border the latter part known as the Verlengde Hoogeveenschevaart (both indicated as C on the above map). On the night of 7 to 8 April all bridges across the canal in and around Hoogeveen were blown up by the Germans. The canal formed the line of defense of the detachment 'Midden-Drenthe' under Generalmajor Böttger. On the picture the blown Julianabrug at Hoogeveen in the main road from Hoogeveen to Assen; it's a 'ophaalbrug' or drawbridge, or at least it used to be. Note the damage to the house caused by the blast of the explosion.

    For the composition of 2nd Corps and the Canadian Army: Canadian forces
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2023
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  15. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Zone B

    This Zone contained the Drop Zones 19 and 20 which were assigned to the staff company of the 3rd RCP/3rd SAS. It had the mission of 'securing' the bridges across the canals to around Beilen: the Beilerstroom and the Linthorst Homan Kanaal to the south of the village and the Oranje Kanaal (Halerbrug and the railway bridge) to the north. The French also had to interdict the main north - south road to Assen.

    Calvert's Report on Zone B:

    Narrative Zone B.jpg

    Map of Zone B:
    Map Amherst Zone B Beilen, Spier.jpg

    - The Stirling with Chalk No. 44 took off from Dunmow airfield and dropped its load between 22:30 - 23:00 hours on April 7th;
    - Chalk No. 59 came from Shepherds Grove and dropped its load between 23:00 - 23:30 hours. The Stirling dropped 10 simulators.
    - Chalk No. 61 also took off from Shepherds Grove airfield and dropped its load between 23:00 and 23:20 hours on the 7th. The plane dropped 10 simulators.
    - The Stirling with Chalk No. 60 & 62 started at Shepherds Grove and dropped its paratroopers between between 23:00 - 23:30 hours. Each plane also carried 10 simulators.
    - Chalk Nos. 63 - 65 also started from Shepherds Grove and dropped their loads between 23:00 - 23:30 hours
    Each plane also dropped four supply containers.

    Bathtub 1.jpg
    Jumping from a Stirling was no sinecure. The men had to use a small hatch in the bottom of the fuselage at the end of the tail - which they called 'the bathtub' because of its oval shape. Some paras had a painful collision with the rim of the hatch while jumping through the hole; they bumped their heads against the edge, one even broke his jaw (photo IWM).
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2022
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  16. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Beilen and Spier

    Map Beilen - Spier 2.jpg

    The sticks that were parachuted in zone B were widely scattered. Some landed litterally on top of German convoys on the retreat along the main road running from Hoogeveen over Beilen to Assen. There was a strong enemy presence in Beilen. Soon enemy search parties, composed of soldiers, Feldgendarmen and their loyal cronies, Landwachters, were active and chasing after the French. All this considerably impeded a smooth concentration of the sticks. To which extent is demonstrated by the first radio message of Lieutenant-Colonel Jacques Pâris de Bollardière, CO of the 3rd RCP, with Main SAS HQ.In late afternoon of the 8th, at 16:30 hrs, De Bollardière signaled that he still was out of touch with his sticks who seemed to be involved in light skirmishes in the vicinity. The mere fact that De Bollardière didn't send a message until that late hour, indicates that he must also have encountered some difficulty in getting his stick together. Most of the other commanders had sent off a first message in early morning. Over the next couple of days many men trickled in, individually or in small groups, and the number of troops gathered by Lieutenant-Colonel De Bollardière, at his R.V.-point in the wooded area near the Kibbelhoek fen to the southwest of Spier, gradually rose. Some were guided by the directions of helpful civilians; others were aided by the R.V. coordinates radioed by De Bollardière to main HQ SAS at Londen and relayed in coded messages by the BBC to the receivers carried by the sticks in the afternoon of the 8th; each demi-stick commander carried a receiver. By mid-morning of April 10th, th ethird day of the operation, Lt.Col. Pâris de Bollardière, reported that he had gathered around him 43 men from the sticks Vallières, Dreyfus, Grumbach, Paumier and his own stick. Taking into account the losses incurred by these sticks, this implied that 27 men were still unaccounted for.

    Amherst 404-1.jpg
    The message of Lt.Col de Bollardière to Tac SAS HQ which was transmitted on 8 April at 16:30 hours. The position he gives for his stick is the wooded area slightly to the west of the Kibbelhoek fen. Though transmitted in late afternoon of the 8th, it was De Bollardière's first message in operation Amherst (Ops Log Main HQ SAS, serial 835).

    Mess Bollardiere 081640.jpg
    The BBC message containing the map coordinates of the RV-point (V 134688) sent out to the sticks of Simon, Paumier, Dreyfus and Vallières (document from First Cdn Army Ops Log)

    Kibbelhoek forest.jpg
    The RV-point mentioned in the radio message was near Kibbelhoek, a forest ven to the SW of Spier. Picture of the Kibbelhoek area now-a-days, in the foreground the small fen covered by water lilies.

    Spier SAS.jpg
    Captain Simon - the second-in-command of the 3e RCP - on the left looking into the camera and some of the French paras in the forest near Spier. Though the sticks were widely scattered, many men eventually found their way to the battalion RV in the forest near Spier. Captain Simon would fall in the fight for the village (photo courtesy Boersma).

    Because of the scattered nature of the landings, it is difficult to get a complete picture of the operations. Below an attempt to summarize the adventures of some of the sticks, from north to south:

    Stick Lecomte - The stick dropped to the north of Beilen, between the railway line and the main road to Hooghalen. The paras were scattered but, individually or in small groups, set up ambushes around Beilen. It is not known if and how many reached De Bollardière.

    Stick Grumbach - This group encountered a lot of trouble. After gathering at a farm the group moved out at daybreak, but was discovered by enemy search parties. The supply containers which had been hidden in a haystack were discovered by the enemy and two paras, who were sent back to collect them, were captured; they were Cpl. Jaques Begallo and Pte Pierre Fiorini (both radio operators). The rest of the stick moved on and surprised a bunch of enemy soldiers and, shortly thereafter, an enemy horse drawn supply cart. Twelve startled Germans were captured, but they managed to escape after the French paras ran into a strong enemy bicycle patrol. The paras, having lost their supply containers and quickly running low on ammunition, split up into two small groups and disengaged. Both groups ultimately rejoined and gathered at a farm, where they learned from the residents that there was a large group of paras in the nearby woods to the south. The paras immediately decided to head in that direction and within an hour were united with De Bollardière in the forest near Spier.

    Stick Dreyfus - The stick Dreyfus, landing north of its designated Drop Zone 19, dropped astride the canal of the Beilervaart and landed on top of a convoy of horse-drawn carts on the main road to Beilen. Consequently the group was split up right from the start. The group commander, 2nd Lt Dreyfus, became separated from the rest of his men and wandered around alone until he encountered the stick Paumier. His second-in-command, 2nd Lt. Akar, and his companion Edin, came down north of the Beilervaart and were unable to move across because the area was heavily guarded. They were discovered and in an attempt to evade, slogged all night through water-filled ditches and brushwood, but finally were taken prisoner when daylight came that morning. Ragnacci was missing, his body was recovered much later near Ter Horst. Since he was found in a ditch it at first was assumed that he had drowned, but later it transpired that he had been killed in an firefight with enemy troops by a bullet that went through his eye. At daybreak only eight man of the stick Dreyfus had assembled under Benoit. They ambushed a small enemy convoy and, after wandering around for some time, met with their commander Lt.Col De Bollardière in the woods near Spier.

    Sergeant Yago Ragnacci, a member of the stick Dreyfus, was killed in a firefight shortly after landing and rests on the local cemetery of Beilen.

    Stick Vallières - The stick under Captain Claude Vallières (an alias for Benno Bentoin Grebelsky) landed some 4 - 5 miles off the designated dropping zone (Drop Zone 20) and came down south of the Beilervaart. The stick also landed astride the main road, over which numerous horse drawn vehicles moved. The group immediately was split in two. Two men were wounded during the landing: Cpl. Jeanne Cote and Sgt. Paul Pasquet. The latter had a broken leg and was hidden by his companions in a dry ditch. One man, Sgt. Paul Mingucci was captured by the enemy. The men wandered around individually or in small groups and finally found their way to De Bollardière in the woods near Spier. The last men of the stick Vallières were found on April 10th by a search party sent out by De Bollardière. On the 11th, after the Canadians had arrived, the injured Pasquet was finally rescued, after hiding three full days in the ditch.

    Stick Decours: Other than that this stick dropped far off from its designated Drop Zone 18 (Zone A northern half) information on this stick thusfar is lacking. One member of this stick, Cpl. Emile A.G. Bertau, was captured by the enemy.

    Stick Paumier - The stick of Captain Gilbert Paumier landed near Oostering, about 3 miles to the south of Drop Zone 19. Paumier did not encounter many difficulties and quickly regrouped in the darkness. Only Sergeant Leca, the commander of the second demi-stick, was missing (he would join Vallières the next day). Surprisingly the air-dispatcher from the transport plane, Andre Phillips, also turned up. Phillips, a former member of the 6th Airborne, could not resist the temptation and, only armed with a Colt, had jumped after the French paras. Initially, the group gathered near three farms close to the discharge area. All supply containers were recovered. Next day, Lt. Dreyfus joined the stick Paumier, he had lost contact with his own group and had wandered around all night alone. The group then went about their business and started to lay ambushes along the main road. Early next morning, April 9th, a message was received from Londen on the radio receiver, giving the coordinates for a RV spot with Colonel De Bollardière. This was the relayed message transmitted late on April 8th by De Bollardière to Londen. Thus the stick Paumier finally rejoined the rest of the paras in the woods near Spier. Here they also reunited with the missing Sergeant Leca, who had joined the stick Vallières.

    Capt Paumier.jpg
    Captain Gilbert Paumier (photo courtesy http://fflsas.org/fr/image/498)

    From the local residents De Bollardière learned that the enemy over the last couple of days was retreating at night along the main road, which corresponded with the intelligence gathered earlier on by Allied nightly air reconnaissance, which had noticed heavy traffic movement north along the road during the night of 5 to 6 April. On the 8th the men of De Bollardière were able to determine for themselves northbound enemy traffic on the road to Spier, soldiers moving on bicycles or on foot were attacked south of Spier. A small Flak post was located at Spier. In the night to the 9th the French shot up motor transport and horse drawn vehicles on the same spot along the main road. Unfortunately, due to the strong enemy presence at Beilen, 'securing' the bridges over the Beilerstroom at Beilen and across the Oranjekanaal at Halerbrug, which ranked high on the target list of Operation Amherst, proved unattainable.

    Amherst 404-3.jpg
    Report from De Bollardière dated April 9th around noon. The French commander urgently requests a sitrep of the overall situation. From the message it also transpires that the stowaway, air-dispatcher Andre Phillips who went AWOL by jumping after the French paras, had been unmasked (Ops Log Main HQ SAS, serial 914).

    (Stories courtesy: Col. Roger Flamand: "AMHERST : les parachutistes de la France libre, 3e et 4e SAS, Hollande 1945"; I used the Dutch translation of this book by Jaap Jansen.)

    bevrijding Ommen.jpg
    The German Army on the retreat: a convoy of horse-drawn vehicles moves through a Dutch village in April 1945. The Germans experienced major difficulties in the field of transport due to lack of fuel, which forced them to look for alternate forms of transport. Some vehicles moved on wood gas generators, but the army for the most part had to rely on horse-drawn transport and bicycles. Since the Allies dominated the skies daylight movement always was hazardous and movements took place at night. Now, with the SAS Troops in their midst, the Germans would find that even the darkness had lost its protective shroud . A new terror was about to strike, this time by night and out of the shadows along the roads and tracks leading north and east to Germany. It certainly increased their sense of insecurity. Nowhere they were save.

    Last edited: Oct 13, 2023
  17. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Spier, April 11th, 1945

    Spier aerial mrt 45 00.jpg
    Aerial of Spier taken on 22 March 1945. A. = RV-point De Bolladière; B. = café Ten Buur; C. = execution site of civilians from Hoogeveen

    Map Spier.jpg

    As darkness fell on the evening of April 10th, Colonel Jacques Pâris de Bollardière occupied the village of Spier with his small band of 43 men and blocked the main road Hoogeveen - Beilen. This was a bold move for such a small, isolated and lightly armed force, which had been in action non-stop for the last three days. De Bollardière however considered it an acceptable risk since he knew that the Canadian ground forces were approaching and contact was imminent. He had informed Main SAS HQ of his plan and even asked for an air-strike against the village to be carried out in the afternoon. The request was denied, because it would unnecessarily endanger the lives of civilians.

    Amherst 404-5.jpg
    By mid-morning of April 10th De Bollardière revealed his plan to occupy Spier to Main SAS HQ. He requested an air strike against the village for the afternoon in support of his attack on the village (Ops Log Main SAS HQ, serial 955).

    The French paratroops took up position at the crossroads at the northern end of the village, next to café Ten Buur. Here they installed their single Bren gun in a large German dug-out next to the café; most likely the Flak position previously mentioned. Pauli, one of the French parachutists, later told: "This dug-out consisted of a circular hole with a diameter of about four meters. Around it lay a mound of one and a half meters high, made of wood and earth, which had to offer protection for an anti-tank gun [sic]. But in order to fire from the dug-out one had to climb on top of the bank, which made a nice target. There were manholes everywhere along the road."

    During the night it remained quiet; the enemy did not use the road. In the early morning there were some slight engagements in which 5 POWs were taken, while two men of the SAS were wounded. There still was no sign of the Canadians.

    Bollardiere Spier morning message.jpg
    At 09:00 hrs on the 11th De Bolladière signaled that his men had seized the settlement of Spier during the night.

    Around one o'clock a couple of trucks approached from the north along the main road from Beilen, filled with German Fallschirmjäger. The Germans disembarked and then, without taking any precautions, moved upright towards the positions of the French. Pauli continued: "Sergeant Campan was holding the Bren. Colonel Pâris de Bollardière told him: "Only shoot at my order". Chemin and I provided the Brengunner cover. When the first Germans were 50 meters away, the colonel gave the order to fire, but the weapon blocked. Campan reloaded, but the Germans who saw him hit back. They were obviously paras and were armed with sub-machine guns (Schmeissers) that have an extremely high rate of fire. A bullet hit Campan in his head. [Captain] Simon who immediately took over the weapon, suffered the same fate".

    The French paras were at a clear disadvantage, they were outnumbered and lightly armed with one malfunctioning Bren gun. Nevertheless, a sharp fire fight ensued which lasted for one-and-a-half hours. Then, at about 14:00 hrs, in the critical moment of the battle, just as an outflanking enemy force emerged from the forest edge to the west of the village, armoured cars arrived, belonging to the 8th Cdn Recce Sqn (14 Canadian Hussars). They were the vanguard of the 2nd Cdn Infantry Division and had left Hoogeveen earlier that morning, probing along the division's main axis well ahead of the infantry. The armoured cars immediately engaged the enemy and chased them away; in a real classic 'Western' fashion, De Bollardière was rescued in the nick of time by the cavalry. Without the timely arrival of the Canadians his men might have been completely overwhelmed. The French, according to the Canadian reports, were in "a poor way"; they were dead tired, were short of food and ammunition and had several casualties. Sergeant Campan was dead. Seven paras were wounded, among whom Captain Simon, who was beyond rescue and died that night in a hospital in Hoogeveen.

    Early in the evening transport of the 2nd Cdn Infantry Division evacuated the French paras to Coevorden.

    Amherst 404-11.4.jpg
    Some final messages of April 11th from the Ops Log of Main SAS HQ relating to the condition of the French at Spier.

    Cafe Hummel Spier.jpg
    After the battle French paras and curious civilians from the village gather at the café Ten Buur. The AA-gun emplacement is in the foreground.

    Hummel Jellema.jpg
    Same spot nowadays (photo courtesy Pen and Dagger).

    Stengun Simon.jpg
    This stengun, alledgedly belonging to Captain Simon, now is part of the collection of the War Museum "Ergens in Nederland" at Emmen (See https://www.facebook.com/museumergensinnederland19391945/photos/a.1627506694128103/1881133622098741/)

    Campan & Simon.JPG Campan.jpg
    Left: Monument at Spier for the two fallen French paras (courtesy smdarby). Both men rest at the French Military Cemetery at Kapelle in south-east Holland. The Original monument for a long time only carried the name of Captain Simon. The name of the fallen Campan was added much later, in 2010 (see for the French military Cemetery below: OPERATION AMHERST: French SAS in Holland, April 1945). Right: Sgt. Claudius Campan who was killed at Spier on 11 April 1945. By a bizarre coincidence his brother Marcel Campan, who fought with the French forces on the Alpine frontier in southern France, was killed that same day (photo courtesy: Association des Familles des Parachutistes SAS de la France Libre)

    See also: Memorial French Paratrooper - Spier - TracesOfWar.com

    (The story - my paraphrase - with courtesy to: Col. Roger Flamand: "AMHERST : les parachutistes de la France libre, 3e et 4e SAS, Hollande 1945"; I used the Dutch translation of this book by Jaap Jansen.)
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2023
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  18. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Zone C Westerbork

    Zone C included the Drop Zones 3, 6 and 25 which were assigned to the 3rd Coy of the 2nd RCP/4th SAS. Two sticks of the 2nd Coy were added as reinforcements. The mission was to secure the crossings over the Oranje Kanaal to the east of Beilen: at Zwiggelte, Westerbork and Orvelte.

    Zone C 1.jpg
    Zone C 2.jpg

    NB. The German General of Police, though severely wounded, survived the war.

    Map Zone C Westerbork.jpg

    - The Stirling with Chalk No. 13 took off from Rivenhall Airfield and dropped its load between 23:30 - 23:59 hours; the plane also carried 9 simulators.
    - Chalk No. 18 flew in from Dunmow and dropped its stick, including 12 simulators, between 22:30 - 23:00 hours.
    - The Stirlings with the Chalk Nos. 21 - 24 also took off from Dunmow Airfield and dropped their sticks between 23:30 - 23:59 hours.
    Again all planes carried 4 supply containers.

    2 RCP Stick No.11 Great Dunmow.jpg
    Picture of the stick of Lieutenant Edme of the 2nd Coy/Squadron of the 2nd RCP (4th SAS) taken at Dunmow Airfield before take off for Operation Amherst. Most of the paras seem in good spirits, but others seem somewhat taut at the prospect of jumping deep inside enemy territory.

    Last edited: Oct 4, 2022
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  19. smdarby

    smdarby Well-Known Member

    Many thanks for the excellent posts, Stolpi. I tried to find information about Operation Amherst earlier this year, but could not find much in the way of detailed accounts. Your hard work is much appreciated. Please keep the posts coming!
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  20. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Attack on Westerbork, 8 April 1945

    The sticks of Betbèze and Puech-Samson both landed on the wrong side of the Oranjekanaal. Captain Betbèze quickly collected his stick of fifteen men. Betbèze headed for a nearby farm in the hope of gaining some information about their location from the residents. Here he learned, not without difficulty, that he and his men had come down near Garminge, some three miles south of the intended drop zone southeast of Elp.

    Betbèze installed a base camp at the woodlot near the village of Witteveen. The supply containers, however, could not be found. After a long futile search in the dark with four of his men, Betbèze returned to the base empty handed in the early hours of the morning, in the belief that the containers had not been dropped. Captain Betbèze: "It was the worst thing that could have happened to us. Without the two containers with food supplies and the two containers with weapons and ammunition, our mission was much compromised and it would be hard for us to last. It was a disaster." (1) Upon returning, Captain Betbèze, to his pleasant surprise, found Cpl. Cognet ( a radio operator) and Lt. Robert Andreaota, the medical officer of the staff company of Puech-Samson, in the basecamp. Betbèze was not the only one whose stick had went astray. Soon after a wounded Major Puech-Samson, accompanied by his adjudant, Captain Mouilé and the remainder of his staff group arrived at the basecamp, guided by a Dutch civilian, Hildebrand Lohr. They also had been dropped south of the Oranjekanaal. Puech-Samson was incapacitated by a shoulder injury, incurred during the landing.

    Cpl Noël Créau, who was part of the staff of Puech-Samson, gave the following account of the moments following the parachute drop (courtesy: "Du ciel la Liberté", March 2002):
    From the local teacher of Witteveen it was learned that a German HQ with a German general was located in Westerbork. Van Lohuizen, a meteorologist stationed at a weather station at Witteveen, who spoke French fluently, offered Major Puech-Samson to make a telephone call to Westerbork to investigate after the whereabouts of the German general. At 07:30 hours he called the local doctor, mr Mulder. Both men agreed not to exchange information over the phone, which could easily be tapped by the Germans, but instead to sent a trusted member of the local resistance to Witteveen. Before long two policemen, Stoel and Straver, arrived on bicycle at Witteveen. Both policemen confirmed the presence of a German HQ and provided further details of the military situation at Westerbork. Generalmajor Karl Böttger, commander of the Feldkommandantur 674, a sub-unit of the Wehrmacht-Kommandantur Assen, had established his headquarters in the village. The General 's command post was located in Restaurant Slomp, diagonally opposite the village church in the village center. The house next door held a signal section with a telephone switchboard, probably manned by attached Luftwaffe personnel. When not on duty the General stayed in a house at the eastern end of the village. Enemy intervention might come from the west, from Beilen. It was known that there was a larger enemy garrison there, according to civilian estimates some 1,500 strong, but the number was not certain, since German units were evacuating north towards Hooghalen and Assen.

    It was a very tempting target and although he had only a small force at his disposal, Major Puech-Samson decided to have a crack at the enemy headquarters. The more because the policemen told him that it was rumored that the German general was about to leave the village with his headquarters. Both policemen returned to Westerbork and promised to return to Witteveen at 13:00 hours. In the meantime, another Dutch resistance fighter, Wim van der Veer, a secret agent who had been parachuted in October 1944 in the area to help and organize the local resistance, arrived at Westerbork and contacted Stoel. Van der Veer arrived on bicycle from Appelscha, where he had encountered the French SAS paras under Captain Sicaud (see Operation Amherst: French SAS in Holland, April 1945). Since Van der Veer knew the region well, he offered to act as guide for the French.

    While the attack was plotted, the man who was going to lead it was still preoccupied with the search for the containers. At dawn, Captain Betbèze once more went out with four of his men to search for the lost containers. It took him until 11:00 hrs to find them. It appeared that they had been released after the last man had jumped, instead of halfway through the stick. The containers had landed four kilometers from where the paras came down. Unfortunately Dutch locals had beaten the French in discovering the containers and had started pillaging them, they mainly went after the food. The containers gave the French the added fire-power of two Bren guns and some spare ammunition. Only by 2 o'clock in the afternoon Betbèze and his search party returned at the basecamp in the Witteveen forest. It had been an arduous haul. Betbèze: "We were all exhausted by the enormous load we had to carry on the shoulders by the cords of the parachutes. And we all hoped for a good rest" (1). Instead Puech-Samson told him to attack Westerbork. Betbèze had preferred to delay the attack until darkness, but his subordinates, Lorang-Schweirer and Bobinec, pressed by their men who were eager to take action, made Puech-Samson relent; the attack would be launched right away, especially to make sure that the Germans would still be there (2).

    Soon after, twenty-one French paras under command of Captain Betbèze left the forest of Witteveen to carry out the attack mission. A small group of about nine men remained at Witteveen to guard the basecamp, among them the wireless operators and Puech-Samson. There had been some trouble in retrieving the container with his wireless set, but it was found shortly after daylight, enabling Puech-Samson to transmit his first wireless message to main HQ SAS at Londen at 09:40 hrs. He radioed that he had gathered two of his sticks without making contact with the enemy and all was fine. He added that he was 'heading towards Westerbork', which implicates that the plan was already conceived before the time of sending the message.

    Amherst Puech 1st message 08.0940.jpg

    With Wim van der Veer in the lead, the French paras, avoiding the main roads, marched along dusty sand tracks and small back roads over the townships of Garminge and Eursinge towards Westerbork, which was about a two hours walk (3). En route the French paras were cheered on by the residents of the small farms they passed by, who happily lined the road in the mistaken belief that they had been liberated. All of a sudden the peaceful atmosphere was punctuated by the crackle of a distant firefight. A battle was going on somewhere to the northeast along the Oranjekanaal. Although not aware of it at the time, this was the stick of Lieutenant Georges Taylor who encountered enemy resistance along the Oranjekanaal [see below: Operation Amherst: French SAS in Holland, April 1945]. After a while, the sound of the distant fighting died down. The men of Betbèze marched on, it was a warm Sunday afternoon and they had still a couple of miles to go.

    Westerbork & Orvelte toptografisch aa.jpg
    Map of the area with the approximate landing zones of the sticks in blue circles. The stick of De Camaret was the only one that dropped close to the intended landing zone.

    The farmer settlement of Garminge where the French, as elsewhere along the route, were openly cheered on by the residents, in the mistaken belief that they had been liberated. At one point, the soldiers even had to send them away, because they continued to follow the soldiers in their over-enthusiasm.

    Walakkers Westerbork.jpg
    The final approach of the paras most likely led along this sandy track called Walakkers, connecting the township of Eursinge with Westerbork. The village of Westerbork has expanded after the war; the edge of the modern Westerbork is visible in the background between the trees.

    A pre-war picture of the small settlement of Witteveen, which was one of the most recent villages in Drenthe. It was founded in the mid-20'ies as a project for the unemployed and their families, who were employed in the peat reclamation of the 'Witte Veen' (or White Peat marshes). On the picture the school building (right) and the school teachers house next to it. The teacher put the French in touch with Van Lohuizen. The school building was later used by the French to lock up German prisoners of war (photo courtesy Hist.Kring Westerbork).

    (The story - my paraphrase - with courtesy to: Westerbork Accent, Info nr.3, 1995, "April 1945, de bevrijding van Westerbork" and Col. Roger Flamand: "AMHERST : les parachutistes de la France libre, 3e et 4e SAS, Hollande 1945"; I used the Dutch translation of this book by Jaap Jansen.) and Betbèze, "Qui ose Gagne".

    (1) Betbèze, "Qui ose Gagne", SAS Bulletin 1952
    (2) Col. Louis Mairet, Histoire des Parachutists, p. 8.
    (3) Initially the Dutch policeman Stoel accompanied the group, but halfway he stayed behind with a befriended farming family.
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2022
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