Operation Amherst: French SAS in Holland, April 1945

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

  1. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Operation Amherst (7 - 14 April 1945)

    Just before the end of the war, several SAS operations were conducted in Northern Holland/ NW Germany:
    - Operation Keystone (air drop in support of 1st Cdn Corps);
    - Larkswood (Jeep ground operation in support of the 4th Cdn Arm Div and 1st Polish Arm Div; see:The Belgian SAS Parachutists);
    - 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:
    http://excerpts.numilog.com/books/9782912671059.pdf)

    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). In 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 in advance 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. Their mission was to facilitate the advance of 2nd Cdn Corps by causing a maximum amount of confusion in the enemy rear areas. The SAS operation was of commando oriented nature. Contrary to the classic parachute troops, the mission was not to engage the enemy directly but to operate behind the lines in sabotage, clandestine and harassing missions. The paras were to disrupt German communications, forestall bridges from being blown, capture key facilities such as German airfields and enemy HQ's, raise local resistance and gather intelligence information. 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 two days. Resupply by air would take place on an emergency basis only, which would to be carried out by fighter-bombers of no. 84 Group (Typhoons) only in day-time.

    The parachute drop went badly. The ‘Amherst’ DZs were completely covered by low stratus cloud. No visual pinpoints were obtainable, so the drops had to be carried out ‘blind’, using Gee mobile radar sets to establish the DZ positions. This however turned out to be less accurate than expected. More than half of the sticks landed over 5 kilometers from the intended dropzones, some even further (one group over 60 kilometers). Moreover, due to adverse weather conditions - a low cloud, combined with an E to NE wind and showery weather - the jump had to be made from 1,500 feet above the clouds and as a result the paras drifted far from their designated points and became widely scattered. Once on the ground the French paratroopers more often than not had to improvise, especially after it turned out that they had to put up with obsolete maps. They therefore had to seek contact with the local population to orient themselves, with all attendant risks. There was much confused fighting as the scattered troops wandered around in search of their objectives. In the end not all were taken. Though the operation was not a complete success in this respect, the French paras went into battle with great enthusiasm and audacity and created a lot of confusion behind enemy lines and in so doing contributed to the advance of the ground formations. They occupied a series of bridges, interdicted roads and conducted hit and run attacks on the withdrawing German troops. In most cases the 72 hours elapsed without the ground troops making contact, this accounted in particular for the 'sticks' that landed further north. The last group of French SAS was relieved on the 14th, seven days after the start of the operation. This was cause for concern on the part of Brigadier Calvert, commanding the SAS Brigade. Brigadier Calvert on April 10th asked for Air patrols over the area to be increased and for ground operations to be stepped up. The paras ran out of supplies, especially ammunition. Typhoons were laid on to drop supplies on W/T instructions.

    In the circumstances of that moment, with the Germans as disorganized as they were, it is difficult to make a precise assessment 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. The enemy morale was still fairly high, especially that of the Fallschirmjäger trainees. Though operation Amherst undeniably caused a lot of confusion, it did not prompt the expected collapse of the enemy resistance.

    French SAS troops.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. The sticks in this area were particularly successful and in a W/T message of April 11th requested for an air resupply of barbed wire to build a POW cage.

    Amherst had been a costly operation. The French SAS lost 33 men killed in action (including 3 who were killed during landing accidents). In addition, the French counted nearly 60 seriously injured (including nine who had contracted fractures during the night drop), and 69 were taken prisoner and taken to a POW camp near Wesermünde, where they were liberated by British units by the end of April. In all a loss rate of 23% that may be considered high. The German losses, according to Brigadier Calvert, were quite severe and estimated at 490 men dead or wounded, but not all of these were confirmed and the number is probably an exaggeration. A number of 187 enemy soldiers were captured and about 30 enemy vehicles were destroyed or captured. Even in it's demise the German Army's response to the events was ruthless. The execution of seven French paras after they had been taken prisoner is grim evidence of this fact, as were the shooting of over 50 innocent civilians in retaliation for the - sometimes alleged - support given by the Dutch to the French.

    More information about the operation can be found in the article by (the late) Jaap Jansen (who translated the book of Roger Flamand into Dutch): Go2War2.nl - Operation Amherst

    Hollande102.jpg
    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

    Hollande091.jpg


    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).





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

    Operation Amherst, despite it's spectacular character, is not well-known. This thread is an attempt to tell the story of the French SAS paratroopers. The thread was made possible by the invaluable assistance of Horsapassenger, Bedee and JvD who kindly provided 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 also made use of the book of Roger Flamand and smaller local histories and newspaper reports, which are available on the internet. Whenever possible I mentioned these in the text.

    Also very informative was this site: http://fflsas.org/index.php?option=com_fflsas_user&view=event_show&eventid=272&lang=FR
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2019
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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
     
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  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, Overijssel, Drenthe, Friesland and Groningen.

    The Province of Drenthe is a sandy plateau with shallow ridges, formed by Ice Age glaciers, and lower ground 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 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 forests and dotted with small picturesque farming settlements, consisting of collections of loose thatched Saxon farms. Some of the settlements are very old and 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 single rows of simple brickstone laborer houses 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 Moor Colonies).



    The well-preserved Orvelte is an example of one of the old villages of Drenthe.
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2019
  6. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Armoured SAS Jeeps

    In Operation Amherst it was intended to drop 18 armoured Jeeps by parachute at certain drop zones. Since the paratroopers could not be dropped by the same planes which carried the armoured Jeeps, these were flown in about an hour after the advance parties had dropped.

    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 the planned Jeep drop had to be cancelled, owing to the bad visibility on the night of the dropping the reception lights for the Jeeps would not be visible from the air, which meant that the RAF could not guarantee accuracy. A blind drop might put the vehicles up to six miles from the troops. All Jeep teams were dropped on the first night. Initially it was intended to drop the vehicles the next night but that drop also was cancelled. The decision not to drop the Jeeps was taken at the very last moment and the message did not reach all teams on time. Some would be waiting in vain for the Jeeps to arrive that night.

    Amherst is on.jpg

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

    Jeep drop 2.jpg

    SAS_jeep_18_November_1944.jpg
    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).

    Eleven of the armoured Jeeps destined for Operation Amherst were flown to an airfield in the Canadian sector on April 9th and driven overland to the town of Coevorden, where Col. Prendergast, Deputy CO of the SAS Brigade, had set up a tactical Special Forces HQ. From here Jeep patrols were dispatched to contact the French paras and make arrangements for their withdrawal. Some parties of French paras who had been overrun early on, manned these Jeeps with officers of Col. Prendergast's HQ and from 10 April onwards operated north- and westwards. They had some successes against the enemy and in some cases brought back a number of wounded French SAS men. Operating on the right flank, on the main axis of the 1st Polish Armoured Division, Jeeps of the Belgian SAS (Op Larkwood), assisted by Recce elements of the Polish Armoured Div, likewise contacted some of the French para units. These Belgian and Polish elements moved deep into the Amherst area as far as Westerbork and Orvelte.

    Grolloo.Oosterhesselen.jpg
    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 was to add a motorized section of assault troops, transported by a 15 CWT truck, to the Jeep patrols to give them somewhat more stamina. They also added two sections of 3" mortars (2 per section) in support of the assault troops.
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2019
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  7. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The French SAS troopers wore a black beret up until August the 1st, 1944 (and for a little while afterwards) . It was at this point 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 3, 2019
  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 (British)
    3rd and 4th SAS (French)
    5th SAS (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

    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 and 1st and 2nd British SAS Regiments, they returned to England for further training and re-organization. They were brought up to strength by further personnel 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 their parachute courses and only two slimmed-down parachute battalions, each about 350 men, could take part in the Amherst operation.

    The mission of the SAS was of commando oriented nature. Contrary to the classic parachute troops, the mission was not to engage the enemy directly but to operate behind the lines in sabotage, clandestine and harassing missions. Each soldier was equipped with a Colt 45, a U.S. dagger, a carabine with folding buttstock or a Stengun, some carried the American Thomson sub-machine gun. Heavy weapons consisted of the Brengun and a Bazooka or PIAT.

    Though the French were organized in battalions and companies (or squadrons), the units usually did not operate as such. Characteristic for the SAS was the acting in 'sticks'. With really no main rear combat support, missions were carried out by units known as sticks, large enough to carry out assignments independently and small enough not to stand out immediately. The stick consisted of 15 men (two Officers, two NCO's and eleven corporals and soldiers), each being self supporting and intended to operate separately. In average each company counted six sticks. If necessary a stick could be divided into two teams ('demi-sticks') each under the command of an Officer and a NCO.

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

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

    Staff Coy
    1st Coy Lt Picard
    2nd Coy Capt. P. Sicaud
    3rd Coy

    NB. For operation Amherst the 3rd RCP, consisting of 42 officers and 315 men, was split up into 24 'sticks' of 15 men each.


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

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

    Staff Coy
    1st Coy
    2nd Coy Lt. De Camaret
    3rd Coy Capt. A.Betbèze

    NB. For operation Amherst the battalion, with 21 officers and 298 men numerically somewhat weaker than the 3rd RCP, was split up into 20 'sticks' of 15 men each.

    In addition each battalion carried a Jeep Group of three 'sticks' (twelve men) equiped with 9 armoured Jeeps (3 Jeeps per stick).
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2019
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  9. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Brigadier Calvert's Report: Narrative of events

    In his report on Operation Amherst Brigadier Michael Calvert gives a narrative of the operation divided into six operation zones. This thread is an attempt to aggregate what information is available on Operation Amherst - which is almost as fragmented and scattered as the operation itself has been - thereby using Calvert's classification of zones as a lead. The parachute drops and actions of the SAS men are described for each zone seperatly and each is rounded up by a description of the link up with the ground troops.

    Below a map taken from Stacey's Victory Campaign, the green circles, labelled A - F, are my addition, they are the operation zones as mentioned by Calvert. The map also gives the main axis of advance of the Allied ground troops. Note that these advanced along three main axis in Northern Holland, on the left the 3rd Cdn Inf Division headed to the northwest and moved from Zwolle and Meppel into the Province of Friesland with Leeuwarden and the Afsluitdijk as objectives, the 2nd Cdn Inf Division moved north along the central axis Hoogeveen - Assen - Groningen. Both divisions were to move north towards the North Sea as quickly as possible and cut of the escape route of the enemy's 25.Army in western Holland. On the right operated the 4th Cdn Arm Division, which, in order to conform with the advance of 2nd British Army, diverged from its northern course after the capture of Almelo and moved northeast into Germany. The widening gap in between was filled up by the 1st Polish Arm Division, called forward from reserve in southern Holland. The Poles started operations from April 10th onwards from the vicinity of Coevorden.

    Stacey Map aa.jpg

    The map below is the official map belonging to Calvert's report which depicts the Drop Zones and Operation Zones as they had been planned for Amherst. Due to faulty radar navigation and adverse weather conditions the paras were scattered over a far wider area than was intended (map courtesy Horsapassenger). The actual landings for each zone are indicated in the smaller black and white maps below. The 19 Drop Zones are indicated by a black dot, those with a tiny circle around it were the sites where a Radio Transmission set was dropped, each has 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. A total of eight W/T sets was active during Amherst.

    Map Amherst Zones Calvert.jpg

    The operation Order for Amherst as it read on 5 April 1945:
    Op Amherst Order 1.jpg Op Amherst Order 2.jpg Op Amherst Order 3.jpg Op Amherst Order 4 amandment.jpg

    Narrative of operations:
    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): 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: Aug 8, 2019
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  10. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The night drop

    The Stirlings, each carrying one stick of French paratroopers, left from Airfields in eastern Engalnd and flew singly to their destination at an interval of about two minutes between the planes. 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. In the air, 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

    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. Below: Another picture of British Airborne troops taken at Gormoenen airfield near Oslo during Operation Doomsday, May 1945. Both pictures give a good impression of the hustle and bustle prior to the take-off.

    Op Doomsday Oslo Gardemoen airfield.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.

    Amherts Dummy.jpg
    In order to deceive the enemy a large number of simulators were dropped during the night of the 7th. These were dummy parachutists which contained a machine gun or rifle fire simulator.


    It was the intention to try and exaggerate in the mind of the German Command, the scope of this operation, in order to increase confusion, induce Commanders or Junior Commanders to give in, feeling that honour was satisfied, and mislead the enemy who would then make false dispositions. The methods planned to create this deception were:
    (i) Drop simulators by air - a number of 140 simulators 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;
    (iii) The utilitization of the B.B.C. and press to announce that 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.
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2019
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  11. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Zone A: area Zwolle, Meppel, Coevorden

    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, far off target between 23:30 - 23:59 hours on the 7th.

    View attachment 234756

    Stick Sriber

    There is not much detailed information on the activities of the sticks that were dropped in Zone A. Immediately after landing they all probably went ahead with their normal routine of regrouping and collecting equipment in the darkness, orienting themselves, establishing a patrol base from where to operate, contacting local resistance groups and starting to search for objectives and lay ambushes.

    French was a tongue that was not widely spoken by the Dutch population. 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 caused great mistrust. Many civilians were scared to death when German speaking soldiers in strange uniforms knocked at their door in the middle 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.

    IMG-20190126-WA0000.jpg
    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 is that it probably had been composed by a German-speaking person, since it is written in very bad Dutch full of language errors and Germanisms, which easily might have aroused suspicion 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 job (photo courtesy Boersma).

    The Action Report of the Belgian SAS (Op Larkswood) has on record that in early morning of the 8th, at 07:30 hours, a Jeep patrol at Hardenberg was informed through resistance that a group of 11 French SAS paras, who were mistakenly dropped near Dedemsvaart, was encircled and in need of help. One of the paras was injured. A Jeep patrol of 4 vehicles and one 15 CWT truck were sent out to contact the French paras. The French were found, one of them was wounded, but they were not surrounded and remained in the area to carry out their task and lay ambushes. The wounded soldier was evacuated to Coevorden. It's not known which unit the paras belonged to - but probably it was the stick of Sriber (?).

    Sticks Bouffartigue & La Gallarde - 'Bois de Staphorst'/Balkbrug

    There is a little more info available about the sticks of 2nd Lt Bouffartigue and La Gallarde, which came down close together near the settlement of Den Hulst. Both sticks probably merged and together counted about 25 men. They had jumped a short distance, about 3 miles, to the south of the planned DZ (No. 17). Guided by a women, Miep van Werven from Meppel, who spoke French well and had gone into hiding in Den Hulst, the French paras were taken to the Staatsbos (aka 'Bois de Staphorst' by the French), a wooded area to the north of Den Hulst near the original intended DZ. Inside the wood the local resistance group of Cornelis Bonvanie had gathered, a group of about 30 resistance fighters, strongly armed with Brens, stenguns and even anti-tank weapons (bazookas) - that had been dropped by air in March 1945. While the resistance fighters took care of the security of the French bivouac, the French went about their tasks. All roads in the area were blocked and the French also cut the nearby railroad Staphorst - Zwolle. The bridges across the Beentjesvaart were found demolished. Recce parties sent out in the direction of Meppel reported the town strongly occupied by the enemy. The enemy still controlled the main road running from Meppel south to Zwolle.

    Amherst 304 - 1st message.jpg
    At 08:20 on 8 April a first message was transmitted to Main SAS HQ by Lt. Jaques Bouffartigue, code name Amherst 304, containing the intelligence thusfar gathered by his men.

    2nd Lt Jaques Bouffartigue.jpg
    The 23-years old 2nd Lt Jaques Bouffartigue, who was in charge of the combined sticks near De Hulst (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 decided to arrest the NSB families living in neighborhood of the bivouac, an area known as Punthorst. The NSB (Nationaal Socialistische Beweging) was the much despised national political party that collaborated with the Nazi regime. Some paras assisted the resistance men with 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, mostly composed of unsavory subjects who terrorized whole areas and ruthlessly hunted down resistance fighters and others who were 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 saw two men leave the farm - Harm Santing and a friend - Kees de Roos shouted: "surrender, or I shoot", but the two men dashed back inside the farm. De Roos and Loichot opened fire, hitting Harm Santing in his arm. The other man escaped via the back of the house.

    The brothers Santing, Jacob, Willem and Harm, hurried to the attic. Probably it was Jacob who opened fire from the attic window and killed De Roos and Loichot - who were still laying 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, rushed directly 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 leave for an attack on the Lichtmisbrug, the bridge across the Dedemsvaart in the main road Staphorst - Zwolle. It was decided to dispel of the Landwachters first.

    Raoul Loichot, twin brother of the slain Yves Loichot, immediately hurried with two paras and members of the resistance to the farm of Santing. They carefully opened the side door. Then they shot through a suspicious haystack in the farmyard. They heard shouts and four blood-stained men emerged. 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 Santing, Willem Santing, Harm Santing, and father Hendrik Santing were shot on the spot.

    Then matters escalated. Back in de Staatsbos one of the prisoners, the young Derk Jan Prins, escaped from the bivouac. As this compromised safety, it was decided to shift the bivouac to another place. That same evening the remaining four prisoners, who had become a lialbility, 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 a 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 difficult teenager. He 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 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).


    According to the War Diary of the 12th Manitoba Dragoons a Troop of Armoured Cars who were probing westwards into the region made contact with the French paras in the afternoon of the 8th. This was confirmed by a wireless message from Bouffartigue to Main SAS HQ of 15:45 hrs which states that contact was made with the Canadians. A scout car of the Manitoba's remained with the paras for wireless communication. Together with the local resistance, the paras then made their way to the main road to Staphorst to capture the Lichtmisbrug, a bridge in the main road Zwolle - Meppel across the canal of the Beentjesgraven, but the bridge was held by a strong enemy detachment and the men were driven off by small arms fire. This occurred at about 16:30 hrs. One of the French paras and one of the resistance fighters were wounded in this action.

    Next day the paras moved to Balkbrug to assist the Manitoba's in securing the place pending the arrival of the Canadian ground troops approaching from the south. The two wounded men were taken care of by the Canadians and evacuated towards Coevorden. The French paras were detailed to guard the site of the destroyed bridge at Balkbrug. To the south, at Ommen, there still was a considerable force of between 200 - 400 enemy troops and an enemy attack from that direction seemed imminent. During the night of 9 to 10 April an enemy convoy, described by the French as a combat patrol, consisting of an armoured vehicle and three trucks, probed the defense of Balkbrug but was thrown back by the paras. In the course of 10 April contact was made with the ground troops of 2nd Cdn Infantry Division arriving from Ommen. After finding the passage to the north blocked, the enemy forces at Ommen had retreated towards the west in the direction of Zwolle.

    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. They caused a lot of delay and so many streams and canals had to be bridged that bridging equipment became scarce.
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2019
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  12. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Zone A: Hoogeveen

    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 intended 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 paratroopers have to improvise. They quickly seek contact with the local population to orient themselves. This with all attendant risks. 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: Jul 5, 2019
  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 lost one was wounded during the landing. The remaining men spent the night with searching for the containers, which were finally found in the early morning. The wounded man, Pte Casanova (most likely an alias or 'nom de guerre'), 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 Casanova in civilian clothes and took him on his bicycle to the doctor in 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, Casanova, sitting in the same room, hidden behind a folding screen with his Colt at the ready, experienced anxious moments. The German soldiers did not notice anything and were quickly helped by the doctor. After they had gone, the stout-hearted doctor finished the treatment of the ankle. Under the guidance of the farmer Casanova returned to the farm, where he remained in hiding until the ground troops arrived.

    After the Report of Calvert the men of Gayard ambushed a German staff car near Ruinen and destroyed it, killing all the occupants, four Wehrmacht officers. Roger Flamand (author of the Amherst book) has a less prozaic story to tell. That afternoon they tried to ambush a German bicycle patrol of five men, but the attempt failed. The Bren was thickly greased and didn't function.

    Bren group.jpg
    Each stick was equipped with a Brengun, which was dropped by container. However the guns had not been previously used and shot in by the teams. It turned out that most of the Brens came straight from the arms depots and were in most cases still heavily greased and did not function. The weapons had first to be disassembled and cleaned.

    When darkness fell the stick Gayard moved westwards towards the canal of the Drentsche Hoofdvaart. Here an unguarded bridge (site unknown) was secured by them on the 9th. The demolition charges were removed with caution. The men decided to wait till the evening before moving further in the direction of Havelte, their mission was to reconnoiter the military airfield of Havelte (aka Steenwijk Airfield) that has been build by the Germans just to the north of the village. Then news arrived from the Dutch that Canadian Armoured Cars (the Manitoba Dragoons (?) which were reccying around Meppel) had arrived in the vicinity. The French paras dispatched one of the civilians with a message for the Canadians and before long Canadian Recce Cars arrived at the bridge. Since it already was late in the day the men of Gayard agreed with the Canadians to 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, after an uneventfull 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 a few POW's but it turned out that the airfield was already thoroughly destroyed, with all runways heavily cratered by recent air-attacks of the Allied Air Forces. What the Allied bombs had not destroyed 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 the Havelte Airfield was taken from the NW by the 1st Cdn Armoured Car Regiment (Royal Canadian Dragoons) on April 13th, after the Recce Regiment had crossed the Drentsche Hoofdvaart at Dieverbrug (See: Operation Amherst: French SAS April 1945). I believe that Flamand was at the airport, but that he might be mistaken about the date and how he arrived there. The men of the Stick Gayard most likely encountered the armoured cars of the Royal Canadian Dragoons on the 11th. This is confirmed by the Message Log of the Div HQ 2nd Infantry Div which contains a message of the Royal Canadian Dragoons that a group of 15 paras was encountered that afternoon at 18:00 hrs at Ruinen. The French had patrolled within 3 km of Meppel which they reported held by the enemy. The French probably decided to move along with the Canadian armoured cars and thus ended up at the Havelte airfield. Their sudden departure caused great concern among the residents of Ruinen. That morning the Germans had withdrawn from the village and the villagers took the French paratroopers in from the woods. Now that the French had left, the village had no protection - nearby Meppel still had a strong enemy garrison. Their call for help was answered by the nearby 5th Cdn Inf Bde, the divisional reserve of 2nd Cdn Inf Div, which despatched a MMG unit to the area to investigate and stay there.

    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 clearly 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 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 population. 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 seperated from his unit during the drop but found his way back later in the day with the help of the local resistance. The paras took shelter in the nearby Spaarbank forest (aka Spaarbankbosch). From there they sought contact with the population along the Wijsterseweg. The paratroopers laid several ambushes and shot up a German lorry with an American bazooka which they obtained from the local resistance. They took three German soldiers prisoner and five others later on. The prisoners were held in the house of the Vos family. Probably because they were far off target, the stick Nicol decided to stay where it was. The news that French paratroopers had landed at the Spaarbankbos quickly spread and many curious people came to watch. Several resistance fighters joined the French. As a result the civilians living in the area were unintentionally endangered. On Monday, April 9, an end came to the 'peaceful' waiting. An unknown woman had been detained for some time by the French, but was then released again. When she passed a few Landwachters, she told them there were parachutists in and behind the forest. The Landwachters tipped the Germans. In the afternoon at half past four a coordinated attack was launched against the paras, which started with a mortar barrage. From the Spaarbank forest the Germans pushed on into the direction of the Wijsterseweg. The French defended themselves fiercely. Because the Germans suspected that there were paras in the house of the Scholing family, they also attacked the house. 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 the French eventually contacted the ground forces near Dalen. They 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 residents. Most residents had managed to get away in time, but there were still many taken prisoner. 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.

    Another group was 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 stayed temporarily in the vicinity of Hoogeveen, as there were so many people living there as someone in hiding, 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 people of whome the nurse did not know if they had taken part in the fighting. Since the opposite was not certain, the Germans assumed they had. 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 had been found guilty by the Germans. Later research showed that several of these people had actually helped the French. The fifteen men were marched off in a northerly direction along the main road with their hands in the neck. They had to go to prisoners camp at Westerbork. They slept that night in the barn of farmer Geert Moes in Eursinge. Shortly after the group arrived there, the population of Pesse heard a number of loud 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 walked with their hands in their neck to Spier. German guards walked before them, behind them and beside them. They could not go anywhere. It was clear to the prisoners that the Germans were serious. They did not resist and no escape attempt was made. It was a bizarre sight for the people of Spier to see how the 14 prisoners entered the village along the main road with their hands on their heads, surrounded by the German soldiers. Then, on the other side of the village - from the direction of Beilen - a truck arrived with a unit of the Grüne Polizei (military police) under command of Jung. The plans had changed. The German guards had to hand over the prisoners.

    The men were marched back into the village. Should they not have something to eat? Villagers asked if they could do something for the prisoners. No, was the harsh reply, the Germans would take care of that. The Germans put the men on a row against the wall outside the café Ten Buur with their faces to the wall. Then they went inside for some rest and for 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 dangerous and the unit of Jung wanted to get off as quickly as possible, 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 land at the Beilerstroom, where the farmers from Spier had their cattle grazed. About 50 meters from the road all 14 men were killed with a neck shot, murdered by Jung and his six men. 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.

    As soon as the Germans were gone, Willem Kremer and other men from Spier took away the bodies. 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 between the two halves of the motorway A-28.

    Meanwhile, further south, Canadian ground forces (2nd Cdn Inf Div) reached the outskirts of Hoogeveen late on April 10th and took the town early next day. The 2nd Cdn Inf Div operated along the north-south axis of Ommen - Hoogeveen - Spier - Beilen - Assen - Groningen, while Belgian SAS Jeep patrols (5th SAS) swept the area to the east of this. On the 11th, Canadian Armoured Recce cars of the 8th Cdn Recce Regt (14 Canadian Hussars) moved out from Hoogeveen and reached Spier in the early afternoon, just in time to rescue a seriously cornered party of French parachutists who had decided to venture out into the open and occupy the village, but that's a story for later (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.)

    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 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. These men had been arrested by the Germans over the last days for various reasons, but their activities were not directly connected with the operations of the French paras. The bodies of the three men were found on 11 April 1945 in a ditch on the edge of the Spaarbankbos. In the forest a small memorial commemorates these victims: Executiemonument Spaarbankbosch - Fluitenberg - TracesOfWar.nl
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2019
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  14. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Fluid situation: Dedemsvaart/Balkbrug/Meppel

    Map of the main watercourses in the Amherst area:

    Stacey Map water.jpg

    A = De Vecht (River); B = Dedemsvaart; C = Hoogeveensche Vaart; D = Oranjekanaal; E = Beilervaart/Linthorst Homan Kanaal; F = Drentsche Hoofdvaart aka Smildervaart


    The situation south of the Hoogeveensche Vaart became very fluid from 6 April onwards, when armoured recce cars of the 12th Manitoba Dragoons (18th Cdn Arm Car Regt) started to probe into the area from east to west. The two infantry divisions of 2nd Cdn Corps (2nd and 3rd Cdn Inf Divs) by that time still were further to the south. They had only just crossed the Twente Canal and were approaching the River Schipbeek, an affluent of the IJssel River which merges with that river at the town of Deventer.

    The Manitobas who initially had only one Squadron ("A") available for the task nevertheless probed westwards as far as Meppel. After an unit report of the Manitobas the paratroopers actions "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 paras had been contacted by the end of April 8. Late in the evening of the 10th the Manitobas, to their regret, were switched towards Germany, where they were to assist the 4th Cdn Arm Division again. They were replaced by the Royal Canadian Dragoons (or 1st Cdn Arm Car Regt) who reached Dedemsvaart and Balkbrug in the early afternoon of April 11th and were closely followed by the infantry of 6 Cdn Inf Bde (2nd Cdn Inf Div) moving northwards from Ommen.

    Whatever the appreciation of the Manitobas, the German position was little enviable. Beset by the 2nd Cdn Corps from the south, by roving armoured cars of the 12th Manitobas in their midst, the Germans now also had to deal with a large number of French SAS paras that were dropped in their back.

    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

    Balkbrug - Meppel area.jpg
    Map of operations of the Manitobas south of the Hoogeveensche Vaart

    Dedemsvaart (stick Sriber)

    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 tanks 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

    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 about that.

    Dedemsvaart POWs 2.jpg


    However, at seven o'clock in the evening, the Canadians left the village. They were only a reconnaissance party of the 12th Manitoba Dragoons (or 18 Cdn Armoured Car Regt) with the task of protecting the left flank of the 4th Cdn Armoured Div whose main axis that lay further to the east.

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

    The infuriated Germans 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 kept dead. They managed to slip away unnoticed later during the night. Either the Dutch SS were lousy shots or, as some say, had been heavily drunk.

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

    Sunday, April 8, 1945 was initially quiet, 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 two sticks landed in the neighborhood of Dedemsvaart, one belonging to 1st Coy, 2nd RCP under Lieutenant Jean Sriber, another under Baratin. There is no information available on the stick Baratin. The following is what I could find on Sriber who landed wide off target.

    Due to the bad weather and faulty radar navigation, Lieutenant Sriber's dropped hard south of Dedemsvaart, nearly sixty kilometers from the planned DZ. 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 quickly regrouped. One of the stick, Pierre Rufenacht, had sprained his ankle. Lieutenant Sriber did not recognize the sector at all and was completely lost, but from contacts with Dutch residents learned that he came down southwest of Lutten. By the end of the day a link up was established with Canadian ground forces. Given the situation Lt. Sriber had to improvise. The paras carried out intelligence operations and reconnaissance patrols for the benefit of the Canadians. They also participated in clearing the area and searched the woods for groups of isolated Germans. They set up ambushes on the road from Ommen to Heense where they managed to destroy two enemy cars. After that the stick quickly was taken to the assembly point at Coevorden. Here some of the stick later volunteered to man the Armoured Jeeps that had been driven overland to Coevorden and participated in the mopping up operations around Westerbork and Schoonloo.

    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 canal running east-west from Meppel to Hoogeveen and thence further eastwards to Klazienaveen and the German border (C on the above map). On the night of 7 to 8 April the bridges across the canal in and around Hoogeveen were blown up by the Germans. The canal formed a new 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: Nov 18, 2019 at 9:53 PM
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  15. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    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.
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2019
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  16. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Beilen and Spier

    Map Beilen - Spier 2.jpg


    The sticks that landed in zone B were widely scattered and partly landed almost on top of German convoys on the retreat. In the afternoon of the 8th, Lieutenant-Colonel Jacques Pâris de Bollardière, CO of the 3rd RCP, reported to main HQ SAS that he still was out of touch with most of his sticks who seemed to be involved in light actions in the vicinity. Civilians contacted informed him that Germans moved in retreat day and night until the previous day on the road at Spier. This corresponded with the intelligence gathered earlier on by Allied aerial night reconnaissance, which revealed heavy traffic movement north along the road during the night of 5 to 6 April. There were still trains running along the railway line between Hoogeveen and Assen.

    Amherst 404-1.jpg
    The message of Lt.Col de Bolladière 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 Kibbelhoek fen. It was De Bollardière's first message in operation Amherst (Ops Log Main HQ SAS, serial 835).

    In the days following the landing, Lieutenant-Colonel De Bollardière managed to gather a growing number of his troops in the wooded area to the southwest of Spier, where he established his headquarters.The paras trickled in in small groups or individually. Some were guided by the directions of helpful civilians. Others were aided by the radio transmission of the R.V. coordinates, which De Bollardière transmitted by W/T set to main HQ SAS at Londen and from there were relayed in coded messages by the BBC to the receivers carried by the sticks. Each half-stick commander carried a receiver. In the end De Bollardière gathered around him a group of about 50 men. A small Flak post was discovered at Spier. At night time the road leading to Spier was attacked. Unfortunately the capture of the bridges over the Beilervaart at Beilen and across the Oranjekanaal at Halerbrug, which ranked high on the target list of Operation Amherst, proved unattainable, due to the presence of strong enemy forces in that area.

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

    Spier Simon .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.The sticks were widely scattered and partly landed almost on top of German convoys on the retreat, but eventually many men 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 almost impossible to get a complete picture of the operations. Below an attempt to summarize the adventures of some of the sticks:

    Stick Dreyfus - The stick Dreyfus was the one that landed on top of a convoy of horse-drawn carts on the main road to Beilen and astride a canal. Due to this 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, who came down north of the Beiler Bridge, were unable to cross the bridge and were chased all night through water-filled ditches and brushwood by German soldiers and finally taken prisoner at dawn. Ragnaci was missing, his body was recovered much later. He landed in a canal and drowned. At daybreak only eight man of the stick had assembled under Benoit. They ambushed a small German convoy and after some wandering met with their commander Lt.Col Pâris de Bollardière in the woods near Spier.

    Ragnacci.jpg
    Sergeant Yago Ragnacci, a member of the stick Dreyfus, rests on the local cemetery of Beilen.

    Stick Vallières - This group also landed astride the main road, over which numerous horse-drawn vehicles drove. The group was therefore split in two. One of the group - Paul Pasquet - had broken his leg during the landing and was hidden in a dry ditch. The last men of Vallières were found on April 10th by a search party sent out by De Bollardière and joined him and the other men in the woods near Spier. Next day, after the Canadians had arrived, the injured Pasquet, who had been left behind, was rescued.

    Stick Grumbach - This group encountered numerous problems. After gathering at a farm the group moved out at daybreak, but was discovered by German patrols. The supply containers which had been left behind in a haystack were found by the Germans. Two men were captured. On the way the paras surprised a bunch of Germans and somewhat later a horse drawn supply cart. Twelve startled enemy soldiers were captured, but they managed to escape after the French paras ran into a strong German bicycle patrol. The paras, who were running out of ammunition, split up into two groups and disengaged. They 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 decided to move in that direction and within an hour were united with Pâris de Bollardière in the woods near Spier.

    Stick Paumier - The stick of Captain Paumier did not encounter many difficulties and quickly regrouped in the darkness. Only Sergeant Leca, the commander of the second group, was missing (he would join Vallières the next day). Surprisingly the air-dispatcher, Andre Phillips, also turned up. Phillips, a former member of the 6th Airborne, could not resist the temptation and, 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. The next day, Lt. Dreyfus joined the stick Paumier, he had lost contact with his own group and had wandered around in the dark all alone. The group then started to lay ambushes along the main road. Early next morning, April 9th, messages were received on the radio receiver with coordinates for a RV spot in the woods near Spier. These had been transmitted by Pâris de Bollardière to Londen. Thus the stick Paumier finally joined the rest of the paras in the woods near Spier. Here they also encountered the stick Vallières with the missing Sergeant Leca.

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

    In the end the group of men gathered by Lt.Col. Pâris de Bollardière increased to 43 men. Over the next days the men of De Bollardière reported light northbound enemy traffic on the road to Spier, mostly Germans soldiers on bicycles and on foot. A small Flak post was located at Spier. At night time the road leading to Spier was attacked. Unfortunately the capture of the bridges over the Beilervaart at Beilen and across the Oranjekanaal at Halerbrug, which ranked high on the target list of Operation Amherst, proved unattainable, due to the presence of strong enemy forces at Beilen.

    Amherst 404-3.jpg
    Report from De Bollardière dated April 9th around noon. From the message it 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. Movement took place at night. Daylight movement invariably invited quick annihilation by marauding Allied aircraft. 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.


     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2019 at 10:00 PM
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  17. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Spier, April 11th, 1945

    Map Spier.jpg


    When darkness fell on the evening of April 10/11, Colonel Jacques Pâris de Bollardière, decided to occupy the village of Spier with his small band of 43 men and block the main road Hoogeveen - Beilen. De Bollardière knew that the Canadian ground forces were approaching and contact was imminent and therefore decided to take the risk and move with his small force out in the open.

    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. The air strike was denied (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 only Brengun in a German dug-out next to the café; which might have been the Flak position previously noticed. Pauli, one of the French parachutists, later told: "This defensive work 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. 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 no enemy movement was noted along the main road. In the morning there were some slight engagements in which 5 POWs were taken, two men of the SAS were wounded.

    Around one o'clock a couple of trucks arrived along the main road from the direction of Beilen, filled with German Fallschirmjäger. The Germans disembarked and then walked upright without taking special precautions 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. 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. Major Simon who took over the weapon, suffered the same fate".

    A sharp fire fight ensued which lasted for one-and-a-half hours. The French paras were at a clear disadvantage, they were outnumbered and lightly armed with only one Bren. Then, at 14:00 hrs, just as German troops who sought to outflank the French position, appeared from the woodline to the west, Armoured Cars arrived at the village. They belonged to the 8th Cdn Recce Sqn (14 Canadian Hussars) who operated in front of the main force of 2nd Cdn Corps. The Germans fled when they saw the Armoured Cars arrive. De Bollardière was rescued in the nick of time, without the timely arrival of the Canadians his unit might have been completely overwhelmed. The French, according to the Canadians, 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 them Captain Simon who died that night in a hospital in Hoogeveen. Early in the evening the remaining French paras were evacuated to Coevorden by transport of the 2nd Cdn Infantry Division.

    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).

    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 Biezelinge 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 location of the cemetery: Franse Oorlogsbegraafplaats Kapelle - Kapelle - TracesOfWar.nl). 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 in southern France, was killed that same day near Authie (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: Sep 6, 2019
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  18. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Zone C Westerbork

    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 taken at Dunmow Airfield before take off for Operation Amherst. Most of the paras seem in good spirits, some seem tense.
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2019
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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 stick of Betbèze and Puech-Samson both landed on the wrong side of the Oranjekanaal. Captain Betbèze quickly collected his stick of fifteen men. However, the supply containers could not be found and after a long search in the darkness Betbèze was convinced that they were not dropped. He headed for a nearby farm in the hope of gaining some information of their location from the residents. Here he learned that they had landed near Garminge some three miles south of the intended dropzone southeast of Elp. Captain Betbèze decided to go into hiding in a small swampy forest known as Witteveen. Upon entering the wood he came across Major Puech-Samson, who was accompanied by his adjudant, Captain Mouillé, and members of his staff group. They also had been dropped in the wrong place and had taken shelter in the forest. Puech-Samson had injured his shoulder during the landing.

    From the local teacher of Witteveen the French 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 fluently spoke French, 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 and both men agreed not to exchange information over the phone, which could be tapped, but instead to sent a trusted member of the local resistance to Witteveen. Before long two policemen, Stoel and Straver, arrived that same morning at Witteveen on bicycle and confirmed the information. They gave further details of the military situation at Westerbork. The staff of Generalmajor Karl Böttger, commander of the Feldkommandantur 674, was in the village. The General 's HQ was located in Restaurant Slomp, just across the street from the old church in the center of Westerbork. The house next door held a signal section, probably attached Luftwaffe personel, with a telephone switchboard. When not on duty the General stayed in a house in the eastern part of the village. Enemy intervention might come from the west, from Beilen, where a concentration of enemy troops was known.

    Though he had only a small group of paras at his disposal, Puech-Samson decided to take the gamble and launch a surprise attack on the village of Westerbork. It was a very tempting target and rumor had it that the General was about to move his HQ. 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, in the meantime had joined the French paras at Witteveen. Since he knew the region well, Van der Veer offered to guide the French to Westerbork. In early afternoon twenty-one French paras under command of Captain Betbèze left the forest of Witteveen to carry out the attack. Betbèze had just returned from another search party for the lost containers, which were finally retrieved by mid-morning. This gave the group the added fire-power of three Brens and some spare ammunition. A small group of about nine men stayed behind to guard the basecamp, among them the wireless operators and the injured Puech-Samson. Around noon Puech-Samson signalled main HQ SAS at Londen per W/T transmitter that he had gathered his two sticks without making contact with the enemy and was now heading for Westerbork.

    With Wim van der Veer in front, the French paras marched along dusty sand tracks and small back roads over the townships of Garminge and Eursinge towards Westerbork, cheered on by residents of farms who believed that they had been permanently 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, these were the sticks of De Cameret and Edme who carried out an attack at the lock and bridge over the Oranjekanaal near Orvelte. 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

    (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: Aug 6, 2019
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