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 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:
    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 (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. Their mission was to facilitate the advance of 2nd Cdn Corps. The SAS operation was of commando oriented nature. Contrary to the classic parachute missions, the assignment was not to engage the enemy directly but to operate behind the lines in sabotage, clandestine and harassing missions; or as the operation order for Amherst termed it: "to cause alarm and confusion in the enemy rear areas". The paras were to disrupt German communications, forestall bridges from being blown by removing the explosive charges, knock out 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 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.

    A landing zone was designated for each unit. On April 7th, at the very last minute, the zones had to be partially modified because part of the operation area, including Coevorden, had already been reached by Canadian ground forces. Between 11:45 p.m. and 1:30 am, in the night of 7/8 April, the aircraft dropped their sticks over the nineteen different "drop zones". Including a four-man Jedburgh team, which had to carry out special assignments, a total of 702 men. The 3e RCP/3rd SAS landed to the west of the Groningen-Assen-Hoogeveen railway and the 2e RCP/4th SAS to the east of that line. All deployed aircraft returned safely to their bases a few hours later.

    However, the parachute drop went badly due to navigation problems and the weather conditions. The French paras were widely dispersed. The night 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 landing zones, some even further (one group over 40 kilometers). Weather conditions also had an adverse effect on the dropping. Due to a low cloud the jump had to be made from a higher altitude of about 1,500 feet. Combined with an strong E to NE wind and showery weather most of the paras drifted far from their designated points. Once on the ground the French paratroopers had to improvise, especially as it turned out that they had to put up with obsolete maps. They often 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 HQ installations. 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 great concern on the part of Brigadier Calvert, commander of the SAS Brigade. On April 10th he pleaded for air patrols over the area to be increased and for ground operations to be stepped up. The last group of French SAS was relieved on the 14th, seven days after the start of the operation. In consequence the paras ran out of supplies, especially ammunition. In some cases Typhoons succeeded to drop supplies on W/T instructions, other groups decided to lay low and went into hiding.

    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. It had been assumed that the German troops would be worn out and demoralized and that they probably would be prepared to surrender honorably when the opportunity would rise. In practice this would be 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.

    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 euphoric mood even requested for an air resupply of barbed wire to build a POW cage. However, on April 12th, after five days of continuous action, Captain Grammond, the French commander of the sticks, considered to stop the operations and lay up: the men were pretty much exhausted and the net gradually closed around them, the enemy was getting dangerously close.

    Amherst had been a costly operation. The French SAS lost 33 men killed in action (including two who were killed during landing accidents and three who were executed by their captors). In addition, the French counted nearly 60 seriously injured (including nine who had contracted fractures during the night drop), and 69 were taken prisoner, though most of them were liberated by Canadian and British units by the end of April. Taking into account that several of the wounded were also made POW, the loss rate was at least 13% which 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 war would last only three 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 and the cruel mutilation of the inanimate bodies of three fallen paras are grim evidence of this, 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. This thread was made possible by the invaluable assistance of Horsapassenger, Bedee, Harold de Jong, Gert-Jan Westhof and JvD 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 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: Bienvenue


    A good 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

    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). (Courtesy dbf)

     
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2021
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  2. smdarby

    smdarby Patron Patron

    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 Patron Patron

    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.
     
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2021
  6. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Armoured SAS Jeeps

    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).

    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 advance parties had dropped. The Jeep aircraft Halifaxes were guided in by three white reception lights and one flashing letter on the down wind side. The aircraft were not to search for more than five minutes for the reception lights.

    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 delayed. 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 moment 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.

    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.

    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 has 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).


    On April 9th, eleven of the armoured Jeeps destined for Operation Amherst were flown by Halifaxes to Gilze-Rijen (code name B 77), an airfield in the south-west of Holland. They then were driven overland to the already liberated town of Coevorden, in SE Drenthe, where Col. Prendergast, Deputy CO of the SAS Brigade, had set up a Tactical Special Forces HQ. From this advanced HQ Colonel Prendergast kept in close touch with the forward troops of the Second Canadian Corps - 1st and 18th Recce Regiments and the Belgian SAS. Of the eleven Jeeps only ten arrived, one plane failed to take off from England. The missing Jeep was flown in a day later. From Coevorden the French, in conjunction with the Belgian SAS, conducted Jeep patrols. Jeep groups in twos or threes infiltrated into enemy territory to contact the French paras and make arrangements for their withdrawal. The Jeeps were manned by volunteers from Prendergast's HQ and members of the French SAS teams who had been picked up by the ground forces and returned to Coevorden. The Jeep teams operated north- and westwards of Coevorden from April 10th onwards. They scored some successes against the enemy and brought in a number of wounded French SAS men.

    Amherst 11 aircraft to B 77.jpg

    There were also Jeeps of the Belgian SAS active in the sector (Op Larkwood). The Belgians operated on the right flank, on the main axis of the 1st Polish Armoured Division. The Belgian Jeep parties, assisted by Polish Recce forces, likewise contacted some of the French para units. Some moved deep into the Amherst area as far as Westerbork and Orvelte on the Oranjekanaal.

    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 (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.
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2021
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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 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 28, 2020
  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. 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. Contrary to the classic parachute troops, the mission was not to engage the enemy directly but to wage a guerilla war, sewing confusion by operating behind the lines in sabotage, clandestine and harassing missions.

    Though the SAS were organized in battalions and companies (or squadrons), the units usually did not operate as such. Characteristic for the SAS was the acting in small '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. If necessary a stick could be divided into two teams ('demi-sticks') each under the command of an Officer and a NCO. The stick consisted of two Officers, two NCO's and eleven corporals and soldiers, each being self supporting and intended to operate separately. 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.

    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 Lt. Barratin

    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 Lt. Appriou (?)
    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 13, 2021
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  9. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Brigadier Calvert's Report: Narrative of events

    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 was. Brigadier Calvert wrote a report immediately after the operation, 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 is 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 Canadian units, 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 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 4th Cdn Arm Division and 2nd Infantry Division was filled up by the 1st Polish Arm Division, called forward from a reserve position near Breda in south-west Holland. The Poles started operations on April 10th from the vicinity of Coevorden.

    Stacey Map aa.jpg

    Below the original map from to Calvert's report. It depicts the Drop Zones and Operation Zones as they 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 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 courtesy Horsapassenger). 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

    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 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): 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: Nov 16, 2021
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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, left 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

    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.

    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
    French paras board a Stirling prior to Op Amherst; each plane carried a stick and several supply containers as well as para simulators (dummies).


    Deception plan

    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 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;
    (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.

    Out of security the Dutch resistance was only informed of operation Amherst half a day after the start of the operation by means of a coded message (“The boat has capsized”) broadcasted by Radio Oranje to prevent the operation from leaking out prematurely.

    Amherts Dummy.jpg
    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.
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2021
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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 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 equipment in the darkness, orienting themselves, establishing a base from where to operate, contacting local resistance groups, gather intelligence information and search for their objectives.

    French was a tongue that was 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 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.

    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 crooked language full of 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).

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

    The sticks of 2nd Lt Bouffartigue and Lagallarde came down close together near the settlement of Den Hulst. They dropped about 3 miles to the south of the planned DZ (No. 17). The men of Bouffartigue landed in and hard south of the Staatsbos, a wooded area just to the north of Den Hulst. At first the French were disoriented since the woods 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 the local resistance group of Jos Bonvanie had constructed a secret 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 Brens, stenguns and even an anti-tank weapon (bazooka) and mines - weapons that had been dropped by air at the end of March 1945. Unfortunately not all went smoothly. In the darkness a short skirmish took place inside the Staatsbos between some men of Bouffartigue and the men of Bonvanie, in which two Dutch resistance fighters were wounded. The men of Lagallarde came down further south of the forest, around the township of Den Hulst. With the assistance of the Dutch locals, Lagallarde's men made their way to the forest as well. They were guided by Wiep van Werven, an assistant veterinarian who had lived in Belgium and spoke French well. The paras gathered near the foresters house on the southern edge of the Staatsbos. Four paras drifted off and landed to the south side of the Dedemsvaart canal, near Nieuwleusen. One landed on the local football field, the others at the Zandspeur. They crossed the canal with the help of a barge and joined the rest of the sticks at the foresters house. Most of the residents did not notice the dropping until in the morning, when they saw the parachutes that were scattered throughout the area, some hanging in the fruit trees.

    The sticks of Bouffartigue and Lagallarde merged so as to develop a greater combat power; the force now counted 30 men. The stick of Baratin landed somewhat off to the east near Balkbrug but at some point also joined the sticks. One man of this stick was missing: Paul Roux. He had not jumped, as his parachute had opened up prematurely inside the airplane. He flew back to England, later to arrive in Coevorden with the Jeeps that were driven in overland. A division of tasks was arranged between the French and the resistance group of Bonvanie. While the latter took care of the security of the French bivouac, the French paras went about their tasks. All roads in the area were blocked and the French also cut the nearby railroad Staphorst - Zwolle. Unfortunately the bridges across the Dedemsvaart were found demolished. They had been blown by the enemy some days previously. Recce parties sent out in the direction of Meppel reported the town strongly occupied by the enemy, who also 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 (Ops Log Main HQ SAS, serial 791).

    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 in order to increase the security of the bivouac area decided 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 national political party that collaborated with the Nazi regime. Some paras 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 executed on the spot.

    Then matters escalated. Back in de Staatsbos one of the prisoners, the young Derk Jan Prins, managed to escape from the forest hideout. As this 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 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 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 early afternoon of Sunday 8 April contact was established with the 12th Manitoba Dragoons, the Recce Regiment of the 2nd Cdn Corps. The link-up was confirmed by a wireless message sent by Bouffartigue to Main SAS HQ at 15:45 hrs. The Manitobas were probing into the area from the direction of Hardenberg and were well ahead of the Canadian ground troops. While the rest of the armoured Recce cars went ahead with their task, a scout car of the Manitoba's remained with the French to provide a wireless link.

    Rouveen.jpg
    On 9 April four Canadian Staghound heavy armoured cars of the 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. 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 retreated to their base at Hardenberg (Photo courtesy
    https://www.destentor.nl/kop-van-ov...tie-bevrijdingsevenement-in-rouveen~ae81d651//© collectie gerrit stegeman).

    Together with the local resistance, the French paras in the afternoon 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. It was one of the few bridges over the Dedemsvaart which had not yet been destroyed. It was occupied by an enemy detachment, which had set up several machinegun posts around the viaduct covering all 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. Without cover the approaching French paras were easily detected and pinned down by long range machinegun fire. One of the paras was wounded. At about 16:30 hrs the attack was broken off and the men returned to the Staatsbos.

    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 of 8/9 April at the new camp site, a farm at the southeastern side of the Staatsbos. Next morning, Bouffartigue decided to vacate the area and move east towards Balkbrug, to join the Manitoba Dragoons and assist the Canadians 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, 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. An enemy attempt to escape encirclement seemed imminent, now that they were 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. During the night of 9 to 10 April the threat materialized. An enemy combat patrol, consisting of an armoured vehicle and three trucks, probed the French position at Balkbrug, but was driven off in a short firefight. Though the situation remained tense, the enemy made no further attempts to pass through Balkbrug and 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 escape to the north blocked, apparently escaped during the night towards the west in the direction of Zwolle.

    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 (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
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2021 at 11:25 AM
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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 SAS. Their task was to secure the bridges across the canal between Meppel and Hoogeveen: the Hoogeveense Vaart. Both sticks came down far off the intended drop zone and were unable to carry out the assigned mission. The stick Descours even dropped in zone B, where it joined the men of De Bollardière near Spier. On the other hand two other sticks were wrongly dropped in Zone A - the stick Nicol and Sriber respectively near Hoogeveen and Dedemsvaart. Both of these sticks were on their own and had to improvise missionwise.

    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 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: Jul 29, 2021
  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 wounded 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 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 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, 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 physician finished the treatment of the ankle. Accompanied by the farmer Casanova 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 less 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.

    Bren group.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 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.

    When darkness fell the stick Gayard moved westwards towards the canal of the Drentsche Hoofdvaart. Here an unguarded bridge (identified by Harold de Jong as the Havelter Sluis) was secured by them on the 9th. The demolition charges were cautiously removed and thrown into the canal. The men decided to wait till the evening before moving farther westward in the direction of Havelte, their mission was to reconnoiter the military airfield of Havelte (aka Steenwijk Airfield) that had been build by the Germans just to the north of the village. Then news arrived from the Dutch that Canadian Armoured Cars (unit unknown) 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 and 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 by the Allied Air Forces. 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 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 below: Operation Amherst: French SAS April 1945). I believe that Flamand was at the airport, but that he might have confused the dates and events on how he arrived there. 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 of the Royal Canadian Dragoons that a group of 15 paras was encountered at the village that afternoon, at 18:00 hrs. The French, according to the Dragoons, had patrolled within 3 km of Meppel which they reported still held by the enemy. The French most likely decided to move along with the Canadian armoured cars and thus ended up at the Havelte airfield. Their sudden departure from Ruinen caused some concern among the residents. Only that morning, when it became apparent that the enemy had abandoned the village, the residents had taken the French paratroopers in from the woods. Now that the French 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 formed the reserve of 2nd Cdn Inf Div , heading north toward Beilen and Assen. The 5th Cdn Inf Bde dispatched 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 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 shot up 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.

    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 critisizes the passive attitude 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. 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.)

    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, but their activities were not directly connected with the operations of the French paras. The bodies of the three unfortunate 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: Nov 17, 2021
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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 reste with the former commander of Heeresgruppe H, General Blaskowitz, who on 6 April 1945 was appointed to Oberbefehlshaber für den Niederlanden (OB Niederlanden). In his new capacity General Blaskowitz 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 troops during the previous months in order to provide reinforcements for the 1. Fallschirmarmee, heavily involved in the Rhineland. battle. Blaskowitz was subordinated to the newly formed OB NordWest, General Busch, who in turn was under direct command of the OKW.

    General Christansen had moved his HQ to Delfzijl, in northeast Holland. Here, on 7 April 1945, he had a last meeting with General Blaskowitz, during which in all likelihood the formal authority over all troops in Holland was transferred to the latter. Christansen, thereafter, did play no formal rule 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 what was to become known as Festung Holland.

    The German army was on its last legs. At the start of April most of the 25.Armee was driven back across the River IJssel into what would become Festung Holland, while the right wing of the 1.Fallschirmarmee, formed by the II. FJ Korps, was pushed northeastwards and coalesced in and around Lingen on the Ems river. The 6. Fallschirmjäger Division, the right wing of the FJ Korps, lost contact with its command and also was pushed back over the IJssel by the Canadian advance. Between the Ijssel and the Ems river all organized resistance had ceased; there no longer existed a coherent frontline.

    schets 36 Sit 10 April 45.jpg

    Engaging troops which from the three armed forces, which did not benefit a well coordinated defense, the Germans in the first week of April frantically tried to organize a defense of sorts in an attempt to plug the growing gap between the 25. Armee and the 1. FJ Armee. Basically these new lines, in fact only delaying lines, followed the waterways that lay across the path of the Canadian advance, from south to north subsequently the Twente Kanaal, Schipbeek, Overijssels Zijkanaal and Vecht. Finally, as a last resort, they turned Meppel into a fortified town and tried to establish a defensive line 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. He had been territorial commander of the city of Groningen since March 1944, when at the start of April he received orders from the WBfN, General Christiansen, who had moved his HQ at the start of February 1945 from Hilversum to Emmen, for the defense of 'Midden-Drenthe'. General Böttger got the almost impossible task to defend a 26 kilometer long line along the canal, for which he had only four companies at his disposal, with a strength that varied from 100 up to 130 men. These units formed a mixed bag of different branches of the regular army and Luftwaffe personnel, with the exception of one company which consisted of Fallschirmjäger from the 8. FJ Div. The force lacked heavy infantry weapons and had no A/Tguns nor artillery. For antitank defense the troops had to rely on the Panzerfaust. General Böttger had a 28 men strong reserve force of motorized Feldgendarmerie (military police). So as to strengthen the defense, the troops along the canal probably also 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 a company of Fallschirmjäger. Thinly spread the troops took up position 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 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 line, 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 ?), 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 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.


    Stacey Map water.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

    (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)


    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 at Zutphen and Deventer, the advance of the 3rd and 2nd Cdn Inf Divs, at the right and in the center of 2nd Cdn Corps, fell behind that of the 4th Cnd Armoured Div on the left. This resulted in a staggered advance of the 2nd Cdn Corps, creating a wedge shaped frontline running northeast to southwest. The armoured recce cars of the 12th Manitoba Dragoons (18th Cdn Arm Car Regt) took full advantage of this situation and, setting out westwards on April 6th from the area of Hardenberg, on the 4th Cdn Armoured Div's right flank, probed into the enemy held area south of the Hoogeveensche Vaart. Thereby cutting into the rear of the enemy forces which were opposing the advance of the infantry divisions of the Canadian 2nd Corps. The roving armoured cars of the 12th Manitobas turned the situation south of the Hoogeveensche Vaart very 'fluid'.

    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 at first had only one Squadron ("A") available for the task, they nevertheless recced as far west as Meppel. An 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". This also is evident from the fact that most of the French paras had been contacted by the end of April 8. This situation lasted until late evening of the 10th, when the Manitobas, to their regret, were directed towards the Corps right flank in Germany. The Manitobas were replaced by the Royal Canadian Dragoons (or 1st Cdn Arm Car Regt - the Recce regiment of 1st Canadian Corps) who 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.

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

    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.

    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 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 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 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 'Krauts'].

    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 slip away unnoticed later that 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

    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. 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 under Lieutenant Jean Sriber. Due to the bad weather and faulty radar navigation, Lieutenant Sriber's stick dropped hard south of Dedemsvaart, nearly forty 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 them, Pierre Ruffenach, had sprained his ankle during the landing.

    Lieutenant Sriber obviously did not recognize the sector at all and was completely lost. From contacts with Dutch residents he however learned that he had come down southwest of Lutten. By the end of the day a link up was established with a Belgian Jeep patrol and the wounded para was evacuated to Coevorden. Lt. Sriber decided to stay and make the best of it by improvising. For a time 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 enemy soldiers. 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 members of the stick volunteered to man the Armoured SAS Jeeps that arrived overland and participated in the mopping up operations farther north, around Westerbork and Schoonloo.

    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 soldier who had strained his ankle during the landing, was evacuated to Coevorden.

    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 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: Dec 2, 2021 at 12:21 PM
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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 SAS. It had the mission of securing the crossing points to the north and south of Beilen, across the Beilervaart, the Oranje Kanaal (Halerbrug and the railway bridge) and the Linthorst Homan Kanaal.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 not easy. 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 (photo IWM).
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2021
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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. Some landed almost on top of German convoys retreating along the main road running from Hoogeveen over Beilen to Assen. The enemy was strongly present in Beilen. Soon enemy search parties, composed of soldiers, Feldgendarmen and their loyal cronies, Landwachters, were active and chasing after the French. This considerably impeded a rapid 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. At 16:30 hrs, on April, 8th, De Bollardière reported that he still was out of touch with his sticks who seemed to be involved in light actions 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 getting his stick together. Most of the other commanders had sent off a first message in early morning. Over the next days the paras slowly trickled in individually or in small groups in the wooded area near Kibbelhoek to the southwest of Spier, where De Bollardière established his R.V.-point. Some were guided by the directions of helpful civilians; others aided by the R.V. coordinates which De Bollardière had radioed to main HQ SAS at Londen and which were relayed in coded messages by the BBC to the receivers carried by the sticks in the afternoon of the 8th; each half-stick commander carried a receiver.

    Lieutenant-Colonel De Bollardière, gathered a growing number of his troops

    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 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 (V 134688) sent out to the sticks of Simon, Paumier, Dreyfus and Vallières (document from First Cdn Army Ops Log)

    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. The sticks were widely scattered and partly landed almost on top of retreating German convoys, but 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).

    Kibbelhoek forest.jpg
    The RV-point mentioned in the radio message was near the 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.


    Because of the scattered nature of the landings, it is not possible 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, coming down north of its assigned Drop Zone 19, dropped astride the canal of the Beilervaart and also 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 it was heavily guarded. They were discovered and chased all night through water-filled ditches and brushwood by enemy soldiers and finally taken prisoner at dawn. 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 by a bullet that went through his eye. He was killed in a firefight with German troops. At daybreak only eight man of the stick Dreyfus had assembled under Benoit. They ambushed a small enemy convoy and after some wandering met with their commander Lt.Col De Bollardière in the woods near Spier.

    Ragnacci.jpg
    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 - This group landed some 4 - 5 miles of the intended Drop Zone 20 and landed south of the Beilervaart. It also came down astride the main road, over which numerous horse-drawn vehicles drove. The group immediately was split in two. One of the group - Paul Pasquet - had broken his leg during the landing and was hidden by his companions in a dry ditch. The last men of the stick Vallières were found on April 10th by a search party sent out by De Bollardière and joined the paras in the woods near Spier. Next day, after the Canadians had arrived, the injured Pasquet, still laying in the ditch, was rescued.

    Stick Grumbach - This group encountered numerous problems. After gathering at a farm the group moved out at daybreak, but was discovered by enemy search parties. The supply containers which had been left behind in a haystack were discovered by the enemy and two paras, who were sent back to collect them, were captured. 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, who were running low on ammunition, split up into two small groups and disengaged. Both groups ultimately 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 move in that direction and within an hour were united with De Bollardière in the forest near Spier.

    Stick Paumier - The stick of Captain 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 group, 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 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 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 Decours: Other than that this stick dropped far off its intended Drop Zone 18 (Zone A northern half) information on this stick thusfar is lacking.

    By mid-morning of April 10th, Lt.Col. Pâris de Bollardière, reported that he had gathered 43 men around him, 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. From contacts with the local residents De Bollardière learned that the enemy over the last days was retreating at night along the main road, which corresponded with the intelligence gathered earlier on by Allied aerial night reconnaissance, which had noticed heavy traffic movement north along the road during the night of 5 to 6 April. Over the next days the men of De Bollardière reported light northbound enemy traffic on the road to Spier, mostly enemy soldiers on bicycles or on foot. A small Flak post was located at Spier. At night time, ambushes were laid along the main road. Unfortunately, due to the strong enemy presence at Beilen, 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.

    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. 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. Nowhere felt save.


     
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2021
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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 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, lightly armed force, which had been non-stop in action for three days, but De Bollardière knew that the Canadian ground forces were approaching and contact was imminent. He had informed Main SAS HQ of his plan and even requested an air-strike against the village. The request was not sanctioned 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 Brengun in a German dug-out next to the café; which most likely was 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. 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 road. In the morning there were some slight engagements. By noon 5 POWs were taken, while two men of the SAS were wounded. There still was no sign of the Canadians.

    Around one o'clock a couple of trucks approached 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, 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. Major Simon who immediately 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 lightly armed with only one Bren and outnumbered by the attackers. Then, at 14:00 hrs, in the critical moment of the battle, 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), the vanguard of the 2nd Cdn Infantry Division. The armoured cars had left Hoogeveen earlier that morning and were probing along the division's main axis well ahead of the infantry. The armoured cars immediately engaged the enemy who broke off the fight and fled. De Bollardière was rescued in the nick of time, without the timely arrival of the Canadians his men might have been completely overwhelmed and the losses would have been many times higher.
    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 them 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 remaining 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).

    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 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: Dec 2, 2021 at 11:32 AM
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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 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 tense.
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2021
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  19. smdarby

    smdarby Patron Patron

    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. However, the supply containers could not be found and after a long futile search in the darkness Betbèze was convinced that they had not been dropped. He headed for a nearby farm in the hope of gaining some information about their location from the residents. There he learned that he and his men had come down near Garminge, some three miles south of the intended drop zone southeast of Elp. Captain Betbèze decided to go into hiding in a copse known as Witteveen forest. Upon entering the small woods 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 equally had taken refuge in the forest. Puech-Samson was incapacitated by a shoulder injury, sustained during the landing.

    Cpl Noël Créau, who was part of the staff of Puech-Samson, gave the following account of the moments following the drop (courtesy: "Du ciel la Liberté", March 2002):
    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 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, had established his headquarters in the village. The General 's command post was located in Restaurant Slomp, just across the street from the old 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 enemy force there, estimated by the civilians at 1,500 strong, but the Germans were evacuating north towards Hooghalen.

    It was a very tempting target. Though he had only a small force at his disposal, Major Puech-Samson decided to take a gamble and launch a surprise attack on the village of Westerbork. 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. In early afternoon twenty-one French paras under command of Captain Betbèze left the forest of Witteveen to carry out the attack mission. Betbèze had just returned from another search party for his lost containers, this time he had more success. The supply containers were finally retrieved, which gave the French the added fire-power of three Brens and some spare ammunition. A small group of about nine men stayed behind at Witteveen to guard the basecamp, among them the wireless operators and Puech-Samson. Puech-Samson had experienced some trouble in retrieving the container with his wireless set, but it was found shortly after daylight, enabling him to transmit his first wireless message to main HQ SAS at Londen at 09:40 hrs. Puech-Samson 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 for Westerbork.

    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. 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.

    Garminge.jpg
    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.

    Witteveen.jpg
    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). 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.)
     
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2021
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