OPERATION AMHERST: French SAS in Holland, April 1945

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

  1. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    At 15:30 hours the paras reached the first farm buildings on the southern edge of Westerbork. Led by the Dutch guide, Wim van de Veer, the French paras sneaked through back gardens and, without being detected, approached the German HQ up to within a couple of hundred meters. Inside the village all was quiet. German soldiers went about their regular business, while some strolled through the main street, completely unaware of the danger. Some civilians spotted the French paratroopers, they quietly took shelter without sounding the alarm. From behind the cover of a hedge Betbèze observed the Slomp Restaurant, which housed the HQ. He quickly devised a plan of attack: one group of four men, under 1st Sergeant Barthélémy, armed with a Bren gun would secure the left flank and cover the road to Beilen, another group of seven led by Adjudant Bouard, armed with two Bren guns, would move around the south side of the restaurant and knock out the telephone switchboard in the house next to the restaurant with explosives and block the main road for reinforcements from the eastern part of the village. The remainder of the group, under Betbèze, would take care of the command post itself.

    Westerbork Zuideinde.jpg
    Westerbork Zuideinde where the paras entered the village ...

    Hoofdstraat achteraanzicht Westerbork.jpg
    .. and cautiously moved through back gardens towards the Slomp Restaurant at the Hoofdstraat. The Slomp Hotel is to the left and not visible on the picture. Note the hedges, narrow sandy path and ditches. At the time this part of Westerbork was still open; now-a-days it is completely overbuild and turned into a residential area (photos courtesy Hist. Kring Westerbork)


    Nothing, however, came of the plan. The inevitable happened: two German soldiers approached on bicycles. The one in front saw the French paras, who lay along the edge of an open field that gave only little visual coverage. He hesitated and then realized that something was very amiss. He made a quick about turn with his bike and frantically started to pedal back to the main street, closely followed by his mate. Betbèze knew that he had to act quickly or all surprise would be gone. He lost no time and gave the order for an immediate attack. Firing from all weapons the whole group of paras dashed in the direction of the command post. "Everyone rushed forward, and I cannot understand how, with our load, our equipment, our number and our exhaustion, we managed to pass the numerous barbed wire fences", Betbèze recalled. The first ones to fall were the fleeing German biker and his companion. The HQ building was riddled with bullets. Enemy soldiers, completely surprised by the sudden onslaught, scurried in all directions. Many were struck by the fire of the paras.

    As the French paras approached the command post within a few steps, the first enemy reaction changed the direction of the attack. Betbèze recalled: "I found myself in front of the hotel, at grips with the Feldgendarmes; Bouard, who backed up the right, had to infiltrate to the general's house. I noticed a first burst of automatic fire coming from a window, the clatter of glass and the dust of the broken window. The burst was intended for me and Gautray, who was on my left. I looked at Gautray he still was on his feet; Gautray looked back, I was also still standing. The enemy gunman must have been very nervous to have missed us."
    "The machine gun of Bonjean jammed after the first bursts. Behind the single trunk of an apple tree at about ten meters from the hotel, Marché, 1st Sgt Jacir and some other men had taken cover to answer the fire. I gave the order to turn left and quickly take cover behind house number 6, which protected us from the enemy fire. One of the men - probably Marché - shouted: "We'll go down like rabbits trying to cross that fence". I shouted back: "Better to get shot down running than to get shot lying still. Follow me!" Those who followed me were saved. Marché and Sgt. Jacir remained in place to fire at the hotel windows and the attic dormer windows. Bonjean rather than circle around the building by jumping the barbed wire fence, ran forward into the main street; carrying his unusable Bren gun" (1).

    Betbèze, who had already ran across the road and reached the cover of the buildings on the far side, witnessed how Cpl. Bonjean stopped in the middle of the street, turned toward the hotel and knelt. Had he seen an enemy sniper at one of the windows? Bonjean took out his Colt, pointed towards the hotel, as if to point out the shooter's position and then aimed. Before he could fire a shot he was hit. With a groan he fell in the street with his head covered in blood. Betbèze immediately tried to rescue the injured Bonjean, but when he moved out into the street a bullet ricocheted off the road between his feet and a splinter hit him in his right calf; he quickly jumped back into cover. Things now moved fast. The men under Adjudant Bouard had reached the back side of the hotel and started tossing Gammon bombs inside. They then made an attempt to enter through the kitchen at the backside. Suddenly the French paras who were in front of the hotel with Betbèze, saw a group of German officers, one dressed in a long leather coat and armed with a submachine gun, dashing out of the front door of the Slomp building. The paras fired. The officer in the leather coat turned around his axis and collapsed on the sidewalk in front of the building. He was hit by bullets in the chest. The German army in Midden Drenthe had just lost its commander, Generalmajor Böttger. The French assumed they had killed Böttger, but he survived though severely wounded (2). Two members of his staff who followed closely behind were not so lucky and were killed instantly.

    Westerbork 2.jpg
    Attack on Westerbork: 1 = Restaurant Slomp (German HQ); 2 = Telephone switchboard; 3 = Church; 4 = House where Böttger stayed; 5 = Main street; 6 = Road to Beilen.
    A. = initial attack by Betbèze; B. = flanking move across the main street; C = move of Cpl Cognet

    Slomp restaurant.jpg
    A post-war picture of the The Slomp Restaurant as it appeared in the 1950-ies.This was the building that housed the German HQ of the Feldkommandantur 674. The French moved in from the right backside. Generalmajor Böttger was shot while attempting to flee out of the front door to the left, or the far end from the French perspective; unfortunately for him the French had already moved to a position from where they also covered this exit (courtesy Hist. Kring Westerbork).

    Slomp Restaurant.jpg
    The Slomp Restaurant or Abdij de Westerbork as it is known today. (photo courtesy Pen and Dagger).

    Westerborg radio post en dokterswoning.jpg
    Next to the Slomp restaurant (which is to the far right) was the house where the telephone switchboard was located (middle). The switchboard operated from the right half of this building, Van der Stoel inhabited the left part. The house to the left was (and still is) the doctor's house.


    From then on the situation quickly went awry. The men of Bouard managed to destroy the telephone switch board, but German fire was now coming from all sides. Bouard was hit in the stomach and later taken prisoner. In an attempt to rescue the badly wounded Bonjean, who was still lying helplessly in the middle of the road, Cpl Le Bobinnec was hit by a bullet in his back and fell in the street. Captain Betbèze yelled at him to crawl back, but Le Bobbinec answered that he was paralyzed and couldn't move. Betbèze thereupon ran into the street and dragged the wounded Le Bobinnec by his arms into cover. The unfortunate Bonjean was beyond help, mortally wounded he perished where he had fallen, in the middle of the street (3). In a short time three French paras were wounded and another one, Corporal René Marché, who still operated the Bren gun from the exposed position behind the apple tree was killed. Sgt. Djamil Jacir who was next to him immediately made a run for it and managed to escape, though several bullets ripped through his equipment. The fight, which had started at about 16:00 hours, had lasted for over one hour. The paras by now had pretty much spent their ammunition and grenades. The Germans, apparently recovering from the shock of the sudden attack, moved in reinforcements and started to gain the upper hand.

    Seeing the predicament, Betbèze decided to break off contact and signaled his men to pull back. However, not all managed to disengage. The young Corporal Jean-Francois Cognet, who, together with a companion, had moved around the right flank, was cut off by enemy fire. Hidden behind a haystack in the meadow opposite the local school building, he bravely fought on for some time, shooting down at least two of his assailants, until he was killed by hand grenades. Cognet, who actually was a wireless operator and should have stayed behind at the bivouac, had volunteered for the action. After waiting in vain for about twenty minutes on the edge of Westerbork for the missing men to turn up, Betbèze retreated with the remainder of his force back to the base camp at Witteveen. Just outside Westerbork he was warned by Dutch civilians that an enemy bicycle patrol, estimated at twenty soldiers, from Beilen had passed by in search for the French only 15 minutes ago. The patrol cycled ahead of the French in the direction of Garminge probably assuming that the French had already gone that way. The inserted pause of twenty minutes now benefitted Betbèze. His men had insufficient ammunition for a renewed firefight. Making a wide detour through the fields to evade the German search parties, the group Betbèze, tired and disappointed by the loss of so many men, arrived at the bivouac at Witteveen well after dusk. Betbèze (1): "I felt no satisfaction at all knowing that we had killed a general, nine senior officers, a dozen subordinates and feldgendarmes. I only felt the bitterness of leaving two dead and a wounded comrade (I did not know the real losses at the time) in the hands of the furious Germans."

    Three men had fallen: Bonjean, Marché and Cognet; three had been left behind wounded and their fate was unknown. Two of them Le Bobinnec and Bouard were taken prisoner and evacuated by their captors to a hospital in Assen. The wounded Le Bobinnec had been hiding for a while in a cellar, where two Dutch civilians tended his wound. But the Dutch civilians ultimately decided, probably for their own safety and because of the severity of the injuries of the Frenchman, to turn him in to the Germans. One of the wounded, Lorang-Schweirer, who had been Cognet's mate, managed to stay out of German hands, by dragging himself in a chicken-hutch despite a gunshot wound to his back, where he hid until the ground forces reached Westerbork two days later. Willem van der Veer, the Dutch commando, only armed with a revolver, took no part in the battle. Afterwards he took refuge with a befriended farmers family.

    02465edc1f5f24521c656fcb0a98baa2.jpg
    Picture of Captain Betbèze (1st to the right in the front row) and members of his stick at Westerbork in April 1945. Note the yellow Airborne recognition scarfs carried by the soldiers (photo courtesy Boersma)

    Westerbork taken.jpg
    The news that Westerbork had been taken was immediately transmitted by W/T set to main HQ SAS at Londen; codename 106 was that of Puech-Samson (First Cdn Army Ops Log, April 1945, App 120). The original message was transmitted at 17:45 hrs on the 8th (Ops Log of Tac SAS HQ, serial 833).


    Mess Puech Samson 090935.jpg
    Next morning Puech-Samson reported that Westerbork had been lost to the enemy. He also enquired about the progress of the Canadians (First Cdn Army Ops Log, April 1945)

    During late afternoon and evening German soldiers, from the guard detachments at the Zwiggelter-, Westerborker- and Orvelterbrug as well as a mobile detachment from Assen, combed out Westerbork and the immediate vicinity of the village. They did not find a trace of the French; suspecting that the paras had left the village to the north, they searched in the wrong direction combing out the area between Zwiggelte, Westerbork, Orvelte and the Oranjekanaal (4). The situation remained tense. In the evening the Germans suddenly started firing at the church tower, as rumour had it that French paras were hiding inside; that evening a farmer on his way home was shot by a nervous sentry. Enemy losses in the attack are unknown but are estimated by civilian eyewitnesses at 30 to 35 men. German ambulances were busy all night evacuating the casualties. Since the Germans suspected that the French received help from the local population, seven villagers were arrested - among them the owner of the Slomp Restaurant and his two sons. After two days, during which they were subjected to interrogations, the men were released.

    The French paras at Witteveen continued to carry out their hit and run missions in the area until they were relieved by elements the Polish Armoured Division on the 10th. They took several prisoners which were assembled in the school building of Witteveen. On April 11th the men of Puech-Samson were evacuated to Tac HQ SAS at Coevorden, where they arrived in early afternoon.

    Amherst Tac HQ Prendergast P7.jpg
    Upon arrival at Coevorden the W/T station of Puech-Samson was closed down by Prendergast (Ops Log Main SAS HQ, serial 79)

    (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.)

    (1) Betbèze, "Qui ose Gagne", SAS bulletin 1952;
    (2) Bobinec and Bouard both reported to Betbèze that Bötthger l had been killed. Until 1977 the French assumed that the general had not survived the action.
    (3) This according to Flamand. A civilian eye-witness, however, claims that the wounded Bonjean was still alive. The witness had seen how, after the fight had ended, the groaning Frenchman was dragged by his arms to the roadside by enemy soldiers, who then finished him off with a pistol shot.
    (4) Böttger, report p. 5, states that he had the impression that the French paras fought their way through Westerbork and disappeared in the wooded terrain to the north of the village.
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2024 at 8:23 AM
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  2. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Last edited: Nov 17, 2021
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  3. 17thDYRCH

    17thDYRCH Senior Member

    Stolpi
    An excellent thread. Please advise how close is the monument to the Westerbork concentration camp which we visited in 2014 or 2015.
     
  4. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Randy - the Westerbork Camp was a bit further to the north; strangely enough the Allies were unaware of the camp, which still held about 876 prisoners, among them 300 Jewish prisoners. The last train had left in September 1944 taking with it Anne Frank and her family.

    In the afternoon of April 11, the German guard detachment fled. They took with them 116 female non-Jewish political prisoners but released them at Visvliet on 14 April. The Westerbork Camp was liberated on 12 April.

    See our 2015 trip: Tour of Northeast Holland

    For the Liberation of the Camp see: Kamp Westerbork per telefoon bevrijd - Jodenvervolging - Drenthe in de oorlog
     
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2019
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  5. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Orvelte (Orvelterbrug & Lock at the Flax Factory), April 8th, 1945

    Orvelte 2.jpg

    1 = Mulder Farm; 2 = Pol Farm; 3= Flax Factory (Fabriek) with lock; 4= Enting Farm, 5= Orvelterbrug

    One of the last main water barriers in the path of the 2nd Cdn Corps in Drenthe was the Oranjekanaal (D on the map in post # 14), running from Smilde to Schoonoord. In order to prevent the enemy from using the Oranjekanaal as a defensive line, the French paras who were dropped in the area were detailed to secure the bridges and locks. It was not required that paras took and held the bridges for a longer period of time, for that they lacked the strength. The mission was to knock-out the sentries and take away any explosives they found to prevent the destruction of the passages; a process called 'delousing'.

    Oranjekanaal Zuidvelde.jpg
    The Oranjekanaal at Zuidvelde; picture taken from the bridge (aka Westerbork bridge) with a view to the east in the direction of the Sluice gate (not visible). In the far distance the canal makes a slight bend, at that spot the Pol Farm was located.

    As has already been noted (post #14) the enemy had turned the Oranjekanaal into a 'back stop' defense under the command of the Wehrmachtskommandant Assen, by deploying two newly formed Luftwaffe field replacement battalions along the canal who had arrived on April 7th at Assen. According to the German commander, Generalmajor D. Böttger, these new arrivals were so ill equipped that he deemed them unfit for service in the forward line. Instead he directed them to the Oranjekanaal to reinforce the pioneer parties already busy preparing bridges for demolition along the canal.

    The stick of De Camaret came down close to the planned dropzone on the north side of the Oranjekanaal, in an area called Ellertsveld. The stick Taylor landed a little further to the north. The stick of Edme dropped on the wrong side of the Oranjekanaal, south of Wezuperbrug.

    After the landing, the men of Lieutenant De Camaret regrouped and collected their containers. One para, Corporal Brasse, had sprained his ankle during the landing and could not take part in the operation. He was left behind in the field and next morning was hidden by farmer Pol in the southern tip of Schoonloo Forest. The stick of De Camaret gathered at a farm near the landing site: the Pol Farm. Twelve Frenchmen spent the rest of the night inside the Pol's residence, while two of them stood guard outside. Over time, the guards reported the arrival of an enemy patrol. It turned out to be a large group of about 50 German soldiers on foot, marching along the canal from the direction of Zuidveld. They too were looking for a place to stay for the night. These men probably belonged to the previously mentioned Luftwaffe reinforcements that had arrived at Assen who were deployed along the line of the Oranjekanaal. Fortunately the Germans passed the Pol's Farm and eventually ended up at the Enting family's farm some 700 meters to the east, just beyond the Flax Factory. Here they were accommodated in the attic of the barn. For now there was no fight, but with two farms with enemy soldiers so close together, a clash would be inevitable.

    In early morning, before dawn, a parlous situation arose, when two young German soldiers knocked at the door of the Pol's Farm. They demanded a cup of coffee. The coffee was ready. The lady of the house was just preparing coffee and breakfast for the French! With much foresight, De Camaret had seen to it that his men were well hidden and that they had not left any items or equipment lying around that would give them away, not even cigarette ends and chocolate packages. All went well. After finishing their coffee the two Germans left, without noticing the presence of the French. Not long after that, four paras led by 2nd Lt. Richard, who belonged to the stick Taylor, arrived at the farm. They had lost contact with their unit and decided to join De Camaret. Another stray para, Corporal Treis, also reported in. During the night he had become separated from his own stick, that of Cochin. At daybreak, De Camaret, decided to check the lock at the flax factory and the road bridge across the canal north of Orvelte, known as Orvelterbrug. A low fog was hanging above the canal and fields, when the unit, now nearly twenty strong, departed from the Pol Farm. As the French approached the lock, they encountered a post manned by eight German soldiers who guarded the lock gate. The French pretended to be German troops, by approaching upright in the morning twilight, marching along the verge of the road, weapons slung over their shoulders. The trick worked. the soldiers apparently mistook the approaching group as one of their own and did not take any action, some of them sat quietly on the grass of the verge. When the French got to within about forty meters, one of the German speaking members, 2nd Lt Richard, yelled at them: "Hände hoch!" ("Hands up"). In a short scuffle the sentries were overwhelmed. Five were killed, the others taken prisoner. The Germans, however, managed to get of a few shots and two of the French paras, Richard and Mahé, were wounded. While the French proceeded to demine the lock, other members of the stick started to clear the nearby Flax Factory, looking for any enemy soldiers that might have taken shelter behind the factory buildings. Whether some of the German sentries managed to escape and sounded the alarm or they were roused by the shots that suddenly rang out is not known, but the enemy soldiers at the Enting's farm now were fully alert. A violent firefight broke out around the factory in which Corporal Antoine Treis was killed. Realizing that he was outnumbered, De Camaret, who had taken up position at the Flax Factory, decided to disengage. His men fell back to the Pol Farm, taking with them the two wounded and the prisoners. From there they moved north to the Schoonloo Forest and disappeared into the woods. The Germans who closely pursued the group captured one of the paras at the Pol Farm.

    For the Pol family, a precarious situation arose which could have ended badly, when one of the German soldiers discovered a kit bag and helmet in the shed. Had the French received help from the Dutch family? With a hefty dosis of farmer's shrewdness Pol succeeded to convince the German captain that he knew nothing about the presence of the paras. He pointed to the lock of the stable door, which had been broken for a long time. The French had destroyed it last night while his family was fast asleep. How could he have known that they were secretly hiding in his barn?

    Attracted by the sound of the battle, the Stick Edme, who had taken up position in a farm house near Orvelte, moved in the direction of the Orvelter bridge in an attempt to outflank the Germans. One of Edme's men, Blanquet, was wounded by a stray bullet. It was obvious that the position was strongly occupied and when it became apparent that the sticks to the north of the canal retired, Edme also disengaged. Besides that it was found out that the bridge across the canal had already been blown by the enemy. Edme took position in the wood at the Reijntjesveld, the natural area between Orvelte and Westerbork.

    While the stick Edme continued operations in the area south of the Oranjekanaal, the men of De Camaret moved north into the forests, where they ultimately contacted the depleted stick of Cochin. The stick of Lieutenant Cochin, a Jeep group of originally 12 men. Landing much scattered, far off from the intended DZ, Lt. Cochin only managed to gather around him a handful of men. At the DZ, Cochin waited in vain for the parachuting of the vehicles. The news that the jeep drop had been cancelled had not reached him. Most of his men - Henri Bousquet, Pierre Pacifici, George Mahé and Antoine Treis - had drifted so far off to the south that they ended up with the stick of De Camaret. Likewise Angel Zelic and Louis Masserot were isolated near Elp. In the morning of April 8th, Jean Loeillet, another member of the stick, as the story of a civilian eyewitness goes, was found by his captors dangling from a tree in his parachute harness, with a wounded leg. The unfortunate para was freed from the tree and escorted to nearby Hooghalen from where he was brought over to the prison in Assen. There he was shot by his captors on the 10th. The sticks of De Camaret and Cochin settled in the woods east and northeast of Elp and used these as a base for patrols. Over the following days the strength of De Camaret augmented by the arrival of other stray groups - remnants of the sticks of LeBlond, Taylor, Varnier, Simon and Larralde; so much so that he gradually took control of the area and became more and more audacious. On the 10th De Camaret 'raided' Elp and drove off the 60-men strong enemy garrison in the direction of Schoonloo; on the 11th he occupied the village, probably with the aid of the Jeep Groups who had crossed the lock at Orvelte early that same morning.

    Vlasfabriek Orvelte.jpg De Camaret.jpg
    Left: Aerial of the Flax Factory with the Oranjekanaal running in front. Note the flat featureless countryside to the north. The lock with the small bridge is to the left, not visible on this picture. Right: 30 year old Lieutenant Michel de Camaret was a veteran soldier. He commanded a tank platoon in 1940 and was wounded during the 1940 campaign. After joining the resistance in France he fled to Engeland via Gibraltar in 1942.

    Vlas fabriek Oranjekanaal Orvelte.jpg
    The former Flax Factory and the lock in the Oranjekanaal (Courtesy Pen and Dagger)

    Monument Treis.jpg Antoine Treis.jpg
    At the front of the factory is a monument to commemorate the fallen Corporal Antoine Treis (photo to the right).

    Orvelter brug.jpg
    Not far to the east of the flax factory is the draw bridge across the Oranjekanaal at Orvelte.

    While the sticks of De Camaret and Edme, on April 8th, made an attempt to get at the crossings over the Oranjekanaal at the Flax Factory and at Orvelte, the stick of Lieutenant Georges Taylor moved towards the bridge across the Oranjekanaal in the road Elp - Westerbork. Taylor who came down by parachute near Elp only managed to gather half of his men. On arrival at the Oranjekanaal, they found the bridge over the canal already blown by the enemy, but also ran into German opposition and were forced to retreat. Trying to elude the enemy Taylor and his small group, four or five men, ended up at the Mulder Farm (no.1 on the above map), but they were soon discovered by a German patrol. While his men fled across the open fields towards the woodline, Taylor engaged the Germans with his carabine. There was a short firefight. When it ended, the young Lieutenant was laying in a lawn next to the farm, mortally wounded. Under his covering fire the others had made it to the forest and got away and joined the stick De Camaret.

    Taylor.jpg Loeillet.jpg
    Left: 2nd Lt Georges Taylor, 20 years, was killed at the Mulder Farm on April 8th. Next day he was given a temporary burial by the Germans at the farmyard, with military honour. Right: Pte Jean Loeillet, 21 years of age, was taken POW on April 8th near Elp, after he had been wounded. On the 10th he was executed by his captors at Assen.

    Lt Taylor memorial.jpg
    In April 2021 a memorial stone was placed near the Mulder Farm dedicated to 2nd Lt Georges Taylor. It is located at the farm on the Oranjekanaal NZ 40 at Zuidveld.

    Taylor Monument & Farm.jpg
    Picture of the Mulder Farm taken from the opposite bank of the Oranjekanaal; the memorial stone is on the right on the verge of the road.

    Story - my paraphrase - courtesy:
    https://orveltejournaal.nl/uit-de-oude-doos/archief/ and Col. Roger Flamand: "AMHERST : les parachutistes de la France libre, 3e et 4e SAS, Hollande 1945"; I used the Dutch translation of this book by Jaap Jansen and Corta, "Les berets Rouge".
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2022
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  6. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Intermezzo: Jeep groups Larralde, Cochin & stick Leblond ( 2nd RCP/4th SAS)

    Amherst Jeep sticks.jpg

    Two of the three Jeep Groups of the 2nd RCP/4th SAS landed west of the Rolde - Schoonloo road in the left part of Drop Zone D. Each group consisted of twelve men and three Jeeps. The Jeeps were flown in by separate aircrafts (Halifaxes) which had to be guided in by light beacons set up by the Jeep teams on the ground; three white reception lights on one side and one flashing letter on the down wind side. One Jeep group (Lagèze) failed to take off on the 8th due to a technical breakdown of the aircraft that was to carry them. They were flown in next day and landed near Smilde, to the SW of Assen (see: OPERATION AMHERST: French SAS in Holland, April 1945).

    As has been noted, the planned Jeep drop was delayed and later cancelled on account of the adverse weather conditions. Owing to the low clouds the light beacons would not be visible for the aircraft. It was expected that a blind Jeep drop would result in a 100% loss of the vehicles. The decision to delay the vehicle drop was taken at the very last moment and the message did not reach all teams on time.

    [​IMG]

    Group Larralde:
    The Group Larralde was flown in by the Stirling with C/N 25 which dropped the men between 22:30 and 23:00 hours on the night of 7/8 April to Drop Zone 8. Sixteen paras were crammed into the transport plane. Captain Larralde had to share the plane with a Jedburgh team, consisting of four Dutchmen, who also jumped during Op Amherst. Aboard the aircraft the message was received that the Jeeps would not be dropped that night. The men of the Group Larralde were scattered over a wide area and Larralde managed to gather only five of his men after the landing, two of them injured: Cazenave, who had his knee ligaments torn and had a broken finger, and Lignier who had sprained his ankle. The rest of the stick was missing as were the containers with the weapons, ammunition and rations. The group decided to search for nearby farms to shelter the wounded. But once found, the local peasant family refused to take the wounded in, because it was too dangerous. Larralde, from the information obtained, was able to pin-point his position, which was 4 kilometers from the designated Drop Zone. On advice of the farmers the group moved south into the nearby forests. There the French hid for the time being from enemy patrols which actively combed the area and occasionally came eerily close. An attempt to move further south failed due to the swampy terrain and the many canals. The stick from now on, according to the After Action Report of the 2e RCP, took up a 'purely defensive attitude given the lack of resources and the proximity of large German troops'. Finally after a couple of days, the uninjured members of the group decided to make an attempt to reach their own troops. However, attempts to cross the Oranje Kanaal failed. The canal was heavily guarded. In the end the group was rescued by the ground troops (probably on the 12th by the Jeep teams that had crossed the Oranje Kanaal at the lock near the Flax Factory - see below).

    The Jedburgh team was the last to jump from the aircraft. One of the members of the Jedburgh team later commented that the air-dispatcher was hopelessly inexperienced and as a result the French jumped too slow and became too widespread. Of the four Jedburgh men one was captured, one went into hiding after being chased around by enemy patrols, the other two, though separated from each other, went about their business and got in touch with the local resistance.

    Stick Leblond:
    The stick of Lt Michel Leblond was flown in by the Stirling with C/N 5 which dropped the men between 22:30 and 23:00 hours on the night to the 8th on Drop Zone 3. The same Drop Zone that was also intended for the sticks Nicol and Lagèze; Nicol came down far off the mark at Hoogeveen, while Lagèze didn't take off at all that night. On the 8th, the stick LeBlond made contact with Cochin, whose stick had been pretty much scattered during the landing. Together they moved south towards the Oranjekanaal, with the intention to cross the canal by barge, but the French found the area near the canal alive with enemy troops. After a clash with German sentries, who were immediately reinforced by a cycle patrol, the French paras retired in the direction of Elp. On the 10th an ambush was laid on the road Elp - Schoonloo. Next day contact was made with the stick De Camaret at Elp. Here Sgt Zelic and three men from the stick Cochin, who had become detached from their unit, joined the stick LeBlond. Later that day contact was made with the Jeep Groups that had crossed the Oranjekanaal at the Orvelte lock gate.

    Group Cochin:
    The stick Cochin was flown in by the Stirling with C/N 29 and dropped between 22:30 and 23:00 hours on the night to the 8th on Drop Zone 23. The stick was hopelessly scattered. Several members of the stick (Henri Bousquet, Pierre Pacifici, George Mahé and Antoine Treis), unable to make contact with their own unit, joined the stick of De Cameret at the Pol Farm in the early morning of the 8th. Two other paras, Angel Zelic and Louis Masserot, became isolated near Elp; while Jean Loeillet was found by the enemy dangling helplessly by his parachute from a tree near the latter village and captured. Ignorant of the fact that the Jeep drop had been postponed, Cochin on the first night waited in vain for the three Jeep aircrafts to arrive. Until 3 o'clock in the morning he kept his three reception lights and the letter 'N' burning. He then went into hiding in the forest near Grolloo. Next night he once more waited for the Jeeps to arrive, but again the aircraft did not show up. During the 9th he laid an ambush without result. On the 10th Cochin patrolled the village of Grolloo and found it clear of enemy. That day he had a couple of skirmishes with small enemy patrols. At some point Cochin got in touch with men of the stick De Camaret who had drifted north in their effort to elude the enemy after the encounter at the Flax Factory. No further details are known of the stick Cochin.

    Story - my paraphrase - 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 and (AfterAction) Report of the 2nd RCP (4th SAS).
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2024 at 8:29 AM
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  7. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Belgian Jeeps & Polish Recce to the rescue

    The old fortress town of Coevorden, located in the southeastern edge of Drenthe, was the first town in the Province of Drenthe to be liberated by a company ('A ' Coy) of the Lake Superior Regiment (4th Cdn Arm Div) in mid-afternoon of April 5th. This unit had been diverted from the main body of the 4th Cdn Armoured Div at the German town of Emlichheim. While 'A' Company of the Lake Superiors sidestepped towards Coevorden, the balance of the 4th Cdn Armoured Div headed for the main objective further east: the German town of Meppen on the River Ems. As 'A' Coy approached Coevorden the German defenders, estimated at about 300 strong, demolished the bridges leading into the town. In the ensuing firefight a Lake Superior carrier was hit by a Panzerfaust and took fire; two members of its crew were killed and five Canadian soldiers were wounded. The Canadians therefore halted and for the present contended themselves with containing the enemy garrison while reconnoitering his defenses. On the following day 'A' Coy occupied Coevorden without opposition, the main body of Germans having abandoned the town during the night and those who were left readily gave themselves up as prisoners.

    Bentheimerbrug.jpg Binnentrekkende%20soldaten_bron%20Foto%20de%20Boer%20Coevorden_0.jpg
    Left: Picture of the blown up Bentheimerbrug at Coevorden. A Bailey bride was quickly build across the canal. Right: Canadian infantry moves into Coevorden on April 6th. It was the first town in the Province of Drenthe to be liberated. An excuberant crowd cheered: "Hurrah, the Tommies have arrived!". Whereupon major Calquhoun, the Coy CO, snapped back: "No, no Tommies, Canadians!" (Photo courtesy: De bevrijding van Coevorden | Geschiedenis Coevorden). On a sidenote: the Dutch residents of Coevorden immediately funded the purchase of two coffins for the two fallen Canadians who were given a proper burial at the local cemetery the same afternoon.

    The Liberation of Coevorden:


    On April 7th the 5th SAS Regiment (Belgians), commanded by Major Edouard Blondeel, took over the defense of the town from the Canadians. The Belgian SAS battalion, consisting of 14 Officers and 254 men, operated in two squadrons each about 20 Armoured Jeeps strong. Each squadron had an assault troop of 40 men carried in 15 cwt trucks. The mission of the Belgians was, pending the arrival of the 1st Polish Armoured Division, to secure the left flank of the Canadian armour which still was bound for Meppen, and as a secondary task had to assist the Amherst forces if possible. The Belgian SAS took up defensive positions to the north, west and southwest of the Coevorden, and started patrolling the area. Over the next few days the Belgians sent out Jeep patrols in all azimuths and scouted as far as Hardenberg, Dedemsvaart and even as far as the eastern outskirts of Hoogeveen, which had not yet been reached by the 2nd Cdn Inf Division. The Belgian SAS liberated the villages of Nieuwlande, Elim, Nieuw-Moscou, Hollandscheveld, Nieuweroord, Krakeel en Noordscheschut. Meanwhile the 1st Polish Armoured Division, under general Stanislaw Maczek, had received orders to join the advance of 2nd Cdn Corps. The Polish were to assemble at Coevorden from where they would operate on the left of the 4th Cdn Armoured Division. The arrival of the Polish armour necessarily would take some time, as the Poles were still in a reserve position south of the Rhine River, near Breda (in SW Holland). On April 8th the head of the 1st Polish Armoured Division began to arrive at Coevorden. The Polish movement was completed on the 10th and from that day on the Poles took over command of the sector, as well as over the Belgian SAS.

    Coevorden bevrijding.jpg
    Above: Belgian SAS Jeeps arrive at Coevorden on April 7th to take over from the Lake Superior Regiment (photo courtesy Sorry 1 x Zwwt foto - 50plusser.nl). Below: Belgian SAS Jeep at Oosterhesselen carrying a POW on the hood

    Belgian SAS POW on Jeep 00.jpg

    An important feat was the capture of the bridge at Oosterhesselen by the Belgian SAS. On April 9th the Belgians attacked and captured the bridge across the Verlengde Hoogeveensche Vaart intact. In the operation the Belgians received support from six Polish Bren Carriers. They immediately established a firm bridgehead across the canal, that would be used as a sally port for later operations. Late in the afternoon of the 9th a patrol of the Belgian SAS moved out from Oosterhesselen to contact the French SAS at Witteveen. The SAS Report of Op Larkswood states that the patrol - three armoured Jeeps and a motorcycle of 'A' Sqn, of 5th SAS - reached the Witteveen wood without incident. Here they learned that the French had lost three men killed and one wounded in an attack on a German HQ at Westerbork that afternoon. The village, according to the French, was held by approximately 100 enemy. Since the French did not need any help, the patrol returned to Oosterhesselen. On its return journey the Belgians however clashed with German paratroopers. The Germans withdrew after a short firefight, but Tpr. Becket was wounded in the engagement and one of the Jeeps and the motorcycle were knocked out. The Belgians reported that they were unable to relieve the French SAS on their own and needed support from the Poles.

    Mess Belg SAS 091600.jpg
    The messages of the Belgian SAS sent during the afternoon of April 9th contain news of the sticks Puech-Samson near Witteveen and Edme at Orvelte. The bridges over the Oranjekanaal are out. The Belgians ask for Polish support (First Cdn Army, Ops Log, April 1945).

    Poles Westerbork.jpg

    Early in the morning of April 10th, the 1st Polish Armoured Division moved across the bridge at Oosterhesselen and pushed on to the NE towards the town of Emmen. Possibly as a result of the request of the Belgian SAS for assistance, a Polish Armoured Recce unit, composed of elements of the 10 Mounted Rifle Regt (10 pułk strzelców konnych (PSK)), a Recce unit equipped with Cromwell tanks, supported by elements of motorized infantry of the 10 Dragoon Regiment (10 pułk dragonów), was diverted to the north to scout for the bridges over the Oranje Kanaal at Orvelte and Westerbork and link up with the SAS troops at the latter place. At 09:30 hrs, Puech-Samson signaled to SAS Main HQ that he could hear tanks, presumably Allied, approaching along the road from Zweelo. The Poles establised contact with the paras at Witteveen by 10:45 hrs. By 13:00 hours they reached the canal. The bridges across the Oranjekanaal at Orvelte and Westerbork were found destroyed. A Polish foot patrol moved across the canal at the Westerborker bridge, but had to fall back after it clashed with a German force armed with machineguns. Two Polish soldiers, Privates Turkowiak and Kosztubajda, were killed in this encounter. Apparently the enemy was still present in some strength to the north of the canal. By the evening the Poles moved back to Oosterhesselen taking with them the men of Puech-Samson and Edme. The arrival of Puech-Samson at Coevorden was confirmed by Prendergast to SAS Main HQ at 17:30 hrs: "106 now at Coevorden and will be off air meantime".

    Polish tanks Aalden 10.04.45.jpg
    These Polish Cromwell tanks of the 1st Sqdn/10th Mounted Rifle Regt, on their way to Westerbork, were photographed at Aalden on April 10th, 45.

    Puech-Samson.jpg Puech-Samson Poolse tank.jpg
    Left: Major Puech-Samson, in command of the 2e RCP, at Witteveen. Right: Polish Cromwell tanks arrived at Witteveen on the 10th. On the picture Major Puech-Samson descends from the rear deck of a Cromwell after having consulted the tank commander. One of the villagers chalks a message on the rear end of the tank. (Photos courtesy Boersma)

    On April 11th, a strong patrol of the Belgian SAS, commanded by Thonard, consisting of two Jeep sections and two Assault sections from 'B' Sqn, 5th SAS, accompanied by a medical section and an assault pioneer section, moved up to Orvelte and the Oranjekanaal. The Belgian contingent was reinforced by three Jeep Groups (8 vehicles in all; though one crashed on the first day) of French SAS Jeeps, that had been brought forward overland and were manned by French volunteers from the sticks that already had assembled at Coevorden (1). The mission of this force was to hold the line of the Oranjekanaal and contact and evacuate the French SAS paras in the area north of the canal. Without enemy interference, the group moved over Zweeloo to Witteveen and on to the canal bank opposite the Flax Factory.

    Thonard was informed that French SAS paras were north of the Oranjekanaal near Elp. As a matter of fact the French had occupied the village of Elp the previous day (April 10th). De Camaret, growing bolder as more scattered troops gathered around his stick, had launched an attack against the village and drove off an enemy force of about 60 in the direction of Schoonloo. In order to reach the French paras at Elp, the SAS Jeeps had to cross the canal and the bridges over the canal at Orvelte and Westerbork both were destroyed. At the latter crossing point the enemy was still present in some force as had been experienced by the Poles the day before. With the assistance of the local population, a temporary crossing therefore was constructed at the lock gate near the Flax Factory. A ship, that was docked near the Orvelter bridge, was sailed into the lock and beams from the Flax Factory were put across the ship. Though a little shaky, the makeshift bridge worked and soon Belgian and French Jeeps moved across.

    The Jeep Groups immediately fanned out in search for their comrades north of the Oranjekanaal. No organized enemy resistance was found on the far bank of the canal though many enemy stragglers were encountered. The two vehicles of the Jeep Group Moulié contacted the stick De Camaret who occupied Elp. De Camaret's strength had considerably augmented over the past couple of days by the arrival of stray sticks; remnants of the sticks of LeBlond, Taylor, Varnier, Simon, Larralde and Cochin. With the aid of the men of De Camaret the Jeep Group attacked Schoonloo. The Jeep of Moulié, however, got in serious trouble when it was ambushed by German soldiers armed with an antitank weapon. It was only by the brave work of Sgt. Gilbert Hentschke, who, despite being severely wounded, kept firing his Vickers machineguns at the attackers, that the Jeep could disengage and return to Elp. The Jeep Group under Betbèze, conducted a reconnaissance in the direction of Schoonloo - Schoonoord - Borger to search for other French SAS paras. They made contact with men of the sticks Gabaudan and Corta who were hard pressed by the enemy in the Schoonloo forest; four wounded Frenchmen and 3 POWs were brought back. The Jeep Group of Nicol reconnoitered in the direction of Annen - Hooghalen and took one POW. At Orvelte, the Medical Officer gave first aid to six wounded French paras, after which they were evacuated to Coevorden. Also 10 wounded POW's were taken care of. From Orvelte Belgian Jeep patrols scouted westwards along the south bank of the Oranjekanaal in the direction of Westerbork, which was reported free of enemy. They found Beilen, the next town to the west of Westerbork, still firmly held. Next day, April 12, the town would be taken after a stiff fight by the 2nd Cdn Inf Div, who approached from the south, from the direction of Hoogeveen.

    By the evening of the 11th (20:15 hours) the Belgian Jeeps had returned to Coevorden. During the day they had evacuated 52 French paras, including Puech-Samson. The number of POWs had risen to 25, all identified as members of the '8. FJ Bn' (probably the training battalion of the 8. Fallschirmjäger (FJ) Division - or FJ Ersatz &. Ausbildungsabteilung 8). The French Jeep Groups, on the other hand, stayed near the lock gate and continued their patrol activities in the following days in conjunction with the Canadian Recce troops of the 2nd Cdn Inf Div, operating on their left.

    On the 12th a small enemy patrol of three men, reconnoitering towards the Orvelter canal lock, some say with the intent of blowing up the passage, was intercepted by the men of De Camaret and annihilated; all three members of the patrol, including a NCO, were killed.

    Belgian SAS.jpg
    Map with the operations of the Belgian 5th SAS Squadron on April 11th, 1945. Note that on the 11th 'A' Squadron recced as far as Hoogeveen. The Belgians, who reported Hoogeveen free of enemy, reached the small town almost simultaneously with the Canadian 2nd Infantry Division, resulting in a dispute that lasts until today of who actually liberated the town (courtesy: "Short History of the Belgian SAS in World War II")

    Orvelte Belgian SAS.jpg
    On April 11th, Belgian and French SAS Jeeps crossed the emergency bridge at the lock gate which was constructed with the help of the local population; note the clogs - you don't see those anymore today (photo courtesy: Battlefield Tour Operation Amherst).

    Lock at Orvelte.jpg
    Same spot nowadays (photo courtesy Pen and Dagger).

    Jeep Group Betbèze.jpg
    Two of the three SAS Jeeps of the Jeep Group of Betbèze photographed at the Pol Farm on the Oranjekanaal. After the Belgians had left, the French SAS Jeeps remained at the Oranjekanaal and kept scouting the area north of the canal on the 12th and 13th, reaching far and wide.


    (1) The Belgian report says that two French Jeep Groups accompanied them. The French after action report of the 2e RCP describes operations of all three Jeep Groups on the north bank of the canal from 11th April onwards. A total number of 11 Jeeps had been driven to Prendergast's Tac HQ at Coevorden and 8 of these were manned by volunteers from the returning SAS men. One Jeep of the Jeep Group Nicol crashed on the first day, leaving 7 Jeeps available for the operations north of the canal.
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2023
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  8. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Zone D Assen - Rolde - Gieten - Borger

    Drop Zones 10 and 24, located in Zone D, were assigned to the 2nd Coy of the 2e RCP/4th SAS. The units were to interdict traffic in the triangle of the villages of Gieten - Rolde - Borger, secure crossings over the Buinen- Schoonoord Canal and spread confusion in the area. They would get assistance by sticks of the 1st Coy, 4th SA, who landed in the wrong place, far to the south of their assigned Drop Zones 4 and 10.

    Zone D Gieten Borger Assen Rolde 2.jpg
    - All Chalk nos. took off from Rivenhall and dropped their sticks between 23:30 - 23:59 hours over the DZs. The planes with Chalk nos 11, 12 and 13 also dropped 9 simulators each.

    Report of Brigadier Calvert:
    Calvert Zone D.jpg
    NB. GISELDE should be Gasselte
    NB2. the village of HOOGENVAAL is an unknown place (Hooghalen?)
     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2022
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  9. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Schoonloo - Borger: sticks Simon, Varnier, Corta, Gabaudan and Forgeat

    All five sticks, landing in the area to the south of the Staatsbos Gieten (Bois de Gieten), roughly in the area between Borger - Schoonloo and Grolloo, were put under severe pressure by strong German detachments garrisoned at Rolde, Schoonoord and Borger.

    Stick Simon:
    The stick of 2nd Lieutenant André Simon dropped four miles southwest of the planned DZ. The stick quickly regrouped thanks to light signals given by Lieutenant Simon and collected its containers. The paras then set out to the southeast and in the early morning approached a farm near Westdorp, located a few miles to the SW of Borger. While the men took a short break, Lt Simon and Bornhauser tried to clarify their position and moved forward to the farm. Sergeant Constant Matern meanwhile arranged the security. After a few minutes the two officers returned with a German prisoner. From information gathered the nearby bridge across the Buinen- Schoonoord Canal, which gave access to the village of Westdorp, was defended by an enemy detachment of about 20 soldiers.

    Meanwhile, the paras had been spotted by the wife of a Dutch SS-er and she alerted the Germans, who send a patrol from Westdorp in the direction of the farm. As the German patrol drew near, Sgt Matern gave the order to open fire. The Corporals René Péron and Michel Besnars opened up with the Brengun and forced the Germans to seek cover in a ditch. Lieutenant Bornhauser killed a German officer with his carabine.

    A detachment of Fallschirmjäger soon arrived as reinforcement. Using the cover of the ditches, they skillfully deployed in the fields and the pressure on the French paratroopers increased. Several Frenchmen were hit. Péron on the Brengun was killed, so were Serge Levasseur and Corporal Albert Le Saux. The outnumbered French paras disengaged. Not everyone however got away. Three were captured: Usséglio, who was hit by bullets in the shoulder, Delassale and Besnars. The French POW's were taken on a horse cart to nearby Borger, where the outraged sentries, guarding the bridge at the entrance of the village, threatened to shoot the French and throw their bodies into the canal. Only the presence of a Dutch doctor, mr A. Kinds who worked as a doctor in Borger, and the timely arrival of a German officer prevented them from doing so. The prisoners were accommodated in the local café. Here once more agitated German soldiers threatened the "Gaulish terrorists" with execution. It transpired that one of their unit had been killed in the recent fight and two others were wounded. Again the presence of the doctor and the German officer saved the prisoners for worse. From Borger the French were brought over to Assen, where Usséglio received medical treatment in the hospital. Later they were transported to a POW camp in Germany.

    The French paras that got away ran into the stick Forgeat to the southeast of Schoonloo. It is not known if the sticks joined forces. Each probably continued to operate seperately. A telephone line was cut, but the men were detected by an enemy patrol and were attacked. Simon thereupon decided to lay low and on the 9th hid in the forest. On April 10th, in the forest east of Ellertshaar, contact was made with the demi-stick of Sergeant Hartmanshenn, who had become detached from the stick Forgeat. Because the area was alive with enemy patrols, Simon decided to head southwest across country and on that same day made contact with the sticks De Camaret, Varnier and Taylor who controlled the area around Elp. On the 11th the combined sticks were reached by the Belgians.

    Westdorp Stick Simon.jpg
    Map of the area between Borger - Grolloo and Schoonloo and site of the battle near Westdorp (blue circle). The dropzone of the stick Forgeat was in the wooded zone to the SW of Schoonloo - outside the map.

    Monument Westdorp.jpg
    There now is a monument dedicated to the three fallen French paras, who were killed in the firefight on 8 April: Oorlogsmonument Franse SAS Parachutisten - Westdorp - TracesOfWar.nl

    Westdorp ophaalbrug.jpg
    The small 'ophaalbrug' or drawbridge at Westdorp across the Buinen-Schoonoord Canal which was the objective of the stick Simon. The bridge was blown by the Germans on April 12th, when Polish ground forces approached from the south (photo courtesy Pen and Dagger).

    Stick Varnier:
    About the actions of Stick Varnier, which landed not far from the stick Simon, few details are known. On the 8th some of the escaped members of the Stick Simon - Cpl. Guerin, Pte. Allin and Dupuis, the latter two wounded - ended up with Varnier. The stick moved southward through the Schoonoord forest, leaving the wounded Allin and Dupuis in the care of a farming family. A German vehicle was ambushed on the way. But then Varnier likewise ran into trouble; he was attacked and had to retire. Pursued by the enemy the demi-stick of Judet became separated; they eventually joined the stick Gabaudan. The remainder of the stick was driven northward in the direction of Grolloo. During the 9th gunfire was heard in the Schoonoord forest with some regularity. In the evening, around 20:00 hours, residents of Wezuperbrug witnessed how a cornered group of paras [the demi-stick of Judet], driven out of the forest by German search parties, moved across the fields to reach a wood on the other side. The men however were discovered. One of the paras, Legras, tried to cover the retreat of his comrades and he was shot as well as Judet and Le Berrigaud (1). The residents saw four of the paras fall; hit by enemy fire, while the remainder made it to the nearby edge of the woods and disappeared. The dead bodies of three members of the stick Varnier later were found along the Oranjekanaal at Wezuperbrug. They were Sergeants Aimé Le Berrigaud, Gabriel Judet and Robert Le Grass. The fourth para, one had seen to fall, Cpl Neuwirth, escaped as by miracle. A bullet had bounced off the wallet, he was carrying (2).

    The remainder of the stick Varnier managed to stay out of the enemy's grasp. On the 9th an attempt was made to get across the Oranjekanaal south of Elp, but it ran into the enemy resistance and failed. That same day, at some point, Varnier made contact with the stick of De Camaret near Elp. By now it was evident that the enemy was retreating. On the 11th the stick was relieved by the Belgian SAS Jeeps who had crossed the Oranjekanaal at the sluice gate near Orvelte. The losses of the stick Varnier were three men killed, three wounded (Sgt. André, Cpl. Guéguen and Sgt Hentschke) who all were evacuated, and two missing in action (Cpl Nieuwirth and Cpl LeMartelot).

    Oranjekanaal monument.png
    The dead bodies of three men of the stick Varnier were later found near the Oranjekanaal at Wezuperbrug on 9 April. They were the Sergeants Aimé Le Berrigaud, Gabriel Judet and Robert Le Grass. A small plaque at the Oranjekanaal is dedicated to the three (photo courtesy HdJ).

    Stick Forgeat:
    The stick Forgeat came down some 10 kilometers south of the intended dropzone, in the forests to the SW of Schoonloo along the Schoonloo to Schoonoord road. Due to the scattered landing the stick, right from the start, was practically split up in two demi-sticks each operating separately; one led by l'Aspirant Raymond Forgeat, the other most likely by Sgt. Jean Hartmanshenn. Unfortunately, the After Action Report of the 2e RCP/4th SAS describes the actions of the stick Foregeat in a fairly general way, without specifying which demi-stick was responsible. On the evening of the 8th a German truck was ambushed on the main road. Over the next couple of days, the men patrolled the forest, constructed 'booby-traps' and laid ambushes; they probably also blew up with explosives the 25 meters high fire tower in the forestry of Schoonloo which was used by the Germans as a watchtower. Finally the stick was contacted by the Jeep Group of Nicol on 11th April. The stick had one casualty: Pte Edouard Boscher, who was wounded. More details are known of the men that gathered around Forgeat (3). On the first day of the operation, Forgeat managed to gather only four men: Lucien Richer, Raymond Chemin, Achille P.E. Muller and Guy le Citol. After a skirmish with an enemy patrol the five men made a fighting retreat across country and reached the heathland south of Ellertshaar. Much impressed by the aggressive stance of the French, an anxious enemy broke off the chase. At dusk Forgeat and his men hid in a farm shed. Here they were discovered by a farmer, next morning, who led them to the canal of Buinen-Schoonoord. Dead tired, out of ammunition and out of food they were taken care of by the Dutch skipper family Snitjer, who hid the French in their barge which was moored at the sluicegate in the canal. After two days of hiding, Snitjer escorted Forgeat and his small party to Schoonoord which was liberated by the Poles next day, April 12th (4).

    Stick Gabaudan:
    The stick of Lieutenant Gabaudan landed just to the southwest of the settlement of Schoonloo. On the first day of the operation the stick Gabaudan ambushed a German lorry on the road that left the village in an easterly direction towards Westdorp, killing five of the occupants and setting the truck afire. They got in touch with local resistance fighters and laid another ambush on the road leading south towards Schoonoord. There followed a clash with the enemy during which Gabaudan, who had been injured during the landing, went missing. L'aspirant Cassel took over command of the stick. The enemy now had opened a manhunt and was after them. On the 9th another clash took place in the wooded area called Ellertsveld, in the course of which Pte Lorain went missing. Hunted by the enemy the stick moved south towards the Oranjekanaal and took refuge in a forest, now-a-days known as Sleenerzand, hard east of Schoonoord. Here the French paras were surrounded, but taking advantage of the falling darkness managed to escape. During the night to the 10th they reached the canal and swam across, so stealthily that they were not detected by an enemy cycle patrol that was passing along the canal road at the moment of crossing. All of the paras made it savely to the far bank and hid that night in the forests south of the canal. In the course of the 10th they made contact with the Poles.

    Stick Corta:
    The stick of Lieutenant Corta (an alias for Henry Roger Courtant), dropped to the NE of Schoonloo. The stick established a base in the forest on the southern edge of the Oosterveld of Grolloo. Corta collected two wireless operators from the stick LeGrand who had dropped in the wrong place, Cpl. Hénin and Pte De Alma. In the early morning of the 8th, French paras were seen entering the township of Schoonloo along the main road, they most likely belonged to the stick Corta. Frederik Klaassens (57), who operated the local café in Schoonloo, and his son Jantinus Klaassens (23), went into the street to have a chat with the paras and offer them a cup of coffee. A surprised German soldier who passed by on a bicycle was taken prisoner. Then the paras took the road to the north and moved as far as a farm just outside the village, a place called 'De Strubben'. Here a skirmish followed in which two German soldiers riding on a motor cycle with side-car were killed. This encounter did have immediate repercussions. Within an hour a strong detachment of Feldgendarmen, about 50 strong according to Corta, with tracking dogs arrived at Grolloo and moved in the direction of Schoonloo to search for the paras. They found none, partly because they conducted only a cursory search of the woods, reluctant to probe deep into the forest out of fear for what may await them. The stick Corta nevertheless had to abandon its rucksacks, ammunition and food supplies, which were captured by the enemy.

    Later that day a horse drawn cart with the bodies of the two fallen Germans passed through Schoonloo. Klaassens and his son were summoned by the Germans to climb up on the cart, presumably to assist with the burial of the fallen soldiers; however the Germans had far less good intentions. That evening father and son Klaassens were shot behind the windmill at Schoonoord. They had been accused for having given assistance to the French paratroopers. Apparently someone had talked.

    With enemy patrols roaming around in the area, the stick Corta from 9th to 11th April kept a low profile and hid in the waste land near Ellertshaar. A farming family, called Wieringh, living in a farm a couple of hundred of meters from the hide-out, very bravely provided the French paras with food and water. In the afternoon of 11th April the Jeep Group of Betbèze got in touch with Corta and the men were relieved. The stick Corta had one man missing in action, Pte Etrich (a wireless operator).

    Klaassens grave monument.jpg
    Grave monument of Klaassens and his son at the local cemetery of Grollo: Nederlandse Oorlogsgraven Gemeentelijke Begraafplaats Grolloo - Grolloo - TracesOfWar.nl

    Klaassens and his son were not the only civilian victims in the area. On 9 April, Klaas Schepers (50) a farmer from Schoonoord, was found shot in the Schoonloo forest. It has always remained unsolved by whom he was killed. That morning the Germans had demanded a horse and carriage with a driver to collect ammunition in the forest. Klaas Schepers decided to go along. From the kitchen window his family saw him leave, that was the last time they saw him alive. It is not know what happened. Some assume he had tried to run away and was shot.

    For the details of the actions of the sticks I made use of Flamand's book, the book of Harold de Jong "Paras in Drenthe", and of the French (After Action) Report of the 2nd RCP (4th SAS) : "Rapport sur les opérations en Hollande du 2e RCP, pendant la période comprise entre 7 et 14 Avril".

    FFLAS picture.jpeg
    The French SAS paras in this picture belong to the stick Corta. The picture was taken at Ellertshaar not far from Schoonloo. On 11th April the stick was contacted by the Jeep Group of Betbèze. On the left in back row, looking away from the photographer, is 2nd Lt. Henry Coutant (alias Corta). The civilians in the photograph are the farming family of Wieringh who provided the French SAS with food while they stayed in a nearby basecamp (photo courtesy FFLSAS Bienvenue ).

    Corta 2.jpg
    The hide out of the stick Corta, a sand-pit in the waste land, not far from the Wieringh farm (photo courtesy FFLSAS https://fflsas.org/fr/event/55)

    (1) Info about demi-stick Judet, David Portier;
    (2) The story goes that the bodies were found each with feet tied together and riddled with gunshot wounds from automatic weapons fired at close-range, which led to the assumption that they had been executed by the Germans; from a diary entry of a German soldier it later transpired that these gunshot wounds were inflicted post mortem, while the bodies were dragged behind a lorry to the canal by the Germans. Harold de Jong in his YouTube presentation on Op Amherst and also recollections of Guy Le Citol,
    Mes Quatre Évasions, in "Ami Entends-tu" N° 111, 112, 114, 115, 116;
    (3) Harold de Jong, Franse paras in Drenthe.
    (4) Le Citol, ibidem, on the other hand recalls that the men were finally relieved by a SAS Jeep under De Camaret.
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2022
  10. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The 'Bois de Gieten'

    One of the more successful actions of the French SAS during Amherst took place in the Rolde - Gieten - Borger triangle. In the middle of this area lies the Staatsbos of Gieten. An extensive forested area that offered good coverage and therefore was ideal for SAS operations. By coincidence, the sticks of Captain Pierre Gramond, Lieutenant Jean Appriou, Lieutenant Michel Legrand and 2nd Lieutenant Henri Stéphan landed close aside each other. Assisted by members of the local resistance, who were alerted by mr. Pronk living in a farmhouse on the eastern edge of the forest, near a forest lake known as "Hemelrijk", the sticks soon got in touch with each other. The French decided to join forces. Commanded by Captain Gramond the combined sticks had a strength of around 60 man, which gave them sufficient punch to make the surrounding area unsafe with their actions. The Staatsbos Gieten (or as the French called it 'Bois de Gieten') was used as a patrol base. Despite the proximity of larger enemy forces concentrated at Borger and Assen, the French were relatively safe inside the woods. The Germans, much alarmed by the presence of the French paratroopers, whose strength they grossly overestimated because of the French aggressiveness, initially did not dare to enter the forest.

    Map Bois de Gieten.jpg
    1 = DZ Gramond; 2 = DZ Legrand; 3 = DZ Stéphan; 4 = DZ Appriou; A = ambush Heidehof 8/4, road Gieten - Rolde; B = ambush 11/4, road Gasselte - Borger; C = skirmish in forest 12/4; D = Pronk Farm near "Het Hemelriek"; X = French base camp; Y = French forward base camp; Z = Drop zone Typhoons extra weapon containers called for 8/4, but carried out 9/4; W = new basecamp established on the 12th.

    Captain Gramond's report gives the following details of the actions of his stick (1). Only half of the stick was present. Until 03:00 hours the men searched in vain for the containers. Gramond then decided to stop the search and get in touch with the other sticks, who he believed to have landed without mishap nearby to the north. At about 04:45 hours contact was made with part of the stick Appriou. It now dawned on him that the sticks had been dropped in the wrong place. "We were all lost and decided to wait for first light, before resuming the search for the containers", told Gramond. The search for the missing men and for the supply containers took all morning, in the course of which other stray French SAS groups were met. At 09:30 hours contact was made with Legrand and three of his men. The rest of the stick Legrand joined later. Legrand had landed far to the north of his designated Drop Zone. He had lost his radio team (Alma and Hénin, who joined the stick Corta); and with them apparently also his means of communication, since there are no known radio messages transmitted by his radio code: Amherst 306. Gramond by that time was aware of the location he had landed: "We have been dropped at least 10 kilometers from our designated DZ". Gramond at least retrieved his radio-set, since he managed to get off a first wireless message to SAS Main HQ at 11:00 hrs, reporting important road movement along the road Assen - Rolde - Gieten. At about the same time, 11:00 hours, contact was made with Stéphan and his stick. It was decided to stay together and form one battle group under command of Captain Gramond, to develop a greater combat power. The second demi-stick of Appriou, under command of Sgt Le Goff, was still missing and search parties were sent out to look for them.

    Captain Gramond's force was short of Bren guns; of the eight weapon containers that had been dropped, each containing one Bren gun, only two had been retrieved. In his first message to Main SAS HQ at 09:30 hrs on April 8th, Captain Gramond therefore requested a resupply by air of six Brens, ammunition for the guns and two PIATs, to be dropped that evening on a 'Drop Zone P', located to the south of the 'Bois de Gieten'. The French paras would make three signal fires in line and a fire signal forming the letter R. However the drop for the 8th was cancelled owing to the weather; low clouds prevented an air resupply. Weapons and ammunition were delivered the following evening, on the 9th.

    In the afternoon, based on information of a Dutch civilian who told Gramond there were Germans in Gieten, a recce under Lieutenant Appriou was conducted in the direction of the village. The information appeared to be correct, but the Germans were too strong. In a clash with an enemy patrol, in an area called Zuider Esch, two Germans were killed and papers were captured. Appriou disengaged and returned to the base. On arrival at the bivouac, Lt Appriou, to his great relief, saw that the Le Goff and his demi-stick had joined up. It transpired that during the jump from the plane Le Goff had caused a short hold-up when part of his outfit snagged behind something, with the result that he and the rest of his demi-stick behind him jumped seconds later and landed much further away in the woods.

    Amherst mess Grammond No 1.jpg
    A first message transmitted at 09:30 hrs by Gramond requesting for a resupply of weapons and ammunition; note that radio messages from the Bois de Gieten (sticks under Gramond) made alternate use of call-sign AMHERST 206 (Gramond) and AMHERST 406 (Appriou), which indicates that the group had two radio W/T-sets at its disposal (Ops Log Main SAS HQ, serial 796)

    08.04 air resupply on 8th not poss Gramond.jpg
    That same afternoon Gramond received a message that the requested air resupply could not take place on the evening of the 8th owing to the weather (Ops Log Main SAS HQ, serial 807).

    09.04 air resupply on 9th request.jpg
    The request was repeated next day at 11:00 hrs; note that the requested number of Brens is reduced, which might indicate that some of the weapon containers, still lost on the 8th, had been retrieved in the meantime (Ops Log Main SAS HQ, serial 871)

    09.04 air resupply on 9th request 2.jpg
    That afternoon a message was sent to Gramond confirming his request (Ops Log Main SAS HQ, serial 898)

    Paras in Gasselte_0002.jpg
    A group of French SAS paras in the Bois de Gieten. From left to right; back row, L/Cpl Lalisse, Captain Paul de Gramond (with cigarette); front row: 2nd Lt Guy Merlo, Sgt. Louis le Goff, who had bumped his head against the jumping hatch while exiting the plane, and Sgt. Georges Briand. The latter would be saved by his wallet that bounced off a bullet in the action at Gasselte (photo courtesy JvdWalle).

    Paras in Gasselte_0008.jpg
    A rare image of French paras in the Bois de Gieten. The Germans, apprehensive of the strength of the French paratroopers, which they grossly overestimated because of the French boldness, did not dare to enter the forest. This attitude changed later on. By April 12th Gramond reported that the enemy was watching dangerously close (Photo courtesy JvdWalle).

    Captain Gramond established two bivouacs inside the 'Bois de Gieten', one near the eastern edge of the forest and another deeper inside. From these basecamps the paras over the next couple of days conducted their operations. They successfully laid ambushes along the surrounding roads, though a first attempt by the joint sticks on the evening of 8 to 9 April ended in failure. Since important road movement in an easterly direction had been observed along the road Rolde - Gieten during the day, it was decided to place an ambushes on the Rolde - Gieten road, along which lay a local tramway line connecting both villages. That night the combined sticks moved out to interdict the road on either side of the small tramline station, called "Eekster Halte". The mission to blow up the tramline near the station was given to the second demi-stick of the stick Legrand, under Sergeant Lesné. Next to the road was a detached house, known as "De Heidehof". Sgt. Lesné moved forward with another member of his demi-stick to recce the premises, but as they approached the building they were suddenly fired at from an upper window. Sergeant Lesné was killed instantly. Now that the enemy had been alerted, the action of the other sticks was called off. Later, in the early morning of April 9, a more successful ambush was laid along the road of Gieten - Gasselte. It yielded the first prisoners, a group of five soldiers who were on their way to report for sick roll. The prisoners were taken back to the bivouac deep inside the forest. That afternoon a most successful hit and run attack was conducted against the village of Gasselte which yielded a large batch of prisoners (the action is discussed in some length in the posts below). On the 10th, an ambush was laid during daytime along the Rolde - Gieten road, at the Eeksterveld. During this action another three prisoners were taken, while one vehicle was destroyed. To the embarrassment of the French, it turned out to be a Red Cross vehicle. The prisoners, a medical officer and two members of the Feldgendarmerie (military police), were brought back to the bivouac. This was not the only feat of that day. The SAS kept actively patrolling inside the forest and along the Gieten - Rolde road. Later that afternoon Captain Gramond signaled to main HQ SAS that the operations of that day resulted in a total of three enemy vehicles destroyed and two vehicles captured, as well as 11 POWs taken. The French had no casualties.

    In the early morning of the 11th the stick Legrand moved out to lay an ambush along the Gasselte - Borger road. As the French paras approached the road, they encountered a German detachment that immediately opened fire. There followed a firefight in which five Germans were captured. Then another group of German soldiers moving down the road from the opposite direction, from Borger, ran into the fight and opened fire on their own troops. While the French slipped away unseen and returned to their base without further mishap, taking the five POW's with them, the two German detachments continued their 'red-on-red' engagement for quite some time.

    The French kept the surrounding villages under constant surveillance. In the morning of the 12th they reported an enemy detail of 150 men at Gasselte. They also reported a number of enemy lorries parked against the southern wall of the meat factory at Gieten. The trucks were later attacked by fighter bombers. However, by mid-morning of April 12th, Gramond sent a message to Main SAS HQ, which showed that he was growing apprehensive. He signaled that he had decided to call a halt to all operations and lay up: after five days of continuous action the men were pretty much worn out and the net was gradually closing around him, the enemy was getting dangerously close. A new basecamp had been established deeper inside the forest. It was occupied by the sticks of Legrand, Appriou and Gramond. The stick Stéphan had a separate bivouac. That afternoon a patrol, composed of part of the stick Gramond, moved out to Gasselte, but it clashed with the enemy not far from the spot of the former forward base-camp.

    Amherst Grammond lay low 12 April.jpg
    The wireless message of Gramond, using call-sign 206) at 10:00 hrs on the 12th, in which he informed Main SAS HQ that the sticks would lay low; it also reports the crash of a fighter bomber. Actually a Typhoon which made an emergency landing near the Gieterweg at Gasselte (Ops Log Main SAS HQ, serial 141).

    Lesne monument.jpg 36223734_2067976916810981_4600097891720101888_o.jpg
    Left: Near the spot where he has been killed a small monument commemorates Sergeant Guy Jean Lesné (photo courtesy Pen and Dagger). Right: Picture of the stick Legrand in the Bois de Gieten. The French paras initially could move around almost undisturbed in the forest and even found time to pose for a group photo like this one. Note the soldiers to the far left and in the center, they have fitted their red berets with a camouflage netting. The second one to the left in the front row has a torn trouser leg (picture courtesy André Jans: French sas).

    wireless transmitter.jpg
    A section of wireless operators in the Bois de Gieten. Eight wireless sets were dropped in Operation Amherst (each battalion had four sets; one for each Coy and one in HQ Coy). The wireless operators had to permanently ensure that connections were kept open and therefore did not take part in the fighting. The power for the transmitting equipment was generated manually with a dynamo. The soldier in the center with the cigarette is operating the dynamo. Messages were transferred in morse-code to main SAS HQ in England who relayed the wireless messages back to First Canadian Army, making the Radio Logs of both these HQ's an invaluable source for Op Amherst. Some of the recorded messages are presented in this thread. Each stick carried a small receiver capable of receiving encrypted messages broadcast by the BBC. Each stick had its own code.

    Story - my paraphrase - 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.

    (1) Report contained in Col. Louis Mairet, "Histoires des parachutists".
    (2) Later identified by Kroezenga as René Streichen, a member of the stick Legrand.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2023
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  11. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Attack on Gasselte, April 9th (1)

    At the beginning of October 1944, a detachment of the Nationalsozalistisch Kraftfahrkorps (NSKK) was stationed in the small village of Gasselte. It consisted of Dutch volunteers who, as drivers, carried out transports for the German Wehrmacht. Only the commanding officer, Obersturmführer Klaus, an somewhat elderly gentleman, was a German. The headquarters of the detachment was located in the local vicarage. For the accommodation of the staff, rooms were requisitioned in a nearby double house and the local school building. The men were billeted in a farm opposite the NSKK HQ. In the vicinity of the vicarage and the school, barns were requisitioned for accommodating the unit's vehicle park, which consisted of a mixed bag of seized civilian trucks, all of which were equipped with wood gas generators due to gas shortages. Because of their cooperation with the occupying forces the NSKK-men were regarded by the locals as traitors. The relationship with the inhabitants was further strained by the authoritarian behavior of the NSKK-men. The information of the presence of the NSKK headquarters in Gasselte was quickly passed on to the French paras by the local resistance.

    The French immediately made plans to take out the NSKK-headquarters in the vicarage. It was decided to carry out a hit and run attack with three sticks at noon on April 9th, in the hope that the Germans would not expect an attack around lunchtime and therefore would be less attentive. Based on the detailed information provided by the resistance a plan of attack was drawn up. At the entrance of the village the demi-stick led by Albert Bacuez, part of the stick Gramond, would keep the village's east-west road, known as Lutkenend, covered with a Brengun, to interdict any enemy movement on the road. Bacuez thus also would provide a base from which the attack was and protect the rear of the SAS force. The stick of Lieutenant Appriou would move forward along the north side of the Lutkenend road and head for the vicarage. At the same time, the stick Legrand was to cover the right flank by moving through the gardens of the houses on the south side of the road, clear out any enemy soldiers inside those buildings and attack the enemy headquarters from the rear. Meanwhile the other demi-stick of De Gramond would make a wider outflanking movement south of the road in order to cut off the main street, or Dorpsstraat, further to the east and face any enemy reinforcements sent in from that direction.

    Paras in Gasselte_0011.jpg
    While the officers go through the plan of attack for a last time, the French paras wait at Pronk's barn for the signal to leave. The attack would be carried out in broad daylight (photo courtesy JvdWalle).

    Map of Gasselte and plan of attack:

    Gasselte Map Appriou.jpg
    1 = Bacuez covering Lutkenend (2nd demi-stick Gramond); 2= stick Appriou; 3 = Le Goff (stick Appriou); 4 = stick Legrand ; 5 = Gramond (1st demi-stick).
    a = Vicarage with NSKK HQ; b = double house with NSKK staff; c = Farm with NSKK men; d = Church; e = School

    Gasselte 3.jpg
    Aerial of Gasselte (Courtesy: Google Maps)

    (1) I based my description of the attack on Gasselte on the post-war account of Appriou, which differs slightly from the version given by Flamand in his book.
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2022
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  12. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The force that would carry out the attack, about 40 men in all, gathered at the barn of the Pronk farm on the eastern edge of the 'Bois de Gieten'. When the time for the operation had come, they moved out against Gasselte, accompanied by guides of the local resistance. The approach march was long. The sticks took turns serving as scout. Though it was daytime the edge of the village was reached without incident. The village was quiet. An unsuspecting enemy soldier peacefully crossed the street without noticing them.

    The operation unfolded according to plan. Leaving Albert Bacuez and his demi-stick with a Brengun in position to cover the main road at the entrance of the village, the three sticks moved forward, first slowly and cautiously, then almost at a trot. As Lieutenant Appriou approached the vicarage, he hesitated to launch the attack. His men had to cross an open lawn to get to the building. He gestured Sgt Le Goff to move around the left hand side of the building and scout the backside. As soon as Le Goff set out, they were fired at from the vicarage. The French paras had been discovered. According to Appriou, it looked like fire was pouring out of "all the openings of the building". At the rear of the house a machine gun opened up. The stick quickly returned the fire with volley after volley, but the effect was practically nil; the enemy were difficult to hit because they only fired short bursts and quickly took cover. The men of Appriou were at a disadvantage, they were caught in relatively open terrain, each hiding at the base of a tree that surrounded the yard. Soon one of them, Corporal Bégue, was hit. Appriou: "Nearby, Corporal Begue suddenly let out a cry. A bullet had hit him in the throat. Although he was close, it was impossible to come to his aid because of the enemy fire and he died shortly after". Then Sergeant Briand signaled that he also was hit. But Briand was lucky. The bullet that hit him got stuck in the wallet he carried in the inside pocket of his battledress. Appriou: " We couldn't move forward or back. I noticed that Legrand was himself strongly engaged on my right at that moment, so we could not expect any help from his side".

    Lutkenend Pastorie.jpg
    Lutkenend, the small road running in front of the vicarage, which is the building to the right. This is about the spot where Legrand arrived and opened fire on the NSKK headquarters. View in the direction from where the Stick of Appriou approached. They moved along the right side of the road. The open lawn that he and his men had to cross is clearly visible (Photo courtesy Google Street View)


    The situation was not as bleak as Appriou thought. The stick Legrand, advancing under cover of the buildings on the south side of the road, had arrived at the front of the vicarage, where it opened up on the command post, which now was under fire from two sides. The returning fire of Appriou's men finally had results. The NSKK-soldier with the machine gun at the rear end of the building was knocked out and this enabled Le Goff and a few others to circle around the building. Covered by the fire of Le Goff, Ptes Goudivèze and Urbain, crawled up to the building in a blind spot and threw hand grenades through the windows. Black smoke appeared from inside the building. The NSKK soldiers had had enough. They quit firing and with hands held high above their heads, emerged from the backdoor and surrendered to the men of Legrand. The action was short-lived and all together lasted only half an hour (1).

    Elsewhere in the village there was great consternation among the remaining members of the NSKK-detachment. The men panicked and fled here and there, some unsuccessfully tried to get hold of civilian clothes. Most of them were caught by the paras; probably the men of the 1st demi-stick under Gramond who had circled around the south to cut the Dorpsstraat, the road that is an extension of the Lutkenend road. Unfortunately one managed to escape on a motor-cycle. The number of casualties inflicted by the French was not counted. At least two NSKK-ers had been killed (2). Two officers, Obersturmführer Klaus and Untersturmführer Van der Bent, the latter a Dutchman, and about 15 NSKK-men were captured. The prisoners were marched off on the double to the basecamp in the forest, hands above their heads. A German staff car left behind in front of the vicarage was used to transport the fallen Bégue and an amount of captured documents back to the 'Bois de Gieten'. A captured truck, parked in the road near the NSKK HQ, loaded with provisions was left behind for the civilians. Back at the basecamp the prisoners were tied up with parachute cord, with the exception of the officers, who had pledged that they would not try to escape. They kept their word. Probably also persuaded by the French promise that in the event of escape the remaining prisoners would be shot, as this would force the paras to change locations, in which case the prisoners would become too great a burden.

    2nd Lt Stéphan, who had laid an ambush on the road south of Gasselte, returned to the base-camp by late afternoon brought along a few POWs as well, though he had not been able to intercept any vehicles as there was no traffic on the road that afternoon. The number of POWs had been gradually rising and now approached 30 men. Captain Gramond realized that his rations were insufficient to provide for his men and the prisoners. There also was a shortage of ammunition. Gramond radioed a request for an air re-supply of both. Next day, April 10th, two Typhoons successfully dropped four supply containers filled with ammunition, weapons in the form of two PIATs and two Bren guns, medicines and rations. This feat did much to dampen the morale of the POW Officers who, as it turned out from conversations with them, up till then still were convinced that they would somehow win the war!

    09.04 action report Gamond.jpg
    In the afternoon of the 9th, at 17:00 hrs, Gramond sent an action report to SAS Main HQ for the 8th and 9th April; unfortunately the message was incomplete, the first part was missing (Ops Log SAS Main HQ, serial 60)

    Amherst 406 barbed wire.jpg
    In a message sent in the morning of 11 April, Captain Gramond asked for barbed wire, to set up a POW cage. Though probably not a serious request, it illustrates the burden of the large group of prisoners. The number of POWs was steadily growing. On the 10th, the day after the attack on Gasselte, 15 more POW's had been taken according to the report of Gramond; the tally now stood at about 45 POWs. The message erroneously mentions April 8th as date for the dropping; the actual dropping took place on the 9th (Ops Log SAS Main HQ, serial 60).

    stick_appriou_1211.jpg jean_appriou_117.jpg goudiveze_et_urbain_474.jpg
    Left: French paras of the stick Appriou in the 'Bois de Gieten' ready to move out for the attack on Gasselte. Third from the left is Cpl Bégue who would fall in the action. Center: 1st Lt Jean Appriou. Right: Privates L. Goudivèze and M. Urbain at the bivouac in the 'Bois de Gieten'; both men moved up to the wall of the vicarage and lobbed handgrenades into the building (photos courtesy: http://fflsas.org/index.php?option=com_fflsas_user&view=image_browser&lang=EN)

    German.jpg
    With hands above their heads the NSKK prisoners and their German officers (front left Obersturmführer Klaus, front right Untersturmführer Van der Bent) are marched off by French paras towards the bivouac in the Bois de Gieten. Prisoners were a serious handicap for the paratroopers: guarding them was at the expense of combat power, they cost rations and it also decreased mobility (Photo courtesy Jan vd Walle).

    German_0001.jpg
    Two members of the French paras carried cameras with them, Victor Stephan and Jean Troller. This resulted in a unique series of photographs of the actions in and around the 'Bois de Gieten'. Most of these can be found in the link below. The picture above is one of these: At the bivouac deep inside the Bois de Gieten the POWs taken in the attack against Gasselte are tied together with parachute cord by the French SAS men. In the middle Obersturmführer Klaus. Behind the French paras part of the captured German staff car is visible, with which the body of Cpl Begué was taken back to the bivouac. Begué was given a temporary burial in the forest (Photo above and below courtesy Jan vd Walle).

    German_0003.jpg

    For a pictorial impression of the SAS action see (section Gasselte): Battlefield Tour Operation Amherst


    Typhoon Colton45.jpg
    Some of the Hawker Typhoons could be fitted with extra fuel tanks for long range flying. These same devices probably were used to attach the supply containers. A novel deployment for these fighter bombers in a supply dropping role. The loading facility was at the expense of the armament. The plane carried only two missiles under each wing, instead of the usual four.

    (1) Kroezenga, "De boot is omgeslagen", gives a slightly different version of the action. Goudivèze and Urbain, decided to go for the window from where the machine gun was firing. With handgrenades at the ready both men crawled slowly along the gable of the house. As they approached the window the gun suddenly fell silent. The gunner had been hit and mortally wounded by the covering fire. Before they could hurl the grenades, the enemy scurried out of the back side of the building only to be taken POW by the men of Legrand.

    (2) Kroezenga reports that the French SAS paras, tipped by the locals, dragged one fully armed NSKK-soldier out of the cellar of one of the houses where he had been attempting to hide. Though he surrendered without resistance, he was taken into the street and shot by the French. He also mentions - citing Gildas Calvez - that a total of three NSKK-men were killed in the fight, while one later succumbed to his injuries.
     
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2023
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  13. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Gasselte aftermath:

    In the mistaken belief that they had been liberated the residents of Gasselte started to plunder the inventory of the NSKK headquarters. Typewriters, stationery, furniture and everything else that somehow was useful was taken from the Presbytery. This thoughtless action caused major problems. At 17:00 hours a strong force of Germans, from the direction of Gasselternijeveen, entered the village to occupy it again. Two NSKK men, who all the time had hidden in the basement of the HQ building, had witnessed the looting and reported it to the German commander. They also accused the locals of having kicked the wounded machine gunner lying defenseless on the ground in the vicar's house.

    Enraged the Germans rounded up all the residents of Gasselte in the play ground of the local school, male and female, a number of 300 in all. The women were released after a while. But the men were driven towards the church and locked up inside the building. The Germans were threatening to kill them all by throwing hand grenades into the building. Luckily the NSB-mayor, a man named Tuin, interfered and dissuaded the German commander, Hauptmann Willke, from carrying out this unholy plan. On the mayors pleas, the aggrieved Willke decided to change his plan and punish the village by shooting every tenth prisoner. Mayor Tuin, however, managed to convince him that this measure also was too harsh, since there actually was only a handful of culprits and he would ask them to turn themselves in. Sixteen men did turn themselves in and plead guilty. Apparently satisfied Hauptmann Willke thereupon set the other prisoners free. The sixteen were led to Borger and later to Gieten, where they, standing to the ankles in brine, had to spend the night in a refrigerated carriage in the local railway yard. If it were not by chance that one of them had knowledge of the ventilation system of these carriages, all would have suffocated from lack of oxygen. Now they arrived alive in Assen the next day, where they were locked up in the local prison until being liberated by the Canadians on 13 April.

    Monument Begue Gasselte.jpg
    In front of the old Presbytery a small monument commemorates the fallen Sergeant Begué who stemmed from the island of Madagascar.

    Witte Kerkje Gasselte.jpg
    The small Protestant Church in Gasselte situated next to the Presbytery was the site of a near-drama which due to the intervention of the NSB-Mayor ended well for the residents of Gasselte.

    Story - my paraphrase - 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; and J. Kroezenga, "De boot is omgeslagen, de laatste dagen van de tweede wereldoorlog in Gasselte".
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2022
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  14. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Borger Liberated by the Poles (10 - 13 April 1945)

    The area of Borger - Gieten had to be cleared by the left flank elements of the 1st Polish Armoured Division. On the 10th the Polish Armoured Division forced a passage of the Oranjekanaal at Noordbarge and took the town of Emmen to the NE of it. Next day, the 11th, the Polish Armoured Division proceeded to the northeast towards Ter Apel on the Dutch/German border, which was reached by the evening of the 11th. The Division was preceded by the recce squadrons of the 10th Mounted Rifles (or 10 pułk strzelców konnych (PSK)) under Major Jerzy Wasilewski. An armoured recce regiment equipped with Cromwell tanks. Wasilewski diverted one of his squadrons (1st Sqn) towards the north to cover the left flank of the Polish advance. The 1st Sqn scouted towards the villages of Odoorn and Exloo, but just short of Odoorn ran into enemy road blocks and mines and was held up. After some fighting the enemy opposition was overcome and both villages were taken in the afternoon, over 100 Germans were taken prisoner.

    Attack Poles Borger.jpg

    On 12 April the 3rd Sqn of the Mounted Rifles, reinforced by elements of the 10th Dragoon Regiment (10 pułk dragonów), a motorized infantry battalion of the 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade, continued to the north and cleared the area up to the Buinen - Schoonoord Canal near Borger. The units moved forward along three axes, each taken by a platoon of Cromwells and a platoon of infantry. The left axis ran from Odoorn over Esergroen along the canal towards Westdorp; the central axis followed the main Odoorn-Borger road; and the right axis ran along the railway line from Exloo to Buinen. Each column encountered enemy, who quickly fell back behind the Buinen-Schoonoord Canal. At Westdorp and Borger the bridges across the canal were blown as the Poles approached.

    Borger Polen.jpg

    At Borger the Poles made an attempt to cross the canal. Covered by fire from three Cromwell tanks the infantry of the Dragoons moved forward in carriers to the site of the destroyed bridge. Some fearless men crawled over the twisted remains to the other side of the canal. A few small groups of Dragoons followed suit and together they established a tiny bridgehead on the far bank. The German opposition however was too strong. The German defense was backed up by three artillery pieces (mortars?) which fired from within the village. One carrier was knocked out and several men were injured. Soon it turned out that the bridgehead could not hold on. Under cover of a smokescreen laid by the Cromwells, the Dragoons with their wounded comrades returned back to safety. One Polish soldier was killed in the attack.

    Polish Carrier Eesbrug.jpg
    April 12th, 1945, at the Eesen Bridge, to the south of Borger. A Polish Lloyds carrier of the 10th Regiment Dragoons was destroyed by the German AT-gun. The ammunition in the carrier exploded, killing Corporal Kowalski.

    In the meantime the neighboring village of Buinen, close to the east of Borger, had been taken by the Poles. Here enemy resistance, which consisted of machinegun fire, was quickly overcome. In this attack another Polish soldier, Pte Stanislaw Bieliniec, was killed. The German defenders of Borger had had enough. Though they had repulsed the attempt of the Dragoons to cross the canal, they were intimidated by the roar of the battle from Buinen and hastily abandoned the village of Borger on stolen bikes. By late afternoon the Poles, who had been informed by local residents of the hasty Germans departure, entered Borger without meeting further opposition. Five of the enemy had been killed in the engagement, an unknown number wounded.

    However, as far as first contact with the French in the 'Bois de Gieten' is concerned, the Poles were beaten by the fast moving reconnaissance elements of the Canadian 8th Recce Regiment, which swept in from the west, from the direction of Rolde. First contact with Gramond was made by the Canadian Recce elements at some point in the afternoon of the 12th. The link-up came nothing too soon. By mid-morning of April 12th, Captain Gramond had signaled that he had decided to stop all operations and lay up. His men were pretty much exhausted and the net was gradually closing around them. Though he did not have serious concerns. From the sounds of battle in the south it was evident that the ground forces were approaching; in the course of the 12th huge explosions were heard, as the bridges at Borger were blown up. In the evening, weary German soldiers passed through Gasselte on foot fleeing to the north.

    On the 13th, the French SAS paras of the sticks Gramond, Legrand, Stéphan and Appriou, together with their POWs, which now numbered 45, were evacuated by the Canadians to the village of Rolde, in the Canadian sector, whence they were transferred to Coevorden where Col. Prendergast had established his Tactical Special Forces HQ.


    Mess Polish Arm 122210.jpg
    A Phantom message from the 1st Polish Armoured Division, sent in the evening of the 12th, revealing the imminent relief of the French paras at the Bois de Gieten. It mentions a number of ninety paras.

    (Story courtesy Harde strijd om Borger - vereniging 1e poolse pantser divisie nederland)

    Buinen Polish Monument.jpg Evacuatie SAS paras.jpg
    Left: After the war a monument was placed at Buinen for the fallen Pte Stanislaw Bieliniec. See for the location: Pools Monument Buinen - Buinen - TracesOfWar.nl Right: Seated on top of Canadian Bren Carriers and Jeeps the French paras are evacuated from the Bois de Gieten.

    Gieten 2.jpg
    Men of the stick Legrand board one of the Brencarriers that is to take them back to Rolde. Obviously the German officers have lost their caps … the French para seated on the carrier put one on his head, the para on the extreme left has a cap clutched under his arm (picture courtesy Boersma)

    Paras in Gasselte_0010.jpg
    French SAS paras of the stick Gramond in Rolde. On the left Stanislas Fras; the fourth man from the left Sgt Roger Fuzeau, who fractured his jaw during the jump; on the extreme right Marcel Legendre. The names of the others are not known (photo courtesy JvdWalle).
     
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2023
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  15. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    ZONE E Smilde - Appelscha - Diever - Haulerwijk

    Zone E contained the Drop Zones 15 and 16 which were assigned to the 2nd Coy of the 3rd RCP/3rd SAS. The mission of this unit was to secure crossings over the Drentsche Hoofdvaart and its western side canal the Appelschaster Vaart and interdict traffic on the main road following the former waterway. Two sticks, that were wrongly dropped, one belonging to the 1st Coy of the 3rd SAS (stick Boiteux), landed to the east side of the Drentsche Hoofdvaart. Both were active along the Drentsche Hoofdvaart and its eastern branch of the Oranje Kanaal.

    Map Zone E Appelscha Diever.jpg

    - The Stirling with Chalk no 7 (Stick Lagèze) is the only plane that did not take off on the 7th due to engine troubles. The Stick Lagèze was dropped on the second night of the operation (8/9 April) near Smilde;
    - The Stirling with Chalk no. 44 took off from Dunmow airfield and dropped its stick between 22:30 and 23:00 hours;
    - The Stirlings with Chalk nos. 49 and 50 took off from Dunmow and dropped their loads between 22:30 and 23:00 hours, while chalk no. 51 used Shepherds Grove airfield and dropped its load between 23:00 and 23:30; each Stirling also carried 8 simulators;
    - The planes with Chalk nos. 52, 53 and 54 took off from Sherpherds Grove and dropped their men between 23:00 and 23:30.

    Report of Brigadier Calvert:

    Calvert Zone E.jpg
     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2022
  16. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Stick Boiteux - Aardappelmeelfabriek Oranje

    I will first deal with the two sticks that landed on the east side of the Drentsche Hoofdvaart (aka Smilder Vaart), the main canal that runs in a SW - NE direction straight through the province of Drenthe and connects Meppel with Assen. These were the sticks of Boiteux and Lagèze.

    The Stick Boiteux was unlucky. The paras were dropped far from the intended DZ and retrieved their containers only after a long search, thereby assisted by local residents. One of the supply containers with food had burst open upon landing and the weapons in the others were still thickly greased and not immediately usable.

    The terrain was bare and flat without any cover. To the south movement was restricted by the the Beilervaart which ran from west to east connecting Hoogersmilde with Beilen. To the north and almost parallel to the Beilervaart ran another barge canal: the Oranjekanaal. A large factory building - the cooperative potato-flour factory - protruded on the northern bank of this canal. Around it were modest worker houses build in single files along both banks of the canal. Factory and houses together formed the small village of Oranje. A drawbridge near the factory entrance connected both halves of the township. The French paras initially gathered at a farm and after having established a bivouac in a slight depression in one of the open fields which gave some visual cover, decided to explore the bridges across the Beilervaart and the Oranjekanaal. Two three men patrols were sent to the crossings of the Beilervaart at Tol and Nijenstate. These bridges were found undefended and intact.

    The bridge across the Oranjekanaal at Oranje was a different matter. On approaching the site, the local residents warned the French that a German detachment was stationed at the factory. It was decided to commit half a stick to test the bridge defense and, if possible, to remove the explosives from the bridge, which would no doubt be there. Around noon on April 8th, two groups of paras sneaked up to the Oranjekanaal. A group of three men led by Philippe Paris took up position on the left to provide flank cover. The other group - five men strong - led by 1st Sergeant Julliard, headed directly for the bridge itself, but before they reached it they were detected and a firefight broke out. The German resistance turned out to be too strong. Unseen, a group of German soldiers crossed the canal further to the west with a boat and surprised the French in the flank. Unable to retreat five of the French paras, some of them wounded, were captured. Those that managed to get away, fled back to the bivouac with the Germans hot on their heels. The position now had been entirely compromised and the bivouac was abandoned. Eventually the paras were hidden by a farmer in a barn, where he had constructed a secret hide-out inside a haystack. A courageous Sergeant Julliard sacrificed himself. He continued to fire at the German pursuers until he was captured, but thus distracted them from the rest inside the farm. After the Germans had ceased their search for the remaining parachutists, the French used the hiding place as a new base, until the Allied ground troops reached the area. Unfortunately no further information is known about the operations in this area.

    It is not recorded if the paras managed to remove the explosives on the bridge over the Oranjekanaal at Oranje. Probably not, since the Germans blew the bridge the next day.

    Aardappelmeelfabriek Oranje.jpg
    The potato-flour factory of Oranje as it appeared in the 1930's.

    Oranje fabriek.jpg
    The factory completely burned down when Canadian tanks took the building under fire during the battle for Beilen, that took place on 12 April 1945 (2nd Cdn Inf Div).
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2022
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  17. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Stick Lagèze at Smilde

    Operation Amherst did not get off to the best of starts for Stick Lagèze. The Stirling bomber carrying the stick failed to take off on the evening of 7 April due to engine troubles. As it turned out that the technical problems could not be solved with hastily performed repairs the men were transferred to a reserve plane, but it was already well past midnight, too late to take off. The flight therefore was delayed until the following night. Jacques Buchart, one of the stick, later described his feelings: "One by one we have to get out of the plane again, rigged like mules we have to descend that ladder on foot, the absolute low point for a paratrooper". Instead of jumping over Holland the disappointed paras found themselves laying on the floor of one of the hangars of Dumow airfield, awaiting the night and trying to get some sleep with their parachute packs as a pillow.

    Next night, April 8/9, the stick was flown to Holland and jumped near Smilde. Two men were lost in jumping accidents. One of the stick - by the name of Guyon - broke his leg upon landing. In early morning he was handed over to Dutch civilians who loaded him on a handcart and hid him in a farm, where he was taken care of by the local doctor. From the information obtained from these civilians, Lagèze learned that he had been dropped some nine miles to the south-southwest from the designated drop zone (1).

    A second member of the stick - Sergeant Jean Marie Ravenel - was killed; his parachute got entangled with a supply container and he fell to his death. His lifeless body was wrapped in his parachute by his mates and was hidden under some bushes not far from the drop zone. His death probably was caused by an error on the part of the air dispatcher, who should have held up the ninth man in the stick for a single second, to enable the release of the supply containers which were attached to the wings of the plane.

    9614608cb03b094533350881e55f48ce67f02e6d355aedee26af941a1e2534e9 aa.jpg
    Men and supply containers were dropped from the same planes; the containers were dropped halfway through the stick, after the first half of the men had jumped, to ensure that the containers landed in the center of the area where the paras came down. Sergeant Ravenel was the ninth men in the row and probably jumped simultaneously with the last container that had been released. Below: Ravenel now rests in a combined War Grave at the Local Cemetery of Smilde (photo courtesy Nederlandse Oorlogsgraven Smilde - Smilde - TracesOfWar.nl)

    Grave of Ravanel Smilde.jpg Grave of Ravanel Smilde 2.jpg

    stick_lageze enlarged.jpg
    Picture of the stick Lagèze before boarding the Stirling ; Lagèze, without headgear, is kneeling in the center of the picture (photo courtesy https://fflsas.org/fr/event/57)

    (1) The stick Lagèze was a Jeep group. Initially Lagèze was designated DZ 3, between Elp and Hooghalen; for the night of 8/9 he was to jump north of Assen at DZ 26 located halfway between Norg and Donderen.
     
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2022
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  18. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Smilde: Veenhoopsbrug - or Voortman's bridge

    Despite this inauspicious start the Stick Lagèze immediately went into action. After the evacuaion of the wounded Guyon, he established a bivouac in a small wooden holiday cabin, near a small forest ven to the east of Smilde. Here Lagèze was made aware of the existance of the Veenhoopsbridge at the southern end of Smilde by Jan Voortman, a farmer's son who lived with his parents in the farm opposite the bridge. It was a small switch bridge which was still intact, though it had been prepared for demolition. The bridge was weakly held, Voortman assured the French. A small detachment of only six men was stationed at the bridge. Persuaded by the enthusiastic Voortman, Lagèze decided to move against the bridge the next day and asked Voortman to return next morning.

    Smilde.jpg
    The small holiday cabin near Smilde which served as base of operations for the stick of Lagèze.

    First Lagèze wanted to explore towards the canal of the Drentsche Hoofdvaart. The stick had dropped some 500 meters east of the canal and during the course of the night had heard the sound of traffic moving along the road; enemy columns retreating to Assen. That afternoon Lagèze, with four of his men, making use of the many ditches, crept unseen through the open landscape towards the Drentsche Hoofdvaart along which ran the main road Meppel - Assen, at the time an important main traffic artery. At the canal they ambushed an enemy column moving in horse carts on the secondary road on the opposite bank, inflicting several casualties among the enemy soldiers and shooting up several horse carts. Before the enemy could respond the French retired to their hideout (1).

    Lagèze decided to attack the Veenhoopsbridge in the afternoon of the 10th. That morning, during a reconnaissance of the route to Smilde, he personally intercepted one of the bridge sentries, a NCO who, alarmed by the firefight of the previous afternoon, he was on his way on his bike to Hooghalen to get reinforcements. When challenged by Lagèze the German grabbed his gun instead of raising his hands and was shot. This left the detachment at the bridge with only five men. In early afternoon the stick Lagèze set off from their hideout at the forest ven. It was agreed with Jan Voortman that he would meet them from Smilde to guide them further to the bridge. Jan Voortman, accompanied by his father, met the French halfway the village and guided them to the bridge unseen. The enemy sentries were quickly disposed of, one soldier was killed the others were taken prisoner. Jan Voortman volunteered to remove the explosives attached to the bridge. Using a wooden beam which was placed across the bridge's side supports, he started to remove the charges from under it. One of the SAS para's, Jaques Buchart, assisted him (2). In all 24 charges were removed and thrown into the water. After having 'deloused' the bridge, the French paras retired to the bivouac, taking the four POWs with them.

    In the course of the 11th an enemy party accompanied by German pioneers, some 50 to 60 men strong, arrived at the 'Oude Veenhoop' café opposite the bridge. While the infantry set up sentries around the bridge, the pioneers again put explosives to the structure. Warned by Jan Voortman, Lagèze, decided to return with his stick to the bridge after dark that evening. Two men had to be left behind to guard the POWs, which reduced Lagèze's force to only 10 men. This time the Germans were on the alert and greeted the French with heavy machinegun and rifle fire. Though outnumbered the audacious French paras decided to engage the enemy garrison. A long drawn firefight ensued, which lasted two hours and ultimately was broken off by the French, but not after they had destroyed a machinegun nest, which had been established on the first floor of the Oude Veenhoop café, with a bazooka; a weapon probably obtained from the local resistance group. Three POWs were taken; according to Jacques Buchart they were very young soldiers. The casualties sustained by the Germans were unknown but they lost several men wounded. The French, who had no losses, retired to the bivouac, bringing the three POWs with them.

    Next morning, April 12th, German pioneers returned to finish their job on the bridge by wiring the charges. With growing anxiety, Jan Voortman watched the scene secretly from the front room of his parent's house; fully aware of the fact that the house would be severely damaged when the bridge was blown. Yet, it looked as if the job did not go smoothly. The pioneers were struggling with the firing leads. They were under a lot of stress and constantly quarreling with each other. Much to Voortman's amazement the pioneers, at some point suddenly dropped their tools and packed up, driving of in their small truck in the direction of Assen. Since the other German soldiers at the Oude Veenhoop café had departed before, the bridge now was left unguarded. Jan Voortman did not hesitate a moment, as soon as the pioneers had left he went out and, following the same procedure as before, removed the charges and threw them in the water; this time with the help of his father. Having saved the Veenhoopsbridge a second time for demolition, it went into history as 'Voortman's bridge'.

    In early afternoon another German party, with a strength of about 30 details, arrived at the bridge site, where it, much to their chagrin, discovered that the demolition charges had gone. Fortunately they did not suspect the local population for this act of sabotage, but put the blame on the French - or "Engländer" (British) as Voortman overheard them speaking.
    The German soldiers apparently were tasked with the defense of the bridge and established themselves in and around the local Post Office. As soon as Lagèze learned about this he requested an air strike against the Post Office building, which was duly delivered by a flight of seven Typhoons. Though it failed to do much damage to the building, it was enough to prompt a hasty retreat of the Germans. Some of the houses in Smilde were hit and set on fire by the air raid.

    That evening Lagèze decided to have another crack at the bridge. This time they found it unoccupied and the paras set up the defense of the bridge, taking up position in the German trenches. During the night they had a short skirmish with an enemy fighting patrol which approached from the direction of Assen. In the ensuing firefight the Germans suffered several casualties. The French paras once more disengaged, regrouped and returned unscathed to their bivouac.

    Next day, April 13th, Lagèze returned to the bridge, which no longer was occupied. This time the French had come to stay. In the course of the day they finally made contact with Canadian ground forces.

    Smilde  Veenhoopsbrug.jpg
    Above and below: The Veenhoopsbrug at Smilde as it appeared before the war. At this point the main road to Assen switches across the canal and continues its parallel course to the canal on the far bank. Looking over the bridge is the 'Oude Veenhoop café'.

    veenhoopsbrug Smilde.jpg

    The old pivot bridge over the canal has since been removed and replaced by a modern draw bridge 100 meters south of the old one. For the location of the new bridge see: Veenhoopsbrug Smilde - Smilde - TracesOfWar.nl

    Story - my paraphrase - 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; "De brug van Jan Vriezo, alleen tussen Duitsers, Fransen en Drenthen, April 1945", by Bertus Voortman; and Jaques Buchart, letter, date unknown.

    (1) According to the (After Action) Report of the 2nd RCP (4th SAS) five horses were shot and an unknown number of enemy soldiers killed.
    (2) According to Jaques Buchart it was the other way around, it was his task to demine the bridge. He was assisted by the Dutchman.
     
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2022
  19. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Stick Thomé - Diever & Dieverbrug

    Lieutenant Edgar Alphonse Tupet (Thomé alias Tom) and his stick came down in the wooded area called Hezer Esch to the northeast of Diever. Most of the stick landed inside the forest, which luckily for them consisted consisted largely of young fir trees. According to Lieutenant Thomé the young plantings obscured the view and thus tripled the time it took to gather the men; by the time all the men had been found it was already getting light. Thomé also had trouble with the orientation it was only after daybreak that he learned from some civilians, who were taking a walk through the woods and ran into the French, that he was near the village of Diever, some 5 miles south of the designated drop zone near Appelscha. He thought a trip to Appelscha in daylight was too risky and therefore decided to hide in the forest during the day. The stick established a bivouac in the woods just opposite the Armen-Werkhuis, to the northeast of Diever, along the Groningerweg.

    After he had established a bivouac, Thomé decided to lay up and wait for the rest of the day, though his men were eager with impatience to take action. April 8 therefore passed without any action. Isolated from the rest of the sticks Thomé felt lost and didn't want to take any hasty steps. He wanted to be sure that the Canadians were approaching, or as he told his men: "If we see that the Germans are preparing for a retreat, I will decide whether or not to concern ourselves with [moving to our objective, the bridge at Appelscha]. I want to do everything I can to help the Canadians, but I don't want to lose another man."

    On Monday 9 April Lieutenant Thomé sprang into action. Thomé decided to lay ambushes in daytime, which was different from the usual nocturnal ambushes. With these daylight tactics he wanted to give the enemy an impression of strength. He split his stick in two groups of five man each, one commanded by himself, the other by 2nd Lieutenant Gilles Anspach. Both groups successfully laid ambushes on the road along the Drentsche Hoofdvaart near the sluice of Haarsluis, not far from the spot where a destroyed enemy truck was still smoldering from an air raid. The French paras lay in wait along the road for the rest of the day and intercepted several enemy vehicles. When a motor with sidecar approached, Klein, a Lorraine member of the stick, felled the driver with a single well-aimed shot from over 100 meters. Zigzagging and at high speed the engine flew off the road and rolled over in the ditch, killing the co-driver. The motor cycle yielded a number of classified documents from the Gestapo Headquarters of Groningen. Later that day two vessels, a cargo boat filled with machines and ammunition and a smaller tug, sailing past through the canal were also attacked and destroyed. Both vessels were sunk with Gammon bombs, so that they blocked the canal. Eight of the ship's crew were killed and three taken prisoner. One of the prisoners, an SS-man according to the French, unwisely refused a body search conducted by Klein and called the Frenchman a "Schwein" (i.e. pig). An infuriated Klein, the German speaking member of the stick who of course clearly understood the abuse, shot the prisoner with two bullets from his Colt - incidentally, much to the dismay of Thomé.

    In late afternoon, Lieutenant Anspach's group who had also taken up position along the canal, surprised seven civilians, followed by a large black car, carrying a pennant and driving at a slow pace. The black staff car was ambushed and the occupants, a driver and two passengers, were killed. The vehicle was destroyed with a "gammon bomb". The civilians were invited to raise their arms. They mistook their captors for German paratroopers and made themselves known as "Reichs Polizei", members of the much despised Sicherheitsdienst or SD. Then four of them, apparently realizing their mistake, suddenly made a run for it. One even plunged into the canal, trying to escape by swimming across. None escaped; all were shot. The French thereupon also decided to get rid of the other three SD-men and shot them. One of them a Dutch policeman. They were left by the road side, but the Dutch policeman survived. He was convinced that he had been shot by German Fallschirmjäger, since the soldiers spoke fluent German; he probably spoke to one of the Alsatians. As a result of the ambushes all traffic along the Drentsche Hoofdvaart was completely paralyzed and no more traffic was seen on this road form then on.

    Amherst Thome in touch with Sicaud.jpg
    Somehow, maybe by way of messengers of the Dutch resistance, Thomé got in touch with Captain Sicaud at Appelscha, as is stated by the above message of the Ops Log of SAS Main HQ, which was transmitted in the afternoon of April 10th, 1945 (Ops Log SAS Main HQ, serial 965).

    Diever - Dwingelo Map aa.jpg
    1 = Hezenes where the stick Thomé gathered after the landing; 2 = De Haarsluis site of the ambushes on April 9th.

    Gezicht op Diever.jpg
    View of the village of Diever from the north across the Noorderesch. The picture was taken from the area of the Bosweg. The French paras were on the other side of the village. (Photo courtesy Deever's archief).
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2022
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  20. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The news of the presence of the French SAS in the forest went like wildfire among the civilians and soon Thomé was contacted by the local resistance, who offered him food in the form of boiled potatoes. In the afternoon of the 9th the resistance leader of Diever - mr. Wiglema -, who had tapped the telephones in the switch board of the local Post Office, overheard a telephone conversation of the NSB-mayor of Diever - mr. Posthumus - with the Wehrmachtskommandant Assen in which the former informed the German commander of the presence of French paratroopers and begged for military assistance. Though the German commander replied that he was unable to supply any troops at the moment and that the mayor had to fend for himself, it was apparent that the NSB-mayor and his close assistent, mr. Balsma, the local leader of the Landwacht, posed a severe risk. Thereupon Wiglema requested Lieutenant Thomé to arrest both men. A group of paras went to Diever and duly arrested the mayor and took him back to the French bivouac, where he was tied to a tree. Balsma, the other culprit, had disappeared, but presumably he was still hiding somewhere in the village. That afternoon and evening, local resistance fighters, lightly armed with pistols, therefore posted in the village on the look out for him. Not a harmless pastime since now and then small groups of German soldiers on the retreat passed through the village on bicycle or in vehicles. Balsma nevertheless managed to get away on a bicycle to the nearby village of Appelscha, only to be captured by the French paras there.

    Next day great tension rose between the inhabitants of Diever, who, feeling liberated, started to behave more boldly, and some of the remaining Dutch NSB-ers who started to pack up for a flight from the village. This eventually ended in a browl between the villagers in the early afternoon. Though the fighters were separated by the local police, one of the NSB-ers sent for help from a German unit encamped at nearby Steenwijk. In the afternoon at about 16:00 hours a group of five German soldiers appeared in the village who were evidently not on the run, but instead were sizing up the situation. Warned by his men, Wiglema immediately went to the bivouac of the paras to ask them for help. Lieutenant Thomé thereupon decided to sent half his stick - eight men led by 2nd Lieutenant Gustave Arthur Puy-Dupin - to the village to capture the Germans. Cautiously sneaking through ditches and brushwood along the side of the road, the small group of paras approached the village unseen. Their prudence worked in their advantage. At the eastern edge of Diever they bumped into German soldiers, without being detected. Two strong enemy detachments, together in about company-strength, had surrounded Diever from the direction of Wapse (west) and Wittelte (south); a German truck filled with soldiers arrived at the eastern edge of the village. Puy-Dupin encountered the latter, just as the Germans detrucked and took up position in a small grove. Lieutenant Puy-Dupin, always easily tempted, decided to engage them. Using the cover of the ditches the French crawled to within hand grenade range and threw some "gammon" bombs, killing and wounding several of the enemy.

    Hearing the growing volume of enemy machineguns in the distance, a worried Thomé, aware of the rash nature of his 2nd Lieutenant, rushed forward to recall his men. Once he reached them, Thomé ordered them to disengage. The paras were saved by a terrain fold, which allowed them to reach the cover of a shallow ditch unseen. Crawling on their bellies, with their heads low, in single file along the bottom of the ditch, the para's attempted to make good their escape. The ditch however was full with brambles. With Thomé in front, cutting a way through the brambles with his bayonet, they feverishly worked their way forward like moles under an umbrella of brambles. After a while they reached another, wider ditch. Here Thomé decided to have a look around to see where the enemy was. Slowly and cautiously, with a camouflage net wrapped around his head, he raised his head and peeked over the edge of the ditch. Enemy infantry was hard on their heels and was approaching the ditch. A German officer, who was kneeling close-by, was scanning the edge of the nearby forest with his binoculars. Thomé later recalled:
    "I lowered my head slowly back into the ditch, like a turtle in its shell. Things would now happened swift.
    “André?”, I whispered in a soft tone. [André le Nabour had been crawling behind Thomé all the time]
    "Yes ?"
    “Pass on… Everyone arm themselves with a Gammon… The Krauts are very close, straight ahead. When I jump out of the ditch, you'll all come out, shouting and throwing your Gammons. Then you shoot anything that moves with everything you have.
    “Okay!”
    One… two… three… four… The grenades exploded just as they hit their target and we all jumped out of the ditch and let out our war cry.
    The Germans did not understand what happened to them. They thought they were chasing a frightened prey and behold now the prey chased them. It's now or never. My men shot them in the back with short, unrelenting volleys. We chased the Germans, yelling like a pack of hounds. They fled faster and faster, more and more startled. Still, some unlucky ones fell under our shots from ever greater distances.
    "Ceasefire ! Turn around… and all into the ditch! Walk past me. Is everyone there? OK ! go ! And as fast as you can!”
    Wading up to our waists through muddy water, we reached our camp. I think I never have longed more for a bath than at that moment."
    [passage from the memoires of René Giguelay, "Saute en Hollande: Mission Amherst", published by the local history circle of Diever, see below]

    Rene Giguelay para.jpg
    The 20 year old René Giguelay was a member of the stick Thomé. He wrote a memoir on his actions in the SAS (the above fragment was cited from the chapter "Saute in Hollande: Operation Amherst", which was published by the Historische Vereniging Diever).


    Thomé and his men reached the bivouac in the woods opposite the Armen-Werkhuis unscathed. Though their uniforms were torn by the brambles and Thomé, who as leading man had cut a way through the brambles, had his face pretty well torn up and all bloody. But at least they were alive. In the firefight about 10 - 15 Germans were killed or wounded, including the troop leader. Two resistance fighters, who had left Diever in search for Wiglema, to warn him and the paras about the sudden influx of German troops in the village, got caught in the firefight and one of them was mortally wounded.

    Now that the position had been compromised, Thomé prudently decided to establish a new camp, well away from the village of Diever. He moved his group, including six German prisoners and the unhappy NSB-mayor, across the Haarweg to a new location in the forests north of the 'Witte Bergen'. Though some of the men suggested to shoot the prisoners, Thomé decided not to provoke the enemy any further and take them along. Later in the evening the Germans troops at Diever, who did not dare to move out from the village to engage the paras, started to shell the wooded area where they suspected the paras, with, what the local residents describe as an artillery piece (mortar?) which arrived as reinforcement. Several houses and sheds in the vicinity of the Armen-Werkhuis were set on fire by the bombardment. Guided by a member of the Dutch resistance - in this case a young woman, Geesje Schoemaker, the local post office employee - Thomé crossed the road to Wateren and hid deeper inside the forest of Berkenheuvel, to the NW of Diever. Here he lay low until relieved by the Canadian ground troops on April 12th. Once contact was made with the Canadians, on the morning of the 12th, the French paras returned to Diever and put their captives in a cell under the church tower.

    Back at Diever the Germans, lusting for vengeance, with a lot of rage and yelling randomly arrested 11 men. Later that evening these were executed at the edge of the local cemetery, on command of an officer of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) commander Habener - allegedly because he learned that a close friend of his was killed in the firefight with the French. This Habener arrived by staff car from Steenwijk and personally took part in the execution by emptying a magazine from a sub-machine gun on the defenseless victims. The Germans left that evening but threatened the shaken villagers to return soon to finish the job. Surprisingly one man, though having been hit twice by bullets, survived the shooting. After playing dead for a while he managed to get away after nightfall.

    Diever monument.jpg
    The local war monument at Diever remembers of the victims of the execution of April 10th (and other wartime dead of the village): Monument De Zwerfkei - Diever - TracesOfWar.nl

    Story - my paraphrase - with courtesy to Opraekelen, orgaan van de Historische Vereniging Diever, april 1995 and Dievers Archief: Saut en Hollande (Saut en Hollande: Mission Amherst | Deevers Archief – Dievers Archief) Edgar Thomé, "Special Air Service, l'épopée d'un parachutiste en France occupée 1940 - 1945" and of course 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 5, 2022

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