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 moved through back gardens and approached the German HQ up to a few hundred meters, without being detected. Inside the village all was quiet. German soldiers were engaged in their regular work, while some strolled through the main street, completely unaware of the danger. 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 armed with a Brengun would provide flank protection and cover the road to Beilen, another group of eight also armed with a Bren would knock out the telephone switchboard next to the HQ building with explosives and block the main road for reinforcements from the eastern part of the village, while the remainder would take care of the command post itself.

    Nothing, however, came of the plan. The inevitable happened. Two German soldiers approached on bicycles. The one in front saw the French paras, hesitated and then realized that something was 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 lost. He gave the order for an immediate attack and firing from all their weapons the whole group of paras stormed forward in the direction of the command post. The first ones to fall were the fleeing German biker and his companion. The HQ building was riddled with bullets. German soldiers, completely surprised by the sudden assault, scurried in all directions. Many were struck by the fire of the paras.

    Picture of Captain Betbèze (1st to the right in the front row) and members of his stick at Westerbork in April 1945 (photo courtesy Boersma)

    As the French paras reached the command post they started to throw Gammon bombs into the building. They then made an attempt to enter through the kitchen at the backside of the building. The opponent opened fire from a window from across the street. But the first shots were hasty and missed target. Betbèze recognized the danger and directed part of his men to outflank the enemy by circling along the back side of the houses on this side of the road and cross the main street further west. Corporal Robert Bonjean, for some reason, decided to directly cross the road and was hit when he was midway. Then one of the French paras, who made it across, saw a German officer, dressed in a long leather coat and armed with a machinepistol, running out of the front door of the Slomp building. The para fired. The officer turned around his axis and collapsed on the sidewalk in front of the building. The German army in Midden Drenthe had just lost its commander, Generalmajor Böttger. He was hit by bullets in the chest but survived, though severely wounded. Two members of his staff who followed closely behind were not so lucky and were killed.

    Then things rapidly started to go awry. The two Brens of the group malfunctioned. One Brengun after some initial bursts, completely refused service, while the other, operated by Marché, only was capable of delivering single shots. The Germans, recovering from the first surprise, send reinforcements and started to gain the upper hand. In an attempt to rescue the badly wounded Bonjean, who was lying in the middle of the road, Captain Betbèze was slightly wounded in the leg by a piece of shrapnel from a German hand grenade thrown into the street. In a second attempt, Le Bobinec was hit by a bullet in his back and fell in the street. Though the wounded Bobinec was rescued and pulled into cover, Bonjean could not be reached and mortally wounded he died where he had fallen, in the middle of the street. The paras managed to destroy the telephone switch board, but German fire was now coming from all sides. In a short time three French paras were wounded and another, Corporal René Marché on his Brengun, was killed. The paras were also running out of ammunition. Betbèze signalled his men to break off the attack. However, not all paras managed to disengage. The young Corporal Jean-Francois Cognet, who, together with a companion, had moved around the right flank, was cut off by the enemy and was killed. Cognet, who actually was a wireless operator and should have stayed behind at the bivouac, had volunteered to participate in the attack. The fight, which had started at about 16:00 hours had lasted just over one hour. When Betbèze retreated with his remaining men back to the base camp at Witteveen, he was warned by Dutch civilians that a bicycle patrol of about twenty Germans from Beilen had just passed by some 15 minutes ago, the patrol cycled ahead of the French in the direction of Garminge and was searching for the paras. Making a wide detour through the fields to avoid the German patrol on the road the group Betbèze, tired and disappointed by the loss of six men, arrived by nightfall at the bivouac. Three men had fallen: Bonjean, Marché and Cognet; three had been wounded and had to be left behind. Two of them Le Boulinec and Boulard were taken prisoner and evacuated by their captors to a hospital in Assen. One wounded, Lorang-Schweirer, managed to hide in a chicken-hutch and remained in hiding for 48 hours until the ground forces arrived.

    That afternoon and evening German soldiers, from the guard detachments at the Zwiggelter-, Westerborker- and Orvelterbrug as well as from the garrison of Assen, combed out the village and immediate vicinity of Westerbork, but they did not find a trace of the French paras. German losses in the attack are unknown but are estimated by civilian eyewitnesses at 30 to 35 men. German ambulances were busy all night to evacuate the casualties of the battle. 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 of questioning they were released.

    The next days, the French paras at Witteveen continued to carry out their hit and run activities 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 of Witteveen. On April 11th the men of Puech-Samson were evacuated to Tac HQ SAS. They arrived in early afternoon at Coevorden.

    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)

    Attack on Westerbork

    Westerbork 2.jpg
    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
    The Slomp Restaurant or Abdij de Westerbork as it is known today. This is the building that housed the German HQ of the Feldkommandantur 674 and where Generalmajor Böttger was shot (photo courtesy Pen and Dagger).

    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 reoccupied by the enemy (First Cdn Army Ops Log, April 1945)

    (The story - my paraphrase - with courtesy to: Col. Roger Flamand: "AMHERST : les parachutistes de la France libre, 3e et 4e SAS, Hollande 1945"; I used the Dutch translation of this book by Jaap Jansen.)
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2019
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  2. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Last edited: Mar 3, 2019
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  3. 17thDYRCH

    17thDYRCH Senior Member Patron

    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

    In order to prevent the Germans from using the Oranjekanaal as a defensive line, the French paras had to ensure that the Germans would not blow up the bridges and locks. It was not required that they took and held the bridges for a longer period of time, for that they were simply too weak. The mission of the paras was to knock-out the sentries and take away any explosives they found to prevent the destruction of the passages; a process called 'delousing'.

    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 came down a little further to the north. The stick of Edme landed 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 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 paratroopers 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 for the night. These men probably belonged to the Luftwaffe reinforcements that had arrived at Assen the previous day and now 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. Two farms with enemy soldiers so close together would inevitably lead to a clash the next day.

    In early morning, before dawn, a tense 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 belong to the stick Taylor, arrived at the farm. They had lost their unit and joined 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 stick, now nearly twenty strong, departed from the Pol Farm. As the French approached the lock, they encountered a party of eight German soldiers who guarded the lock gate. Taken aback the German sentries in a short scuffle were overwhelmed. Two were killed, the remaining were taken prisoner. The Germans however managed to get some shots of and two French paras, Richard and Mahé, were wounded. Whether one 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 in which Corporal Antoine Treis was killed. Realizing that he was heavily outnumbered, De Camaret, who had taken up position in the Flax Factory, decided to break off contact. His men fell back to the Pol Farm, taking the two wounded and the prisoners with them. 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 easily could have gone wrong, 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 on the other bank of the Oranjekanaal moved to 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 Edme also disengaged. Besides that it was found out that the bridge across the canal had already been blown by the enemy.

    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 not far from Grolloo. The stick of Lieutenant Cochin, a Jeep group of originally 12 men, had landed much scattered far off from the intended DZ. Cochin had managed to gather around him only a handful of men. At the DZ, Lt Cochin waited in vain for the parachuting of the jeeps. 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 - 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 with Jean Loeillet, wounded, who was left in the care of a Dutch family but nevertheless was captured by the Germans on the 8th. Loeillet was taken to Assen, where he was shot by his captors next day. The sticks of De Camaret and Cochin settled in the woods to the SW of Grolloo and conducted patrols and ambushes, especially in the night of April 11 to 12 between Grolloo and Assen.

    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).

    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 at Westerbork. Taylor who landed near Elp had gathered only half of his stick. They found the bridge over the Oranjekanaal already blown by the enemy, but also ran into German opposition and were forced to retreat. Trying to evade the Germans 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, 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 and got away.

    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 was taken POW on April 8th near Elp, after he had been wounded. Next day he was executed by his captors at Assen.

    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.
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2019
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  6. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

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  7. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Belgian Jeeps & Polish Recce to the rescue

    The old fortified town of Coevorden, located in the southeastern edge of Drenthe, was the first town in the Province of Drenthe to be liberated. The town was reached by a company ('A ' Coy) of the Lake Superior Regiment (4th Cdn Arm Div) in mid-afternoon of April 5th. This unit had been split off 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 rest of 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 about 300 strong, blew the bridges 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 others wounded. The troops therefore halted and for the present contended themselves with containing the enemy garrison while reconnoitering its defenses. On the following day "A" Coy occupied Coevorden, the main body of Germans had withdrawn during the night and those that 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, grimly reacted: "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.

    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 to screen the left flank of the Canadian armour which still was bound for Meppen, as a secondary task they had to grant Amherst support if possible. From Coevorden the Belgians sent out Jeep patrols in all azimuths over the next few days. They recced as far as Hardenberg, Dedemsvaart and even to the eastern outskirts of Hoogeveen, which had not yet been reached by the 2nd Cdn Inf Division. The Belgians had to await the arrival of the 1st Polish Armoured Division, under general Stanislaw Maczek, which had been alerted to move north across the Rhine and 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 move took some time, since the Poles were still in a reserve position south of the Rhine River, near Breda in the southwestern part of Holland. On April 8th first elements of the 1st Polish Armoured Division began to arrive at Coevorden. The move 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 1ab815e54104e3e6dc40043d2f251fdf7475ed9f42b5bec40423315f93da57fa.jpg
    Left: 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). Right: Belgian SAS Jeep at Oosterhesselen carrying a POW on the hood

    With a view to the coming operations the Belgians on April 9th attacked and captured intact the bridge across the Verlengde Hoogeveensche Vaart at Oosterhesselen. In the attack the Belgians received support from six Polish Bren Carriers. The SAS immediately established a firm bridgehead across the canal, that would be used over the next days as a sally port for further operations. Late in the afternoon of the 9th a patrol of the Belgian SAS moved out from the area of Oosterhesselen to contact the French SAS at Witteveen. The SAS Report of Op Larkswood states that the Belgian patrol, three armoured Jeeps and a motorcycle of 'A' Sqn, of 5th SAS, reached the Witteveen wood without incident. 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 of the enemy. As the French did not request any help, the patrol went back to Oosterhesselen. On its way back the patrol clashed with German paratroopers. The Jeeps opened fire and the Germans withdrew. Tpr. Becket was wounded in this short engagement and one of the Jeeps and the motorcycle were put out of action. The Belgian SAS 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).

    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)

    Early in the morning of April 10th, elements of the 1st Polish Armoured Division passed across the bridge at Oosterhesselen and moved towards Emmen. Possibly as a result of the request of the Belgian SAS for reinforcements, 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 motorized infantry of the 10 Dragoon Regiment (10 pułk dragonów), was diverted northwards in the direction of the Oranje kanaal at Orvelte and Westerbork to reconnoiter the crossings of the canal at these places and link up with the SAS troops near Westerbork. By 13:00 hours they reached the canal and made contact with the French paras in the area. 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 retreat after it clashed with a German force armed with machineguns. Two Polish soldiers were killed in this encounter. By the evening the Poles moved back to Oosterhesselen.

    Poles Westerbork.jpg

    Next day, April 11th, a Belgian SAS patrol, of two Jeep sections and two Assault sections of "B" Sqn, 5th SAS accompanied by a medical section, moved up to Orvelte. Without enemy interference they reached the Flax Factory at the Oranjekanaal where they contacted the French SAS paras. The Belgians were accompanied by two sections (5 vehicles in all) of French SAS Jeeps. These Jeeps were manned by French paras from the sticks that had already been relieved by the ground troops and who had volunteered to drive the Jeeps. With the help of the local population, an improvised bridge was built across the lock gate and Belgian and French Jeeps moved across to support the French paras on the northern bank of the canal. No organized enemy resistance was found north of the canal though many enemy stragglers were encountered. The French Jeeps contacted the sticks of Taylor and Leblond at Elp (the latter landed NW of Elp). One Belgian Jeep section rescued a section of French paras who were engaged by the enemy in the Schoonloo wood and brought back four wounded Frenchmen and 11 POWs. The other French Jeep section made contact with the sticks Gabaudin and Corta and took 3 POWs. At Orvelte, the M.O. 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 Jeep patrols also searched westwards along the south bank of the Oranjekanaal. Westerbork was reported free of enemy but further to the west Beilen was found still occupied (Beilen eventually fell next day, April 12, to the 2nd Cdn Inf Div after some stiff fighting). By 20:15 hours the Belgian Jeeps were back in Coevorden. By the end of the day the Belgians had brought back 52 French paras, including Puech-Samson. The number of POWs had risen to 25 who were identified as members of the 8. FJ Bn.

    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 (photo courtesy: Battlefield Tour Operation Amherst).

    Lock at Orvelte.jpg
    Same spot nowadays (photo courtesy Pen and Dagger).
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2019
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  8. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Zone D Assen - Rolde - Gieten - Borger

    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: Feb 9, 2019
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  9. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

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

    All five sticks, that landed 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.

    The stick of 2nd Lieutenant André Simon dropped four miles southwest of the planned DZ. The stick quickly regrouped thanks to light signals from Lieutenant Simon and collected its containers. The paras then moved in a south-easterly direction and in the early morning approached a farm near Westdorp, located a few miles to the SW of Borger. The officers Lt Simon and Bornhauser tried to clarify their position and moved forward to the farm. Sergeant Matern arranged the security around the farm. After a few minutes the two officers returned with a German prisoner. From information gathered the nearby bridge, with access to Westdorp, was defended by an enemy detachment of about 20 soldiers.

    Meanwhile, the paras had been seen 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. When 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.

    The Germans however, profiting from the cover of the ditches, skillfully deployed in the fields and the pressure on the French paratroopers increased. Several Frenchmen were hit. Péron on the Brengun was killed. The outnumbered French paras were forced to disengage. Not everyone however got away. Ptes René Péron and Serge Levasseur both were killed in the firefight, so was Corporal Albert Le Saux. Three others were captured: Usséglio, who was hit by bullets in the shoulder, Delassale and Besnars. The French POW's were taken on a horsecart to Borger, where the enraged sentries at 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 and the timely arrival of a German officer prevented them from doing so. The prisoners were accommodated in the local café. Here again the 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 were wounded. Again the presence of the doctor and the German officer saved the prisoners for worse. From Borger the French were transferred to Assen, where Usséglio was treated in a hospital. Later they were transported to a POW camp in Germany. The other members of the stick made it into the nearby Schoonloo woods, two of them wounded. They eventually joined the Stick Varnier.

    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).

    Of the actions of Stick Varnier, which landed not far from the stick Simon, no details are known other than that some of the escaped members of Stick Simon ended up with Varnier. But it looks as if Varnier likewise ran into trouble. During the 9th gunfire was heard in the woods with some regularity. In the evening of the 9th, around 20:00 hours, the residents of Wezuperbrug witnessed how a cornered group of about 11 paras (stick Varnier?), who had been driven out of the woods by German search parties, moved across country to a better position. The dead bodies of three members of the stick Varnier later were found along the Oranjekanaal at Wezuperbrug, the story goes that they had been executed by the Germans. They were Sergeants Aimé Le Berriguad, Gabriel Judet and Robert Le Grass.

    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. The stick gathered in a nearby farm house after it had collected its containers. That evening Forgeat ambushed a German truck on the main road. Next day, they blew up with explosives the 25 meters high fire tower in the forestry of Schoonloo which was used by the Germans as a watchtower.

    Of the two other sticks, that of Lieutenants Corta (an alias for Henry Roger Courtant) and Gabaudin, which were dropped around Schoonloo, no details are known. In the early morning of the 8th, French paras entered the main road of the small farming settlement of Schoonloo, but it is not known which stick these men belonged to. Frederik Klaassens (57), who operated the local café in Schoonloo, and his son Jantinus Klaassens (23), ventured into the street to have a chat with the paras. A surprised German soldier who passed by on a bicycle was taken prisoner. Then the paras moved north along the road to a farm just outside the village, at a place called 'De Strubben'. Here a skirmish followed in which two German soldiers were killed. This encounter did have immediate repercussions. Within an hour a strong detachment of German military police with tracking dogs arrived at Grolloo and moved in the direction of Schoonloo to search for the paras. They found none, also because they did not dare to enter deep into the forests out of fear for the paras. 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. The Germans however had less good intentions. That evening father and son Klaasens were shot behind the windmill at Schoonoord. They were accused for having given assistance to the French paratroopers.

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

    On 9 April, Klaas Schepers (50) a farmer from Schoonoord, was 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.

    Oranjekanaal monument.png
    Three men of the stick Varnier eventually were killed along the Oranjekanaal at Wezuperbrug on 9 April. They were the Sergeants Aimé Le Berrigaud, Gabriel Judet and Robert Le Grass. A small plaque near the Oranjekanaal is dedicated to the three. The corpses of the three men were found to show wounds from automatic weapons fired at close-range, which led to the story that they had been executed by the Germans (photo courtesy HdJ).
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2019
  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 lent itself perfectly for SAS operations. By coincidence, the sticks of Captain Paul de Gramond, Lieutenant Jean Appriou, Lieutenant Michel Legrand and 2nd Lieutenant Henri Stéphan landed close to each other and assisted by the local resistance soon came into contact with each other. The French decided to join forces. Commanded by Captain Grammond 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 troop concentrations near Borger and Assen, the French were relatively safe in the wooded area. The Germans, fearful of the strength of the French paratroopers, which they grossly overestimated because of the French aggressiveness, did not dare to enter the forests.

    Bois de Gieten.jpg

    Appriou's report: Initially half of the stick was missing. Searches for the missing men and for the containers continued all through the first day. Based on information from a Dutch civilian, a recce under Lieutenant Appriou was conducted in the direction of Gieten in the afternoon. According to the civilian there were Germans in the village and the French wanted to know in what strength. The information appeared to be correct, but the Germans were too strong. In a clash with a German patrol two Germans were killed and papers were captured. The French had to disengage. Returning to the patrol base, Lt Appriou to his great relief saw that the other men of his stick had joined up. During the jump from the plane a short delay was caused by one of the men who, while still in the plane, snagged behind something, with the result that part of the stick landed further away in the woods. The Sticks of Stéphan, Legrand and Gramond had also joined, so that now four sticks had gathered in the Bois de Gieten. It was decided to stay together and form one battle group.

    The sticks were short of Brenguns. Of the eight guns dropped only two had been recovered. In his first message to Main SAS HQ at 09:30 hrs on April 8th, Captain Grammond therefore requested a resupply by air of six Brens, ammunition and, if possible, two PIATs. These weapons and ammunition somehow were delivered that same day, since Grammond on the 11th wired a message: "dropping on the 8th OK, thanks" (See message to main SAS HQ attached to post #32).

    Bois de Gieten Sticks.jpg
    A rare image of French paras in the Bois de Gieten. The Germans, fearful of the strength of the French paratroopers, which they grossly overestimate because of the French aggressiveness, dare not enter the woods. (Photo courtesy Boersma).

    Captain Grammond established two bivouacs inside the 'Bois de Gieten', one near the eastern edge of the forest and another deeper inside the woods. From these basecamps the paras over the next few days conducted their operations. They successfully laid ambushes along the surrounding roads, though the first attempt on the evening of 8 to 9 April ended in failure. That night it was decided to place an ambush on the Rolde - Gieten road. During the daylight hours the French paras had observed important road movement along this road in an easterly direction. Along the road was a detached house, known as "De Heidehof". Two scouts were sent out to recce the premises, but as they approached they were suddenly shot at from the upper window and Sergeant Lesné was killed instantly. Now that the enemy had been alerted, the planned action was called off. However, in the early morning of April 9 an ambush was laid along the road Borger - Rolde. This action yielded the first prisoners of war, a group of five soldiers who were on their way to Rolde to report for sick roll. The prisoners were taken back to the patrol base deep inside the woods. Later, on the 10th, an ambush was laid during daytime along the road Rolde - Gieten, which yielded another three prisoners. A German vehicle was disabled. To the embarrasment of the French, it turned out to be a vehicle of the Red Cross. The prisoners, a medical officer and two members of the Feldgendarmerie (military police), were brought back to the patrol base. This was not the only success of that day. According to a report sent later that afternoon to main HQ SAS the ambush along the Rolde - Gieten yielded a total of two vehicles destroyed, two captured, as well as 11 POWs taken. The French suffered no losses.

    On the 11th another group moved out to lay an ambush along the Gasselte - Borger road. As the French approached the road they encountered a German detachment that immediately opened fire. There followed a firefight in which five Germans were captured. Then another detachment of German soldiers moving down the same road from the opposite direction, from Borger, ran into the fight and opened fire on their own troops. While the French disengaged unobserved, taking the POW's with them, the two German detachments continued to fire at each other for a long time. French patrols held the surrounding villages under close surveillance. In the morning of the 12th they reported to have seen a group of 150 enemy at Gasselte. They also reported the presence of enemy lorries parked in a hangar on the south wall of the meat factory at Gieten. These were later attacked by fighter bombers.

    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.

    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 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. Wireless sets and operators were attached to several sticks in particular those with a Coy or battalion commander. 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 sigaret is operating the dynamo. Messages were transferred in morse-code.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2019
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  11. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Attack on Gasselte, April 9th

    At the beginning of October 1944, a detachment of the National Sozialistische Kraftfahr Korps (NSKK) was stationed in Gasselte. It consisted of Dutch volunteers who, as drivers, carried out transports for the German Wehrmacht. Only the commander, Obersturmführer Klaus, an somewhat elderly officer, was a German. The headquarters of the detachment was located in the local vicarage. For the accommodation of the staff, rooms were requisitioned with the villagers. Because of their cooperation with the occupying forces the NSKK-men were regarded as traitors. The relationship with the inhabitants was further strained by the authoritarian behaviour 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 headquarters of the NSKK-unit. It was decided to carry out an attack around noon on April 9th, in the hope that the Germans would not expect an attack around lunchtime and would probably 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 Albert Bacuez would keep the road (Lutkenend) covered with a Brengun. The stick of Lieutenant Appriou would move forward along the north side of the road and head for the vicarage to take out the headquarters. At the same time, the Stick Legrand had to move along the south side of the street and clean the houses and attack the enemy. De Gramond's stick would make a wide outflanking movement north of the road in order to cut off the enemy and stop reinforcements. Sergeant Le Goff was instructed to make an outflanking movement along the south side of the village with some men and to block the Dorpstraat.

    Map of Gasselte and plan of attack:

    Gasselte Map 1.jpg
    1 = Vicarage with NSKK HQ; 2 = Church; 3 = Lutkenend; 4 = Dorpsstraat
    A = Appriou; B = De Gramond; C = Legrand ; D = Le Goff

    Gasselte 3.jpg
    Aerial of Gasselte (Courtesy: Google Maps)
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2019
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  12. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The group who would carry out the attack, numbering about 40 men, gathered at the barn of the Pronk farm on the eastern edge of the 'Bois de Gieten', from where they would go up against Gasselte accompanied by guides of the local resistance. Though it was daytime the village was reached without problems.

    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 ordered two paras to move around the left flank and scout the backside of the building. As soon as the two tried to move on, they were fired at from the vicarage. The NSKK-staff had discovered the French and started firing from the windows of the building. At the backside of the house a machine gun opened up. The men of Appriou took cover and returned fire, but they were in relatively open terrain and two of them, Sergeant Briand and Corporal Bégue, were hit. The latter was killed.

    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)

    In the meantime, Legrand, moving forward under the protection of the buildings on the south side of the road, had arrived at the front of the building and opened fire, so that the command post now was under fire from two sides. The NSKK-soldier with the automatic weapon was knocked out by the French, which gave two men of Appriou's stick, Ptes Goudivèze and Urbain, the opportunity to storm the vicarage and throw 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 left through the backdoor of the building. Here they surrendered to the men of Legrand and were taken prisoner. The action was short-lived and all together took only half an hour.

    Elsewhere in the village there was great panic among the remaining members of the NSKK-detachment. The men fled here and there, some without success tried to get hold of civilian clothes. Most of them were caught by the paras, two NSKK-ers were killed. Unfortunately one managed to escape on a motor-cycle. Two officers, Obersturmführer Klaus and Untersturmführer Van der Bent, the latter a Dutchmen, and about 15 NSKK-men were captured. The number of killed opponents was not counted. The prisoners were marched off to the bivouac in the forest on the double, hands above their heads. A German staff car left behind in front of the vicarage was used to bring the fallen Bégue and an amount of captured documents back to the 'Bois de Gieten'. Back at the basecamp the prisoners were tied up with parachute cord, with the exception of the officers, who had given their word of honor that they would not try to escape. They kept their word. What probably also helped was the French threat to kill the remaining prisoners in the event of escape, as this would force the paras to change locations and the prisoners then would become a burden.

    Back in the woods, Captain Grammond realized that his rations were insufficient to provide for them and their prisoners. He also needed ammunition. By means of radio communication the Grammond requested a re-supply of food and ammunition. Two Typhoons dropped four supply containers filled with ammunition, weapons in the form of two PIATs and two Brenguns, medicines and rations on 10 April. A novel employment of these fighter bombers in a supply dropping role. 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!

    Amherst 406 barbed wire.jpg
    In a message sent in the morning of 11 April, Captain Grammond asked for barbed wire, to set up a POW cage. Though supposedly not a serious request, it illustrates the burden caused by the increasing number of prisoners taken by the small group of paras. On the 10th, Grammond signalled, 15 more POW's had been taken (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 depart 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'.(photos courtesy: http://fflsas.org/index.php?option=com_fflsas_user&view=image_browser&lang=EN)

    POWs Bois de Gieten.jpg
    With hands above their heads the NSKK prisoners and their German officer (in front), who were taken in the raid on Gasselte, are marched off by French paras towards the bivouac in the Bois de Gieten (Photo courtesy Boersma).

    Gasselte 1.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.

    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. The loading facility was at the expense of the armament. The plane carried only two missiles under each wing, instead of the usual four.

    Last edited: Aug 17, 2019
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  13. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Gasselte aftermath:

    In the wrongful 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. At 17:00 hours a strong troop of Germans, coming from the direction of Gasselternijeveen, entered the village to occupy it again. Unfortunately 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.

    Enraged the Germans rounded up all the residents of Gasselte, male and female, in the play ground of the local school. The women were released after a while. But the men, in all a number of about 300, were driven towards the church and locked up inside. The Germans were threatening to kill all by throwing hand grenades into the building. Luckily the NSB-mayor, named Tuin, interfered and dissuaded the German commander from carrying out this plan. Instead the aggrieved German commander decided to punish the village by shooting every tenth prisoner. Tuin, however, convinced him that this measure also was too harsh, since there actually was only a handful of culprits and he would ask them to report. Sixteen men did report and plead guilty. Apparently satisfied the Germans 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 been killed due to 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.
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2019
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  14. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

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

    The area of Borger - Gieten was liberated by the 1st Polish Armoured Division on 12 and 13 April and so were the French paratroopers in the 'Bois de Gieten' and the POWs they had taken during their actions. On the 10th the Poles 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 continued to the northeast towards Ter Apel on the Dutch/German border. 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 armed 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 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 in a joint operation with elements of the 10th Dragoon Regiment (10 pułk dragonów), a motorized infantry battalion of the 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade, the area up to Borger was cleared. The units moved along three axes each followed 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. At Westdorp and Borger the bridges across the Buinen-Schoonoord canal were blown as the Poles approach. The Germans retreated behind the canal.

    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 destroyed bridge. Some fearless men crawled over the bent remains to the other side of the canal. A few small groups followed, which together formed a weak bridgehead on the far bank. The German opposition however was too strong. The German defense is backed up by three artillery pieces (mortars?) which fire from within the village. One carrier was knocked out and several men were injured. Soon it turned out that the small attack group could not hold on. Under cover of a smokescreen fired by the Cromwells, the Dragoons with their wounded comrades returned back to safety. One Polish soldier was killed in the attack. In the meantime the neighboring village of Buinen 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, also was killed.

    The German defenders of Borger had had enough. Though they had repulsed the attack of the Dragoons they were intimidated by the roar of the battle from Buinen and hastily abandon the village of Borger. By late afternoon the Poles, who had been warned by local residents that the Germans had left, entered Borger without meeting further opposition. Next day, April 13th, Gasselte and Gieten were liberated.

    Mess Polish Arm 122210.jpg

    (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 Bren Carriers the French paras are evacuated from the Bois de Gieten. They assembled at Coevorden where Col. Prendergast had established a tactical Special Forces HQ.

    Gieten 2.jpg
    Men of the stick Legrand board one of the Brencarriers that is to transport them back to Gieten. Obviously one of the German officers has lost his cap … (picture courtesy Boersma)
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2019
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  15. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    ZONE E Smilde - Appelscha - Diever - Haulerwijk

    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: Jun 21, 2019
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  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 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 north a large factory building protruded - the cooperative potato-flour factory situated on the northern bank of the Oranjekanaal. Around it modest worker houses build in single files flanked both sides of the canal. Factory and houses together formed the township of Oranje. A drawbridge connected both halves of the township. The paras 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 (to the south) and the Oranjekanaal (to the north). Two three men patrols were sent to the crossings at Tol and Nijenstate on the Beilervaart. These bridges were found undefended and intact.

    The bridge across the Oranjekanaal at Oranje was a different matter. The local residents warned the French that a German detachment was stationed at the factory near the bridge. It was decided to commit half a stick to test the bridge defense and, if possible, to remove the explosives from the bridge that undoubtedly had been installed there by the Germans. 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 coverage. The other group - five men strong - led by 1st Sergeant Julliard, headed directly for the bridge itself, but before they reached it a firefight broke out. The German defenders proved to be too strong. 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 paras, some of them wounded, were captured. The few 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. Sergeant Julliard continued to fire at the German pursuers to distract them from the rest inside the farm and was captured. After the Germans ceased their search for the remaining parachutists, the hiding place was used as a base until the Allied ground troops reached the area. Unfortunately there are no data on the further actions undertaken by the stick.

    It is not known 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. The building would be completely destroyed by fire during the battle for Beilen, that took place on 12 April 1945 (2nd Cdn Inf Div).
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2019
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  17. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Stick Lagèze - Veenhoopsbrug at Smilde

    Operation Amherst did not get off to the best of starts for Stick Lagèze. The Stirling bomber that carried 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 cancelled. Instead of jumping over Holland the disappointed paras found themselves laying on the floor of one of the outbuildings 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 the Dutch who loaded him on a handcart and hid him in a farm, were he was taken care of by the local doctor. 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 liveless body was wrapped in his parachute by his mates and was hidden under some bushes not far from the drop zone.

    9614608cb03b094533350881e55f48ce67f02e6d355aedee26af941a1e2534e9 aa.jpg
    Men and supply containers were dropped from the same planes; preferably 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
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2019
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  18. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Despite this tragic start the Stick Lagèze immediately went into action. They decided to attack the main road Meppel - Assen which runs parallel to the Drentsche Hoofdvaart and at the time was an important main traffic artery. The stick dropped some 500 meters east of the road and during the hours of darkness could hear the sounds of traffic; enemy columns retreating along the road to Assen. That same afternoon they ambushed a small convoy of enemy soldiers moving along the main road with horsecarts and inflicted severe losses on them.

    During the action the French were made aware by the local resistance of a bridge at the southern end of Smilde - called the Veenhoopsbrug - a small switch bridge which was still intact. Lagèze decided to attack the bridge that same evening. The bridge guard, which consisted of five men was quickly overwhelmed, one sentry was killed the others were taken prisoner and handed over to the Dutch resistance who guarded them. Jan Voortman a farmer from Smilde volunteered to remove the explosives from under the bridge. He took a small boat and paddled under the bridge. In all Voortman removed 24 charges from under the bridge and threw them into the water. After having accomplished their mission, the French paras retreated to the bivouac for some rest and food. Next night, April 10th, they returned to the bridge but ran into enemy opposition. The Germans had reoccupied the bridge. The French reported a strong garrison of 51 men equipped with plenty of automatic weapons.

    Though outnumbered the French engaged the bridge garrison. In a firefight that lasted for two hours the enemy was driven off. None of the French paras was hurt. The German losses were unknown but they lost several men killed and wounded, while the French paras returned to the bivouac with three POWs. During daytime the Germans had undermined the bridge again, but once more a stout-hearted Jan Voortman removed the explosives, this time he was assisted by his father. On the evening of 11 April the French again moved out against the bridge. The bridge was unguarded and the paras took up defensive positions around the bridge using the German trenches. After a while they were attacked by a strong fighting patrol of about 60 men who were sent down from Assen. In the ensuing firefight the Germans suffered several casualties. The French paras again disengaged, regrouped and returned unscratched to their bivouac. Next day the men of Lagèze returned and found the bridge unoccupied. This time the French had come to stay. In the course of the 13th they finally were relieved by Canadian ground forces.

    Smilde  Veenhoopsbrug.jpg
    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 other bank.

    The old pivot bridge over the canal has been replaced after the war by a modern draw bridge. For the location, which is slightly to the south of the old bridge site, and a picture 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
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2019
  19. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Stick Thomé - Diever & Dieverbrug

    Lieutenant Edgar Tupët-Thomé (alias Tom) and his stick came down in the wooded area called Hezer Esch to the northeast of Diever, some 4 miles south of the intended Drop Zone. It took them considerable time to orient themselves and it was only by daybreak that Lieutenant Thomé learned from some civilians who were taking a walk through the woods, that he was near Diever. The stick thereupon established a bivouac in the woods just opposite the Armen-Werkhuis along the Groningerweg. There are no data available of the actions on the 8th.

    On Monday 9 April the Stick Thomé successfully laid an ambush on the road along the Drentsche Hoofdvaart and interdicted German transport along this important traffic artery for the rest of the day. The paras intercepted several enemy vehicles. A German staff car was destroyed and its occupants, some staff officers, among whom the Gestapo-chief of Den Haag (The Hague), were killed. The staff car yielded lots of documents with valuable information about the enemy forces and logistical support in Western Holland. A cargo boat, filled with machines and ammunition, and a smaller tug, sailing past through the canal, were also attacked and destroyed. Both barges were sunk with explosives and the German ship's crew either killed or taken prisoner. Finally, in late afternoon, a group of seven individuals, two Germans and five Dutch collaborators (policemen of the much hated Sicherheitsdienst (SD)) were taken prisoner by the French. Three promptly surrendered but four of the Dutch policemen made a run for it. One plunged into the canal and tried to escape by swimming across. All four were shot by the French paras and killed. The Dutch policeman who had surrendered thereupon was also shot by the French and left for dead at the canal side, though he survived. He later 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 French action all traffic along the Drentsche Hoofdvaart was completely paralyzed. From then on no more traffic was seen.

    Diever - Dwingelo Map aa.jpg
    1 = Hezenes where the stick Thomé gathered after the landing; 2 = De Haarsluis site of the ambush on April 9th.
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2019
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  20. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    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 mayor informed the Wehrmachtskommandant of the presence of French paratroopers and begged for military assistance. Though the Wehrmachtskommandant 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. Local resistance fighters, lightly armed with pistols, therefore posted inside the village that afternoon and evening to keep a 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 taken prisoner by another group of French paras who had landed there.

    Next day great tension arose between the inhabitants of Diever, who felt more and more liberated, and some of the remaining Dutch NSB-ers who started to pack up for a flight from the village. This eventually ended in a scuffle in the early afternoon. Though the fighters were separated by the local police, one of the NSB-ers sent for help from a German detachment encamped at nearby Steenwijk. In the afternoon at about 16:00 hours a group of five German soldiers appeared in the village who were clearly not on the run, but 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 - 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 favor. At the eastern edge of Diever they bumped into German soldiers. 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 held at the eastern edge of the village and blocked the exit on that side of the village. The French paras encountered the latter group, just as these were deboarding the truck and taking up position in a small grove. The SAS men decided to engage them. Using the cover of the ditches they crawled unperceived to within hand grenade range and threw some "gammon" bombs, killling and wounding several of the enemy. In the ensuing firefight about ten Germans were killed or wounded, including the troop leader. Two resistance fighters, who went 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. The French paras disengaged and moved back to the bivouac in the woods opposite the Armen-Werkhuis. Now that the position had been compromised, it was decided to move the bivouac, including six German prisoners and the NSB-mayor, to a new location in the forests in the vicinity of Haarsluis. Though some suggested to shoot the prisoners, Thomé decided to take them along. Later in the evening the Germans, 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 an artillery piece (mortar?) which they had received as reinforcement. Several houses in the area and the shed of the Armen-Werkhuis were set on fire by this gun. Thomé hid deeper inside the woods and remained in hiding until relieved by the Canadian ground troops on April 12th.

    Meanwhile inside the village the Germans took their revenge on the population. With a lot of rage and yelling they randomly arrested 11 men. Who later that evening were executed at the edge of the local cemetery, on command of an officer of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) commander Habener. 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 survived the shooting. After playing dead for a while he managed to get away after nightfall, though he had been hit twice by bullets.

    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 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: Jun 22, 2019
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