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 cautiously moved through back gardens and, without being detected, approached the German HQ up to a few 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. 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 Bren gun would provide flank protection and cover the road to Beilen, another group of eight also armed with a Bren would slip 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 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. At the time this area 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, 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 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. Enemy soldiers, completely surprised by the sudden assault, scurried in all directions. Many were struck by the fire of the paras.

    As the French paras reached the command post they started to toss Gammon bombs inside. They then made an attempt to enter through the kitchen at the backside, but the opponent opened fire from a window across the street. 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. However, Corporal Robert Bonjean, for some reason, decided to take the shortest route and directly crossed the road. He was hit by enemy fire when he was half way across. Then one of the French paras of the outflanking group, who had made it across, saw a group of German officers, one dressed in a long leather coat and armed with a submachine gun, run out of the front door of the Slomp building. The para fired. The officer in the leather coat 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 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 things rapidly started to go awry. The two Brens of the group malfunctioned. One Bren gun 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, moved in reinforcements and started to gain the upper hand. In an attempt to rescue the badly wounded Bonjean, who was still lying in the middle of the road, Le Bobinec was hit by a bullet in his back and fell in the street. Captain Betbèze ran out into the street and dragged the wounded Bobinec into cover, though he was slightly wounded in the leg by a piece of shrapnel from a German hand grenade. The unfortunate Bonjean could not be rescued and mortally wounded he died where he had fallen, in the middle of the street [This according to Flamand's version. 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]. 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 one, Corporal René Marché on his Brengun, was killed. The fight, which had started at about 16:00 hours had lasted just over one hour. The paras by now had pretty much exhausted their ammunition and handgrenades.

    Betbèze signalled his men to break off the action, but not all managed to disengage and get away. The young Corporal Jean-Francois Cognet, who, together with a companion, had moved around the right flank, was cut off by the enemy. Hidden behind a haystack in the meadow opposite the local schoolbuilding, he bravely fought back 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 to participate in 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 a bicycle patrol of an estimated twenty Germans 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 withdrawn that way. The inserted twenty minutes pause had saved 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 by nightfall at the bivouac. Three men had fallen: Bonjean, Marché and Cognet; three wounded had been left behind and their fate was uncertain. Two of them Le Bobinec and Boulard were taken prisoner and evacuated by their captors to a hospital in Assen. The wounded Bobinec had been hiding for a while in a cellar, where two Dutch civilians tended his wound, but they ultimately decided, probably for their own safety and 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 hide in a chicken-hutch and stay out of German hands. After hiding for 48 hours he was liberated by the ground forces. Willem van der Veer, the Dutch commando, armed only with a revolver, could only watch the fight and 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 (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 from the garrison of Assen, combed out Westerbork and the immediate vicinity of the village, but they did not find a trace of the French. The situation remained tense. In the evening the Germans suddenly started firing at the church tower, when 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 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 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 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.)
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2021
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  2. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Last edited: Jul 19, 2021
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  3. 17thDYRCH

    17thDYRCH Senior Member Patron

    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 that had been dropped in the area were detailed to secure the bridges and locks. It was not required that they took and held the bridges for a longer period of time, for that the paras 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' line 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 unlucky 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 to the SW of Grolloo and used these as a base for patrols. They were active in the area between Grolloo and Assen and especially in the night of 11 to 12 April laid several ambushes.

    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 at Westerbork. Taylor who landed near Elp had gathered only half of his men. 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 towards the woodsline, 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.

    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.

    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 10, 2021
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  6. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

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

    Amherst Jeep sticks.jpg

    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. However very little is known about their actions. Each group consisted of twelve men and three Jeeps. The Jeeps were flown in by separate planes (Halifaxes) which had to be guided in by three white reception lights and one flashing letter on the down wind side.

    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 shared the plane with a Jedburgh team, consisting of four Dutchmen, who also jumped during Op Amherst. The men of Larralde were scattered over a wide area. Captain Larralde succeeded in gathering only five men after he had landed, two of them wounded: 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. The group decided to search for nearby farms. But once found the local farmers refused to take in the wounded, because the risks were to great. They advised the group to move south into the nearby forests. There the French hid for the time being from enemy patrols who actively combed the area and occasionally came eerily close. An attempt to move further south failed because of the swampy terrain and the many canals. After a few days, the uninjured members of the group decided to make an attempt to reach their own troops. However, they did not get past the Oranje Kanaal, which was heavily guarded. In the end the group was rescued by the ground troops (probably on the 11th and probably by the Jeeps that had crossed the Oranje Kanaal at the lock near the Flax Factory). The Jedburgh team was the last to jump from the airplane. One of the members of the Jedburgh team later commented that the French jumped too slow and became too widespread as a result. 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.

    Group 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 landed far off at Hoogeveen, while Lagèze didn't take off at all that night. No details are known about the actions of the stick Leblond, other than that the stick eventually was contacted by a Belgian Jeep patrol near Elp on April 11th.

    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 captured by the enemy dangling by his parachute from a tree near the latter village. News that the Jeep drop had been cancelled did not reach the stick of Cochin and on the first night he waited in vain for the three Jeep aircraft to arrive. For over two hours he kept his three reception lights and the letter 'N' burning. Cochin ultimately ended up in the forests near Grolloo where he probably got in touch with men of the stick De Camaret who had drifted north in their effort to evade the enemy after th eencounter at the Flax Factory. No further details are known about the actions 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.
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2021
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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. 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 Canadian soldiers were 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 against no opposition, 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, 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 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. The Belgian SAS took up defensive positions to the north, west and southwest of the town, and began carrying out the first patrols. Over the next few days the Belgians sent out Jeep patrols in all azimuths. The Belgians scouted as far as Hardenberg and 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 Nieuwlande, Elim, Nieuw-Moscou, Hollandscheveld, Nieuweroord, Krakeel en Noordscheschut. Meanwhile the 1st Polish Armoured Division, under general Stanislaw Maczek, had been alerted to join the advance of 2nd Cdn Corps by operating to the left of the 4th Cdn Armoured Div. 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 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

    An important feat was the capture of the bridge at Oosterhesselen. On April 9th the Belgian SAS attacked and captured intact the bridge across the Verlengde Hoogeveensche Vaart at this village. 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 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 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. As the French did not request any help, the patrol returned to Oosterhesselen. On its return journey the Belgians however clashed with German paratroopers. Though the Germans withdrew after a short firefight, Tpr. Becket was wounded in the 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).

    Poles Westerbork.jpg

    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 elements of motorized infantry of the 10 Dragoon Regiment (10 pułk dragonów), moved to the north to scout for bridges over the Oranje kanaal at Orvelte and Westerbork and link up with the SAS troops near Westerbork. By 13:00 hours they reached the canal and established contact with the French paras. 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 were killed in this encounter. By the evening the Poles moved back to Oosterhesselen.

    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)

    Next day, April 11th, a strong Belgian SAS patrol commanded by Thonard, 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 Oranje Kanaal to evacuate the French SAS soldiers in that area. Without enemy interference, they moved over Zweeloo to Witteveen and the canal bank opposite the Flax Factory. The Belgians were reinforced by two sections (5 vehicles in all) of French SAS Jeeps, that had been brought up overland and were manned by French paras, volunteers from the sticks that already had been relieved by the ground troops and assembled at Coevorden.

    Thonard was informed that other French SAS sections were north of the Oranje Kanaal at Elp. To reach Elp, however, the canal had to be crossed, but the nearby Orvelter bridge over the canal was destroyed as was the bridge to the north of Westerbork. Here German Infantry was still present in some force as the Poles had experienced. Instead an improvised crossing was constructed at the lock gate with the help of the local population. 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, Belgian and French Jeeps soon moved across the emergency bridge. No organized enemy resistance was found north of the Oranje Kanaal 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 scouted westwards along the south bank of the Oranjekanaal in the direction of Westerbork, which was reported free of enemy. It was found out that Beilen, the next village to the west, was still strongly occupied. Beilen eventually fell next day, April 12, to the 2nd Cdn Inf Div after some stiff fighting. By the evening (20:15 hours) the Belgian Jeeps were back in Coevorden. During the day the Belgians had evacuated 52 French paras, including Puech-Samson. The number of POWs had risen to 25 who were identified as members of the 8. FJ Bn.

    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).
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2021
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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 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: Jul 22, 2021
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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 Constant 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 across the Buinen- Schoonoord Canal, which gave access to 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. 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. The stick moved southward through the Schoonoord forest. 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, residents of Wezuperbrug witnessed how a cornered group of about 11 paras, who had been driven out of the woods by German search parties, moved across country to a better position. There was a firefight and thecresidents saw four of the paras fall; hit by enemy fire. The rest of the paras made it to the nearby edge of the woods and fled. 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 three 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. This horrid corpse desecration is an example of how despicable the German soldier let out his frustration - when he felt save. The fourth para one had seen to fall, Cpl Neuwirth, escaped as by miracle. A bullet had bounced off a coin purse, he was carrying.

    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 men landed widely dispersed and only four men gathered around Forgeat. The stick hid 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. Confronted with a strong German combat patrol the men left their hideout and moved southeast across country until they reached 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. On April 10th Snitjer escorted Forgeat and his small party to Schoonoord which was liberated by the Poles next day.

    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), 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 moved north along the road to a farm just outside the village, 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, partly because they conducted only a cursory search of the woods, reluctant to probe deep out of fear for what may await them. 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 Klaasens were shot behind the windmill at Schoonoord. They had been accused for having given assistance to the French paratroopers. Apparently someone had talked.

    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
    Later the maimed bodies of three men of the stick Varnier were found dead 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).
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2021
  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 forces cancentrated 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, 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. In the afternoon, based on information from a Dutch civilian, who told them there were Germans in the village, a recce under Lieutenant Appriou was conducted in the direction of Gieten. 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 his outfit, with the result that part of the stick landed further away in the woods. The Sticks of Stéphan, Legrand and Grammond 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 for the guns 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).

    Amherst mess Grammond No 1.jpg
    The first message transmitted at 09:30 hrs by Grammond (Radio Code 406) requesting for a resupply of weapons and ammunition (Ops Log Main SAS HQ, serial 796)


    Bois de Gieten Sticks.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 overestimate because of the French aggressiveness, did not dare to enter the forest. This attitude changed later on. By April 12th Grammond reported that the enemy was watching dangerously close (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. 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 in an easterly direction along this road. Next to 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 One of the scouts, Sergeant Lesné, was killed instantly. Now that the enemy had been alerted, the 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 forest. Later, on the 10th, an ambush was laid during daytime along the Assen - Gieten road, which yielded another three prisoners, while one vehicle was destroyed. To the embarrassment of the French, the vehicle 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 patrol base. This was not the only feat of that day. Later that afternoon Captain Grammond signalled to main HQ SAS that the ambush along the Rolde - Gieten yielded a total of three enemy vehicles destroyed and 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 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 the base camp without further mishap, taking the POW's with them, the two German detachments continued their 'red-on-red' engagement for a long time.

    The French constantly scouted the surrounding villages. In the morning of the 12th they reported to have seen a group of 150 enemy at Gasselte. They also reported a number of enemy lorries parked against the south wall of the meat factory at Gieten. The trucks were later attacked by fighter bombers. However, by mid-morning of April 12th Grammond told Main SAS HQ that he had decided to stop every operation and lay up: the men were pretty much exhausted and the net gradually closed around them, the enemy was getting dangerously close.

    Amherst Grammond lay low 12 April.jpg
    The wireless message of Grammond sent at 10:00 hrs on the12th, in which he told Main SAS HQ that he would lay low (Ops Log Main SAS HQ, serial 141).

    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 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. These 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 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.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2021
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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 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 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 NSKK-headquarters in the vicarage. It was decided to carry out an attack with three of the 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 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 frontally. At the same time, the Stick Legrand was to cover the right flank of Appriou, by clearing the houses on the southern side of the road and attack the enemy headquarters from behind. Meanwhile De Gramond's stick would make a wider outflanking movement north of the road in order to cut off the enemy and block off any enemy reinforcements sent in from that direction. Sergeant Le Goff, with a couple of men, was instructed to make a similar outflanking move along the south side of the village and 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: Jul 22, 2021
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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'. From here they went up against Gasselte, accompanied by guides of the local resistance. Though it was daytime the village was reached without trouble.

    The operation then unfolded according to plan. Leaving Albert Bacuez and his Brengun in position at the entrance of the village, the sticks moved forward. 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 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 immediately 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 above their heads, they emerged from 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 on the double to the bivouac in the forest , 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; probably much helped by 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 too much 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 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 the prisoners taken by the small group of paras caused. The number of POWs was steadily growing. On the 10th, Grammond signalled, that 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'; 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)

    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 4, 2021
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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. At 17:00 hours a strong force 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, a number of 300 in all, in the play ground of the local school. 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 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 4, 2021
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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 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 1st 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 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. At Westdorp and Borger the bridges across the Buinen-Schoonoord 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 Germans departure, entered Borger without meeting further opposition. Five of the enemy had been killed in the engagement, an unknown number wounded. Next day, April 13th, the Polish advance continued and Gasselte and Gieten were liberated and the French paratroopers in the Bois de Gieten relieved. The link-up came nothing too soon. By mid-morning of the previous day, April 12th, Grammond had decided to stop all operations and lay up. His men were pretty much exhausted and the net was gradually closing around them, the enemy was coming dangerously close.

    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 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 take them back to Gieten. Obviously one of the German officers has lost his cap … (picture courtesy Boersma)
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2021
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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 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 17, 2021
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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 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 modest worker houses build in single files flanked 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 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 they were detected and a firefight broke out. The German defenders proved 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 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 to distract them from the rest inside the farm until he was captured. After the Germans had ceased their search for the remaining parachutists, the French paras 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 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.

    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: Sep 17, 2021
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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. They had to jump the following night. 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, where 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: Aug 12, 2021
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  18. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Despite this inauspicious 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 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 demolition charges attached to 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 'deloused' the bridge, 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 in strength, according to French estimates a force of 51 men equipped with numerous 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. This time it was not occupied 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 unscathed to their bivouac. Next day, April 12th, 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
    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.

    veenhoopsbrug Smilde.jpg

    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: Sep 5, 2021
  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. It took them considerable time to orient themselves and it was only after daybreak that Lieutenant Thomé learned from some civilians, who were taking a walk through the woods and ran into the French, that he was near Diever, some 5 miles to the south of the intended drop zone. The stick thereupon established a bivouac in the woods just opposite the Armen-Werkhuis 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 itching with impatience to take 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. He decided to 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 and interdicted German transport along this important traffic artery for the rest of the day. The paras intercepted several enemy vehicles. When a motor with sidecar approached Klein, a Lorraine member of the stick, felled the driver with a single wel-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. The paras also shot up an enemy bicycle patrol of six men. 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 laid transversely in the channel and were sunk with Gammon bombs, so that they formed a kind of passage over the channel. Eight of the ship's crew were killed and three taken prisoner. One of the prisoners, an SS-man according to the French, unwisely resisted a body search conducted by Klein and called the Frenchman a "Schwein" (i.e. pig). Klein, who was a German speaking member of the stick, of course understood him correctly and shot the prisoner with two bullets from his Colt - incidentally much to the dismay of Thomé.

    Finally, in late afternoon, Lieutenant Anspach's group surprised seven civilians on foot, followed by a large black car, carrying a pennant, driving at a pace. 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. Four of them apparently realized their mistake and suddenly made a run for it. One plunged into the canal and tried to escape by swimming across. All four were shot. The black staff car also was taken under fire and the driver and the two passengers were killed. The vehicle was destroyed with a "gammon bomb". The French thereupon also shot the remaining prisoners. The three who had surrendered, including a Dutch policeman. Their bodies were left for dead at the road side, though the Dutch policeman 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 these ambushes all traffic along the Drentsche Hoofdvaart was completely paralyzed. From then on no more traffic was seen on this road.

    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: Aug 10, 2021
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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 the French who had landed 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 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 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 favor. 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 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 deboarded and took up position in a small grove. Lieutenant Puy-Dupin, who tended to be a bit over-enthousiastic, rashly 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 reckless nature of his 2nd Lieutenant, rushed forward to call the men back. He reached his men and ordered them to return to the bivouac. The French paras, disengaged but not without difficulty. They were saved by a terrain fold which allowed them to reach a bramble-filled shallow ditch unseen, but only by crawling in single file, on their bellies and keeping their heads low, with Thomé in front. The ditch was full with brambles. They feverishly worked their way forward along the bottom of the ditch through the brambles, still on their stomachs and in single file. Like moles under an umbrella of brambles they reached another, broader ditch. Here Thomé decided to have a look around. Slowly and cautiously, with a camouflage net wrapped around his head, he 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 forest with his binoculairs. Thomé later recalled:
    "I lowered my head slowly back into the ditch, like a turtle in its shell. Things would now happen swift.
    “Andre?”, 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, yelling and waving your Gammons. Then you shoot anything that moves with everything you have.
    “Okay!”
    One… two… three… four… The grenade exploded just as it hits its target and we all jump 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 a little fast!”
    Diving up to our waists in the muddy water, we reached our camp. I think a bath has never seemed so pleasant to me."
    [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 with a bayonet, had his face pretty well scratched 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, the always prudent Thomé decided to establish a new camp, well away from the village of Diever. He moved his group, 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 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. Thomé hid deeper inside the forests and lay low until relieved by the Canadian ground troops on April 12th.

    Back at Diever the Germans, lusting for vegeance, 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 )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: Aug 8, 2021
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