Help needed - British units at liberation of Belsen?

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by divebomber35, May 21, 2009.

  1. divebomber35

    divebomber35 Junior Member

    does any 1 know which british regiments entered belsen concentration camp in 1945?? i was told the east lancs was 1 of these is that correct? i know the 11th armored division was 1 but cannot find any other info. i am led to belive that 1 of my great uncles was at belsen. im trying to confirm if this is true. many thanks. ron
  2. Peter Clare

    Peter Clare Very Senior Member

    Hi Ron,

    Welcome to the forum, good luck with your research

  3. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Hi Ron and welcome to the site.

    It appears Micheal Bentine was one of the first there. Here's his story from Wiki:

    We were headed for an airstrip outside Celle, a small town, just of Hanover. We had barely cranked to a halt and started to set up the ‘ops’ tent, when the Typhoons thundered into the circuit and broke formation for their approach. As they landed on the hastily repaired strip – a ‘Jock’ [i.e. Scottish] doctor raced up to us in his jeep. ‘Got any medical orderlies?’ he shouted above the roar of the aircraft engines. ‘Any K rations or vitaminised chocolate?’ ‘What’s up?’ I asked for I could see his face was grey with shock. ‘Concentration camp up the road,’ he said shakily, lighting a cigarette. ‘It’s dreadful – just dreadful.’ He threw the cigarette away untouched. ‘I’ve never seen anything so awful in my life.

    You just won’t believe it 'til you see it – for God’s sake come and help them!’ ‘What’s it called?’ I asked, reaching for the operations map to mark the concentration camp safely out of the danger area near the bomb line. ‘Belsen,’ he said, simply.

    Millions of words have been written about these horror camps, many of them by inmates of those unbelievable places. I’ve tried, without success, to describe it from my own point of view, but the words won’t come. To me Belsen was the ultimate blasphemy. After VE. Day I flew up to Denmark with Kelly, a West Indian pilot who was a close friend. As we climbed over Belsen, we saw the flame-throwing Bren carriers trundling through the camp – burning it to the ground. Our light Bf 108 rocked in the superheated air, as we sped above the curling smoke, and Kelly had the last words on it. ‘Thank Christ for that,’ he said, fervently. And his words sounded like a benediction.

    Your Q appears to be a grey area as far as the internet is concerned. Most sites refer to 'The British Army' liberating the camp but the link below suggests it may have been the Kings 8th Royal Irish Hussars and The Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
    Bergen-Belsen Death Camp
  4. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Here you go.....I don't think anyone can argue with this must read account.

    At the beginning of April 1945 I was a Staff Officer (Anti-Aircraft Artillery), rank of Major, attached to the HQ of 8th Corps of the British 2nd Army.

    On 12 April our Corps HQ was at the town of Winsen, about 50km north-east of Hannover; we had just crossed the Aller river. The front line was rapidly moving east.

    A Colonel Schmidt of the German Army was escorted through our front line to our Corps HQ; he was in a motorcycle and sidecar and was waving a white flag. He met with our Brigadier Chief of Staff. Schmidt said that we were approaching a camp called Bergen-Belsen which contained civilian political prisoners and that typhus had broken out there. He had been sent by his general to propose that the area around the camp should not be fought over for fear that the prisoners might escape and spread the disease to both armies.

    It was agreed that, as soon as our front line reached a certain point, a truce zone would be established around the camp. The units of the German army were to march out, with their weapons, but the SS camp guards were to stay behind and hand over the camp to an advance party from our side. The camp guards would then be allowed to leave.

    Our advanced units reached that line on 15 April. I was told by our Chief of Staff to take a jeep and a driver and rendezvous with Lt-Col Taylor, the CO of 63rd Anti-Tank Regt, who had been given the job of entering the truce zone and taking charge of Belsen camp. I was to report back as soon as possible to the Chief of Staff and the Corps Commander and give them an eye witness report of the situation in the camp.

    I arrived at the camp entrance just as the 63rd arrived. About 30 SS guards (some were women, all were armed), with Captain Joseph Kramer at their head, had lined up as a reception committee. As I recall, Kramer had some document ready for Lt-Col Taylor to sign. At that point we heard shooting coming from the camp (we could not see into it from where we were). Kramer explained that some of the prisoners were rioting and trying to raid the food stores and that the guards in the camp were having to open fire on them.

    Taylor ordered the SS to lay down their weapons and for our soldiers to stand guard over them. Lt-Col Taylor took one of the tracked vehicles and a Lt. Sington who had arrived with his loud-speaker truck, into the camp. I went with Taylor and we toured around part of the camp. Sington made announcements in German that the British army had arrived to take over the camp and for the prisoners to stay where they were.

    I remember being completely shattered. The dead bodies lying beside the road, the starving emaciated prisoners still mostly behind barbed wire, the open mass graves containing hundreds of corpses, the stench, the sheer horror of the place, were indescribable. None of us who entered the camp had any warning of what we were about to see or had ever experienced anything remotely like it before.

    After this brief tour we returned to the entrance and Taylor ordered all the SS to be arrested and put under guard in their nearby barrack huts. He then wrote a report which I took back to Corps HQ; it was night-time before I got there. I gave Taylor's written report and my own verbal report to the General and other staff officers. The Corps Commander and his staff set about rounding up all the food stores, water trucks and ambulance/hospital services they could get hold of - the great liberation effort had started.

    The next day I was ordered to go back to the camp and attach myself to the 224 Military Government Detachment (the CO was a Major Miles) which had been sent into the camp to take overall charge. The water supply to the camp had apparently broken down some time before. I was given the job of taking charge of the deployment of the water trucks which arrived from many units around, and also to get stand pipes rigged up from material we found in the camp stores. We made use of the German Fire Brigade men and equipment who had been rounded up to help.

    Soon after we got the water organized, I was given the job of scouting the district, and in particular a German Army Panzer (Tank) barracks which was reportedly nearby, to find and requisition food supplies for the camp. I took a jeep and one or two soldiers and soon located the barracks. It contained vary large quantities of food. I also located a well-stocked dairy in the village near the camp.

    The Panzer Barracks at Hohne, a short distance from the Belsen camp, was quickly converted into a vast hospital and a transit camp. I was given the job of supervising the sending of those who were not desperately ill from the old camp to this new camp. The process was for the prisoners to discard all their clothes, to go under the showers (which we had rigged up), be thoroughly de-loused with DDT, sprayed with pressure air hoses (which we had also rigged up), get dressed in clothes commandeered from the German civilian population, and then be loaded onto lorries to be ferried up to the new camp in the Panzer barracks.

    I and some of our soldiers and a group of conscripted German civilian nurses worked 12 to 14 hours a day, 'processing' several thousand weak and sick people every day. Even at this rate, it took two or three weeks to empty the camp. This meant that thousands of prisoners had to wait in the old disease-ridden camp until we could shift them out to safety. As soon as the last prisoner had left, Belsen Concentration Camp was burned down.

    In this period, those of us who worked in the camp were liberally sprayed with DDT every morning (typhus is spread by lice). The medics inoculated us against various diseases. Fortunately, few if any soldiers contracted typhus or any other disease other than dysentery, which almost all of us had - but we kept on working.

    Just before the camp was finally cleared, I was given the job of being in charge of the 'fit' people in the new camp in the Panzer barracks. They consisted of some 20,000 people in various stages of malnutrition and emaciation, but not bad enough to be hospitalised. The prisoners from Belgium, Holland, France and other Allied countries were swiftly repatriated.

    That left the great majority, later known as Displaced Persons ('DPs'), who had originated from Russian and Russian-occupied countries such as Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Yugoslavia etc and who were afraid to go back 'home'. At its peak, there were some 20,000 people in this 'Belsen DP Camp'. I did this job, 'The DP Camp Commandant', for some two months. With the enormous effort put in by our soldiers and the less ill of the ex-prisoners themselves, life was made at least tolerable for those poor people. One newspaper even told its readers that Belsen had been turned into a holiday camp!

    In all, I was involved with the liberation of Belsen camp for over three months. Eventually, I handed over the camp to UNRRA (the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency) and I was posted to the State of Schleswig as British Army Military Governor. In September 1945 I was called to Luneburg to give evidence at the War Crimes trial of Kramer and the other 43 SS guards. The court sentenced Kramer and nine others of the guards to death.

    People asked me, 'What was it like?' No words of mine could adequately describe the sights, the sounds, the stench, and the sheer horror of that camp, and I will not attempt to do so here. Within two or three days of the camp's liberation, many journalists, broadcasters, film crews and politicians came to Belsen. Much has been written about the conditions we found. There are many web sites describing the scene - look up 'Belsen Concentration Camp'.

    At the time, some politicians and religious leaders criticized the British Army for not having done enough to relieve the suffering of the prisoners. As one who was there, the task before us was the like of which nobody had any knowledge or experience. Neither had we the slightest idea of what we were to discover. All of us were in a state of utter shock - young soldiers (most were in their 'teens or early twenties) as well as senior officers. I, myself, had turned 25 only a few days before.

    What SHOULD you do when faced by 60,000 dead, sick and dying people? We were in the army to fight a war and to beat the enemy. What we were suddenly thrust into was beyond anyone's comprehension, let alone a situation which could have been organised and effectively planned for. For example, one terrible fact: many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of starving people died BECAUSE we fed them the only food we had, our army rations - who in the circumstances could be level-headed enough to think that out in advance?

    It was said that after a few days, General Montgomery, the British Army C-in-C, told General Eisenhower, the Allied Supreme Commander, '...either we deal with Belsen camp, or we get on with the war - we can't do both!'

    A personal account by Leonard Berney, Lt-Col RA TD (Rtd)

    BBC - WW2 People's War - The Liberation of Belsen Concentration Camp
    Charley Fortnum and englishchick like this.
  5. Verrieres

    Verrieres no longer a member

    113th LAA Regiment RA (Durham Light Infantry) arrived at Belsen on the 18th April The Panzer Barracks at Hohne, a short distance from the Belsen camp, was converted into a hospital and a transit camp The DLI Regimental Journal for October 1946 reported the battalion recorded the following personel (live)
    50,000 Inmates
    49 male SS camp guards
    26 female SS camp guards
    800 Wehrmacht Soldiers
    1,500 Hungerian Guards plus their families
    1,000 Rossian POW`s
    A military hospital containing
    2,000 wounded/Sick Wehrmacht soldiers
    100 wounded/sick SS personel.
    17,000 dead were interred in the mass graves with a maximum buriel rate of 1700 per day once the backlog was cleared individual grves/commemorations could begin.Belsen was emptied by the 19th May and the last hut was burnt to the ground on the 21st May 1945.
    63rd Anti-Tank Regt,14 Amplifier Unit, Intelligence Corps were I believe the main British units inside the camp on the 15th April but a small band of men from 1st SAS under Major Harry Poat arrived to check the camp for allied POW`s shortly before the main units arrived

  6. Sgt Bilko

    Sgt Bilko Member

    The entrance to Bergen Belsen from our visit there in 2007

    One of the many mass graves

    The memorial to those who suffered
    Drew5233 likes this.
  7. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    Hello and welcome to the forum.

    I see that you already have some excellent replies to your question.

    I have visited Bergen-Belsen and it still is a forboding place even though the camp is long gone.

  8. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Hey up Mel.....I didn't know you'd been there you dark horse !

    Great pic's and cheers for sharing em.

  9. Sgt Bilko

    Sgt Bilko Member

    Andy, my cousin and her fella live in Bielefeld... he's in the Army out there..

    Was about an hour away from them..
  10. airborne medic

    airborne medic Very Senior Member

    Welcome to the forum..sorry for not replying earleir but i've been busy on info for a major internet project......I'd suggest getting hold of issue 89 of the magazine After the has a major article on the liberation of the camp.....from this article it would seem 13th Regiment RHA were first in.....closely followed by men of the 63rd Anti-Tank Regiment RA, a loudspeaker lorry of the 14th Amplifier Unit and the 23rd mention I could see of the East you know which battalion?
  11. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

  12. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron


    Have a look at this on the BBC Peoples War site.
    There are also other similar stories to be found there
    BBC - WW2 People's War - Conflicts through Germany and Liberation of Belsen

    Good luck with your research

    Ron (Goldstein)

    Because of the lamentable and almost non-existant search facilities I suggest you use this text keyed into GOOGLE when you look for other similar stories
  13. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Can anyone ID the British Soldiers unit?
  14. Oldman

    Oldman Very Senior Member

    A great uncle of mine was at Belsen, driving a bulldozer, he helped bury the dead
    in pits and cover them over, to help them do this job they where allowed as much
    booze as they wanted so they could get sleep at nights.
    Thirty years later with tears in his eyes he said the best sight of Belsen was the flame throwers burning the place down.

    It left a great impression on him, his unit I beleive was one of the Pioneer Corps
    but not sure which one.
  15. Verrieres

    Verrieres no longer a member

  16. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

    is this another view

  17. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    That is indeed the same time from another angle.
  18. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

  19. Verrieres

    Verrieres no longer a member

  20. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD


Share This Page