On the night of 7 to 8 April 1945 there was a spectacular operation place above Drenthe. French paratroopers from the Special Air Service SAS leaps from a Short Stirling bomber widespread. They were divided into sticks. They came down at Appelscha, Orvelte, Spier, Gasselte, Westerbork en Assen. On 23 May 2015 I took part in a battlefield tour guided by Joël Stoppels van Battlefield Tours. We drove through the beautiful Drenthe to stop at the places where the paratroopers came down and got in a fight with the Germans. This operation was given the code name Amherst. It was in the last weeks of the Second World War Het waren de laatste weken van de Tweede Wereldoorlog. Nazi Germany was collapsing. The end of the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler was near. In Germany the soldiers of the Wehrmacht surrendered by thousands to the Allies who spread out all over Germany. Germany lay in ruins because of the sustained bombing. The Canadians were in march northward. From the Reichswald they marched towards northern Germany. To cover their flank part of the Canadian Army went down to eastern and northern Netherlands, together with the Poles. At the time that French paratroopers of the SAS jumped above Drenthe the Canadians were ready to march to Assen and Groningen.

 

The free French paratroopers of 'Special Air Service'

 

In October the leader of the Free French, General de Gaulle,  decided to the creation of a paratroopers unit. A portion is deployed in the Middle East against the German Afrika Korps and a part went to England with the Belgians and became part of the SAS under the command of Brigadier General Rodirick McLeod. They were called the French Squadron. Together with the resistance they would be used to prevent the Germans sending. In December 1944, the French will be used during the Battle of the Bulge. In February, both regiments were moved to England where they were strengthened to be brought volunteers from the Maquis. The French Resistance. Meanwhile, Brigadier General Calvert became commander of the SAS Brigade. He had made plans to deploy the brigade in the Netherlands. The British 2nd regiment would be dropped on the Veluwe, operation Keystone. The Belgian 5th regiment would infiltrate under the command of the 2nd Canadian Corps in the Northern Netherlands with jeeps, Operation Larkswood. The two French regiments would jump in Southeast Drenthe and Friesland, Operation Amherst.

The French paratroopers were given the order to capture bridges to make the Canadian advance easier, to prevent the destruction of airports Eelde, Steenwijk and Leeuwarden, to create confusion among the Germans and to help the local resistance and to supply intelligence to Canadians.
 

 

01 - Mk II helmet- jump version, with camouflage net
02 - Battle-dress
03 - M41 "Denison smock" jacket
04 - face camouflage net
05 - "toggle rope"
06 - boots
07 - M37 leggins
08 - M37 webbing
09 - Sten Mk V SMG with bayonet
10 - M36 grenade
 
The French jump into 47 groups, 'sticks' of 15 men each from Stirling bombers. They have the hatch to jump at the bottom and thus not on the side like the C-47 Skytrain (military version of the Dakota). The code the operation had began was 'The boat capsized' In the afternoon of 5 april 1945 Generaal Calvert arrived at the secred French camp. He speached to all units that would jump, called them first class hunters and wished them good hunting.

Stick 11 of 2nd Régiment before departure of airfield Great Dunmow.

 
De sticks komen heel verspreid neer nogal ver van de geplande locatie. Wel zo'n vijf kilometer. Eén stick zelf 60 kilometer. The sticks came downquite spread far from the planned site, some about five kilometers. One stick itself 60 kilometers. After the landing they were on their own. Already that night the started the attack on German units spread over Drenthe and Friesland. Each with its own drama. After the war investigation had made by mister G.A. Bontekoe, former mayor of Sleen, the Frenchman Gildas Calvez and kolonel Roger Flamand, who took part in Operation Amherst. Thanks to the historic associations in Drenthe and Friesland all these events have been documented.
Jaap Jansen at theAmherst monument during the commemoration 2010.
An important part in the commemorations of Operation Amherst played old lieutenant colonel Jaap Jansen deceased in 2012. He has translated the book Amherst from French to Dutch and was a great connoisseur of Operation Amherst.

De battlefield tour started at Meppel railway station.

 

Spier

By bus we drove from Meppel railway station to Spier. A cross with the text '21 fighters executed on 10 April 1945'.  In the past the cross stood inconspicuously along the highway. Now  Now there is a memorial decorated. Those executed are commemorated on the new memorial at the place where they died. The exact location was between the two road sections of the A28 and thereby not to reach.
Already before the construction of highway A28 there was a possibilitey to go to Groningen through Spier. At the time of liberation in April 1945 this route was heavenly used by retreating Germans and the advancing Allies. In the night of 7 to 8 April 1945 paratroopers of the French SAS (Special Air Service) were dropped above Drenthe. At Hoogeveen French paratroopers were looking for support and shelter by localsa at Wijsterseweg. Private houses became military objects. Civilians became non uniformed troops. This could mean death penalty. During the combat with the Germans the house of Scholten family was shot. The whole family died. The French retreated. A part of the locals and some hidings were captured. A young woman helped the German commander with the first selection of the prisoners. Many were released and others were taken with the retreating Germans. They would been brought to Camp Westerbork. On the way prisoner Hayo Wubs tried to escape. He was shot in his leg and died of his injuries. The Allies marched quickly. Their artillery was heard. The Germans were delayed by their captives. Just outside Spier prisoners were taken over by Grüne Polizei who drove up from the north on April 10, 1945. Their commander was named Jung. The 14 men were driven into a forest road. A little way off the road, they all the 14 prisoners were murdered with a shot in the neck between 12:00 and 13:00. This had been done by six Germans, commanded by Jung. One of the prisoners shouted just before the fatal shot yet, "Long live the queen."

The 14 bodies were found after Spier was liberated by the 8th Canadian Reconnaissance Regiment. The number listed on the monument is not entirely true. They are the 15 deported men of which 14 were executed in Spier, four of the family Training and 3 men who were killed in the Spaarbankbos. However, this is unrelated to the drama in Spier.

I made this comparison photo of Cafe Hummel in Spier.

It was 11 April 1945. Major Jean Salomon Simon entered the gun positon built by the Germans east of the road near caf'e Hummer. The position consisted of a hole of about four meters and a parapet of earth. There were also colonel de Bollardière, sergeant Claudius Francois Campan and captain Gilbert Paumier. From Beilen approached a number of German police vans around noon. When the trucks were approached up to 50 meters Campan wanted to fire his Bren, but the gun blocked. When he tried to reload Campan was shot in the head. Simon, who wanted to take over from him, met the same fate.

Half an hour later a Canadian unit of the 8th Reconnaissance Regiment  arrived at Spier . At the same time there were German reinforcements from the west of the forest. The Germans retreated rapidly. The French doctor Pierre Dumas has helped Simon, but later that day he died in a hospital in Hoogeveen. The bodies of the 14 executed citizens were also found. The Spier was liberated on 11 april 1945.

After the fightings a Spier the French gathered around the village where this photo was taken. Then the Canadians brought the paratroopers to Coevorden where the went to England via Nijmegen.
Our guide Joël Stoppels at the monument commemorating the fallen gunmen Simon and Campan. Het monument consists of a plate with the names of the two French paratroopers surmounted by a parachute helmet. Furthermore, the regiment weapon.
 

Appelscha

Above the border of Drenthe and Friesland in the municipalities of Ooststellingwerf and Smilde about 60 paratroopers jumped out of the Stirling bombers. They were under the command of the 33-year-old captain Pierre Sicauld. He was injured during the landing. After landing they decided to hide in the woods and wait until it was light. In the woods south of Appelscha the Jewish family Lezer from Amsterdam who were hiding there made contact with the paratroopers. On this photo Lezer famlie with the French paratroopers.

This is the Stokersverlaatbridge across Opsterlandse Compagnonsvaart at Appelscha. Captain Sicaud had decided to capture this bridge. This bridge forms an important connection between Southeast Friesland and Drenthe.   The French paratroopers occupied this bridge on 10 April 1945. At the end of the day they They They retreated to the nearby forest. Around the bridge and on the roof of the mill Mulder they took positions. It was not long before the fighting started with the Germans. First, a German vehicle coming from Appelscha was shelled in which the occupants are killed and then a group of German soldiers was captured. They also looked for the other paratroopers with the aid of the locals. On the next day 11 April 1945 the Germans attacked the bridge but the attack was repelled. Then a German vehicle was disabled. By noon, a bus was forced to stop and been shot. One man was killed, some wounded and the rest captured. At night, the French pulled back again in the forest near the bridge. In the dark the Germans did not venture in the forest, so it offered a good hiding.

On Thursday 12 April 1945 the French returned to the bridge. Since the fighting lasted longer than expected, there was a short of ammunition and food supplies, so two Typhoons dropped stocks. I can imagine the Germans ran away seeing these fighters.

Stokersverlaatbrige at Appelscha. On the background flour factory Mulder. On the roof sat also French paratroopers who kept the area under gunpoint.
View from Stokersverlaatbridge to the forest in which French paratroopers retreated during the night.
True, even now I saw the name Mulder on the flour mill. There seems nothing has changed after 70 years.
On the junction at Stokerverlaatbridge in Appelscha our guide told us about the events at this bridge on  10,11 en 12 April 1945.

Lieutenant Duno with his men at  Stokersverlaatbridge in Appelscha.

De stick of lieutenant Duno on the bridge in Appelscha.

The bridge at Appelscha is 41 kilometers away from Groningen. The Germans have been driven. The French paratroopers are victorious and stand here at the Stokersverlaatbrug in Appelscha.

Joy over the victory Stokersverlaatbridge in Appelscha. Residents of Appelscha with the French paratroopers.

In een restaurant bij de Stokersverlaatbrug gebruikten we onze lunch. Daar staat een kastje die er tijdens de gevechten om de brug ook stond. Tijdens die gevechten is een kogel ingeslagen, waarvan het gat thans nog te zien is. In a restaurant at the Stokerverlaatbridge we had our lunch. During the battles for the bridge there was a cabinet. During that fighting a bullet hit that cabinet, whose hole at present can still be seen.
In the restaurant waar we had lunch there were two photographs of the liberation of Appelscha on 13 April 1945 hanging on the wall and also a staff map.
TheTyphoons also dropped landmines. The French paratroopers could create roadblocks on access roads to the bridge. On 13 april 1945 it was for both the French paratroopers as the population of Appelscha a happy day, because units of the Canadian Army than reached Appelscha and the French were repaid. They went back to England.
Monument commemorating the liberation ofAppelscha on 13 April 1945. Right in the background flour factory Mulder, where French paratroopers had a stand on the roof and could keep the environment of the Stokerverlaatbridgtridge under fire.

The French paratroopers of SAS in Appelscha.

A Canadian reconnaissance car with relieved women in Appelscha on 13 April 1945.
 

Gasselte

Then we drove to Gasselte where the NSKK was housed. NSKK represents Nationalsozialistische Kraftfahrkorps. The Nationalsozialistische Kraftfahrkorps (NSKK) was a paramilitary part of the NSDAP. The main aim of the NSKK was spreading the "motorization thought: the popularization of the use of car and motorcycle transport. Originally founded on April 1, 1931, during the Second World War, an aid organization for including the Luftwaffe.

During the war the NSKK served as supply unit to the different fronts. Until June 1942, Adolf Hühnlein was in charge, after his death he was succeeded by Erwin Kraus. From January 1941 several foreigners were recruited as a volunteer for the NSKK. In the Netherlands the staff housed in The Hague, although volunteers could also register via SS recruitment offices. The majority were trained in Diest and in Vilvoorde. This NSKK'ers were employed by the Luftwaffe NSKK Gruppe. Others came through a Regional Employment at the NSKK Legion Speer or NSKK Gruppe Todt. Eventually there were about 10,000 Dutch at the NSKK.

After about 60 French paratrooperswere dropped in the night of 7 April 1945 in Gasselte , some had contact with the Resistance R. Pronk. Members of the resistance were looking for the group of paratroopers that whole Sunday. Containers with ammunition, weapons and food were collected. The Germans were alarmed about the airborne landings. Residents of Gasselte were surveyed in the presbytery but sent home. Only on Sunday in the evening a code message was sent by Orange radio "The boat has capsized." That was the green light for the resistance movement to come into action to gather intelligence for the paratroopers landed. The paratroopers in the state forest in Gasselte were split between two command posts. The one at the home of Pronk and the other in the forest.

For the mutual connection they were provided with radio transmitter / receivers, the Jedburgh sets. 

The decision was made to attack the NSKK headquarters. A plan of attack was made, and a sketch. After finishing the action the paratroopers would carry yellow neckerchiefs as recognition.

Around noon the attack began. There were fierce shot from the presbytery to the French paratroopers. Corporal Bégue was killed and Sergeant Begue Briand was injured. Finally NSKK'ers were fleeing but some were hiding in the basement. They saw that the presbytery was looted after the departure of the Germans and the French.

On charges of looting more than 300 people were locked in the church by the Germans. The Germans threatened to blow up the church. After mediation by the NSB mayor all men were released except 16 men who have confessed they had participated in the looting. They were taken to Gieten and from there to the prison in Assen on 11 April 1945. On Friday 13 April 1945 they were released from prison by the Canadians.

Here we are at the presbytery in Gasselte, headquarters of the NSKK during the war. On the right the monument commemorating Corporal Bégue, who was killed during the atttack by the French paratroopers. 
The attack on the presbytery in Gasselte was well prepared witness this situation sketch.

Traces of war: in the facade of the presbytery are to see numerous bullet holes.

Monument near the presbytery  commamorating the fallen Corporal Fernand Begue, who was buried on his native ground on the Island of Madagascar after the war.

The church of Gasselte in which the Germans locked up 300 men occused of looting. They threatened to blow up the church. By mediation of the NSB mayor most of them were released.

This is the fallen Corporal Fernand Begue.

The grave of Fernand Begue, where a floral tribute is made.

The prisoners were tied with parachute cord. The two officers, the German Klaus and the Dutchman Van de Bent were not tied up after they had given their word of honor not to escape. In the background the temporary grave of Corporal Fernand Bégue. He was transferred in 1949 to his birthplace Anjananarivo in Madagascar in 1949.

These German officiers had given their word of honor not to excape. Therefore they were not tided up by the French paratroopers.

Radio station 'Archiviste 11'. With this code the privates 1st class Jean Troller and Marcel Mougne could call the Typhoons.

Radio station 'Archiviste 36' with on the left Emile Soupe, in the middle Georges Lalisse en on the right an unknown.

The paratroopers were equiped with small arms. Here Sergeant Jean Reilhac and his assistance with a PIAT (Projector Infantry Anti Tank) anti-tankgun.

On patrol in the state forest. in front from left to the right Lieutenants Jean Appriou and Michel Legrand and further on Captain Paul Grammond.

Before going to the collection point at Pronk this photo was taken of the stick of Lieutenant Appriou.

Men of the stick of Lieutenant Michel Legrand.

While officers are studying the plan of attack for the last time the men are waiting at the barn of Pronk for the signal for departure.

On the way to Gasselte.

Begind the gunman there are lying the sergeants Georges Briand and Louis Le Goff in coverage.

After the battle the paratroopers contact their remaining comrades in the forest by radio.

After the attack on the presbytery these paratroopers take a rest on a fence of the house next to the presbytery.

Op 24 May 2015 I made this comparison photo.

The French paratroopers retreated in the state forests of Gasselte with their prisoners.

De NSKK is defeated and the staff captured. The French paratroopers pull back to the state forest through Lutkenend.

The captured members of the staff of the NSKK are led by the French to a command post.

A Canadian Bren Carrier at the beginning of Kerkstraat with to French paratroopers in front of it. On the carrier are written greetings from already liberated towns.

For these French paratroopers Operatie Amherst is over. with vehicles they were brought to Coevorden gebracht to the collection point for the return to England.

NSKK'ers, Luftwaffesoldaten en NSB'ers trekken door de Hoofdstraat van Rolde.

 

Orvelte

The men of lieutenant Cameret who were dropped at the flax factory went to a farm at Oranjekanaal. Here lived Hendrikus Pol and his wife Annigje, who were in the resistance. The paratroopers stayed at the farm for food. Later that night, a group of 50 Germans entered the farm of Enting, about five kilometers from the flax factory. After having carefully cleaned the house  the French went to sleep in the barn of Pol. Later that day two German soldiers came for coffee. They did not noticed the presence of French parachutists at all. The next day lieutenant Camaret decided to occupy both the bridge and the lock at the flax factory. The monitoring of the bridge consisted of eight Germans who were armed with guns and Panzerfausts. They were overpowered

 

Twee Duitsers werden gedood en de anderen krijgsgevangen gemaakt. Toen de Duitsers vanuit Enting's boerderij op de groep schoten, besloot luitenant Camaret om terug te trekken in het bost voordat de Duitsers versterking kregen. Toen maakten ze contact met de heer Reijntjes, de directeur van de vlasfabriek. In de volgende dagen regelde hij de verzorging van de parachutisten samen met zijn vrouw.

Two Germans were killed and the other were made prisoner of war. When the Germans fired on the group from Enting his farm, lieutenant Camaret decided to withdraw in the forest before the Germans were reinforced. Then they made contact with Mr. Reijntjes, the director of the flax factory. In the following days he arranged the care of the paratroopers together with his wife.

The flax factory in Orvelte, of which mister Reijntjes was director.

On the wall of the flax factory, this memorial in memory of Antoine Treis.

Belgian jeeps came from Coevorden pass the temporary bridge over the lock to Orvelte. Far right with hat Mr. Reijntjes.
At the same location, I made 70 years later on 23 May 2015 this comparison photo.
Our battlefield tour group at the lock in the Oranjekanaal where the jeeps of the Belgian SAS drove on the temporary bridge.
French jeeps at the farm of Pol. They were armored jeeps. The French paratroopers stayed two weeks at the family Pol.
 

Westerbork

The landing of the French paratroopers commanded by Major Puech Samson had resulted in just such a chain of events as at other locations where the French came down. On all locations it was common that shortly after the landing there were fightings with the Germans, but also the residents in the area and the resistance offered help quickly and became involved in the fighting. So also inWesterbork where the agent Willem van der Veer dropped from England played a major role in the liberation of the village.

 

Sergeant Major Stoel, his wife and resistance fighter command Willem van der Veer.

In Westerbork General Bottger was at his headquarters in Café Slomp with the bakery in Westerbork. There was also Sergeant Major Stoel, who sympathized with the resistance. The French paratroopers decided to attack the German headquarters. They stormed the cafe. Here the German general was wounded, but survived the war. When we were at the cafe we could still clearly see the bullet holes in the facade. After the fighting Willem van der Veer and the Stoel family found shelter in a farm. The Germans could not find him. On 10 April, 1945 Polish tanks were approaching. He went  to the town hall in Westerbork by bicycle. The NSB mayor Pijbes together with seven council members wanted to surrender. Then camp commander Gemmeker made a telephone call from Westerbork. Van der Veer replied in English. For the German that was the sign that the Allies were coming.

Onze battlefield tour-group on the arrivel in Westerbork.

On the right cafe Slomp with the bakery. Besides the home of Sergeant Major Stoel where the telephone exchange is housed and completely left the house of Dr. Boezeman

On the same spot I took this photo 70 years later on 23 May 2015.

Traces of war: 70 years later I still could see the bullet holes in the facade of the cafe .

The war memorial in Westerbork.

 

Conclusion operation Amherst

 
The usefulness of Operation Amherst remained unclear. The Allied advance was not accelerated by this operation. The German morale was not affected. On the German side felt hundreds of deaths and injuries, and 67 French missing were found in a camp near Bremen a few weeks later . Also among the French paratroopers were many dead and injuries. The Germans occused the population giving help to the French paratroopers Therefore, the Germans acted unprecedented crackdown on the civilian population. More than 70 civilians were shot without any proces. It is a mystery why the Canadian General Cregar gave the SAS General Calvert no help for the trapped French paratroopers.
 
 

Bronnen:

 

 

Guide battlefield tour Operatie Amherst of Battlefield Tours

 

 

Operation Amherst, French paratroopers fought in Drenthe, Roger Flamand, translated in Dutch by J.H. Jansen.

 

The boat capsized. Dutch title: 'De boot is omgeslagen', the last days of World War Two in Gasselte, J. Kroezenga.