On Sunday, 9 April 2017, again a Battlefield Tour Operations Amherst, this time together with my wife Elly, who also wanted to experience this tour. We were lucky because it was good weather this day. Our guides were Joel Stoppels and Wybo Boersma. We were crossing Drenthe where the the French Airborne Paratroopers of the Special Air Service were dropped from a Short Stirling bomber.
 
Operation Amherst was the code name of the Allies for a special command action on 7 and 8 April 1945 for the liberation of Drenthe in 1945 in preparation for the attack by the Canadians in Groningen during World War II.
French parachutists were part of SAS, the British military Special Air Service. They had to secure traffic jams and bridges in Drenthe and Groningen in the Amherst operation. That way, Canadian troops could quickly move to the city of Groningen. The operation was quite successful, although it did not go according to plan and dropped in Drenthe 33 French parachutists,
700 men were dropped, including four Dutch and one Syrian. About half of them came from one to a few miles of the target due to bad weather. Also, a number of jeeps could not be dropped. A total of 47 groups were dropped. They had to record against an estimated 12,000 spread German soldiers including Dutch SSs.
The Drenthe headquarters of Germans were in Westerbork, where about 40-50 Germans stayed, and that also formed a goal. Nearly 15 French were landed. They received support from a local team team, and tied up with the Germans, but lost

Until now, it has been unclear what the use was of this operation. Perhaps personal feelings and interests played a role.

 

Spier

 
This comparison photo I made on the 9th of April 2017 of the still existing café.
In 1945 the pub called Hummel. The French parachutists took part in a foxhole left by the Germans. The photograph of 1945 was apparently taken after the end of the fighting, given the presence of the local people who soon contact with their liberators.

The inhabitants of Spier with their liberators, the French parachutists of the SAS

Right on the road, I photographed the former tomb of Major Jean Salomon Simon. He will be during
Fighting on April 11 fatal to his head and dies a few hours later in Hoogeveen. Simon's grave, trimmed with his helmet, continued to exist, even though he was later buried with other French soldiers at the French graveyard in Kapelle-Biezelinge in Zeeland. A second Frenchman, Claudius Campan, also dies in Spier, but is often buried in Kapelle Biezelinge. He will not be on the monument until 2010. That is still being corrected by the brother of the fallen French parachutist.
One day before the liberation of the village on 11 April, 1945, fourteen citizens were killed by German soldiers with a neck shot. This was because the Germans heard that liberation was over, and they had no time to bring the prisoners to Kamp Westerbork. The fifteenth victim came to life on a flight attempt. Six of the executed men were actually in armed resistance.
From the lady on this picture are the names of her grandfather, father and uncle on the monument. Then the war comes close ...
 

Appelscha

 
The French parachutists arrived at Appelscha are right near the hiding hull of the team team led by Wim van der Veer, a command that was dropped at Veenhuizen in October 1944 to assist the Frisian resistance. When he detects the pair of pairs, he initially sees them to German soldiers, but just sees the red barettes on time. The resistance men then assist the French as guides. On 10th April, the Stokersverlaat bridge at Appelscha will be occupied by resistance men and French. The Drentse resistance man Jan Eleveld is shot by a Landwachter at Appelscha, a second BS is severely injured. The French at the bridge retreat to re-occupy the bridge on 12th April
So that the Canadians pass through on 13th April without problems.

Explanation of the battle at the Stokersverlaatbrug in Appelscha.

Trace of the fighting at the Stokersverlaatbrug in Appelscha. In the restaurant where we use our lunch is a cabinet containing a bullet hole by a bullet
Elly looks at the equipment of French parachute SAS, which is exhibited by our guides in the restaurant
At the Stokersverlaatbrug.

Elly in the restaurant at Stokersverlaatbrug

French parachutists meet Jewish subducer in the secret hiding place near Appelscha.

 

Gasselte

 
The French who land at Gasselte conquer the headquarters of the National Socialist Kraftfahr
Korps (NSKK), which is located in the parsonage of Gasselte. From October 1944, this unit of German Immigration and Exit Groups was located. These are almost all Dutch volunteers. Bee
This action brings the French corporal Fernand Begue to life. The parachutists get back into the woods with their fallen comrades and imprisoned Germans. Then, the Germans again took possession of their headquarters and captured all Gasselte men and locked them up in the white church of Gasselte.

Bij de pastorie in Gasselte staat een monumentje die herinnert aan de gesneuvelde Franse parachutist
Fernand Begue. Ten tijde dat wij er waren was deze beschrijving met foto verdwenen. Gelukkig heb ik er een keer een foto van gemaakt. At the parsonage in Gasselte is a monument reminiscent of the fallen French parachutistFernand Begue. At the time we were there, this description with a picture has disappeared . Fortunately, I once made a picture of it.

Then, the Germans again took possession of their headquarters and captured all Gasselte men and locked them up in the white church of Gasselte.
 

Orvelte

 

Conquering bridges and preventing them from blowing up is an important part of the Amherst operation. A plaque remembering the attack on the Orvelter bridge is
on the backside of one of the buildings of Orvelte's former flax factory at the Orange Canal. It recalls the death of the corporal 1st class Antoine Treis. By forcing a Passage at the flax factory he was hit by bullets fired from one of the nearby farms. The men of Lieutenant Cameret who were dropped at the flax factory went to a farm on the Oranjekanaal. Here Hendrikus Pol and his wife Annigje lived in the resistance. The parachutists stayed in the farm to eat. Later that night, a group of 50 Germans entered the farm of Enting, about five kilometers away from the flax factory. After cleaning the house carefully, the French went to Pol's barn for sleeping. Two German soldiers who came to drink a cup of coffee later that day did not notice the presence of the French parachutists at all. The next day, Lieutenant Camaret decided to occupy both the bridge and the lock at the flax factory. The guardance of the bridge consisted of eight Germans armed with guns and Panzerfausten. They were overwhelmed. Two Germans were killed
And the prisoners made prisoners of war. When the Germans shot from the Enting's farm on the group, Lieutenant Camaret decided to retreat in the forest before the Germans gained strength. Then they contacted Mr. Reijntjes, the director of the flax factory. In the following days together with his wife he arranged the care for the parachutists.

We gather at the former flax factory in Orvelte to hear what happened here. On the façade is the monument that reminds of the French parachutist Antoine Treis who died on 8 April 1945.

Our guides Wybo Boersma and Joël Stoppels in a talk with the sun of Enting at the flax factory

Elly with a picture of the flax factory

Belgian jeeps of the SAS Drive over the passable lock at Orvelte

Elly on the comparison photo near the lock at Orvelte

Belgian jeep with parachutists at Orvelte

Frence parachutists at the barn of Pol family

De typische Belgische jeeps van de Typical French jeeps of SAS with French parachutists at the farm of Pol. Only later the jeeps came. So at the time of the dropping and the fightings the parachutists did not have to convenience of this fast means of transport, but they had to do all on food.
 

Westerbork

 

Het pand waarin café Slomp gevestigd was is thans ook nog een horeca-gelegenheid.

 
In Westerbork, by accident, the experienced Prussian general Major Karl Böttger is almost switched off at his headquarters at Hotel Slomp. This will be stormed on 8 April  by French parachutists. The general is injured but can escape. At the former town hall is the memorial monument of the former municipality of Westerbork. During the fighting in the village on 8 April, 3 parachutists are killed. Böttger has been commander of Feldkommandantur 674 in March 1944 in the city of Groningen, when he received an order in April 1945 on the defense of Midden-Drenthe, a 26 kilometer long line along the Hoogeveensche Vaart. He has four available Companies of up to 130 men. He is also referred to in several sources as the man in charge of the defense of the city of Groningen, but during that fight he is severely injured in a
German hospital. General Böttger is still arrested on 8 May and is in the cell until June 1947. In 1957 he made a sketch of Drenthe's defense on the basis of his memories. He dies in Bremen in 1965.
In Westerbork we hear of the central role played by secret agent Willem van der Veer in both the liberation of the village and the liberation of camp Westerbork. He has been calling from the town hall in Westerbork with camp commander Gemmeker and said it was over. Then Gemmeker caught his biezen and fled. On 13 April, the Canadian armored vehicles were entering the camp.

Our guide Wybo boersma speaking with some Participants of the tour

The liberation monument in Westerbork

Elly bij het bevrijdingsmonument in Westerbork

 

Willem van der Veer

 Willem van der Veer, born and raised in Alblasserwaard a region in the province of South-Holland, arrived as a special agent in the province of Drente on the 9th of October 1944. It was nighttime when he was dropped, approximately twelve thirty. He was at liberty to carry out his assignment as he saw fit. It was in the first place his task to distribute the weapons that were dropped in the province of Drente to the appropriate underground cells. Furthermore, he was to organize these cells into a solid working resistance group. He was to instruct these men in the proper use of weapons. Next it was his task to ensure that various bridges across canals in the province were protected and fall undamaged into the hands of the underground. This would facilitate the approaching Canadian army units. He also received instruction to help with the defusing of detonators on these bridges. Assisted by contacts and friends who lived in the surrounding of Westerbork he was able to establish an operational cell of underground fighters in the area of Appelscha, a town on the border of the provinces of Drente and Friesland. This group operated out of a well hidden, secret hiding place. When in the night from 7 to 8 April 1945 Operation Amherst was carried out, van der Veer and his group heard the engines of a low flying bomber overhead. Having no foreknowledge of Operation Amherst, they thought it was an aircraft having trouble. Perhaps damaged by anti-aircraft guns, they believed the bomber was trying to make an emergency landing. However, there was no sound of a crash. The next morning van der Veer happened to come upon some French paratroopers who were dropped during the night. He decides to team up with the paratroopers who are making their way into the direction of the village of Westerbork. Van der Veer follows his instinct and joins them. Once in Westerbork he makes contact with his friend, the Staff sergeant who had harbored him when he first landed in Drenthe in the fall of 1944. The name of the local opperwachtmeester bij de Marechaussee - Staff sergeant of police was Stoel. Stoel was one of the few active policemen who could be trusted during the war years. The Staff sergeant was a reliable individual. While at this policeman's home, van der Veer observed the gunfight that had broken out between the French paratroopers and the German garrison that was located at the cafe-hotel-restaurant Slomp in Westerbork. The gun battle lasted about an hour. The unarmed van der Veer, all he had was a pistol, could do little else but observe the fight from a distance. When the battle was over, in order to place himself in safety, he left his friend's home and sought refuge on the farm of the family Sliekers, a farmer who also lived in Westerbork. On Tuesday 10 April, very early in the morning, van der Veer decided to go outside. He could identify the sound of engines and of caterpillar-tracks of approaching tanks in the distance. They were coming closer. Close enough for van der Veer to make a positive decision.What follows next is the story as told by Willem van der Veer to the French author Roger Flamand, which in turn was translated by Mr. J.H. Jansen for his book "Operatie Amherst - Operation Amherst". Armed only with the service pistol he had received from Staff sergeant Stoel he set out to go to the town hall of the village of Westerbork.

I had the honour to meet Willem van der Veer in 2001 in the former war museum at Kloosterstraat 9 in Assen, where he signed to books for me. 'De Gideonsbende' and 'Nederlandse Oorlogsroman Omnibus'.

Van der Veer continues, "My plan was as quickly as possible to capture the mayor and his aldermen so that I would have hostages in exchange for others. As a national socialist collaborator, the mayor was not one of the worst kind. Moreover I wanted to see the Dutch national flag, the Red, White and Blue, fly from the town hall when the tanks arrived. I am not sure what time it was, perhaps around 6 or 7 (Ed.: in the morning). By now I had lost all track of time.
 I went to the town hall. The door was unlocked. The custodian came up to me. I asked 'May I speak with the mayor, I have an important message for him.' 'I will ask him', the custodian said, who was a trustworthy patriot. When he came back he said, 'The mayor will see you now.' When I entered the counsel chamber I saw the mayor and five other people (members of council). I announced, 'My name is van der Veer, according to this my Ausweis - identification card. I have something for you.' With that I produced my weapon and said, 'You are my prisoners.' The mayor's response took me by surprise. 'Mr. van der Veer, we are well aware that the situation is hopeless. The case is lost. We came here because we want to surrender.' He took a pistol from one of the drawers of his desk and munition and handed it over to me. My heroes' role had quickly come to a resolve. Shortly after I had put his weapon away the custodian's wife came in carrying a tray with coffee. 'Would you like a cup of coffee also, Mr. van der Veer?' the mayor asked. There I was, a resistance fighter drinking coffee with the mayor and five of his members of council, all national socialists.

I opened the windows, the weather was just picture perfect. In the distance the rumble of tanks could be heard. That very moment the telephone rang. The mayor, as was his habit, reached for the phone, but I was faster and took the horn of the hook. I heard a voice saying, 'Gemmeker here!' Gemmeker was the commandant of camp Westerbork. 'Am I speaking with the mayor?' 'Yes', I answered. My German was not very good. 'What is the present situation in Westerbork?' 'Very good indeed, it could not have been better.' Gemmeker posed a few more unimportant questions and at that moment I held the telephone near one of the opened windows and suggested to him: 'Listen.' His response was quick. 'What on earth is that? Are you the mayor?' (I am sure my broken German had given me away). Therefore I answered him in English: 'Why don't you speak English? Because within a very short time you will get plenty of opportunity to learn the language!' 'Ach - alas', was his response and returned the phone on the hook. In the meantime the tanks rolled into Main street. Immediately I ran to a Polish tank commander, a lieutenant and said to him: 'Quick, go to Pieterberg, you will find hostages in that camp!' and I climbed on top of his tank." The above account, as given by van der Veer, contains the only connection of any significance to camp Westerbork. I refer to the telephone conversation van der Veer had with Gemmeker, the commandant of camp Westerbork. Whether that short conversation had anything to do with Gemmeker's plan to leave the camp is pure guesswork. The story itself is of sufficient significance to be told on my website. Van der Veer was a Dutchman, born in the province of Drenthe. He was dropped as Secret Agent by parachute behind enemy lines. He took active part in the resistance movement in the province of Drenthe and survived the war. For his heroic actions, first in Burma in the Far East and last but not least in Drenthe, Willem van der Veer received the Bronzen Leeuw - Bronze Lion by Royal Decree No. 12 on the 4th of November 1948. 

 

The liberation of camp Westerbork

 

Op 12 april 1945 bevrijden Canadezen zonder bloedvergieten Kamp Westerbork. Squadron B en C lagen bij het Oranjekanaal en trekken die ochtend naar Spier waar zij Franse paratroepers ontmoeten, die in de nacht van 7 op 8 april zijn gedropt tijdens de operatie Amherst.
In de middag van 11 april zijn de Duitsers gevlucht. Ze nemen 116 vrouwelijke niet-Joodse politieke gevangenen mee en laten die op 14 april bij Visvliet vrij. Kampcommandant Gemmeker draagt bij zijn vertrek het commando over aan de eerste dienstleider Kurt Schlesinger die op zijn beurt het commando overdraagt aan Aad (Adriaan) van As. Deze overdracht vindt plaats door het overhandigen van een klein pistool.

On 12 April 1945, Canadians liberated camp Westerbork without bloodshed. Squadron B and C lay at the Orange Channel and pulled to Spier that morning where they met French paratroopers who were dropped during the operation of Amherst on 7 April.
In the afternoon of  11April the Germans fled. They take 116 female non-Jewish political prisoners and release them on 14 April at Visvliet. Camp Commander Gemmeker, on leaving, handed over the command to first service leader Kurt Schlesinger, who in turn sends the command to Aad (Adriaan) of As. This transfer takes place by handing over a small gun.

Aad van As

Van As works in the camp as an official of food distribution in the camp and lives even with his family. The head of the food distribution is entitled to a service house. "Our barracks bordered by the road where the train passed, the Boulevard des Mieres. From the window we could see everything happening. It was heartbreaking every time. " Van As sees the train from Kamp Westerbork ninety times. He has 30 employees and has to keep them constantly from the transport list.

‘I have counteracted the Germans in every way. "Of the thirty food distribution staff, six of Van As's involvement have not been transported. In their place, the Nazis have deported other people. Another five employees survived the destruction camps. Van As does not know what the Jews were waiting for in the 'work camps'. He hides letters in the wagons with the request to report. When returning, there is a word about the arrival at a high-tech factory town. But out of the camps never returned a message.

'The tommies are there'

Around three o'clock, the campers are calling together by As in the Great Hall to discuss what should happen further. Suddenly someone calls from back into the room, "Mr. van As, phone for you". On his question, "Who asks for me," comes the answer: "The Tommies are there." Everyone goes outside, towards a camp farm, to bring in the liberators. Many jump on top of the armored cars and drive as victors to the entrance of the camp.

Aad van As vraagt na de overdacht van het kamp het hoofd van de buitendienst Zielke de Canadezen tegemoet te gaan en die overhandigt de Canadezen gegevens over het kamp. Er zijn dan nog circa 850 gevangenen in het kamp, die worden toegesproken door inlichtingenofficier kapitein Morris.

After considering the camp, Aad van As asks the head of the foreign service Zielke to meet the Canadians, who handles over the information about the camp to the Canadians. There are still about 850 prisoners in the camp, which are being summoned by intelligence officer Captain Morris.

The liberators share cigarettes and chocolate. Van As: "When I came out, they asked me if I wanted to lift those flags. This has been one of the most beautiful moments of my life. It was done while singing the Wilhelmus and suddenly I felt no more under my feet. They picked me up and I was dancing with me here. A better ending of liberation could not have been for me. "
Prisoners from thirteen countries
The more than 850 prisoners who were liberated in camp Westerbork on 12 april 1945 come from thirtien different countries. More than the half is Dutch. The other prisoners come from Germany, Austria, Poland, England, the United States, Romania, Peru, Hongaria and Turkey.
Among them Louis Wijsenbeek, the latter manager of The Hague Municipal Museum comes from The Hague. After the liberation Louis joined the well known 'Monuments Men' trying to bring back robbed art from all over Europe to their rightful owners.

Relatively many of the last prisoners are hiding in  Drenthe, Zuid-Holland en Friesland for some time. After the departure of the last trains in September 1944 they were taken to camp Westerbork. Also the mother of Frits Barend was taken to camp Westerbork after she was arrested in March 1945. This appeared from an historical investigation that was presented in april 2016 in connection with the website www.bevrijdingsportretten.nl. On the site are short biographies of survivors of Kamp Westerbork.
Samenwonen met arrestanten
The Royal Hamilton Infantry takes over authority and the guard towers are manned with people from the Domestic Armed Forces. The Canadians move on to Assen the next day, and the residents have to go back to the camp and stay there for weeks, because the campsite is still too dangerous and people in the camp who have worked with the Germans still have to be picked up.

Five days after liberation, the first NSBs are captured in Westerbork camp, guarded by Jewish residents. (Until December 1, 1948, it becomes a detention camp for NSBs, Waffen SSs, landlords and others from collaborating with German occupied suspects.) Only in July may the last Jews leave. They have had to share the camp with the arrestors all the time. Adriaan and Bep of As receive the Yad Vashem award after the war of Israel. In 1955, they emigrated to Australia with their three children.