The Fall of Lange Jan

Chimney_Lange_Jan,_Heerlen_(2)

Lange Jan(Long John) was the name of the 135 meter(442ft) tall chimney of the former coal mine “Oranje Nassau 1” in Heerlen in  the province of Limburg in the south east of the Netherlands.

800px-Heerlen_-_Schachtgebouw_ON-I

It had been erected in 1937/1938 and had been dominating Heerlen’s skyline. To put it in perspective the Big Ben tower in London is 96 meters (314ft)

The “Oranje Nassau I” had stopped production in 1974 therefore the tall chimney did not use any purpose anymore, The decission was therefore made to demolish the “Lange Jan” on the 21st of August, 1976.

However “Lange Jan” was not going away without a fight and plotted revenge by falling in the wrong direction after the explosives had been ignited,bringing down with it several power  cables.

lj

The people from Limburg are very proud of their traditions therefore to commemorate the event they arranged for a symbolic funeral procession and even printed some prayer cards.

Bidprentje1

1024px-Lange_Jan_sloop_21-8-1976

Advertisements

Operation Blackcock-The battle of the Roer Triangle

roer_triangle_map

Operation Blackcock was a World War II military operation carried out by the 7th Armoured Division, the 43rd Wessex Division, and the 52nd Lowland Division, from the British 2nd Army, to clear the Roer Triangle formed by the towns of Roermond, Sittard and Heinsberg, near the Roer River, on the border between the Netherlands  and Germany, from January 14 to January 26, 1945.

wit_geschilderde_cromwell_tank_7th_armoured_division_tijdens_operation_blackcock

 

Operation Blackcock was planned and executed along three axis. The left axis, constituted by 7 Armourd Division, captured the bridge across the Roer in Sint Odiliënberg. The centre axis, formed by the 52nd Lowland Division, took Heinsberg. The right axis cleared the area south-east of Dremmen and was conducted by the 43rd Wessex Division. This axis would use the break in the German defense line that was to be created by the Lowland Division.

A turning point in Operation Blackcock was the battle for the Dutch village of Sint Joost. After four days of fighting the Germans were well aware that the armored division that was facing them relied heavily on the roads to maneuver their armored vehicles, especially due to poor winter conditions.

roerstjoost

The small village of Sint Joost was on the route of the 7th Armoured Division’s drive north towards Montfort. On January 20 in cold and misty weather infantry and cavalry units of the Desert Rats (7th Armoured Division) launched a vicious attack on two German companies of the 2nd battalion Fallschirmjäger Regiment Hübner in Sint Joost.

 

However, they were repelled after fierce fighting. In the end it would take several days and four attack waves to clear the village due to the tenacious defense put up by the German paratroopers. The final attack taking place on Sunday, January 21. In total, sixty Fallschirmjäger were taken prisoner.

d186fe3cb5bc2c67833462dbd6e61c52

The 9th Durham Light Infantry and 1st Rifle Brigade had suffered heavy losses in Sint Joost. The “Durham’s” suffered 33 casualties, of which 8 were killed in action. The Rifle Brigade counted 34 casualties, of which 3 men from I Company were KIA. More than one hundred German soldiers were killed, most of them lying dead in the houses. Hübner had lost one whole Company and a second had been nearly destroyed.

During Operation Blackcock to clear the Roer Triangle, the Dutch village of Montfort was heavily bombed by Allied aircraft on seven occasions, and was hit by more than 100 bombs. Most of these fell in the center of the village. Nearly all of the 250 houses were damaged. Some houses were no more than ruins, and complete families were killed. The bombing raids that struck Montfort on January 21 and 22 were conducted by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) 2nd Tactical Air Force, No. 83 Group, 143rd Wing.

montfort_mass_grave_monument

 

The Venlo Incident

backus_1930s_2

I always considered myself to be a bit of WWII buff, but it was only until I started this website I realized how little I actually knew about World War 2.This case is a good example.

Venlo is a town in the province of Limburg in the Netherlands, in the south east of the country.Bordering to Germany in the east and Belgium in the west and south. The same province I was born and grew up in(albeit in the southern part) and yet I had never heard of ‘the Venlo incident’ an event that happened tomorrow 77 years ago.

limburg

The Venlo Incident was a covert German Sicherheitsdienst (SD-Security Service) operation, in the course of which two British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) agents were abducted on the outskirts of the town of Venlo, the Netherlands, on 9 November 1939.The incident was later used by the German Nazi government to link Britain to Georg Elser’s failed assassination attempt on German Chancellor Adolf Hitler at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich, Germany, on 8 November 1939 and to help justify Germany’s invasion of the Netherlands, while a neutral country, on 10 May 1940.

rotterdam_laurenskerk_na_bombardement_van_mei_1940

In early September 1939 a meeting was arranged between Fischer and the British SIS agent Captain Sigismund Payne Best. Best was an experienced British Army intelligence officer who worked under the cover of a businessman residing in The Hague with his Dutch wife.

captain_sigismund_payne_best_with_monocle_1939

Subsequent meetings included Major Richard Henry Stevens, a less-experienced intelligence operative working covertly for the British SIS as the Passport Control Officer in The Hague, Netherlands.

major_richard_henry_stevens_1939

To assist Best and Stevens in passing through Dutch mobilised zones near the border with Germany, a young Dutch officer, Lieutenant Dirk Klop, was recruited by Chief of the Dutch Military Intelligence, Major General van Oorschot. Klop was permitted by van Oorschot to sit in on covert meetings but not take part due to the neutrality of the Netherlands.

luitenant_dirk_klop_venlo-incident_1939

Fischer brought to the early meetings participants posing as German officers who supported a plot against Hitler and were interested in establishing Allied peace terms should Hitler be deposed. When Fischer’s success in setting up the meetings with the British agents became known, Sturmbannführer (major) Walter Schellenberg of the Foreign Intelligence (Counter-Espionage) section of the Sicherheitsdienst began coming to the meetings.

Walter Schellenberg

Masquerading as a “Hauptmann (captain) Schämmel”, Schellenberg was at the time a trusted operative of Heinrich Himmler and was in close contact with Reinhard Heydrich during the Venlo operation.

At the last meeting between the British SIS agents and the German SD officers on Wednesday 8 November, Schellenberg promised to bring a general to the meeting on the following day. Instead the Germans brought the talks to an abrupt end with the kidnapping of Best and Stevens.

For different Germans, the covert meetings might have meant different things. Dutch historian, Bob de Graaf wrote:

graaff

“Hitler, who was kept informed, might have hoped that sooner or later Dutch neutrality would be compromised. Himmler, continually on the outlook for a peace settlement with Britain, might have had hopes that the contacts with MI6 would lead to a compromise, whereafter the Soviet Union, in Himmler’s mind Germany’s real enemy, could be faced with confidence. To Schellenberg the game meant gathering information about British intelligence activities in Germany. By studying the files he had become especially interested in a so-called ‘observer corps’ the British were running against the German Luftwaffe. What Schellenberg expected from the meetings were names, as many names as possible of agents working for MI6. To Heydrich, who liked intelligence games for the sake of it, the Spiel with Best and Stevens might have meant anything. But in the light of his continuous efforts to get at Canaris’ throat, he might have hoped for revelations about a connection between British officials and a German opposition, which was rooted in Wehrmacht circles”

Early on 9 November 1939, Schellenberg received orders from Heinrich Himmler to abduct the British SIS agents, Best and Stevens. German SS-Sonderkommandos (SS Special Units) under the operations command of SD man Alfred Naujocks, carried out the orders.

alfred_naujocks

Best was at the wheel of his car when he drove into the car park at the Cafe Backus for the meeting planned for 4 pm with Schellenberg. Stevens was sitting beside him while Lieutenant Klop and Jan Lemmens (Best’s Dutch driver) were sitting in the back seat. Before Best had time to get out of the car, Naujock’s SD men arrived.

lincoln_zephyr

In a brief shootout, Klop was mortally wounded. After being handcuffed and stood against a wall, Best and Stevens, together with Jan Lemmens were bundled into the SD car. Klop was put into Best’s car and both cars were driven off over the border into Germany.

Best recalls a full body search was performed on him when they reached Düsseldorf en route to Berlin. At Düsseldorf one of the men who had taken part in the kidnapping told Best the reason for the action was to catch some Germans plotting against the Führer who were responsible for the attempt on his life the night before.

Lieutenant Dirk Klop was admitted to the Protestant Hospital in Düsseldorf. A doctor on duty recalled years later Klop was unconscious when admitted and died the same day from a gun wound to the head.

A different account (with conflicting details) of the Venlo Incident is told by Günter Peis in The Man Who Started The War, and by Walter Schellenberg in his memoirs. For instance, Best did not know that Schellenberg, still posing as Major Schämmel, was waiting at Cafe Backus at the time of the kidnapping by Naujocks and twelve SD men. When one SD man mistook him as Best, Schellenberg narrowly escaped being shot.

1948-02-20_reconstruction_venlo_incident_of_1939-11-09

(Picture above is a 1948 Reconstruction of the Venlo_Incident)

Prior to the assassination attempt at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich on 8 November, Naujocks and his squad had been sent to Düsseldorf to support Schellenberg. Even before his private train had returned from Munich to Berlin,

hitlers-train-amerika

Hitler ordered the British SIS officers in the Netherlands be brought to Berlin for questioning. Himmler issued the order to Schellenberg early in the morning on 9 November.

Though Georg Elser, a suspect being interrogated in Munich by the Gestapo, insisted he had acted alone, Hitler recognized the propaganda value of the assassination attempt as a means to incite German public resentment against Great Britain.

On 21 November Hitler declared he had incontrovertible proof that the British Secret Service was behind the Munich bombing and that two British agents had been arrested near the Dutch border.The next day German newspapers carried the story. On the front page of Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung there were pictures of the conspirators named as, Georg Elser, ‘Kaptain Stevens’ and ‘Mr Best’.

Years later Walter Schellenberg recalled in his memoirs:

“He (Hitler) began to issue detailed directives on the handling of the case to Himmler, Heydrich, and me and gave releases to the press. To my dismay, he became increasingly convinced that the attempt on his life had been the work of the British Intelligence, and that Best and Stevens, working together with Otto Strasser, were the real organizers of this crime.

otto_strasser

Meanwhile a carpenter by the name of Elser had been arrested while trying to escape over the Swiss border. The circumstantial evidence against him was very strong, and finally he confessed. He had built an explosive mechanism into one of the wooden pillars of the Beer Cellar. It consisted of an ingeniously worked alarm clock which could run for three days and set off the explosive charge at any given time during that period. Elser stated that he had first undertaken the scheme entirely on his own initiative, but that later on two other persons had helped him and had promised to provide him with a refuge abroad afterward. He insisted, however, that the identity of neither of them was known to him. . . I thought it possible that the “Black Front” organization of Otto Strasser might have something to do with the matter and that the British Secret Service might also be involved. But to connect Best and Stevens with the Beer Cellar attempt on Hitler’s life seemed to me quite ridiculous. Nevertheless, that was exactly what was in Hitler’s mind. He announced to the press that Elser and the officers of the British Secret Service would be tried together. In high places there was talk of a great public trial, to be staged with the full orchestra of the propaganda machine, for the benefit of the German people. I tried to think of the best way to prevent this lunacy.”

The Nazi press reported that the Gestapo had tricked the British Secret Service into carrying on radio contact for 21 days after Best and Stevens were abducted using the radio transmitter given to them. Himmler is accredited to quipping, ‘After a while it became boring to converse with such arrogant and foolish people’.

The British Foreign Office believed Himmler was involved in the secret Anglo-German contact of autumn 1939, and that the discussions, involving Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, and the Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, were bona fide peace negotiations.

The damage inflicted on Britain’s espionage network in Europe caused new Prime Minister, Winston Churchill to start his own spy and sabotage agency, the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in 1940.

The Venlo Incident exposed the fact that the Chamberlain government was still seeking to do a deal with Germany while exhorting the nation to a supreme war effort.

Hitler used the Venlo Incident to claim The Netherlands had violated its own neutrality. The presence of the Dutch agent Klop, whose signature on his personal papers was gratefully misused by the Germans, provided sufficient ‘proof of cooperation between British and Dutch secret services, and justify an invasion of The Netherlands by Germany in May, 1940.

Alfred Naujocks was awarded the Iron Cross by Hitler the day after the kidnapping.Walter Schellenberg gave evidence against other Nazis at the Nuremberg Trials.He died in 1952 aged 42.

After interrogation at the Gestapo Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse headquarters in Berlin, Best and Stevens were sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Both were held in isolation in the T shaped building reserved for protected prisoners of the Gestapo.

While at Sachsenhausen Best claimed he corresponded via secret letters with another protected prisoner Georg Elser.

In January 1941 Stevens was moved from Sachsenhausen to the bunker at Dachau concentration camp where he remained until evacuated with Best and other protected prisoners in April, 1945.

In February, 1945, Best was transferred briefly to Buchenwald concentration camp and then to the ‘bunker’ at Dachau concentration camp on 9 April 1945. Coincidentally on the same day Georg Elser was killed at Dachau.

On 24 April 1945, Best and Stevens left Dachau with 140 other protected ‘high-profile’ prisoners in a convoy bound for South Tyrol. At the lakeside Prags Wildbad Hotel near Niederdorf, South Tyrol, they were liberated by the advancing US Army on 4 May 1945.

p1010793