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Westerbork Liberation
Captain Carel Ruijsch van Dugteren

Captain Carel Ruijsch van Dugteren

       It can be fairly accurately determined which paratrooper of which stick was on what aircraft. The lists that were composed for Operation Amherst present 47 lists with the the names of the participants in this particular operation. However, in some cases changes were made at the very last moment, just before take off. These are not reflected on the lists. We learn from Operation Amherst documents that Captain Bestebreurtje should have taken off two planes later, but because of engine problems he was added to the Lincoln bomber no. 21. Three other members of the famous Jedburgh commandos were already assigned to this stick. Thus it happened that on Saturday the 7th of April 1945, right after the noon-hour, this team of special agents received orders to get ready for a mission near Hooghalen, a village in the province of Drente. Their mission was to assist the Dutch underground in how to essemble and handle the weapons that were dropped for them by the Allies. The assignment came directly from the Bureau Bijzondere Opdrachten - Bureau of Special Assignments, know as BBO. The members of the team were the commander, the British major R.A.F. Harcourt, the two Dutch captains Carel J. L. Ruijsch van Dugteren and Arie Bestebreurtje. Also with this team was the British radio-operator Sgt. C.C. Somer. At the time of the actual dropping the four Jedburgh agents with the code-name "Team Dicing" jumped after the French S.A.S. stick which fell under the command of French captain Larralde. His stick was made up of the English captain Fay and the French 2nd Lieutenant Quillet. The rest of the paratroopers were the Frenchmen Lignier, Rutard, Soudain P. Cazenave, Ruaud, Pilorget, Dugognon and Lebas and also the British paratrooper Corrigan. These twelve men made up the 21st stick. Team Dicing was added to this group. They were dropped by the crew of a modified Sterling bomber that allowed paratroopers to jump through a hole in the belly of the aircraft specifically made for that purpose.

The Captains Fay and Larralde

       Unfortunately, Captain Bestebreurtje was injured during the landing and could not take further part in the action. Major Harcourt was able to locate him and helped him to find a hiding-place. His helping hand very likely cost him his freedom because he was captured shortly afterwards. It was not until the 30th of April that he was finally liberated by the advancing Canadian forces together with 67 French paratroopers who had participated in Operation Amherst. The camp in question, where they were held, was near Bremen in Germany. According to the diary of captain Ruijsch van Dugteren, his stick landed around eleven o'clock in the evening on the 7th of April in a field near the village of Hooghalen which is in the province of Drente. Team Dicing was the last to jump. Ruijsch van Dugteren makes mention in his diary of the dispatcher's lack of understanding for his job. He simply did not know what was expected of him with the result that the dropping proceeded at too slow a speed. The commandos fell too far apart from each other. Ruijsch van Dugteren landed in an afforested area and immediately began the search for his men and the baggage they had carried. It all was without results. Naturally, he did not know what had happened to Bestebreurtje. He also was initially unaware that Harcourt, who had found Bestebreurtje, in the meantime had been taken prisoner.

       Ruijsch van Dugteren writes in his diary, "I searched for my comrades until 4 AM that Sunday morning after which I decided to leave the dropping zone. I had to make contact with the resistance movement. I met gamekeeper Teun Leever, who was head of the local resistance group, at 6 AM right at the outskirts of the dropping zone. As it turned out Leever was of great help to us (Ed.: to Somer and myself). After he hid me in the wooded area he tried to locate as much baggage as possible we had dropped earlier. Next he would locate as many resistance people as he could. Around 10 AM he returned and informed me that the nazis had surrounded the dropping zone. Nevertheless, he had managed to store several parcels. He also had located Somers whom he also hid in the woods approximately 2 miles (Ed.: 3.2 km) from where I was hiding. Shortly afterwards the forest was searched by 40 Ordnungspolizei - Police Guards, most of the time called Grüne Polizei - Green Police because of the green color of the uniform they were wearing. They did not find anything, even though it was a close call. Not only the surrounding area, also the neighboring houses were searched. When the search was over, Leever left to go and look for major Harcourt who was seen by several locals walking around in a American overall. Leever was unsuccessful. He left and made contact with various local resistance leaders informing them that I wished to address them in the evening. At 5 PM he returned with the unpleasant news that 80 Nazis with their search dogs were approaching the forest where I was in hiding. Leever improved on my hiding-place by walking around it while in his hand he had a dead but still warm turkey. It resulted in the dogs totally ignoring the place where I was hiding. This bit of ingenuity on Leever's behalf saved my life. After this no one searched for me any more."

Dropping out of a Sterling

       Ruysch van Dugteren continues writing his diary entry with the observation that from Monday 9 until Wednesday 11 he kept busy making contact with members of the resistance movement in Assen. Instruction was given to them in the proper use of firearms and together with the men of the resistance he carried out operations against isolated German troops. On the 12th of April Ruijsch van Dugteren makes the following entry into his diary. He writes, "Toward the end of the day (Ed.: that must have been around 3 o'clock in the afternoon. That corresponds with the official rendition of the liberation story for camp Westerbork which states that the camp was liberated around 3 PM on 12 April) Canadian tanks rolled past our farmhouse (Ed.: it is not clear which farmhouse was meant here, it must have been a farmhouse near camp Westerbork). Everyone was filled for joy. We (Ed.: I assume he meant Sgt. Somers and himself) were one of the first to enter a Jewish concentration camp (Ed.: Westerbork) in which about 800 prisoners were kept (Ed.: the official tally was higher. There were 876 prisoners in the camp, a little over 500 were Jews. According to Aad van As, who at this time had assumed control over camp Westerbork following Gemmeker's departure, the captain of the German Grenzschutzpolizei - Border police and responsible for guarding the camp, had left earlier with his guards taking with him 120 political, non-Jewish prisoners. These prisoners were set free by the Canadians the very next day, on the 13th of April). I was glad that I could leave camp Westerbork again. There was nothing further for us to do. On the way out we took two Germans, who were hiding in a ditch, prisoner. During the night we heard canon fire coming from the direction of Assen."

       This is the only time Ruijsch van Dugteren makes mention of camp Westerbork. Team Dicing clearly had no assignment to actively take part in the liberation of the camp. According to his own diary he did enter camp Westerbork in the afternoon, but not for the prupose of liberating the camp. However, it is a fact that due to the quick advance of the Canadian troops, with the help of Sam Schrijver a bloodbath was prevented. One day later, on Friday the 13th of April my place of birth, Assen, was liberated. For sure, Friday the 13th was not an unlucky day for us who lived there!

Pictures courtesy of the Publishers Hollandia B.V. in Baarn and Boom, Amsterdam.