Vught Concentration Camp: The electrically charged barbed wire fence around Vught concentration camp near Hertogenbosch in Holland.

Vught Concentration Camp: The electrically charged barbed wire fence around Vught concentration camp near Hertogenbosch in Holland.

Vught Concentration Camp: A high wall surrounding part of the concentration camp at Vught topped with steel spikes and broken glass.

Vught Concentration Camp: A high wall surrounding part of the concentration camp at Vught topped with steel spikes and broken glass.

The 4th King’s Own Scottish Borderers had arrived in France in late October and, in late November, found themselves taking over positions from the Canadians in Holland.

Unusually they found themselves billeted in military barracks which had been captured from the Germans. Peter White was one of the officers who soon discovered more about the history of their new base:

Our billets were mostly in a large incomplete German barracks consisting of pleasant red-brick buildings sprinkled in a pine wood on sandy soil beside a lake. These SS barracks struck us as delightful in their appearance and surroundings. They were modern, spacious, airy and only marred by harsh war-theme mural paintings.

We had not, however, yet seen the whole camp. The beauty and birdsong, the lake and the pinewoods were but a facade to a hidden horror which really staggered us. Vught, we soon found, included a notorious concentration camp.

Pitifully few of the original inhabitants had survived to be liberated and the buildings now housed Dutch Quislings and German civilians bombed out from Aachen.

Tammy, Charles and I strolled over to have a look. When we arrived these new inmates were being stripped and sprinkled with DDT powder to de-louse them. It all looked very. peaceful and orderly.

The same careful planning and construction had been lavished here as in the barracks, but in this case on scientific, modern, chromium-plated torture and methods of lingering and mass death as applied by painstaking Teutonic minds. We walked as in a-daze from one monstrous site to another.

Here were chambers where people were gassed to death, then for experimental variety others where they were locked in and steamed to death. A guard was reported to have said: ‘You can tell when they are dead when the screaming stops,’

Near this was a vivisection room where people were trussed on marble slab operating tables thoughtfully provided with grooves to drain off the blood. Six-inch iron spikes formed a carpet with a possible use we shuddered to think about. Then there were the more orthodox and classical tortures of thumb-screws, racks for stretching and solitary-confinement cells and other horrors we could only guess the use of.

Concrete operating table for the dissection of dead prisoners at Vught concentration camp.

Concrete operating table for the dissection of dead prisoners at Vught concentration camp.

Some of the confinement cells were small brick structures the size of dog-kennels in which the victim was locked doubled—up to fit in.

Outside stood a gibbet with a well-worn noose. Under this structure were two wooden blocks that tapered to a tiny base. The purpose was to string the victim up by the neck precariously balancing on tip-toe on the wobbling blocks. Here we were told the agonised victim might sway for hours until either fatigue or desperation caused the slight movement necessary to topple the blocks and complete the execution.

Beside the gibbet stood a triple crematorium, one unit being mobile. The walls of this building were shelved with little earthenware jars for the ash. This ash lay like thick grey flour all over the floor and on our boots while another pathetic little scattering of it dusted a well-worn metal stretcher which was used for the cremation.

The remains of 13,000 other victims, who had arrived too swiftly for the crematoria to cope, had been buried in a part open lime pit at the door.

We had started to get a clearer idea not only of our enemy, but more important to us, the reason for our presence in Europe. Tammy, Charles and I were far more thoughtful as we returned past the watch towers, electric and barbed-wire fences and ditches which surrounded the camp than we had been on our way in.

We were staggered to think that such monsters could exist to staff and run such a place, yet some news from the front showed that apparently any German unit with a stiffening of SS troops was capable of this. Just down river from our arc of, front, west of the blown rail-bridge, the Canadians whom we were taking over from reported that German troops had herded men women and children into Heusden church and there burned them to death.

See Peter White: With the Jocks: A Soldier’s Struggle for Europe 1944-45

Vught had been liberated by the Canadians on the 26th October. Around 500 bodies lay in the grounds, executed earlier that day as the SS sought to close down the camp. Another 500 people were waiting to be executed but were rescued by the unexpectedly swift advance of the 4th Canadian Armor Division.

Vught had served two functions. It had been a transit camp for Jews deported from France, Belgium and Holland, en route to the extermination camps further east. It had also been the main security camp (Schutzhaftlager) for political detainees from Belgium and Holland. Anyone suspected of opposing the Nazis might be sent here – and many died here.

A portable gallows for executions in Vught concentration camp.

A portable gallows for executions in Vught concentration camp.

The crematorium oven at Vught concentration camp. In the foreground is a pile of the ashes of human bodies.

The crematorium oven at Vught concentration camp. In the foreground is a pile of the ashes of human bodies.

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Nov

22

1944

HMS Stratagem – escape from a flooded submarine

HMS Stratagem, sunk off Malaya on 22 November 1944.

The first I managed to reach had a defective valve on the oxygen bottle and I could not move it. The second was in working order and I put this over the head of one of the older ratings who was panicking and in tears due to the pressure effect on his eyes. The pressure in the boat at the time was immense and the chlorine content in the air considerable. The water all round us must have been full of oil fuel as we were all drenched with it, although I did not notice it at the time. The air could be heard to be escaping through the hull forward and the water was still rising fast.

Nov

21

1944

USS Sealion attacks and sinks battleship Kongo

The battlecruiser Kongo had been built by the British shipyard Vickers in 1912. In 1929 she was re-bilit as a battleship as seen here in 1929-30.

0406: Tracking indicates the target group now zigzagging. We are holding true bearing, maybe gaining a little. Called for maximum speed from engineers – they gave us 25% overload for about thirty minutes, then commenced growling about sparking commutators, hot motors, et al , forced to slow to flank. Sea and wind increasing all the time – now about force 5 or 6 – taking solid water over bridge, with plenty coming down the conning tower hatch.

Nov

20

1944

General George S. Patton confronts an SS General

Troops of the U.S. 5th Infantry Division entering Metz on 18 November 1944

ou can tell this man that naturally in my position I can­not demean myself to question him, but I can say this, that I have captured a great many German generals, and this is the first one who has been wholly untrue to everything; because he has not only been a Nazi but he is untrue to the Nazis by surrendering. If he wants to say anything he can, and I will say that unless he talks pretty well, I will turn him over to the French. They know how to make people talk.

Nov

19

1944

Ordeal of the wounded in the ‘Bloody Forest’

The struggle to bring up ammunition in the Hurtgen Forest, extrication the wounded was even more difficult.

In the next room, the litters lay on the floor so close to one another that the doctors and the aid men frequently had to step on the litter itself. Aid men quickly and efficiently appraised wounds and brought into play their first and most efficient weapon, a pair of scissors, which they carried tied to their wrists or waists by a piece of Carlisle bandage. A sergeant took a quick look at the wounded captain’s feet and, grabbing his scissors, began cutting the clothing from the knee down.

Nov

18

1944

R+R in Holland – bully beef sandwiches and chocolate

Churchill tanks of 34th Tank Brigade cross a temporary bridge in Roosendaal, 30 October 1944.

We are being well looked after — waited on hand and foot. Fires, tidying up, etc. all done by civvies. Unfortunately, none of the people in the house speak English, but we manage to converse somehow. It is really amazing how much ‘conversation’ is carried on by means of a few words, signs and pantomime. Attended 15 Troop’s party this evening. The troop is billeted in a separate café with quite a good dance floor. Each member’ of the troop invited a lady friend, making about 30 of us in all. The major and SSM were also invited. Unfortunately, we only had a portable gramophone for a ‘dance band’ — it was more or less useless, but the dancers managed somehow.

Nov

17

1944

Just another day for 2nd Emergency Rescue Squadron

Squadron OA-10A "Cat" SerNo 44-33876 and crew on their way to affect a rescue (Courtesy Mary Wientjes)

Survivor, Ensign John Drex, USNR, stated that while on a strafing mission over an airfield on Negros the oil line on his engine was damaged by enemy fire when he attacked a Jap bomber which fell into the sea in flames. He saw three zeros coming toward him, so he turned into them, and shot the first one down, but the other two got on his tail and he dove for the deck, finally crash landing in a rice paddy on Negros near Kamalishas.

Nov

16

1944

Heavy bombers support US Army’s attack into Germany

Boeing B-17F radar bombing through clouds over Bremen, Germany, on Nov. 13, 1943.

Each task force had one flail tank. As the flail tanks crested the hill, they passed through our infantry line directly into the minefields. Although the tanks had to contend not only with mines but with an extremely soggy field, they made an initial good showing. The flying chains detonated several mines, and the explosions created additional craters. But finally, due to the combination of the muddy fields and the fact that the horsepower needed to turn the flail took too much power away from the tracks, both flail tanks became mired in the mud.

Nov

15

1944

The cold hard wet slog continues across Holland

Infantry and carriers of the 15th (Scottish) Division

Another time a heavy German gun pinpointed us, and began to drop enormous shells around Company Headquarters, ranging us carefully. Craters were steadily torn up, slowly creeping closer, until they were straddling us. Our croft was not strong. At length we fled, and in the nick of time, tumbling from the cellar with no dignity at all, map-cases flapping, wireless headphones flying; the lot of us. The next two shells were direct hits. The croft caved in on itself and the cellar ceiling gaped at a smudgy November sky. The big gun stopped…

Nov

14

1944

Rum and Mules over the mountains of Italy

A 75mm howitzer of 461 Battery, 85th Mountain Regiment, Royal Artillery, on the Monte Di Rontana, 2 February 1945. The guns were firing at German positions in Isola. A mule train with Basuto muleteers bringing up ammunition can be seen in the background.

Mules were lying everywhere, their kicking had shot the loads off all over the place, and one mule, I remember, had fallen into a disused slit-trench with only its saddle supporting it on either side of the hole. We started to sort all this mess out, first collecting our own men and leading them on to firmer ground, and then by grabbing any Italian we saw and forcing him to follow. Finally, after what seemed an age we got under way again, and I still had the rum!