Veteran Stories:
William Tenhaaf

Army

  • The Memory Project, Historica Canada
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"Hitler decided that now was the time..he decided to make a stab for Antwerp, and he wanted to do through the Ardennes because that was the lightest held..and that would be the easiest way because nobody would expect anybody stupid enough to go through the woods to attack them with motorized columns."

Transcript

You know, we were about 12 miles from the front line.  It wasn’t that far back, 10, 12, I don’t know.  Well, what happened there was… 15 December… I would say that about 25 November there was a hiatus… All the line was stable. We couldn’t get across at Nijmegen, or we went across at Nijmegen, but we couldn’t make it to Arnhem, that’s it. We were halfway on the island and the Brits had the Polar… the Polar Bear Div* was right, the 49th [(West Riding) Infantry Division].  Hitler decided that now was the time to spoil… Antwerp were waiting, the Scheldt was being cleared. Walcheren had been cleared. I’d been at that in Middelburg.  That’s where my ancestors are buried by the way, in the great church. And he decided to make a stab for Antwerp, and he wanted to do through the Ardennes because that was the lightest held, he thought, and they didn’t have very much reconnaissance. They had a few agents, I guess. And that would be the easiest way because nobody would expect anybody stupid enough to go through the woods to attack them with motorized columns.  Anyway, the weather was bloody awful and the build-up continued. Now, there were enough indications to tell you that something was happening because we also had… there were agents reporting back to MI-6, I suppose, back to London, and we got the information down that trains had come in with troops. And this whole thing, to me, on the map… I was the local intelligence officer for the counter-intelligence section.  I built it up, and I said, “This is building up here, it’s coming in.” And somehow some people just… the Americans, First American Army was sitting there, I think that General [Courtney Hicks] Hodges…** well, I wouldn’t want to mention his name. Whoever he was made a miscalculation, and he said, “My boys are going to have their leave for Christmas in Paris.”  So, they worked half shifts sort of, you know, and thinned out the line, and this was great.

And I think it was 14 or 15 December. We had the odd reconnaissance, air reconnaissance, 19th US Air Force.  I know this because I used it as my write-up at Staff College when they wanted a piece on our war experiences. And I did the research there too, they had enough histories.  They did report, and that was as early as the 28 or 29 November, that, you know, there was a build-up.  They caught one POW, and he practically gave them the whole plan.  He was an Obersoldat, which is a first class private, and he apparently knew what was going on, but nobody paid attention to him. Or if they did, they ignored it because, after all, it’s more important to go to Paris and it can’t happen here, and the weather is too bad.  So, anyway, they came bouncing through the woods, and you’ve heard the story of the Battle of the Bulge or as the British, we called it the Battle of the Ardennes.***

So, I remember being duty officer one night. It was somewhere around the 1 November, and the boys were in a festive mood, and some armoured regiment called me from the front, all the way up through the telephone lines, and said, “Intelligence officer on duty.” I don’t know what happened to the […] They got me, and they said, “We’ve got a guy here… We’ve got a whole patrol here of guys. They’re wearing Americans helmets and they’re speaking German to each other, but they’re speaking funny English to us, and they’re knocking on their helmets.”  This, of course, was a joke because this is what we had distributed saying, “If you see any people who do strange things, hold them up until you can clear them, to identify them properly.” But this is the sort of mood that the whole front was in after that had happened, and the British sort of secured the northern flank of this breakout…  And shortly after that, about the 5 February, I went with three other people, we were sent on a course to England.  We hadn’t had FSO courses, Field Security Officer. That’s, you know, commanding a section of 20, 25 people or even more, of investigators.  And we took our course at Matlock in Derbyshire in the British School of Intelligence, School of Military Intelligence.

We returned from that the first week in March and found that the whole outfit had moved from Tilburg to a place called Grave, spelled Grave, G-R-A-V-E, which was just south of Nijmegen.  And, of course, Operation Veritable**** had taken place while we were away.  So, again, my old British documents team called for me, and they took me with them, and I travelled through all the Rhine villages and towns, and the places where the poor Canadian army had beat the shit out itself and the enemy. It was like having a tour.  They saw a house and they thought, it’s a German house close to the river, you know, quite stately and all that. There wasn’t a soul around it and there may have been in it, but we didn’t investigate it that much.  We went up there, and they said, “We’ll go in there and see if there’s any documents. They may have left letters.”  So we went in and we looked, and we found a few letters etc. Then I said to the British officer, the other captain — there were two captains and myself, and two NCOs [non-commissioned officers] — I said, “What’s that sound?” Like whooo, whooo.  And he said, “Gosh, I didn’t…” And the sergeant said, “Sah [sir]”— this way, of course — “Sah! They’re 88s, Sah!”^ They were sniping at us.

 

*The 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division was nicknamed the Polar Bear Division after being stationed in Iceland for several years during the war.

**General Courtney Hicks Hodges was the commander of the US First Army in northwest Europe.

***The Battle of the Ardennes (also known as the Battle of the Bulge) took place between mid-December 1944 and late January 1945. Thousands of Allied forces pushed back the last major German offensive of the war.

****Operation Veritable took place in February 1945. It was one of the first steps in the Allies forcing the Germans back towards the Rhine River.

^The German 88 mm Flak gun was a multiple use weapon, serving as an anti-tank, anti-aircraft and artillery gun.

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