The 11th Armoured Takes Belsen
by Will Gray
Many people deny that this and other dastardly prison camps in Germany ever existed. I can assure you they did, much to the horror of the thousands of inmates who died from torture and so many unbelievable practices.
Many ex-servicemen claim that they were the first to enter the devilish Concentration Camp situated on the outskirts of Belsen, but we were then the only brigade that had been equipped with the new Comet Tanks. The General had declared we should make good use of them and believe me we did.
After crossing the River Weser by the American section, we began to make our presence felt in Germany. We had many experiences and this was one that made our hellish fighting worth every minute.
The month of April 1944 was no different than any other and we had many casualties. During our advance, we bypassed Hanover and Nordrebber on our way towards Belsen. We had been plagued by bazooka attacks and had lost three or more tanks and several of our officers. It put us in a violent mood and some of our principles were forgotten. We killed anything that moved and brought havoc to many villages, burning them to the ground.
Would you believe it, we were just about to enter the village of Belsen when we encountered a white tape stretched across the road, bearing a warning telling us not to enter. We halted and were told there was a two-day truce.
With the tank commander, I made a recognizance of the road past the white tape and, low and behold, we came upon the Camp.
It was surrounded by a high-wired enclosure, and looking through the wire were a number of emaciated inmates, all with their hands out. We threw them a couple of tins of cigarettes and then we gave them the thumbs up sign and left. We could not take any chances because of the TYPHUS signs.
On our return to the tank, we were met by a number of military police. From them we learned that a high ranking German officer had made contact with Brigade Headquarters and informed them of the concentration camp and of the fact that it was plagued with Typhus. The German officer had requested the truce because it was feared that escaping prisoners would increase the risk to us as well as the Germans. So this had been the reason for the white tape across the road.
I wonder just how many Germans had escaped through that village. We knew that the Commandant and his Second in Command, a woman, were later captured and, after trial, they were both hanged.
Two days later, we commenced our attack on the thousands of enemy troops who had escaped and were still full of fight.
I was later told that the villagers of Belsen were made to work at the camp. I think we were too soft; we should have burnt it to the ground. No one in that village can tell me that they weren’t aware of the camp. I could still smell its odor many miles away. Still, whether the occupants of that dastardly concentration camp lived or died, this was it until the real truce arrived. Thank goodness it did, not many weeks later.
Copyright © 2008 by Will Gray